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Reclaiming dignity in dying

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BBC scriptwriters, viewers and listeners fought back over the weekend to recapture the word ‘dignity’ from the assisted suicide lobby.

‘Dignity in death is so important’ TV paramedic Kathleen “Dixie” Dixon told Saturday night’s peak time viewers on the TV drama Casualty. In this week’s storyline, Dixie, played by actress Jane Hazlegrove, took an elderly couple home from hospital so that George, who was terminally ill, could die at home cared for by his wife Winnie.

‘As long as it happens at home with Winnie beside me I’ll be happy,’ George said. ‘I want to die in my own poxy little house, with my old telly and Winnie and a cup of tea when I want one…it’s these things that make you feel like a human being. OK, so I’m dying, but I’m not complaining. I’m an old man. I’ve had a good life but I want a good death too.’

Contributors to Any Answers on BBC Radio 4 also wanted to reclaim the concept of ‘dignity in dying’ in a discussion following Terry Pratchett’s TV documentary which screened an assisted suicide.

Paul from Sussex, who had watched the documentary, said, ‘I’ve been present at three deaths: the last, my wife in October 09, fifteen onhealthy xenical months after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. My wife was beautiful, vivacious, with a lovely speaking voice. When she went into a room she lit up the company. When she died, she couldn’t move, she couldn’t swallow, she couldn’t breathe unassisted and she couldn’t eat; she was fed through a tube in her stomach…the thing was, she died with great dignity. Everyone keeps going on about dying with dignity. My wife, in spite of all this, was still smiling, still greeting visitors right up to the end. She died peacefully with dignity.’

Christina from Gloucestershire made a similar point: ‘My mother died from Motor Neurone Disease, but she lived with it as well. Until the end she gave care and love to her family, who gave care and love to her. She died after going to a hospice for just one day; prior to that she was looked after by her family. Her view was that this was what life had dealt her; this was part of her life.’

As these listeners asserted, the concept of dignity in dying must not be hijacked by those who opt for an unnatural end to life.

Posted by Catherine Butcher
Head of Communications

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