Living and Dying
Hebrews 9:27 King James Version (KJV)
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
“Dying is not the issue…….. It’s living too long that makes for problems.”
H. Jerome Chapman 2016
No doubt, the statement above will be argued by some and denounced by others. Who would say such a thing!? The medical profession is proud when it can point to more and people who have reached a triple digit birthday.
Look what science hath wrought! See the old man or woman in the wheel chair, slumped over and drooling on themselves unaware of who is there to see them? They don’t talk or walk. They don’t know where they are. That is a result of years of research. True, there is no quality of life but there is life.
I have no certainty about when I remember first coming into contact with death. I am sure that people died around me from the day I was born but I was shielded from in on some way or I just don’t remember them.
My first memory of a death in the family was my grandfather’s brother Andrew who lived in Lizella at that time. They lived in a big rambling house just west of North Lizella Rd that hasn’t been there for many years.
My mother and father and I went to the house where everyone had gathered. In those days, it was customary for the body to be placed in the living room and family and friends would sit up all night in memory of and respect for the deceased and the family.
I spent the night on the back seat of the car parked in the yard. I can’t say for sure, but knowing my mother, she was looking in the window of the car every few minutes checking on me. She died two years ago today. Why do I remember that night? Maybe it was because I lost a tooth that night too! Now, why does one remember such things?
Our legal system protects the right of individuals to live in agonizing and hopeless conditions. In fact, the system insists that nothing is done to shorten the days of suffering for a person who has long since stopped living. And the individual is deprived of the right and ability to choose a different setup or to exit the situation. A privilege we would afford to any sick dog or cat is not available to us humans.
If a person is found tied to a chair or bed in the basement of some kook’s home, the perpetrator is jailed for many years. Justice served. When families place their loved one in a home that does the same thing, it is doing what is necessary”.
I recently visited an elderly person in a nursing home. I guess it would rank as typical. At about 92 she is still reasonably smart. But, her circumstances have drained away thousands of dollars and relegated her to a tough existence, shared by another elderly person in the same room with similar problems. Personal choice and dignity are now lost.
The evolution there was typical. She and her husband managed on their own for years. As both of them stared declining, it became necessary for housekeeping help to come in and then act as a sitter. It moved to around the clock care with the family doing their part to minimize the cost by handling the weekends. After a period of time the family is exhausted and full time, around the clock assistance is required. Costs are now skyrocketing. Plus, there are the household bills, house insurance, taxes, and utilities to keep the house going. At some point, the nursing home is required.
This is playing out in homes across the country every day. $3500 to $5500 per month eat away at what are, in some cases, small or non existence savings. No choice. Many families are forced into bankruptcy and poverty by the system.
One person I know had his mother in a facility for 15 years! What had looked like a nice little nest egg was eaten up and then some! Because of the costs, it is better financially for some families that a family member stays home with the patient since the cost is more than what they would earn working.
All of my grandparents died living at home. Family members looked after them until the end. My father was cared for at home, dying a slow and horrible death with a brain tumor that was inoperable. He would say to me, over and over, “I’m ready to go! Just let me go!” It was a while before I realized what he was actually saying to me. He did not want to go for a ride, which I did do several times thinking that was what he was asking me to do. He was ready to be out of his awful situation: he wanted to be allowed to die. When he was first diagnosed and told there was nothing that could be done, a doctor in our family visited with him and explained what he was facing. He said to me that he just hoped he could die with dignity. We did the best we could but I do not believe we achieved that.
The moral and ethical dilemmas that result from these situations are huge and complex. Religious beliefs and customs make any effort to end the suffering of an individual morally unacceptable. Legal restrictions make any effort to end the life of such a person a serious crime.
The individual loses the ability to exercise any control over his or her situation and the decisions are made by well intended relatives who would prefer to relegate their loved one to endless emotional agony and physical pain than to “lose them”. I had to make the decision to take my mother off her ventilator. I have some experience in this area.
Doctors are required to treat individuals beyond what they wish. Many deeply religious people firmly believe that God uses these struggles to make us better and more worthy of Heaven. Job is often used as an example of how God will allow great calamities to befall someone to prove how committed a believer they are while exalting Him. Maybe the great religious scholars will reach some conclusion but in the meantime, I struggle with accepting a picture of God as some video game player who delights in the pain of His creation through manipulation of their lives in such a fashion.
Philosophers and theologians have been trying to explain the “Why are we here, what is my purpose here?” type questions for centuries. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Not everyone is in agreement as to what those answers truly are. So we choose to protect the weak, even from themselves. We hear of one court case where they do not want to take the person off of life support and another where they want to pull the plug.
So, what we have are thousands of people enduring the worst conditions life has to offer with no way to bring matters to a conclusion. With powerful drugs, we can put the person in a state that renders them even less functional. Less troublesome. Facilities are available to those who can afford them to receive the afflicted person and take them off our hands. To make matters worse, most of us do not want, nor would we accept, the responsibility of ending someone else’s life. Especially a close family member. What a mess. Again, I speak from experience.
There have been some societies where the old and sick went off to some sacred ground to die. As I approach this point in my life I see more and more clearly how lucky some people have been when they have been blessed by leaving this world suddenly and unexpectedly. A momentary shock to the family but a blessing in disguise.
I don’t see any real changes in the foreseeable future. The solution may come when Medicare and insurance companies start offering a buy out. A deal where you can take an early exit and get a bonus check for your loved ones to enjoy. Have a big exit party and away you go! Dr. Kevorkian on call!
Until then, look forward to uncertain futures and longer and longer periods of suffering. Longer years in wheel chairs and walkers propped up by the latest scientific breakthrough that keeps the heart beating and the lungs working, but not much else. As of yet there is no brain bypass or brain replacement surgery so the most important part of us is beyond repair. And we can earn lots of Heavenly Brownie Points. How they can be used, God only knows.
Living to 100? Well, I don’t see that as too appealing right now. Maybe stem cell therapy will allow us to replace the worn out parts and we can go on indefinitely, some day. But as things stand today, living is certainly a lot more of a problem than dying.
© JC 2016