Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Britain's "Deathly Cabal"

A woman wants an abortion because she can't afford another child or has health concerns or simply wishes not to have children. The right accuses her and her supporters of loving abortion. It is said that she enjoys the procedure, actually chooses it over birth control, that she is a baby killer, a whore who "should know by now how pregnancy happens." There is no acknowledgement of her crisis, the weight of the decision, the inaccessibility or expense of birth control, the challenges of balancing a healthy and normal sex life with fertility decisions even in a country such as ours where reproductive options should abound but do not.

But that is the abortion issue. Not to be confused with the fourth leg of the "pro-life" platform: aid in dying.

A woman has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She loves life but now realizes that it is ending, wishes to not lie in a bed waiting for her body to catch up with her consciousness while medical specialists prescribe one body-sustaining treatment after another. The right tells her she is just depressed (as if desire to die quickly is only indicative of mental illness or depression), that she loves death, denies God His proper role, should accept the suffering that God gives her because it is a gift, like life, from Him, that she should be satisfied with unsatisfactory options like hospice and palliative care.

There's a certain immaturity to these accusations, as if facing a traumatic or difficult situation means one is not autonomous and responsible but thumbing their nose at an idea of society, a narrative, that we all ascribe to. The accidentally pregnant woman, the dying, cancer-riddled woman are both seen as now outside themselves, as needing the moral guidance of others. The paternalism, the assertion of power inherent to these accusations, the desire to control the lives of others - not medicine, not law, not life or death - is what is at issue in the "pro-life" position. It is a moral absolute that espouses compassion and individual embrace of life but works to push the troubled or the dying into a funnel of behavior that offers no relief.

In an article for the Telegraph regarding Britain's legislative attempts to address aid in dying, George Pitcher boils this sort of moralizing down to it's usual accusations:

What's so dispiriting about all this is that a deathly cabal is succeeding in usurping an age-old provenance of life over death without proper parliamentary debate. We will end up with a Dignitas-style clinic, with its grotesque aspirations to self-destruction as a consumer choice, in Britain.

Choice is not the provenance of those who disagree with "pro-life" positions on assisted suicide. Even if parliament commenced a lengthy debate, Pitcher, I suspect, would only agree with its decisions if they represented his own. He is claiming a right over the interpretation of personal decisions, using accusations and assumptions that are juvenile and absolute. The woman who is dying but wishes to hasten that death to escape pain is weak, grotesque, depressed, against tradition and an affront to all others' wish to live. Those who support that dying woman by giving her an option, a way to escape suffering, are a "cabal of death," predatory, and bent on not stopping at her death but then coming after the rest of us. To those of us who live in a world that is not absolute, Pritcher represents the control one segment of society wishes to exert over another.

Aid in dying, assisted suicide, death with dignity, whatever you wish to call the fight for a good death that is being contested across the globe, is not about death. The patient who is diagnosed with a terminal disease doesn't wish to die. She wishes to live. But she accepts that she is dying and wishes to escape the pain her disease brings. The contest is about who controls her suffering for having lived, not her death. As with the pregnant woman, the contest is not about her "unborn child" but about her punishment for having sex.

Until we start talking about what is at issue with assisted suicide (as so many fantastic writers are doing about abortion) we will be fooled by the narrative that the issue is about who ends life.

What should we be asking ourselves about assisted suicide? Who should have jurisdiction over suffering?

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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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Some Lives Are Full of Sin.

The Catholic Register of Canada has, in light of the escalating public discourse regarding end of life issues, posted a series of articles this week about related topics.

Some lives are full of disappointment, pain, division, even sin.

For these sorts of platitudes and some genuine insight into Catholic approaches to end of life care, give the site a little attention.

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