Sunday, 26 July 2009

Friends and family

Oh no, 'Lord of all hopefulness' sung by a choir dressed all in black - Songs of Praise has done it again.... Interviews all right, the ones I saw, but oh dear! No wonder it's rated at a measly 5.4 in my television guide. Whereas there was rather a good morning service on Radio 4, this morning, with a particularly good talk from Amy Orr-Ewing ( I recommend a listen.

We have spent a very happy couple of days with our family from 'up north' and at various points all the others. Faith was teething which disturbed her night's sleep, and her parents', of course. But we enjoyed our time in the park with the three girls, and hopefully Paul and Penny were able to get SOME rest. It's a full-on job being a parent.

On Friday afternoon, we went to the Oxfordshire MND Association Friends' meeting at Millets, our local garden centre. After wandering round for a bit, we ended up in the restaurant and were given a huge and very good cream tea. A number of us with MND were there, representing three of the four variants, I should think. It was nice to meet them, and the 'visitors', as well as some of the committee. Being with others who are in the same boat helps.

I was naturally disappointed to hear the news on Saturday morning that the Royal College of Nursing had changed its official line on assisted suicide to a 'neutral' one, after polling from 1200 of their members. The percentages were 49% were in favour of assisted suicide, and 40% opposed. To my calculation that's under 600 of their total membership of 400,000, hardly a resounding mandate. But, as I've said before, this is not a matter of numbers; it's a matter of deeply complex issues which need the wisest of people to discuss. It's not just to do with individual choices; it's to do with the kind of society that is best for humans to live in. I'm inclined to agree this much with Dr Peter Carter, RCN's general secretary, that a Royal Commission would not be a bad idea, BUT it would need to address fundamental issues, not just the presenting symptoms.

It occurs to me that The Times poll, published the same day, and commissioned in the immediate aftermath of the much publicised deaths of Sir Edward and Lady Downes in Zurich, is rather like patients diagnosing their own symptoms. The newly opened swine flu hot line crashed on Friday, I gather, because it was overwhelmed with 9 million calls on its first day. I also gather that in the west Midlands, when they were still testing for swine flu, only half the tests turned out to be the virus. We are easily frightened by things outside our control, and that's most true about suffering and dying. If only we could control it, we'd be happier, we suppose. The Times poll purported to show, besides a big majority in favour of legalising assisted suicide, that people were quite sophisticated in the understanding of the issues. Well, I wonder: for example they were asked whether they favoured assisted suicide for the terminally ill. There was no definition of 'terminally ill'. Am I terminally ill? In one document, I recall, the MNDA warned us not to describe ourselves as with a terminal illness when applying for holiday insurance. Is cancer a terminal condition? MS? And so on. I suppose technically I have a terminal condition, but it doesn't often feel like it and I don't intend to dignify it with the label. As Paul said to me on Saturday, life is a terminal condition. Sorry, but it's true.

Which set me thinking on two lines. One is that the difficulty of defining 'terminal' should be a warning against weakening our present prohibition, because of the shadowy territory we would enter. And the other is, why should it be more legitimate to take the life of a terminal patient than a non-terminal one? Is that life of less value? Because it's shorter? Because it's hard? Because it's costly to maintain?

1 comment:

  1. I used to be amazed at the number of funeral visits where I was told 'He didn't go to church, but he always watched Songs of Praise' (or 'she', ofcourse.)
    I'm used to it now. Are we wasting a good media opportunity?