Sunday, May 25, 2008

What would you do?

A friend's dad-in-law has recently been diagnosed with intestinal cancer. Not the 'cancer CAN be beaten' kind of cancer, but the bad kind. The kind where doctors admit that it wasn't caught early enough, there is no chance of chemo or operation and nothing further they can do.

My grandpa died of bowel cancer, I was young and it was a long time ago, but it was a painful loss and I can only begin to feel what my friend is going through now. Her dad has been sent home - a good and bad thing in the circumstances. A good thing because now the family can visit him without worrying about hospital hours, they can visit him in the 'comfort' of home. A bad thing because all he has now is morphine, and a waiting game.

One aspect that I had not thought of, was the Dutch approach to terminal diagnosis. I forgot that euthanasia is an option in this country - and it's an option that this patient has chosen. I can't say I blame him. His internal organs are riddled with cancer and he was diagnosed with days to live, a month ago. Perhaps the worst bit is that he is fully aware of what's happening (well, as aware as the drugs will allow him to be). How much longer can his body hold out?

So, euthanasia it is. This process has required a second opinion from another doctor, the papers had to be signed by two family witnesses (his wife and his son), the decision had to be legislated and agreed upon by a judicial body... and finally a date had to be chosen.

Can you imagine making that decision? The whole process has to happen while you can prove to be of sound mind. As much as he's aware of his surroundings, and technically hanging in there despite the doctor's dire prognosis, if he wants to opt for euthanasia, he has to start and complete the process before his brain gives up on him.

He's selected the day after his birthday this year. Imagine chosing your own death day?

The whole thing puts me in mind of family pets, who get too old to eat, move... they get taken to the vet and get put down, humanely without suffering. I agree with that concept, just as much as I fundamentally agree with the notion of euthanasia. But can you imagine actually making the decision? Or being the family member who as has to sign off the papers of a loved one's decision?

I also wonder - or presume - that there must be a "get out of jail free" clause, if you are still sound of mind on the designated day and have a change of heart. Technically, only the the euthanasee can make the call. Technically. A major concern from objectors is that there is still too much room for manipulation and abuse, despite the 13 or so signatures that have to be collected before the decision is approved.

This family hopes that it won't come to celebrating his birthday, followed by his death day. They're hoping that he will pass away naturally before it comes to that.

I'm glad I don't have to make that decision, either way.


kop said...

That is some heavy stuff for a Sunday evening.

Anonymous said...

I know the weird feelings going through your mind, Martyn's friend Herman living inHolland made this choice last year when diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour. We all supported the process, but it is unbelievable to actually consider the option. His death was gentle and his family sat with him listening to his favourite music, holding his hand and allowed him to go in love and peace and escape the pain and suffering he was experiencing. Still a difficult concept to absorb. OUr minds are not rogrmed to grap this.

Lotsa luv

rd said...

Sho, that actually made my vision go blurry...
Something I don't like to think about.
Ya, not a decision I could make