Friday, January 30, 2009

Assisted Suicide and a Very Honest Moment

assisted, suicide, ethics, morality, immoral, murder, euthanasia, euthenasia

You've been getting a lot of honest moment's out of me recently, and here's another one. In fact, the honesty here might be a little bit much, just so's you know.

cschande has an article up about proposed assisted suicide in Hawaii. (Naturally, it's Teh Evul.) I will say this: the vast majority of people whom you think would want to commit suicide (terminal cancer patients, for example) don't want to. I will also say this: assisted suicide happens in the US every day. It's illegal, so the doctors involved are risking their licenses and livelihoods, but it still happens. Why?

Let me give you an example. I knew a man whose wife collapsed one day unexpectedly. She hadn't said a word about feeling sicker and sicker and sicker for an entire year. She was too busy, she was scared of doctors, and she was probably afraid of having confirmed what she already suspected: she had cancer. Liver cancer, to be exact, that had metastesized all over her body, including to her brain.

Within 3 weeks, this previously kind, funny young woman became a raging maniac as the cancer ate away her brain. Her husband sent her to hospice, but she was sent back home because she kept assaulting the aides with whatever objects were handy. Once she was home, their daughter had to be sent to live with relatives, because mommy tried to kill her. Then came the pain. The cancer got into the nociception centers of her brain, causing unimaginable pain throughout her entire body. Painkillers can't work once that's happened. There is nothing to do about the pain at that point except feel every bit of it, with no relief, not even for a moment.

She screamed in agony no narcotic could touch for 36 hours straight before her husband called her doctor and begged him to do something, anything. Her doctor brought over an extra vial of morphine. The husband was enraged: morphine didn't work at all, what was this idiot doctor thinking?

"Too much morphine and she won't be able to breathe," the doctor said. "It would be an accident, anyone could understand how easy it would be to give too much morphine to a woman screaming in agony for days."

"There's no other way, is there?" the husband asked.

"She's dying," said the doctor. "You know that. It could be an hour from now or weeks from now, but that pain's not going away. She's not getting better. I'm sorry, but there's nothing more to be done."

I think you can guess what happened next. What would you do? (If it takes you less than 30 seconds to come up with the answer, you didn't think hard enough.)


  1. Both of my Grandmothers died of cancer. I know exactly what I would do, after seeing what the end stage of cancer looks like. No one should go through that. No one.

  2. Wow, thanks for that. I also, have had personal experiences that give me appreciation for your post. I can't believe what the "powers that be" did to Dr. Kervorkian, seems I remember they finally let him out of prison, if he remains very quiet, seems like his health was failing.

    I get very afraid when I run into religious doctors, unfortunately it must some kind of prerequisite for medical school because there is a plethora of them here in the South. It's encouraging to hear of one with the compassion and humanity that should be a prerequisite for the Medical profession.

    I hope when my time comes and if I should be in such a desperate situation that I would be surrounded by people who wouldn't need more than 30 seconds to take action. That would be a good test for a physician, but probably be tough to get a pass around here. Thanks for the post Knowdoubt

  3. you're welcome. the fact that people look at that very good man's decision, no doubt the most painful, and loving, decision he ever had to make, and see murder is appalling. i think people need to take the time to really think about things before they start making laws about it.

    i agree about the doctors, too. i know that dying people in tremendous pain are often denied painkillers because "they might get addicted". Quite the self-limiting problem, don't you think?

    in my experiences of being denied effective pain treatment, i have come to the conclusion that doctors should be forced to live with a horrible condition for at least a year before treating people like me. bastards.

  4. and, i'm very sorry about your grandmothers. medicine has figured out how to extend the quantity of life, but doesn't bother to look at the quality of life.

  5. like you, i'm in constant chronic pain, and it took me years of screaming and shouting and my dad pretending to be my lawyer to get something that almost helps with the pain (i admit that part of it is my fault, i don't want to be zonked out all the time...)

    this post made me tear up. how the hell is that murder? somehow, i've always believed that QUALITY of life was more important than QUANTITY. and that doctors take an oath to treat their patients in the best way for their patient.

    i would have done the same. i didn't need 3 seconds, i decided this years ago (when i was seriously considering suicide).

    but thank you for posting it. people need to see stuff like this, be shown, try to understand these things...

  6. I've considered suicide too. Sometimes it's the only comfort I have- that I could end if I choose to. That's not a thought a 33 yr old woman should be having. Psych guy says I'm not depressed, just undermedicated.

    I would trade 10 years of life for one pain free day. Just one.

  7. yes.

    but the tell us we are addicted because we want to not hurt.

    there are days when i hate every person in medicine. sigh.

    without (i hope) being creepy, i wish i knew you for real. it would be nice to know someone who *GETS* my pain; most people who hurt like we do are OLD, and they tend to think that we are exhagerating or whatever because we aren't old like they are (although i FEEL old) and so we OBVIOUSLY can't suffer like the do - aren't we still youthful? etc. what they DON'T GET is that our entire youths were STOLEN by the pain. we never got the chance, really, we were old as soon as the pain started. and thats worse - i literally do not remember what it is like to not hurt. i used to manage to do things IN SPITE of the pain, like dance, but it was hell.

    (i'm sorry. i'm having a really really bad week, snow and ice storms, plus i fell down on tuesday, so i hurt EXTRA while at the same time i have been cutting down on my pain meds because it was scaring me to take 5 a day. and school, too. so i am mostly venting here, to someone i think goes through the same thing. venting to somehow who DOESN'T go through it always feels useless to me)


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