As a health care worker and a nurse the probability that someone will die in your care is highly likely at some stage in your career. This is not something that we wish to happen of course but we know it is possible especially when the people that we care for might be very ill or very old. Helping people prepare for a good death however is not something we often discuss or research (except for the fantastic work carried out by Kubler Ross in the 1960s) and is something missing in today’s health and social care manifesto. The government of course want people to remain in their own homes for as long as possible because it is cheaper and many people when asked prefer to die at home. We are trying to make this last wish happen for people so that they can at least feel in control over what happens to them in death as well as in life.
It is when people want to end their own lives prematurely that we struggle both morally and spiritually. For whatever reason some people decide that they have had enough, they cannot see anything changing and they want to get off this planet, we refuse to help them plan their own endings.
In the story of life Buddhists teach that we should all prepare for a death in which there is least suffering. This means talking about it and even planning it. Two people have died this week many miles apart but very close in spirit. Tony Nicklinson and Tony Scott both decided to take matters into their own hands when they could no longer see a way out of their predicament. This is the power of death – to end all suffering – for ever. But it does make me wonder every time I hear about these sad endings , had they been allowed or even encouraged to talk about planning their own death – things might have been different and the stigma of dying in less dignified ways can be addressed.
There is an urgent need for compassion around this taboo subject which for many of us, is still difficult to grasp.