When I was going for my master’s at NU, I took a speech class. One of our assignments was giving a speech on our personal hero. someone we looked up to and admired. I did my speech on Jack Kevorkian, a Michigan physician known as “Dr. Death.” Jack Kevorkian often said, “Death is not a crime” and championed terminally ill patients right to die via physician-assisted suicide (PAS). To be honest, Dr. Kevorkian didn’t believe people really needed to be terminally ill (“ What difference does it make if someone is terminal? We’re all terminal); rather he actually believed suffering was the key – and that is what he wanted to stop. A lot of people requested his help, but he refused four out of five requests because he didn’t think they had exhausted all of their medical options. In the end, he was arrested, accused of murder and spent about eight years in prison. Still, I admired him.
Most of my classmates were horrified, My professor, while complimenting me on my courage, said he didn’t understand my reasoning at all. Why am I thinking about this now? Why am I sharing this with you?
My Dad is coming to the end. He’s suffering from dementia. It’s been very hard on our family. He doesn’t know who we are more than half the time. He wants to go home, but he’s sitting in the home he’s lived in for over 40 years. It’s so sad to watch this once proud man and gentle soul disappear before our eyes. It’s so hard to see my Mom look so tired, and so frustrated each and every day.
Rex is 8-1/2 and Seaquel 1-1/2. I am grateful for each and every day I have them in my life, but know there might come a time when they are not doing so well and the vet might say – It’s time. I know that when that happens, I will make the decision to end their suffering, although it will leave a huge hole in my heart. The vet will help me and there will be no legal consequences. Friends and family will support me and no one will question my decision. They will all say I did the right thing.
And that’s why I’m blogging this. I need to ask the question– why do we treat dogs at the end of their life better than we do people? Why is it that people aren’t allowed to end their life with dignity? Are there lessons we should be learning from veterinary medicine? After all, it’s the only healing profession with extensive experience relating to the euthanasia of its patients. Should we be more open to human euthanasia? Or, on the other hand, should we worry about how easily we do it to the animals we love?
According to Professor of Veterinary Ethics Jarrold Tannebaum, “these doctors have long had to worry about when (if not all) euthanasia is justified, how to perform it, and what effects it can have on those close to the patient.” And yes, Dr. Tannebaum acknowledges there are worries. He’s concerned that a profession that’s allowed by law, it’s own ethical standards and societal attitudes to kill it’s patients may well kill too many. And, no surprise, money could be become an issue.
A recent survey of U.S. physicians found that 69 percent object to physician assisted suicide or PAS (which is as close as we come to euthanasia). 18 percent object to terminal sedation and 5 percent to withdrawal of life support. The primary reason given is that the pain medications today are so good no one has to be in pain – thus there is no reason for them to want to die. But is pain the only reason? My Dad may live years, and he’s not in pain – but he doesn’t know any of us. He doesn’t know where his home is. He may not be in pain but I promise you, he is suffering.
So this is on my mind right now. Forgive me for such a depressing year-end blog. I’m not arguing for anything – but I am wondering why there isn’t even a discussion about it. It’s too late for my Dad to make that decision but should there have been a discussion earlier on? I’d love to know what you think.
If I were asked to give a speech on the same subject today I would give it on Brittany Maynard. Brittany Lauren Maynard (November 19, 1984 – November 1, 2014) was told she had terminal brain cancer. After several brain surgeries, the cancer returned and she was told she had six months to live. She moved to Oregon (they have a Death and Dignity Law) and, with her husband and family’s support, rather than undergoing treatment to try and live longer, Brittany chose to cross off every item on her bucket list, before ending her life because “it seemed like the time was right.”
Forgive me for asking this question – what was wrong with that?