Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Will Dr Harold Shipman Receive a Posthumous Pardon?

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!)


Lady Language said...

It truly takes a kind heart and nurturing person to be a nurse or health care provider. Unfortunately, they seem to be handing out certifications and degrees to anyone who will work the long hours. The treatment you speak of is abominable but it is rampant even in the states. I think we need more caring volunteers to assist in nursing homes, but that is another story.

moi said...

Ooo, you had Moi at "Armchair Anarchist." Thanks for dropping in on Moi's blob and I'll definitely be back to yours!

As for this post: Nail. Hit. Head.

Homo Escapeons said...

I think that it is disgraceful that our society has not had an open dialogue on Aging and Quality of Life. We are still wrestling with a Culture with one foot in the Afterlife and the other in Science. Everyone deserves a dignified finale.

That being said...
I have no doubt whatsoever that American Ingenuity will develop a drive-thru McEuthanizing chain to deal with the 90 million Boomers.

This generation will bring this upon themselves because they will continue to force their will upon the general population as they have for the past 60 years.

The Gen X & Yers, being the practical lot that they are, will quickly tire of these intolerable old gasbags and their insistance that the Culture kowtow to their demands..more 24hour radio stations playing rock n roll from the 60s & 70s!

Finally Gneration NEXT will say No Mas! We've had enough of you (me too 1957) insufferable megalomaniacs and your 'good old days'. SHUT UP ALREADY!

The Troll said...

I blame the Socialized Medicine system itself and don't believe adding additional bureaucracy and legions of additional unaccountable bureaucrats will solve the problem.

And as with all Government Programs, resources will be allocated on the basis of politics, not facts. You'll wind up with state-of-the-art Hospices with hundreds of empty beds in some places. And wretched over-crowded hellholes staffed by the bottom-of-the-barrel in others.

I'm not sure if England's system allows individuals to operate Hospices. We have them here and they're the Crown Jewel of the health-care world. They operate under the law-of-supply-and-demand and face real competition.

The rare employee who turns out to be lazy or heartless can be promptly terminated without reams of paperwork sent to the Local Union Steward, the Regional Union Steward, the National Union Steward, the Employee's Mommy, and 4 dozen assorted bureaucrats who've never met the employee nor visited the facility.

All of which is only the First-Step in firing a lazy or heartless unionized Government Employee.

Reluctant Blogger said...

My Great Aunt Doris ended up in one of these homes and I used to visit her as often as I could but it got increasingly depressing to do so - as she got thinner, more confused and the place just stunk. The nurses always seemed friendly and helpful enough but I did wonder what went on when there were no relatives around to see.

But of course it is a job that very few people would willingly do and whilst I am full of fond thoughts for the good old days when families looked after their own elderly with respect and kindness, I wouldn't actually fancy doing that myself for the MIL! It is not what we expect ourselves for own lives - to be caring for elderly relatives when we finish work and want some leisure time. But I have to say that I rather hope I don't end up in a home - perhaps I should have another half a dozen children so that i could be shunted between their homes when I am old and infirm without being too much of a burden on any single one of them.

This subject always depresses me because it seems unsolvable. I personally would rather snuff it right at the end of the time I was fit and had my entire wits about me (haha - perhaps that time is already past!!!?) than ending up living a half life in an institution.

Girl Vino said...

Unfortunatley too many carers of the elderly out there treat the aged like worse than animals. I know someone who worked in a nursing home for ages and she confirmed that there was only her and a couple of other people there really bothered getting to know the people they are supposed to care for. Shame that just because the elderly can't help themselves, they are destined to live out the remainder of their days with horrid bastards that don't care, unless they have any family willing to put in the time.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Thank you for all your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments folks.
I agree with Homo-Escapeons that we need an open dialogue on Aging and Quality of Life. We seem to have become as scared of ageing as death itself, if not more so! Hope we are not headed for an inter-generational war in due course though personally I have taken the precaution of not propagating the next generation/enemy myself!
Perhaps a lot of the wrong people are entering the nursing profession because it is now being pushed as a profession rather than a vocation and they are given so little nursing experience/interaction with real patients during their training.
Apparently nearly 70% of elderly senility is connected to vitamin deficiency and lack of stimulation as diets and horizons narrow and the elderly person subsequently begins to shut down mentally, so perhaps hospitals and nursing homes are also not doing themselves any favours by the way they run their establishments propagating boredom and a general feeling of having come to the end of ones' useful life, when perhaps that needn't be the case for all their residents.
Lady Language, more caring volunteers would definitely help. Perhaps each nursing home should form a society of friends nearby.
You raise some interesting points too The Troll. Some of our charities in Britain run hospices, but not sure if individuals can, and hospices do tend to be praised to the skies, albeit only really regarded as places for those in the final few weeks of life, or a respite stop for the dying while their carers have a week or two's break, rather than somewhere for the chronically ill to spend their last few months/years.
Reluctant Blogger and Girl Vino (welcome!), like myself it seems you have both had been witness to the sadder side of decline. I think if one cares for one's relations, you've got to get on well rather than doing it out of duty alone and have some strict guidelines in place about mutual privacy/living arrangements before embarking, but yes of course it will impact considerably on freedoms. I don't think I could do it personally, but I take my hat off to anyone who can. They are the unsung heroes/heroines of our nation and should be paid accordingly for saving the state all that money.
Hello Moi - thanks for dropping by! I shall certainly be visiting you again too.

The Sagittarian said...

I think a good point has been raised here, and I agree with all your contributers. My own Mum is in relatively good health but I do worry about what her future would be like if we weren't all keeping an eye on her. My younger brother has a very special needs child, we do worry about what will happen to him when we can no longer support him in his own home. He will get bigger and older. Mind you, not all "homes" are bad or negative and I guess if care is taken choosing one most issues won't arise. As for me, I'm relying on someone pushing me outta the canoe....