Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Duty to Die

One of the things about euthanasia is that whenever opponents talk about the slippery slope between the so-called "right to die," and the notion that the elderly or critically ill have a duty to die, euthanasia supporters howl in derision. No, of course not, they say. No one will ever be euthanized who hasn't put into writing his or her wish to die in the event that he or she is critically ill, comatose, or otherwise seriously impaired. This isn't about killing people who don't want to die--it's about allowing those people who may have no religious beliefs whatsoever about the sanctity of life to have their own plug pulled at the time of their choosing. Religious people may not like that, but we're a pluralistic world, and religious people don't get to tell the irreligious, the atheist and the blasphemer, that he can't off himself with medical assistance any time he feels like it.

The Terry Schiavo case exposed that lie a bit for what it is. Terry never wrote down anywhere that she'd want to be starved and dehydrated to death if she were ever critically ill. Terry never led anyone to believe she would want that--not in any legally verifiable way, of course. Her decision was made for her by her unfaithful lout of a husband who wanted to move on and marry the floozy he was shacking up with; not suprisingly, only Michael Schiavo and a couple of his relatives magically "remembered" that Terry would want to die--and this was long after Schiavo had demanded money to care for Terry for her presumably normal life span. With the "help" of a judicial accomplice to Terry's death (the infamous Judge Greer), Michael was able to get what he wanted--and even to get a Catholic wedding to the woman with whom he committed adultery against Terry, something that quite simply should never have been allowed.

As horrifying, terrible, and unconsionable as the legal murder of Terry Schiavo by her husband, a judge, and a staff of medical Judasas at the death camp where she was so unfortunate as to be placed really is, I think this new case in Australia has the potential to be an even greater offense against innocent life:
JOANNE Dunn wants her son to die in her arms. Mark Leigep, 34, has been in a vegetative state for more than three years.

His mother wants the right to "put him to sleep" humanely using morphine.

"So he can die in our arms and we can all be there when he passes away," Ms Dunn said.

"Mark isn't coming back. He's my baby and they should let my baby go."

Mr Leigep, father to Kaitlyn, 7, suffered major head injuries in a car crash in Elizabeth in 2006.

Euthanasia is illegal in South Australia and his situation sparked a right-to-life debate at the time of him entering a coma. [...]

Doctors removed Mr Leigep's feeding tube twice in 2006, but it was replaced following family disagreements that year.

The tube was then removed by doctors again in the same year, but Royal Adelaide Hospital administration ordered the tube be replaced. [...]

It is possible the family could stop feeding Mr Leigep, but Ms Dunn said they did not want to starve him to death.

"I just want the Government to realise that technology says Mark's not coming back. He's brain dead," she said.

"I want them to let him go peacefully and humanely with his family around him, so we can have our closure and so Mark's not dying on his own."

Do you get this? Mark Leigep's family wants him dead. And it's perfectly legal for them to remove his feeding tube and watch him die. But that's not good enough for his mother--oh, no. She demands the right to have him put down, like an animal, with a lethal dose of morphine (administered by a health care worker, no doubt; the idea that any health care worker would object to a little light murder here and there is so old-fashioned in our post-abortive world, isn't it?).

Even the headline on the article is a lie--"Mother wants son to be allowed to die." No, not really. She wants him killed. Call it a really, really, really late-term abortion, if you like; she's demanding the right to choose whether he lives or dies, and not only that, but what sort of death will make her more comfortable (quick shot of morphine, instead of an agony of pain and terror like Terri's fourteen day Passion).

Here in America, Washington and Oregon currently allow assisted suicide; Montana allows physicians to prescribe lethal drugs for their suicidal patients to self-administer. We're still standing at the precipice of this particular slippery slope, though cases like Terri Schiavo's remind us how easy it is for unscrupulous, self-interested relatives to demand the right to starve and dehydrate their "loved ones" to death. How long before we begin to move forward, to that place where anybody can be put to death by their relatives, regardless of their expressed wishes ahead of time? And how long before the "right to die" becomes the duty to die, to quit being a drain on a future national health care system, to let some nurse or physician's assistant inject you with a lethal cocktail so your impatient family members can get that outdated and primitive ritual called the funeral over with and get back to their selfish and miserable little lives?

I wonder if Mark Leigep, in some corner of his mind that is somehow still cognizant (as some comatose patients have later reported) or some arena of his immortal soul that knows just what's going on, ever asks himself these kinds of questions.


Margaret said...

Well, once you get to "remove his feeding tube" it's not hard to get to "put him to sleep." Arguably, the latter is more "humane" than the former since starving and dehydrating someone to death is recognized as a form of torture. Once you go down this road at all, it leads very quickly to all sorts of reasons and methods to kill someone quickly, not alleviate their suffering or make them better.

Sally said...

This sounds, not suprisingly, like the same arguments for abortion--it's just not "convenient" right now for Mark to be alive. His family would like his death to be scheduled so they can fit it in best with their calendars. All this running to the hospital for visits is so draining you know.

Dear Lord pray for us. We know not what we do......

eulogos said...

Are we sure Teri Schiavo suffered in the graphic way you describe? Did she show signs of it? Do we know that she had the degree of brain function required to suffer?

I was involved, when I worked as a nurse in a Catholic hospital, with a person who had had multiple strokes, who had asked not to be started on tube feedings if she had a massive stroke and could not communicate. When this appeared to have happened, the family asked that she have IV fluids for a short time to see if she would recover consciousness and some ability to communicate. I started the IV. When the conclusion was that she would not improve, I capped off the IV. I was involved in her care for most of the ten days it took her to die. Her many children spelled each other and someone was always there, and they assisted directly in her physical care, turning and positioning, putting ointment on her lips, etc. All I really had to do was do an assessment of her status, and flush the saline lock with 3cc of saline, to keep it open in case a decision was made to use it. I have to say that I did not observe any sign that she was suffering. That doesn't mean she wasn't, but I don't know how anyone would know that she was, either. I don't think the rightness or the wrongness of this is necessarily dependent on whether any suffering is involved. At that time, JPII's statement at a treatment facility for head trauma victims, that food and water even when delivered by tube, are ordinary care had not yet been made, anc ethics committees at Catholic hospitals normally regarded them as extraordinary care which could be refused.

I was also marginally involved in a situation in which tube feedings and hydration were withdrawn and the patient who was nonverbal but had some degree of consciousness, clearly seemed angry, glaring at the nurses. Nurses, including myself, contacted the hospital ethics committee and feeding and hydration were resumed.

In the Schiavo case, I thought the husband should have removed himself from the situation and left her in the care of her parents who at least interpreted her facial expressions and movements as showing some degree of awareness, and who cared that she continued to live. He was clearly selfish in his motivation, and should not have been allowed to prevail.

to be continued

eulogos said...

But I honestly don't buy the idea that food and water are always ordinary care even when supplied by tube. Or, I could make my opinion sound more in line with the remarks of the late pope, if I put it that this practice does not always achieve its desired finality. I think it is a very bad idea, for instance, to start tube feeding of a person with Alzheimers in the end stages, where they lose the function of the parts of the brain which control hunger and thirst, and simply stop eating and drinking. In this case, the cessation of the desire to eat and drink is the harbinger of the "natural death" that we say life should be protected until. To start tube feeding them is to invite a terrible cascade of aspiration pneumonia, antibiotics, diarrhea, skin breakdown, indwelling catheter and urinary tract infections, more antibiotics, more diarrhea, more skin breakdown....
and usually contractures are involved as well. I don't think people should feel that their faith requires them to tube feed their elderly parents who have lost the desire to eat. People who have lost the ability to eat, through stroke, etc, are a more difficult category. At the very least, people who are very elderly, for whom a massive stroke is a typical end of life event, I don't think should have their lives prolonged by tube feeding. Since in younger people it is possible to do tube feeding and keep the body in fairly good shope for a good number of years, one can't say it doesn't achieve its desired finality...if that finality is to keep the body in good shape. I also worked in a head trauma rehab, for a while on the "sustained head trauma " unit, where we tube fed people who were brain dead or nearly so. It was my job to prepare 21 tube feedings, all different formulae, twice every shift, hang them, take them down when done, and flush the tubes. I just haven't been able to get myself to the point where I can see the goodness or grace in these lives. Maybe it is there, but I just couldn't get to see it. When I was an aide in a nursing home and took care of one younger person in an "alert coma" I did see some value in the care the aides took of him and how they invested him with a personality and truly cared for him. Perhaps one has to be the aide, doing close physical care, rather than the nurse rushing from inert body to inert body hanging tube feedings, to get this insight.
I don't know.

I don't support knocking brain dead people off with morphine.


kkollwitz said...

As usual, man's knowledge exceeds his wisdom.
I read a few years ago that many elderly in Holland are actually reluctant to go to the hospital, lest they invluntarily "do their duty."

Jeannette said...

Can these patients feel pain? Do they suffer? It seems that the answer now, often is "MAYBE not so it's okay to starve them. MAYBE they're not cognizant so it's okay to kill them." I just don't think this is a sign of a good society.

Beate said...

This has been even closer to my heart now that my dear sweet Godson in in what is considered a "permanent vegetative state." I had no idea that this would describe someone who has wake/sleep cycles, who fusses when he is hungry, lets us know holding is better than a wheelchair, cries when he wants his mommy, and is irritated when therapy lasts too long! The idea that we could legally stop feeding Michael because we just don't want to care for him anymore is horrifying!! Michael is content with his life - he knows nothing but love. It is the rest of us who suffer, missing his business and our own freedom. Life centers around this precious child now - caring for him is a blessing and a gift, even if the days are hard at times.