Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A right to life and a right to die

This post was written Thursday, October 22.  I had to let it sit awhile before posting.  

This morning I lay in bed in that half-awake dream state, waiting for my alarm to go off.  I can't tell what time it is by the light coming in my window, these days,  I'm one of the few who actually love the mornings when it is 6am and still dark...but I digress.  After battling with my want to stay asleep and the sounds of life coming up from the valley, I gave in to the knowledge that it was bus-to-work Thursday and I had no wiggle room in my schedule. I rolled over and flipped open my Kindle to check the time.  It was 37 minutes after my alarm was supposed to go off.  I had three minutes to get out the door to make the early bus.  Not happening.

The morning started in a rush.  As I was getting ready and listening to the news, I caught part of a scrolling headline...right to die bill likely to be held up for months...


Memories of June 2014 came flooding back and the moment when I knew we were to leave the hospital and Papa Bear wouldn't be coming with us.  The moment when I leaned over him and said "I don't like this decision but it is your decision to make and I will respect it."  That day Papa Bear made the decision to end his life.  We could have kept him on the machines and hoped and prayed and fought for him to stay alive but it was ultimately his choice...and we all honored that choice.

The tears started to flow.  It wasn't even 7am.

On the bus ride to work I started thinking about my friends D, J and S who are waiting to see if their Dad/Grandpa Hal, after almost two weeks of hoping and praying, will make a rebound.  The ups and downs of the days are eerily familiar.  He is on a ventilator.  There is gunk in his lungs that need to get out.  The question is, is he strong enough...**


I started thinking about modern medicine and science and God and faith and all the things that seem to stand either for or against the right to die bill.  We have come so far, with modern medicine, both for the good and the bad.  We stay alive longer but, do we keep people alive longer than they should be, causing a new set of angst and pain that didn't exist before scientists and doctors figured out a new way of attempting to fight diseases?  Does longevity of life outweigh quality of life?

Do we call it something different when someone is being taken off life support after, in our case, going through treatments in an attempt to save a life, which is why he was one life support to begin with, because it's easier to justify that then when someone doesn't want to wind up there at all, knowing that they have a terminal condition that is untreatable and wants to choose to end their life before the machines and the surgeries and the treatments deteriorate their quality of life?  Why is one right to die justifiable but the other not?

Papa Bear made the choice to end his life.  He chose to fight the leukemia to begin with but he also chose to stop fighting when hope ran out.  If circumstances had been different, if we knew that there was no hope from the beginning, and he wanted to end his life before his quality of life deteriorated, I would have supported that decision.  He had the right to live...he also had the right to die.

It's easy, so easy, to say what is right or what is wrong when you don't have to make this type of decision.  It's another thing altogether to be by the side of the person who is looking down the road, seeing the potholes and road closed signs.  It's easy to judge.  It is far harder to be in the passenger seat, trusting the decisions of the driver.

I woke up 37 minutes late this morning...4 hours in and it's already been a long, emotional day.

**Addendum: Hal was taken off the ventilator and a few days later he passed away surrounded by his family.  I will never again hear the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy" without thinking of Hal.  Godspeed, Hal.

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