Peddling death

January 20, 2016   ·   0 Comments

In the Star Trek movie, The Final Frontier, Dr. McCoy is led back in his memory to the time when he “released” his ailing and dying father.

“Release me, son,” his father pleaded with him “Stop the pain; let me go.”

“I can’t do that, Dad,” McCoy sees himself saying. “I’m a doctor but I’m his son.” In the end, he removes the life support from his father and lets him go.

The point of the memory exercise for McCoy was to be freed of his guilt and pain. It is a great film; catch it if you have never seen it.

The day before Colin died he asked me, “Don’t let me die.”

For more than a year before this sad day, he had been, really, hounded by various medics to talk about his “end of life.” The doctors at the Palliative Clinic; our home nurse, his GP, all nearly obsessively determined to discuss with Colin the day he would die whether he wanted to talk about it or not.

I found this cruel and an imposition on his right not to have the conversation. I understood, up to a point, why they wanted to discuss it but not why they would not give it up.

There is a theory, no doubt true for many cases, where the end-of-life talk brings relief and reassurance that the loved ones left behind will now know what is wanted and will have the guidance they need to dispose of the dearly departed according to that person’s wishes. However, given how adverse Colin was to discussing the matter, I wonder how many other people would also rather cling to every day of life rather than be required to consider their end of life.

He was so determined to avoid the conversation that even when we sat with our lawyer, drawing up our wills, he deferred to me, sure that I would handle all the details of what would follow his passing.

He wanted to think about living, every day; every conversation was about something to do with living. So, we never talked about dying; within our relationship, he was free of it and, on the contrary, I saw to it that his life was as full as I could make it of positive experiences.

So, there is a reason for my telling you about those last months of Colin’s life.

Nowadays, there is an intense, seemingly unavoidable discussion about assisted suicide. Our governments need to be very careful about how they write their laws concerning this matter because we all know what will happen as this option becomes part of the fabric of medicine.

A feature on the subject on the CBC Radio 1 program, The Current, was hosted by Anna Maria Tremonte late last year. She was speaking to two women who were part of an association promoting assisted suicide and one doctor who spoke out against it.

He referred to “killing the patient,” which goes against the basic code of being a doctor, and pointed out that the line between killing the patent at his/her request and actual murder has not been clearly delineated.

Here is the real danger: that the law of permission will increase the influence brought on “terminally ill” patients to take this way out.

Don’t think for a moment it won’t. The same pressure that Colin suffered, this time to have unwanted conversations about how to end a life, will become commonplace.

Even if doctors do not actually push the “lethal injection” on the patient or the family, which, over time, they might, the family members themselves will. They will talk to the patient’s partner about the option or to the patient him/herself.

Yet, nowadays, pain can be mitigated in many ways.

The biggest worry is the willingness on the part of the medical teams to offer death as a happy time, almost, and to dismiss really living between any given point and the end of our lives.

Better to see to it that palliative care is more about life than death.

It ought to be a fervent time of living, with humour, happy memories, full of love, maybe of even acquainting oneself with one’s spiritual life. Most importantly, it must not be a time of ruminating over the end to which we will all come eventually.   

So for us all, who have years, months – whatever – of life before us.

Philosophically, it seems to me, we are have become rather a maudlin society, with our dark literature, a revival of heavy prejudices and worrying preoccupations. Here’s to letting in the sunshine, to the return of joy in our art and relief from the angst of bigotry on all levels.

And caution about how we legislate dying.

Happy New Year.

By Constance Scrafield

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