Thursday, May 28, 2015

Assisting Death

Mom mentioned to me that she had raised a question with her priest recently.  She inquired on the Catholic Church's stance regarding terminal diseases and feeding tubes.  If Lyn progresses to a point where she is unable to swallow, what guidance does the Church provide.  Can Mom refuse treatment on Lyn's behalf?  It is my understanding that the Church advocates in such cases that a feeding tube be provided to the individual.  To do otherwise would be to allow the person to starve to death.  Starvation is a very painful death.  The Church does not advocate taking any action which would hasten a person's death on the belief that it would be murder.  Instead, the Church advocates providing palliative care and allowing the body to cease functioning in its own time.  (I hope I have that correct.  It may be much more nuanced than my summary.)

The topic, when Mom raised it with me, was a little surprising but not shocking.  I am familiar with Mom's stances and respect that she's investigating scenarios she may possibly face in the future.  I firmly believe it is better for us to discuss, weigh our options and know what choices we're comfortable with before we're in a moment of high emotions or crisis.  We like to plan ahead.

With this topic in the back of my mind, I was struck by one of yesterday's articles in The Atlantic called "Doctors' Secret Language for Assisted Suicide."  It is an interesting article and while it doesn't address Alzheimer's, it does raise the notion that in most states here in the US, the topic of imminent death is still often discussed in whispers, particularly if the person in question is not elderly.  I believe there is only a small handful of states in which assisted suicide is legal and even in those, I would find it hard to believe that they would allow for assisted suicide of an individual with Alzheimer's.

Here's the catch; while the Alzheimer's Association and other advocacy groups will refer to Alzheimer's as a terminal disease, it may not really be recognized as such universally because it can go on for so long before a person passes.  Think about the fact that Alzheimer's is not widely listed yet as the cause of death on death certificates.  Additionally, with assisted suicide, the individual who is ill must be of sound mind to legally choose that option.  Some states even require that two doctors evaluate the individual and rule the person is of sound mind.  Those limitations do not stop individuals who make the choice to end their lives before the disease takes that option from them.

We are not faced with those options with Lyn.  She does not want to die.  She has not asked if she can be helped to die.  I'm not sure she's ever been capable of suicidal thoughts.  We will be there to support her body for as long as it can function.  We will not take action to extend her life.  We will not ask for more time with her.  We also will take no action to hasten her death.  Her death will come when her body is no longer able to function.  If she dies in her sleep tomorrow, so be it.  If she lives another 5 years, we'll still do our best to support her body without taking extraordinary measures to keep her alive.

I hope that makes sense.

Additional Information
Fact Sheet: Suicide and Assisted Suicide - Alzheimer's Association

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