Friday, December 08, 2006

Euthanasia: Insight on End of Life Decisions

Twice in my life I have watched the health of a loved one deteriorate until their body could no longer support life on its own. It’s like watching someone drown while holding a life preserver in your hand, except the victim has made a legal choice to refuse your help. In each case, a precarious but necessary decision was made—whether or not to allow euthanasia.

There are two types of euthanasia. Passive Euthanasia, which involves “not taking action” to prevent death, (when doctors refrain from using life support to prolong the life of a terminally ill patient) and active euthanasia, which requires an action on the part of a doctor or medical practitioner to “pull the plug” or administer a lethal injection to bring about the impending death of a critically ill patient.

Life support replaces a failing bodily function. When patients have treatable conditions, life support may be used temporarily while the condition is stabilized and the body is able to resume normal functioning. At times though, the body never regains its ability to function without life support. My grandfather refused to be placed on life support or be revived if he was code blue. My uncle, on the other hand, was placed on life support and suffered day after day while confined to a hospital bed for almost a year. Connected to tubes that fed him and machines that breathed for him, he could not talk or do anything for himself—things a healthy person would take for granted. Both my grandfather and my uncle were dying a slow death. My grandfather refused the life preserver. My Uncle accepted a life raft with a slow leak in a sea of sharks.

Some people believe that it is not wise to circumvent the dying process. The late psychiatrist and famous author, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, shared that her experience in working with thousands of dying patients and their families convinced her that euthanasia was wrong even for patients with terminal illness. She believed that euthanasia (which she called suicide) cheats people out of the opportunity to complete their unfinished business. The unfinished business she referred to is the contemplation of the ultimate meaning of one's life. She felt the “end of life” period is a time for resolving old disputes, mending relationships, and coming to a final recognition and appreciation of all the good things that have been a part of one's life. Personally, I believe we need to do this daily! Dr. Kubler-Ross believed that, despite their compassionate motives, those healthy bystanders who encourage or even assist in euthanasia are stealing the last precious moments of these patients' lives. I understand her theory, but I believe that every person’s unfinished business must eventually come to an end. If one is unable to live without life support, and feels his business is complete, it would be cruel to force them or their family to suffer needlessly.

USA Today has reported that, among older people with terminal illnesses who attempt suicide, the number suffering from depression reaches almost 90%. Even Jack Kevorkian, the notorious “suicide doctor,” said at a court appearance that he considers anyone with a disease who is not depressed “abnormal.” Kevorkian and others who argue in favor of physician-assisted suicide believe that even though depression is treatable; the disabling disease is not. Treating depression in critically ill patients will help to alleviate some of the emotional despair, but it does little to relieve physical symptoms. The patient will still lie on “death row” until the grim reaper comes.

My grandfather was diagnosed with emphysema fifteen years before his struggle to breathe confined him to his climate-controlled bedroom. Much of the last year of his life was spent in a hospital. The non-stop care for his declining health was beginning to take its toll on my family who never left his side. My grandfather knew that he would not be able to recover from his illness and lead a normal life. Therefore, he signed a document in which he requested that he not be resuscitated or placed on life support in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest. I remember talking with him in his final days. I asked him if he was ready to die. “I believe I am,” he affirmed. He passed peacefully in the hospital without the assistance of life support.

Every person has a right to choose and no one should be denied the God-given power of free will. I believe a person, who is kept alive by machines against his/her will, becomes a victim of someone else’s choice.

We have more compassion for our pets than we do for our dying family members. We will euthanize our sick and dying dog, but we will allow our loved one to suffer to the end. I’m not trying to pin guilt on anyone about any end of life decision they may have made for someone, I am simply making an observation in hopes of helping others avoid the end of life trauma that my uncle endured.

Yvonne Perry is a metaphysical freelance writer, author and keynote speaker with a gift for assisting people who are afraid of dying or are grieving the death of a loved one. Her open style of writing is lovingly controversial and challenges people’s belief systems in order to help them grow spiritually. Get a complimentary copy of Yvonne’s E-book More Than Meets the Eye: True Stories about Death, Dying, and Afterlife when you subscribe to the newsletter. Read more about death, dying, afterlife, spirit communication, euthanasia and suicide at http://www.yvonneperry.net/books.htm

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