Tuesday, January 05, 2016

A Question of Life and Death

The State of California is among the latest to legalize assisted death.

I spoke with a friend about it last night.  What did I think of being given the right to die, should my condition be one I knew would most certainly end in a painful, debilitating, or gruesome way? What if my continued life was a burden to those I love? Would I want to pull the plug on my own life if I had Alzheimer's...cancer...a stroke?

At the point I spoke with my friend, I had my mind made up. I would choose to end it for myself if something akin to the above were to happen to me. It was an easy decision. No more pain, no more struggle for my family in caring for me, no more...anything. It was the best way to go.

But then...

I had a discussion with my husband this morning about what he would do. At first he felt the same way I did. And then several questions came up.

"Wouldn't that be the same as committing suicide?" he asked. "What would happen to your life insurance if you decided to end your life? Would they be required to pay out on your policy?" 

I hadn't thought that far in advance.

What kind of psychological problems could it lead to for the kids and grandkids? What if they didn't agree with your choice? And what about the doctors who have to be in attendance to watch you die, and the pharmacist that has to fill the prescriptions, knowing what they will do to the recipient?

My mother died seven years ago last November. I knew she didn't want to live the way she had to after her stroke and heart attack. She told me as much after one of the numerous times she had to be hospitalized for yet another transfusion. Blood thinners made her bleed in areas the doctors couldn't find. She couldn't stop the medication, because to do so would risk another heart attack or stroke. She had trouble swallowing, and had a feeding tube inserted. She finally went off of the blood thinners, but not before a filter was placed in her abdomen. She suffered seizures, and had two long bouts of Clostridium Difficile infections.

Each and every time she gained any strength or ability in therapy, it was taken from her by yet another hospital stay. The thought of letting her go was, selfishly, unspoken by my sister and me. Even though we lived in our own version of hell as we watched her deteriorate, we couldn't imagine being without Mom.

It was a miserable life for her.

Finally, after months of her body telling us it just could not go on, we considered the unthinkable. We stopped treatment, and took her home to die. Even then it was not a pain-free death, as the people in California will be able to have. We had morphine and other painkillers in doses to keep her comfortable some of the time, and not much else. She was still suffering, but at least it was at home.

I wonder what she would have said had she known there was a way out of all the pain. I wonder if she would have chosen to leave the world on her own terms, or to stay, no matter what the cost. More than that, I wonder if we would have been selfish enough to deny her wishes, making her stay and endure until the bitter end.

The Bible says that pain lasts for only a while, then joy comes in the morning. What happens to the people who choose to end suffering? Do they still get to experience joy?

This is what I've been wrestling with for the past couple of days. Right now I'm standing firmly in the probably-OK-for-me-but-questionable-for-anyone-I-love camp.

Help me decide what is right.

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