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Controlling death

Death is inevitable. How and when we die may not be within our control, but in a recent article for The Guardian, Professor Julian Savulescu of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford University is quoted as saying that controlling the time and manner of death may become an option for those with full capacity to understand the choice they are making.

There are many moral and ethical issues surrounding death, especially where an individual is deemed to be vulnerable; a state often found with those who are terminally ill. Professor Savulescu believes that if someone is so determined to die that they refuse food and water, their care could include “voluntary palliated starvation” whereby they are sedated “to make them more comfortable”.

Death can seem a lonely and frightening place. However steps are being taken to improve end of life care, and charities such as The National Council for Palliative Care,  Dignity in Dying,  Compassion in Dying and the hospice movement are all doing the very best to raise awareness of end of life issues. We may not know where or how we will die but attempts to mitigate aspects that frighten us – including conversations about death and dying – are extremely important.

Rarely will the courts become involved in cases where an individual or a family desires an assisted end of life, but there is a conflict between this and those treating the individual. As medical advances mean that life sustaining treatment can prolong life, this can present a serious dilemma for the medical team. Advanced planning in this area and having conversations early on before a critical period has been reached can be of real benefit in ensuring the dying person retains control over the timing and manner of their death and has a ‘good death’.

If you or an elderly relative need advice regarding access to health or social care provision then contact a member of our Elderly Care Team.

If you are concerned about the quality of medical treatment given to yourself or a relative, contact a member of our Medical Negligence Team on 0345 209 1055.