At last, choice is on the way for those not wanting resuscitation

I was very heartened to read yesterday’s Daily Telegraph’s piece, Emergency staff to be told if you want to live or die.

Backed by health minister Simon Burns, the Government is now keen for electronic records to be shared by paramedics and out-of-hours GPs, which will give seriously ill people the choice of whether they wish to receive life-saving treatment, or be allowed to die without further medical intervention.

According to the article, 8.8 million people currently have electronic records, but all of us registered as NHS patients in England will now be offered the opportunity to sign up for this facility.

This means that we can state our end-of-life wishes, and, as long as everything is in order, we will not be resuscitated if that’s what we want.

Hooray!

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Deathbed visions and the paranormal

Last weekend I spent a delightful twenty-four hours with a group of Christian parapsychologists.  Yes, those belonging to the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies are more than open to the weird and wonderful, and even the downright scary and unexplainable.

Thank goodness for that, because every few years they hold a conference to share their experiences with each other, and to add to the paranormal research that is happening in the UK, and in fact, all over the world.  I was there because I had been invited to give a paper on The D-Word:Talking about Dying – but more about that a little later.

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Why are we Brits so poor at talking about dying?

A recent survey commissioned by the Dying Matters Coalition (set up by the National Council of Palliative Care to promote betters ways to talk about end of life issues) says that ‘death is still a taboo subject for Brits.’

Shockingly, it found that only 16% of us told relatives or next-of-kin where we would like to die, only 18% of us have talked about the type of care and support we want at the end of our lives, and very few of us have discussed whether we have made a will (let alone a living will) or the type of funeral we want.

So, putting birth aside, why are we Brits so reticent to talk about the one life experience that we are guaranteed to share?

Personally, I blame Henry Vlll  and the Reformation.  Here’s a very simplified potted history to explain why.  (There’s a fuller version in my book The D-Word: Talking about Dying.)

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Lord Layard’s Action for Happiness, and the wisdom of Carl Jung

Last week was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me.  So, while I applaud Lord Richard Layard’s enthusiasm for launching his Action for Happiness movement this week (inspired by Gretchin Rubin’s Happiness Project), I do wonder whether those in the government pursuing this agenda understand just how complex, contradictory and sometimes dark the pursuit of happiness can be.

In fact, I doubt that many of us are capable of maintaining a constant state of happiness (I hope that’s not what Lord Layard is intending).   For example, today’s BBC news – Two British men shot dead in Florida; Girls behaviour in schools deterioating;  Deadly attack on Afghan ministry; Japanese facing nuclear crisis from crippled Fukushima plant. I haven’t even got to what’s happening in Libya –  shows that human nature is simply not constructed that way. The dark side will out.

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Professor Brian Cox, God, and the Universe

It’s Professor Brian Cox who dunnit for me, in the sitting room, with his BBC series, The Wonders of the Universe.

His extraordinary programmes have fundamentally changed my understanding of God. Although I have never been a practicing Christian, I have always had a profound belief in God as an external force.  By this I mean an omniscient intelligence that guides and nurtures me. My interpretation of this God-like presence is very personal, but it has given me great comfort in times of despair, and has provided a moral cornerstone for how to live my life.

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Japanese Shinto versus man-made nuclear horror

I was hanging up the washing, when I imagined a Japanese woman of similar postmenopausal age living in Sendai,  doing exactly the same task last Friday, just before the earth heaved and the tsunami came crashing in.

Then I thought, there must have been tens of thousands of people drinking tea together, or shopping, or sending an email, or making love, or quarrelling, or tending to their child, or perhaps taking a moment to daydream. Normal everyday activities that people from the world’s third largest economy take for granted.

All wiped out.

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Cause of Death: reaching the end of life

I have now had a chance to reflect on my concern over Liz Kershaw’s Sunday Times article (20th Feb), Cause of Death: the NHS (only accessible to those who to subscribe to the Times On-line).

It is about her experience of how NHS medical staff treated her 87-year-old dying grandfather.

She starts the piece by saying, ‘Tell you what: why don’t we just put a pillow over his face and finish him off?  Day after day’, Liz continues, ‘I witnessed the deliberate withholding of nutrition that resulted in his ‘accelerated, yet agonising and undignified death.’

I too, have witnessed the death of an elderly person in an NHS hospital.  He was my 87-year-old bull of a father who was struck down just over two years ago by a massive stroke.  But, I had a completely different experience from Liz Kershaw, as I have also discussed in my book, The D-Word: Talking about Dying.

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Does belief in life after death really matter?

I received a message on the answer phone last Thursday from BBC1’s Sunday morning programme, The Big Questions. Would I be interested in taking part in a live debate about life after death?  I immediately called back, and spoke to a breathy young researcher.

‘I’ve got your name because of the research you’ve done with Dr Peter Fenwick on death and dying,’ she told me. ‘Do you believed in an afterlife?’

‘I’m not sure,’ I replied. ‘But I don’t think it really matters. I believe the way we die is far more important.’

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Mandela not in danger! Of what? Dying in his nineties?

After announcing this morning that Nelson Mandela has been admitted into hospital for tests, BBC Radio 4 News continued by saying he was ‘not in danger.’  Much loved though he is, Nelson Mandela is 92, and as far I am aware, not immortal.  Clearly his body is beginning to pack up, and he is getting ready to die.  That’s what happens to people who reach this grand age.  Attributing the concept of danger to this is, for me, ridiculous.

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