Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I didn’t like it, but this was the death she chose - The Washington Post

A daughter-in-law writes about her mother-in-law's decision to die.

"Ellen is dying the way she lived: actively, with a lot of input. At 86, like so many of her contemporaries, she suffers from multiple maladies: a slow-growing leukemia called CLL; a recent mini-stroke; spinal stenosis that pains her legs and numbs her hands; recurring bouts of intestinal distress that leave her dehydrated and housebound. The ailments are awful and life-disrupting, but none of them are finishing her off. She doesn’t want to acclimate herself to wheelchairs, live-in aides and other affronts to her independent self-image. What she wants is to not treat her symptoms, to voluntarily stop eating and drinking, and to die.

While her pronouncement that she’s “had a good run” has left Harry and me sidelined with shock, our eldest son, Ted, understands. A graduating fourth-year medical student in Boston, he has often relayed horror stories about the hospital patients whose bodies are kept alive long after their occupants have experienced any pleasure in them. He’s very close to his grandmother, and for years she’s been telling him how she doesn’t want to die encumbered by lines and tubes, the way his late grandfather Paul did.

Ted finds Ellen an excellent palliative-care doctor near her New Jersey retirement community who consults with the two of them for hours, making sure the patient isn’t suffering from a temporary, treatable depression. The doctor conference-calls with Harry and his two siblings, and they affirm that they all want what she wants. The Do Not Resuscitate and more detailed Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment forms are filled out and displayed prominently on her dining room table. Jennifer, who has experience in these situations, is available, and she can be at Ellen’s side 24/7. Everything is in place.

Then, a complication: Ellen’s independent living community prohibits outside aides from working there. For my mother-in-law to die in a hotel or apartment rented for the occasion is unthinkable to me. Harry and I are empty-nesters, with a third-floor suite that’s quiet and private. It makes sense that she should die in the guest room above our bedroom."

I didn’t like it, but this was the death she chose - The Washington Post

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