“I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked”

The first funeral I ever went to was my Grandma A’s. My memories of Grandma A are sparse, as I was only six when she died. What I do remember is the candy she’d bring when she came for dinner on Sundays. I remember chasing her horrible cats around her house. I remember the smell of cigarettes and stale cat litter. I remember helping her in her gorgeous garden. I remember the mauve skirt suit she’d wear with a gold brooch on the lapel. And I remember the night she died.

I mentioned cigarettes. She started smoking early in life and never stopped. She went to see a doctor about her poor health and he said it was very likely lung cancer, and they’d like to do some tests to be sure. She said, “No thank you.” And went home.

After a while she came to stay at our house. Rather, she came to die at our house. She slept in the room I shared with my sisters. The night she died my parents were gone at a church activity and my older sister was in charge. Grandma started talking about how she needed to go. My sister thought she was asking to use the restroom. They’d get half-way there, Grandma would ‘wake up’ and ask what on earth was going on and they’d return her to bed. This happened two or three times, and then Grandma started talking to her deceased sister. At that point my sister said, “You’d better go sleep upstairs.”

I took my sleeping bag to the attic bedroom, and lay on the floor staring at the rafters, fully aware that Grandma was dying. The next morning, when I came downstairs Grandma was gone and the mattress she had been sleeping on had been washed and was drying in the morning sunlight.

As I’ve gotten older the story of my Grandma’s death was explained in increasing detail. I was in my late teens before one of my siblings said retold the whole story to me, start to finish.

In the afternoon before Grandma died a few friends came to visit her, friends that she knew from the days she was active in the Hemlock Society. My mom is convinced, to this day, that they were delivering a suicide pill which Grandma took later that evening. My mom also feels quite a lot of guilt for letting such a horrible thing happen in her house.

But…

When I ask myself what I would have done in my Grandma’s place, I must admit that I think I would do the same thing she did.

There is lots of room for reasonable disagreement on this issue. Please share your thoughts about Euthanasia, End of life plans, and the right to die movement, but remember to be respectful and considerate.

Starfoxy

Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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37 Responses

  1. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you Starfoxy for sharing your experience. For my family, the hardest question is how long do you use artificial means to live? At what point do you turn off the life support? We all have said to each other that we don’t want to suffer like my grandfather did nor incur the cost or burden of countless medical procedures that only prolonged suffering. However, it is unlikely that we will ever be in the exact boat. Dying becomes so individual and I really think all affected really just have to try to use their best judgment and realize that it won’t be perfect. Nevertheless, I think a lot about what I should put in my own living will.

    • My aunt had a massive stroke last year and is in total dementia. She is still getting blood pressure and blood thinner meds to prevent another stroke. I asked my cousin about taking her off the meds and he declined to play God. My question is: Aren’t we playing God by keeping people on medication to prevent a death-blow stroke?

      • Moriah Jovan says:

        My question is: Aren’t we playing God by keeping people on medication to prevent a death-blow stroke?

        I think so.

        I worked in medical records for a long time, and the numbers of 90-year-olds who want quadruple bypass surgeries is…staggering.

      • HokieKate says:

        I agree as well.

      • Mike H. says:

        Are we making too many life length decisions when we control blood pressure or LDL’s in people? How do we judge when it’s a “waste”, and when it is justified? Shear age? Shear health?

  2. I am comfortable with the legality of physician assisted suicide in my state. I’m not sure if I would ever choose it for myself, but I believe that quality of life has meaning and the terminally ill should be able to decide when to end their life with dignity. I have thoroughly read the law in Oregon and believe it’s one of the few well-conceived pieces of legislation that the state has put out. It’s narrowly tailored, protects families, protects physicians, and gives autonomy to the terminally ill. It has been interesting reviewing the statistics of who actually ends up using the suicide medication. Many people have it prescribed and live out the end of their natural life without using it. Those are usually the folks who express a sense of safety at the fact that if one week their disease gets too uncomfortable (emotionally, physically, financially even), they may end their lives in peace with their families. But ultimately, decide for whatever reason that each day is worth living. I really respect the right of the terminally ill to choose death. I think it honors the sanctity of their lives to allow them this choice rather than force them to go through a long, drawn out death.

  3. Kmillecam says:

    I think this is a really interesting question. I personally believe that in the same way I am pro-choice and wholeheartedly believe that “my rights end where yours begin”, I believe that it is a personal human right to choose when to die. None of us know what that must be like to be old and sick and ready to leave this living state. I support individual decisions.

    I don’t know what I will do when I get old and/or sick, but I want that option available to me. It puts my mind at ease. It truly does feel to me the same as having the peace of mind that I can have abortion care if I need it. I might not use abortion care or euthanasia personally in my life, but I want the option.

    • Howard says:

      my rights end where yours begin Great phrase Kmillecam thanks I completely agree with that.

    • Rachel says:

      This reminds me of the RS lesson about obedience–to what law? The law of the land? The law of compassion? I know if it were my suffering loved one I would agonize as to the most right thing, and want to ease their burden.
      On some level I do believe in meaning from suffering, but if the person is mentally not there….I just don’t know.
      I would define myself as pro-life, but am glad there are pro-choice laws. However, I am extremely anti-death penalty. I see those things as consistent.
      I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’m always glad when there’s a good discussion that helps me see things from different perspectives. Thanks!

      • Mike H. says:

        On some level I do believe in meaning from suffering

        So, should me skip using all pain killers? How much pain is “good for you?” I know many with Terminal Illnesses are under medicated for their pain, in the name of preventing them from becoming addicted to drugs! I think that addiction would be an issue only if they recovered from the Illness.

      • spunky says:

        I think I understand what you mean, Rachel– such as the concept that we receive the blessing after the trial. It is complicated to comprehend that death is the “blessing” after the “trial” of a fight for life we always knew we were going to lose, such as in the case of terminal cancer. In this case, I am not sure which is more righteous- succumbing to the will of God through mortality, or fighting for the sake of prolonging the gift of mortal life. It is complicated. Very complicated.

    • Kmillecam says:

      Thanks Howard, I appreciate that!

      Rachel, thanks for listening and sharing your perspective too.

      • Rachel says:

        Mike, that is absolutely not what I meant. I agree with you. In terminal illness a person should be as medicated as they choose to be, and if that means they are heavily sedated I am totally okay with that. I’m apologize if my comment came across as callous.
        Spunky, yes, that is where I was coming from. Thanks.

      • Mike H. says:

        Rachel, I didn’t think you were being callous. Sorry if I implied that at all. I am puzzled that if pain is so necessary, then when do you use pain killers at all? I had a painful cyst on my only good kidney removed yesterday, and I was very glad they could numb me for the aspiration to reduce it.

      • Rachel says:

        I was thinking less about pain/suffering physically than suffering in general. For example, remorse doesn’t feel good, but it is very effective in helping us make a behavioral change. Now, if you let remorse fester you get into neurotic guilt and then you’ve moved from pain to something not productive. So that is what I meant by that.
        In this particular situation, one of the things that is happening is the loved one is suffering, too, and it makes judgment about whose suffering is being eased very cloudy–the patient’s or the family members’?

  4. spunky says:

    Thanks for writing about this, Starfoxy. I appreciate you sharing such a personal and important memory from your childhood.

    I support right to die for terminally ill as well. Both my partner and I have DRN status in our living wills, and I am at peace with that right now. I might change my mind if I had children — but I am not sure.

    The issue I think the issue with most people goes back to the whole “God gave me this, and as long as I am alive, He is keeping me alive to go His thing.” Its drawing the line between the will of God and the will of the body to succumb to mortality without massive medical intervention that people are uncomfortable with… is God blessing us with modern medical inventions to keep us alive longer to do some work? Or are we defying God by refusing to succumb to our mortal state? It is a personal and inspired choice.

    • Kmillecam says:

      That’s such a great point about whether it’s about modern medical inventions vs. our mortal state. Good question…and I agree with your conclusion: it’s a personal and inspired choice. Yes.

  5. My sister and I just discussed this last week after my brother put his dog to sleep. Why do we think it’s humane with dogs but not with humans? Aren’t we actually not being humane at all by thinking we all have to suffer to the bitter end? As Mormons who believe in a meaningful afterlife, shouldn’t we realize better than anyone that the only way to move on is to die and stretching it out can be awful? And yet I find myself unable to be at that point where I would support it myself and fight for it with all my strength. Maybe I will get to that point some day.

    • Kmillecam says:

      It’s true that we are totally okay with it when it’s not humans. And I think we might even be more okay with it when it’s a non-member vs. a member. I really do think that for some it boils down to feeling that we are doing God’s will and so we can’t take our end of life into our own hands.

    • Maureen says:

      I don’t know the situation with your brother, so I don’t mean comment on that directly. But having worked at a vet clinic I can say there were a lot of people who would forgo medical treatment or choose euthanasia over surgery because of the expense (and not because they needed to, some sacrifice may have been necessary, forgoing that vacation or something, but vet costs are much more manageable than our own). These kind of people would treat these living creatures that they chose to adopt responsibility for as mere property. I wish we as a whole had a greater reverence for animal life, whether that’s through choosing to humanely ending suffering or stepping up and taking on the consequences of helping to prolong a life worth living.

      I think that maybe in certain circumstances that idea of owning another life can extend to human relationships too. “She is MY grandmother/mother/spouse/etc.! I get to choose what is right for her.” And I have the same sentiment of wondering at the notion of believing that death is not the end of life yet wanting to prolong unnecessarily suffering in life. But I also understand the concern of some that this not just become a convenience option for others.

  6. Diane says:

    I have already had this discussion with a few friends of mine because of previous discussion about this topic. I believe the name of the article was about LDS Funerals. I posted the article on my Facebook status. I think a lot of my friends thought I was joking when I said that I did not want an LDS funeral if and when the time came. I jokingly stated that if someone let a bishop preside over a funeral for me I would come back and haunt the hell out of them.

    I think the same would be true if someone allowed me to remain on life support. I have had so little control over things that have happened in my life. I feel as if I should have the right to dictate how I leave. I think DNR are a good start, but, depending on other health concerns one may need to be more explicit and written down and notarized that way there will be no ambiguity.

  7. Pat says:

    I have a pacemaker. I am 72. My pacemaker battery is good for about six more years and then sayanora? What do you think? Someone on another post said she would prolong her life for as long as possible believing God has a plan for each us, even suffering.

    • Caroline says:

      I think it needs to be the individual’s choice. I for one don’t want any extraordinary means to prolong my life if my brain function is gone. I also want the choice to terminate my life if I am intensely suffering, have a terminal illness and only a month or two to live. I don’t know if I’d take action, but having the option would be great. But I also support those people who do want to prolong their lives, and I’d certainly be in favor of a pacemaker if it could give me more quality time.

  8. Maureen says:

    I like the notion of “pro-choice” in these circumstances. I am against prolonging unnecessary suffering. But in cases where there isn’t suffering, yet life support is still necessary…

    Am I the only one (I’m going to go out on a limb and show my sci-fi/fantasy geek here) that wonders if the spirit is not still active in these circumstances? I am a little hesitant to ask for a DNR for myself and leaning a little more towards asking my own plug not to be pulled (assuming no exorbitant, life challenging costs) because I wonder if there is a spiritual experience to be had there. This comes from a position of already having had many spiritual experiences tied to a conscious body, knowing ultimately I will have (and have had premortal) spiritual experiences tied to no body, I just wonder if there are experiences to be had tied to an unconscious body with a conscious spirit.

    • Melanie says:

      “I just wonder if there are experiences to be had tied to an unconscious body with a conscious spirit.”

      I found this really thought provoking. I have long struggled with my great-grandmother’s dementia because she long ago expressed to me no desire to live in such a condition. I hadn’t ever thought of the possibility of her- her spirit- having a spiritual experience in spite of her deteriorating brain function, which, I sometimes forget, obscures her spirit to those looking in.

  9. SilverRain says:

    I really don’t know what I feel about euthanasia. As a pre-vet med student, I’ve had to participate in euthanizing animals, and it is deeply spiritual but also rough.

    For me, I don’t think I agree with active euthanasia, but passive makes sense to me (ie. taking me off live-prolonging machines.) The first is taking fate into my own hands, the second is letting go of fate. For lack of a better way to say it.

    For others, I figure that is between them and God to decide. I’m not sure how I’d vote on it.

  10. Moniker Challenged says:

    Starfoxy,

    What a tremendously impressive anecdote for those “tell us something unique about yourself” introductions we all have to pull out occasionally 😉 Thanks for being willing to share it as a segue into a meaningful discussion.

    My parents divorced when I was 5ish, and I grew up in my grandparents’ house. I think my grandfather’s mental decline had already begun some years previous, but within a year or two after my mom and baby brother and I moved in, his Alzheimer’s symptoms manifested themselves in earnest. He was cranky and confusing, and as a dumb kid I didn’t understand why he acted the way he did. Before he died my grandma had to move him into an Alzheimer’s ward because he became angry and aggressive. My memories of him are mostly of childish fear and resentment.

  11. Moniker Challenged says:

    Starfoxy, what a tremendously impressive anecdote for those “tell us something unique about yourself” introductions we all have to pull out occasionally 😉 Thanks for being willing to share it as a segue into a meaningful discussion.

    My parents divorced when I was 4ish, and I grew up in my grandparents’ house. I think my grandfather’s mental decline had already begun some years previous, but within a year or two after my mom and baby brother and I moved in, his Alzheimer’s symptoms manifested themselves in earnest. He was irritable and confusing, and as a dumb kid I didn’t understand why he acted the way he did. Before he died my grandma had to move him into an Alzheimer’s ward because he became angry and aggressive. My memories of him are mostly of childish fear and resentment. I remember at his funeral and for some time afterword, many people describing what a good man he had been and sharing stories of the wonderful things he had done for them. They say he was patient, gentle, mild, humorous, unselfish. I regret not having known that man.

    Author Terry Pratchett also has a form of Alzheimer’s and has expressed an intention to end his life when he is in danger of becoming someone other than himself. Having witnessed this process, I do not blame him in the slightest.

  12. Diane says:

    May I Go

    May I go now?
    Do you think the time is right?
    May I say goodbye to pain filled days
    and endless lonely nights?

    I’ve lived my life and done my best,
    an example tried to be.
    So can I take that step beyond
    and set my spirit free?

    I didn’t want to go at first,
    I fought with all my might.
    But something seems to draw me now
    to a warm and loving light.

    I want to go. I really do.
    It’s difficult to stay.
    But I will try as best I can
    to live just one more day.

    To give you time to care for me
    and share your love and fears.
    I know you’re sad and afraid,
    because I see your tears.

    I’ll not be far, I promise that,
    and hope you’ll always know
    that my spirit will be close to you
    wherever you may go.

    Thank you so for loving me.
    You know I love you, too.
    That’s why it’s hard to say goodbye
    and end this life with you.

    So hold me now just one more time
    and let me hear you say,
    because you care so much for me,
    you’ll let me go today.

    Susan A. Jackson [/I]

    I read this poem off of a doggie web site dedicated to Shetland sheepdogs( I have one) I nearly cried when I read it, but, then I thought that it fit with the topic that we are discussing and I wanted to share it. Its says so easily what we all want and its to be treated with dignity and to let go once we can’t be hear to enjoy anymore. I hope you enjoy it

  13. Anon for this one says:

    To me this post is a twin to Spunky’s suicide post last week. My wife could have written Diane’s poem. From her perspective, I believe my wife had decided that the constant pain she was in was more than she could continue to bear. In one of our last conversations, she told me that she didn’t think any of the many medical specialists we had been seeing could find the cause, and relieve her pain. We had been trying for months, with no success, and I could not honestly disagree with her.
    Suicide is often called a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but, as we have seen in many of the comments, and as I saw in my wife’s situation, sometimes the problem really isn’t temporary, but chronic. Just the same, I have taken pets in to be put to sleep, but my wife’s decision to end her life based on the same kinds of considerations feels terribly different.
    I suspect part of my problem is that in most of the instances described above, the conditions that led to the decision were partly the result of age. My wife was only 44. I know that, with her health, she wasn’t going to live to be 90, but I still had hoped for at least 10 or 15 years more.

  14. Starfoxy says:

    Thank you to everyone who has commented!
    Kelly Ann- You are so right that each situation is so individual that it is somewhere between very hard and flat out impossible to make broad sweeping assertions about what a person should decide about their end-of-life situations.

    Course Correction- You bring up the issue of framing- many arguments against therapeutic death or euthanasia (even simple non-intervention decisions) frame the question as playing God by deciding when a person will die. When in truth, without modern science most of those people would be dead already, and we have already been playing God by keeping them alive.

    Anothermaternityblogger- That is so interesting about the people who fill their prescriptions and then never get around to using it, which I actually think is great. I’m always happy to see people choosing to live, but I still maintain that it should be their choice alone with no external pressure.

    Michelle Glauser- I’m glad you brought up pets, and I exactly agree with you, but I am inclined to agree with Maureen as well, cost is very often a major consideration with veterinary euthanasia- and I don’t think it should be a consideration when talking about human life. There are a lot of similarities, but also a lot of differences between euthanizing people and animals.

    Pat- I agree with Caroline- I think it should be your choice, and as I said before I don’t think cost should have to be a consideration in making this sort of decision. If anyone wants to live as long as possible they should certainly have every

    Anon- I am so sorry to hear about your wife. You are certainly right that age makes a huge difference in how ending one’s own life is perceived and experienced by those around you. Your particular experience brings up lots of things to consider with this topic, thank you for sharing.

  15. goga says:

    “…and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them….” (Mark 16:18)

    If a believer in Jesus can consume any deadly thing and it will not hurt them, then perhaps every death is a suicide, and maybe the taking of Hemlock is simply as good an “excuse” as any to pass on.

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