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Ethics and the End of Life

I met an amazing person today at our Mother’s Day get together. She is graduating with a PH, D. in Bio-Ethics. Her thesis was about California’s End of Life Options Act which allows a terminally ill patient who has no hope of cure, recovery, or any quality of life to request the means to pass away with dignity on their own terms.

It’s a lengthy process requiring a lot of documentation, because obviously this is only meant to be applied in those instances where a patient has zero quality of life and no hope of any recovery. It is something the patient has to initiate; not the doctors, nor the family members of the patient.

I was glad to meet her because working through some of my own life experiences, and my natural curiosity, I have been wanting to meet someone like her with whom I could have a “what is your personal, professional opinion on…”, with such a touchy and controversial topic.

The realist and pragmatist in me supports an individual’s right to decide this for themselves. One of the things this woman had to defend in her Thesis speech was the definition of “suicide” (from “Sui” self and “cide” death) and “euthanasia” (“eu” good and “thanasia” from thanatos “death”) and the religious (particularly Catholic) ramifications of ending one’s own life. Many religions view suicide as “self harm”, but with regards to the new law in CA, this can’t be defined as “self harm” or “suicide” because by living in pain, and with no quality of life or chance recovery it is more harmful to a person to continue existing.

I wish I had a tape recorder with me so I could clearly capture her explanations and view points on these issues. I’ve often felt alone or as if I stood apart in my views on letting someone pass peacefully, or the medical assisting of letting someone pass peacefully.

For instance, one of my family members is uncomfortable with any mention of her mother passing away. Anytime the subject of this person’s will and the writing of it came up, my relative got defensive and would start crying because she doesn’t have a coping mechanism for this, and she never has. I offered to help her write the will and find a lawyer with whom to file it because at some point, (the realist in me says), we are going to have to know how to proceed with things, especially if she were to end up in the hospital and unable to speak for herself. This would be an advanced care directive which is not the same as what CA’s new law is trying to accomplish, but it stems from the same need for relatives to find ways to cope with the inevitable.

I recently saw an episode of Law & Order: SVU in which a mother decided to end the life of her infant (Euthanasia) because the infant had TaySachs which is a long, slow, painful death sentence from the moment the child is born. No cure, no hope of recovery, no quality of life, and children born with this disease die by the time they’re 4. From a purely practical standpoint, what would you do if this was your child?

Or the case reported by CNN in late 2015 where parents honored the wishes of their five-year-old daughter who was suffering from an incurable disease. Full Story Here. These are the types of questions that should be looked at objectively, which is the kind of career path the woman I met today has chosen. Setting aside her own personal opinions, and instead looking at the legal aspect, what the patient wants, and what is in their best interest.

Some think that wanting to end one’s own life, even due to terminal illness with no hope of cure or recovery is selfish. I think it’s far more selfish for people to want those who are clearly suffering and have no quality of life to continue suffering so they don’t have to face the inevitable process of grieving for that person. It seems to be natural these days for us to deny our own mortality, and having to witness it in others has a way of bringing it back into stark focus.

I mentioned that I found this woman to be utterly inspiring in the first paragraph. Because of the amazing discussion we had today, I am looking hard at going back to college to become a grief counselor.

grief

PS – I understand this is a highly controversial subject. I welcome feedback and civilized discussion. Hateful, disrespectful comments, and personal attacks on each other will not be tolerated.

 

Photo credits: statue image from The Kitchen Widow  & Grief Sketch images from This Site

 

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