'Befriend' death and plan for it

LAST Friday's letters by Dr Quek Koh Choon ("Keep death in mind as we live our lives") and Dr George Wong Seow Choon ("Time to talk about new laws on dying") draw attention to the urgent need for our society to come to terms with our mortality and to learn to "befriend" death.

To befriend death is not to surrender to death as an inevitable outcome of fate, but to recognise that we are not soulless bodies nor disembodied spirits. We have both a body and a soul. Often, it is through suffering and dying that many discover the true meaning of their lives.

Compassionate doctors will not try to prolong the process of dying, but will seek to relieve pain and suffering through good and competent hospice care.

Modern medical technology can delay death and cause much unnecessary suffering in the guise of prolonging life. When life is near the end, our moments, hours and days are very precious and should not be wasted in hospital for futile and unnecessary treatments. These times are much better spent with one's family and friends.

Families need to share their thoughts and feelings about death and dying so that they will not make futile decisions about medical treatment from guilt or the fear of death.

It is difficult to talk about such issues during a medical crisis. Hence, it is important for families to share their thoughts and feelings about artificial life-sustaining measures and other medical treatments whenever opportunities present themselves.

We need to respect the rights of the individual to make decisions about his medical treatment for life-threatening diseases. Towards this end, we need more publicity on advance care planning.

We also need to recognise that the request of a dying patient to end his life is a call of distress and despair arising from a sense of hopelessness. It will not be an act of compassion for doctors to accede to patients' requests for euthanasia. There is a danger that legalising euthanasia may produce mercenary doctors rather than compassionate doctors.

Journeying with the dying through their pain and suffering can be very difficult. It is only when we are empowered by love that we can do so.

Patrick Kee Chin Wah (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2015, with the headline ''Befriend' death and plan for it'. Print Edition | Subscribe