Wednesday, March 30, 2016

End of Life Choices

Last October, after my state passed a law allowing physician assisted suicide, I posted a blog about the issue.  I struggled and continue to struggle with the question.  Here's a paragraph from that post.

I saw images on 9/11 that made me think differently.

We also saw people jump from the towers to their deaths, knowing that they were committing suicide.  At the same time, death was imminent as the flames came towards them.  The choice was clearly between dying a painful death of burning or a quick one from the impact of a fall from the towers.  I don't know what I would have done if faced with that choice but I do know how I feel about burning and it is not a way that I would choose to die.  So, I asked myself, was the decision to jump an immoral one?  Did I have the right to condemn those who would choose one way to die over another, knowing that death was clearly coming?
 My thinking was prodded forward by the situation of Brittany Maynard, who suffered with a terrible form of brain cancer and chose to move to Oregon so that she could take her own life rather than go through the process of the cancer.  I watched a friend die of that same cancer so I knew a bit of what she was facing...

The other side of my equation is that my spouse is a hospice chaplain.  During Cheryl's years of work in that challenging setting, I have learned that those final days can truly be holy time and that in spite of (perhaps sometimes because of) the pain, relationships are healed, grace is poured out, and that life is enriched in ways that could not be imagined under normal circumstances.  In his book, The Four Things that Matter Most, Ira Byock tells story after story of families who look back at the last days with a loved one as some of the most positive time they shared together.   I also know that sometimes even the most dire prognosis can be wrong and that individuals who really should die, simply don't.  Cheryl has had more than one client who was supposed to have a prognosis of 6 months or less but instead lived for years.

All of that is to say that I fear by making it easy to avoid the difficult times, we will also see many families missing out on the wonderful times that are enabled by the nearness of death.  I also fear insurance companies pushing "a good death" because it costs much less than the protracted experience of dying well.

I really do understand the reason why some folk may want to end their own lives as a way of avoiding terrible suffering and I do think the law is probably a good thing.  Still, I hope that we find a way to open other options that truly can be filled with grace.

No comments: