Address to Parliamentary Friends of Dementia, Lunchbox Briefing
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Thank you very much Glenn for the invitation to speak on a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.
And thank you, Ita for the work you have done and will continue to do.
Dylan Thomas was in the deepest throes of personal grief when he penned these famous words to his terminally ill father:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And while I’d never presume to question his poetic genius, I do take issue with Dylan Thomas’ approach to the final transition that comes inevitably to us all.
As the delicate wick of life’s candle begins to flicker into nothingness, it is tenderness – not turbulence – that is required.
A tenderness that reflects and reaffirms the indefeasible worth of each and every human life.
For regardless of our age, our gender or our socio-economic status;
Regardless of whichever illness might afflict us;
Nothing must ever be allowed to erode – much less eradicate – the dignity that is the inalienable birthright of all persons, large and small.
The end of life is always one of its greatest challenges.
A challenge exacerbated when impending death is hastened and rendered premature by disease.
And of all the dread maladies of our age, dementia in general – and Alzheimer’s in particular – must surely rank amongst the worst.
These illnesses are terrible in how they rob the intellectual faculties of those afflicted, thought by thought; memory by memory.
And they are also terrible in how kith and kin of the afflicted see their loved ones reduced to pale shadow of their former selves.
The basic facts of demography inform us that dementia is a problem that’s going to get worse before it gets better.
That the number of sufferers will be driven ever higher by the greying of the boomer generation combined with ever-lengthening average life expectancies.
That’s why the Start2Talk website initiative launched today by Ita is so incredibly important.
Equally important is the national survey to be launched on this same occasion.
This survey will provide a snapshot of what we’re doing well and what we’re doing not-so-well.
The intelligence it provides will help us focus our limited resources to the areas of most acute need.
Death and bereavement are inevitably deeply personal experiences.
Yet proper palliative care can help lighten that dreadful load.
Palliative care can help to ease the way through life’s final journey, as well as provide support to those left behind.
This is a unique form of healthcare that must be tightly integrated into our medical system at every level, every region and every institution.
And I want to thank Professor Rod MacLeod for his efforts in helping to advance that cause.
I began my remarks with a bit of poetry and a reference to the indefeasible value of human life.
Allow me to conclude with a quotation from Tennyson’s Ulysses that conveys that essential message with quite extraordinary eloquence:
Though much is taken, much abides;
and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
Thank you very much.