Goodness, this week’s topic has once again got my emotions buzzing and opinions flying all over the place. After reading about Tony Nicklinsons fight for assisted death, Ludwig Minelli’s Home of dignified death and then battling my own opinions, I still have not come to a final conclusion and one sided opinion. I’ve been procrastinating with this topic because I still have so many unanswered questions; I still want to hear more people’s opinions even though I argue them to the very core.
After going through the Tony Nicklinson prescribed reading, I found myself feeling quite sorry for him and beginning to agree and support his appeal for assisted suicide. I mean, he wouldn’t have been making such an uproar if he could physically shoot himself in the head, so why was everyone creating such a hassle when he just wanted to make sure his wife was protected when she helped him end his own life? I’m also struggling to understand why these terminally ill people or other sick people who want to end their life don’t just roll their wheelchair of a cliff themselves or tie a plastic bag around their own head? As cruel and harsh as that may sound, it is essentially the truth. I understand why Tony couldn’t do it (he was completely paralyzed therefore physically incapable of doing anything, let alone kill himself) but these patients with motor neuron disease or MS still have some level of movement and mobility, so why don’t they just do it themselves instead of creating a worldwide frenzy of the pros and cons of euthanasia? So the question here is, shouldn’t the question of suicide alone be argued rather than euthanasia? Because technically these suicidal patients would do it themselves if they could so as kind human people, we should help them do it.
Now believe me when I tell you that I sure as hell wouldn’t help kill a patient because he asked me to do so. But I would be supportive of his decision. As a health professional I know it is my duty to improve the health and living circumstances of my patients, but when their health is deteriorating and there is nothing medical advances can do anymore, I can’t sit back and tell my patient to just “wait for their time.” Wait for when all the machines are beeping and going crazy, wait for when their last breath is done on a ventilator, wait for when their last heart beat is being pumped by some or other machine, wait for when all their family is standing around taking a sigh of relief that their suffering is finally over. That to me is not life and I can’t seem to support that.
As a health professional I know that I need to encourage my patient to carry on with their life and give them all their options with regards to their future. And this is something I will do as I have chosen a career path where I must help people to keep living, but with regards to euthanasia, encouraging people to keep on living comes with a heavy heart as I feel as though I am lying to my patients.
Another point to defend my argument, is the topic of the DNR (do not resuscitate) and switching off the machines when the family decides to do so. To me, a DNR is essentially euthanasia, as the patient is saying, once I flatline, do not perform extra endeavors to keep me alive – even though we all know that in most cases doctors can usually shock you awake, or continue CPR to invite your heart back to the party. This means that the patient is saying, I don’t want you to continue giving me medical attention and I want you to not help me, knowingly that I am going to die. Is that not in essence euthanasia? Another one is when the family of the patient switches of the machines that are keeping the patient alive – thus killing them. To me the machines keeping this patient alive are the caregivers in Tony Nicklinson’s case. If they didn’t feed Tony, wash him, take him to the bathroom, and help him do basic activities to keep living, then he would die? – most probably of starvation. So tell me, how is assisting Tony to die any different to switching off someone’s life support machines?
As physiotherapists, we teach patients how to regain function, in order to do basic activities of daily living so that the patient can keep on living. But in Tony’s case, we cannot teach someone to do these activities if they are paralyzed from the eyes down. Unless there is some technique I haven’t been taught where the patient feeds himself using only his eyes, I don’t think there is much we can do here. The only thing we can do is to prevent further complications that may kill him even though that’s exactly what he wants. And aren’t we supposed to cater to the patient’s wants and needs.
Now I understand where all those crazies are coming from when they ask; how do we control this? I understand them when they ask are we going to kill all our “deformed and idiotic children”. Because technically, where do we draw the line? And this argument is the same as disciplining and punishing our children, where do we draw the line? How far is giving a child a hiding for drawing on the walls to wringing his neck for speaking out of turn? So I understand where they come from when they say, how far is allowing Tony Nicklinson to commit euthanasia to killing every disabled person because they’re a burden. But, as Dignitas states, every person entering these homes to die, must be of sound mind, understand the process and possess the need and want to end their life. Therefore there shouldn’t be a chance for us to turn on the meek and old, as those who want assisted suicide are making their own informed decision so it is not ours to make for them. Hence, they are asking for help to die, and we are not killing whoever looks sick because that is murder.
Once again, I always have a conflicting argument that creeps up in my mind. It is the argument of what if. Such a powerful word – “if”. What if every person with the flu was killed; would we have antibiotics today to fight it? What if every person with hepatitis B was killed; would we have vaccinations today to prevent it? So, what if every person with motor neuron disease was killed; would we have the chance to perhaps one day find a cure? The same goes for cancer and AIDS. If every person with AIDS was killed, we would never have developed a drug that can prolong life. This reminds me of Joost, he is one of the most influential people right now and is struggling with one of the most demeaning conditions; motor neuron disease. But instead of flying to Switzerland to take a lethal injection, he is fighting for different researches and causes that attempt to develop some sort of drug to inhibit the progress of MND or cure it completely. So what if he doesn’t continue to fight for this cause, and what if so many like him give up the battle as well, would we ever find a cure to MND or anything else for that matter?
For people to want to commit suicide, they must hate themselves so much that they don’t want to live anymore. Even though that’s pretty selfish, because you take yourself away from so many others that love you, I still pity and feel sorry for the suicidal. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a dad that was once sporty and full of chirps to now being a living corpse. All I know is he will no longer be the dad I was knew and loved, and I will grieve for the loss of him, so why not allow him to go with dignity if he is no longer living with dignity?