We were prepared for this, as he is in his late 80's and had recently stopped eating and experiencing symptoms which indicated something very serious. The diagnosis is now official: prostate cancer that has mestastasized to the bones.
As the doctor told my grandmother, there are difficult months ahead. I know this all too well, working in elderly care myself and sometimes having tended to patients in the last days of their lives. Some go relatively quickly and peacefully, while others have to endure a long, difficult battle.
I was thinking last night about a great conversation we had on Mormon Heretic's blog a while back about euthanasia where we discussed at length the situations of terminal patients, among those Chantal Sébire, the French woman who fought for the right to assisted suicide. Nothing has really changed in my opinion on the matter since then.
Yesterday, before I got the news about my grandfather, the subject of euthanasia was already weighing heavily on my mind because of a foster cat I have been taken care of who has kidney failure. I talked to my vet and now it's just a matter of keeping her happy and comfortable for as long as we can. Once I can tell she is suffering, I know what I have to do. With previous pets, I had made the mistake of prolonging their suffering and it's something that I regret.
Euthanasia is a very difficult, sensitive subject. When I think about how adamant I am about preserving animal and human life and how I've often fought for it -- everything from rescuing unwanted animals from being killed and protesting against the meat industry, to opposing the death penalty even for convicted criminals and encouraging adoption over abortion -- it seems kind of ironic that I'd want people to be able to end their lives with assistance.
The Church's official stance on euthanasia is as follows:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life, and is therefore opposed to euthanasia. Euthanasia is defined as deliberately putting to death a person who is suffering from an incurable condition or disease. Such a deliberate act ends life immediately through, for example, so-called assisted suicide. Ending a life in such a manner is a violation of the commandments of God.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not believe that allowing a person to die from natural causes by removing a patient from artificial means of life support, as in the case of a long-term illness, falls within the definition of euthanasia. When dying from such an illness or an accident becomes inevitable, it should be seen as a blessing and a purposeful part of eternal existence. Members should not feel obligated to extend mortal life by means that are unreasonable. These judgments are best made by family members after receiving wise and competent medical advice and seeking divine guidance through fasting and prayer."I find it interesting that in regards to people suffering from a painful, terminal illness, "(e)uthanasia is defined as deliberately putting to death a person who is suffering from an incurable condition or disease" and the Church is opposed to it. And yet, when it comes to abortion, the Church states that it is acceptable when "(a) competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth."
Why is it OK to actively end the life of the baby, but not the terminally-ill cancer patient, when there is no hope of either of them surviving? Why is the baby not obligated to live for as long as it survives and endure a natural death like the cancer patient?
The common argument I hear from those who are opposed to euthanasia is that it's up to God to give and take life. But is it really all His doing? In the creation of life, God has empowered us human beings to decide together with Him (hopefully wisely) when a spirit should be sent to them in the form of a new life. Could it be that God has empowered us to make such decisions at the end stage of life as well?
God sees the sparrow fall, but is it He who causes it to fall? We know that God doesn't always intervene and gives us free agency to do good or inflict evil upon others. Does God purposely inflict us with diseases like cancer? Most would say no. So does He really want people to suffer horribly and, sometimes, seemingly endlessly when it doesn't have to be that way?
I outlined my view on how I think a euthanasia law should be on Mormon Heretic's thread, but wish to include it here:
1.) There would be a law allowing only for patients deemed terminally ill by at least two medical professionals to have access to the cocktail of meds that would allow the person to end his/her life peacefully and as pain-free as possible on his/her terms. I think it’s important to specify that it shouldn’t just be available to people in horrible pain because some terminal illnesses result in a slow death that may not cause horrible pain per se, but perhaps cause horrible symptoms like suffocation. It would be understandable that some would want to end their lives before they get to the later stage of their illness.
2.) If possible, the patient should administer the fatal dose his or herself. If the patient is unable to do so and yet able to state clearly his/her wishes, then a willing doctor or family member can administer it in the presence of medical witnesses, “willing” being a key word because some people would have a moral problem with being the one to administer the fatal dose, which should be respected.
3.) The part I’m not sure about is whether doctors and/or family members should have the authority to decide for a mentally incapacitated person (i.e. Alzheimer’s patient) that a fatal dose should be administered. Perhaps it should only be allowed if the patient had stated on record his/her wishes in such an event while he/she was still mentally sound enough to make that decision. Sort of like what people do now with “Do Not Rescucitate” orders.I just can't help but find it ironic that most rational people will agree that animals -- the creatures that mankind has abused, exploited, neglected, and devalued all throughout history -- are entitled to a humane death, either through euthanization or (supposedly) humane slaughterhouse laws (which we all know are frequently abused and broken), whereas human beings that are in a hopeless, painful situation with no end in sight, are not permitted to exit this life as gracefully and compassionately as possible.
If we were never ever given the right to intervene in matters of life and death, one would think that Mormons would mostly be pacifists (they are not), opposed to capital punishment (they are not), opposed to abortion in all cases (they are not) and vegetarians (they are not). Why, then, are we opposed to giving someone the opportunity to end his or her life peacefully at the time when it seems to make the most sense?
I don't know what lies ahead for my grandfather. I hope that it won't be a long battle and that he will go home to the Lord without having to suffer much pain. But as I thought about him last night, I couldn't help but think how comforting it would be to anyone in that situation to know that they would have the option to go peacefully, surrounded by their loved ones, when they feel the time is right.
My grandmother reads my blog, so please show a little compassion and consideration in your comments. Also remember that it's easy to say what you would do until you're in such a situation yourself.