Life Murder, He Wrote
posted by July 28 at 13:47 PMon
Or implied, I suppose. Joel Connelly has issues with I-1000—which would legalize “physician-assisted suicide” in Washington state—and writes in today’s Seattle P-I…
Should Washington be a launching pad for a movement that seeks to transform a crime into a “medical treatment?”
I hate to play the I-just-watched-my-mother-die card, but, um, I just watched my mother die.
My mother had pulmonary fibrosis, a degenerative lung condition, and her death came after a long, miserable week in the hospital. (It also came just eight weeks after her doctors had given her two to five years to live.) She knew that pulmonary fibrosis would eventually end her life, and she’d done some research into just what sort of an end she could expect. It wasn’t going to be pretty. She would, when her time came, slowly and painfully suffocate to death.
Her time came sooner than we expected. She was on vacation in Arizona, visiting her sisters, when her lungs took a dramatic turn for the worse. After eliminating all other possibilities—a virus, pneumonia, some rare desert fungus—the doctors pulled my step-father and me out of my mother’s room. Nothing more could be done, he said. Her lungs were failing; one had a widening hole in it. When my step-father stepped out for a moment—to make a call, I think—the doctors suddenly needed a medical directive. Immediately. So it fell to me to walk into my mother’s room, tell her she was going to die, and lay out her limited options. She could be put on machines and live for a day or two or three in a coma—long enough for her other two children to get down to Tucson and say their goodbyes, which she wouldn’t be able to hear or respond to. Or she could last six hours or more by continuing to wear a brutal oxygen mask on that forced air into her lungs with so much force it made her whole body convulse. Or she could take the mask off and… suffocate to death. Slowly, painfully, over a couple of hours.
“No pain,” she said, “no pain.” Nurses promised to give her enough morphine to deaden any pain she might feel. So… after saying our goodbyes (which sounds dignified but those goodbyes included watching my affable step-father reduced to sobs, a mountain of snotty tissues, and my sister and I falling to the floor beside our mother’s deathbed in tears), they pumped my mother full of morphine. Was she in pain? We don’t know. She couldn’t talk to us now, or focus on us, but she was awake, with her eyes open. She gasped for breath, again and again, for two excruciating hours.
They gave her some more morphine—not enough to kill her, only enough to stave off the pain while her lungs finished her off. But was she in pain? I don’t know. I’m haunted by the thought that she could have been in pain—pain we promised to spare her—and that she had no way to tell us.
I don’t know what my mother would have done if she had had the choice to take a few pills and skip the last two senseless, zonked-out, undignified hours of her life. If she could’ve committed suicide, by her own hand, with a doctor “assisting” only by providing her with drugs and allowing her to administer them to herself, after saying her goodbyes, I suspect she would have done so, so great was her fear of dying in pain.
I do know, however, that she should have been allowed to make that choice for herself. It’s not a choice that Joel Connelly—or the Catholic Church—had a right to make for her.
I also know that, if my mother needed my help, I would’ve held a glass of water to her lips, so that she could swallow the pills that would’ve spared her those two hours of agony.
And that shouldn’t be a crime.