Monday, October 29, 2012

Gloria's Choice

A couple of months the United Church Observer published an article called Gloria's Choice. It was an interview with Gloria Taylor who was the cheerful, thoughtful, personal face of the assisted suicide court decision in British Columbia. Gloria was a member of a United Church congregation so it was certainly appropriate that she had the conversation with the Observer.

Earlier in October CBC's the fifth estate did a feature on Gloria. What a feisty, life-loving woman she way. Neither of these interviews could have anticipated Gloria's rather sudden death of natural causes. The right to die on her own terms which she won through the legal system wasn't exercised.

The majority of United Church members support that right to "die with dignity" for those who are terminally ill. which is not surprising in some respects. As many of you will know, I am a dissenting voice and always have been. It's not that I want to see anyone suffer, and I have prayed in many circumstances for a quick death for those who had no chance of returning to health. There are worse things than death, and I have a resurrection hope. I have counselled families not to go to extraordinary lengths to prolong the life of a loved one, and I have been well aware that physicians have brought about the earlier demise of some parishioners through medication without terminating life.

At the same time I figure that our current laws are flexible enough that we don't need to change them. And I have the feeling that the majority of physicians don't want to be put into the position of playing God it these emotionally fraught circumstances. I would like to think that I'm not just a stubborn adherent to a "sanctity of life" ethic that doesn't allow for compassion. I do feel that we have to be incredibly cautious in this regard for the protection of the vulnerable from the unscrupulous. I have seen first hand that not all families are compassionate or have their loved ones' best interests at heart.

Sometimes people will say that we euthanize pets when they are suffering, so why do we prolong the lives of humans who are in pain? Well, our loved ones are not pets, and the dynamics of our human relationships are different. I wish people would give the same energy and attention to effective palliative care in our health system that they do to assisted suicide. Here are a couple of other recent articles which might interest you.

Please feel free to disagree with me on this one! Have you thought this through thoroughly? Have you spoken with loved ones about your own wishes? Have you had the conversation with your doctor? Your pastor or priest?

Are you ready for the Frankenstorm? Take a look at my Groundling blog.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the often made comment about euthanizing our pets. Most people who find themselves making this decision for their well-loved pets find it excruciating. Often times this decision is made for financial reasons and I have found myself almost wishing that veterinary medicine had not made the strides it has, because now that palliative care is available for your pet, if you are wealthy enough, there is a whole new moral dilemma on our hands. How far do you go to prolong a pet’s life? At what expense to your family’s financial needs? Our expanding knowledge has always opened Pandora ’s Box, right back to the garden I suppose. It is very expensive, to the point of impossible, to provide palliative care for a pet. Still, sometimes pet owners end up feeling guilty about the decisions they make, either way. How can you make a life and death decision that does not in some way involve financial decisions once you make these types of options available? I am sure there are arguments that say you can, but I personally see it as a slippery slope that cannot be avoided. When my mother died, we were all well aware of what the morphine would do, although no one would ever have spoken it aloud and into full consciousness. Yet, when we euthanized Toto we were painfully, agonizingly aware that we had reached the end of what we could provide on our particular budget. Keeping her comfortable was no longer financially possible. I don’t know if I am clearly making my point here, but as we are learning to decide when to prolong a pet’s life, we are grappling with when to end a human beings. As my mother lay dying we were painfully aware that someone was waiting for her bed, although the staff were extrememly tactful.

IanD said...

My friend (who lost his grandmother to a nasty, progressive illness) asked this question aloud last month. I didn't have a good answer.

Laura said...

I like your idea of focusing on improvements to palliative care. I haven't felt it could be fair/right to ask doctors to play this God-like role, yet the alternative of a long and undignified death seems wrong too.

Yes, we love our pets but it is so different. We grieve their loss, and carry guilt over decisions we might have made, and then we can adopt another one, or choose not to. Sometimes we even adopt another as we know one is ease the expected loss. It is very different.

Anonymous said...

I don’t know what the answer is either, Ian. In my above ramblings I am certain I didn’t manage to articulate what my thoughts are very effectively. It seems ironic that we are striving to find ways to avoid euthanizing our pets while simultaneously asking ourselves if euthanizing humans is the humane solution to human suffering at the end of life. My fear is not so much that individuals will make decisions based purely on finance, although this too could become an issue. It is that we as a society will slowly but surely begin to ponder euthanasia based less and less on compassion and more and more on efficiency. It is when institutions begin making decisions for us that worries me. It’s the pamphlet left casually on the table in that little room along with the treatment options. Maybe I am too much of a pessimist, to believe that we are capable of balancing all that is involved in a humane way.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to write so much here, but in response to Laura, I didn't mean to suggest that the decsion to euthanize a pet was equal to the decision to euthanize a person. It was the irony of the situation I was refering to. More and more options are available to avoid euthanizing your pet, while people are looking for ways to include euthansia as an option for people.

Susan said...

The answer lies in the struggle with the question and with each person - whether it is a pet or a loved one. I have lost a grandparent, aunts, uncles and both parents to horrible and life draining diseases and had to euthanize two pets. (One pet dying of old age and she had stopped eating and the other pet was full of cancerous tumours.) I had a grandparent who had dementia/alheimzers and was non-responsive and curled up in a fetal position for 10 years. My grandparent's case is the closest I have ever got to advocating for euthanization but I have a very severe fear of the abuses that could happen (whether hospital admin people, doctors, or family members)if that approval became universal. For me, improving pallative care, home care and some form of care for the caregiver would be a wise use of our tax dollars.