Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When Violence is the Only Option.

A story out of California demonstrates the sad consequences of inadequate end of life care in this country. Dr. James Clyde Fish, a retired doctor, age 90, administered a dose of morphine to his bedridden wife, Phyllis, then shot her and shot himself. He suffered a wound in the head but did not die. Now Dr. Fish may be charged for voluntary manslaughter:

“It’s a very difficult situation,” she said. “On one side, what’s the point of prosecuting a 90-year-old man? Why put him in a prison system that’s already overcrowded with violent 30-year-olds?

"(But) no one has the right to take someone else’s life - even someone who loves (the victim). And we have not authorized euthanasia or mercy killing in this state -- and certainly not by taking a gun to someone’s head."

The tragedy of the case is that Fish must have felt he had no options, that his life and his wife's had come to an end, and that hospice was not an adequate answer to their suffering. This lack of options forced Fish to shoot his own wife in the head, a violent and traumatic - and illegal - path to an end of suffering. Not only a violent experience for Fish but for their family and all others involved.

From the article:

Hospice care is designed to relieve pain and suffering. In 2007, there were 1.4 million people in hospice care in the U.S., according to the Hospice Foundation of America in Washington D.C.

Speaking in general terms, and not about the tragedy in Laguna Woods, an official at the non-profit foundation said caretakers try to ease the despair of relatives of hospice patients.

“Certainly, there’s a tremendous amount of stress put on family members when a person is facing a terminal illness -- no matter their age,” said Amy Tucci, president of the Hospice Foundation of America.

“We are of the position that if a person is given proper hospice care – and I’m not saying that the woman in this case wasn't getting proper care – that any idea of euthanasia or assisted suicide or mercy killing simply doesn’t exist,” Tucci said.

Yet, as the case shows, even hospice care in the home, which anti-assisted suicide advocates routinely offer up as a solution to aid in dying, patients are often left to feel that their body continues on long after life is ended. I don't know enough about the situation with the Fish family, but clearly, how we care for those of our community at the end of life does not meet the needs of all. Such a violent and tragic end to the lives of this couple is yet another sign that how we care for our aging community deserves more attention, compassion, and choice.

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