I know for many, it is a religious conviction. Human life – all human life – is precious and must be preserved at all costs. My question is, when are the costs too high?
I know some will answer me, “never,” but I disagree.
I have watched three of my closest family members die – my mother in 2001, my father in 2006, and my daughter in 2008. Each time, it was me (with other family members) who had to say, “Now is the time,” knowing there was no hope for my loved one to live any kind of quality life.
My mother had lung cancer. My father and I helped her through the last year of her life. I remember the three of us sitting at the kitchen table one morning after my mother’s arm broke, seemingly of its own accord. She could no longer walk unassisted, and with several broken ribs and a broken arm, neither my father nor I could help her walk without inflicting severe pain. Mother was no fool; she knew her days were short. We three decided it was time to call hospice.
Mom went into full hospice care at a lovely facility in Phoenix. They took excellent, loving care of her, and she passed away peacefully nine days later with her family at her bedside.
My father was a different story. He went into the hospital for surgery, and while the surgery was successful, he had complication after complication afterward. He spent three hellish weeks in ICU with every wire, hose and apparatus fastened to him. Even with a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) on file with the hospital, the medics continued to perform heroic deeds to keep him alive.
Finally, I cornered one of his doctors and asked some pointed questions.
“Will he ever be able to play golf again? Walk? Feed himself?”
When the doctor shook his head and said, “I don’t think so,” I knew it was time. I called hospice.
After Dad was in a comfortable hospice bed, with all the hoses, wires and needles removed, he gave me a smile, a big two-handed hug, and whispered in my ear, “Thank you,” after which he closed his eyes and peacefully slipped away.
My daughter was in an automobile accident that caused irrevocable damage to her brain and spine. She was alive but unconscious when I reached the hospital. The doctors told me there was no hope of recovery; her injuries were too extensive. Technically, they could keep her alive, but she would never wake up. It ripped me up inside, but I had them call Donor Network of Arizona (www.dnaz.org) to make sure her wish to donate her organs was respected, and I let my baby go.
I have a good friend who is currently in the hospital. She has been in ICU or the long-term extensive care facility next door for nearly three months. What sent her there in the first place was a health event that most people never survive. She has had a series of additional severe setbacks since that time. Each time the doctors “come to the rescue,” and save her life; however, she continues to deteriorate.
Her prognosis is bleak, but the doctors continue to go to heroic each time she suffers a setback. If she were conscious, she would likely be outraged at what they have done to her body. The doctors aren’t saying much, and none of those closest to her has been brave enough to ask the hard questions yet: What are her chances for recovery? Will she have any kind of quality existence if she does survive? Is it time for hospice? Is it time to let this person peacefully pass on?
I am ever so glad the responsibility is not mine this time. These are heart-rending decisions to make.
Is life worth preserving at any cost? If you’ve ever seen someone in a similar condition as my friend (or mother, father or daughter), and imagined yourself in his or her place, would you want to be kept alive no matter what? Not me.
We are more humane to our beloved pets, whom we put down when they get too sick to live a “quality” life. Why are we less humane to our humans?
As my delightfully charming father once said, “It’s not the dying I’m afraid of. It’s the getting there.”
Please, when my time comes, pull the plug or send me to hospice to die peacefully. My life only has value if it has a modicum of quality. If not, send me happily on to the next