What kind of death do you want?

Death is inevitable – which is all the more reason for us to remember that in many instances we have a choice about the type of death we have, if not about the timing.

Just as when our children were born and we created a birth plan, drawing up instructions for when death is upon us should be something we all do. It’s not morbid. It’s practical. And it’s the only way to ensure that you are more likely to have the death that you want.

In November last year, YourLifeChoices, in association with Invocare, ran a survey that questioned people’s thoughts and beliefs on grief and loss. Part of the survey focused on individual’s responses to death and dying and perhaps unsurprisingly, of the 3290 respondents, 92 per cent had thought about their own death. So, death is very much on our minds, if not during every waking moment. But how do you feel about death? Does it scare you? Well, if you said no, then you’re in the majority with 75 per cent saying they are not afraid of dying.

Of course, thinking about and acknowledging the inevitability of death is very different to putting in place a plan for how we wish to spend our last days. While some of us will be lucky enough to go quietly in our sleep, having said our goodbyes to our loved ones, the reality is that death is usually the result of a tragic accident or a prolonged illness. Many of us are quite clear about our end of life wishes, with 67 per cent of those surveyed knowing exactly how they wish to go. Yet only 40 per cent of those surveyed have actually recorded such wishes – this leaves an awful lot to chance.

Overwhelmingly, the response from most people when considering end of life wishes is that they don’t want to linger on life support or be resuscitated if their quality of life is going to be greatly affected and many would prefer to end their days in their own home where possible. But if these wishes are not recorded, then there is absolutely no guarantee that they will be carried out. Even though relaying them verbally or in writing to your loved ones and family members is better than nothing, unless you have an advance care directive, medical staff are not legally bound to adhere to your wishes.

Having the conversation is the first step but it can be difficult to approach the topic without people recoiling in horror or telling you to stop being maudlin.  You will need to get over this as the only way you can try to ensure you have a ‘good death’ is by letting people know how you want to go. For tips on how to broach the topic, you could visit The Groundswell Project – Dying to Know Day, which promotes that talking about death is a part of life.  

Opinion: Dying a good death

Noting your wishes is only the first step to dying a good death. While euthanasia challenges many people’s beliefs and morals, it may be time to simply accept that choosing when to die is an individual’s right.

When I lost my much-loved 83-year-old grandmother 18 months ago, it was sudden and incredibly sad. Although I am somewhat comforted that the end was quick and she didn’t linger in pain, how I would have loved to have known that her end was near and that I could have spent the last days with her. But that was a luxury I wasn’t afforded. Yet, when someone knows he or she will die soon and tries to take control of the situation, out-dated legislation tells them that they must suffer until the end. Surely this can’t be right?

People who are dying after a long and painful illness fully understand the consequences of actions that will end their lives – they’ve had long enough to think about it for goodness sake. They know that they are leaving behind people who will grieve for them, but they also know that their last days will be increasingly difficult for their loved ones to witness. All most people in this situation want is to die as they choose. Isn’t that what we all ideally want? Shouldn’t we be able to achieve it without what is essentially unnecessary interference?

The arguments that rogue doctors will use their powers to end patients’ lives without their consent, or that some may abuse their position are not particularly relevant. If such doctors are intent on prematurely ending the lives of their patients then the fact that there is no legislation to support their actions won’t stop them. Remember Harold Shipman?

And neither do I hold with the irrelevant argument that we treat our animals better by not allowing them to suffer. We choose to end the lives of animals because they are unable to express their wishes and we believe this is what’s best for them.

But what we are talking about is human beings who are suffering beyond our comprehension. And when illness and disease is battling to take away the essence of their very being, surely they deserve the right to take back some control of their lives?

What do you think? Do you believe that legislation should be introduced allowing terminally ill people to choose when, and how, they die? If such legislation became law, do you fear it could be abused by unscrupulous relatives and doctors? Or should we leave well enough alone and let nature take its course?

Written by Debbie McTaggart

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