It is with a heavy heart that I am reflecting on what is being discussed both in the press and media about assisted suicide.
I fear for what my fellow nurses may have to face in the not to distant future. For the first time in the history of nursing in Britain, we may have to deal with the reality of discussing with patients the option of planning their own death. With this discussion, for many nurses, will come a feeling of sadness, sadness that they were not able to address the issues that the patient had to face when deciding whether or not to do this act.
While others; MP’s; religious leader’s; even celebrities, publically voice their stance, we watch silently in the background, fearful of the divide that this has the potential to create among the nursing workforce. The divide will be between those nurses who either support or reject this act, and yet, both decisions will be made out of a belief in what unites us as nurses: compassion to help ease the suffering of those in our care.
The constitution of the NHS published in January 2009, states ‘we, the NHS, respond with humanity and kindness to each persons’ pain, distress, anxiety or need’. 2009 may be the year in which the Constitution was published, but, it is actions which we as nurses, have been striving to achieve from that first day of becoming a nurse.
Many nurses like myself, will remember the time that the word ‘cancer’ was said in a hushed voice because of what it most often meant: suffering and death. At that time there was little in the way of analgesia to help, Brompton Cocktail being the one most often available.
Look how we have progressed since then: the word ‘cancer’ does not mean the end of hope for many now; we have Pain Team Services to refer to for controlling pain; there are Care Pathways in place including end of life pathways which also encompass care of friends and relatives; we also have Hospices available.
How did those services come about: did we as nurses, through our own experiences, not help create these services and pathways? How did we know that these services were required - we knew from being at the patients bedside, trying to ease suffering; we knew from trying to comfort patients when the fear of what was to come caused anguish; we knew from trying to support relatives in coming to terms with the suffering witnessed, and in doing so, helped to prevent future generations from having fear instilled in them by stories told.
In the ‘big scheme of things,’ the services described are still in their infancy, yet have already brought comfort, eased distress and controlled pain for a new generation.
With this foremost in our minds, I hope that, even silently in the background, we are given the chance to address the issues that lead a person to decide that their life needs ending. Most of all, I hope that we do this united in our compassion for those in our care.
About the author
Monica Mcaleer RGN. Theatre Nurse, ENT Theatres, Nottingham University Hospitals, Queens Medical Campus.