But seriously folks…
Seriously. This post is about death.
I remember when a relative of mine was in hospice care with stage four lung cancer. My relative never smoked and took her vitamins, etc. The kind woman who volunteered at the hospice told us that her husband had died under the same circumstances. I was astonished that someone who lost her husband in such conditions could volunteer to watch others die of the same thing. People don’t walk out of hospices. But this woman was committed to making sure people died with care and dignity. And she put her emotions and her time and her energy to that end.
End of Life Care is code for if you’re dying, you get to die. This may include refusing tube feeding or even breathing apparatus, or it may just go so far as a “do not resuscitate” order should a patient die while under care. It can go so far as physician-assisted suicide. (Doctor Doug, please comment on all this, btw.) It’s a tough nut for the medical community to crack, as that community is rightly committed to saving lives, not ending them or allowing them to end. I remember reading about a doctor in the NYT Sunday Magazine a few months ago who took extreme measures to save a 96-year-old woman in a vegetative state. Asked why he did that, he said frankly and without irony: “If I didn’t, she would die.”
As the boomers continue to age, like it or not, they seem as a generation to want a tremendous amount of control as to how they die and under what circumstances any extreme measures should be made to save them in terminal circumstances. The medical community is responding, slowly but surely: Eldercare, hospice, and end-of-life issues, not to mention physician-assisted suicide, are hot topics at AMA meetings, fo’ sho.
This is an issue, I think, where the religious right does not have the best interests of individual Americans at heart, and individual Americans know it. Pew Research Center polling shows overwhelming support for Right to Die laws and strong consideration, if not implementation, of living wills, especially after the publicity of the Terri Schiavo case.
Yet Congress continues to be whores to the religious right and their bullhorns on this. I’m with Sister Maureen Fiedler, SL, host of public radio’s Interfaith Voices, who said in response to the Schiavo Congressional intercession:
“Would this same Congress return for a special session to appropriate the billions of dollars that we’ve already promised to AIDS victims to ensure that they live? .Â… to approve the funds needed for African Union peacekeepers to stop genocide in the Sudan? Â… to save uncounted American lives by providing every citizen with guaranteed health insurance? Would they devote a special session to the lives lost in Iraq? Â….an accounting of Iraqi lives lost?”
There is a big gap, folks, between wanting some control over how you die in Schiavo-like circumstances and actually filling out the paperwork. I myself fall into that gap. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to do something about it.