It is both sad and strange that the Royal College of Nursing has ceased to oppose assisted dying and adopted a ‘neutral stance’, neither supporting or opposing assisted suicide, given the recent overwhelming rejection of assisted suicide recently in the House of Lords. When a group of pro-euthanasiasts pushed through a similar ‘neutral’ motion at the BMA’ s AGM, there was widespread outrage, and it was decisively reversed the next year.
Opinion polls which appear to show support for assisted dying are not a good basis for action. Most people understandably want relief from pain – but this is achievable through better palliative care. People who look into the question of assisted suicide more deeply, as in the House of Lords recently, see the dangers to the disabled and depressed.
The RCN would do better to ensure that all nurses are well-educated not only on the medical but also the legal aspects of end-of-life care. It is tragic that in the wake of the Dr. Shipman case, some are afraid to give proper pain relief, in case they are accused of hastening death. This is incorrect both in law and in medicine.
Dr Kathryn Mannix, a palliative care consultant for over 23 years, who has treated over 5,000 patients, in a letter to The Times this week said that vocal supporters of assisted suicide “may reflect the strong feelings of the contributors, but it does not reflect the reality of most people’s experience at the end of their lives.”. She says:
I am saddened by the number of contributors who feel anxious about dying. Perhaps they have been witness to one of the unusual difficult deaths that do still occur, or perhaps the way in which our society has increasingly hidden death away over the past five decades has deprived them of the comfort that comes from repeatedly seeing the end of life well-lived with courage, pleasure in each day and peace of mind despite the imminence of the unknown.
Witnesses of good deaths do not appear to feel a need to enter into this type of correspondence. This unfortunately means that the difficult and tragic is overrepresented in the discussion. How can we redress this balance, so that we do not misunderstand and fear death as a society, and thus legislate in ignorance based on fear?