13:13, August 07 162 0 theguardian.com

2019-08-07 13:13:04
Matters of life and death, faith and suffering

Caroline Fraser brings good news that Christian Science is in terminal decline, here of course as well as in the US (Dying the Christian Science way: the horror of my father’s last days, 6 August). One aspect that she doesn’t mention is the lifelong effects of early religious inculcation.

Asking for medical help when you have been brought up to believe that this is a failure to recognise the “truth” (even if you know how to when you have never had a doctor) creates deep feelings of guilt and betrayal even after years of apparent intellectual separation from the church’s teaching.

Sometimes, as in my sister’s case, these feelings are so strong that it is too late. My father died in mental as well as physical pain because of the conflict he felt in finally receiving hospital care. Nevertheless, not dwelling on negatives, as we were taught, has its positive side.

Alison Watson


I don’t imagine Caroline Fraser’s deeply religious father considered requesting medical assistance in dying (MAID). But her focus on the still-enormous influence of Christian fundamentalism in US politics underlines the inappropriateness of campaigning for US-type MAID legislation to be adopted here. It excludes many people with slowly progressive fatal illnesses such as motor neurone disease and dementia, and patients with stable but intolerable conditions like Tony Nicklinson’s locked-in syndrome.

After the Voluntary Euthanasia Society became Dignity in Dying, it reduced its original ambitions, promoting Oregon-style laws instead. Many DiD members think restricting MAID to people expected to die within six months is inhumane. Oregon-style laws may be the political limit in a country where Christian Scientists can legally let their children die from treatable conditions, but something like the Canadian model better reflects Christianity’s status in the non-US Anglosphere and western Europe. My Death, My Decision (MDMD) campaigns for these more compassionate and inclusive options.

Colin Brewer

Convener, MDMD Medical Group

As far as anyone can tell, I am likely to face a persistent decline in my condition, becoming increasingly dependent on my ventilator and losing the upper limb mobility I still maintain some of, with a period of deterioration leading to death. During that period, I will become an increasing “burden” on my loved ones, as my 24-hour needs increase, and I can do less and less for myself.

Am I to be offered, or signposted towards, assisted dying (Letters, 30 July), as if this period was not capable of holding immense value for myself and those around me? At any time, I will have the right to refuse continuing consent to ventilation, and my palliative care team will make me comfortable as I slip away. I don’t need assisted dying to have that.

Instead of seeing terminally ill and dying people as suffering burdens, why are these organisations not campaigning to fund the palliative and hospice care that could support us best? Or the social care systems that could meet our needs, allowing family and friends to provide the care that they feel privileged to be providing, without being abandoned to deal with all of it?

I hope as I enter my terminal phase, that if I waver and request suicide, my loved ones surround me with support, comfort and resources, just as we would hope should be offered to any suicidal person, dying or not.

Name and address supplied

Professor John Keown’s letter (No need to change assisted dying laws, 5 August) does not state that he is the Rose F Kennedy professor of Christian ethics at Georgetown University, and that he also is a vigorous opponent of abortion. He misrepresents the thinking of those calling for assisted dying (for those who wish it), something supported by over 80% of the UK population, by suggesting it would be extended to frail and lonely elderly people, those with disabilities or chronic illnesses. In talking to people about assisted dying – many with unpleasant illnesses who would like to escape a prolonged and painful death – I have never encountered anyone with such a biased attitude except, sadly, some Christians.

Gillian Draper

Sevenoaks, Kent