Letting Someone You Love Die: The Irony Behind a Living Will

When my mother died, she died in a hospital. Hospitalised with a malignant brain tumour on her brain stem that caused a stroke, she lived three days from her stroke until her death when we turned off life support. And when she died, we all gathered around her in the hospital room and sang “Amazing Grace” to her as she died. In those last few days, Mum was on a respirator and IV fluids, but she was fairly responsive when we spoke with her, squeezing our hands or nodding her head. In other words, she was dying, but still showed all the signs of living and being engaged with her surroundings. She couldn’t talk, but she definitely knew we were there, and every time I would lay next to her on the bed, she would nod her head up and down, and I knew she wanted me there. Taking her off life support seemed counter-intuitive and a difficult decision to make. But it wasn’t my decision. Mum had a living will. The summer before, my mother had taken a course in death and dying, the same year I took one on Living and Dying in Buddhist Cultures, and we had discussed in detail our thoughts on dying, death, and the ways in which people die. My mother had clear opinions on several aspects of death and dying, and strong opinions that people should be allowed to have as much control as possible about the circumstances of their dying. And it was with this in mind that she wrote her living will. It was so much easier said than done. When the...

The NHS must learn to be smarter

The NHS is at breaking-point due to underfunding. More money is needed to face the new challenges of an ageing population and worsening health. It is, however, far from the truth that the only correct response is more money. It is also the case that good care can cost less; and there is certainly space for large efficiency savings. One response, popular with the public, is to find new ways to treat patients near to their homes, and in them, rather than ferry them to expensive hospitals. Very often the services people want to receive are not to be found in hospitals, even if by refusing certain invasive treatments a patient’s life may be shortened. Realising this not only leads to increased patient satisfaction, but to savings that would not have been achieved otherwise. There are some powerful ideas that have the potential to transform modern healthcare. But these ideas have barely been tried by the NHS. We are confident that the NHS can meet modern challenges by finding greater value from the money it already spends. It is time that budget pressure was used as a catalyst to do things differently; to make improvements that, for whatever reason, were avoided in the halcyon days of plenty. The UK Living Will Registry which has recently launched, is already working to help increase the choice that people have about how, when and where they receive end of life care. The service we provide will become an important link in the overall system that will be needed to enable end-of-life choices to be acted upon. Further Reading...

Letter to Jeremy Hunt at the Dept. of Health

The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt   House of Commons London SW1A 0AA 07th October 2014       Dear Mr Hunt,   I was interested to hear that the government has set up an independent review into choices in end-of-life care. I have attached results from a survey that we recently conducted regarding Living Wills (also known as Advance Decisions) and end-of-life care, which you may find interesting, and instructive for your review.   We sit at an unparalleled juncture in history, in which most of us can expect to live to old age. Compare this to medieval Britain, where life expectancy was just 30 years. It is not uncommon now, however, to survive to middle age before personally experiencing the death of a loved one. Advances in modern medicine allow us to live well with chronic illness, but we also run the risk that the lives of frail older people are prolonged to the point where life becomes a burden. As medicine develops, so too does the ability to prolong life by artificial means. Machines to enable a person to breathe and feed them intravenously and resuscitating a person or administering drugs can all prolong life, even if these actions themselves can no longer aid recovery. Dying people often fear ‘lingering on’ unnecessarily, and have priorities such as retaining a sense of control and not being a burden on their loved ones. Yet in the medical setting, we can often overlook the wishes of a patient to have a peaceful death.   Added to this, it is very rare to find realistic public depictions of the most common death...

Six things to consider when thinking about Wills

1)      Make sure you get a high quality Will, from a trusted provider. 2)      A correct and up-to-date Will is the only way to guarantee your wishes are carried out in the way you want. 3)      By setting up a trust, you can protect some of your estate from the 40 per cent inheritance tax. 4)      In some cases, particularly for unmarried parents, having a will is the best way to be sure that children under 18 will stay in the custody of your loved ones. 5)      Making a will doesn’t have to be expensive. If your needs are simple and basic, you can use an online company.  If your affairs are a bit more complex, then seek a solicitor. 6)      Beware the scammers offering to make your will for throwaway rates. If anyone cold-calls you and tries to pressure you with dire warnings of “losing out” if you don’t act right away, then there is a good chance they are trying to scam you.   Further reading:...