Letters - 11 December 2020

From A matter of life and death to Question and answer

A matter of life and death

The letter from Chris Meeks (30 October) speaks to my condition and I would add my support for the views expressed on assisted living – not killing. 

The letter from Luton and Leighton Area Meeting (20 November) was regarding the webinar on 7 November, to which there was an open invitation on the topic ‘Compassionate Assistance to Die’, which I attended. The speaker was Stefanie Green, a practicing GP in Canada and a provider of medical assistance in dying. She took a purely clinical approach explaining how the law works in Canada, which has allowed assisted death since 2016.

Meetings have examined and discussed assisted dying in the past with no unity in a corporate Quaker view. I am not surprised at this. Local and Area Meetings (AM) have been asked to look at this issue again and report back.

My own AM (East Scotland) replied with a minute of 30 November 2019. This concluded: ‘We have heard moving testimony from Friends speaking from personal and professional experience and heartfelt conviction. We acknowledge that this is a question that raises strong emotions. Does anyone have the right to take a life? A failure to unite is not a failure’.

I come from a lifetime of nursing (including end-of-life care), midwifery, health visiting and counselling, including bereavement counselling. With over sixty years of experience and with my Quaker life to ground me, I have supported palliative care all my professional life in helping patients to achieve ‘good death’. I recognise much more needs to be done to fund and support this vital service. This is where our collective energy and influence should be.

Over the years I have asked myself the question from Advices & queries ‘Think it possible you may be mistaken’, especially when caring for terminally ill patients. But lengthy personal and professional experience, much prayer, and sharing with many people the answer has come back to me every time to continue to follow my Quaker faith and practice to respect life, and not cause death, as our Peace Testimony testifies.

I do not doubt the sincerity and compassion shown by Stefanie Green in her presentation, but there was no mention of spirituality, religion, moral or ethical considerations or, as the presentation was directed at Quakers, recognising Quaker values. Her brief might not have included these elements.

There may be many who take a very different view to mine, which I respect, but we have to accept that we cannot be in unity with every issue at all times. When it is a matter of life and death we do not always have the answers.

Pamala McDougall

Webinar with doctor

I am grateful that Luton and Leighton Area Meeting were moved to share the opportunity to hear the talk by Stefanie Green, I read with interest the question of how doctors deal with a patient’s request for assistance to die. I have no direct evidence, but there is a helpful and detailed document: When Someone Asks For Your Assistance To Die issued by the Royal College of Nursing to advise health professionals. Firstly it is made very clear that involvement in either assisted suicide or euthanasia is ‘unlawful’. The tone throughout is kind, compassionate and supportive of the patient, facing up to questions such as when and why people express a desire to die, how to respond to such a request, and what other steps to take.

Also, just to clarify a point, the location in Switzerland which I experienced when accompanying a relative who had decided to end their life was a calm, friendly atmosphere in a first floor flat with a small roof garden. On an industrial estate, yes, but dedicated to the needs of the people Lifecircle supports.

Win Sutton

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