I was still basking in the glow of the April 16th arrival of my third beautiful baby girl when at the end of May, my stepmother called me. She was at the hospital with my dad, and he was refusing all further medical treatment. They were transferring him to hospice, and I could meet them there.
My dad had been sick for a very long time. If I don’t count the years that he dealt with his diabetes in fairly good health, it was probably a good ten years that my dad suffered the effects of the disease that eventually led to his death. When consulting with his doctors about ending the dialysis he was on when his transplanted kidney failed, they told him that they could continue to treat him, but they would be keeping him alive only for him to continue being sick.
That was okay with me.
When I met my dad at hospice, it was all I could do to get words out of my mouth to tell him how desperately I didn’t want him to do this. He had, after all, a brand new grandbaby at home that he’d barely gotten to meet. It had only been two years since my sister died, and although 24 months seems a long time, the pain was raw and my father’s decision made a healing wound feel like new again. He needed to be there to see Eilis get bigger, to see Brighid graduate. I didn’t want him to die, and I thought he was being selfish. How dare he want to end his suffering and leave us all behind, living with the pain and suffering his loss would cause. How dare he?
I watched a documentary yesterday on Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, and as confused as I was before on the topic, I am even more so now that I’ve seen the documentary. Don’t we all just want to drift off to sleep when it’s our time to go? Don’t we all want a chance to make our peace with people and things here in this life before passing on to the next?
So why do I feel so awful?
Perhaps it is that I’ve felt the pain that is left behind when someone chooses death over whatever time they can get with the people who love them. It might be the fact that one woman in the show very nearly ended her life a full six months before she truly began suffering the horrible effects of the cancer to which she eventually would have succumbed. Even more, I KNOW that it was the man on state funded health insurance who was told that the coverage wouldn’t pay for additional cancer treatment to extend his life, but they would pay for assisted suicide. How’s that for a “Here’s your hat; what’s your hurry?” attitude?
How responsible is assisted suicide? Is fear of pain and dependency causing people to make a choice that, if the opportunity presented itself, they would regret? And how responsible is a society that allows insurance to cover medication for someone who wants to kill themselves, but not cover medication and treatment that might have given them the extra few months they craved with their children and grandchildren?
I can’t believe how torn I am on the topic of Death with Dignity. It seems like one of those things you shouldn’t be on the fence about, but here I am. I would never want to see someone suffer, but with death comes suffering – if not for the person who crosses over, at least for those of us left behind.