I noticed this story on the BBC News website today: once again someone has suggested that those with Dementia should be allowed to end their lives if they feel they are ‘a burden’ to others.
This brings back memories.
When my Father died nine years ago, I went home to help Mum with the funeral and ended up staying for a month. I had to go through all their papers as part of my role as Executor. Hidden away in one part of the study I found a stack of magazines from the Euthanasia Society. It turned out that these were Mum’s. She tried to tell me her feelings on the matter, which I suspected were somewhat parroted. Having just lost Dad, my sympathy with these ideas was not great. I rather angrily threw the magazines away with the junk.
Over the intervening years, Mum’s concern shifted from wanting to end her life at a time of her choosing to being terrified that she might be cremated alive. “When I die I want you to make sure that I’m dead,” she would anxiously tell me and I would picture myself hesitating over her prone body with a hammer. She even asked her Solicitor if she could put a stipulation about it in her Will, but we pointed out to her that by the time the Will was read it would most likely be too late. We talked about a 'Do Not Resuscitate' order, something I'd seen countless times whilst watching 'ER', but nothing was ever drawn up.
Now that Mum has Dementia, if anything I feel more resolute on this issue.
You see, I know that Mum can be so very easily influenced to believe strongly about just about anything. She is incredibly dependent, not just physically but mentally; so much so that I need to be extremely cautious what I say around her. Her ‘Self’ is so wispy and undefined these days that any strong statement from me could distort her into someone unrecognizable. I’m not going to be using words like ‘burden’ around Mum, ever.
And just because Mum is losing her wits, it doesn’t mean that she isn’t capable of enjoying the attention and stimulation she’s getting at the Home. She’s happier now than she’s been for a few years.
If Mum was sound of mind and suffering from something incurable that was only going to get worse and more painful then sure I would countenance her right to make an informed decision about the manner of her passing. But she lacks the ability to make such a choice now.
My reaction to this news story is based entirely on my experience of one individual with Dementia and I'm not claiming any authority on the subject. I haven't even read the originating article that prompted the news report. I just worry about less sympathetic carers influencing their relatives or clients for nefarious purposes. It's a gut reaction and I may revisit this subject another time.