It is natural for a person to feel helpless and hopeless when a terminal or incurable condition is first diagnosed but, given the right support by family, friends and the medical community, it is quite possible lto come through this phase and to enjoy some quality of life and even its enrichment. As Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the Hospice movement, has said, ” Our last days are not necessarily lost days “. Not only can they be used to recapture the past and to strengthen relationships but also for contemplation and preparation. Again and again, people have told me how much they have learned about themselves and others at this time in their lives.
It is simply a mistake to emphasise the autonomy of the individual, especially at this point. It is relatedness that matters. Rather than seeing themselves as unwanted and alone, people, at this stage of life, should feel themselves drawn into a circle of love and care where they will be made as comfortable as possible and valued for who they are. It is not necessary always to be independent. Human beings depend upon one another at every stage of life and this one is no different. “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ”, says St.Paul and this is exactly what the Hospice movement has shown us can be done in the care of the terminally and incurably ill. Thank God for all the wonderful people involved in this work.
Another valuable lesson which this movement has taught us is that it is nearly always possible to manage pain and to make sure that patients do not suffer unnecessarily. Palliative medicine is now highly developed and, whether in hospices or in pain clinics in hospitals, it tries to make sure that science is made to serve the care of people who are seriously ill and relieve them of as much pain as possible. Such relief may, in fact, lengthen the life-span but even if it has the effect of hastening death, this is quite different from an intervention that intends the death of the patient.
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