Byline: VIRGINIA IRONSIDE
ABOUT time too. That's what I felt when I heard that Terri Schiavo had finally died, released from years of living in a terrible half-world neither truly alive nor dead. I know it sounds callous, but it makes me furious when I hear the "keep them alive at all costs" brigade claiming the moral high ground.
"Who are we to play God?" they say. And yet they play God by interfering with a natural lifecycle and keeping some poor creature alive, with no hope of any life in the future, covered with tubes and drains, for year after painful year.
My own view is that it is morally reprehensible to keep alive someone who cannot see, move, speak or hear. The last time I was faced with a friend whose every organ was failing fast and who had no hope of living at all, it took moral courage to say to her husband that I thought it would be best if she were, as they say in the intensive-care units, "turned off ".
Interestingly, he was grateful for my intervention, longing for someone to say what he knew was right, but what he had dared not articulate for fear of being thought beastly.
Terri was not on a lifesupport-system. But she was being given food and water whether she liked it or not, force-fed, not in order that she might lead a happy and fulfilled life but, rather, to draw out a state of non-being, what most of us would regard as a living hell.
I do know something about this, because my poor old mum, a woman who had tried to kill herself twice in her life, and who longed to die, found herself, at the end of her life, surrounded by doctors endlessly wanting to see if she might be suitable for bone marrow transplants, or to give her yet another blood transfusion to keep her going for another few days.
She had said to me, several times (as Terri had apparently said to her husband, in her own words) that she would hate to "gutter like a candle" at the end of her life. "You will promise me you'll see to it that that won't happen?" she had asked, pitifully. I had promised.
But, of course, it wasn't so easy. When I first told the doctor that she wouldn't want to live in the state she was in, he gave a cheery laugh. "Oh, she may have some months yet!" he joshed, making orders for yet another transfusion. Doctors have to relieve suffering, as Terri Schiavo's did by giving her morphine until very near to her death. But what good does it do in such a miserable life?
Finally, a nurse came up to me one day and, with tears in her eyes, begged me to ask the doctors to do something. "I know how your mother is suffering," she said. " These doctors, they have ways (oh, I shouldn't say this, as I'm Catholic, but I beg you)." "I've already asked them!" I said. "I can't ask again. They'd think I wanted to murder her!"
But I went once again to the doctor, and this time I burst into tears and simply begged them to take some action. No one said anything, but the doctor stopped writing out the instructions he was about to give and instead pulled a prescription pad towards him. "This will help ease her pain," he said. And then he put out his hand to me. "Goodbye," he said.
When I returned to the room where my mother lay gasping, I held her hand as they gave her the injection. "Don't worry, mummy," I said. "I've organised it all. …