… I told my dad after my grandmother died that I believe we will one day in the not-too-distant future view the way we currently handle death and dying as barbaric. Tip-toeing around the subject – by removing machines or using copious amounts of morphine as a way to hasten death – seemed quite silly to me when the issue was as important as watching a loved one suffer unnecessarily.
He disagreed, stating that we need to let nature run its course, which came as little surprise to me since he’s a pretty religious man. In Judaism, as in most major religions, life is sacred and suicide is viewed as immoral (and in some doctrines, just cause for an unpleasant afterlife). Life and death decisions are to be made by god and no one else … which of course, is utterly asinine since we intervene all the time in such decisions, especially when it comes to modern medicine (Are we not playing god when we cure polio, perform open-heart surgery, implant an artificial organ, etc?). Indeed, it’s often technology and our own ‘intervention’ that keeps some people alive past the point when bodies often break down, and yet we dare deny those people the right to use that same technology to end a life they may consider too painful to endure.
The motivation for this subject came the other night when my brother and I discussed the possibility that his 16-year-old dog Lucky had a brain tumor. If Lucky’s test results came back positive for cancer, then the decision to eventually put that sweet, lovable black beagle/cocker to sleep would in some ways be no decision at all: There is no way he would let that dog suffer in pain during the last days of his long, happy life.
And it strikes me as quite ridiculous that society accepts and even approves of the idea of easing a suffering animal’s pain by giving them a dignified death, and yet generally views euthanasia (which literally translates into ‘good death’) or assisted suicide for terminally sick human beings as a crime.
Of course, I am aware this issue can lead to some slippery slopes, as decisions could end up being made rashly, or for the wrong reasons, either by the patient or the family or the doctors. However, Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, which was passed 10 years ago and allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminal patients, has shown that adequate safeguards can be put in place to limit these concerns.
Oregon’s law wouldn’t have applied to my grandmother anyway as her end came with little warning, and – though it didn’t seem so at the time – happened fairly quickly.
I honestly have no idea what my grandmother would have done had she had the opportunity or ability to end her life even more quickly.
She was a fighter, so maybe she still would have chosen to rage against the dying of the light. Maybe with her entire family surrounding and supporting her, she found some meaning or comfort in those final days, in that final struggle. I can only hope so …