After my mother's death I realised modern medicine fails to prepare us for the inevitable

The Liverpool Care Pathway has brought death back into the headlines, but instead of the open discussion we need, it's become another hysterical debate

Share
Related Topics

Recent weeks have seen an abundance of news articles and commentaries about the now controversial Liverpool Care Pathway. This is to be welcomed. Despite the oft-repeated mantra that the media is full of bad news, death itself rarely makes the front pages. It crops up every now and again in other debates, about life-extending cancer drugs or assisted dying, but it’s unusual for news reports to discuss end of life care and death. What happens when we die? How does the NHS help us deal with it? What is being done to ensure we always act on the best evidence?

My own experience of death is the loss of my mum when she was 55, two years after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The cancer was advanced and aggressive, bringing countless rounds of surgery, chemotherapy, clinical trials and hospital stays. When we were told nothing more could be done, my dad, brother and I gave up work to live at home and look after her, 24 hours-a-day, until she died.

The medical treatment she received was generally good. Those treating her were the best in their field and the chemotherapy was cutting edge. However,  I have always felt her treatment was lacking from the perspective of mental health and preparation for the inevitable. The reasons for this I’m sure include the fact we didn’t want to accept what was happening, but those looking after mum really did very little to prepare us for what lay ahead, including the specialist palliative care nurse who visited us at home when mum was dying. Although I asked point blank what to expect, I was told not to worry, mum would simply spend more time asleep and quietly pass away. If only. The weeks over which my mother passed away were a drawn out and traumatic experience that I would not wish on anyone.

Several times I tried to get information about what would happen, from all the places you might expect, but none of it cut the mustard. It may be difficult to predict exactly what will happen in individual cases, but we weren't even told about what might happen and how to prepare for it. Even when it was staring everyone in the face, there was little mention of the elephant in the room. Instead, the stark reality of what was happening was glossed over by those whose honest advice we might have benefited from. I’m sure our family is not alone, and although we may not all want such detail about what happens during death, most of us would admit we need to know it, however hard that might be. Informative conversations about the end of life give patients a better quality of life and help families cope with their bereavement.

Given the fact that death will affect each and every one of us, we are surprisingly bad at talking about it. There are obvious reasons. For most their own death or that of a loved one is the most difficult thing they are likely to experience, and our fear and reticence are understandable. But by largely avoiding the issue we deny ourselves the opportunity to deal with it in a healthier and more constructive way. We should value discussions about quality of death as much as we do about quality of life, and the row about the Liverpool Care Pathway – as it is being painted – is an opportunity for such a discussion.

Unfortunately this sensitive issue has been turned into a sensational ‘for’ and ‘against’ debate by some. It's actually a little more complicated than that and although it’s right that the Government give this issue attention, a knee-jerk reaction to media scare stories may not be the best response. Admittedly it is also tricky for medical charities, the NHS and others working with people at the end of life. They have to provide honest information without dashing hopes; to inform rather than emotionalise.

As a society we should be more honest about death: it doesn’t just affect the elderly or those with cancer, palliative care may sometimes be better than expensive drugs, and mental health is as important as physical health. The Liverpool Care Pathway may not be perfect, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Death deserves deliberate and thoughtful attention.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dom Joly owns a pig. That thinks it's a dog.  

I'll bow out. Let Wilbur, the pig that thinks it's a dog, bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'