The right to live / the right to die?

March 22, 2008 at 11:24 am (News) (, , , , )

Chantal Sebire

Chantal Sebire – suffering from esthesioneuroblastoma (ENB)

It’s a subject that causes much discussion, heated debate and outright argument the world over – euthanasia (assisted death or “mercy killing”). It’s not something I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to (or need or want to) consider, either for myself or anyone close to me, but I can see what the effects of such decisions are and how deeply it can affect those who have to live with such a decision.

There has recently been news coverage of a French woman who suffered terribly with an horrifically disfiguring and extremely painful malignant tumour. The French courts rejected her requests to end her suffering by ending her life. She was found dead just a few days later (the cause of her death has not, at this point been established – at least, not to my knowledge).

Looking at the picture of her (yes, that’s really her in the picture above this post) and hearing of how she has lived in pain for many years as her face became horribly distorted (so badly that children would scream and run away in fear at the sight of her – absolutely heartbreaking!) saddened me and made me wonder, when is euthanasia right, if ever?

Consider this example – Moss was riddled with inoperable cancer. She was suffering and the pain she felt could be seen in her eyes; could be felt coming off her in waves. She was much loved and adored her family. She was assisted in her death and the look in her eyes as she slipped away was one of relief and gratefulness. Moss was our family dog.

When animals are suffering and cannot be helped in any other way, they are humanely put out of their misery by a professional in animal medicine – a Veterinarian administers a drug which very quietly sends the creature into the eternal sleep. This is seen as being kind. Should humans have that same right? Should people be able to choose when they have suffered enough and want to put an end to it all? Should they have a say in how they end that suffering?

It’s a difficult question to answer, because then you have to look at all those people who can no longer make that choice for themselves. What about Alzheimer’s patients? Are they “suffering enough” to warrant ending their lives even though they are past making that choice for themselves? What if they have left a “living will” that says once they get past a certain point they want to die? There have certainly been cases where people have assisted Alzheimer’s patients to die and there has been both a sympathetic outpouring and a massive outcry about the “right to live”.

But what about the “right to die”?

Then there are patients that are in comas. What if the doctors say they will never wake but will live on and on in a permanently vegetative state? Should the plug be pulled rather than having that person remain, unaware of all that happens around them and taking up valuable medical resources used in keeping them alive? What about those people who wake up after many years in a coma? Could any of those who were “allowed to die” have woken up at some point in the future if they had been kept alive?

These are questions I cannot answer. I don’t have enough information, whether medical or personal experience, but it really does make one stop and think – what would I want if I were in that position?

That’s another question I can’t answer without experiencing it for myself – which I hope I will never have to do.

My heart goes out to all those who are in that position, whether considering it for themselves or for a loved one.

Chantal Sebire - before

Chantal Sebire – before ENB

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2 Comments

  1. Sandy said,

    I have always felt that if a person is already terminally ill (and this lady obviously was, the cancer would end up killing her in the long run) and they are fully informed about their treatment options (for this woman there was none)…isn’t is more cruel to force them to live out their lives in agony out of some sense of twisted moral views than to allow them to die in peace on their own terms?

    Waaay back in human history, It used to be that suicide was acceptable for certain circumstances. Not to say that I agree to those circumstances all the time (look at China and all the business men who have killed themselves over shame with the toy recalls last year), but if you were ill and suffering and nothing could be done, it was acceptable.

    Today, people have this sense that life should be preserved at all costs. I think it has to do with fear of death and change. People see death as a horrible thing. It isn’t! Death is just a transformation, not a beginning or an end.

    They also don’t want to have to deal with the pain of loss from their loved ones. While I can understand that, it is a very very selfish thought especially when someone is suffering just so you can go on living the way you always have. People want everything to stay the same forever, for their loved ones to live forever so they never have to grieve.

    I have to say, I am amazed she didn’t die sooner…I am amazed she didn’t take a gun to her head or a razor to her wrists before now.

    May this woman’s soul finally be at peace and I truly hope that some of the people that made her live her life in agony be ashamed for forcing their will upon her.

  2. Karen said,

    Wow Kell. That was a very deep and moving post. It certainly got be thinking.

    I’ve always believed that it’s a persons right to choose whether they want to live or die and I believe that Euthanasia should be legalised, although I do think there should be laws governing it (ie it should be for terminally ill patients, patients who are brain dead and who have no chance of survival etc and it should be done in a humane way by qualified doctors).

    People should also make it quite clear to loved ones, along with their family and friends what their wishes should be in certain circumstances as I’m not entirely sure but I believe the next of kin always has the right to overrule any living will made (although like I say I’m not entirely sure so forgive me if I’m wrong) as I think that‘s the case with donor cards or at least it always used to be.

    At the end of the day people take their lives all the time through suicide, so why is it wrong for people who are terminally ill to be able to go out with a little bit of dignity? Why should they go on suffering? Why should their last few days, or weeks, or even in some cases months be spent in pain?

    Like you say, pets are put down in order to end their suffering so why not people?

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