This I Believe

Sarah - Tucson, Arizona
Entered on March 15, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: love
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I believe that ending another person’s life can be an act of true love.

My father has Alzheimer’s disease, and if Dr. Kevorkian were free, I would consider giving him a call. For the past six years, I have witnessed my Dad’s progressive decline, and my family and I have barely navigated the waters into which we were thrown.

When Barbaro died recently, I was struck and inspired by the societal paradox. The media emphasized public support and compassion of caregivers. No one questioned the decision to end the horse’s pain.

My mom died of cancer at the age of 52 in a small room we had added to the back of our house. It feels different with Alzheimer’s disease – a disease for which 90% of caregivers feel overwhelming relief for the loved one when he or she dies. It breaks my heart to see some of the patients I work with professionally– those with many years ahead of them — diagnosed with treatable diseases for which there are no health care dollars left to fight. Dollars being spent by people like my Dad.

Our family has been lucky until now in terms of finances. My father receives generous pension and social security checks; however, the total no longer covers his monthly bills. His savings have run out.

For just over $ 6,000 per month, my father lives in a skilled nursing facility where he eats chicken salad sandwiches, apple juice and pudding from plastic containers. The facility is no worse than others of its kind but is characteristically under-funded and understaffed.

My Dad was a renowned physician, Director of Psychiatry at Charity Hospital in New Orleans for 25 years, an irony almost too intense to ponder. He told me repeatedly in later years that he would never want to live the way in which he is currently living. Now, as his court-appointed legal guardian, I am faced with going against his wishes, bound by law, of course, unless I want to end up with a fate similar to that of Jack Kevorkian. Because I am committed to my own children, I do not consider that option. Because I want to protect my children, I’m educating myself on ways to exit gracefully when the time comes.

When difficulties arise during childbirth, few people think twice about intervening medically to facilitate the process of birth. Interestingly, however, our society continues to deny the inevitability of death. It is as natural as birth and can be utterly beautiful under the right circumstances. As with birth, however, there are exceptions…times when intervention is both necessary and humane to facilitate the process. At the very least, there should be choices available to individuals prior to or at the time of diagnosis.

Perhaps we should consult the veterinarians…