There are some questions that are rarely asked because the emotions that they stir up can be almost unbearable and because they cannot help but completely divide opinion. That said, these are often the questions that should be asked because they provoke discussion and, however unpalatable these discussions may be they are necessary if the human race is to continue to move forward. For that reason, I’ve decided to try and answer the incredibly provocative question posed by the fearless Fandango.
Do you believe that terminally ill people should be allowed or encouraged to end their lives via physician-assisted suicide? If so, under any circumstances or should there be restrictions? If not, why not?
My first response to this is to ask another question: If your family pet was dying, visibly suffering and the vet had told you there was nothing they could do what would your reaction be? You knew that, if you did not take action, your beloved cat or dog would face the rest of its life in pain and anguish…what would you do? For most of us, although it may break our hearts we would ask the vet to put the animal to sleep, to end its suffering. How is it then that we do not afford the same kindness to our fellow humans?
Almost 5 years ago, I watched my husband die from esophageal cancer which was complicated by secondary cancer in his liver. I watched him suffer when the doctors put cameras down his throat, he was sedated but told me that the process was agony. I was with him on the day that they decided to operate on his esophagus, a major and frightening procedure. They opened him up and then found the secondary cancer so they woke him up from the anesthetic and, while he was still groggy, told him that the operation would not go ahead and that there was nothing more they could do for him. That was his death sentence, it was delivered with little compassion and it broke my husband’s heart because he knew that he would be leaving this World and everyone in it that he loved. Worse than this, he knew that he would die in considerable pain.
I fought to find him a place in a hospice because I couldn’t bear the treatment that he received in hospital. I don’t want to go into detail because I don’t want to relive the memories but no-one deserves the mental and emotional cruelty that he suffered in the name of ‘treatment’.
Cancer is the most awful disease. It is cruel. It robs people of their dignity, it strips the flesh from their bones and leaves them as shadows of their former selves, in pain, connected to machines, drips, tubes all designed to keep them in their suffering for as long as possible. For what? For who?
A few months before his death I was asked to sign a ‘do not resuscitate order’ and, although I couldn’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to the only man I’d ever loved, I didn’t hesitate because watching someone you love slowly taken apart by this terrible disease is far worse than letting them go. What is it they say about if you really love someone you’ll let them go….?
One of the things that I will always feel guilty about is not spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with my love before he died. In films or on the TV it’s always like that isn’t it? The relative sleeping in a chair beside their loved one’s bed, holding their hand, not leaving, eating or even changing their clothes but real life isn’t like that or at least it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t or wouldn’t accept that my husband was going to die. Of course, I knew on an intellectual level but I wouldn’t believe it because the thought was too awful to bear. So I visited every single day, for hours at a time, but I also carried on with my life because, in my head, that which I knew to be inevitable could never happen.
This went on for several months, my husband suffered, I suffered, his family and mine suffered, it was prolonged, torturous and unnecessary. If my love had been given the option to end his life with a morphine overdose I believe he would have taken it just to put an end to, what had become, a miserable existence; it could really be called a life any longer. If he had made that choice I like to think that I would have supported him in his decision because it was his to make.
When I spoke to one of the hospice nurses after my love had left this World she said that his death had been ‘difficult’, basically, he had suffered. The really awful part of this was that I was not there with him, he was alone with a nurse, a very caring woman but not someone who loved him; don’t we all deserve to be with someone we love when we die?
If medically assisted suicide was allowed I could have been there, he could have been surrounded by the people that he loved at a time and place of his choosing and not at 2am, in a hospice with a kind nurse the only person there to hold his hand. I know that people will say that the processed could be abused, the lawmakers fear that assisted suicide could become murder or that people who would otherwise go on to recover, especially from mental illness, will take their own life but it is their own life isn’t it? The human race is happy enough to kill, many places still have the death penalty, we start wars over territory or religion, we maim and murder for pleasure or profit and yet we balk at the idea of allowing someone to take their own life. Why?
The grief that I have suffered and still suffer following the death of my beloved husband would be no different had he died as he did or through medically assisted suicide. The pain would not be lessened but the guilt would have been because I could have been there with him.
We put animals to sleep, when they are suffering, in the name of kindness and compassion, it’s through noble intent. We condemn those who hurt animals or treat them badly because animals like cats and dogs can’t really fight back against the mighty human AND YET we allow our fellow humans to go through far worse in the name of ethics. Why?
To finally answer Fandango’s question: I absolutely believe that people should have the right to end their suffering through assisted suicide if they are terminally ill.