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Saint Francis Hospice' position statement in response to the ongoing debate regarding Assisted Dying
25th March 2019
Our experience has taught us how valuable life can be even when people are very unwell, and our ethos is one of enabling people to live as well as possible until it is their time to die.
However, we acknowledge the many schools of thought for and against a change in the law and the recently published neutral position by the Royal College of Physicians on this topic.
Here at Saint Francis Hospice we care for many people with complex problems. Many of them will be at an advanced stage of illness. Some of them will have had a difficult illness journey, and we know that this can be very hard to bear. Whilst we acknowledge that for some of these people treatment options are exhausted, and nothing will lengthen remaining life, we also know that giving excellent pain relief and other symptom relief often does make life, and illness, much more manageable. We have learnt so much from our individual patients, including that even when people are really ill, with the right help and support life can still be rich and time be precious.
Our experience of caring for people shows us that when they are facing dying they are often still receiving inadequate help, both practically and emotionally. We feel there is still so much to be done to improve care for people who are living under the shadow of a life-limiting illness and a change in the law at this time may distract from effective development of this care. Until we can be confident that anyone diagnosed with a life-limiting illness will get excellent support and care, we feel we need to direct our energies and political action towards improving access to palliative care.
The ethos of hospice and palliative care, as defined by the International Association of Hospice and palliative Care (2019), is that it "intends neither to hasten nor postpone death, affirms life, and recognises dying as a natural process.*". We are mindful that if the law were to change in favour of assisted dying there is a risk that it would greatly change individuals' expectations and perceptions of their local hospice. Saint Francis Hospice believes that very careful consideration would need to be given to the effect it would have on individual patients and those important to them, services, staff and volunteers.
We would like a real national commitment to improve state funding of specialist palliative care, along with dedicated investment in education and support for front line teams at home, in care homes and in hospitals, so that communication, common symptoms and practicalities around failing health are managed with skill and sensitivity. We will continue to work towards this goal locally with all our energy.
Written by the Ethics Interest Group. Statement to be reviewed annually or if the law changes.