Thursday, 16 February 2012

Liverpool Care Pathway – No Match For Compassion

Those standing on the parapet do not need a helpful hand to tip them over the edge, but a tightrope to cross the abyss.

No pill or potion is a match for compassion

In a world that must often seem cruel and dark, there is still kindness out there, says Max Pemberton.

Max Pemberton
Max Pemberton.
Simone is sitting in front of me and crying.

Simone is determined that her daughter will have every opportunity in life and scours charity shops for books for her. Six months ago, however, Simone was involved in a road traffic accident. She slid into depression and, although she continued to work, began to feel that life was not worth living.

While we can explain mood as a set of complex neuro-chemical interactions and prescribe medication that has an effect on these biological pathways, such a reductionist approach does nothing to help understand the interaction between social factors and how someone feels.

But today Simone is crying not because of the bleakness of her situation. She is crying because she is overwhelmed by a stranger's kindness. She shakes her head in disbelief as she tells me the story. One of the administration staff in the outpatient clinic had won a £20 Marks & Spencer voucher in a raffle and gave it to Simone so that she could treat her daughter, who often waits in the department while her mother sees me.

This simple gesture has effectively doubled Simone's income for the week. She's never even shopped in Marks & Spencer. When I think of all the £20 notes that I have frittered away on bottles of wine or late-night taxis, I feel ashamed. That impulsive act of kindness and generosity from a stranger has made all the difference to Simone. It's not just the financial impact it has made; it has shown her that in a world that must often seem cruel and scary and dark, there is still kindness and compassion. And there's not a pill in the world that I could prescribe that would give someone that feeling.

This is, though, a world become cruel, scary and dark. A death culture is now well entrenched in our NHS and beyond, spreading its tentacles worldwide. The LCP is no longer merely a national scandal; its scope has crossed continents and oceans. It is a self-fulfilling tool to 'diagnose' death. And, if some have their way,  pills and potions are to be offered to tip those on the parapet over the edge. 

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