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.
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)