The difference between withholding brutal treatment and killing someone

In the old days, medical treatment was more likely to kill than to cure.  For example, one can make a good argument that George Washington died because his physicians bled him to death.

It’s scarcely strange, then, that homeopathy was such a hit when it first appeared on the scene.  The principle, as I understand it, is that one puts a drop of something medicinal (or, often, poisonous) into a container filled with pure water.  Then, one takes one drop of that mixture and adds it to another container filled with pure water.  And then, one repeats that process again (and, perhaps, again).  The end result is a container filled with pure water.

People who practice homeopathy believe that the water has the essence of the medicine, and therefore has a curative effect.  Whether that is true or not, a patient in 1820 who was given pure water to drink was likely to suffer less, and perhaps heal better, than the patient who was bled, cupped, given mercury, and subject to other horrific pre-modern medical treatments.

Nowadays, medicine is much more effective, although some of the side effects can be every bit as nasty and even fatal as the old medicines.  Speaking personally, while I know Vicodin is an effective painkiller, I’d rather take the pain that the extreme vomiting reaction it induces in me.  Still, if Vicodin doesn’t work, there’s usually something else out there that will, if not as well, at least enough to be worthwhile.

The whole equation changes when people are at the end of the road with terminal illnesses.  At that point, curative medicines and treatments have ceased to cure, leaving the patient with the side effects, but no benefits.  Socialized medicine holds that, at this point, the State gets to call the shots, determining that the person with the illness should no longer get the treatment.  The only problem is that people don’t slot themselves into neat little charts.  Some are dying, but want to live; some are living, but want to die; some are told they will die, but their bodies refuse to listen to the message and insist on getting better.  Allowing individual decisions in an open marketplace is the scenario most likely to allow people to fulfill their biological destiny, whether it’s a swift death, or a slow one, a longed-for death, or one that the person fights against bitterly.  Leaving the process to the government ensures only that more will die regardless.

I actually blogged on this topic almost two years ago during the ObamaCare debate.  I focused on people I knew who had insisted, when healthier, that they wanted to die but who had discovered, when death came calling, that they wanted to live.  In a pre-ObamaCare world, both of these people were allowed to try for life.  Both ultimately died, but they were around longer than they would have been if the government had announced that they were unsalvageable.

Today, Zombie touches on the other side of that equation:  someone who, like my dad and my friend, thought he wanted death but who, unlike them, was denied the opportunity to change his mind.  What makes Zombie’s story especially horrific is that this was not a situation in which his relative simply had treatment withheld.  As I noted at the start of the post, when treatment becomes useless and onerous, withholding it may be a wise and humane decision.  Instead, it’s a story of a battle between caregivers, with some wanting to care for the body, and others intent upon hastening death.

After you’ve read Zombie’s post, please come back to me and share your thoughts.  If I had to summarize my view it would be this:  If I come to a point in my life when treatment is only painful, and offers no hope, I don’t think I’ll want treatment any more.  Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean I want my doctor or my government to hasten my death.  Instead, I want to be made comfortable.  I want to be fed, hydrated and medicated so that my body (and my soul, if I have one), can make the journey as nature (or God, if he exists) intended.