As a nineteen year old I recall making a point of trying to visit my octogenarian Great Aunt Alice in hospital at teatimes to help her eat and drink a little.
I suppose I always assumed that the nurses didn't do it if relatives were around on the grounds patients would prefer the personal touch and it gave visitors something to do.
Certainly it never crossed my naïve mind that my Great Aunts' tray may have intentionally been left just out of her reach (and presumably taken away untouched when I wasn't there) in order to hasten her death.
Though five years later when her sister Lilian was admitted, turning from amply-upholstered woman to bag of bones within weeks, subsequently to die of 'complications' arising from an initial broken hip, I suppose some disconcerting niggles began to form.
Thirteen years later I'm appalled but not surprised to see the deliberate starving and dehydration of elderly patients to death is now being revealed as unofficial widespread practice in many British hospitals, some even daring to pass it off as 'treatment' and threatening any relative who dares to challenge it. Others more unashamedly justify the practice by saying it is not their policy to offer 'life saving' treatment in chronic and terminal cases.
But hang on a minute. Isn't 'life-saving' treatment defibrillators, crash equipment, emergency surgery and the like?
Since when did mere sustenance become classified as 'life-saving' treatment? (albeit hard to survive without, granted!)
This smacks of euthanasia without the voluntary element. This is wholly contrary to the Hippocratic oath that all newbie medics used to have to swear - 'First do no harm' - and presumably the greater ambition that many must surely start out with - ie to actually do some good!
And if nurses are now too busy to nurse, what are they for? What is their role? Or is each ward really so grossly under-staffed as to be forced to dispatch its bedblockers and nuisances by whatever means necessary? Has this all happened since, or even because, Matron has departed?
I don't dispute society faces huge challenges with an ever increasing elderly population living ever longer with ever-more-elongated final illnesses, and I don't claim to have the answers, but surely we have not come to this in a civilised society. Surely we do not resort to measures to wrap up lives that we are quite rightly prohibited from visiting on a family pet without prosecution. And anyone who has seen a relative dehydrate or starve by the day (even if they have only realised what they were witnessing too late) will testify that it is not a process without attendant suffering, and even fright in your relatives' eyes. They know something is wrong, even if they are rendered beyond articulating what.
Conversely we are appalled at the thought of those of sound mind choosing to end their lives humanely with Dignitas, rather than face the slow and painful course of whatever chronic illness. Perhaps these individuals know something the rest of us are only just realising. That the end can be so much worse than that if left to take its course in this country. Though personally I would wish to see a proper nationwide palliative care programme rolled out as a first resort, as well as proper nursing care restored, rather than what should be a very last resort advocated first!
Meantime newsagent shelves heave under the weight of health magazines telling us 'How to make it to 100!'. That'll please the NHS and the Government Pensions Department no end! (might do it just to spite 'em!)