Dementia & Medical Aid in Dying

 
 

I am currently writing a book about Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD) not in the context of a terminal illness that is likely to kill you anyway within a few months but in the context of Alzheimer’s-type dementia. Alzheimer’s is also a terminal illness, in the sense that you will inevitably die from it if some other illness – pneumonia if you’re lucky – doesn’t kill you first, but it will take an average of seven years from diagnosis to death. It is now the commonest cause of death in Britain. There is no cure, nothing on the horizon and once it gets to the stage when you can no longer look after yourself, no treatment would be able to replace the lost brain cells and the memory and personality that disappear along with them. For a taste of the arguments, read my Chapter from I’ll See Myself Out, Thank You – the 2015 collection of essays on MAiD that Dr Michael Irwin and I edited.

MAiD covers everything from medically-assisted suicide (or as we prefer, medically-assisted rational suicide) to voluntary euthanasia, though the difference is one of style rather than substance. In both cases, a doctor is helping to bring about the death of someone who, for understandable reasons, no longer wishes to remain alive. That distinguishes it from killing – a term widely used and abused by opponents of MAiD – which usually means bringing about the death of someone who very much wants to remain alive. The difference between the two types of MAiD is very similar to the difference between deciding to decorate a bedroom yourself and buying the paint and brushes or getting a professional to do it all for you.