There is a New York magazine article by Michael Wolff that I first saw thanks to Eva’s blog. In the lengthy piece, Wolff talks about his mother’s decline in health, both physically and mentally. He talks about the physical, emotional and financial toll it takes on him and his siblings. He laments how modern technology has extended people’s lives in terms of years but not necessarily in terms of quality of life, and how we as a society are turning a blind eye to this brewing epidemic until it touches our family directly. He makes some good points, though some readers may be put-off by the fact that he and his family apparently have plenty of financial resources to provide the best around-the-clock care possible for their ailing mother. Wolff’s piece also seems more focused on his woes versus his mother, who seems to be a fascinating person experiencing a tragic ending to her life.
Ultimately though, Wolff ponders whether families should be able to decide when it is time for an ailing family member to die a death with dignity, versus lingering for years with a disease like Alzheimer’s. Call it what you will: euthanasia, death panels, etc. It’s obviously a very controversial issue.
I can understand both sides of the debate. I don’t feel that the last year of my dad’s life had much value. He wasn’t in a terrible state of pain or suffering the entire time, but between the medications and the dementia, he seemed incapable of feeling any kind of emotion. He was wearing diapers and living with strangers. The dad I knew would have hated the idea of it. But would he have preferred I slip him some medication that could have ended his suffering? Dad had a fear of death. Even if it were legal, and I had Dad’s best wishes (and his written approval) it still would be a heartwrenching decision to make. Having participated in two (quite legal) euthanasias this year for beloved pets, I’ve experienced firsthand how having the power to decide life or death comes with its own special pain. Ending one’s suffering does not eliminate or lessen the pain and grief that comes with losing a loved one.
There are no easy answers. We can try our best to ensure our loved ones die with dignity, but ultimately, how much control do we really have?