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Thursday, 5 January 2012

How to live, not how to die

"You matter because you are you.

You matter to the last moment
 of your life,
and we will do all we can, 
not only to help you die peacefully, 
but also to live until you die."

Dame Cicely Saunders

Long before she consented to become my wife, Mrs Briton worked in the Royal Marsden hospital. As we have experienced the trials of life she has told me many times how she admired the life and work of the late Cicely Saunders and that it was unnecessary for people to die in pain. She says: "There was a time when dying patients were put at the end of a ward, almost 'out of the way'. A patients death was regarded as failure on the part of the medical team. Thankfully and largely due to the wonderful Dame Cicely Saunders, times have changed. What she managed to do in her life was remarkable, she had her share of tragedy too but her deep Christian faith helped her continue her great work. She saw that while the body weakens so the spirit often becomes stronger. She wanted the dying to be cared for in physical and spiritual ways, pain needed to be managed and in fact she was instrumental in administering pain relief before severe pain took hold, therefore patients were kept comfortable and even alert; dying was not the taboo it had become. The hospice movement exists thanks to her. Talk of euthanasia would be unnecessary with proper palliative care."

I share this with readers not because I have any expertise but because I have witnessed the results of Dame Cicely's work in cancer care. The Commission on Assisted Dying has had to address wider problems associated with distressing incurable diseases but however well intentioned, the emphasis should be on assisted living, not assisted dying. People don't have to be ill to want to die in Britain today. Horrific reports about care of the elderly all too frequently highlight the misery of living, sometimes without illness but simply out of frailty with no-one to care for them. Whatever the so-called safeguards, it is a small step to seeing someone's life as worthless when proper care would transform their lives. Dame Cicely had a vision, one of CARE. Assisted living is what is required, not assisted dying. 

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