Thursday, April 7, 2011

End of Life Care: Will Politicians Finally Act Humanely?

We value life. We work hard to make it better. We sing songs about. Write about it. We even kill each other over the way we think others should live theirs. (I know that last sentence is crazy but war is crazy, is it not?)

But I have yet to figure out why we have not come to the humane conclusion that end of life care should be done with the dignity of the person in mind.

Well, maybe I have figured that out: it's a political tool and no politician will let that sort of issue go by without getting some leverage from it.

I used to have the opinion that life was so sacred, so valuable, so wonderful, that we could do nothing less than everything to keep a life going. I used to believe that since life was God-given, we should make sure life lasts as long as it can for everyone - in every circumstance - until God takes the person by the biological death of the body. After all, God alone gives life and God alone takes life.

Notice, please, I said I used to be of that opinion. Now I believe that life is so sacred, so valuable, so wonderful and God-given, that we should consider the damage we are doing to the value we claim to be protecting.

As I have gotten older, I've watched the families of parishioners and clients go through the awful, heart-wrenching tragedy of their loved ones withering away. Maybe it was the slow, painful death of a cancer. Or the debilitating  effects of Parkinson's. Then there are the diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's, where the person dies long before the body does.

What those sort of diseases do to the patient is, in many cases, not as dreadful as what it does to the family that has to watch the death process go on for, sometimes, decades.

I am not advocating we begin the slippery slope of not treating diseases because of the ultimate end. Nor will I advocate a cost-benefit analysis to determine the value of a life. What I do think we need to do is an honest discussion about the real issues around end of life care.

Real issues. Not faux-ethics. Not political brownie points disguised as the moral high ground. Not philosophical sniper attacks pretending to be concerned "for the value of life."

Let's get real and talk about the actual value of a person's life: when a person is no longer able to care for herself, or is so debilitated or diagnosed that what they believe is her value of life is not worth the financial, emotional or physical costs to herself or her family, why do we not allow a dignified means for the end of life care? As long as the person has/can make such an informed decision, why not allow the gentle and humane passing instead of medically allowing the agony for everyone involved?

I would even see a system in place where a medical team (not a single physician) can attest to a threshold of whatever stipulations we want to add, and have the patient/family petition the court to allow the dignified passing.

What I don't like to see is the system we have now that drains everyone of their finances, emotions and common sense. We treat animals more humanely than we treat people regarding end of life care.

It's time we recognized that God gave us the means and the wherewithal to do a gracious thing possible for a fellow human being at the very time that person may need it the most.

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