Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A case for euthanasia?

This is a winter tree, half of the leaves are brown, and it looks like a sick or even dying tree. But come next spring. It will perk up again.

Dying GP's plea for euthanasia.

In Holland, Belgium and a couple of American States, euthanasia is legal. This topic is in debate when a dying GP here is making a plea to make euthanasia legal. It is an emotional issue, and there are lots of feedback. I am a Christian and I don't believe it should be.

When my son Andrew was born twenty years ago, they whisked him to ICU. A few hours later I saw him in the highest need bed with tubes sticking all over him. The doctors told us that his condition was so bad that he was dying. They recommended that it was better not to treat him and let nature take its course. After being convinced that patients with his Campomelic Syndrome die or have very low quality of life, we agreed to remove all the tubes that were attached to him.

As if he was defying the doctors, he did not die straight away, he didn't die three days later, he didn't die ten days later. He lived on in ICU for fifty five days. He was very sick towards the last fifteen days. When he was forty days old, he had a massive apnea which the doctor had pronounced him dead for four hours, he returned from the dead. For the rest of his life, he had another eleven apneas. Each time, leaving him sicker and sicker.

I do not have to describe how the scenario was, just watching and waiting for him to die. He was tube fed and whimpered like a cat. Towards the end days, I felt it would have been better to euthanaze him, but I knew that won't be right. When he died, it was his timing, and not mine.

This debate came on about two years ago. I wrote this short story. You promised me.

“You promised me! You promised me!” Greg heard Felicity sob inconsolably while unsuccessfully trying to stifle her cries with her shaky hands. Even with her slurred speech, the words pierced his ears like a sharp needle.

Greg’s fingers shook as he clutched the carton the courier had delivered eight weeks ago. He stood in the hallway and glanced towards the north facing corner of the living room which was now Felicity’s room and sick bay. Felicity could not walk and it had become too strenuous for him to carry her up and down the stairs to sleep in their bedroom.

The district health nurse had arranged for the loan of a hospital bed, and together, they tried to make the corner as merry as possible. Sometimes during the day, Greg would work just outside the bay window, putting in new flowering plants in the boxes in the hope of cheering Felicity up. In winter, there was not much he could do to brighten the place; he was a patient gardener, not a miracle worker. Felicity had been sick for so long that she would see the bleak winter twice.


Felicity was once a physically active police woman . Twenty months ago, Felicity came home from her daily jog dragging her left leg. Her chest muscles were tightening and she could not understand why. Shocked by her pale complexion, Greg was ready to call the ambulance when she collapsed and hit the floor with a thud.

The thirty minutes ride in the ambulance seemed forever. The paramedics rushed her to the A & E and the duty doctor and nurses attended to her straight away. She underwent lots of tests to find out what was wrong with her. Then they admitted her for further observation.

The Specialist doctor told Greg that Felicity had MND or Motor Neuron Disease and the prognosis was no good. He gave Greg a lot of information about MND and a lot of printed notes. Greg tried to digest as much of the medical notes as he could.

“Excuse me! Isn’t MND a disease that strikes men?” Greg asked after reading from the notes.

“Yes, there are more male than female patients.” The doctor replied.

“Isn’t Felicity too young to have MND?” Greg asked in disbelief and unconsciously shaking his head while talking.

“I am afraid that MND affects younger patients too.”

“Is it terminal?” Greg whispered hoping to get a negative reply.

“Yes, I'm afraid so but she might have quite some time,"

“How long has she got?”

“I cannot tell. It could be two years. Meanwhile we try our best to keep her as comfortable as we can.”

Felicity came home; her sickness progressed faster than other patients. She applied for sick leave in the hope that her sickness was just temporary and she would return to work once she got better.

Soon Felicity lost the use of her legs, and Greg got her a wheel chair. Though depression was not a symptom of MND, Felicity became broody and moody and went through periods of not talking to Greg or the nurse. She refused to go out or see any visitors. She just sat, not wanting the television or the radio on. She was just spaced out. She hated herself, she hated the dreaded disease she so unfairly got, she hated the doctors, she hated the nurses, and she even hated Greg.

When it came to the stage that Felicity was getting worst, she couldn't swallow her soft food. She had to be tube fed. Greg took time off to give Felicity palliative care rather than depend on the district health nurse. Greg thought that her moods might improve with him at home. It didn't, Felicity had mood swings and she wasn't the bubbly girl he had married twenty years ago.

Felicity hated it when she had to depend on Greg to change her tampons. She hated it when she had to wear adult diapers. She knew that Greg didn’t mind, but she hated it. She didn’t want to drink or eat thinking she would pee or shit less. Greg was unfazed, he continued to brush her hair and teeth with tenderness that the nurse couldn't give her. Many a times, she shook her head violently and Greg felt really helpless.

She cried when Greg kissed her good night. Greg's eyes were weld with tears and his steps were heavy as he climbed the stairs. But Felicity was fiercely stubborn and insisted that Greg sleep in the bedroom.


Greg’s thoughts came back to the parcel he was holding. He was getting cold sweat and his heart beat fast. He knew what it was, and the implications.

Shortly after Felicity found out that she had MND, before she lost the use of her hands, she searched all she could from the internet. She saw how shriveled up a man Stephen Hawking had become. She could not see beyond his sorry physical state and see the brilliant work he continued to do. To her, he was a far cry from the handsome scientist he was before he was struck down with MND. She didn’t want to look like him though she knew her looks were already wasted.

Felicity pleaded, “Let me have some dignity, please.”

Without looking at Felicity, Greg reluctantly agreed, “Yes.”

Felicity implored, “Look into my eyes and promise me that you won’t let me die like a dog.”

Greg felt compelled to look at Felicity, “I promise you, sweet heart.”

Every day, she asked, “Has the parcel arrived yet?”

“No dear,” Greg would reply.

What Felicity had done was secretly go to a website which showed her how to kill herself. She ordered for a euthanasia kit and made Greg promise that he would administer the drug to her.

Greg was in a great dilemma. He loved Felicity and wanted her alive as long as possible. He had a hundred and one questions. Was he being selfish? Was he so blinded that he denied that the quality of her life had diminished. Had it deteriorated to such an extent as to her own words: a dog’s life. Had Felicity the right to a peaceful death with dignity? Was he keeping her alive for himself? Was he prepared to go to prison? …………………..

Greg fought hard to keep his tears from bursting through the dam. He had told himself that big boys don't cry. He had not cried since he was eight years old, and that was permissible according to his mum because a dog had bitten him in the park. He wiped his tears with his shirt sleeve and buried his face in his hands while inhaling deeply.

Finally he stood up, glanced towards Felicity who was staring out of the window. He whispered," Sorry, sweet heart. I can't do it." He quietly tuck the euthanasia kit back into his closet.


Recently Washington State passed an assisted death initiative, making it the second state in USA to approve some sort of medically supported suicide. Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act in 1997.


diane b said...

I watched both my parents die in agony I believe it should be available.

Dar said...

I agree with you Ann. Also being a Christian, there are things we just don't agree with.
When it's our time, God, and only God will take us. Look how long your own child held on in spite of the doctors.
We are not 'meant' to understand 'why.' We are meant to accept the things we cannot change.
Bless your heart Ann. This has got to be a very difficult subject for you having experienced such pain in loosing a child. My prayers are with you as it's something you never get over. I admire your strength.

You asked why my son was in China. He was there teaching others how to troubleshoot at a plastics mold co. He is one of a handful of Master Molders in the world. We are so proud of what he has accomplished and raising his boys besides. He comes home today. Thanks for asking.


Dar said...

I wanted to share with you also, his name is Andy. I think we are kindred spirits.

Bangchik and Kakdah said...

It is a touchy issue, and it is not easy to discuss this at leisure... Life has always been about choices and fates intertwined. Choices has always been ours, we claim ownership over it. Fate on the hand is something else.... in someone else hand.... in god's hand.


Ah Ngao said...

Ann,it's a good story. it's not a short one - everything is there.

Unknown said...

This is an interesting topic. You know how it is here on euthanasia..I dont have to tell you. I am glad you didnt 'pull the plug' on your son. It was the right thing to do and it should be like that. God's calling and not anyone else. However, still a difficult subject if one is suffering and wanting to go but cant..Take care Ann...hugs/M

Dave said...

An excellent blog Ann. Unknowing of yours I also did my blog on euthanasia today too. Your story was well written and very sad. - Dave

Ginny Hartzler said...

I am so very sorry about your son. Of course, I hadn't known about that. I can't imagine the heartbreak and suffering you must have gone through. What an awful decision to have to make, I see that you are a very strong woman. And a good Christian who loves God. We all try to do the best we can, with lots of prayer, and that's all we can do. I watched my mom suffer horribly, and wrote about some of this on my blog on Mother's Day. If they had offered this to me, I don't know what I'd have done. I also didn't know about these new laws in the states! This short story, is it fiction? You are a very good writer and I was on the edge of my seat.

betchai said...

this is not an easy resolve, as we all have our choices to make, i believe in natural death, i am sorry to hear about what happened to your son, it must be an agony watching him. And I admire Greg, it must be very hard having to make two choices, between his and Felicity. But I do see where's Felicity's wishes coming from too. My late mother before was also in a very sorry state in CCU before her dead, doctors told us like what they told you that it is better to let nature take its course and not continue with artificial support. Our family priest also advised us the same way, that we have to learn how to let go and let God, sometimes, it is just our human desire to extend the life of the patient when it is not, and advised us also to let nature take its course. We did listen to doctors and spiritual advisers to let go and let God, let nature take its course, but when our mom passed away, some of my friends I heard them describing that my mom died because of euthanasia and we were like criminals. It was so hard at that time, for some people thinks that euthanasia also includes giving up in artificial support and all those drugs to give artificial heartbeats, they thought that when we let nature take its course, we are killing the patients too. anyway, just sharing my personal experience also in this matter, sometimes, i wish some people would just learn how to respect other's choices and keep their mouth shut especially if they do not understand.

thanks for your visit in my site.

Kim, USA said...

I don't adhere people killing people and if they caught and be convicted I wanted them to rot in jail but to kill them is a no no for me too. Sometimes our political system is not perfect and many times their judgement is wrong. Only God's judgement is no error and ultimate. So no to euthanasia for me too.

SWF~Half moon

Ruth said...

I am sorry that Diane's parents died in agony. Working in a hospital I see that is not necessary with the medications available. I do think people's lives can be prolonged unnecessarily with medical interventions like dialysis, respirators and artificial feeding. It is more common to see families who will not let their loved ones die naturally but clamour for all types of life-extending treatment.

Ensurai said...

Your own story and other related stories are so touching!! I would not go for euthanasia if I hav a choice. Again it is a personal choice. Sometimes the patient would do it herself if she knows how.

Ann, Chen Jie Xue 陈洁雪 said...

This is my reply to Manang Kim

Thank you so much on commenting on my euthanasia post. It is a very difficult issue. We just hope we don't have to face it.

It is almost like when I decided not to have anymore children after Andrew. What would I do if I found out I was pregnant again with a (CS) Campomelic baby. Would I still carry him to full term and have him die, or would I abort him.

God is gracious, yesterday, Sam turned 14. He was a healthy baby. If he was Campomelic, I don't know if I would have aborted him.

On of my CS mums had two CS babies. That's really tough. She carried the baby but it died inside her.

I pray all of you would not have to face the decision of euthanasia or abortion. They are both very very painful.

stan said...

I was in NIE-NTU-Bt Timah campus around 2000 I believe.

Are you still teaching?