Ending Suffering: Right or Wrong?
As a kid, my 4-H club would go to the local nursing homes every year in December. We’d do Christmas carols for the residents, pass out candy canes, that sorta stuff. Doing this instilled in me a feeling of service, but I cannot say it also didn’t make me incredibly sad. One year, we were taken to a separate dining room to carol for residents who were too infirm to eat without assistance in the main dining room. In retrospect, these residents were probably so physically and/or mentally impaired with age our presence may have gone unnoticed.
On the drive home, I remember the father of one of my 4H buddies saying, “If I ever get that bad off, I want you to get my deer rifle and put one of those 30/30 rounds in my head, okay?” Now, we were kids and we’d just been a bit traumatized by the severity of age related impairment. To hear this 30 something y/o father making his children promise to end his suffering didn’t exactly leave anyone in the Christmas spirit.
But, after witnessing a whole slew of people who had no functions in their body, who didn’t know who or where they were, we all understood just how sad that situation is. And, secretly, I hoped if I got that bad off, someone would end my suffering, too.
Another not-so-happy story: I think we all know (or at least are familiar with) terminal cancer patients who decided to end their own suffering. Whether it was proactive like actually committing suicide with pills or whatnot, or it was just a refusal to continue chemo, they took control of their life, knowing their time was short. And, it’s hard to think of anyone blaming them, right?
Now, let me share a story that’s made headlines the last couple weeks. Here goes:
“Two deaf twin brothers in Belgium were euthanized by their doctor after realizing they were going blind and would be unable to see each other ever again, their physician says.
The 45-year-old men, whose names have not been made public, were legally put to death by lethal injection at the Brussels University Hospital in Jette, on Dec. 14.
The men, who were born deaf, had a cup of coffee and said goodbye to other family members before walking into hospital room together to die, their doctor told Belgian television station RTL.
“They were very happy. It was a relief to see the end of their suffering,” said Dr. David Dufour.
“They had a cup of coffee in the hall. It went well and a rich conversation. Then the separation from their parents and brother was very serene and beautiful,” he said. “At the last there was a little wave of their hands and then they were gone,”
More than 1,000 people legally availed themselves of doctor-assisted deaths in Belgium in 2011, most of them were terminally ill cancer patients.
The brothers are unique in that their illness was not terminal. Belgian law, however, allows doctors to euthanize “suffering” patients who are both mentally sound, over 18 and want to die.
Belgian lawmakers are considering a law that would extend euthanasia to dementia patients and children, whose families and doctors consentet.”
When I first read this story, the first thing that struck me was the word euphanize. The 2nd thing that caught my attention was how accepting everyone involved seemed to be. The brothers who made the choice, their physician and, especially, their family members. This leads me to believe that Belgian culture is different from American culture, as far as death is concerned. Here, doctors fight tooth and nail to keep a patient alive, even at the cost of the happiness and well being of the patient and his family.
We’re all going to die some day. We all have that in common. And none of us want to suffer in our death. The libertarian in me says anyone should be able to make a choice about his own health, even if that means ending his life. Religiously speaking, this is whatever. I’m not bringing religion into this, just culture. It’s a very interesting dynamic those Belgians have…so far removed from what we have in America. Is either one right? Wrong? I’d be very interested in hearing the opinions of those who have any experience, whether as patient or caregiver, on what sustained or ended suffering.