Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Thinking seriously about euthanasia

Uncle is in a busy ward with a variety of other bone-damaged men. Some are young; most are older. One or two are either very old or slightly strange: the man in the next bed yesterday stared, wide-eyed, at me throughout my visit. I'm not sure if he thought I was odd or if I was in his line of view for the television.

As I said, each time I visit Uncle I have to play Find the Patient so his neighbours change but one has stayed in my head.

He is very elderly, not apparently aware and has to have everything done for him including  feeding. I watched as the nurse spooned a mushed-up goo into his mouth and reflected on the similarity between very young and very old age.

And I wondered what's the point? He has none of that all-important much-talked-about quality of life and I imagine there is little chance of that changing. In fact things can only get worse. His visitors turn up and sit beside him, reading their newspapers and then going home, having done their duty. It's a drag for them and I suppose, if they allow themselves to think about it, incredibly depressing to see what he has become.

Uncle who has always been very active and has spent his life helping others is finding it very hard to cope with being helped and has been depressed and talking about not wanting to live if this is how it's going to be.

So I've been thinking about euthanasia - leaving aside any of the Christian principles about Thou shalt not kill. I have never been entirely convinced that it is wrong in every circumstance and if life is empty then maybe it is a reasonable alternative.

But then I looked again at the old man being fed. The nurse didn't have to force his mouth open. He was aware enough to open it, eagerly even, suggesting he understood this at least, maybe even felt hungry or conscious of a need for something.

How easy it would be, if euthanasia were legal (and I'm aware that there would be all sorts of conditions that would have to be fulfilled) for unscrupulous relatives to take advantage to rid themselves of a burden. Even for loving and protective children to see it as being in their parent's best interest. 'He wouldn't want to live like this.' And those conditions could in time be relaxed as euthanasia became an acceptable option.

But quality of life is different for everyone. A man in a wheelchair all his life will have a different idea of what makes his life worth living than a high-achieving athlete or even me. We all find our level according to what is realistically possible.

In a very short period of time, basically as long as it took for the man to be fed, I changed from, 'Well, yeah, why not?' to 'I would not want to make that judgement. I don't have the right. I am not God and nor is anyone else.' However I notice that trending on facebook today we have Katie Something or other's comments about there being too many old people and there should be euthanasia vans; now that possibly is one judgement about someone's value to life that I would be prepared to make.


Leslie: said...

I think you may have just opened up a can of worms here, Liz. This debate rages here in Canada and I just don't think I could make a call on euthanasia. In some instances where someone is terminally ill and in writhing pain that no medication can relieve, "maybe" one personally has the right to request assistance in ending their agony. But my mother had Alzheimer's and every time I saw her I knew who she truly was and we were able to talk a lot about the past...of course, that was what she remembered. I wanted her to live as long as she possibly could and was devastated when she did finally pass away. I remember her as my beautiful blonde-haired blue-eyed Mommy who taught me how to sew and cook and passed on her faith to me. I could go on, but I do believe that people should never under-estimate how much dementia patients understand and we should always treat them with utmost respect.

About the "vans" - I'm considered a senior and sure wouldn't want to see one arrive on my doorstep! That woman is selfish and ignorant!

Liz Hinds said...

That is wonderful, Leslie. There's a possibly apocryphal story of the old man who faithfully visits his wife every day even though she doesn't know who he is. 'But I know who she is,' he explains.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

I couldn't make a call either ..but I definitely would not want to see the "Vans" that woman sounds very selfish and I agree ignorant. I read your story with sadness , feel so sorry for your uncle, thinking like that . And the poor man you write about. xx

Trubes said...

Well said Leslie and well done Liz for searching your faith to ask why! I'm glad you reached the right conclusion.
Our children start their lives being looked after, being fed, nappy changing, nursing and comforting 24/7 by their loving parent.
Sadly, if their parents need that sort of care in their latter years, then they should see that they receive it.
Nobody has to endure excruciating pain now, because the palliative care plans kick in and morphine is administered accordingly.
I do hope you Uncle improves enough to enjoy what is left of his life.
He is blessed to have you and his family and friends to care for him, which I'm sure he understands.

God bless you Liz and dear Uncle too,,

love Di.

nick said...

It's a very difficult question. If I was mentally and physically past-it and living a virtually vegetable-like existence, I would want to go and I would want others to help me go. But how is a friend or relative to be certain that you really want to end your life? How can they really tell if you're happy to keep going or utterly miserable and desperate for a way out? My mother says she wouldn't want to stay alive if she was merely existing, but would I have the nerve to take her life? And as you say, more permissive laws might very well be abused by those who didn't want the burden of care or wanted an inheritance.

Liz Hinds said...

Anne, I'm pleased to say that my uncle has got over his depression: he's hoping to be moved soon to a rehab ward (that's closer to us too!) so things should start looking up.

Di, it looks as though with some help he'll be able to return home and continue to enjoy his life, which is good news.

Nick, I think assisted suicide is another issue again and one I find very difficult to be dogmatic about.

Ole Phat Stu said...

Here (in Germany) we often hear the following argument :
The Nazis had Euthenasia (widely practised on Jews, Roma, gays, etc in the 3rd Reich).
Therefore if you are for Euthanasia, you must be a Nazi.
Being a Nazi considered evil.

On assisted suicide I agree with the late Terry Pratchett: it should be legal.
But it looks like the new law (if and when it comes) will either forbid it completely or at least forbid it being offered commercially (nowadays we'd have to go to Switzerland).

Trubes said...

So glad to read that your dear uncle is on the mend Liz,
slowly but surely is the way to go......
It must be a relief for you and your family that he's fought
of his depression, so for him to become more mobile is the next step, (If you pardon the pun!)
I'll remember him in my nightly prayers, when I get in bed tonight.

love Di.xx

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Euthanasia vans !
I can imagine feeling that I'd rather not follow an incurable cancer through to the bitter end and luckily , in Holland , the choice is mine . But it remains a personal choice as does the timing and arrangement . Some patients want to be surrounded by family at home , others want to slip away quietly in a hospice.
I'm not too sure it would be quite the same if one had to wait for a municipal van . Like waiting for the travelling library , perhaps ?

mrsnesbitt said...

As we have no children I often wonder what will happen to me in the distant future - but Cilla Black's death at 72 really brought home the fact that the future might not be so distant after all.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I agree with you, Liz.