What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


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A word against the culture of death

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent,
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
the Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

The canton of Vaud in Switzerland has decided to invite the Grim Reaper into nursing homes.

The plan was put forward by the cantonal parliament and when the new law comes into force, doctors in nursing homes and hospitals must respect the wishes of a person requesting assistance to die. However, certain conditions must be met before the wish is granted: the person in question is suffering from an incurable illness or injury and is of sound mind.

Oh, well, that's a relief. Certain conditions apply. Hey, at least it's not unconditional death-on-demand.

Vaud is retaining the fig leaf of consent. England, which supposedly isn't supplying suicide but only an "end-of-life protocol," doesn't bother with that consent stuff. A recent story, highlighted briefly on Drudge (which will hopefully get it some much-needed attention) shows us yet again Professor Patrick Pullicino as a voice crying in the wilderness against the infamous Liverpool Care Pathway, in which patients are drugged out of their wits and then (of course they can't eat on their own now, can they?) denied tube feeding and hydration until they die. Prof. Pullicino has raised the alarm about the LCP before. Wesley J. Smith has also brought to light the fact that patients who were supposedly "imminently dying" were so only because of the protocol, not naturally. While Smith (being a lawyer) would not like the word, I do not hesitate to say that patients are being murdered in cold blood by the LCP.

There was some talk of reform which was evidently just talk. Pullicino is not impressed and tells the following story:

Professor Pullicino revealed he had personally intervened to take a patient off the LCP who went on to be successfully treated. He said this showed that claims they had hours or days left are ‘palpably false’.

In the example he revealed a 71-year-old who was admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia and epilepsy was put on the LCP by a covering doctor on a weekend shift.

Professor Pullicino said he had returned to work after a weekend to find the patient unresponsive and his family upset because they had not agreed to place him on the LCP. ‘I removed the patient from the LCP despite significant resistance,’ he said. ‘His seizures came under control and four weeks later he was discharged home to his family,’ he said.
Professor Pullicino revealed he had given the patient another 14 months of life by demanding the man be removed from the LCP.

If evidence is needed beyond the evident nature of the dark Pathway itself, there are more anecdotes. In addition to Hazel Fenton, saved from death by an energetic daughter who managed not to be stonewalled, here are a couple of additional anecdotes from WJS's combox. (I have not corrected spelling and capitalization.)

Dad’s been in Bedford hospital for 3 weeks with a foot ulcer. We were expecting him home last Monday because they said that the infection had now reached the bone and the main artery – although he looked perfectly well, there was nothing more they could do for him. I got a call Monday afternoon saying he had taken a turn for the worse and that he was dying. It transpired that they had neglected to hydrate him so he was already quite dozy and unresponsive. Whilst he was sleeping he was making a gurgling sound which the physiotherapist later said was just a bit of porridge left over and with a guided cough managed to dislodge it. However it was enough to get the “death rattle” box ticked which started him on the Liverpool pathway! He was entering into a diabetic coma when we found him.

Because of his unresponsive state we took the registrar’s word and assumed that he was dying of blood poisoning from the foot ulcer. However when the penny dropped we managed to get all fluids and medication reinstated including a broad spectrum of antibiotics for a chest infection he’d picked up at the hospital. He soon came back to life and I left him yesterday playing with the grandchildren and feeding himself a banana.

It’s touch and go with the chest infection – he’s very weak and if the antibiotics don’t kick in he’ll probably be back on the slippery path to Liverpool.

my husband died last year. The doctors seem terrified that someone will have a bad death.His liver was not working well and he had been given medisolam one of the normal drugs for the lcp, when he was unconscious, they wanted to give him diamorphine to slow down his breathing. Little did I know that medisolam actually causes fasted breathing. They also insist on giving drugs to stop the death rattle which is a natural and painless condition occuring around the time of death. My husband is a born again believer and would have had a good death, however, they would not let him go naturally.

I have not the slightest doubt that eventually American patients will be killed by similar means in similar numbers against their own wishes and the wishes of their families. Right now the only thing that saves some is the fact that most American states retain the notion of the "wishes of the patient," and you might be able to help yourself by putting in writing a wish not to be killed by something like the LCP or help your nearest and dearest by holding their medical durable power of attorney. (And were we talking recently about procedure and substance? The reason this can be done in so cavalier a fashion in the UK is because the government health care monopoly just has that much power with no checks and balances to stop it.)

Here is a comment on the Switzerland story from a nursing home director (bless him):

As a medical director and attending of 128 souls in a skilled nursing facility in the US, I have lost count the number of times families have asked me to “give them something” to end it sooner.

Sadly, there is a mindset in this country that is already present and just waiting for the legislation. When I am confronted by a family wishing me to play Dr. Death, I tell them this:

Two reasons I can’t comply with your wish. 1)It’s against the law in this state and 2) It’s against one of the Ten commandments.

Therefore if I kill your mom, I will not only go to jail but hell as well, which I would rather not, thanks. They usually laugh nervously but get my point rather quickly.

All of this, heaven knows, is depressing enough. So why talk about it?

First, because the people die for lack of knowledge. Knowledge of what is intended for the weak and elderly can help us to some extent to put off the evil day and to defend specific individuals in our American system. The LCP stories show us (which may be news) that even a claim like "We will do this only if this person is imminently dying of natural causes" is not trustworthy, either medically or ideologically. Knowledge of where this is all going can allow us to educate our children so that they can speak out in their generation and be a light.

Which brings me to the second reason. As Catholic novelist Michael O'Brien often has his characters say, a life is a word. And words matter. Each one of us is a word to others. We must speak these words to tell what is going on, to warn, and to teach, because speaking out is itself an act that shifts the balance of the universe. I believe that it does so even beyond its measurable effects. So let us not be silent.

Comments (2)

Outcomes are uncertain. I have come to believe that Medicine is more of an art then a science.
I have seen numerous cases where a patient was admitted to Hospice and taken off all medications except analgesics. The patient defied expectations by rebounding both physically and mentally.

The most sacred and personal feelings that an individual is sensing can be not be uttered, but they have a charge to make a difference, to be intuitively detected by the oher. Our thinking is the most powerful weapon we possess, the truth is we don't know how to use it, when we need it the most.

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