I was asked by a medic friend of mine what my views on Physician Assisted Suicide are. This was sparked off by a debate that the Medical School he attends was holding on the subject with speakers coming from a variety of areas within and out with Medicine. It gave me the idea to write about this subject, so, here are my views on the matter. Feel free to challenge me if you do not agree with what I am saying.
The bottom line is that I do not agree with any form of assisted suicide, regardless of whether it is a friend, relative or doctor. Just for your information, I don’t want this to turn into a post or debate about this particular subject, but I am also against abortion.
End of Life care has been changing in the developed world. As our understanding of medicine has grown we have been able to better understand how to use medication and other techniques to ensure that those whose life is knowingly coming to an end through illness and disease are as comfortable, pain free and dignified as possible.
It is my belief that rather than debating euthanasia we should be focusing our efforts on further developing the palliative care system. Systems such as the Liverpool Care Pathway are the way forward when dealing with the terminally ill and we should never be satisfied with the system we have. We should always be striving to improve them and to better understand how to treat people in the last months, weeks and days of their life.
Sadly, not a huge amount of research or funding goes into End of Life Care. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that End of Life Care is usually associated with older people. While a large proportion of the NHS budget (around half) goes on treating elderly patients, the levels of research into and funding for the research is minuscule compared to the funding and research into other health issues. If we continue to keep funding levels where they are then we will never be able to have the advances that may be possible in this area.
Often when discussing or debating this issue I am asked about the withdrawal of medication by medics and it is often put to me that such actions are tantamount to physician assisted suicide. These are points that are fairly easy to refute.
Firstly, medicine’s first priority is often curing. This means that more often than not the medication that patients are on when the decision to withdraw is taken is there to prolong life and o try and cure any illnesses. The withdrawal of the medication is simply allowing nature to take its course. Euthanasia is a deliberate act to bring about a person’s death by administering lethal doses of medicine.
The same applies to the switching off of life support. When such a decision is taken it is often the case that the body had died long ago and the vital organs are simply being kept alive by machines; in other words preventing nature from taking its course.
It’s a really complicated issue and I could keep writing on it for hours, but such a lengthy piece wouldn’t be suited to a blog entry. I feel that what I have written tells you my stance on it and points to why I have adopted that stance on the issues.
Feel free to challenge me on any of the above or to ask me questions should you wish to know more about where I stand on these matters.