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Archive for May, 2011

I watched Channel 4’s ‘24 Hours in A&E’ recently. I didn’t catch it all but it featured an 85 year old man who had apparently suffered three heart attacks. Now I’m not sure what the time lapse was between each heart attack – years, months, days, minutes – but the third one was the one that killed him.

He spent his last minutes on this earth being rushed into A&E, having tubes inserted into him, having doctors trying desperately to get his heart going again. Did he want this? Who knows? He was 85. He’d had a long life. Did he want more time or was he accepting of the fact that, at 85, he’d reached the end of his time on this earth?

One thing, the doctor who tried so hard to save him knows that this isn’t what he wants for himself. He felt that this was no way to die and I’m with him on this, but without any instructions to the contrary the doctor was duty bound to try everything within reason to save this man’s life, no matter how invasive, aggressive and ultimately futile.

Would I want that for myself? Probably not; not at 85. Now at 75, if I was unfortunate enough to suffer a heart attack or a stroke or something equally as serious, assuming I’ve been relatively fit and healthy up to that point and the doctors believe that I have a good chance of resuming a reasonable quality of life for another five, 10 or even 15 years, then I probably would. If, however, they feel they can get me going again merely to ‘exist’ then, frankly, at 75, 65, even 55, I’ll pass. There comes a time when we have to accept that we’re not going to be able to cheat death forever; it’s going to catch up with all of us in the end and we must think about this and decide what we’re prepared to settle for if we ever find ourselves in this situation. Now your number and your threshold for an acceptable quality of life will be different from mine but the point I’m making is that if no one knows your number or the quality of life you’re prepared to accept, you could find yourself subjected to the same life saving procedures experienced by our doomed 85 year old, even though you had reached the point where you had made peace with the inevitability of your own death and would not have wanted this kind of intervention.

So, how do we avoid this? By making an Advance Directive (commonly known as a Living Will) and giving copies to your family, your doctor, your local hospital, your solicitor – anyone who might need to know your wishes at such a time. Doing this means that, even if you’re in a coma, people are left in no doubt as to what you would have wanted had you been in a position to communicate your needs and will hopefully inform any decisions being made regarding your treatment. It will also relieve your family of the burden of having to make what could be a truly untenable decision that even they may not be able to agree on.

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