Assisted dying: One family's experience

Rietje Bakker-Vlessing Image copyright Marc Vlessing
Image caption Marc Vlessing's mother, Rietje Bakker-Vlessing. "She loved life till the end."

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey says he will support an assisted dying bill for terminally ill people in England and Wales.

Lord Carey says he has dropped his opposition to the bill "in the face of the reality of needless suffering".

The current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the assisted dying bill was "mistaken and dangerous."

Assisted dying is legal in Holland, where Marc Vlessing's family lives. Last month, his mother, Rietje Bakker-Vlessing, took the decision to end her life.

Marc Vlessing from London:

"My mother of 81, a terminal cancer patient in The Netherlands with maybe a few painful months ahead of her, opted for assisted dying a few weeks ago.

It was the most beautiful, life affirming way for us as a family to see her go.

There was nothing vulnerable about any of it; she loved life till the end and celebrated it to the full by leaving it with a smile.

We experienced the Dutch system in the round and concluded that it has all the appropriate checks and balances to ensure that things work the way they were meant to.

'A very individual concern'

Lord Carey is to be thanked that he has switched sides in this crucial debate; we should show the same faith in our public institutions as the Dutch have placed in theirs.

Holland is a post Christian society. It benefits from strong cultural cohesion and faith in its public institutions.

Having the right to legal euthanasia is deemed to be a pillar of society, as is having a system that manages this sensitive issue so carefully.

You have to go through the proper process. The GP refers you to a scan doctor who is in turn accountable to the ethics committee that reviews each case.

Image copyright Marc Vlessing
Image caption Marc with his mother. "My mother was a giant emotionally and morally."

The case can be overturned by that committee and people are drawn from a broad spectrum of society to sit on it.

The process itself is a very individual concern.

The rest of the family doesn't get a say.

We thought it would be unwise if we became intimately involved in the doctor-patient relationship and we were on our guard against it.

'Totally supported'

Did we talk to our mother about it? Yes of course.

The only thing I really said when she told me about her decision was, are you doing this because you want to do it, or because your family seems to be under too much strain coping with your illness?

She said she wanted to do it for herself.

My father totally supported her in that decision.

Anecdotally speaking, a lot of people who apply for the right to have euthanasia don't see it through when it comes down to it.

The doctors and all the professionals are very much on their guard to ensure that at the slightest sign of doubt the patient is removed from the euthanasia system.

My mother wasn't religious but she had such a strong character, and while she was physically weakened at the end, obviously because she was very ill, she was fully compos mentis until the last.

'The manner of their death is so crucial'

When my mother was in the hospice lying on her bed with me, my father and my sister stood around her, what she saw was the overflow of compassion by people who loved her. It was an entirely united act.

My mother wasn't one for long speeches, so we used the time we had with her on our last visit to jump start her into anecdotes.

'Do you remember the time when...' had us all laughing and having such a good time.

But when the doctor came in she snapped straight back into her resolve of "Yes, I can live for weeks to come but there isn't any use for it and that isn't the way I want to go."

Before you have lost a parent you can't imagine what it is like.

The manner of their death is so crucial to how you cope with it afterwards.

It summarises their character in all kinds of ways but if it is a good death, it also relieves you of a sense of guilt that you did what you could and were supportive to the end and didn't have to sit alongside someone who suffered unduly and who was no longer in control.

She did not die in a terrible state and that is a beautiful gift to give someone."

Rietje Bakker-Vlessing died on 13 June 2014 aged 81 in Hospice Zutphen in the east of Holland.

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