I am sad to hear that Montana is now the third state in the US to legalize physician assisted suicide. As a long-time hospice nurse, I have been at the bedside of many dying people, and I have also been at the bedside of people dying without hospice. I have talked to family members devastated by the thought of losing a loved one and cried right along with them as they went through the grieving process, before and after the final day. I have listened to people who knew they were dying and helped them handle the transition, the symptoms and the fear.
I am also Dutch, born in Amsterdam, but have spent most of my life here in the US. I was proud of my country of birth, because Dutch doctors were the only ones who did not kill at Hitler’s orders during WWII: physically and mentally handicapped people were among those that Hitler wanted to “clean out” of his perfect society. Now Holland is one of the places where doctors kill patients routinely, it is only called euthanasia if the patient asked for it.
Here is a link to a good run-down on what is happening in the Netherlands, results of the 1990 Remmelink Report (it isn’t available in English, and the third and latest report from 2001 shows approximately the same numbers as the first report)http://www.internationaltaskforce.org/fctholl.htm Please note the number of people killed each year without their consent.
I find it appalling that so many people call killing “compassionate” or a “choice”, whether it is the unborn or the suffering dying, or even handicapped people. Physician assisted suicide is a failure of the physician to care for his or her patient in a compassionate and appropriate manner. The person begs to die, but why? Is it pain? We have excellent analgesics. Is it fear? Give them compassion and help them to cope, humor is a wonderful thing. Is it loss of dignity? Give them loving and respectful care. Are they sad and grieving? Give them hugs, touches, love. (A pill for depression doesn’t do the job at this point.) Is it not wanting to lose their independence and sense of control? Give them knowledge about their condition and treatment options, including palliative care.
With today’s modern technology and drugs, there is no excuse for euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. Patient’s don’t need to suffer pain, and actually most people who ask to die don’t do so because of pain, but because of loss of control and dignity. I have found in my service with hospice that control is given in the form of information and choices; and dignity is maintained by respectful and loving care.
Suffering in and of itself is not a reason to kill someone. Ease the suffering, don’t end the life. We all suffer, what level is then considered to be too much? Who will judge that? Your doctor? The family member who suggests “You don’t want to be a burden to your family, do you, Mom?” (Yes, I have seen that.) Killing should not be considered a health care option.
In my humble opinion, if a dying person is asking to be killed to shorten the agony, it is the people around them that have failed in their opportunity to show them they are cared about. There can be deep meaning and even joy in those final precious days. Each moment is a gift, and should not be thrown away. It is up to the health care community to provide adequate symptom control so the person can have the time to be with their friends and family.
There can be a good death, and it is not the road of suicide, but the acceptance and respect for death and dying as a special process that has its own way of healing; and the inevitable end to all of our days. Having seen so many people in their last days, I can say I am not afraid to die, but I surely hope that my family, friends and doctors don’t turn away and decide to be “compassionate” and kill me just when I need to spend time contemplating and getting ready for that final trip.
Hospice is caring. Not physician assisted suicide.