Saturday, October 22, 2011

This is not respect for life.

Talk about a lack of compassion.

According to this article at Firedoglake, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has banned Catholic nursing homes and hospitals from "removing feeding tubes or ending palliative procedures of any kind, even when the individual has an advance directive to guide their end-of-life care."  Where there used to be some leeway for judgement about whether it would be more compassionate to let the patient go in individual cases for patients in Catholic hospitals who were terminally ill whose lives were being extended by some form of medical intervention, that leeway is now gone.  And as if it weren't already plainly obvious that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is very keen on maintaining people's suffering rather than alleviating it, "The Bishops' directive even notes that patient suffering is redemptive and brings the individual closer to Christ."

This is why the preserve-life-at-all-costs crowd infuriates me.  This sort of thing isn't even the preservation of life.  It's the prolonging of existence.  When my grandfather died last year, he went slowly and painfully, and he'd suffered a lot in the months leading up to his death already.  But what he went through, particularly in the last week and a half of his life, was truly horrifying.  He was constantly in pain, though sometimes it was worse than others, and even when he was comfortable enough to sleep, hearing him struggle for breath was absolutely heartbreaking.  The best anyone could do for him was give him pain medication and just enough water, transmitted via a small sponge, to keep his mouth from being uncomfortably dry; anything more would have added substantially to his distress because he had gradually lost the ability to swallow.

And every moment I sat there by his bedside, I prayed that the end would come soon.  It wasn't out of hate or disrespect.  It wasn't because I was in any hurry to say goodbye to him.  It was because I loved him and I couldn't bear to see him suffering like that.  He was dying; any fool could see it.  Even I saw it before his care officially became palliative rather than curative, and I'm a teacher, not a doctor or nurse.  Nothing on Earth was going to restore his health.  It was bad enough that we had to watch him die so slowly as it was.  If the hospital had insisted on prolonging his pain on the basis that life must be preserved no matter what, or because of that bullshit idea that suffering brings people closer to God, it would have been even more unbearable than it already was.  Extending life in circumstances like that isn't compassion.  It's cruelty of a most brutal and sadistic sort.  I would even call it evil.

If there was anything at all that I learned when my grandfather was dying, it was that sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do for a person who's dying is to let them go.  It's not creating or embracing a "culture of death" to do so.  It's acknowledging that because their life has worth, the person deserves better than the slow and torturous death that extending their days will give them.

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