Letter to SUNDAY TIMES:
Response to article: So tell me how you want to die
I am a Palliative Medicine Physician/Radiation Oncologist, basic training in UK, > 30 years overseas experience, 27 as a specialist. I should like to make several statements.
Suicide/euthanasia is rarely of benefit to the patient and heartbreaking for those left behind. It is in my experience the most selfish escape from suffering.
Good palliative care, which may include giving doses of drugs which are likely to hasten death, but which outcome is not the intent of administration is in many cases an alternative.
Keeping patients alive for that sole purpose, is wrong. I cite the case of my late mother. At the age of 90 she was no longer able to visit us in Australia so I made frequent visits home. We had the additional burden of my younger brother, who was dying of Melanoma. Having been home in June (2010) when she was suffering falls and my brother, although incurable, was stable, I was called back in Sept/Oct mainly because of Richard's decline and the need to find placement for my Mum.
I arrived back in the UK on a Tuesday and my wife and I headed for the large regional hospital in North Kent, where she had been taken. Praise God she was alert and sensible and we had a great time together. Overnight, however, she had a major stroke and never recovered consciousness. As next of kin and someone qualified in the care of the dying, I requested that only comfort measures be applied.
She was transferred to a side ward, but I was concerned that she was being fully rehydrated. She was removed from the side-ward a couple of days later based on the obvious lie that she needed some stimulation from the general ward population. It was blatantly obvious that because there was only one male patient on the ward, he got the side room.
I managed to see one doctor during the weeks I was there - from a different unit. It seems that she was under a multi-doctor team (that obscenity of modern medicine) and I could not find out which of several consultants she was under.
I spoke to a senior nurse on the ward, expressing my wishes for my mother's care. She ignored me. I tried to give her my contact details, and she left. I ended up writing them in the case notes.
I re-iterate that I am a senior specialist, head of a cancer department, and qualified in Palliative Medicine. I am also fully licensed in the UK. If the NHS won't talk to me, who the hell will they listen to.
Dr JW Ward, MB BS FRCR FRANZCR FAChPM
Let us return, please, to the old fashioned Doctor-Patient relationship, not a TEAM-patient relationship. The latter is supposed to protect from litigation, in fact it has been shown that this is not the case. Doctors should have the guts to give their opinion, one on one with the patient and maintain the doctor-patient relationship.