We in the West seem to have a rather unhealthy relationship with our health - or rather - what comes at the end of our lives. So unhealthy in fact that we try to medicate death out of existence - ironically using drugs and procedures which are more and more likely to kill us.
We are already seeing an explosion in Antibiotic Resistant Infections due to Doctors feeling forced to prescribe antibiotics for things like the common cold. As well as Accident and Emergency and Doctors' Surgeries being clogged up with people who should not be there.
What got me thinking about our relationship with - and attitude to - death (particularly from natural causes and illnesses) was somehow getting involved in an argument on a subject I strongly disagree with. Being forced to opt out of the Register for Organ Donation is something I disagree with because being automatically put on a Register, without being asked if I agree with it, strikes me as just about as far from Democracy as you can get. Not only do I wish to donate my organs (I am not even sure they would be suitable for various reasons) but I would not wish to be the recipient of Donor organs.
However, I digress.
There is a flip-side to the "Life At All Costs" argument. There have been people who have been forced to go to Dignitas, in Switzerland, because UK Law does not permit them to have an assisted death even if it could be considered to be in the patient's best interests.
The UK seems to be stuck in this unending loop where it is the quantity of life which counts and not the quality of it.
In the race for the latest cures for conditions - using drugs which (if they have not got nasty side-effects - ie, causes a worse illness than they have been prescribed for) can be highly addictive - we seem to have lost sight of the fact that every single one of us has a built in cure for disease.
Before the invention of antibiotics and the discovery of the ability to transplant organs, etc, people had (in my opinion at least) a much healthier attitude towards death. So much so that it was an accepted part of life.
Nowadays the subject of death is shrouded in euphemisms (passed away, shuffled off this mortal coil, passed over to the other side, etc) - as well as a subject we are encouraged to avoid in polite company. How many times have you been at a party where you were encouraged to seriously discuss the arrangements you would like at your own funeral, for example, whilst you were perfectly healthy and stone cold sober???
Apparently, I should take advantage of every test going and report any "worrying" symptoms to my Doctor (I am not actually sure if I am still registered with my old Doctor's Surgery - and when I attempted to register with a Surgery near where I now live I was put off by their questionnaire). Put it this way - me and Medical Tests don't mix very well. So much so that - when I had tests quite some years ago - I vowed not to go through that ordeal again. Waiting for the results was worse than the possible diagnosis could have been.
It has really come to a sorry state of affairs when death - instead of being seen as a cure and a way of relieving suffering for both the patient and the family - is the one thing scientists are all battling to avoid for as long as possible.
I have read an interesting book (mentioned elsewhere on this blog) by a Doctor who had a radical idea. The Doctor in question not only refused to carry out certain "life saving" procedures on patients for whom they would be of no benefit whatsoever - he also explained his reasoning to them in very blunt terms so the patients and their families knew where they stood and could prepare themselves for the end of their lives.
In an interesting twist - the patients who had that conversation lived for longer and had a better quality of life than other patients who were operated on and put on lots of medications as a result.
I kind of have experence of this.
When we found out that my English Grandma has cancer (a little over a year after my Mum had died of cancer) she was given the chance of an operation to remove it. Her initial decision was not to have the operation (she was in her late 80's at the time). My Dad and a Consultant at the hospital persuaded her otherwise. The end result was that she had the operation and came out of hospital in a worse state than when she went in. She lasted a few more years - deteriorating before our eyes - with several trips back to hospital. After she had died I was left with the impression that my Dad (her son) regretted talking her into having the operation. Her quantity of life was increased to the detriment of her quality of life.
I realise that there are many people who have had lifesaving operations who have come out the other side unscathed - after all, I am one of them (even though there have been - and still are - times when I wished I hadn't had the operation).
We really need to have a debate about whether or not people should be allowed to make their own decisions regarding their end of life care - as well as how much the battle to establish immortality in the Human Race is really costing us, both financially and personally (in terms of emotional costs).
The sooner people realise that Doctors and Nurses are only human, the NHS is not a never-ending well of money, and death doesn't have to be feared, the better off we will all be.
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