The week we nearly lost
4 May 2016
The story of a couple who almost lost their mother to euthanasia on the NHS
The last week of February 2016 is a week Anne and Mike Clarke will never forget. It was also an important week for Anne's mother Margaret; it was the last week of her life. But this was a week the whole family nearly lost.
Margaret was 95 years old and had been admitted to hospital with a suspected stroke in early February. From the outset Anne and Mike felt that the hospital saw Margaret as just another old lady who was going to die soon. Some staff were attentive, but "it was patchy", says Anne. "Nobody really wanted to listen to us. We felt we were on a downward slope from the beginning."
Then came the fateful Friday. On 19 February Anne and Mike were told that Margaret was going to die within the next few days and that all food and fluids would be stopped. Anne was devastated. She couldn't bear the thought of her mother being left to die with no food or water. So she stood her ground and questioned the doctor about his decision. Eventually the doctor agreed to wait until the following Monday before removing the nasal tube through which Margaret was being hydrated.
"This is just like the Liverpool Care Pathway"
"It was disgusting," recalls Mike. "They were talking about taking away the tube in front of Margaret. Margaret could hear everything. In the end I said to the nurse, 'You're asking my wife to kill her mother'. The nurse just looked down and walked away."
The hospital wanted to give morphine to Margaret. "But she wasn't in any pain," says Anne. "I said to the staff, 'This is just like the Liverpool Care Pathway'. They said, 'Oh we don't use that any more.' To me it's exactly the same. Also the dietician wanted to reduce the feeding supplement."
Patients First Network
Over the weekend 20-21 February, Anne and Mike contacted family members to explain what was happening. One relative suggested that they should get in touch with Patients First Network, a service offered by SPUC to support and advise in situations where euthanasia is immediately threatened.
"We spoke to Patients First Network on Sunday evening," remembers Anne. "They said we should ask to see the consultant again. They emailed us a list of questions to ask at the meeting, As time was short, they suggested that we put a note on the outside of Mum's hospital folder saying that the tube was not to be removed until we had met with the consultant."
In the event, Mike and Anne saw a more senior consultant on Monday 22 February. He agreed to leave the tube in, but if it came out for any reason, they would not re-insert it.
In the week that followed Margaret's grandson flew in from the other side of the world. "She really brightened up when she saw him," says Anne. "Our other sons who live abroad sent video messages to mum. She loved it. She knew we were with her." Email messages circulated around the family; a record of marvellous memories of a loving lady.
But Anne felt that the hospital was against her. "The pressure was definitely there for me to get rid of mum", she says.
Precious last days
Anne is convinced that if she hadn't fought for her mother's last days, they would have lost them. "There was another lady in the same ward," she says , "On that same Friday they took the fluid tube out of her. She died on Sunday night. That would have been my mum too."
Margaret died naturally on Monday 29 February. Her family mourn her loss, but they will always treasure those precious days of saying goodbye which they nearly lost.
Sign our petition to stop euthanasia
SPUC's Lives Worth Living campaign has launched a petition to health chiefs to prevent euthanasia happening to patients like Margaret in hospitals in England and Wales. Care should be based on the patient's day to day needs, until the patient dies naturally - the last days of life are among the most important in a lifetime.
Go to our Lives Worth Living page to sign the petition now.
This story originally appeared in our Pro-Life Times, now in circulation for May 2016. Names have been changed.