All of us eventually grapple with the ethics, morality and compassion surrounding the end of someone’s life. Usually someone we love. Here’s my story.
More than 20 years ago, my grandfather, then in his 80s, was brought to the hospital for yet another in a series of illnesses and ailments.
More than six decades before, while still a teenager with just a grade school education, he came to America from Sweden with no one except his cousin. He mined coal in Minnesota, got an old accordion and taught himself to play. He met a pretty girl at a Swedish picnic, they settled in a small town south of Chicago called Oak Forest, and he laid brick for a living, eventually starting his own company.
He helped build the Lutheran church he worshipped in. He and that pretty girl he married lived in a house he built with his own hands. It took him months just to dig the foundation. Their three children included my father. When he retired, grandpa would tinker around the house, fixing this and that, sometimes heading to the basement to play his accordion.
After more than a half century together, Grandma died. Mornings, which always included oatmeal, coffee and the morning paper, were no longer the same. He traveled some, including some time out here, but he always headed back to Oak Forest. He refused to move to a warmer climate. We found out later that many mornings he would drive with his thermos and newspaper to the cemetery where Grandma was buried. He would park close to her grave, read the paper and drink his coffee. He missed her.
In the hospital that day, ailing, the end in sight, he made a decision. No more, he said, and he reached out and literally pulled the tubes from his arm. He had led a good life, a full one. He wanted to be in Heaven and he wanted to be with Grandma. He died soon after. I was sad and I missed him – I miss him still – but I understand why he made that decision not to prolong his life.
If that was what Initiative 1000 was about – letting life finish its course naturally without artificially prolonging it with medicine and surgery, I would support it. But it doesn’t stop there, it goes further and allows the terminally ill to hasten their death artificially with a drug overdose prescribed by a doctor for that very purpose.
Supporters say this includes safeguards, but I notice that they don’t require a witness at the death, not even a physician. Spouses or other family members would not need to be notified when suicide drugs were obtained.
And money definitely comes into play. In Oregon, which has an assisted suicide law for the terminally ill, a cancer patient was denied chemotherapy drugs for treatment, but the state sent a letter suggesting the patient consider assisted suicide, which would be covered by Medicaid.
The balance, it seems to me, is not using medicine to keep someone alive at all costs, nor using it to hasten their death. It is in using medicine to cure a patient, and, failing that, to allow that patient to fight on, or to let life end naturally. Like Grandpa, God rest his soul.