Sunday, October 16, 2005

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?


At 11:40 AM, Blogger cello said...

Spot on, Willie. There is so much clap-trap manufactured about patient "empowerment" that is simply spin to cover up inadequate staffing levels in the NHS. "We need to get patients moving as soon after an op as possible to prevent thrombosis" is because no-one wants to empty bed-pans. "We encourage partners to be present at births" is so there can be someone there to shout out for a nurse when the epidural has worn off, or worse, when the baby monitoring machine has gone silent, "we allow all day visiting" so that relatives can bed-bath, feed or change the dressings of their loved ones. Pah!

And the whole euthanasia issue is such utter hypocrisy. Given that we are treating animals with increasing respect it becomes more and more valid to say "you wouldn't let a dog suffer like this" when you have to stand by and watch a parent fight for the relief of death.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

On one occasion they were keen to get my mother out of hospital for two reasons. Firstly, the wards were full of geriatric patients who had nowhere else to go. Secondly, as a doctor frankly said, she was likely to get an infection that would kill her. "Hospitals are very dangerous places to be", were his exact words.
The two biggest crises in the NHS, mental health and geriatric care, are hardly being addressed by the Government.

At 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was one of the nurses that looked after Alan Bennetts mother,and have been so upset to think that Alan belives that his mother was "slowly starved" I can assure you that his mother was always encouraged to eat when we fed her and was well cared for by all of the nurses, certainly when i was on duty. The matron was very strict with regard to the patients wellfare and the nurses held the same values. I have a grandmother in a very similar situation as Alans mother, she refuses to eat, and although we try to feed and encourage her, if she turns her head and spits it out, we cannot force feed her. Alans mother was a lovely lady and dare i say, "one of the favourites".Sometimes you can't do right for doing wrong.


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