Euthanasia does exist

During the last quarter of her life, my Mum was often ill. Her breathing problems became so bad, there would be crisis after crisis, occasions where she was not expected to survive. After recovering from these, she would usually say the same things, and have an identical conversation with me. She lamented the fact that voluntary euthanasia was illegal in the UK. She could see a future where she would not want to go on, but be unable to end her life with dignity, at a time of her own choosing. A vocal supporter of the ‘right to die’ campaign, she would always tell me that she did not want to, in her words, ‘end up as a cabbage’.  There were numerous times, when she would ask me to reassure her that I would advise any medical authorities that she was not to be resuscitated, and that her life was not to be maintained artificially. I made this promise to her frequently, and it seemed to calm her fears.

In recent years, there were news reports of clinics in Switzerland, where terminally ill patients could pay to be assisted with suicide.  These places were technically legal there, but anyone assisting someone to travel to them for the purpose of voluntary euthanasia, was possibly committing a crime in the UK. There were other high profile cases, where sufferers of incurable diseases, condemned to a life of little or no communication, and requiring round-the-clock care, took their case for the right to die to courts in this country, and in Europe. They all failed in their cases, and some were assisted to die later, by loved ones, who were charged with criminal offences here. My Mum would look at these reports, and comment how disgusted she was that these people were not allowed to die in the way that they wished. She would compare this situation to that of pet care. Animals are not allowed to suffer, and when they have terrible injuries, or incurable diseases, vets always suggest putting them to sleep. ‘So why not the same for humans?’, she would ask.

When she was struck down by the disabling strokes, shortly before her death, she was soon transferred from the Casualty Department, to the Intensive Care Unit. She was put on life support, and was deemed to be unable to breathe without assistance, and despite obvious agitation, and full mobility of arms and legs, we were also told that she would never recover the power of speech or reason, or be able to walk, or to ever look after herself again.  I had a quiet chat with the Consultant Physician there, and told him of my Mum’s wishes. He advised me that they would wait for 24 hours, and then make a decision. He implied that her brain had been irrevocably damaged by a series of small strokes, followed by a large bleed into her brain, and that he did not expect her to live past that weekend. He assured me that they would do their best to make her comfortable, and free from pain.

The next day, with her condition unchanged, he sought my permission to take her off life support. Continuing with her wishes, I readily agreed, and expected that she would die soon after. Despite the upset of all this, I was content that she would suffer no more, and that I had complied with all her wishes, as well as my previous promises. The breathing tube was removed, along with the gastric feed, and intravenous drip. I prepared myself, along with my wife and some of my family, to be at her deathbed.

But she didn’t die. She started to breathe on her own, and continued to shout, and act in a very agitated way, often clawing and scratching at herself. She uttered occasional sentences that were comprehensible, and I began to feel that she might make a recovery, however minimal. They even transferred her, from Intensive Care, to a general ward. She did not regain consciousness in the accepted sense, but she continued to breathe on her own, and to exhibit full movement of both arms and legs. When we went the next day, she was moved into a side ward, as the noise from around the other beds seemed to be disturbing her. The new doctor told me that she was ‘still dying’, and that there was absolutely no chance of recovery. She added that all care had been withdrawn, and that it was ‘only a matter of time’ before she died. The nurses (who I can only praise) carried on washing her, changing her bedclothes and nightwear, and moistening her lips, with a small sponge on a stick. We were allowed unlimited visiting, unrestricted by time of day.

The next day, her condition was little changed. The urinary catheter had been joined by a large tube inserted into her rectum, and the contents of both tubes were draining into bags attached to the bed. There was not a great deal in either container, as it was now almost five days since she had eaten, or had anything to drink. Despite sleeping much of the time, she still became agitated, clawing at the tubes, which bothered her immensely. The membranes in her body were now dry from dehydration, and I can only imagine the discomfort of tubes inserted into those delicate areas, which were now chafing painfully. Her skin was also discoloured and dry from lack of nutrition and fluids, and her long term eczema problem was flaring up out of control. She scratched constantly, breaking the skin, and causing blood to run freely down her arms and legs. I had been in the Ambulance Service for much of my life, and seen many terrible things. But this was my mother, and it was too much to bear, to see her this way.

I telephoned the hospital, and asked for a meeting with her doctors the next day, when I was to be joined by my cousin. To be fair, they took me very seriously, and turned out in force. Three senior doctors, from various specialities, together with the doctor directly responsible for her care, all met us at the bedside. They listened to my heartfelt concerns. I had expected my Mum to die, and she hadn’t. I was told she might only live for a day, and this was six days later. I asked them to replace the drip, to rehydrate her, and to resume the feeding, via the naso-gastric tube. If she was not going to die, then I could not stand to see her enduring such suffering.

They looked concerned, and appeared to be very sympathetic, but their answer was a resounding ‘no’. I had agreed to removal of life support, and that meant that it could not be reinstated afterwards, no matter how long it took for her to die. By doing this, I had also handed over responsibility to them, and the decision making process was no longer something I could be involved with. They informed me that they would continue in this fashion, for however long it took, for her to die of starvation, and dehydration. These conditions would eventually cause her organs to fail, and she would die as a result of this. Yet her death certificate would read that she had been killed by a major stroke. In the meantime, they would try their best to keep her comfortable, and to keep her suffering at a minimum. They would not remove the tubes from her vagina and anus, as it made life easier for the carers, even though nothing was coming down them any longer. They cooed soothingly, and smiled in a caring way as they departed, leaving Mum in something resembling a scene from a horror film, and me racked with guilt, that I had decided to keep my old promises.

It took six more days for her to die. Six days, and six nights, of scratching, clawing, jerking, and rolling around in that bed. For many hours we all sat by that bedside, eyes filled with despair and regret, until I was unable to look anymore. I longed for her death; for her, and for us, to end all our sufferings. It seemed after all that Mum did have a right to die. But it was only when the doctors decreed it, and it was to be at their discretion, not hers.

I later realised that euthanasia does exist here. It is called by another name; The Liverpool Care Pathway. It must be the most tragic misnomer in history, as it involves little care, and the only pathway is that of suffering.

60 thoughts on “Euthanasia does exist

  1. This is such a heartbreaking remembrance, Pete. After my sister had the stroke that would claim her life she struggled. At first it was trying to talk, then trying to move then trying to eat. I watched as the staff rolled food trays in her room knowing that if a member of the family was not there to help her eat, the tray would be picked up untouched. She was not being fed by tube, but no one was helping her eat either. I spent one night sleeping in the chair beside her bed. Witnessing the care of a stroke patient to keep them from choking to death was horrific. I was thankful that if she could not get better, that she not suffer. She passed within a week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Maggie. We share that experience, and that feeling of helplessness sitting next to the hospital bed of a loved one able to do little more than look on as they depart this life.
      Memories that can never be erased.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. It is part of the reason my dream meNt so much, Pete. I try to remember her in the breadth of her life rather than the difficulty of her passing. I will not soon forget, but she was so much more than those days.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This was so difficult to read Pete, I’m so very sorry. I understand as I too was at my mothers side during her final days. I learned that death is the laborious work of the dying. It is painful to watch a beloved mother fight her way into some mysterious state – death. I think there is so much more we can do to ease their passage. We seem afraid to explore the options?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would happily have helped her die with morphine or something similar, Cheryl. But for me to do that would have been classified as murder. For them to let her die of thirst and starvation over six days was called ‘medical treatment’. It still makes me rage inside.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am so very sorry for the tragedy you and your mom endured-how heartbreaking. I hope you have peace, that you did try your best. May your memory of that awful time pale in comparison to the happy times. I suspect writing this took a great deal of courage -x Michele

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wrote this some years ago, when I was still enraged at the treatment my Mum received.
      Although I have mellowed a little since, I will still never forgive them for what they put her through.
      And I can never erase those images from my memory.
      Thanks for always being kind to me, Michele.
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Abbi. None of us want to end our lives like that, believe me. But until the medical profession has the courage to speak out, such long and painful deaths will continue.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  4. This is a terrible thing, Pete, and I am sorry to hear this is supposed to be an acceptable option to the powers that be (even if things have changed). Your mother was right in drawing comparisons. My dad was quite unwell by the end, and the illness process was relentless, and he suffered many side-effects and complications, but at least he lost consciousness and seemed quite peaceful when he died. There need to be changes. Take care, Pete, and I hope nobody has to live through similar experiences in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s really a hard decision especially when a loved one is involved. I often tell my kids that living a few more years is good enough for me. I don’t want to be dependent on them to take care of me when I grow old.

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  6. A long drawn out sigh here. One would think the medical profession would address this issue head-on. You know, learned papers and all of that. Then once they had (should have a long time ago) reached some conclusions figured out how to meet the first part of their oath “first do no harm” which confronted by a daying patient. Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After so many cases like my Mum’s began to attract complaints and publicity, they conveniently decided that the Liverpool Care Pathway had been a ‘misguided decision’. It has now been scrapped.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You wrote in a reply that “horrors” was the best way to describe your mom’s final days, and that you’ll never be able to get those images out of your mind. It was hard to read about your mom’s final days without putting myself in your shoes—and, to some extent, in hers. What a nightmare for all concerned! And one that reverberates in your mind and soul to this day…

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  8. I totally feel your pain. My mom was in a quaint hospice home of her choosing when she passed. She had requested a DNR and once it was obvious that she was decining rapidly they wanted her out of the hospital. She did not want to go home and I honored her wishes. I was grateful that if I told the nurses she was agitated or in discomfort they immediately added the needed meds to her IV. It was a difficult experience to say the least. I am grateful I was able to be there holding her hand as she departed this earth. The right to die with dignity is a soapbox I am willing to stand on. I am sorry for the way your mother was treated.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I also cannot like this… I haven’t heard of the Liverpool Pathway which sounds barbaric… This must have been dreadfully difficult to write and post for you, Pete, I am horrified that in todays world that a person cannot die with some dignity… I hope one day you can remember the good memories and not the terribly sad ones.. Hugs x

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Back in 79 when I was a trainee nurse, when someone was in their dying days, it was a given that a doc would prescribe enough morphine to keep them sedated and pain free until the end, sadly that no longer happens. My Mum went doolally at the end, after a 2 year deterioraton, but at least she was in a hospice where they were kind and looked after her.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. My mum died in 2017 after they’d stopped using the LCP. She was put on a morphine syringe driver the day before she died, which stopped the agitation and thankfully put her out of pain. Distressing to sit by her bed, but she was just about able to squeeze my hand and know I was there. The doctor phoned me at 3am and asked my permission to use it. I told him it was probably the kindest thing he could do for her. She died 17 hours after they hooked her up to the morphine.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. She was offered food and drink to the last, but at the end refused it. I tried to squirt some of those baby fruity drinks into her mouth, but she didn’t want any of them. A long drawn out death is terrible to witness, and so my sympathy goes out to you in the hope that you soon find peace of mind.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m so sorry to read about what your mum – and you – went through at the end of her life. Thank goodness this inhumane way of treating they dying as been stopped. I’ve read a lot about the Liverpool Care Pathway but you are the first person I’ve known who has actually experienced seeing its horrors visited on a loved one, which has made it all much more real.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. On her last night, I stayed at the hospital until almost ten pm, after being there for most of the day. They rang me at 1 am, to tell me she had died. I wish I had waited for those extra three hours.
      Thanks, Lucinda.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d travelled over fromSpain as soon as I heard she was in hospital – long story I found out by accident and the nurses were great they allowed me to sleep on a mattress on the floor but even then I was reluctant to even go to the canteen or the bathrooms it’s all in my bio.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh it’s ok Pete. Don’t worry about that at all. It is just all so sad, and tears, for me, come easily these days. Ther are things in yoyr post that really tugged at me. Like the Liverpool Pathway, euthanasia, and other things. But it truly is ok. It is good to cry. These things NEED talking about. Yes, I, too, FELT my mother’s suffering, even though she had been an abysive mother to me, hence the conflicting emotions that I mentioned. I am SO glad that you mmadebthis post Pete, Me and my mum, towards the end of her lufe, did talk about these things, and she had a DREAD of the ?iverpool Pathway, which in turn made her afeaid of dying,cwhich she knew she had to do soon. She had emogysema or COPD as they call it now. So much the same as your mum Pete. I will say more later maybe, but don’t worry at all about upsetting me. Is it an Anniversary for you? Best Wishes. X

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No, it’s not date-relevant until March. I just woke up thinking about her, and was going to post this as a ‘Thinking Aloud’. I decided to keep the original title, and reblog it instead. Reading your post this morning was a rather spooky coincidence indeed. x

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Gosh, that IS spooky. It actually HELPED me to read your post because we don’t talk about these things enough, and death is still in my opinion deemed the great taboo. Whereas I want to TALK about it and face it head on lol.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Thanks Pete. I will read that later..two days before my mum died, we had to dial 101 or whatever it is *terrible memory!). They sent the paramedics out and they were there two hours, until 2 in the morning, trying to make her comfortable and sort her oxygen out. They wereMAGNIFICENT

                Liked by 1 person

                  1. I don’t jnow what to say. I was so impressed that night. Theur patience. Theur cimpassion. Jyst bowled iver. I just readbyoyr other pist about dead bodies. You deserve a medal. That post will live with me for ever,

                    Liked by 1 person

  13. “She started to breathe on her own, and continued to shout, and act in a very agitated way, often clawing and scratching at herself.”..are you sure they hadn’t already started to give her morphine…? These look like the responses you get in a dehydrated person if you give them morphine…..you cannot trust those drug charts to have been filled in accurately….

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    1. You may well be right Melv. I was exceptionally tired, and dealing with a lot of stuff at the time. I started off checking her charts on arrival, but lost the will to do it after a while. If it was Morphine, then hopefully she was not in pain. Thanks very much for your contribution, it is appreciated. Regards, Pete.

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  14. I am so sorry, and I am also sorry to say this, your story is a reflection of many others who have seen the suffering behind the Liverpool Care Pathway. There was no doubt your mum was ready to die, but the manner which they inflicted, was cruel beyond measure.

    What harm would there have been to have given her a little cream to ease the eczema, or a simple drip, just water, nothing else to ease the body into death.

    It is true we all die, but the NHS has lied and lied and lied about its use of the Liverpool Care Pathway. Like many others I too have witness and can bear the testimony of others who I have become involved with through fighting the use of the Liverpool Care Pathway.

    The Liverpool Care Pathway, when used badly strips the patient of almost all of their rights, the only one to remain seems to be the right to breathe. The withdrawal of care, is never the solution, indeed more care is needed when someone is dying. Sometimes changing and washing is simply not enough care.

    Please accept my sincerest condolences, I will add just one last sentence, don’t ever blame yourself. To my way of thinking, it is the NHS who has betrayed our trust we have for their care practices. No one should have had to endure suffering like this it is simply inhuman.

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  15. I cannot ‘like’ this. I can however admire your courage in writing about this very traumatic experience. Your mother must have been a strong old gal to survive that long without sustenance, but what a cost! A heavy dose of morphine would have been much kinder. Thank you for posting this, it will make me think twice about requesting ‘do not resuscitate’ to my family.
    J xx

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