I read a very poignant post by Neo-Conduit this morning about her terminally-ill friend who considered suicide. I was reminded of a question I have often been asked by patients:
We put down our dying pets humanely. Why can't we be so good to people in the same situation?It is a good question that needs an answer. Doctor D used to just say, "Doctors shouldn't kill patients," but that really didn't respond to the suffering of people facing terminal illness.
I am glad that euthanasia is illegal where I work. Doctors have the ability to keep a dying person comfortable without putting them down like dogs. Human beings are not dogs. Doctor D was good to his elderly dog when he euthanized her, but there is a huge difference between killing a pet and a person.
The most important approach to suffering people is a deep respect for their value as human beings. That respect motivates me to care for their pain. It motivates me stop treatments when they no longer desire them. It also motives me to never give a deadly medicine—even if it is requested.
The approach of death can be disorienting and terrifying. There is a spiritual suffering that is often greater than any physical pain. In moments of hopelessness ending one's own life may seem like the only escape. A person asks him or herself, "What is the value of this dying thing that is me?"
Doctor D has had many patients nearing the end of life say to him, "I wish I could die now!" I have yet to have a single one be disappointed when I respond, "It is ethically wrong for me to end your life, but I will stay with you till the last breath and make sure you are comfortable and respected."
Quality of Life is a subjective judgment. I honor my patients by letting them decide what is a quality life and what is not. Value of a Life is different. The value of every person's life is infinite. I honor that value by never killing a human being for any reason.Suffering and dying people need to know they have some value that is more than the sum of days they have left. The deepest respect of all is reminding them they have the most valuable thing of all: a human soul.
I already know Nurse K is going to give me a hard time for such a touchy-feely post. Doctor D promises to get back to some fun shit soon.
...But before we get back to fun questions what do you think of Euthanasia?