Saturday, October 10, 2015

“Death doesn’t come like it does in the movies:” What my mother’s last days taught me about our right to die -

Rebecca Lanning writes about the "terminal agitation" her mother suffered in her last days.

"When my friends ask how I’m doing, I say, “I am full of grilief.” Grief for what my mom endured. Relief that it’s finally over. Grilief.....

Before Mom’s cancer took her down the “difficult road,” my sisters and I had never given assisted dying much thought. If I’d heard about a proposal to give doctors the right to prescribe lethal doses of painkillers to terminally ill patients with less than six months to live, I wouldn’t have opposed it, but I might not have considered it an essential and deeply humane piece of legislation, as I do now. I still recognize the medical and religious reasons many hold for opposing it, but having watched someone I love suffer at the end the way my mother did, I could not in good conscience feel anything but gratitude toward this measure. We don’t know if Mom would have wanted a physician-assisted death if it had been available in our state. But watching her die — knowing that there are so many others out there who suffered longer and without hospice support — made us wish that everyone at least had the option.

One of the great accomplishments of 21st-century medicine is our ability to mitigate and abbreviate pain, to spare patients needless anguish. When we were caring for Mom at home, a hospice nurse brought us a “comfort pack” of medications, which we stored in the refrigerator and used to ease her pain, delirium and anxiety — common symptoms in terminally ill patients. Once she was taken to the hospice facility, the nurses administered these medications under a doctor’s supervision. But because her symptoms were constantly shifting and magnifying, the dosages changed too, and it soon became impossible for my family to distinguish which of Mom’s symptoms were due to the disease process and which were due to side effects of the meds. We agonized over her agony, and I wondered why, if there were medications available to “cure” Mom, to completely eliminate her suffering and transport her with love to her ultimate destination, should she not have the right to that medication if she wanted it? Having watched what she went through, I would certainly want it for myself.

Everyone knows that death is inevitable, but we don’t spend enough time talking about the reality of it. Death doesn’t come like it does in the movies. You don’t always say something profound, close your eyes, and drift away. Death can be protracted, ugly and painful, and we can’t remove grief from the process of dying and letting loved ones go. But surely we can pass laws to give people the option to die without suffering needlessly."

“Death doesn’t come like it does in the movies:” What my mother’s last days taught me about our right to die -

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