This week in the UK there is a renewed push by MPs to review the current guidelines regarding assisted suicide on compassionate grounds. Lord Falconer, who heads up The Commission on Assisted Dying reported that the current legal status is inadequate and incoherent. Understandably there are concerns that the elderly could be vulnerable to those who don't have their best interests at heart.
For the past six years, I have watched my father deteriorate to a point where he has lived in diapers for the past four, didn't recognise either of his two daughters or remember my mother, his wife, who was the love of his life. He could not feed himself. He lived but he did not have a life. He passed away in his sleep two weeks ago at the age of 94. He had batted nine good innings but just as in baseball, there is no prescribed limit to how long a game can go into overtime.
Our beloved 14-year-old cocker spaniel Sammy who has lived for the past six months with senile dementia, blindness, a lack of bowel control and use of his legs, was put to sleep yesterday. With our dog we were allowed to choose when to end his life so that he could die with dignity and achieve a 'good death'.
We were not allowed that option with my father.
It is unclear when and who decided it was right for doctors to keep the very sick and helpless alive through the latest advances in medicine even if it means prolonged suffering. And when and who decided that it is right to keep our parents, our grandparents, our friends, siblings, and children alive at any cost? Human suffering is long and drawn out whereas our pets suffer only until we make the decision that they should suffer no more.
In the United Kingdom, in the past 20 years the number of people over 85 has doubled - a total that could double again by 2033. Long term care costs for Britain's growing elderly population has increased 67% between 2007 and 2009, and could cost up to £106 billion a year, equivalent to paying for a second NHS, according to Henry Featherstone, Head of Policy Exchange's Health and Social Care Unit.
Most experts believe that technological change in medicine is the driving force behind the long-term rise of health care spending. However, if one analyses health care expenditures, over half of health care expenditure in both the UK and the USA are spent on patients who die within one year. It is unclear just how much is being spent for services that are not only unnecessary but unwanted. What needs to be analysed is who is benefiting from the billions being spent on health care for people who are being assisted to live against their wishes.
Currently, assisted death is legal only the countries of Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands and the states of Washington and Oregon in the United States. There are stringent guidelines that require two oral and one written request, two physicians to diagnose the patient and determine if the patient is competent, a waiting period, and physician verification of an informed patient decision. The percentage who apply for voluntary assisted death is estimated to be as low as 1% and as high as 3%.
Shouldn't this difficult decision on how to die be the choice of the individual: whether it means clinging on to life for as long as possible or to end one's life when they have full cognitive functions to decide? For the small percentage of the population who choose assisted death, it doesn't seem right that our current laws deny them the right to escape an intolerable life of pain, sickness, and suffering should they wish to do so.