Assisted Death

Posted: September 30, 2009 in healthcare

Last night we were watching some episodes from the season 3 DVD of Dexter – one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen.  Check it out sometime.

Anyway.  A character in the tv show is dying of lung cancer.  It’s terminal.  There’s no way to treat or cure the cancer at this point.  Dexter has known this lady for many years and visits her in the hospice care center a few times.

One day he goes in, and she’s in a terrible mood.  Why?  Because the doctor told her that her tumor was actually slowing down it’s growth rate.  Meaning she probably had another month to live, instead of another week.  She began to cry and choke, completely torn up over the fact that she now had to endure the pain, the difficult breathing, the vomiting, and, as she put it, s**tting all over herself at night, for another month.  She just wants to die and be done with it.  She’s ready to go.  Her husband had died a year or two before, and she was simply ready to join him.  And, in the end, she begs Dexter to help her die.  To pull the plug.  Smother her.  Anything to make it all be over with.

If I’m ever in her shoes, will I feel the same way?  I’ve never had to endure prolonged and terminal pain, so I can’t say for sure.  But it really made me start thinking about assisted death and, apart from religious or spiritual views on the matter, whether there was a place for it in the world of health care.  Sure, guidelines and legal protocols would likely be a mile long.  Lawsuits would run rampant.  But might there be a place for it, really?  Would it be ALL that different from the do-not-recessitate laws that are already used?  Was Jack Kavorkian on to something?

Crap, I don’t know.  I feel sort of sacreligous for even thinking it.  At the same time, it seems right, almost kind and merciful in many situations.  To allow a person who’s scientific hope for physical relief has reached its end the personal option to end their suffering.  My head is sort of spinning on this one.  I’ll need to think it through.  Thoughts?

  1. jeph says:

    you really are getting more heavy on the blogging, aren’t you? i’d comment, but posts like this are kinda over my head and not easy to dialogue about in person, not to mention a blog. so, it’s been good to see you at it. just wanted to let you know i’m reading! keep it up!

  2. bill says:

    Is there “a place for it in the world of health care”?

    I’ve heard it said that it seems to be the only option for those with a terminal illness, bad (or no) health care, and family members who don’t need to bear the weight of the deceased’s medical bills.

    I don’t know about any of that (I honestly can’t stomach the partisan bull crap long enough to actually learn anything about the health care situation). But I think you should stop watching shows that make you think that much. Do you not know that TV is supposed to make you think less? Two words: Reality Television.

  3. Leeann says:

    I also have the mixed emotions about assisted death. On one hand, it seems the compassionate thing to do if a person has made peace with the situation and is just ready to go. If they were able, would they do it themselves anyway?–i.e. suicide (There are no laws against suicide that I know of) But on the other hand, doctors took an oath to help make people well, not expire their lives. There is no black and white.

    Spiritually speaking, I think it’s wrong. I think God gives us a specific amount of time on earth and only He has the right to snuff it out. However, we are human, not divine, so we tend to overanalyze things, try to find solutions, and justify everything under the sun.

    It’s definitely something to think on. Something I’m sure the medical field has been debating for decades itself. Wow. Good stuff Jason. You gave me something to think about. I like a challenge like that. Unlike many people, I enjoy thinking and problem solving.

    Glad your blogging again.

  4. Jason says:

    Thanks guys – I’m glad to be blogging to.

    Bill/Jeph – I wish I could think less about things like this, but it’s just how my brain functions. I’m always thinking.

    Leeann – Spiritually speaking, that’s probably where my confusion in this weighs most heavily. Faith/religion/spirit aside, I would think it would be a compassionate thing for the medical world to offer life ending assistance for those who are terminally ill, have little time left, are in lots of pain, understand their situation, and actually want to go ahead and leave this earth. How many people have watched family members suffer until death, and asked and prayed that they just be taken, that the suffering be over. In essence, we’re asking for them to die, because we know it would be better for them. But does this conflict in any way with God’s intentions? That I’m just not sure. Taking your life to get out of going to jail for murder is one thing. Asking for it to be ended to bring an end to suffering is another.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Leeann- Suicide and attempted suicide are illegal in the U.S. If there are jurisdictions where they are not, it’s fairly recent. I had a friend who was arrested for attempted suicide for jumping in the Potomac River on a snowy day. He was just one of those weird polar bear types. He beat the charges because his clothes were neatly folded on the bank signalling his anticipated return.

    Jason- Having served as primary in-home hospice caregiver for both of my parents prior to their deaths from cancer, I got a lot more clarity in my own thoughts on these issues.

    Since you are always thinking, you have probably already realized that we are all terminally ill, we are all dying. I’m okay with that, having been saved by grace. Should I end my suffering now to be with Christ? Not my call. Not now, not later.

    Do we really think God forgets that Aunt Sally is over there suffering in the hospice center? That He needs us to give her a little push to get to the other side? Hospice is all about no heroic interventions (defibrillators, ventilators), adequate pain medication, and making the patient as comfortable as possible. The patient needs our assistance, but God is still sovereign. I might feel differently when I’m the patient, but since when is this all about my feelings? His Will, not mine.

    Peace. Glad you’re back.

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