Euthanasia brings an end to all support.
In France, I looked after a patient who had a deep impact on me. He was a self-made businessman, brilliant and handsome with a gorgeous wife… and had been living with cancer for 6 months. He was exceedingly angry. But feeling listened to and respected, he gradually settled down and even thanked me. This man needed to feel heard in his suffering as he experienced it. I had told him from the start that I was against euthanasia, and that boundary was very clear between us. He taught me a lesson which was very obvious with him and helps me to this day: that boundaries facilitate support.
There is an increasing pressure to integrate euthanasia within palliative care. There is a trend in hospitals to transfer patients to palliative care units when nothing more can be done to cure them, in the understanding that euthanasia is part of palliative care…. To me, euthanasia and palliative care are each other’s opposite!
The hospital’s Communication Department once sent me an invitation to a palliative care training course in which euthanasia was considered to be the ultimate care. I declined, stressing how important it was not to confuse palliative care with euthanasia.
Pressure comes from the medical staff too. In an insidious way, staff in favour of euthanasia can portray those who are against it as unkind; insinuating that leaving a patient like this without agreeing to their request for euthanasia lacks humanity. One sometimes wonders whether doctors who refuse to practise euthanasia are deemed cowards, by colleagues who have ‘the courage to perform it!’ In my book, it is not a matter of courage but of my conviction that we can support the patient in other ways, without having to kill them. The tragedy is the speed with which people become upset in these discussions. If one is looking for proof that something is unhealthy about euthanasia, the fact that people cannot discuss it calmly fits the bill!
There is a difference between causing death and letting someone die naturally. After euthanasia, there is a chilling silence in the ward, nothing like the reflective silence following a natural death, even when it has been difficult, like the death of a young person whom we have looked after for a while. The atmosphere following a natural death is different from that following euthanasia. People are upset too, but it is not the same. There is not a deliberate act to cause death.
Often carers hide behind the ‘patient’s choice’ which they consider their duty to carry out. Saying so is a way to protect themselves: ‘I am only the executor, I have no part in the decision making’.
Once I overheard: ‘Has Mrs. So and So’s treatment arrived?’ Can one consider euthanasia to be a treatment…? Worse, on the death certificate, euthanasia is recorded by ticking ‘natural death’. Is it impossible to declare euthanasia?... What a confession!