Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Euthanasia #4 - the end is nigh

The anti-euthanasia group tends to craft their arguments in black and white tones. Pity. Because life really isn't black and white. It takes wisdom to discern the shades of gray...or better still, to resolve the subtle colours of life and living.

I suspect many of the people who are stridently against euthanasia have not had much of an experience at the bedside of people struggling through the closing stages of their life.

Quite a few years back, my uncle died of lung cancer. He was a smoker. The last days of his life was spent in pain because the cancer had already spread through his body, and were making big holes in his bones. It was agony for him. I think as we gathered around his bedside, if we could have read each other's minds, we would probably have seen how everyone was more or less thinking the same thing..."
Was this really necessary? Couldn't something be done to put him out of his misery?"

As it transpired, something was done. The attending physician began giving him larger and larger doses of morphine for his pain. But even as he sank into a deepening narcotic induced coma, the grimace on his face told us he was still very much in distress. Finally after a few days, he passed away. As I watched him then, I held my peace...because my medical background had told me pretty much his passing had probably more to do with the morphine than the cancer itself.

The last days of a terminal illness is often not a fun time. Often there is only pain and distress. Though he/she may be surrounded by loved ones, his/her journey is a lonely and miserable one. Drugs don't help all that much. And we falsely believe that if the patient does not complain, he/she is free from pain. Often he/she is just too weak to say anything. Too weak to argue, or to say any more goodbyes. Just silent tears of resignation from the corners of his/her eyes.

Euthanasia is not the antithesis of palliation, though it is often presented that way. Palliation and euthanasia should be seen as partners in the same process of assisting a fellow traveler in life across the threshold into death. Euthanasia allows him/her to do so in peace, and with grace and dignity. This much we owe to our fellow men.

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