Sleepless Nights and the Fear of Dying

May 2, 2011 09:00 AM

A recent headline brought a chilling awareness that life is no longer valuable at any stage. The headline from a British newspaper reads, “Fearful elderly people carry ‘anti-euthanasia cards.’” The following excerpt caught my eye, 

In an article published on BMJ.com on Friday, Mr. Fitzpatrick wrote: “Disabled people, like others, and often with more reason, need to feel safe. Thus eroding what may already be a shaky sense of safety in medical care poses a further threat to disabled people’s wellbeing, continuing care, and life itself.” 

He cited the experience of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, the disabled founder of Not Dead Yet, who was once told by doctors that they “presumed” she wouldn’t want resuscitation if she experienced complications during treatment. 

“Very scared, she stayed awake in hospital for more than 48 hours.” 

Mr. Fitzpatrick said: “The doctors’ judgment, based on the idea of a “life not worth living,” is a moral judgment not of facts (medical or otherwise). 

“A law permitting euthanasia would reinforce this position, further clearing the ground to take away lives based on a moral judgment rather than medical fact. The threat will extend to the lives of older, disabled people too.” 

The concept of fear resulting in untold suffering—be it mental or otherwise—is not isolated or rare these days. Gina Kolata explained in a New York Times article that, in the case of dialysis patients who are suffering from additional health problems, the question of continuing dialysis is recommended, with the approach nuanced to avoid saying the obvious—which is that the patient should consider “medical management without dialysis.” This is a polite way of expressing the hope that the patient will see that, since he is going to die anyway, dialysis is not very cost effective and he should think about entering hospice. In other words, he should consider dying sooner than later. What a frightening thought! It’s terribly disturbing to see how ghoulish American medical practice has become in the rush to save money and free up hospital beds. 

Sleepless nights? Yes, I can certainly see how that might happen.

There’s also the case of Simon Fitzmaurice, an Irishman who relies on a ventilator in order to stay alive. This young father of three has a degenerative motor neuron disease that will eventually kill him—but not now. However, his doctors had urged him, unsuccessfully, to make the “hard choice” and decide he did not want a ventilator at home! 

Fitzmaurice’s powerful editorial on this situation, “They asked me why would I want to live,” says in part,

I am not a tragedy. I neither want nor need pity. I am full of hope. The word hope and MND [motor neurone disease] do not go together in this country. Hope is not about looking for a cure to a disease. Hope is a way of living. We often think we are entitled to a long and fruitful Coca-Cola life. But life is a privilege, not a right. I feel privileged to be alive. That’s hope.

Simon needs to talk with President Obama who continues to promote his Independent Payment Advisory Board, part of the national health care law. The board consists of 15 folks selected by the Obama administration. Their job is to control the cost of health care. But the very idea that it exists is contributing to the growing concern that health care is becoming a service that will be rationed according to the whims of others who “know better” about what is good for the patient based on his/her overall health and the cost of the care. 

If this sounds like a death panel to you, then you are correct. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig—you still end up with a pig. 

Sleep tight!

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