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A few days ago Greg Diamond wrote an article about doctors who had “Advance Directives” concerning their healthcare; basically saying to not use any means possible to keep them alive. I decided to expand on his story because recently I sat with a patient and his family in his hospital room, waiting for the patient to “naturally” expire. In my opinion, the word natural seems a cruel choice — when it comes to Western Medicine’s idea how to allow a patient to die. Actually when it comes to dying in a hospital the patient has no choices. Its up to medical staff or rather they follow protocol, which was made up by someone else. The doctors and nurses only follow orders – doing anything different could land them in prison.
I have witnessed three patients die with so-called “dignity” but I don’t see where the word dignity can be used to describe the patient’s death experience at all — I did see, what I consider cruelty. That idea was driven home by what I witnessed the other day. This particular patient was dying of cancer related complications. In a nutshell – the treatment lowered his immune system so much, he got pneumonia.
The hospital’s protocol is to keep the patient “comfortable” using opiate drugs, like Morphine and Ativan, increasing the dosage until (in my opinion) they reach a lethal dose, but in the meantime the patient still experiences discomfort (to say the least) while experiencing hallucinations.
One of the patient’s relatives asked the attending nurse if the patient was in pain, and the response was ” he probably feels like he is drowning.” What! The feeling one is drowning is considered a compassionate option by the medical community? And to top it all off — the same nurse added an antibiotic to the patients drip bag. I don’t know about you, but that makes no sense to me. Exactly what do they expect an antibiotic will do for the dying patient? Are they just “padding” the final bill with over priced drugs and services before they send it off to the insurance company?
Another crazy thing the nurse said was “no” to the patient eating his favorite meal (chicken nuggets) claiming he could choke to death. This was before the patient was too drugged up to care about eating. At this point who cares if the patient chokes, the end result will be the same, whether he actually chokes or feels like he is drowning.
It all sounds incredibly cruel to me. We treat our pets with more dignity when it comes to dying than we do humans. So far only three states allow physician assisted suicide and California isn’t one of them. Our legislators brag how we Californians are so progressive — well, when it comes to end of life issues — we stink. The way it is now — if a patient is in the hospital for whatever reason, and things “go south,” the patient stays in bed until the end and the hospital staff determines the way the patient will die. The patient can sign a Do Not Resuscitate form but a lot goes on medically before that happens. The patient is not allowed to be released to go home because the hospital is liable for any problems that could come up with releasing a medically unstable patient. The relatives have no say in the matter, unless they get a court order and good luck with that at 2 o’clock in the morning.
Jack Kevorkian went to prison for doing what physicians should be doing all along. Euthanasia is a much better option for a patient that has no hope for survival and in my opinion, allows them to die with dignity. There is no dignity watching a patient gasp for air hours on end. I know there are thousands of patients in hospitals and hospice who go through this unnecessary pain daily.
I think its time we have an honest discussion about euthanasia on a national level. We need real choices about how we handle our own end of life medical care. Euthanasia should be an option for those who want it. The decision should be between the patient and their doctor, not Congress. I know physicians take an oath “to do no harm,” but from what I witnessed, patients struggling to breathe causes a great deal more harm not only for the patient but for family members who care for them.