Dignified pathway to see out our lives

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I HAVE hesitated to write about the Liverpool Care Pathway in a public forum because of the very personal nature of my experience of the process.

However, it seems that there is pressure to remove this option from the care of the dying because of difficulties some have had and the 
comments on the pathway appear to me to have been almost entirely negative (your report, 16 July).

My own experience was that of my wife, who was clearly dying from metastatic breast cancer aged 58. The secondaries were in liver, spine and lung and one morning she did not wake in the usual way. She was admitted to the Western General Hospital and given a large dose of antibiotic “in case” she had some occult infection. She did not respond positively to that and 36 hours after admission we agreed with the consultant and his team to put her into the Liverpool Pathway. 

She was effectively put into a medically-induced coma with a pump administering an agreed cocktail of drugs. If we had any sense she was becoming distressed or restless, the nurses had authority to adjust the dosages within agreed limits. She was kept at a level where there was no gag reflex when they were attending to her mouth care, no response when bathing her and no other observable signs of awareness.

We were able to sit for five days with her receiving no food or water until her body stopped fighting and she stopped breathing, passing from this life without pain or distress. The family was able to see her cared for with respect and dignity right to the last moment. Friends came and spoke their feelings to her, discharging what they felt was an essential duty to someone who had so impacted their lives.

I want to say I am most grateful for the Pathway that accepted death as a part of life and while it did not make any attempt to shorten life, it certainly did not strive officiously to extend it. My memories are, therefore, of a time of complete peace and contentment when we were all able to come to terms with losing the person we had loved so much and who had made our family the unit it now is.

Of course, there must be clear safeguards against abuse, but I hope political pressures will not deny others the wonderful opportunity of seeing their loved ones able to lay down their lives in peace and embrace death free from the fear of the process.

Donald Cameron

March Road

Edinburgh