Monday, April 24, 2006

Euthanasia, Part I...Subtitled, "How Dare I Blog About This?!?"...

Oh my! How dare I be diagnosed with a chronic and potentially debilitating disease and even utter that word in my blog?!

Euthanasia. How dare I put that word in Ethernet print and continue to work in a job where I get paid to preserve life?
Euthanasia. How could I dare raise a topic in blog that is sure to offend and, at the very least, create a stir of controversy and response?
Euthanasia. I am living with Multiple Sclerosis…that’s how I dare to begin this topic.
My good friend and colleague recently had to put her dog “down”. Sweet Maggie, a black Labrador retriever, had been suffering with a disease for several weeks. She became listless, had difficulty urinating, and would whine in pain at times. She was an older dog,but certainly not at the end of a Lab’s life span.

My friend loved Maggie dearly and treated the pooch as a family member with great compassion and care, taking her frequently to the vet for any treatment the doctor could recommend. There was nothing the vet could do to prolong or improve Maggie’s condition. Eventually Maggie became unable to stand or walk and she whined in great pain. My friend agonized over what to do, but decidedly chose the only humane thing she could: Maggie would have to be euthanized to end her suffering.

It was a sad day around the office when we learned Maggie was “put down” because everybody loved Maggie. Several people gave my friend cards of condolence and I think a few even shed a tear or two. We grieved the loss of my friend’s companion yet all agreed, it was the only humane thing left to do.

In 1997, I went home to visit my parents in Nebraska and, on the day I was to leave and fly back to Seattle, my mother suffered a severe brain aneurysm. She quickly became unconscious in my arms and stopped breathing. I went immediately into “medical mode” and did rescue breathing while waiting in internal panic for an ambulance to respond.

My mother was sent via Life Flight from a nearby hospital to the closest medical center 100 miles away. It took two, long hours of driving to finally reach her bedside. She had been placed on life support and several tests had already been run. A polite, but grim neurologist told me the news…my mother had a large cerebral aneurysm rupture in the back of her brain, which caused irreparable hemorrhage. Her basic reflexes were gone and her EEG (brain waves) showed minimal signs of activity. I knew what he was telling me: my mother was essentially dead, yet the respirator and IVs continued to pump on, giving the illusion of life and that she was breathing.

I had the horrible task of explaining the neurologist’s words to my then 9-month pregnant sister. My sister, myself, and my father (who was preparing to be transitioned to a nursing home, which was why I was in Nebraska in the first place…to help my mother move him in) were my mother’s closest next of kin. Because of my father’s failing condition, my sister and I were also my mother’s power of attorney, which meant we would be the ones to decide the fate of her life support.

After two and a half days of remaining a constant fixture at my mother’s bedside and repeated EEGs continuing to give the same result, we made the agonizing decision to suspend her life support. My mother was brain dead by all Western medicine standards. It seemed surreal that just three days prior, she had been a vibrant, full-time employed, excellent cook and seamstress, caretaker of my father, age 64 year old mother.

On February 11, 1997, in the early afternoon, I stood at my mother’s bedside, surrounded by family and clergy, and watched as machines were unplugged and my mother’s heartbeat slowly ceased to blip on the screen. My mother died just like she had told us she wanted to: with dignity and with little suffering.

Euthanasia. How dare I write about such a serious and controversial topic in an MS blog? Because I have lived it.

Euthanasia by Miriam Webster’s definition is a noun, meaning 1. gentle, painless death or, 2. putting to death in this way esp. to relieve suffering. It seems pretty simple as defined by Webster…it’s a benign noun.

But recently in Western culture and especially in political arenas in the USA, euthanasia has become a verb, or the “putting” part of the definition in #2. It has been discussed as an “action” word and all too often condemned with little understanding on the part of the damning party.

No one questioned my friend’s decision to have her dog euthanized. That was humane. Allowing an animal to suffer unnecessarily is actually a crime in some states if it is seen as neglect.

One or two people whispered silent condemnations about the “haste” at which my sister and I made the decision to “pull the plug” on our mother, believing a miracle could have happened if we had only waited longer. Most who knew my mother however, readily agreed it would have been what she wanted…it was the humane thing to do. My mother HAD talked with us about her end of life wishes after all (and oddly she spoke superficially to me about this in the week preceeding her death). In essence, my sister and I chose euthanasia for our mother based on her wishes.

So why has this term become such a dirty word and whispered in hush-hush ways when we talk about disease, and especially Multiple Sclerosis? How do we determine when someone is committing suicide and when they are choosing euthanasia? (Suicide is, after all a noun also, meaning “the act of killing oneself intentionally”…this is straight out of Webster as well.) Where do we draw the line between assisting someone in ending their suffering by death ( again the “putting” part of the definition of euthanasia) or committing the act of murder? And ultimately, how do we determine what constitutes suffering versus quality and quantity of life issues?

Because I strongly believe these topics have remained “in the closet” far too long, I have decided to put my own head on the chopping block and share with you my personal views.

Some of you will disagree with me wholeheartedly and emphatically and that is your right to do so. Please feel free to leave your comments about these topics in the comment section. But please refrain from condemning me to your hell if I don’t share your viewpoint and I will refrain from condemning you to mine.

Some of you will strongly relate to my ideas and you may comment also, with the understanding I am not your spokesperson or your personal Dr. Kevorkian. I do not condone suicide because I am bound by Washington State law to say that.

And still, some of you will continue to search for your own answers regarding these issues in an attempt to find your way through these murky waters. It is you, dear reader, I hope will take liberty in the comment section because you are the people I will learn from the most.

I’m hoping I will be able to condense my ideas/views on this topic into 3 parts, but I AM a bit “windy”, so you’ll just have to check back and see. I probably also will not add these parts consecutively as even I need a break from too much deep thought now and then! LOL Besides, I’m sure there may be something funny that occurs in my MS life that I will have to interject and share.

More to follow…

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