Do Not Go Hungry Into That Good Night
Last week's House of Lords debate on assisted dying for the terminally ill coincided with Alan Bennett reading from his new book of diaries on Radio Four.
In writing about his mother's last months in a nursing home, he observed that thousands of elderly people are allowed to starve to death each year. This is because there are not enough staff to hand-feed every person who is unable to feed themselves. Bennett's mother continued to eat partly because she had a good appetite and was easy to feed and partly because Bennett often went into the home to feed her himself.
The same is true of hospitals. I saw this happen with my own mother when she spent several weeks in hospital. She was unable to feed herself but no attempt was made to feed her. Meals would be put in front of her, then taken away uneaten. Nobody said or did anything about this. Fortunately for her, my father went to the hospital twice a day and gave her one of those liquid feeds that contain protein, vitamins and minerals.
The problem is greater with people with Altzheimers who often clench their mouths shut or retain the food in their mouths and refuse to swallow it. So they are allowed to grow weaker and weaker and eventually die. As Bennett says, doctors are complicit in this because malnutrition or starvation is never mentioned on death certificates.
This shows the hypocrisy about the issue of assisted dying, for what is this slow death from lack of food but a form of assisted dying?
And isn't it curious that a serial killer like Ian Brady who wishes to die will be force-fed in prison, while elderly people who are simply unable to feed themselves will be left to die because there aren't enough staff to feed them and nobody gives a damn?