Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Right to die

Okay. I'm going to be up-front about this: I am pretty much against doctors killing patients because the patients ask to die. I don't have a problem with the "withhold heroic measures in cases where there would be no future quality of life" (which I think is also a wise advance directive to have, if you feel that way).

At the same time, I do understand some people not wanting to continue to suffer. If I were developing Alzheimer's, for example - would I WANT to stick around for the eventual end? I don't know.

Right now I'm in good health (thank God) and good frame-of-mind, and the idea of ending my own life is abhorrent to me.

My problem with the whole doctor-assisted suicide is, I admit, a slippery-slope argument: if we allow doctors to follow patient's stated wishes about "I want to die," will there then be those who either feel it's their duty to "persuade" people who seem to have low quality-of-life to take that path? Or will there be doctors who are maybe, I don't know, pushed by higher-ups or insurers to "cut costs" - which means trying to encourage the "expensive" (e.g., sick and unlikely to get much better) patients to end it all?

And do we eventually get to the point where the patient's wishes are considered less: "Oh, this person is autistic, they won't understand, so let's just do it." "This person has had a massive stroke and we're really not sure they have much cognition left, better to just end them."

But also, there's the question of family members. My parents, in recent years, have gone through a few minor health crises - thank God, in each case it was something that modern medicine could more or less fix, but it also brought home for me that there might come a day when something is NOT "fixable." And what if they're in constant pain, and want an out? How do I deal with that? I mean, part of it is, you have to say, "It's their decision," but what about in cases where a family member is not consulted? Or where there is estrangement that could be fixed?

(In both my extended family, and in my sister-in-law's family, there are some cases of estrangement. To me, it is strange and sad: yes, I have got my feelings hurt by relatives in the past. But that's life, people do hurt your feelings. I can't cut them out of my life because of some stupid thing they said or because they happened to push my buttons a few times.)

Anyway, I was reading this article, which discusses the legalization of euthanasia in Belgium. It mainly centers around the case of one woman, Godelieva, who suffered from depression most of her life. She divorced her husband (who later killed himself), wound up estranged from her children (though it sounds like her son tried to stay in touch somewhat). Apparently the practice in Belgium is to "read in" the family on the patient's wishes, but she never did....her son found out after her death.

I think I struggle with this because on the one hand, I understand not wanting to see someone go through endless suffering.....and yet, on the other, I wonder if there was more that could be done to treat the woman's depression.

Also, I think I struggle with the issue after knowing a couple people - one of them a cousin, I've written about him before - who committed suicide.

After Godelieva killed herself, her son went looking for answers. He arranged a meeting with the doctor who helped her and a proponent of assisted suicide. Eventually, though, Tom kind of broke down, he couldn't keep trying to have a reasonable discussion:

The gut-punch line of the article was this - Tom said: "You’ve just taken away the suffering of one person and transposed it to another!’ "

Oh man. Oh yes, that. I had to stop reading for a bit there. I wasn't super-close with the cousin who killed himself (he was almost a generation older than I was and was a married man with kids before I knew him)., but still - yes. The pain doesn't go away, it just moves to other people. And while maybe each person experiences less individual pain, it's still there. (His mother, oh, his mother, my aunt....it was awful for her and for the rest of her life she questioned if there was something she could have done. I remember a sad and uncomfortable conversation with her on a family visit about whether or not we thought suicides were allowed into Heaven, because apparently some idiot who was well-meaning in their own mind had told her they were not.....)

I don't know. I don't have any answers. But I worry about culture and society getting to the point where there are people who are "throwaway" people because they are so sick or disabled or don't have something to "offer" to the betterment of society. And I also worry about people taking what is a very large and serious and severe step without letting family and friends know - family and friends who could maybe help them bear the pain and make it through.

A couple of the other suicides I knew were young people, and in one case it was more a situation of impulsivity, someone did something (over a break-up, mainly) that was a pain many people have had and, if they had just given it more time, they probably would have gotten over - that's another of my fear about legalized suicide: that there will be pushes to make it "easier" and "less burdensome" and that people who just might need some time and some talk-therapy and maybe a course of antidepressants instead decide, and are allowed to, take the irrevocable step.....

Also, how strange and eerie it seems to me: writing out letters to send to people, giving your key to a trusted friend, all those things, knowing in a few days you will be dead. As I said: I enjoy good health, both mental and physical, so my mind rebels - revulses - at the thought. (And yet, at the same time, I think: maybe I should have all that stuff already lined up, God only knows when there's gonna come a bus hit me or something equally awful. I have SOME arrangements made but not as many as someone older than I am probably would....)

Apparently one of the suicide doctors has a pattern of being sloppy about notifying family ahead of time, and is some legal trouble for that (good). Family should have some input, especially in the case of someone who is not terminal, or not in such great pain, but maybe "tired of life" (apparently a justification some want for suicide). Or at the very least, should know before the fact so they can say goodbye! If assisted suicide were legal here, and someone I cared about did it without letting me know so I could AT LEAST have a final goodbye.....well, I'd be incredibly angry. I might have no right to be, but I would be.

(I will also observe that two of the doctors described in that article seem uncommonly callous. I wonder, does doing assisted suicides make one so, or must one have a callous predisposition in order to go into that business?)

Of course, the fact that few of the people involved apparently have anything like a religious faith - and in fact, a couple may be anti-religious, could possibly play some role. Not all non-religious people are callous towards human life, and in fact, I've heard some atheists who are anti-abortion on the grounds that ending a life is wrong and that we are all just given this one go-round, and so should all get it - but at the same time, I think MY faith is part of what gives me a horror of throwing away what I see as a gift.

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