The Cancer Drugs Fund, Assisted Dying and Us

Or perhaps I should have said, and me. I am one of those fortunate people whose chemotherapy is currently being funded by the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), although one must wonder for how long. Despite the promise to continue funding those already receiving treatment, we are all aware that the nation does not have a bottomless purse — and government promises have a way of disappearing like the Cheshire Cat’s grin. For those who have not yet started treatment with one of the drugs taken off the list, the situation is bleaker. Over the next few days we shall probably see attempts to try to make political capital out of the CDF’s decision. That is understandable, but not helpful. Cancer does tend to grab the headlines in a way that other, equally deadly, diseases do not; but if we try to make political capital out of any illness, we may lose sight of the fundamental objective of the NHS: ensuring the health of the nation as best we can. There is an inherent limitation in that, but it is one we are slow to acknowledge. When one is ill, facing an uncertain and probably short future, one doesn’t think as clearly or disinterestedly as one might at other times. When one has to make decisions on behalf of those who are ill, decision-making can become more complex still. How does one weigh a slightly longer life-span for one person against cost/side-effects and cuts that may affect others?

So far so good; but there is something else on the horizon worth thinking about: Lord Falconer’s bill on Assisted Dying. I don’t want to go over the arguments for and against. I have made my own position clear in a previous post. But this morning I found myself wondering whether those of us receiving expensive treatments will feel under subtle pressure to do the decent thing and relieve the State of the burden we put upon it. I am a fairly robust person, but I have noticed that every time I receive chemotherapy, I am told how expensive the drug is that I am receiving. If I were depressed or anxious, that might be enough to influence me into taking a decision I would never dream of taking under other circumstances. It is, as they say in the Facebook status, complicated. May I ask your prayers for all affected by the CDF’s decision — patients, families, medical staff, those who don’t have cancer but suffer from other serious illnesses?

I don’t want anyone to be in any doubt that the care I have received since diagnosis has been excellent, and I am very grateful. I mentioned the ‘expensive drug’ thing only because it is an instance of how easily a casual remark could be taken amiss by someone feeling vulnerable.


7 thoughts on “The Cancer Drugs Fund, Assisted Dying and Us”

  1. The only thing I would add to your characteristically humane and eloquent post is that the pressure to which you refer in your second para.may not remain subtle for long. Not that long ago I remember watching, horrified, as agony aunt (of all things) Virginia Ironside said in a TV interview that people who are old and weak (she didn’t even specify that they need have life-limiting or other illnesses) should indeed consider “making way” for their younger successors as “they’ve had their life”. The prayers you request at the end of your post are very badly needed (and you can be sure of mine for you), but so IMHO are as many as we can spare for the heart and soul of the society in which our lives are played out both jointly and severally.

  2. I have MND, one of those fatal diseases. I agree with you, Sister. The danger of the Assisted Dying Bill is the subtle pressure it will place on vulnerable or socially minded patients. The limits on the country’s budget are something we’ll hear about a lot in the run-up to the election. Prayers are indeed appreciated.

  3. Very thought-provoking, Sister Catherine.
    I have been thinking about all those people I have met or know through receiving cancer treatment myself who will be affected by the reduction of the CDF.
    I am in some ways very fortunate. The experimental treatment I am on is paid for by the drug company; and NICE have said that they will NOT pay for this treatment for NHS patients. But I still receive excellent care, support & other benefits from being within the NHS. (But they are apparently drawing the line at a portable oxygen concentrator for me to use at home. My oncologist told me on Wednesday “the bean-counters have decided!”
    But there is no doubt that some patients I know experience real tensions (whether due to objective circumstances – like unhelpful comments about expense – or their own subjective feelings – e.g. self-worth) regarding the value of their lives.
    All this has, somewhat ironically, become a major issue for my family & I as my cancer has taken a turn for the worse. We have had to discuss issues of priorities (e.g. life extension vs. quality of life), and I have been greatly blessed by the attitude of my oncologist in focusing on what my priorities are for the limited time I may have left. But I am well-educated, surrounded by a loving & supportive family and buoyed up by a plethora of friends. There are others who feel they have to fight tooth-and-nail to get information from their own oncologists, and whose family will not or can not help them reflect on these things.
    I realise this has ended up somewhat different in theme to your original post; but it is all about *how* value judgments are made (i.e. finance is the bottom line) and how involved & informed the patients & their families are.
    Bless you for the helpful reflections you share with the rest of us 😀

  4. I looked after someone with Alzheimers for 18years
    I was often asked by medical staff if it wouldn’t be better if I stopped his medication. I refused but having him at home all those years gave me control. He never had respite or hospitalised if he had been I am sure his medication would have stopped.

  5. Sr Catherine if it isn’t too much trouble could you sign post your previous comment on assisted dying. Please be assured of my prayers for yourself, all those with life-limiting illness and those (professional and otherwise) who care for and about them.

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