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Live and Let Die

The subject of this post may not be suitable for some readers, and could be hard reading. It is regarding assisted suicide so please do not read if you feel it may make you uncomfortable. I however have decided to write about this tricky subject in the best way I can as I do think we should talk about it, it’s implications and whether for some, it may be the best way.

This was a post I wanted to write some time ago after reading a news article about Melvyn Bragg. For those of you who have not read it Melvyn had watched his mother struggle with dementia up until her death.

This prompted him to insist on the right for assisted suicide (for those with dementia). The article also calls on Sir Terry Pratchett, who was diagnosed with dementia when he was 57. He also agrees that assisted suicide should be made legal in this country, dependent on situations, saying “It is nothing to do with the sanctity of life, but the dignity”.

And then on the 30 May 2013 I heard the news about the (possibly) first Briton to end his life at a Dignitas Clinic because he was suffering from dementia, the early stages. It is said in the article that his family all supported the decision, and that the man was mentally capable of making the decision. If you would like to read the article in full I have provided a link here:

Now for my opinion, which I know not everybody will agree with. That is OK, and feel free to comment with your views as I like to keep an open mind. But I think, up to a point, I agree with Lord Bragg & Sir Pratchett. Personally I’m not sure how well I could cope with knowing how downhill things could get. Even knowing as much as I do (not being big headed, but I certainly think I know enough to make an informed decision, even if I still learn more every day), about activities and services that can all help ease day to day living, I would not want any of my loved ones to feel “obligated” (not a word I would like to use, but I suppose with family you always feel like that in some way) to care for me. And I hate the idea of depending on someone to live my life almost as much as nan does.

So in my current frame of mind, I would like to know that there is an option that would save my family from watching me regress. One that would make a clean and dignified ending to my life, before I was no longer their relative, but the dreaded dementia relative.

That is not to say however that I would support nan if she made that decision. If dementia and assisted suicides were not taboo in her day, and she had made that decision years ago I’m not sure I could forgive her for leaving me when there was still hope of good days.

I guess that makes me slightly hypocritical, but it is easier to plan your own future your way than to accept a loved ones choices to get out.

But what if I say to my family now if I am diagnosed with dementia, and assisted suicide becomes legal in this country, that is what I want. And then in a couple of years there is a fantastic break through in science and they can slow or *fingers crossed* cure dementia? Can I go back on my wishes?

I believe as humans we should have choices, but is the choice to die when we want too much like “playing God?” or is it an option we should allow for those who are struggling through illness, disability etc. And where would we draw the line? Somebody suffering from depression, for example, may have suicidal thoughts – do we grant them that wish? Or do we do all we can to turn those thoughts back round? Do we grant people with dementia the wish to have dignified death? Or do we put all we have into raising awareness, raising funds for research into cures, helping find memory triggers and coping mechanisms?

Please do comment with your thoughts, I would like to know where other people stand on this topic.


5 thoughts on “Live and Let Die

  1. It’s interesting that you bring up this topic because just this week I watched the powerful documentary, “How to Die in Oregon” which profiles several terminally ill people who choose assisted suicide which is legal there. (If you have not had a chance to see this film, I highly recommend it if it’s available where you are. It first aired on HBO but I watched it on Netflix and I think it’s on DVD.)

    What struck me so powerfully was that having the choice of assisted suicide doesn’t necessarily make the road to dying easier, in fact it often complicates it. But it did in certain cases allow a more peaceful and dignified death. I think with dementia assisted suicide becomes a murky legal issue because even if you put orders in writing today your mental state is bound to change and you may end up totally opposed to the idea. (With the Oregon law you have to be physically able to administer the life-ending medication yourself and mentally understand why you are taking it.)

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I look forward to hearing other opinions.

  2. We’ve cared 4 pops with dementia at home until I could no longer physically do so all my older children have witnessed 1st hand how upsetting and frustrating it is 2 loose the spirit of your loved 1 we have discussed the event of me developing dementia and have all agreed that although hearbreaking I would end my life at least I will have chance 2 say my goodbyes and plan my funeral and leave treasure boxes etc I would also support any1 of my family in the same situation

  3. Reblogged this on The Memories Project and commented:
    Assisted suicide is a controversial topic and when discussing it from a dementia perspective, the issue becomes even more complex, both legally and morally. I appreciate Living with Dementia opening the discussion on their blog.

  4. Kristy, I applaud you for your courage in tackling this tough topic. I have been ruminating on the same theme, but my thoughts are not coherent enough to start writing. I think it is one of the toughest aspects of this disease, or any illness with a dire prognosis. I completely concur with your observation “…I’m not sure I could forgive her for leaving me when there was still hope of good days…”. I have so many tender, graceful memories even in my Mom’s advanced stages with dementia that I wonder “when exactly” do you decide life is not worth living. And who decides? And since I saw resplendent signs of my Mother’s personality even in my last visit, I am reluctant to opine that I would possibly know. That said (as I wrote in one of the early posts) my Mom had a living will where she hand wrote; “I believe in quality of life not quantity of years” and it was/is heartbreaking to know she did not get her wish, but in the end had quantity, not quality (except perhaps to me, who loved seeing her even if she wasn’t her fully integrated self). And I should add that my Mom’s never went into the “quiet period” where the patient loses all speech…she was starting to spiral into this phase, when she suddenly died (to the surprise of all her nurses, who thought she would sadly live in that beleaguered stage). Perhaps my thoughts would be less equivocal if I had seen her in that sad bedridden stage. Thanks again for opening this topic, Hallie

    • Thankyou for your kind comment, it was tough to open up and be honest, especially as this topic still seems so frowned upon. I agree wholeheartedly that quality of life is important, but who decides your life is not of enough quality to carry on? It is a tricky subject to talk about and my only wish with this post was to get people talking about it and being honest with relatives and loved ones.
      Thankyou again for your comment xx

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