This article was published by Dr Peter Saunders on his blog on July 13, 2015.
Peter Saunders is a founder of the Care Not Killing Alliance.
The leading organisation representing health professionals caring for the elderly in Britain has this last week spoken out strongly against the legalisation of assisted suicide.
The British Geriatrics Society is the professional body of specialists in the health care of older people in the United Kingdom.
It has over 2,750 members worldwide and draws together experts from all the relevant disciplines in the field - doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and scientists.
In a powerful statement issued on July 10 the society says that whilst it respects that patients have a ‘right’ to determine the choice of treatment and care they receive and some symptoms are ‘difficult to control’ a policy which allows physicians to assist patients to die is ‘not acceptable’.
Speaking from the experience of caring for ‘many older people with frailty, disability and those who are dying’ the experts ‘accept life has a natural end’ and believe that their job is not to ‘prolong life at all costs’ but to ‘improve quality of life’ whilst accepting that death is inevitable.
They express deep concern that many requests to end life come directly or indirectly from the patients’ families and not the older person themselves: ‘Often such requests are then forgotten if such degrading symptoms as urinary and faecal incontinence, depression and unremitting pain are relieved.’
They argue that the clear priority is ensuring that the best possible care is available.
They observe that much of the public demand for assisted dying seems to stem from ‘the fear of a prolonged death with increasing disability sometimes associated with unwanted burdensome medical care’.
But they argue that this suffering at the end of life can be prevented ‘by a change in the focus of care – from prolonging life to addressing the individuals own priorities and symptoms, and by the involvement of medical professionals skilled in palliative and end of life care’.