I spent a couple of hours with Lord Malcolm at the Sacred Heart Hospice yesterday. Despite the fact that his body and mind are clearly shutting down, he is amazing in his courage and persistence, organising all that he can, and managing to walk with me to the balcony overlooking Darlinghurst Road. I also met some of the people who work at the hospice. They come from all kinds of faith or none.
There are some good thoughts on some of what has been on my mind since that visit on this Encounter: The Good Death:
Peter Saul: The use of the word “good” to describe death is actually quite tricky. All death, to one degree or other, is quite horrible. I mean, it’s a bereavement for those who aren’t dying, and sometimes very unpleasant for those who are. So to call it “good” would perhaps be inappropriate.
David Rutledge: Dr Peter Saul, senior intensive care specialist at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle.
Peter Saul: I’ve worked in intensive care for about twenty-five years, so I’ve probably seen between two and three thousand people die, personally. And I think you could say that an appropriate death, a suitable death, a death consistent with someone’s values in life, is definitely possible – and that would be closer to the meaning of euthanasia than “good”.
I think it’s bound up with the idea of having something about you, as an individual, honoured during your dying process. So when you use words like “dying with dignity”, I find that enormously difficult to understand. I think what it means is: dying with appropriate respect for who that person is, or who that person has been up until this point. And it’s respecting their wishes, or the way they may have wanted to die, that makes a death dignified. People get confused, because they seem to think it means the same thing as “aesthetic” – in other words, where you just pass away quietly in a coma. But a dignified death might mean going down screaming, if that’s the way you lived your life.