I find it truly a coincidence that more than 5 years ago, I found myself in the same position that Susan Wolf had found herself in with regards to her father’s End Of Life case. My situation pertained to the end of life care of an elderly aunt who had no other family and because of that, she became a part of my own family. She was, fully reliant and dependent on me in so many ways due to her advanced age. I thought that she was a very healthy person and could go on living forever since she was under constant medical care. But all the medical care that the doctors could provide for her could not remove the pain that ravaged her aging body.
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It was because of that pain that led my mother and I to bring her to a Chinese holistic healer who treated her with some sort of secret Chinese medical injection. The clinic was clean and the instruments seemed to be of clinical grade quality. I had no idea that by bringing her to this doctor we would be opening the gateway to death for her. The injections were supposed to be administered twice a month. However, on the second injection, she developed an uncontrollable fever and could no longer get out of bed without assistance. She was hospitalized that weekend.
She had Sepsis, a disease more commonly known as blood poisoning and it had spread throughout her blood, there was no way she could be saved. She was going to die a slow and painful death due to the slow infection ravaging her body. We did not hide the fact that she was given a diagnosis that she would be going home a vegetable, if she ever made it out alive. She made her decision that day, she wanted to go home.She was already bedridden by that point and in need of constant palliative care.
My life and the lives of those around me were upturned by the unexpected events. Nobody could go on with their regular lives. We all lived to serve her and make sure she was comfortable until her final hour of consciousness with us.She was constantly being injected with antibiotics that did not seem to do much to control the infection or pain. Later on, she began choking on her food, even a drink of water seemed to drown her. A feeding tube was then attached in order to keep her fed and hydrated.
But everything that we were doing for her was for naught. During one particularly painful episode, she called me to her side and asked me “Can you help me die?” I was dumbstruck. I never thought that this woman, who lived through the horrors of life and helped raise me as a child would ever get to such a low point in her own life. I did not know how to answer her and chose to ignore the question.
I pretended it was a joke instead. If I had only known then that she was going to slip into a coma and be turned into a pin cushion as the home doctor’s visit turned into a poking and prodding session that, I could was hurting her a lot.
She may have been in a coma and unable to open her eyes or utter a word, but her face still managed to contort in pain when her IV needles were replaced or her feeding tube went down the wrong pipe and had to be reinserted. I would then remember what were almost her final words to me: “Can you help me die?” It was then that I turned to her sister, my mother and told her of my aunt’s request while she was still living.
I asked her what we were doing all of these things for? We knew she was never going to pull out of the coma, her system was already failing, she could no longer be given enough liquid food or water to keep up her nourishment. She had developed comatose diabetes and was getting insulin shots as well. Why were we torturing someone who had no chance of survival? Why did we not choose to let her go? Let her broken body rest. No amount of palliative care would ever be enough. We needed to learn to appease our guilty conscience some other way.
The doctors understood what we wanted to do and why. They agreed that the end of the road had come and death was imminent. With their approval, we stopped giving her the medications, the liquid nutrition, and hydration on the day that her breathing had turned into some sort of gurgling sound, a sign of impending demise we were told. She died before 2 AM the next day.
It must be pretty obvious by now that I agree with the EOL decision that Ms. Wolf had come to on her father’s behalf. There are just times when the spirit may be willing but the body is simply too weak to go on and trying to hang on would only result in torturing the spirit of the patient. I believe that every person had the right to die with dignity, on his or her own terms. I believe that her father was right to choose when and how he was going to die because that gave him a sense of comfort in a way.
Knowing that the pain would finally come to an end and he would finally be at peace. When a person has come to terms with his death, I am of the opinion that he is then in a position to choose how to die. Sure it may be painful and unacceptable to the family and others concerned.
But then again, we are not the ones who are truly having to live the nightmare that the patient is going through. So who are we to judge? What I disagree with in Ms. Wolf’s article is where the father died. Ms. Wolf said, “He was out of the ICU now, in a hospital room awaiting transfer to hospice.” (2008) He died in a hospice, not surrounded by all his family members. A dying person takes comfort in being in familiar surroundings as he fades away. That is what my aunt told me when she chose to go home. I also do not understand why she had to leave her father’s bedside when she knew that he was going to fade into the night permanently on that night.Ms. Wolf (2008) related that:
“I struggled, remembering the rabbi’s caution that the ones we love most may need permission to leave us, to die. “I know you may have to leave before I get back. That’s okay.” It felt nearly impossible to let him go. My chest was bursting. The pain was crushing. When I finally left, I was working to breathe. Taking one step then another. Breaking down, collecting myself, breaking down again. He died not long after.
It was the final act of a loving daughter for her dying father, be there to seem him off into the light. She owed him at least that. As Xayne (2011) explains,
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“If I am going to die, I would rather it be under my own terms, I have learned a long time ago that losing a loved one even to cancer it is not easy to do. Assisted suicide is, while not a moral, it is often more likely to be something a person would choose not something that is thrust upon them. “
In the end Euthanasia is not something that should be frowned upon or looked at as a crime. Instead, it should be looked upon as a final act of respect for the human being who lived his life well and now knows that it is time to set his life to an end.
Wolf, Susan. (2008). Confronting physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia: My father’s death. Hastings Center Report. 38(5), 23-26. Retrieved from EBSCO Host Database located at the Ashford Online Library.
Xayne, Angelus Mykeal. (2011). Assisted Suicide. EzineMark.com. Web.