“Make me well” *UPDATED*

My Dad always said that, when his time came, he’d just lie down and die.  He was fatalistic and, after WWII and the Israeli War of Independence, not afraid of death.  It all sounded very reasonable.  But reason and experience aren’t the same.  When my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, he didn’t just lie down and die.  He fought back.  He had every surgery and treatment available, and managed to survive seven years from the date of diagnosis.  Not all those seven years were good, especially near the end, but he was still my dear daddy, a loving husband to his wife, and a good friend to those who loved him.  His very last words, when he briefly emerged from a morphine haze one day before he died were in response to a doctor’s shouted request asking “What can I do for you?”  “Make me well,” my Dad said, his last known conscious thought.

My friend Mark, a hard-living gay man who got AIDS, would show visitors his vial of pills, insurance against the time when the AIDS got too unbearable.  I thought he’d take his pills when his body was covered with huge, mushroom shaped tumors that caused him tremendous pain.  But he didn’t.  I thought he’d take his pills when giardia ran amok, and he almost died from the horrible symptoms.  But he didn’t.  I thought he’d take it when he was so weak, he could no longer move from the couch, and all of his limbs were simultaneously numb and subject to shooting pains, but he didn’t.  (Apropos that couch, in one of the best examples of humanity I’ve ever seen, his ex-lover took Mark in after Mark’s illness left him homeless.  Mark’s parents would have taken him, by the way, but Mark was more comfortable dying in the gay community in which he had lived.)  Ultimately, Mark never did take those pills, but simply passed away in his sleep.

When we’re healthy and strong, it’s easy to state that, “when things get to tough,” we’ll just die with dignity.  But that’s not how the human life force works.  Our core being wants to live.  We humans are also tremendously adaptable.  As I have seen with friends and family, situations that would have seemed intolerable during the good times prove to be survivable during the bad.  Just think how many people in Death Camps (Nazis death camps, North Korean death camps, Gulags, death nations such as Ethiopia or Somalia) fight to live, despite conditions that ought not to sustain life at all, rather than giving up and dying.

Bottom line:  We humans, especially we Western humans, are programmed to fight for life.  It’s even part of our Biblical canon (Deut 30:19:  “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.“)

What’s very disturbing about the health care bill currently on the Congressional burner is that it mandates using government power to try to reprogram the elderly so that they consciously abandon the will to live.  This government mandate is entirely different from a situation in which a family doctor sits down with a sick person and carefully explains the dynamic of both illness and treatment.

I have friends who are doctors, and they are often sickened and saddened by the brutality of treatment used on elderly bodies, merely to buy a few days of (usually) unconscious and invariably pain-filled life.  The fact that we can enable a 97 year old cancer victim to live an extra month doesn’t mean we should.  The issue right now, however, isn’t end of life care — it’s whether the government should coerce, bully, and brainwash people into making decisions about their last days.

When it comes to death, whether a quick one or a slow one, we don’t know until we reach the situation what we’ll do.  Whether because of temperament, treatment or the disease process itself, some of us are probably better off without futile treatments that will add minimum time and maximum suffering.  Others of us, however, again because of temperament, treatment or the disease process itself, should have every opportunity to use the most sophisticated medicine in the world because we want to live.  Which leads me to the one thing I do know for certain:  I don’t want the Obama administration, or Congress, or any other governmental entity making the decision for me, or bullying me in one direction or another.

UPDATEMelanie Phillips’ article about the societal dangers that come with popularizing assisted suicide is very apropos to this post.  Her point is that the powers that be are manipulating people into being so frightened of unmanageable pain that they’re virtually pointing the way to suicide.  Pain can be made manageable, though, and, as I’ve pointed out above, people discover that they’re able to bear a great deal if they’re not entirely controlled by fear.

What are the odds, do you think, that any mandatory government counseling for elderly people in this country won’t make a very, very big deal about the potential for pain, as opposed to pain management, in connection with diseases in the elderly?

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Comments

  1. Bill Smith says

    You know, when patients are given control over their pain medication with one of those drug pumps they operate themselves they usually use LESS morphine or whatever it is than patients need when they have to WAIT for prescribed doses as set times. I think it’s because they DO have control.

    I think your friends bottle of pills was his means of control.

  2. highlander says

    I asked a liberal friend of mine who works with kidney patients in a local hospital how she felt about withholding treatment from elderly people with multiple serious medical problems.

    She supported the idea, explaining that it was a “quality of life” issue and telling me the stories of several people she knew who chose to forgo treatment and to die earlier than they might have otherwise.

    When I pointed out that these were all people who voluntarily chose not to be treated, she was visibly confused. She could not see the difference since the end result would be the same.

    As you have aly pointed out, Book, the key issue in this and in virtually all of Obama’s proposals is: Who decides?

  3. Danny Lemieux says

    And that is how secular Eutopian visions slip-slide their way into cultures of death. The eugenicist credentials of the Democrat Left is getting a fine burning these days.

    The Dutch and Swiss, too, once offered euthanasia as a “treatment” of last resort only to be used with the express written consent of the patient and determination by a panel of physicians that death was the only possible outcome. Now, in those countries, euthanasia is used as elective surgery by despondent patients or as housecleaning by greedy relatives.

  4. highlander says

    Counseling the elderly regarding “end of life options” sounds benign. After all, wouldn’t it be a good thing for them to know and understand their options?

    And it does, in fact, seem rather benign.

    Until, that is, you start to wonder about what results the counselors will seek to achieve in order so show they are doing a good job and to justify their continued employment?

    And how long will it be before they stop counseling and start directing?

    You are right, Danny. This is a slippery slope — and a steep one as well.

  5. says

    The greatest levels of human achievement are done in adversity, Book. The powers of Creation and Destruction, Preservation and Entropy. We are children of both, with the power of both.

    Below the mind of any human being, any civilized human being, is the animal. The instinct of self-preservation and of survival. There is a power to such a mind, because animals don’t try to show pain, they don’t think about the past, they concentrate on the present. They don’t worry about the future. They do what needs to be done to survive now.

    I’ve felt glimpses of it. Shreds of that personality. It is indeed powerful. There is fear and there is pain, but it is the fear of failure and the pain of adversity. The pain of knowing that if you don’t do your best, you will fail, and even if you do do your best, you still may not survive.

    Remember the first battle in By Heresies Distressed, MikeD, in Corisande? It was marvelously described, the final charge at the end.

  6. highlander says

    If you can tolerate one more comment from an aging Scot, I can’t resist posting this from Dylan Thomas:

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If one of those young whipper-snappers comes around to counsel me about end of life options, I’m gonna dump my bed pan on his head!

  7. JKB says

    A disturbing thought has occurred to me reading the discussions on the euthanasia provision in the healthcare bill. How do we know it is only the old they will counsel? What about the handicapped? Will the option be presented to handicap children during their time at the government care center? Will it be determined that permitting a pregnancy such as Sarah Palin had with Trig is not cost effective? We saw how the Dems reacted to Trig being carried to term. Will abortions not only be funded, will they be forced? From a strictly lifecycle costs point of view, aborting less than “perfect” fetuses will be the most cost effective treatment. Do we want to live in that world?

    Is it that far from deciding who dies to save money, to deciding who lives in the first place? Will the nausea the possible outcomes of that thought cause be covered by Obamacare?

  8. George Bruce says

    Well, this is as good of a time as any to share my personal perspective. I am in my early 50′s. I have advanced cancer. Without treatment, I was told I would have 18 to 24 months to live. The treatments I am receiving are working. The cancer in my body is shrinking. However, at least one of the drugs I receive is not available in socialized medicine countries because of the cost. My private health insurance, ( and it is not the “gold plated” variety ) pays for the cost of the treatment. The cost is high. The main reason for the high cost is the very high expense of gaining government approval, rightly or wrongly, for each drug. The treatment I receive is not a “cure”, although I still have hope that some combination of existing drugs and others still in development may yet free me from this disease.

    I am very concerned that the communist plan under consideration, ( and yes, that is the correct name for it) will kill me in one of two ways. First, the existing drugs may be deemed too expensive given their cost and the facts that such drugs prolong life rather than promise a “cure.” Secondly, even if the drug companies are strong armed into reducing the price of existing approved drugs, such price reductions will necessarily shut off the financing needed to pay the cost of getting future drugs through the approval process, thus denying me whatever benefit I might have received.

    Why is it necessary for the leftist’s perverted notions of social justice that I must die, just so poor people and illegal aliens, similarly situation as I, can die along with me? Is it so unfair that I can receive this treatment, and someone just over the border from Guadalajara does not, that we both have to die to make the world more “just?” And two last questions, when they load me up with pain pills and stick me in some hospice, what are the odds that I will see Teddy Kennedy or Ruth Ginsberg next to me? And if they get better treatment than I and the guy from Guadalajara, where is the social justice in that?

  9. suek says

    I’m not in favor of this health care legislation in any case – the “uninsured” rationale is fairly bogus, given the content of the bill. In my opinion, it’s a power grab, straight and simple. That said, any government health plan that doesn’t offer the citizens the _same_ conditions that are enjoyed by Congress and the government workers is one that should absolutely be off the table.

    One plan for your common citizen, and another for Government employees??? sure sounds like the USSR party apparatchik deal to me!

  10. says

    George,

    You’ve wrapped up in a perfect package the core issue behind ObamaCare: life isn’t fair — and it never will be. I prefer a system in which most people get the best. Obama wants a “fair” system in which nobody, barring an elite few with their hands on the levers of wealth and power, gets the best, or even gets anything at all.

    This has always been the problem with Communism. Rather than bringing about a paradise of perfection, it brings about a hellish equality of outcome, with everyone suffering equally.

    As for you, personally, I hope sincerely that your treatments continue to be successful in staving off your cancer. And I also sincerely hope that you never find yourself in a bed next to Kennedy or Ginsberg. That kind of proximity is a thought too terrible to contemplate. ;)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] In an earlier post regarding hints that the government would like to (and will eventually) stop treating people who are terminally ill or badly injured, I pointed out that even those who think, in the cold, clinical light of good health that they’d want to pull the plug if they found themselves in extremis don’t actually feel that way when they’re suddenly facing death.  That is, just because the government doesn’t think your life is worthwhile doesn’t mean you don’t think your life is worthwhile. [...]

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