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Zach Moss 20 January 2015

How do you give shape to the story of your life, asks Gawande?

How do you give shape to the story of your life? A huge question to answer, but it was the essence of this year’s Reith Lecture, writes Penny Beerling. x I was deeply moved to hear Atul Gawande layout how medicine has failed to understand the difference between caring for people and understanding them as people first, patient after. One of the points he raises in his third Lecture this year was how doctors need to change their approach from giving patients medical facts about their illness and frailties and talking at patients, to asking them what they want to know and how they want to be treated.   Isn’t that exactly why My Life, My Decision was established? We work with people to discover what they want and why, so that they can achieve their best plans for the future. This work we do is about supporting people to say what is vital to them now, what makes their life worthwhile, what memories and thoughts they have that they want to share with others.  It matters how people want to say goodbye and leave this world and their loved ones.  Getting to really know people, that unique person in front of me, is how I approach every client I talk to. Its also why we work with other professionals and health workers, so that they too recognize the role they play in empowering all their clients to express their needs, wants, fears and drives.  Then, the choices people have become the focus of planning and control stays with the client especially in the appearance of deteriorating frailties.  It is MY life and it is MY decision is the mantra. Listening to Atul, a cancer surgeon reviewing the medical approach to dying matters, gives hope of change in the traditional medical approaches to the onslaught of aging and dying and fires me to strive to drive such changes.  A quote from his lecture:
We’ve had I think an about 50 year experiment with medicalising mortality, with casting it as just another problem for us to treat like any other, and I think that experiment is failing. But we have an alternative emerging. It’s one where we learn and elicit what matters most to people in their lives besides just surviving, and then we use our capabilities not to sacrifice it but to protect, to protect it – to protect those priorities that people have. And I think that is our opportunity.
Atul Gawande. The Problem with Hubris. Reith Lecture 2014 My Life My Decision is pioneering work.  The rapidly growing number of clients requesting support already proves its popularity.  It’s vital to ensure people know about Advance Decisions and Lasting Power of Attorney and provides support to make them. However, it also has a part to play in bringing about a change in our society so that people remain in control of their humanity when it comes to the care and treatment of them as individuals, first and last. If you have anything to say on this matter, get in touch with Compassion in Dying (0800 999 2434), your local Age UK, or me, Penny Beerling at Age UK Oxfordshire.

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