It’s never easy watching someone you love slowly dying from an illness. It’s not easy because you don’t want them to suffer. On the other hand, both you and they have time to prepare for death; to say everything you want and need to say.

Still, sitting for days or weeks in the silence of the palliative care room, broken every few minutes by the hum of the morphine auto-injector and sporadically by medical staff, watching their body become sallower, their skin yellower, the occasional unconscious twitch or gasp from the pain that usually precedes death from a terminal illness; these make you wish the end would come soon. And the wish makes you feel guilty, as if you wanted them to die. The guilt is more corrosive if you have been their primary caregiver, even though you primarily want their peace, not your happiness or freedom.

I’m seeing this the second time around: first it was my mother with bowel cancer, today it’s my father with liver cancer. I don’t know that it will be any easier.

Certainly the issue of euthanasia is real. Certainly neither my mother nor my father said or indicated they desired their lives to be ended earlier.

In how many cases does medical knowledge and technology keep us alive when our body has given up the ghost? I’m talking about being kept alive by a machine, I mean, not having our lives extended, say, by cancer treatment. Even if the treatment holds it off, we might still die in a similar way; maybe worse, if there are side effects to the treatment.

If medical technology keeps us alive when we would be dead without it (and therefore we should let people die?), it also reduces the pain that we would experience. Not necessarily in every instance, but in many. In my father’s certainly. Without the level of palliative care we have, more people would be in pain, and they would suffer more, and for longer.

Certainly we should try to alleviate suffering but should we try to keep a person alive if it means they will mostly suffer in that time? It’s a different question than cutting their life short to prevent them from suffering further, although there is a significant overlap of the issues.

In the article “It’s 1984, not 2013” Darrin Yeager noted there is a difference between quality of life and sanctity of life. This is true but which one is primary? If quality of life matters more, then euthanasia should be permissible, as long as it is accompanied by all the caveats necessary to prevent someone unwillingly having their life cut short. If sanctity of life matters more, we must ask: to whom? And by what authority should people who feel that quality of life is more important be bound to observe the sanctity of life, even of their own? Certainly to no mere human authority.

Even with a divine edict on the matter, I would find it difficult to condemn someone for ending their life to stop their suffering. (What their quality of life might be on the other side of death is, for this moment, a question for another time.) Quality of life is what I value more, although I reluctantly believe the sanctity of life takes precedence. All I pray is that when it’s my time I’ll go with a bang, not a whimper.

 

Advertisements