At its most basic, the right to die is really the right to have someone else killed and get away with it. What gets lost in the argument is the lost humanity and compassion. We forget we are speaking of human beings, and they are suffering, but the word suffering is also lost in the conflict. Ultimately the humanity of our common life is lost also; this has been presented in countless examples I came across in my research. Recently, in June 2013, there was a Toronto Sun article about a family who were barred – in writing – from seeing their dying family member. They were directed from the door to their mother’s room to the nursing station where they were told they were not allowed in to see her.
After seven hours of waiting, the husband finally entered the room to find that the woman’s pain medication had run out and she was neglected. We have to wonder at this: had someone done this to an animal, they would have been charged with cruelty or neglect, but because we are talking about rational human beings, the standards are somehow different. I think this is because we presume that humans choose to live in this fashion in some subtle way. Since we are rational creatures, and since we can ask for help, if we don’t ask for help, we are choosing the outcome in some way.
I have often heard it said that you wouldn’t treat an animal this way when speaking of the dying or seriously ill. But that is to confuse the issue and drive toward an emotionally based conclusion. I ask why is this person suffering in a hospital setting? Take the woman in the earlier example. She was terminally ill; she was in a palliative care ward. So why was she treated this way?
Because someone in the organization responsible for looking after her decided that this was the acceptable course of action in her case.
If she was in a place where she could get care, and she was denied care, and her family were pushed into a situation where they broke the rules as set out by the organization, then we can conclude that the organization decided that the family was a problem for them. So to get the family out of the way, the situation was created where the family had to break the rules. At this point, because the family ignored the posted no admittance sign, the organization could now define the family as a problem.
In fact, it seems to me that the excuse to be given is that had the family not been hanging around the woman’s door, we would have felt welcome to enter to care for her. We don’t know if this is the case or not, because the situation did not happen that way. So really, anything other than an apology sincerely given and consequences for the ‘caregivers’ is less than acceptable. The nurses or staff could point to the family’s ignoring the rule of not entering the room to ‘prove’ that the family were their own problem, and thus release the organization for any responsibility in the woman’s care.
Remember, the woman was dying and in a hospital palliative care ward. It was also the official statement of the hospital that “...it is their policy to allow families as much time together as possible and would like to speak to Irene Dube’s family about their concerns.” I say it’s a little too late for that; the conversation should have happened well before the time the woman died in early June. In addition, if the family were in that much distress that they were ‘causing’ problems, why was more support not offered?
Because the terminally and seriously ill are responsible for their own suffering. The family in our example were told that if they interacted with their mother, she would not “pass on”. This New Age statement summarizes the attitude of a lot of people: there is no humanity in dying, so get it over with and get out of the way. So really, the nursing staff were imposing their religious views on the family and the result was substandard care in an institutional setting.
This story shows how we think of people who are dying as disposable and not worth the effort. It also shows how there are few safeguards in place when something does go wrong: families are defined as problems and treated that way as a result, regardless of what the situation really is. This item illustrates well the attitude in practice of the organization, and shows the result of the power imbalance between the patient, family and the organization itself. So why would we think legalizing assisted suicide (medically provided death) would magically make all these existing problems disappear? Oh, that’s right, because dead people tell no tales.
Critics of my position aside, instead of care for the dying, the family, on entering their mother’s room found her in agony, pain and her medication had run out. The writing in italics is a quote from the article verbatim. So where is the value of care in this case? Where are the standards? We can be sure that we will not find out; the dome of silence will clamp down on what will prove to be, in retrospect, “an unfortunate mistake” in care. I am sure the family will find that very comforting to know.
This took place in Sudbury, at the Ramsey Lake Health Centre, which has a **** rating, according to the CBC website “rate my hospital”. In light of what we read, this is not surprising.
This is surprising, given what we have just learned in this woman’s care.
[SOURCE: “Kin kept from dying woman?”, Toronto Sun, Carol Mulligan, QMI Agency, June 28, 2013, p. 36]