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'Many nurses would not wish to administer the drugs to end an intolerable life'

  • Comments (18)

The subject of assisted suicide, it seems, just won’t go away.

Legal cases come up with increasing frequency, in which individuals wanting the right to die at a time of their choosing challenge one aspect or another. In the meantime healthcare professionals appear to be polarised, making it impossible for the associations representing them to develop policies that gain support from a majority of their members.

The latest case to come to prominence is that of Tony Nicklinson, who earlier this month won the right to ask the courts to declare that a doctor can end the “indignity and misery” of his life.

Mr Nicklinson has had locked-in syndrome since, at the age of only 51, a stroke in 2005 left him paralysed and only able to communicate through an Eye Blink Computer. While his body may be helpless, Mr Nicklinson’s mind was undamaged. He now says he is Anyone wanting to gain some understanding of what this means for his quality of life should read the Patient Voice article Mr Nicklinson wrote for Nursing Times in 2011. After seven years Mr Nicklinson wants the right to ask a doctor to end his life without fear of legal redress.

Unless he wins his case and succeeds where others have failed, the law on assisted suicide will almost certainly continue to be challenged by other individuals who are unable to end their own lives but either already find them intolerable or know that a time will come when they do. At present their only option is to refuse food and die a lingering death of starvation.

Of course, if the law were to change, the onus would then move onto the people asked to facilitate assisted suicide. Many health professionals, even if they support the principle of assisted suicide, would not wish to actually administer the drugs that would end these intolerable lives.

I suspect that sooner or later those who argue for assisted suicide will prevail, simply because there will always be another determined individual ready to fight all the way to the highest court. Each time the subject hits the headlines in a way that demonstrates just what such people endure every day, public opinion is likely to shift in their favour.

If and when the law does change, there must, of course, be rigorous safeguards to ensure no one is pressurised to request assisted suicide. However, there must also be support and training for any health professionals willing to accede to such requests – and no professionals must be pressurised to do so.

  • Comments (18)

Readers' comments (18)

  • I think it would be interesting to speak with nurses in countries where assisted suicide is legal, both those who facilitate the patient's death and those in ordinary wards, to discover their attitudes.

    I'd say the idea of actually administering the drugs will be uncomfortable for many, but there will be those willing to - other nations manage it. At the end of the day, as nurses we have our own views, beliefs and prejudices however on the ward the patient's views have to come first. When Abortion was first legalised, I'm sure there were nurses uncomfortable with the thought. I support Euthanasia myself, though, like the article says, I doubt I'd be comfortable ending someone's life. I'd take comfort though in knowing it was what the patient wanted, and that their suffering was at an end.

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  • Anonymous

    No. you're right, many nurses, and doctors, would not be happy to adminster these drugs. This is something that the patients, families and the newspapers seem to forget.

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  • Anonymous

    I have to say that I would be more than happy to help end someone's life should it become legalised. I know that if i was in a similar situation i wouldn't want to continue living, or maybe I should say existing

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  • Little One

    "I'd say the idea of actually administering the drugs will be uncomfortable for many, but there will be those willing to - other nations manage it."

    Grant - I wonder how many Nurses/Doctors etc are actually involved in direct administration? Speaking of the only examples I know of, a state in the US (can't remember which one) allows patients to take a prescription home and they must administer the medication themselves, and Dignitas clinics are not staffed by medical professionals, I watched the programme with Terry Pratchett and I'm sure he said that whilst the patients were seen by Doctors and assessed by medical professionals, the actual staff in the clinics were not Doctors or Nurses.

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  • Anonymous

    Little One

    The following links might be helpful and have information on the legal position. All are in English.

    Dignitas Links Page also gives a useful list of many more web addresses of other organisations. There is a page called Legal Basis and another where the brochure can be downloaded which gives very comprehensive and transparent information for patients on the whole procedure and the support and services offered by the organisation with many more links.

    Dignitas
    http://www.dignitas.ch/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12&Itemid=53&lang=en

    Right to Die Europe
    http://www.rtde.eu/

    Exit International
    http://www.exitinternational.net/

    Exit International - The Swiss Model
    http://www.exitinternational.net/page/Switzerland

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  • In our society we tend to treat death with fear instead of embracing it. Our attitude towards death is that it should be avoided at all cost and when someone wants to die they are treated as though something is wrong with them. Our nurse training does not really equip us to deal with someone who wants to die in this manner and legislation does not help us either.
    I think that it must be awful for someone to be hindered from dying with dignity because someone else deems it wrong. Not everyone who wants to die has a "mental illness" and there is a definite need for change in legislation.
    I know that I would have difficulty in participating in assisted suicide but there are cases where it would appropriate and a relief for the person concerned.

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  • Anonymous

    Grant Byrne | 20-Mar-2012 4:27 pm

    'When Abortion was first legalised, I'm sure there were nurses uncomfortable with the thought.'

    This remains an issue of conscience for many nurses, as has been seen in the recent case involving the two Glasgow midwifery sisters. It would be wrong to think that the passage of time changes peoples' beliefs and values. There are nurses who would never be comfortable with assisting suicide. What has been demonstrated in the midwives case, is that the protection (of conscientious objection) offered to those who do not wish to participate, gradually erodes over time until it no longer exists and professionals are put in an intolerable position.

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  • Anonymous

    Whatever our beliefs we should remember that we are accountable for our omissions as well as our actions. To leave a person suffering and having to live a life of misery without dignity is surely worse than administering a drug requested by the patient that will give the patient peace.

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  • Anonymous

    Having studied assisted suicide at Masters level law - I get it, I really do and I would respect any nurse who felt they could assist their patient at such a time.

    I am not religious or superstitious about death at all but I would still feel very uncomfortable if i had to do this job - even if the patient wanted me to. Maybe I am just being cowardly but I sleep just fine at the moment despite all the drama in my working life - i do not think I would sleep as well if I added humane killing to my duties.

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