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Physician-assisted death – would we have accepted this option? (Via Grey’s Anatomy)

Posted Jun 03 2010 12:00am


A couple days ago I watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in which a patient, who was dying of terminal lung cancer, asked her doctors to help her die. On the one hand, I admired her husband’s acceptance of her request to die with dignity. I was even proud that he was able to set aside his own impending grief, and see that her decision was the right one for her.

On the other hand, I placed myself in his shoes, shoes I have actually worn (in one size or another), and I’m not sure I would have been as accepting. If my mom, when things were real bad already, would have expressed a desire to end her life a few months earlier, thus avoiding the months that she did not recognize us and was 100% dependent on others, would we have been able to accept it?

On this side of her death, as much as I’d like to say yes, I’m not so sure. On the one hand, the experience of your 56-year-old mother not remembering your name is a terrible one. On the other hand, it gave us  a few more months of preparation.

On the one hand, seeing your mother not move in bed and only open and close her eyes (barely) is intolerable, an experience that extends far past the actual event. On the other hand, that one day that I lay my head next to her arm and she suddenly stroked my face gently (when she hadn’t actually recognized me in days) is also an experience that transcends the actual timeframe. That particular incident, by the way, is one that is, at times, my only comfort.

Knowing what I know now, having experienced the horrible demise of my once-full of life mother, I would like to say, yes. Yes, I would trade anything for the ability to have the last memories of my mother be of her awake and recognizing us and understanding what’s going on around her.On the other hand, I know that we weren’t in a state that would have accepted this wish. I doubt we would have. I think that even though we all knew there was no hope, we secretly hoped there would be.

The thing is, that amazing last time that she caressed my cheek, when I wasn’t even facing her and was absolutely startled by it, I think that I would prefer to have a full image of my mom in my head. Even now, a year and 3 months (to the day) later, I still can’t visualize my mother as she used to be. All I can see is her in that hospital bed, lying still, staring at me and having no idea I was even there. I would trade that last caress for not having that memory.

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