A Question of Euthanasia
She looked like a skeleton bound tightly in skin. The sun’s rays shone in through the window and highlighted the decay of her living body. The dim lights of the care home had disguised her sunken dark eyes, just how gaunt her face looked — her cheekbones looked as though they may pierce her thin skin. Though her adult diaper had been changed there was a smell that clung to her, like rotting teeth with a hint of out of a date meat.
The silence had lasted almost a minute but finally she inhaled. Her breathing had been increasingly weak, a gargle with each breath the pattern of which had continued to slow progressively over the last couple of days.
The door quietly opened and a nurse entered the room to check on her, she walked over to the bedside almost unnoticed, she leaned over the bed and checked her pulse, when she raised her head her eyes caught my father’s and without thought she gave the same look as she had for the last five years, a look of empathy almost touching on regret, and said a sentence that we had all heard many times: “I’m sorry there is nothing more we can do”.
Should they be allowed to do more? I thought.
He solemnly but politely nodded his head without uttering a word. The room once again went silent — everyone had been talking earlier but now her death: too close, her pain: too much.
Another intake of breath. The room stirred, we lifted our heads and gently smiled at each other: “She’s a fighter” my mother said, the statement almost held back the realisation that her continued breathing was not a good thing, death was not the enemy. The silence returned.
It dominated the room without disruption, everyone was left alone with their thoughts. Another inhale. This one was surprisingly close to the previous one, it was followed by a gasp. Everyone pushed themselves to their feet to crowd round the bed, shoulder to shoulder eyes looking at the living corpse trying to catch her breath. “Don’t worry Mum, let go — don’t be afraid”, my auntie cried as the frail woman in the centre continued to struggle to breathe. Her granddaughter was beginning to cry — sadness at the thought of losing her grandma forever, happiness that this long spell of pain would be over and done with: “We all love you so much”. My dad was also looking down at his mum with relief in his eyes for her, for him, for the family: “You’re going to a better place Mum”, he said.
The erratic breathing ceased and her eyes closed over surprisingly tenderly. Suddenly the silence was once again broken by another inhale. Those who were crying continued to cry.
It was another thirteen painful days of deterioration before she finally died.
After watching her die slowly and painfully with little joy over the course of five years it left me questioning society’s values surrounding life and death. About 3 months before she passed away my Grandma’s life consisted of: being shovelled medication; having tubes flowing into each arm; having to have her adult diaper changed; having to be cleaned by nurses; having to be moved from one side of her body to the other because she was so bed ridden that she was developing bed sores from her lack of movement.
I was left asking to myself: why are we doing this? When I visited her she was unconscious the whole time, taking no enjoyment from it, or anything for that matter. In fact on the contrary, before she had deteriorated to the point where she could no longer talk the majority of our conversations consisted of her pleading to me: “I want to die!” There is a feeling you get when someone says that to you, a feeling I have only had at that time period in my life — it’s truly quite horrible. It’s such an unnatural thing to hear someone say that it made my stomach feel uneasy. Who wants to die? Why would you want to die?
The truth of the matter is that we think by keeping someone alive for as long as possible we are doing the correct thing. We think it is a person’s right to live, when it is exactly the opposite, it is a person’s right to die. We strip individuals of a very natural process by using comfort, heating and drugs to keep them alive well beyond their natural life span.
Those who argue against euthanasia claim that the sanctity of life is stripped from a person through the practice of ending one’s life. But having watched my grandma plead for death I argue that it is not about the existence of life itself but it is about how we live. Because to live means so much more than just a heartbeat, to live is something beautiful, something hard to define, it is so much more than just an existence.
Within contemporary society a person can stop living years before their life ends. This is why we need euthanasia, we must flip this current normality on its head to stop this torturing of people whose minds and bodies were ready for death and have now surpassed this.
Preventing someone from dying who does not want to die as they have something to live for is fantastic. But we have taken it too far, we are beginning to torture individuals with their own deterioration, death clings to them but we choose not to allow it to take them. My grandma’s position is one I hope never to be in, I watched her become weak and confused, scared at the slightest thing, hopelessness etched itself onto her pale face as she was further and further incapacitated within her own skin.
Naomi Connor, a care worker currently studying to be a nurse said that: “Family and friends are tormented at the thought of their loved ones suffering such a great deal. Euthanasia would allow them to have positive memories of their loved ones knowing they have passed away quickly and pain free.
“They lose their independence, their dignity, their wellbeing because they have no option but to. Euthanasia gives them an option.”
I can only imagine the touch of regret I saw in the nurse’s eyes when she looked at my dad was because she felt the same way.
So I stand for euthanasia, and I hope that if I am lucky enough to reach an age where I am ready for death, that euthanasia will be legalised so I will not stripped of my right to die.