Monthly Archives: November 2009

The value of human life

Hospice Cares For Terminally Ill During Final Stage Of Life

After reading Simon’s blog post last week I got thinking about why his ideas made me feel so uncomfortable. I can’t help agreeing with many of his points, but when you add them all up – well, I felt there is something in the middle of it that is a larger issue, and one that I think we in nursing need to get to grips with. 

In trying to say how we feel about the value of human life – our own and others –  it is hard to articulate it without using spiritual language – there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you are not coming from a spiritual perspective then an alternative is required.

Being human is, I feel anyway, more than just rights and responsibilities, and more than comparing ourselves to a ‘beloved pet’. Maybe it’s also about acknowledging how difficult – and in fact impossible – it would be to ‘press the button’ on another person’s life.

In this situation, the difficulty would not be for the person leaving, but for those left behind. What do we become once we have agreed to sign away another person’s life, even if they themselves ask us to do so? Does this mean that life is only worth something when we are intellectually and functionally 100%? What does this say about our relationships with other groups of vulnerable people?

To me, this discussion is not just about what a person loses when they have dementia, or another life-limiting and damaging condition, but about the culture which we live in, and which it is our responsibility to guide.   

Hospice Cares For Terminally Ill During Final Days

The ‘right’ to say you want to die in certain circumstances does open possibilities for foul play, as Simon suggests, but more importantly, I believe, it damages our sense of community, our cultural heritage and recognition of our inter-dependence. Individualism seems to be increasingly prioritised in our society and in nursing itself – the trio of autonomy, independence and intellectualism seem to be valued above other qualities with little argument.

To me this route ignores the reality that we are all strong and vulnerable in different respects and at different times, all have hidden or visible disabilities, all work better together than we do apart, and all are damaged when one (and who’s next?) chooses suicide or euthanasia.


Instead, we should be campaigning for inclusion and for investment in sensitive provision of excellent standards of care. For those who need it now, and for those who are planning ahead, we shouldn’t be assuming that lack of intellectual ability makes us less of a person, and thinking about how to ‘jump before we are pushed’.

 How can we recognise and celebrate the individual differences that make us all who we are, in different parts of our lives, as part of a caring supportive and accepting community with mutual interests at heart?


(all images from Picapp – click image for info re source etc)

Thoughts on assisted suicide?

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) recently carried out a survey on assisted suicide. It was only open to their members, quite rightly as it will inform the policy of the RCN, but this restriction will result in a flaw in their research.

It is right that we have this debate – but it will only be worthwhile if we involve much broader opinion. There have been legal arguments in court about what will happen to people who assist suicide abroad. Is it right that terminally ill people have to travel abroad to get relief from a life that is painful and miserable?

Gordon Brown has come out against assisted suicide, but is it right that MP’s legislate for their own private convictions or should they only be allowed to represent the wishes of their constituents?

I have long held the belief that I should have the right to die with dignity and free from pain. No one has ever objected to people making the choice to end the lives of much loved pets but to help a person that we love to end their lives is illegal.

The most used argument against relies heavily on the premise that the right to die could be abused. Relatives may pressure people to die in order to inherit, or people may feel guilty for being a burden. I believe that effective regulation would prevent this.

If I were to get a diagnosis of dementia I would worry more about the pain inflicted on my wife (who would have to witness my suffering) than I would worry about dying myself. Furthermore the cost of nursing care, with no hope of recovery, would seriously impact on her quality of life.

These are my personal views and do not reflect any Institutional views and I very much look forward to hearing from you your opinions.



Photos fromFlickr creative commons (Click images) 

‘One day later’ : by Bolshakov

‘Solo la muerte puede salvarte de este mundo : Rodrigo Basaure

A losing battle?

British Royal marine with captured Opium - from Flickr commons - see also below

I was just reading this story from the BBC about a suggestion that the Scottish cannabis crop (worth an estimated £100 million) may now be bigger than the Scottish vegetable crop.

This comes in the same week that we had the story about the sacked Government drugs adviser. As usual then, plenty of stories about drugs.

Just ask a CPN

Of course, if I wanted stories about drugs then I would need to go no further than my own students in practice or my clinical colleagues. Any of these people would be able to reel off hair raising stories about drugs in the communities around us – often we hear about the effects of these substances and their widespread availability (ok, far more often we hear about legal drugs i.e. alcohol)

Not so long back a local CPN told me that in their particular area they may as well stop asking ‘do you take drugs of any sort’ – in favour of asking ‘what do you take?’  When I was last a CPN it was pretty obvious that in some parts of town it was probably more convenient to buy Crack Cocaine or Cannabis than it was to buy, say – five portions of fruit & veg a day!


How much crime is all of this promoting?

A litle example – Not so long back my daughter was in Church with her Nan – whilst the service was in progress she noticed a man going around collecting unattended handbags. As soon as he had gathered enough he ran from the church. ‘Money for drugs’ was the assumption of the (mainly elderly) theft victims – it may not have been, but would you bet against them being right?

As well as a great deal of petty crime there is a colossal amount of organised crime – both here as well as in poorer countries. There is a suggestion that Mexico is close to buckling under the strain of fighting the drugs war as well as other Latin American nations (See link) (also this)

How many members of our armed forces have been killed or injured in Afghanistan by weapons and explosives partly funded by illegal drugs?

What do you think?

I can’t help thinking that eventually we are going to have to face the fact that the we need to look at this – where is the war on drugs heading? – are we just here to pick up the pieces?

I don’t have the answers of course but I wonder, what would you as Mental Health Nurses do?

Is my assessment over pessimistic? – or are the streets of our major cities awash with illegal drugs?

Do you think that we need more of the same – or some degree of legalised supply of drugs?

I think that Mental Health nurses are ideally placed to comment given our knowledge of what is going on.

Get back with your comments if you get a minute – feel free to do so anonymously if you want.

NB Photo at top of post from Flickr commons also on Helmandblog

(See also)

Time article ‘Drugs in Portugal’