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

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Critics of Fiona Woolf say she should step down amid accusations of an establishment cover-up  

Fiona Woolf resignation: As soon as she became the story, she had to leave

James Ashton
 

Letters: Electorate should be given choice on drugs policy

Independent Voices
Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities