Posts Tagged ‘Motor Neurone Disease’
We were busy this morning battening down the chicken-hatches in anticipation of fierce wind and torrential rain. Not that unusual for June in this country, but the sort of spell that makes predictions that holidays abroad are losing their appeal look wide of the mark. I’ve noticed over the years that our topic of conversation tends to reflect the mood of the weather, it certainly did today because several of my pals were mulling over the Terry Pratchett documentray ‘Choosing to Die’.
In the programme the 63-year old writer, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, went to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to see Peter Smedley, who has motor neurone disease, take a lethal dose of barbiturates. Asked why he wanted to make the film, Pratchett said that he was appalled at the present situation. Assisted dying is practised in the United States and at least three countries in Europe but our governments have always turned their backs on the possibility of adopting the same practice here. Pratchett is a patron of ‘Dignity in Dying’, which campaigns for a change in the law to allow assisted dying. Its chief executive says that it is about choice and protection..”People suffer at the end of life, and therefore people take difficult decisions about their own deaths. We need to face up to reality”.
Most of us that work daily on the allotments are of advanced years, and perhaps that is why the programme aroused so much emotion. Opinions were divided. Several shared my view that my life belongs to me and I have the right to end it if existence has become unbearable. I can easily identify with Terry Pratchett’s view of a disease such as Alzheimer’s.
But I ended up sitting rather uncomfortably on the fence because the case argued by Albert, Tom and others is that were assisted dying to be legalised a lot of elderly and infirm people might well be persuaded that they owed it to their carers to agree to end it all. Relatives wouldn’t do that would they? Oh yes they would, or at least some would. I have regularly encountered problems with relatives blocking the discharge of an elderly patient from an acute hospital ward to a nursing home. I was shocked at first but came to accept that the number one priority for such people was money not the quality of life of their parent.
Yet – here I go again swinging to and fro on the issue – I can see no earthly reason why someone who is rational, and capable of making their own decision, should be obliged to exist on when they wish otherwise. Perhaps the compromise should be a certification by a senior doctor that an applicant for assisted dying is terminally ill, is of sound mind,, has self understanding and is capable of making his or her own decision irrespective of the views of others. Under such a scheme no other applicants would be considered. The doctor would not be asked whether the decision was the right one, that judgement can surely only rest with the individual.
Michael Nazir-Ali, the popular retired Bishop of Rochester had no doubts. This was, he said, “science fiction”. The organisation ‘Care Not Killing’ said it was “a recipe for elder abuse and also a threat to vulnerable people”. Itts director, Dr Peter Saunders, accused the BBC of constantly portraying suicide in a positive light. The BBC itself received 898 complaints.
It is indeed a complex and emotional issue. Clearly there would have to be safeguards but I cannot shake off the conviction that someone like Terry Pratchett has the absolute right to end his life at the point where it is becoming, for him, unbearable. It is, after all, his life and his alone.
I have given this a lot of thought and can only conclude that there is no simple answer. Certain it is that I can’t imagine forgoing even one more day to see all that is beautiful in life. What do you think?
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ; 1.Queen Elizabeth 11 2. Wales 3. The species 4. England 5. Jailhouse Rock 6. Hair 7. Cleo Laine 8. The Teletubbies 9. Shaken but not stirred 10. Hadlee
OVER 8 OUT OF TEN…..TAKE A BOW AND LET ME HAVE YOUR NAME!!!!!!!!!!!
Tomorrow brings the latest Google Zeitgeist lecture in London and amongst the speakers will be Stephen Hawkins, an eminent scientist whose ability to cope with motor neurone disease has won him many admirers. He was diagnosed at the age of 21 and, as he puts it, has lived with the prospect of an early death for the past 49 years. In his 2010 book , The Grand Design, he asserted that there was no need for a creator to explain the existence of the universe. The book followed his best-selling ‘A Brief History of Time’ which sold over 9 billion copies and propelled him to instant stardom. At that time he spoke of “knowing the mind of God”. Later he announced that God does not exist, and now he has told an interview staged in advance of tomorrow’s lecture, that heaven or an afterlife is “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark”. He goes on to describe the human brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is, he says, “no afterlife for broken down computers”.
After a good deal of hesitation he appears to have joined Karl Marx in believing that religion is the opium of the people. To many who have loved and lost, his words will create great anguish and to those who, as he puts it, fear the dark, even more so. But why should they take his pronouncements any more seriously that those of any pontificating aetheist one meets in the street?
As a top scientist Stephen Hawkins seeks the truth. But he is no nearer to finding it than the rest of us. Even if he or his colleagues eventually prove a big bang or any other theory relating to the creation of the universe, it does not rule out the existence of a power greater than man. One could theorise for ever. Maybe God planned it all and even created talented people like Hawkins to shed the light. Maybe there are many universes. Maybe much that is told in handed-down holy works is wrong, the figment of exaggeration. Who knows?
Certainly not Stephen Hawkins who, as a man of great self understanding, would deserve more credit for refusing to pontificate about things that are beyond our understanding, and hacking at the foundations of the peace of mind of billions. He is widely respected for his courage and his knowledge. He demeans himself when he attempts to include what are simply his opinions in the latter category.
We shall now endure the unedifying spectacle of another spat between him and people like chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, who accused him of an “elementary” fallacy of logic. But then, he doesn’t know either.
When we were mulling this over on the allotments this morning Bob remarked that it all reminds him of a joke. A taxi driver was conveying a priest and said that after depriving himself of sin for so long the Reverend would feel a fool if “there was nothing there when he died”. “Ah” said the priest, “but not half as much as you will when you find that there is”.
It will always be thus. We either have faith or logic. The latter tells me that the unknowns are too great and that faith or no faith are the only options.
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ; 1 £5 2 Warfield 3 Gragantua 4 Tony Blair 5 A cereal crop 6 Calf skin 7 Middle ear and inner ear 8 Gary Hart 9 1/24th 10 A small anchor
SCORED 7 OR MORE? CONGRATULATIONS, YOU’RE AN EGGHEAD! TRY TOMORROW’S NEW TOUGH QUIZ!!
Please forgive me for dedicating today’s blog to a much loved friend and former colleague whose memorial service I attended this morning. As a result my pals carried out my allotment tasks, leaving me with time not only to get to Broughton Parish Church but also to reflect on a life of brilliant achievement cut short by man’s greatest scourge, cancer.
The church was packed. Everyone entered their names on a card, a lovely idea because I am sure that when in due course the family thumbs through them they will draw comfort from the vast range of people who cared enough to make their way to Broughton to listen to tributes made by Robin Aitken and Dr Alastair Campbell. Both reflected perfectly the life of Douglas Mitchell for there were many humourous stories amidst the records of so much achievement.
It is at moments like this that life assumes a different perspective. Even those who live for a century, and few of us do, are only here for a brief time when viewed against the countless years since our planet was formed. Few of the mundane things with which we fill our days are of any significance when viewed against the eternal time scale. Few of us even have the consolation of having made a mark on the history slate of mankind. We bring nothing into this world and take nothing out. But some talented and dedicated souls leave a legacy of achievement that continues to the benefit of others.
Professor Douglas Mitchell was one such. He began working at the Royal Preston Hospital in February 1986 as a consultant neurologist and he had a specialist interest in Motor Neurone Disease. He was associate medical director at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals as well as Director of Research and was the director of the Preston MND Care and Research Centre which was one of the first services of its kind in the UK.
Douglas was a highly skilled clinician and the files are full of letters from patients who benefited from his specialist expertise. His enthusiasm for learning was an inspiration for junior doctors and his belief in the importance of research was truly infectious.
He was a perfect colleague. Douglas always found time for anyone wishing to discuss clinical trends and developments, and he was always happy to explain complexities in layman’s terms to people like myself. He was one of the happiest men I have ever encountered and his laugh could be heard echoing around the hospital corridors. His unexpected death at the age of 59 has shocked and saddened countless people ranging from clinical colleagues right through to those who were very aware of his other talents. Douglas was a first class pianist and violinist and knew a great deal about photography and astronomy. But above all he was a larger-than-life man who regarded everyone as a friend whatever their station.
So farewell dear Douglas. Will we ever meet again? I know not but it is impossible to believe that the spirit of your booming laugh, gentle kindness and bubbling enthusiasm will ever die. Long after fellow travellers like me have gone and been forgotten, your achievements will tell a new generation of a great man that once walked those corridors.
THE USUAL FEATURES OF ‘THOUGHTS’ AND THE QUIZ WILL RESUME TOMORROW.