‘Assisted suicide is no form of care’, says hospice nurse

A palliative care nurse is urging her colleagues to oppose legalising assisted suicide, as it would compromise the values of the profession and could have devastating consequences for vulnerable people.

Jo Fernandes made the comments in a piece for the online magazine ‘e-hospice’, responding to the assisted suicide Bill set to be debated in the House of Commons next month.

She warned other nurses that assisting someone to commit suicide is not a form of care, and contradicts the crucial principle of doing no harm.

Public trust

“The public need to be able to trust that the nursing profession is based upon sound ethical principles to which its members adhere.

“A nurse with a dual role in promoting ‘living and dying well’ meanwhile also helping to hasten death could have serious consequences for his/her reputation as a trusted caregiver”, she said.

A nurse with a dual role in promoting ‘living and dying well’ meanwhile also helping to hasten death could have serious consequences for his/her reputation as a trusted caregiver

Jo Fernandes

A cancer sufferer appeared on ITV News on Friday to explain why she has chosen to die at The Hospice of St Francis, where Fernandes works.

Feeling of peace

Janice Beaman, who has been told she has less than a year to live, briefly considered going to Dignitas, but said, “as far as I’m concerned I would like to live and I would like to die in my home country surrounded by my friends and with the support of the hospice”.

Her husband died in a hospice four years ago, and so she said: “I get a feeling of peace, I get a feeling that I’ve got a team of people on my side who are actually rooting for me, looking after me,” she added.

Fernandes argued that it is “imperative” for nurses to “do all they can to enhance the dying experience for the majority through better access to excellent nursing care”.

Devastating consequences

She raised concerns about proposed safeguards in the upcoming Bill, especially in relation to removing the possibility of coercion.

“Since death is irrevocable, should nurses ever be involved with anything when the risk, no matter how small, of mistake has such devastating consequences for vulnerable people?” she posed.

The Hospice of St Francis is also opposed to the assisted suicide Bill.

Good palliative care

In a statement, it said that assisted suicide is in “direct conflict with the fundamental principles of hospice care”.

Steve Jamieson, CEO of the hospice, added: “Rather than changing the laws for a vocal minority who want the ability to end their own life legalised, we believe that the Government should be investing in improving the availability and accessibility to good palliative care for all who need it, whether that be in a hospice, in a hospital, in a patient’s own home or in a care home.

“With better funding, hospices like ours would be able to reach more people who are dying to influence their care, and often earlier in a diagnosis.”

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