Even has difficult as funeral arrangements are for people to discuss, the manner of one's death is
exponentially more difficult.
Fifteen years ago, when my mother was dying from cancer, my father and I had to demand that the doctor give my mother something to spare her from the immense pain she was suffering. The doctor said that he could order a morphine drip, but was reluctant because it would shorten her life by a few days. My dad said that she wasn't living anymore but was just existing in a state of misery. Fortunately, the doctor relented and let her life end in comfort.
Six years later, when my grandfather was nearing the end, I had to fight the hospital social worker to have him placed in hospice so that he could be free from pain and allowed to go with dignity. It was the hardest thing that I ever did - fighting for a man I loved so dearly to be allowed to die with dignity. Although I still feel self doubt and guilt, I know I would do it again if I had to.
I have often written about my belief that quality of life trumps any argument about the sanctity of life, especially when it's not a question of whether one was going to die, but how they were going to die.
The Institute of Medicine has just issued a report that confirms that I am not alone in feeling this way:
Though people repeatedly stress a desire to die at home, free from pain, the opposite often happens, the Institute of Medicine found in its "Dying in America" report. Most people do not document their wishes on end-of-life care and even those who do face a medical system poorly suited to give them the death they want, the authors found.This should really be a nonpartisan issue.
The result is breathing and feeding tubes, powerful drugs and other treatment that often fails to extend life and can make the final days more unpleasant. The report blamed a fee-for-service medical system in which "perverse incentives" exist for doctors and hospitals to choose the most aggressive care; inadequate training for those caring for the dying and physicians who default to lifesaving treatment because they worry about liability.
"It's not an intentional thing. It's a systemic problem," said David Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general, who co-chaired the committee that issued the report.
A higher quality of life, less expense and control of one's own destiny is something that I think almost everyone would agree are worthy goals. If we value the ability to choose how we live, we should also value the ability to choose how we die.
Sadly, there is a faction of politicians that are controlled by big money special interests who make a killing - excuse the pun - at keeping people alive, no matter how miserable they are.
It's one more battle in the ongoing war that pits people versus profits.