When “the right to die” becomes the “duty to die” – Stuart Weir

Stuart Weir, National Director of CARE Scotland

The startling announcement signaled that the woman was worthy of special recognition. This woman, a retired nurse and founder of a local hospice, later told me how the experience was a touching reminder to her of the important impact of attention on the individual needs of each person referred to palliative care at the end of their life.

Even years later, people remembered – to the extent that in this case the man was not going to miss the opportunity to express appreciation for the care shown to his loved one, among a closed group of strangers. The power of compassionate care for a person suffering at the end of life is no doubt exemplified by this incident and thousands of others around the country.

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In Clackmannanshire I was reminded of the powerful effect caring for a dying person can have on the caregiver. After I gave a speech about the dangers of Liam MacArthur MSP’s proposed assistance to the dying Bill, a woman approached me and gently took my hand. I had no idea what would happen next.

A woman recently went through the most difficult two years of caring for her husband with motor neurone disease. She went on to tell me, as her eyes filled with tears, that she proudly cared for him herself until the day he finally died. Talk about marriage “in sickness and in health”!

If we do not listen to these testimonies, we may forget the incomparable dignity that a person acquires when he is carefully cared for until the very end of his life. It is a concern that endows a person with value and love and indicates that he is worthy of the time and attention that is required to meet his needs.

This is one of the many reasons why we must resist calls for death assistance. This will introduce distrust between patients and their caregivers, as well as the wider family that witnesses the end of life. How can a patient be sure that his doctor is fully committed to his treatment and care when the law requires them to offer deadly drugs in return? Drugs have been proven to cause suffering to people, including a long and uncomfortable death.

There is also the risk of pressure on vulnerable people to commit suicide. We know that in jurisdictions such as Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal, death requests are made because the terminally ill appears to be a “burden” on the family or community. The “right to die” for some becomes a duty to die for others.

Instead of following this apparently dark path, we must ensure that everyone has access to the high-quality end-of-life care that a compassionate and modern society should demand.

Stuart Weir, National Director of CARE Scotland

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