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Nurses need guidance on discussing assisted suicide with patients

  • 4 Comments

Nurses at the RCN Congress have called for more support in the event they are asked by patients to assist them committing suicide

The college is currently opposed to assisted suicide but is consulting members about the issue because of the high public profile of the issue.

Assisted suicide is illegal in the UK, although some people have avoided the ban by attending clinics in countries where it is legal, such as Switzerland.

Kath McHale, of the RCN’s Islington Branch, said: ‘Who has got the information and who has got experience if people need and want choices?’

There were a wide range of viewpoints expressed at the panel debate, which is designed to inform the consultation process.

Speaking against assisted suicide, Paul Wainwright, chair of the RCN’s ethics forum, said the organisation must take a stance on the issue to give guidance to its members.

‘For a healthcare professional to support assisted suicide seems to me to be wrong and particularly unwise for those to who claim to be in the caring profession,’ said Prof Wainwright. ‘I think helping people to kill themselves is one thing a nurse should not do.’

Vicky Robinson, nurse consultant in palliative care at Guys’ and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust, added: ‘What is worse, not to kill people who might want to die or to risk killing people who may want to live.’

Professor Martin Johnson, of the University of Salford’s School of Nursing, said assisted suicide could be necessary in extreme circumstances, such as those portrayed in the film, A Short Stay in Switzerland, where she plays Dr Anne Turner, who opted to kill herself at the Dignitas clinic in 2006.

He also mentioned the case of a patient, Annie, whose cancer left her in such a distressing state that not even close relatives could bear to be near her.

‘There is nothing sacred in dying without dignity in the manner of Annie or Dr Anne Turner. It is more sacred if a person has a choice to control the time and place of death at a time of interminable suffering,’ he said.

Professor Carol Haigh, of the department of nursing at Manchester Metropolitan University, said the UK should adopt a model pioneered in the state of Oregon, where nurses can opt out of helping patients commit suicide.

‘There is a choice for practitioners. Who can patients turn to when they are making the most important decision that they are ever going to make in their lives?’

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  • 4 Comments

Readers' comments (4)

  • There is no need for guidance on discussing assisted suicide, the answer is simply no thankyou.

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  • Let's have a closer look at the "to assist patients committing suicide".
    Does the core idea of nursing can ever fit this role? In my humble opinion, never.
    The next important question is what does "assisting" actually mean? I guess it is about taking an active part in patient's suicide. Let us name it don't hide it behind smooth notions.
    And last but not least: how will we know whether it is patient's utterly independent and irrevocable decision? I know the case where patient has changed his mind. What about that?

    We also need to be aware euthanasia seems to be a tempting idea to some people especially from economical point of view - we know that the number of patients requiring long term and palliative care is rising. It's very unlikely those patients will ever recover and be back at work paying taxes. They and their families will rather need a long lasting financial support with a huge bill to be paid by taxpayers. Do not expect anyone who is supporting euthanasia will admit it is due to economical worries. And again there are others - genuine supporters of euthanasia, they are worried about their beloved ones or patients scared of dying in horrible pain. Before we rush to euthanasia - have we made everything we can to make the difference? Is there any space for improvement in palliative care?
    Talking about palliative care - some people believe an euthanasia is or should be a part of palliative care. Are they really right?

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  • I think euthanasia is a very touchy subject. I think nurses need to be very careful about how they, if at all, support the idea. There are advanced directives that have been bought in, for the individual to decide in advance, should they face a time whereby they are unable to decide how their care is managed, to say what they would like. In it, I believe, there is a section whereby DNR is stated (or words to the effect of.)

    I am a nurse, and all my life, up until 5 yrs ago, I was avidly against such an idea as euthanasia. Particulaly being a learning disability nurse, as 'quality of life' is a subject that has both subjective and objective opinions attached to it when it comes to individuals with a learning disability. I do not believe medical opinion should be that due to individuals with a learning disability, they have less of a quality of life than you or I. That would depend on the individual concerned. In those circumstances, there is generally a good quality of life, with effective medical intervention/treatment.

    I have also had personal experiences which makes me sit on the fence, on the issue, so to speak. There are three personal experiences I would like to share, which has shifted my own mind on the issue:

    >My best friend, at 27, was dying of cancer, she was in so much pain, that thinking of ending the pain, was ultimately what she wished. She was given the option of more painkillers, with the understanding that this would compromise her breathing, and ultimately, stop it. She chose this.

    >My dad, asked to be put in a coma, which he never recovered from, due to the amount of pain he was in, from his combined heart attack, and long standing decrease in lung function difficulties.

    >My grandma - who was a very very independent lady, is currently in a nursing home, where she has been, for 4 yrs, refusing to get out of bed, not recognising anyone, and generally only there in body. In previous times, when end of life was discussed with her, prior to her series of strokes, she did NOT want to have life sustaining treatment. Due to the fact she wanted to die with dignity, when she chose. She is still in her bed in her nursing home, with no self dignity left.

    I think euthanasia is something that needs to be looked into - but VERY carefully. If we are not careful, litigation could come round, and bite us on the bum for decisions made.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I think euthanasia is a very touchy subject. I think nurses need to be very careful about how they, if at all, support the idea. There are advanced directives that have been bought in, for the individual to decide in advance, should they face a time whereby they are unable to decide how their care is managed, to say what they would like. In it, I believe, there is a section whereby DNR is stated (or words to the effect of.)

    I am a nurse, and all my life, up until 5 yrs ago, I was avidly against such an idea as euthanasia. Particulaly being a learning disability nurse, as 'quality of life' is a subject that has both subjective and objective opinions attached to it when it comes to individuals with a learning disability. I do not believe medical opinion should be that due to individuals with a learning disability, they have less of a quality of life than you or I. That would depend on the individual concerned. In those circumstances, there is generally a good quality of life, with effective medical intervention/treatment.

    I have also had personal experiences which makes me sit on the fence, on the issue, so to speak. There are three personal experiences I would like to share, which has shifted my own mind on the issue:

    >My best friend, at 27, was dying of cancer, she was in so much pain, that thinking of ending the pain, was ultimately what she wished. She was given the option of more painkillers, with the understanding that this would compromise her breathing, and ultimately, stop it. She chose this.

    >My dad, asked to be put in a coma, which he never recovered from, due to the amount of pain he was in, from his combined heart attack, and long standing decrease in lung function difficulties.

    >My grandma - who was a very very independent lady, is currently in a nursing home, where she has been, for 4 yrs, refusing to get out of bed, not recognising anyone, and generally only there in body. In previous times, when end of life was discussed with her, prior to her series of strokes, she did NOT want to have life sustaining treatment. Due to the fact she wanted to die with dignity, when she chose. She is still in her bed in her nursing home, with no self dignity left.

    I think euthanasia is something that needs to be looked into - but VERY carefully. If we are not careful, litigation could come round, and bite us on the bum for decisions made.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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