Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Live and Let Die: Active Euthanasia Is the Order of the Day

In the beginning of our pro-life ministries (1979-80), we used to try and warn people that euthanasia was on the horizon. And not just what was called "passive euthanasia" but deliberate actions taken on the part of doctors, nurses and others that would effectively hasten people's exit from this life.

Tragically, we reached that horizon years ago and have gone far beyond it. Yet most still prefer to ignore euthanasia's now constant presence. Yes, they are aware of Jack Kervorkian and of suicide clinics in Europe. They may even have read of physician-assisted suicide laws in Oregon and elsewhere.

But euthanasia has grown pervasive in those places where most Americans least expect it -- those hospitals and nursing homes in their own neighborhoods, places where "quality of life" philosophies have combined with cost containment policies to bring in a new ethic of "live and let die."

I faced this alarming reality again yesterday morning when a phone call came in from a woman in another part of the United States who was looking for help in her efforts to keep her mother from being denied basic medical care. Until recently, this woman had been taking care of her Mom but, after a heart attack and stroke, she had been hospitalized and then admitted to a long-term nursing facility. It was shortly after that when another family member (one who had her mother's power of attorney) opted to place her in hospice care -- this even though the patient was still alert, responsive and very much wanting to live as long as God desired.

Since then it's been a heartbreaking trial for the considerate daughter who is fighting the facility's staff to give her mother the most basic of care. In fact, when the daughter has intervened in any way (applying a soothing cream to her mother's hands, turning her mother's oxygen flow back to the original levels, feeding her), she's been criticized and warned off.

The woman, desperate for assistance in protecting her mother, had been searching the web for the last week. She had been shocked and heartbroken to learn how common these cases are and how many people were in the same situation; namely, fighting the medical system in order to get quality medical care for their loved ones. In her search, she came across Vital Signs Ministries.

We spoke of many things yesterday and I won't try and summarize here our long conversation but let me pass along just a few points of my advice. You may find it of some value too.

1) Quality medical care provides, at the very least: oxygen, nutrition, hydration and antibiotics to fight infection. Those are the basics to insist upon. I'm not suggesting here that every possible surgery or drug or other treatment is morally required. But the basics are. For even if I am severely injured or grievously ill...even if I am dying, I am not yet dead. Therefore, I should be given the best care possible and not denied these basic life-giving things. If they are withdrawn, no matter what eventually is written in the post-mortem, the cause of death will actually be the removal of these necessities. So until that moment comes when the Creator says "Enough," I should be cared for properly. As the Hippocratic Oath requires the physician to swear, "First, do no harm."

2) One's presence is invaluable in securing the best care possible. Be there. Pay attention. Get all the information possible. Take notes. Don't be afraid to ask penetrating questions, seek second opinions, offer suggestions. Go to the top with complaints or concerns -- including the doctor, the head nurse, the director of the institution, and/or the local rep from the state aging office.

3) In cases where you believe the facility is failing to provide adequate care, consider finding another place. And don't be afraid, if necessary, to have your lawyer get involved.

4) Be very careful not to sign the standard documents given you upon entrance to a facility. DNR orders and living wills are the primary justifications for stopping proper medical care. Draw up your own or use this one as a model.

5) Pray for God's help. And pray that the culture will once again turn towards ideals of mercy and moral responsibility in our care for the aged, sick, and the injured.