Betty and Derek are both in their eighties, and have been living in a residential home for the past 9 years in separate rooms. They have always had a very close marriage and do everything together.
Betty suffers with severe bilateral macular degeneration and as a result can see very little and is registered blind. She also has very poor hearing and has used a wheelchair since her arthritis became severe a few years ago.
Derek has been very ill with pneumonia. His health has deteriorated significantly over the last few days but he refuses to be admitted to hospital, stating that he wants to remain where he is and, if it comes to it, wishes to '…die with Betty present, holding her hand.'
At 3am Derek deteriorates rapidly. His breathing becomes laboured and shallow as his respiratory rate drops. The carers wake Betty from her sleep. Unfortunately, while taking Betty to Derek's room, there is a medical emergency and the nurse who is pushing Betty has to stop, to run to help with it.
Sadly, in the time it takes for the nurse to return, the carers discover that Derek has passed away. The carers consider their options, which include telling Betty that Derek is still alive, allowing her to sit and hold his hand for a while, and then telling her he’s passed away a little later, taking into account her blindness and hearing problems.
Would that be the compassionate thing to do? Can it be compassionate to deceive, or does ‘being compassionate’ require that the truth be told?
(With thanks to Vanessa Peutherer for this example.)
It is proposed that you lie to Betty, allowing her to sit with Derek believing he is still alive