“If society begins to think of old people as needing to be tidied up and allowed to die when their useful lives are over, then we are preventing people experiencing looking after their loved ones with tenderness.”
Ross Coward in Mail Online:
If ever there were proof of the folly of doctors playing God, it's this man's barbaric death
Last Christmas, I attended a carol service at a church in London. Amid the festive bustle, I sat opposite a woman and her elderly mother.
The daughter placed a tender hand on her mother’s shoulder and gently guided her through the carols, helping her remember words that were now fading from the old lady’s memory.
I watched as the daughter looked after this tiny, fragile little bird of a mother — so frail she looked as if a puff of wind might have blown her away.
I found myself fighting back the tears as I watched this poignant scene of traditional roles reversed: daughter caring for mother.
It was a moment that encapsulated the very best of humanity.
Yet how it contrasts with the truly horrific story reported this week of Jack Jones, 76, a grandfather who beat cancer, then was wrongly told his disease had returned.
After this mistaken diagnosis, he was left to die at a hospice which has pioneered the controversial ‘death pathway’, under which dying patients have their life support taken away.
If ever there were a case illustrating the folly of doctors playing God, this was it.
A retired bricklayer, described as ‘a true gentleman’, Mr Jones had food and fluids withdrawn.
He died within two weeks — only for a post-mortem examination to reveal that he died of pneumonia, not cancer — an illness which could have been treated with antibiotics.
It is a shocking case. His widow Pat described his treatment as ‘barbaric’ and was this week awarded an £18,000 payout over her ordeal.
She has accused the doctors of manslaughter, while the hospice continues to deny liability.
It seems clear that the hospice did, indeed, make a terrible mistake — Mr Jones’s time had not yet come.
Of course, there is no compensation for the loss his wife has suffered. But this horrendous train of events is our loss, too, for it demonstrates just how far our society has degenerated, hastening our elderly as quickly as possible towards a neat and tidy death.
Official measures introduced to bring dignity to death and end long, drawn-out suffering appear to be going terribly wrong.
These policies came out of the same approach as the right-to-die movement.
The arguments sound so humane: perhaps people should be allowed to die more quickly. We should avoid pain around death in old age. Suffering should not be prolonged unnecessarily.
And yet, old age and dying is not always a negative experience. Indeed, they should be treated as part of life — not as a problem in need of a solution.
Because along the way, through caring for our elderly properly, we find something in ourselves that is very rewarding.
With my brother and sister, I care for my 86-year-old mother Sybil, who suffers from dementia.
She has lost her memory and has become increasingly frail. Caring for her is not without difficulties. Chasing your elderly parent into the bathroom to wash is an emotional minefield.
But looking after my mother has also been an opportunity to do things for her with love and affection, which was more difficult when life was rushing by.
It has not always been easy, but through looking after my mother in her declining years, I have discovered in myself a real compassion, empathy and tenderness — something tragically denied Mr Jones’s two daughters by Britain’s over-eager policy makers.
If society begins to think of old people as needing to be tidied up and allowed to die when their useful lives are over, then we are preventing people experiencing looking after their loved ones with tenderness.
As a society, we risk losing something of immeasurable value.
We have let our hospitals and social workers become obsessed with a person dying, and how to manage and control the actual moment of death. This is entirely the wrong focus.
Hospitals should not be concentrating on which people to save and which to let go, but on gentle care of the elderly.
They should be looked after with love. This might sound idealistic — but shouldn’t we be idealistic in this, if nothing else?
We have forgotten that elderly people are living — they need to be cared for and cherished, and in the process we can learn so much about empathy and the human condition.
Now, however, the medical profession has reached a point where scientific advances mean they can keep people alive, when in less advanced situations they might have died.
Sometimes life is being prolonged almost beyond nature. But to conclude that we should therefore stop intervening and allow people to die is a dangerous leap that we should not allow. It is nothing short of sanitised euthanasia.
Of course, there are situations where people have terrible illnesses, such as motor neurone disease. While I have extreme reservations about the right-to-die movement, it is understandable that these people might not want their suffering prolonged. But the great mass of our elderly population is simply old — with the accompanying decline in health one might expect.
What worries me most is that our elderly will begin to think they should die because they don’t want to cause unnecessary suffering or become a burden on their families.
Where will it end? Mr and Mrs Brown at the end of the road have cancer, should they be bumped off? Then what about their old neighbours — are they becoming a burden to their children, should they do the decent thing?
In general, it is shocking that we look after our old people so badly. I know from personal experience that carers of the old receive nothing like the support available to parents with young children.
When looking after your elderly parents, you have to battle. Everything conspires against you tending to them with dignity and respect.
Our elderly are often not allowed to stay in their own homes, where they would rather live.
Instead, they are made to sell up, they are herded into old people’s homes or hospital wards — and they are put away to die.
We regard the old as somehow repellent. It is perhaps the flip side of a society obsessed with the perfect body: you mustn’t have wrinkles or sag — above all, you must not look old.
We have lost our respect for the old. The elderly can give us so much — experience, wisdom, perspective and love. But increasingly, we give them so little.
That has led directly to the horrendous death pathway — such a convenient euphemism for denying food and medicine.
So much better economically, too — a group of doctors recently wrote to a newspaper regarding the policy, saying that ‘we are not discussing how we care for old people, just how we pay for them’.
In a stark warning, Professor Peter Millard, emeritus professor of geriatrics at the University of London, said: ‘The Government is rolling out palliative care — which is helping people die happy.
'What we should be doing is rolling out support to help them live. What is going on could be seen as backdoor euthanasia.’
There is a feeling that the dying should hurry up and die, a ‘let’s get this over with’ mentality that devalues our society and betrays our elderly.
Our natural inclination is to cling to life, to fight — it is a strong instinct, and we should not let it be overruled by hospital managers who seek to usher our loved ones out of the final door with unseemly haste.
We must stop the inhuman attitude which led to the death of Jack Jones becoming all-pervasive — before it is too late.