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A Good Death is a Gift

Dr Samantha Murton, an NZHPA member and General Practitioner from Wellington, reflects on a recent death in her family.

I was busily involved in our own personal experience of a gracious death with my Mother-in-Law. If I could say something now to the Health Select Committee on its Investigation into the Ending of One’s Life, it would be this.

Knowing all that I know as a health professional, it was a very special time providing care and support to my mother-in-law as she passed away. The palliative care support was phenomenal and although she had moments of agitation, there was a lot of calmness and lucidity that enabled her to engage with all her grandchildren, children, carers and friends before she died. She hilariously said “my breathing is funny, is that the death rattle?” without any concern. The moments of agitation were only moments.

The support of the General Practitioner through this time, although she only came in once, was essential. It felt ‘okay’ to let my Mum-in-law go. Hastening someone’s death robs everyone including the person who is dying.

Our children have seen how this can be done well and time allowed for all that needs to be said and sung. It was a gift she gave them at the end. I reminded my sister-in-law that death feels as traumatic as birth but the participants in both do not remember the trauma. It is the calmness of those around that makes the difference.

In my role as a General Practitioner, I would like to be able to provide this sort of care to my patients and their families, that they may have time, peacefulness, gentleness and the pleasure of a life well-ended.

This reflection has been adapted for NZHPA.

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