Views & Reviews Personal View

My mum wanted assisted dying but we watched her die slowly and in pain

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e4007 (Published 13 June 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4007
  1. Tess McPherson, consultant dermatologist, Churchill Hospital, Dermatology, Oxford OX3 7LJ, UK
  1. tess.mcpherson{at}msd.ox.ac.uk

My mother, the general practitioner Ann McPherson, was passionate about a change in the UK law on assisted dying.[1] This was a lifelong mission, and as a child I was aware of her honest approach to death. Few of us, even doctors, are familiar with the reality of a drawn out undignified death, but my mum had seen many patients and their families suffer this reality and had felt impotent within the law to help. This makes the manner of her death almost a year ago even more poignant.[2]

Mum was diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer in 2007. She recognised the symptoms early, and because of this—and perhaps more importantly because of her tenacity—she survived until May 2011. We felt that she would go on forever. I had mixed feelings about her becoming so prominent in the assisted dying debate. I would avoid reading her articles or watching her appearances on television. Initially I wasn’t sure why she would want to invest so much of her limited time and energy in this. I also felt ambivalent about the issue and uncomfortable talking about the subject, which felt complex and ugly. Mum changed this for me—and for others too. This is my personal account of watching her die. But I am sure anyone who has been through these days, hours, and minutes will understand the frustration of watching an extremely dignified …

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