Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Right To Die

I've been watching with interest the Terri Schiavo case, and it has caused me to think a lot about a person's right to die, and whether or not they have such a right.

When my Grandma was ill last month, she had just filled out a Living Will in January, and I was very glad to see that she had made her wishes clear, and specifically that she had done it so recently.

In my Gram's case, she was 94 -- and asked that we not artificially feed her -- that means nothing through a tube or an IV.

When she had a stroke several years ago, it affected her ability to swallow, and over the past few years that swallowing ability had gone downhill, until she aspirated some liquid in her lungs and ultimately got aspiration pneumonia.

By the time the nursing home took her to the hospital, the doctors hooked her up to an IV with antibiotics, but did not feed her due to her wishes made clear in the Living Will. She bounced back for about 24 hours, and asked for food, and she ate very little before she took another turn for the worse. After almost a week into this ordeal, she passed away when all the hospital staff could do was to make her comfortable with morphine.

I have a distant cousin who had flown into town during that weekend before Gram died, and at one point she told my Grandma to "hang on". My sister, who was present for this, asked me later "What should she hang on for?"

Good question.

I know in the Schialvo case, the woman is much younger, and the parents are fighting to keep her alive while her guardian/husband is asking for her to be unhooked from food. The legal wranglings about this case make me pause to think -- what would I want?

I can tell you one thing: If I had told my husband that I didn't want to be kept on tubes, I would be proud of him for trying to see to it that my wishes were granted. As much as my Mom or someone else might try to see it differently, if I were in that woman's shoes, I can't say that living a life of brain death in a nursing home would be my idea of a life.

Clearly, if Terri Schiavo were in a position to say what she wanted right now, she would -- instead, she only has her husband to fight for her wishes.

It is so important that people make their needs known. But more importantly -- and a greater issue I think -- is that we need to hold our lawmakers accountable when they try to interject their beliefs into our lives. If I want everything done to save me, and the doctors think it's fruitless, is it the lawmaker's job to say "No, she should die because she's too much a burden on the system"? I think not. In the same way, I think a person should have a right to say they don't want to be force fed to be kept alive.


lisabazillionkds said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
lisabazillionkds said...

I agree with you, that if someone wishes to not be kept alive, then their wishes should indeed be carried out. However, I think the issue in this case is, What really WERE her wishes? Her DH (who has already moved on with a new family) says one thing and her family says another.

This is such a sad case, with a no-win ending :(


Sarah said...

I'm having a really hard time figuring out what I'd want for myself too...what kind of a time frame to do you put on it when it it "YOU"? And what about the medical definitions....I think a major part of this is "what is 'persistent vegetative state' "?

Unfortunately, she didn't make a living will and he has come across as a questionable character; so we just don't know what she wanted.

It would be easiest for everyone if we all sat down and DID this...made a living will....I guess I've been doing part 1...mulling it over. I should go get it on paper, in case it ever happened to us.

Like your Gram, I'm glad that my mom also had one helped spare us a lot of heartache over what to do in her final days....

(((hugs Jules)))

Sheri said...

I agree Jules. My dh and I had our estate plan done a few years ago, which included our lw's. We also had to chose guardians for our dd. It was alot of thinkign to do but well worth the peace of mind it brought.

I'm enjoying your writings immensely!

Gina in N'Awlins said...

I agree with you Jules. I know that DH has told me, in very specific terms - that he would want to be let go in a similar circumstance. I am not sure he has, or would share that with his mother. But I know what his wishes are. And - I am a WIMP. It would be a very difficult thing for me to do ~ as I imagine it truly IS for Michael Schiavo. I simply do not see the monster in him that is being portrayed. I see a loving husband, trying to do what he believes in his heart of hearts, is the right thing. He could move on ~ but he hasn't. Instead he has chosen the path of very tremendous resistance, and has decided to fight for what he believes she wants or wanted. I am very sad for all involved ~ except the politicians.

Lauren said...

Jules, I agree with you regarding the right to die. It's always seemed an oddity to me that we will euthanize our pets and consider it the humane thing to do, yet will force humans to endure untold agony and suffering because of some concept that is, quite ironically, called the Sanctity of Life... the word sanctity and its synonym holiness are derived from the word meaning "whole."

Add that to the list of things that make ya go, "hmmmmmm..."


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