Was Dr. Kevorkian all wrong?

About 20 years ago, as my maternal grandmother lay slowly dying, my mother gave me very clear instructions: “if I’m ever like this, just shoot me.”

I love my mother very much, but I’m really not interested in going to prison.  At the same time, I understand where Mom was coming from.  She was emotionally frayed from watching her own beloved mother dying a little bit at a time, over a decade or more, of strokes that progressively took more and more of her brain.  It was pretty awful.

Just last week, my 89-year old mother in law told us, “don’t get old.”  Kind of strange advice given the alternative, but she’s on the opposite end of the problem as her body fails, while her mind remains strong.  There was no request for us to kill her, but she repeatedly said that she might not be around for Christmas.

I’m guessing she could be around for several more Christmases, if she chooses to.  It’s hard for me to know if she’s in physical discomfort, or if she simply misses her husband (gone 10 years now) more than she loves what is left of life from her living room chair.

Today, my friend G traveled a great distance to visit her ailing mother.  G’s mom has Alzheimer’s Disease, and no longer recognizes her own daughter.  G asked me the same thing (not so graphically, but nonetheless the same result) as my mother did: to kill her when that time came.  Just give her an overdose of something.

What, do I look like Dr. Kevorkian?  Of course not.  But maybe these strong women sense that I feel much the same as they do — that end-of-life care is too successful in prolonging the life not worth living.  That maybe we do need an out, a way to say “enough is enough” when we’ve long outlived anything resembling quality of life.

I do not believe in taking the life (or denying life-saving treatment) to one who wants to live.  At the same time, is it not equally wrong to deny peaceful passage to those who are ready to go on their own terms?

I think it is.  I hope that by the time I am old and worn out, we’ll have a better option.

7 Responses to “Was Dr. Kevorkian all wrong?”

  1. on 05 Aug 2010 at 3:37 pm Harry

    No, Dr. Kovorkian was not wrong. My wife and I both feel that when our quality of life has reached the point where we are ready to go home, that we should have the right to take that step. It is the humane thing to do.

  2. on 05 Aug 2010 at 5:48 pm RG

    Quite a poignant and thought-provoking post, NM.

    Still, I’ve got some problems reconciling folks who profess that life’s not worth living and attempt to motivate others to “end their suffering.”

    Assuming someone’s not a quadrapalegic (or something like that), it seems to me that if he truly believed he was incapable of going on then he would end it himself — instead of guilting someone else into doing it.

    In my opinion, saddling a living person with the mental burden of having reluctantly killed a loved one is hypocritical, cowardly and unfair.

  3. on 05 Aug 2010 at 9:24 pm deichmans

    Poignant post, NM. There was an old single-frame comic (maybe Bizarro) with a withered old man on a doctor’s exam table. The doctor’s caption: “You know how you ate right and exercised to add years to your life? These are them.”

    If you haven’t seen the movie _Children of Men_, I highly recommend it — they have an interesting spin on voluntary euthanasia.

  4. on 07 Aug 2010 at 10:08 am Joel

    Nice post, Netmom.

    The lingering death of a loved on is a difficult topic that nobody wants to discuss before they are forced to confront it.

    None of us can truly know how we will react until it happens, but as in everything, a prepared mind is an asset.

  5. on 11 Aug 2010 at 2:53 pm girlfriend

    To see a woman who’s life was so productive cut to not knowing where she is or who her children are has to be one of the most gut wrenching experiences there is for the child. To RG if the woman knew what was happening I can guarantee you she would end it herself, but not even knowing it is happening is even worse. I just hope my children never have to endure that type of pain watching myself or my husband lose every bit of dignity life has and not being cared for properly.

  6. on 11 Aug 2010 at 2:59 pm girlfriend

    Joel:

    I agree a prepared mind is an asset but in some cases by the time it happens you don’t have your mind anymore. Even if you were prepared you don’t remember that you were.

  7. on 11 Aug 2010 at 7:29 pm Joel

    @gf,

    I wasn’t referring to preparing my mind for my own experience with Alzheimers. I specifically referred to the lingering death of a loved one. You can–and should–prepare your mind for this.

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