Friday, February 16, 2024

Book Review: The Dying Keats: A Case for Euthanasia

The Dying Keats was written for the 20th Biennial Keats Memorial Lecture in 2009. 

With 50 years' experience caring for the elderly and dying, its author, Dr Brian Livesely, has successfully researched and crafted a succinct argument for improved medical care for the dying; drawing on the distressing death of the 19th century poet and apothecary, John Keats, in order to illustrate how doctors so often fail their dying patients. 

Keats died at a young age from tuberculosis. Denied drugs such as opium to ease his terminal suffering, he experienced distressing symptoms up to his death, causing him to describe his final days as 'this posthumous life of mine'. Livesley describes this as the 'Keatsonian Experience', and compares it to euthanasia in the truest sense of its meaning, that being, 'a good and comfortable death'. 

As the author points out, it is astonishing that today's care of the terminally ill is often little better than that experienced by Keats. Livesley believes this to be due to the reluctance of doctors to consider death as a diagnosis that requires treatment. He reminds us that 'dying should be a humane experience for us all'. 

It is a sobering and thought-provoking read, not only for clinicians, but for anyone contemplating their wishes for the tail-end of their life.

The Dying Keats: A Case for Euthanasia
Brian Livesley
Matador (2009)
ISBN: 978-1848761-711

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