Friday 21 July 2017

Dear Mary: My injured father wouldn't have wanted to be kept alive this way

Mary O'Conor is a relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist who offers advice in her weekly column.

A number of years ago my father had a serious car accident where he fractured his skull and suffered a lack of oxygen to his brain.

Since the accident he has been in a permanent vegetative state and every doctor who has seen him says there is no chance of recovery.

So effectively he is a bed-ridden corpse.

My mother is insistent on keeping him alive for as long as possible at great expense, but I know my father and he would never have wanted to be kept alive in this way.

My mother simply will not listen to any of the other family members' wishes and thinks this is the right thing for him.

My other siblings all pander to my mother's wishes as they know she has a wicked temper and perhaps don't want to be scolded.

My mother has suffered from numerous mental health issues (since long before the accident) and I think it's desperately wrong that someone so challenged has the only say as next of kin.

I deeply resent her for keeping my father alive like this knowing he would hate it.

He had no clarity, like in a will, so she assumes this is the best thing.

She won't even discuss it.

Advice please on this awful situation.

Mary replies: A Most couples at some stage in their lives have a conversation about what they would like to happen if a situation such as you describe happens and there is no hope of recovery.

In almost all cases people say they do not wish to be kept on life support and want the end of life process to go ahead.

You do not mention life support so as I understand it your father is bedridden with no cognitive powers.

Your mother is doing what she thinks is right as she doesn't want to make a decision that would lead to his death and that is her prerogative as his wife.

There is very little that you can do in the circumstances.

You could talk to your family doctor about your concerns, and I wonder if he or she is aware that your mother is struggling quite as much as you say she is with her mental health.

Your letter should serve as a timely reminder to readers that they should make their wishes known while they are in good health and also get things in writing with a solicitor.

They can talk to a solicitor about power of attorney or enduring power of attorney which are some of the legal arrangements that can be set in place in the event of becoming incapacitated or unable to deal with their own affairs.

The Irish Hospice Foundation has very good, basic and down-to-earth information to help guide people to state their preferences in the event of an emergency or serious illness.

Go to thinkahead.ie, where you can find and download the Think Ahead Form.

I realise that I haven't been able to give you very much advice in relation to your own situation, but you will have helped quite a few other readers by bringing up this subject and I thank you for that.

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