Thursday, October 14, 2004

Relatives, Not Patients, Ask for Mercy Killings

Relatives, not patients, ask for mercy killings
by Tracey Ellis

RELATIVES are more likely to ask for help to end a life than are terminally-ill patients.
Les Bourgs Hospice director of nursing Ann Martin believes that in eight years of working there, fewer than a handful of people have asked to end their own lives.
‘More often than not it’s the relatives who ask,’ she said.
‘I can appreciate why they ask because they do not want to see someone who they think is suffering.’
Speaking on behalf of the board of governors, she said that the hospice did not support euthanasia, but was keen to see the appointment of a palliative-care clinician; this will be recommended to the States later this month.
Deputies are due to discuss a report which recommends keeping voluntary euthanasia illegal in Guernsey, although Health minister Peter Roffey has produced a minority report supporting the practice in limited, specific circumstances.
The report recommends hiring a palliative-care clinician to improve the quality of life for terminally-ill patients which, Mrs Martin said, could be the crucial link in the chain.
‘We believe that in the majority of cases good palliative care should negate the need for euthanasia,’ said Mrs Martin.
‘Even in those patients who have symptoms that are difficult to control, it is possible to make these manageable so that they can cope.’
She said that euthanasia was an emotive issue and when someone was either ill, or close to someone who was, it was difficult to be objective about the best course of action.
‘Each patient is an individual and have their own coping mechanisms and these may change at each new direction the disease process takes them,’ she said.
It was important, she added, for patients to know that the hospice never stopped trying to find a solution because once people were told that nothing more could be done for them, they were likely to feel abandoned.
Les Bourgs Hospice is just one organisation with which those diagnosed with a progressive disease will come into contact – there is also their own doctor, the Health Department and the Medical Specialist Group.
Mrs Martin believes that the recruitment of a palliative-care clinician would bring all those aspects together.
‘Hopefully it would bring about a more coordinated, consistent and complete service,’ she said.
In addition to helping patients and their families, a clinician could also provide services to the medical profession which may have questions about a particular case that needs specialist input.

*Palliative care provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms and offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death.
Among other things, it also helps the family cope during the patients’ illness and their own bereavement.
The World Health Organisation defines palliative care as: ‘An approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness through the prevention and relief of suffering or early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, psychical, psychosocial and spiritual.’

Published 13/10/2004