I’ve been binge-watching ER on Hulu. It was on television when I was a teenager, and I never really watched it, but my mom loved it. I like to pull up old shows, and laugh at how awkward they are, but this one pleasantly surprised me when I saw that the Executive Producer was Michael Crichton.
I was expecting some Grey’s Anatomy level hospital soap-drama, and I was very happy to see I was wrong. It was beautifully done, aside from the weird scenes where nobody cared that Susan’s sister smoked massive amounts of cigarettes while pregnant. It was the early ‘90s guys, that was still a new idea being passed around.
Recently, I watched the episode where Dr. Ross is facing a moral dilemma with a pediatric patient of his that is dying from a horribly painful disease that traps him in his body until he suffocates — much like ALS. His mother has already buried one child from this same disease and her second child is well on his way. Since death with dignity was not a thing back then, (let’s be honest, in 43 states it’s still not) he is faced with the dilemma of helping him out of his misery, or making him suffer to the very end while he struggles to breathe.
He chose to show the mother how to do it, and left. She ultimately chose to end his pain by giving him a lethal dose of pain meds, saving him hours of torture.
I cheered, and I sobbed.
This is a topic that is close to my heart, and one that I am firm on. We will put our animals out of their misery early to spare them the agony. I’ve done it. My vet recommended it when my cat was dying slowly and painfully. So, I cuddled his cute little fragile body, and kissed him and said I was sorry, and I handed him over to the vet to put him to sleep, so he wouldn’t have to suffer to the very end.
Why then, will we not do the same thing for our loved ones? For humans? Why do we force the people we love to suffer until their very last breath? It is torture to keep them alive.
Have you ever sat with someone on hospice? Do you realize how agonizingly long those days are when you are watching them slowly slip from life? They say that people can die after 3 days without water.
But, that’s not always true.
I watched my mom slowly starve and dehydrate to death because it was her only option. Other than to be hooked to machines in a vegetative state while a tumor grew like wildfire destroying her brain. But, why? What’s the point of a coma when you know they can’t survive?
It didn’t take 3 days for my mom to die. It took 8.
That doesn’t sound like a long time, but you have no idea just how fucking long 8 days can be while you watch your loved one go through the torture of a body that is shutting down. Each system shutting down after another one fails, in sequence, long torturous sequence.
Day 1: First, she had a grand mal seizure. Then, she couldn’t stop vomiting and refused food or drink, and would just cry out in pain.
Days 2–6: Then, she started to sleep fitfully. Coming in and out to say delirious things to us and fall back asleep. Then halfway through the week, she stopped feeling pain, as her body processed the fact that it was dying. So, for days she slept, and her breathing became shallower and shallower, and her connection to life became less and less. Her organs shut down, her bodily functions gave out, and we only had a few tiny moments of words from her. She asked me if she was ok. One time she popped her eyes open and stared right through me and then closed them again. No movie moment where she says what she needed to say to each of her children. Just awful drawn out stupid death.
Day 7: She didn’t even seem alive anymore. She had stopped moving, except the tiny movements of her very shallow breaths, and her body was cold. The hospice nurse said that was because her heart knew it was dying so it stopped pumping the blood all over the body.
Day 8: She died.
It wasn’t just 8 days of torture, though. She went through 13 months fighting a terminal cancer that obliterated her. The typical duration of life with an untreated glioblastoma is just a few months. The typical duration WITH treatment is just over a year. THERE IS NO CURE. The survival rate is extremely low. Almost no one does.
She had two brain surgeries, lots of chemo and radiation, blood clots, feeding tubes, hospital stays, she went blind in one eye, her skin turned yellow, she went bald and she bloated up, got thrush, lost her mind and ability to form coherent sentences because of the tumor’s growth half a year before her death, and lost all of her independence.
Cancer killed her, but our stupid laws took her life.
And because we believe it’s a crime to tap out early on a situation like that , she had to suffer every god damn second of it.
What if we got to choose? What if we got to choose how we died? What if we got to say, “Fuck you, Cancer. I die on my own terms.”
What if, instead, she got to spend her last months of life in somewhat comfortable circumstances, until she knew her time was close, and took a medication and peacefully died? What if we all got to be there, say our goodbyes, have a special family moment, and send her off into the unknown pain free and torture free?
There is no dignity in forcing our loved ones to endure the trauma of torturous terminal diseases if they don’t want to. There is beauty in giving humans the right to die on their own terms. I don’t know what she would’ve chosen. I know, now, with the information I have, I wish I could go back and tell her to move to a state where she could get that medicine, and enjoy the last few months or weeks she had left.
Those months of pain she endured… she wasn’t alone. We were all there suffering with her and every time I think back to that horrible god awful week, I feel sick inside over the pain she was in. Giving people their choice in death doesn’t mean it’s a weak man’s way out, or that it’s a sin, or that it’s murder, or suicide.
It takes courage to accept your fate, and dive in with open arms.
I mean, the only thing we are guaranteed to do in life is die. Everything else is a gamble. So, we ought to at least be guaranteed the right to do it on our own terms.
Support Death with Dignity laws by voting for them, whenever they come up, and help other people have the option to choose, and possibly avoid the tragic suffering that so many before them have senselessly been forced to endure. See informative site below.