A doctor before his first euthanasia: I felt anguish and pride in being able to help

The doctor with several years of experience makes a reflection on the occasion of the first anniversary of the entry into force of the law in Spain «Whoever opts for euthanasia does not really want to die, what he wants is not to continue with that life that is no longer yours," he says.

His patient was around 80 years old and suffered from an advanced oncological disease that kept him bedridden. He availed himself of euthanasia. «
I remember that day with the anguish of a situation that I had never had to facebut also with a feeling of professional pride for having been able to help a person in an extreme situation«.

These are the reflections that this family doctor from a semi-rural area of ​​the province of Barcelona, ​​who prefers to remain anonymous out of respect for the your patient's family.

This physician with several years of experience behind him recognizes that
felt some insecurity and anguish before what has been his first and only euthanasia to date.

He details, however, that it is "the feeling of dealing with a situation that I had never had to face professionally", "normal" in the face of something "unknown" that also took place a few months after the approval of the law.

At the same time, he continues, throughout the process he was accompanied by a feeling of "professional pride" at having been able to help a person who was "in an extreme situation."

«Whoever opts for euthanasia »does not really want to die, what he wants is not to continue with that life that is no longer his«

And it is that throughout his career not a few people have approached him to say: "doctor, help me to end this."

“This situation was not unusual before the law was passed and you had to say there were no tools. Now we do have that possibility », he celebrates.

They do not want to continue with a life that is no longer theirs

He states that
who opts for euthanasia «does not really want to die, what he wants is not to continue with that life that is no longer hisbecause he has lost the ability to relate to his loved ones and, despite having the correct palliative care, he suffers significant existential anguish“, he relates.

In this sense, it rejects that palliative care is an alternative to euthanasia. "Palliative care is necessary and we must apply it to those who need it, but there are people who, despite having perfect palliative care, will want to reach death."

And he gives the example of José Luis Sampedro. «He lived many years with terrible limitations, well accompanied and treated, and he did not want to die until the moment came when he said 'enough' and it was not because he did not have good care, but he felt that this life was no longer a life for him."

Sampedro's story -he says- is a good example of why for some people palliative care is not enough.

Doctors try to make people live and die better

This doctor has had to face deeply rooted principles in his profession. “Health professionals are mistrained in thinking that our job is to help patients avoid death. That is a fallacy."

As doctors, he continues, "we prevent death from occurring prematurely and we accompany people so that they live as well as possible, but also so that they die as well as possible."

"Sampedro's story -he says- is a good example of why for some people palliative care is not enough"

And, despite having accompanied numerous patients to death, he admits that the fact of actively participating in it brings with it a very different emotional burden. "There are professionals, among whom I find myself, who are saddened by this situation and live with a pain different from that of a death without euthanasia."

Emotional help for health workers in euthanasia

For these cases, in some communities such as Catalonia, the toilets have help. The Galatea Foundation, of the Barcelona College of Physicians, has been working for 24 years attending to the mental health of medical professionals.

Its director, the psychologist Antoni Calvo, explains to Efe that since the law was approved, some health workers have contacted the Foundation to manage emotional problems prior to the application of euthanasia, while the Department of Health of the Generalitat has also requested your collaboration.

Calvo points out a factor to take into account. «The culture around death that exists in our country, loaded with
symbology, ideology and prejudice. This puts certain professionals on guard and supposes a level of stress and anxiety that must be helped to manage«.

In addition, the lack of experience in the application of euthanasia also generates concern, without forgetting the bond between health workers and their patients, which causes an emotional impact that must be understood, he points out.

Referents and training, keys to the application of the law

The president of the Right to Die with Dignity (DMD), Javier Velasco, also believes that this process implies a
significant emotional cost for many doctors, who are not used to it and need the support of their colleagues and superiors, as well as training and references.

Some communities, such as Catalonia and the Basque Country, have indeed created this network of references; health professionals who already have some experience in euthanasia and can help other doctors who face this process for the first time.

In fact, Velasco points out that the communities in which the law has been best implemented (from his point of view
Catalonia, Euskadi and Navarra) are precisely those that have teams of references and training, compared to those that are further behind (Madrid and Andalusia, according to their data).

This association, which has spent decades fighting for the decriminalization of euthanasia, assures that since the law was approved, consultations and requests for advice have multiplied by three and highlights that, despite the initial warnings, the number of health objectors is scarce.

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