Dying with dignity

SHE was exhausted by her illness but eloquent when asserting she wanted to die.
“Elizabeth” was tired of fighting the intractable pain, she said. As a Christian, she was not afraid of death. In fact, she welcomed it.
She said goodbye to those she loved the night before her planned peaceful exit from this world.
It was a sad yet serene time. Those who gathered at her bedside believed she had the right to die when she wished.
She knew that both passive euthanasia (switching off life-support systems) and active euthanasia (administering of a fatal drug dose) was practised by some doctors. It had not been hard to find the help she needed.

If she had religious misgivings about ending it all, she did not mention them. She seemed to have no qualms about the legality.
Near the end, the subject of death was not enshrined in the usual taboos. Perhaps it should always be that way.
Legal and medical quandries about the definition of death and rights of the terminally ill, and their families and friends, have challenged us all.
The word euthanasia is derived from the Greek words eu and thanatos meaning good death. It was originally a word with positive aspects

In many Western nations, suicide is now legal. But euthanasia is illegal and the only lawful option is to remain alive, often in great pain, until the body collapses.
The problem is that the protraction of dying has become a by-product of medical technology. Death is not seen as something natural but as something alien. Illnesses are treated with every possible medical weapon, sometimes with little thought for the ill.
Euthanasia is seen by many as an unacceptable horror. Yet cryogenic storage of dead bodies and heads is promoted by others as a means of preserving the deceased in a form suitable for future scientific therapies.


13 thoughts on “Dying with dignity

  1. It’s an important subject to discuss, particularly with those close to you. On the other side to the story told above, I’ve known quite a few cases where the relatives and medical staff just presume the person is “not for resuscitation” and that they want to “slip away”, without actually asking the patient. In several cases, this has been not at all what the person wants. There seems to be this assumption that taking away life support is the way to go and that you should want a “natural” death. But everyone is different. I have a very elderly, ill relative who family members assume wants to be allowed to die. But when we asked him straight out recently, he said he definitely did not want to die, wanted to be resuscitated and so on. I don’t know if the staff at the home will even take any notice of his wishes, because everyone thinks he’s “had a good innings”.


    • Hi Bryan and all,

      Since I have had the privilege (and indeed some satisfaction through my grief) in having several of my beloved cats euthanased in their old age, and I just marvelled at the beautiful peaceful way that they have passed away.

      i would definitely want to have the option, if I’m ever just too far gone in pain or in quality and dignity of life to stay with it any longer, to be given the chance to slip away simply and peacefully at my own discretion.

      And I’m making it plain to all friends and relatives that that is my wish. I have no fear of death. One or two spiritual and gracious experiences have convinced me that ‘passing over’ is no pain, and that the ‘other side’ with its Deity and its ‘inhabitants’, is welcoming and loving.



      • Hi Rian,

        I was in the middle of typing my thoughts on the subject and this song popped into my head.

        I guess I can’t even bear to think about it—the dilemma of not wanting to see the one I love in unbearable pain and, at the same time, not wanting that person to have to take their own life because of it. How do ‘I’ let go? How will ‘I’ ever survive ‘my’ loss? You see, it profoundly affects all of us.

        For you Rian, from a cheeky gal.


      • Rian, I feel similarly, as does everyone I’ve spoken to in my retirement village. My only concern is for others, I would not want them involved in anything but the traditional grieving, and relief that I had made the transition.

        Heart failure is such a peaceful way to go, unlike heart attacks which can be distressing. If I am at the point where I feel it is right, I will request that my pacemaker be removed or disabled, and my heart will cease beating at some unordained time. Neither I nor my family will be hanging on those last hours or moments.


    • Caron, would he want to be resuscitated if his future then was to be in worse state than his present? Often the answer depends on the framing of the question. But yes, the question definitely should be asked, the wishes honoured.


      • Monica, are these two separate issues?

        One, the thought for your loved one’s pain and dilemma.
        And two, your own loss?

        Something to pray about, perhaps.


      • Yes, true, but we asked that question too. Another person I know had had a stroke and was in a coma for a while, but semi-conscious. He said he heard the staff discussing that they wouldn’t resuscitate, and he was screaming in his mind, “no, that’s not what I want” – but of course, no one could hear him. When he came to, he saw a sign above his head, “not for resuscitation”. He was horrified and had to put them right on that. During 18 months in which he was paralysed from the neck down, he wrote a book (using voice technology). He eventually passed away peacefully. Another friend told me the same thing happened with his mother – that without his knowledge, the “not for resuscitation” sign had been put up, and that was not what she wanted. Sometimes I think it is because we find it difficult to see a relative or friend depleted. But it’s not about us, it’s about them.


      • Hi Dreamweaver,

        I’ve always been vehemently against assisted suicide/euthanasia, mainly because I’ve been suicidal and if I had killed myself when I wanted to, it would have been as a result of not being in my right mind at the time. That has scarred me. So I worry, very much, about the vulnerable who because of great pain and distress, either physically or mentally/emotionally, are really not thinking straight and perhaps are being a bit too premature in their death plans. Who is going to look out for them? But at the same time I wouldn’t want them to be in unbearable and untreatable pain. If that were the case then I would want to see an end to their suffering too, even if it meant assisted suicide. So I am softening to the idea, so long as the law protected these individuals by providing a screening whereby they were assessed by professionals to ascertain that they were of sound mind and fully aware of the finality of their decision to end their lives. And most importantly, that they knew they could change their minds about going ahead with it once the ball got rolling; that they could back out with no questions asked. As long as we have their best interests at heart and they are protected, that’s what’s important to me.

        Personally, I can’t handle death, especially intentional or premature deaths. I consider taking your own life premature. And how does one deal with unbearable loss and grief? Yep, I know we all have to go sooner or later and that we must deal with it, but……..


      • Caron, good point. I’m trying to find an article where there are elderly people in some Dutch country that are going to the extreme of having tattoos made that they do not want to be euthanised.


  2. Whenever it is worded that way ‘dying with dignity’, I always think, what about the people who decided not to end it early? Did they not die with dignity?

    I was reading recently about certain doctors who are going through some depression due to being requested to euthanise patients. We have to remember, we are placing that responsibility in someone’s hands and it may play on their minds and hearts. That is a big burden to give someone.

    I’ve just stared reading this, but it raises some interesting points.



  3. I work in palliative care often, in my job. Death is not a medical condition. Everyone has to die of something, so why a painless death is too much to ask for is beyond me .


  4. There is always the possibility for abuse. What starts out as compassionately assisting someone to die can quite easily become ‘a duty to die’ or a ‘push to die’.

    Inquiry Suggests British-Run Hospitals Stop Using End-of-Life Protocol:

    “It would seem that when the LCP is operated by well-trained, well-resourced and sensitive clinical teams, it works well,” the report said.

    However, it said that reports of “uncaring, rushed, and ignorant” treatment abound and that “many families suspected that deaths had been hastened by the premature, or over-prescription of strong pain-killing drugs or sedatives and reported that these had sometimes been administered without discussion or consultation.”

    The inquiry, set up by the government in November and led by Baroness Julia Neuberger, a rabbi, found that the drugs often served as a “chemical cosh” to keep patients quiet while they were dehydrated.

    It found numerous examples of patients dying of thirst, with one patient sucking desperately on a wet sponge used to moisten his mouth. The review team also heard stories of nurses shouting at families who intervened to give their relatives a drink.

    When one family pleaded with a nurse to give a patient a drink they were told “to soak a paper towel from the dispenser in the toilet and let her suck it.”

    Some patients took up to 16 days to die after they were wrongly diagnosed as dying and placed on the pathway. Others suffered such irreversible damage from being placed on the pathway that doctors felt they could not remove them, the inquiry found.

    The Neuberger Report, published July 15, made 44 recommendations, including the phasing out of the pathway from Britain’s state-funded National Health Service within the next 12 months.

    It underlined the rule that medical professionals would be guilty of “professional misconduct” if, in the future, they refused a patient food and fluid, and demanded better policing and funding of end-of-life care. It also called for the end to financial incentives rewarding hospital trusts for meeting targets of patient deaths on the pathway.



    • The report was issued almost exactly a year after Dr. Patrick Pullicino, a Catholic neurologist from Kent, England, became the first senior medical professional to raise alarm about the pathway when he told a medical conference in London that the protocol had made euthanasia “a standard way of dying” in National Health Service hospitals.

      Since 2008, the pathway has been rolled out across the country using financial incentives, and an estimated 130,000 people die on it each year, most within about 30 hours.

      In a July 15 email to Catholic News Service, Pullicino welcomed the report but he said that “the risk of death in patients who were not at risk of dying but could be killed by the pathway was not highlighted.”

      “The fact that there are well-documented cases of patients being taken off the pathway and surviving over a year shows that this is a real issue,” he said.

      “One of the principal selling points of the LCP was that it provides dignity in dying,” he said. “There was clearly a failure to provide dignity in a significant proportion of patients.”

      In a July 15 telephone interview with CNS, Pullicino added that he was also concerned that the flaws in the pathway would create similar problems in more than a dozen countries to which it has been exported, such as Italy and Australia.



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