by Ken Rolheiser
Palliative care and euthanasia Part 2

Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a
fulfillment. Dag Hammarskjold

We have two great fears about dying, Father Mark Miller said in his workshop on Proper Care of the Dying. The first is pain and suffering and the second is fear of abandonment. Palliative care addresses both these fears and presents us with moral choices we can make.

Pain relief is OK, Miller said.  Pain and suffering can be helped by palliative care. We do not need to be trapped in the system that is trying to save us. Sometimes doctors have difficulty letting go and allowing a patient to die. There are feeding tubes, ventilators, and there is always one more drug to try. The record for feeding tube was set by a patient who used it for thirty nine years.

You can refuse any procedure or treatment. Some religious groups refuse blood transfusions. A cancer patient may refuse surgery, radiation or chemo. You have the final say on accepting treatment, Miller insisted.

“When medical treatment is withheld or withdrawn, sometimes the person dies quickly, sometimes the person dies after a few days or weeks, and sometimes the person does not die at all… The proper use of sedation is intended to eliminate the pain and not kill the person, whereas, euthanasia or assisted suicide intends to kill the person.”

Though killing a terminal patient is wrong, you do not have to choose to prolong the dying process. You can refuse feeding tubes and ventilators. You can refuse resuscitation at some point in your health care. And you can appoint a family member to see that your wishes are known when you are in an unconscious state.

Always it is to be noted that dying is a natural process and can be a positive experience for family members. Like the mother who had to depend on her children for care. “I just hate being dependant,” she said. Her son pointed out how she helped them when they were babies. Now it was their turn to help her.

Have a “living will” in place in case it is needed. You can refuse resuscitation or antibiotics at some point? You do not have to cure the pneumonia so that the cancer will kill you.

You should have a family member appointed to represent your wishes when you can no longer express them. If you do not appoint someone, your spouse or the oldest child will be your guardian. You may appoint someone else.

To conclude this topic on a very positive note, Miller said that a good death is one where you are looked after properly; pain is controlled; family relationships are supportive, and you know that you are loved. As with all things in life, preparation is the key to smooth transitions.

In my family circle, as we prayed the family rosary every night we often prayed “for a happy death”. Though our parents died young, we believe they both had a happy death with glorious results. Faith can give you that.

Faith can give you that vision as you are leaving this life that caused Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers dying of pancreatic cancer to look over the shoulders of his family and speak his final words, “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.”

(566 words).