Friday, October 07, 2005

Playing God - A Personal Perspective

These are my personal thoughts, based on personal experiences witnessing death. For nearly ten years I have worked as a nurse. During those years I have been present during the passing from life of countless individuals. Some deaths were very peaceful, some were not. I have seen many aspects of humanity during those deaths, through observation of those present and connected to the moment of death either by association, circumstance, or by a close relationship to the individual who died. No death of an individual goes unnoticed and does not touch those who encounter that death, regardless of the involvment and degree by which that death is witnessed. Death leaves an impact on us all, even if it is no more than to remind us all of our own mortality.

The case before the Supreme Court has brought to the forefront of national attention the question of whether an individual has the right to choose death over life and by what means (if any) this choice to die is assisted by the medical profession and to what degree. All should be rightfully concerned that if laws are passed condoning euthanasia dying will no longer be a natural process, but will become a process based on economics and convenience. Economics and convenience are not reasons to die. Many fear that "playing God" by allowing euthanasia will become a standard of care in the realm of medicine and that the time will come when an individuals worthiness to exist will be decided for them, without their knowledge or consent. I understand fully that concern and agree totally with those who do not want to see humanity evolve into a society of expendable life, which is terminated when life has no useful purpose and becomes a burden instead and that decision of death is made by someone other than the individual and God.

I do not understand suicide. I understand crushing depression and the desperation and despair which leads individuals to suicide, but I can not comprehend the act of suicide by an individual who has a terminal mentality, but is physically healthy otherwise. I can not understand wishing to go to sleep forever and acting upon it when one could wake up the next day with a totally different outlook on life based on a change of mind and heart. Healthy individuals (both mentally and physically) can not grasp that concept because of the tenacity of life itself.

But, for those who are terminally dying and no longer have the ability to enjoy life due to never ending pain and or phsyical requirements forcing them to be kept alive on machines tethered to a metal object that means life(?) to them versus a never ending sleep, I can understand a choice to die. I have looked into the eyes of individuals who are in a condition such as this, who are conscious and aware and trapped in their own bodies, unable to speak or move. How sad it is to see the eyes change as the comprehension comes to the individual that this is what life has left to offer for them. Initial fright gives way to acknowledgment, which becomes acceptance and then the personal withdrawal from circumstance and surroundings (and life) to a blank fixed gaze that doesn't follow or focus anymore. Regardless of the depth and degree to maintain life in these individuals, by the medical profession, death will come. Those in the medical field experience this and dread it. Because they can't "make" the person better and because that failure can be readily seen in the process of the patient to their death when they let go of life and everything around them. These particular deaths are the hardest to witness. For one thing, the awareness level of the individual is there without the ability to communicate what they are feeling. Except through the eyes. Which in these long term terminal cases the patients speak volumes.

Each of us will have our time to die. Each death is individual, regardless of similarity in medical conditions to others. Those who have a shorter time to walk that walk still transition through the same process, of understanding, acceptance and letting go, if the ability to be aware and comprehend is there. For some death comes without warning. Who are we to know the better end? Who are we to judge when a person has had enough of this existance and is ready to move on? I know that watching mental and physical pain suffered by an individual going through a long death process is heart breaking and is a devastating experience for those who love and are providing caring for the individual. But that is based on those left behind. Since no one has ever made the transition from terminally painful death and beyond back to life to share what it is like, how are we to determine how long to sustain pain and suffering? If you ask any medical person what type of death they would choose, you can bet if they have had any experience with the death and dying process their choice without hesitation would be a "quick" one. I would ask all to consider this and not lump sum the medical professionals as Dr. Death's or terminal assistant aides. It really saddens me that there are those who think of us that way. We do not care for death or want to be involved with it, anymore than anyone outside of the medical world, but we do understand it. We don't do high fives, sing "another one bites the dust", go "whew, glad that's over" or anything like that. We cry (only rarely you will see it), and we are always saddened whether it is over the circumstances of the death or the empathy we share for the loved ones left behind.

Because of my faith in God and the belief that He provides for us a Heaven that is filled with peace and joy and is free from pain, I can say that once someone has died they are in a better place. For those who do not believe, they find this belief to be nothing more than words. It is an individual choice to choose to believe, just as it is a personal choice to live and die. From what I have seen, those who believe in a life after death transition to death and the life thereafter with less pain, less suffering, and more peace. My belief is that an individuals choice to let go of life (as we know it) in these circumstances is not done alone.

My belief is that regardless of the extraordinary ways that medically we strive to maintain life, the time of death will come when an individual is ready to move on. For those who wish to move on before all of these extraordinary ways have been exercised is a personal choice, not anyone elses. If they wish to have their life support limited or removed, if they wish to have pain medications and other powerful drugs to reduce awareness administered to ease pain and suffering during the transitional period I believe it is their choice and right. If they wish to die by lethal injection, by "pulling the plug" - it is their choice alone. Not someone elses - whether it is the family wishes, doctors thoughts, or state intervention. I believe everyone should have the right to choose. But I believe that this must be done through a personal living will created for and signed by the individual or by videotape and is witnessed by others who do not stand to gain from the individuals death and is registered with authorities such as a court system. I believe that as long as an individual has the means to communicate that wish, it should be theirs to make. If the individual has not exercised that right and can no longer make his wishes known, then all medical means should be used to sustain life in as comfortable a manner possible. Without question. There should be no family battles, no ACLU stepping in to sue to make that what is right for some mandatory for all, no state governor threatening the national guard to stand guard to allow someone to die in peace or live on life support. Is that "playing God"? I, like you, will find out in our own time, won't we?

Find out how others feel about this issue at Stop the ACLU.

posted by Is It Just Me? at 6:57 AM