The Inner Bottom Line ®: “End of Life Choices"
A Column about Ethical Dilemmas and Personal Choices
June 10, 2012
Last week, I called Faith Maloney, one of the founders of the phenomenal premier organization, Best Friends Animal Society, to deliver the sad news of the death of my daughter’s beloved dog, Samantha Blue. Faith had had the pleasure of meeting Sammy years ago when my daughter visited the animal sanctuary with her in Knabe, Utah. http:// http://www.bestfriends.org/index.htm
And it occurred to me as we spoke that it was both ironic and proper that I was having this conversation with this amazing woman just as we completed National Pet Month.
We spoke about the pain and grief that comes each time we have to lose one of our pets, and Faith mentioned an extraordinary woman named Carla who provides hospice care for many of the Best Friends elderly pets. Recently, Faith had asked how she did this work and dealt with wrenching loss after loss after loss. Carla’s answer? She never looks back knowing there’s another animal waiting ahead that needs her.
It made me consider the courage and love that this kind of selfless work requires as well as the ethical issues of respect and fairness that are rarely discussed around the issue of right-to-die. Hospice care for animals has reached new levels of sophistication and acceptance, and that is both amazing and heartwarming to observe.
Anyone who has had to put a beloved animal down knows, that in the midst of inexplicable loss, the solace of the knowledge that the last thing your pet will experience as they close their eyes and gently go to sleep in a safe and peaceful environment will be the sound of your breathing, your comforting scent, and the warmth of your loving arms.
And that prompts me to question why we can constantly make the often arrogant, even cruel, end-of-life choices that we do for every other creature on our planet but not for ourselves?
End-of-life choices for our own species remain in the dark ages because we are yet to achieve a level of respect for our own ability to make good, fair and compassionate ones that allow us or our loved ones to honor our life while dying with dignity at a time and place of our choosing.
In 2010, Montana became the third state alongside Washington and Oregon where doctors can prescribe the necessary medications to the terminally ill without fear of prosecution and provide people the right to die with dignity.
However, for most people, as medical procedures become more sophisticated and available, and technology takes over our bodies in so many invasive ways, fighting the medical community while wrestling with asserting and protecting our loved ones thought-out, ahead-of-time, end-of-life choices has become increasingly complicated instead of more simple. And usually the machines win over the heart.
There’s something inherently wrong with that. As we live longer and stay healthier to older ages, the need to address this issue is not going away but will only become more acute.
What are we so afraid of? Are we so controlled by dogma, superstition or religion, so mindless of the need to address this issue that we cannot see how our individual right to choose how and when we leave this earth should belong to us and us alone.
We allow people to make a myriad of choices around the birthing of a life, but not the end. Despite all the dedicated, exhausting care that many devoted nurses, technicians and doctors try to provide to patients, I would wager that 99.9% of the people on this planet would choose to die at home or in a familiar environment or bed, surrounded and held by loving arms and faces, then alone in a sterile hospital room hooked up to a million machines beeping out the end of their life. And yet, that is what happens to the majority of humans today when they expire.
When, why and how did we cross the line wherein faceless doctors, lawyers, judges and machines have the right, the lawful duty, to step in and prolong our life through artificial means, indefinitely, when clearly all quality of life and happiness has been taken from us by illness or infirmity.
Certainly, the medical choices made for anyone injured or taken ill in the earlier decades of their life need to be considered in a different manner, but for anyone sixty years of age or older, they know that they will become, at some point in the not-to-distant future, instinctively aware that their body or mind is beginning to fail and that life no longer holds the simple pleasures and qualities it once did. At whatever point living becomes an endless battle rather than a welcome challenge, each of us should have the right to decide just what the end of our days could look like.
On The Inner Bottom Line, it all comes down to respect, as well as fairness, honesty and integrity. Respect for self as well as respect for others. Respect for the right to choose. To decide. To control anything that impacts our quality of life. And that makes anything that takes that power and control away from the individual unethical and unacceptable.
You can submit your questions or book private phone sessions with Olive at theinnerbottomline.com, explore her new blog at whatskeepingyouawakeatnight.com, or call into her blogtalkradio.com show, “The Inner Bottom Line,” with your questions. All letters and calls can be anonymous and confidential.
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