Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Question continued for another generation

Forty years ago my grandmother died an extremely painful death due to cancer. At the time my dad asked a question. He didn't ask me. I was too young at the time. But it is a question that has been around our family ever since. The question was "why has our society not advanced enough to allow us to do for people what we would do for our pets?"

In the last few months I have been exposed to death, including the death of my father, and now my father's question is my own. A political question, or a social question? I'm not sure, but whatever it is I think it needs to be asked.

A few months back my mother's beloved little dog, Beanie, suffered a catastrophic liver failure. A couple days of sickness as the toxins built up in her blood and we had her at the vet for the diagnosis. They could use antibiotics and transfusions to reduce the toxins and prolong her illness, but with her liver refusing to function there would be no health in her future. I held my mom, mom held Beanie. She licked the hands and face of the woman who had cared for her throughout her life. And she died peacefully from a large shot of tranquilizer.

My dad has been crippled by arthritis and Parkinson's disease for years. The activities that filled his life were denied him. Ten years ago, or maybe more, I was surprised to find my dad reading a book. He was always a doer, not a reader; but as age took that away he took to reading. Not long after macular degeneration in his eyes took that away as well. Six weeks ago he went to the hospital with pneumonia in both lungs. Powerful antibiotics killed the vast majority of the bacteria and reduced the infection so that his lungs stopped filling with fluid, but at eighty-five his overall condition left him too weak to cough out the fluid already collected, though he struggled for a few weeks while confined to a hospital bed. Eventually the bacteria which had survived produced sufficient numbers to restart the infection, now with immunity to the antibiotics. My mom sat at his side as his breathing got shallower and shallower for a day as his lungs filled to the last bit with fluid, then he died.

Who was treated better? Who left the final impression on their loved ones that you would choose to leave at your own death? I'm sure my answer is obvious.

43 Comments:

At 12:55 PM, Blogger melody said...

What a horrible way for your father to go, suffering! Even so, I have always been and still am torn on how I feel about this subject. On the one hand I don't want my loved ones to suffer when the end result will be the same. On the other hand something screams at me that to end the suffering is interfering in something... I don't know. If it were me laying there suffering knowing I'm going to die and it sure is taking a long time... I'd want someone to just go ahead and end it for me. That's ALL I know.

 
At 2:55 PM, Blogger Aleksandr said...

Personally, I believe that our society should avoid putting people to death for medical reasons. My policy is that the only exception to that rule is if there is a hundred percent chance that the person cannot be healed and they are being tortured by pain. If the situation does not meet that criterion then we should always choose life. For we are not dogs but are humans.

 
At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Andrew Donaldson said...

No one questions a person's right to live their life as they choose, so long as it doesn't harm those around them. People have a right to make bad choices, even dangerous choices. If someone dies as a consequence of one of those choices, no one questions it. I think it is unthinkably cruel that as one gets older and the actions one can actually take grow more and more circumscribed, that at the same time one of the few choices you still have the power to make, that of the time and manner of your death, is taken away from you. I do not endorse suicide, but I understand it. And a painful, helpless, powerless, choiceless life seems a pretty hollow thing to try to hold on to.

 
At 4:39 PM, Blogger UnknownBlogger said...

This has always been a political gray area because it's so difficult to decide whether human euthanasia is morally acceptable. If we take the life of someone who is in pain with their consent, is it assisted suicide, or is it truly merciful? (If it's done without their consent, it could be considered murder from a technical standpoint.) Personally, I feel that it would come down to acting in the manner that the patient wishes. I'm not sure that I would ever want someone to kill me before my time, but I'm also an energetic college student with a whole life ahead of me. If I were in enough pain that I knew my time was either now or an hour from now, I might consider it, but I would still have to give it legitimacy to myself on moral grounds. People's opinions on what is morally sound will always differ in this situation, but I don't think that what they choose should leave an impression on their loved ones one way or another. You can't attach stigmas to this sort of thing; it's up to the patient.

 
At 7:10 PM, Blogger ieatcrayonz said...

Tim,

First of all, let me send you my condolences on the loss of your father.

For many people, this is not a political question, but a moral and ethical one. I mean, who really wants to be the guy to administer the drugs that kill a living, breathing PERSON? Most believe it's okay to play God with animals to ease their suffering, but people are a totally diferrent story.

I personally believe a person should be allowed to die as they please, as laid out in a living will. I think it will be a long time before human euthanasia will be legalized over old fashioned bodily death.

 
At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Kevin said...

I would reframe the question a bit differently. I blogged on this question here the other day over at PK. And I reframed it there as doctor-assisted suicide rather than human euthanasia.

To me the word "euthanasia" brings up connotations of the being who is to die not really having any say or control over the whole thing. Whereas "doctor-assisted suicide" has the connotation of the dying individual being in control and the doctor merely assisting that sovereign choice. And really it seems to me that the ethics of this revolve more around an individual's sovereign choices than anything else. Those who would deny doctor-assisted suicide are denying the individual sovereignty over their own existance. N'est pas?

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger dezerai.... said...

sorry about your family....and i suppose the thoughts you must have are not so good....but know this...in our lives, we live or try to...and we find our way..good or bad...and i believe that we should not not prolong someone life..if they have made a choice not to....

i also believe that the current medical establishment is goal driven to obtaining the max dollar for almost nothing...that is to say, we should be saving our young and gifted and loved ones who want and need it....instead we make a business out of it and call in the religion when needed to wash ourselves clean...sad..as humans we were not meant to live forever...in or on this plane of reality...and i'll leave it at that...

 
At 7:33 PM, Blogger DC said...

I'm sorry to hear about your father. It sounds really hard.

I think thoughts around death and suicide have been been preverted by twisted Christian notions, such as life having value just by existing. And also by the illusions they've built up around death and dying and what we can expect.

Unfortunately, we live in a Christian society (or at least a society strongly influenced by Christian thinking). I don't think we'll ever work out a good answers to euthanasia and suicide until we get rid of Christian based corruptions.

 
At 12:03 AM, Anonymous Keith said...

In these days of Terri Schiavo-like disputes, it's an imperative in this day and age to have a living will. That way, you can lay out exactly how you wish to be treated, should you have a disease that will eventually lead to death. I've written two entries in my blog about this subject.

I believe that one's living will should be the final word, as long as it is in accordance with applicable law. As for that applicable law, I have no problem with withholding medication and resuscitation and letting death take its course, but I would draw the line at pushing it along...at least for now.

 
At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

Sorry to hear about your dad, You have to be strong and get through the difficult times. Just remember to stay strong and be positive about life.

 
At 4:01 PM, Anonymous clairwil said...

I'm sorry for your loss. I must say I am very impressed by the level of debate on your blog. Issues like this can often bring out the worst in people. Anyway, I note that when people get animals put down they usually say it's because it's humane so on that basis I feel that humans should be afforded the same treatment. My only concern over this is that for economic reasons euthanasia may be imposed rather than asked for in many cases. I think the best way forward would be a legally recognised living will for all.

 
At 9:04 AM, Blogger Lady Calliah said...

We watched my grandmother waste away to nothing (she was about 70 lbs when she died). She had alzheimers, and it slowly took everything from her, shut her body down. It sucked.

My mother has told me, the oldest, that she'd never want to be put on respirators, etc (i.e. no heroic measures). The problem is ....... when you get down to it, people suck. There are those greedy bastards who want their lil old grayhaired grandma to be "put out of her misery" because of that nice fat inheritance. So allowing euthanasia is such a sticky subject because how do you truly, REALLY know the motives behind wanting to put someone "out of their misery".

 
At 9:55 AM, Blogger Futile Emotion said...

Really tough question. I agree with Calliah - theres no way to judge true motives.

On the other hand, there comes a point when even monetary motives become okay - it costs a lot to keep someone alive via heroic measures, and in my humble opinion, it is not worth keeping someone who is unconcious or in absolutely excruciating pain alive for years on end if it costs more then their family can afford.

Take the case of the lady in Georgia? where she was kept alive for an absolutely insane amount of time, with her parents supporting it and her husband (who got remarried, but who can blame him? After the first ten years, one has to move on) wanting to end it for her.

The true question in my mind comes to 'where do we draw the line.'

And for that matter - should any type of suicide be allowed? Surely emotional strains can get as difficult as physical ones.

 
At 6:25 AM, Blogger LionessTrader said...

Death can bring lessons that we never knew we needed to learn I have found.

I had to put my cat down last year and while it was painful, it healed an old wound I had regarding another pet's death when I was a child.

I think that it should be up to the individual to decide their exit point. I don't think the medical community should advocate euthanasia, but I think they should be allowed to give a terminally ill personal the access to the necessary med's to accomplish the end. I think that this decision should be made in advance of the time however, not a last minute decision.

 
At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Ashlee said...

Human euthanasia is right in my eyes. We may be humans but a human life shouldn't have to decay with the dying body. The terrible pain they have to endure might overthrow the expense of leaving Loved Ones behind.

 
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