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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Construction Solicitor – Surrey

Excellent Salary Package: Austen Lloyd: This is a rare high level opportunity ...

Construction Solicitor NQ+ Manchester

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: This is an excellent opportunity within...

Corporate Finance

£80000 - £120000 per annum + Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: US QUALI...

Banking / Finance Associate - City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: Banking / Finance Associate - We have an exce...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the political correspondent: Who is St George?

Andy McSmith
 

Enjoy the sushi and hot noodles while you can, Barack – the Chinese will remain cold

David Usborne
Migrants in Britain a decade on: The Poles who brought prosperity

Migrants in Britain a decade on

The Poles who brought prosperity
Philippe Legrain: 'The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - we need a European Spring'

Philippe Legrain: 'We need a European Spring'

The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues the economist
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj
Judith Owen reveals how husband Harry Shearer - star of This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons - helped her music flourish

Judith Owen: 'How my husband helped my music flourish'

Her mother's suicide and father's cancer also informed the singer-songwriter's new album, says Pierre Perrone
The online lifeline: How a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression

Online lifeline: Housing association's educational initiative

South Yorkshire Housing Association's free training courses gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
Face-recognition software: Is this the end of anonymity for all of us?

Face-recognition software: The end of anonymity?

The software is already used for military surveillance, by police to identify suspects - and on Facebook
Train Kick Selfie Guy is set to scoop up to $250,000 thanks to his viral video - so how can you cash in on your candid moments?

Viral videos: Cashing in on candid moments

Train Kick Selfie Guy Jared Frank could receive anything between $30,000 to $250,000 for his misfortune - and that's just his cut of advertising revenue from being viewed on YouTube
The world's fastest elevators - 20 metres per second - are coming soon to China

World's fastest elevators coming soon to China

Whatever next? Simon Usborne finds out from Britain's highest authority on the subject
Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture that causes men to miss out on seeing their children

Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture

The organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills, a chief operating officer who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group that now boasts more than 3,000 members
Ian Herbert: Manchester United broken so badly they need a big personality to carry out overhaul

United broken so badly they need a big personality to carry out overhaul

The size of the rebuild needed at Old Trafford is a task way beyond Ryan Giggs, says Ian Herbert
Mark Schwarzer: Chelsea keeper aims to seize unlikely final chance

Mark Schwarzer: Chelsea keeper aims to seize unlikely final chance

The 41-year-old calmed his nerves to perform a classic 'Superman act' when he replaced Petr Cech in Madrid. One clean sheet later, he is now determined to become a club hero
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?