End of Life Decisions: It’s not a death panel

Refusal of Treatment Form
Refusal of Treatment Form

One of the hardest things you may ever do in life is agree to a loved one’s wish to die. My father, who had a heart attack that nearly took his life fifteen years ago, wishes my mother had not brought him back to life with CPR. But, she could not let him go, and he never made his wishes known in a living will before this near-fatal experience. His decision to avoid that document was based upon lack of knowledge which could have been provided by his physician.

In another instance, a son of a woman I know simply could not accept her refusal to be resuscitated after a long period of cancer treatments. “I feel so guilty,” he stated, even though she was explicit with her wishes in a living will. “I feel as though I’m the one that’s pulling the plug.”

For many people, lying in a bed on life support is not their idea of a life. Technically, the body may be working, but that person is not engaged with the world. Basically, there is no quality of life for someone who is in that situation. But, for some – like that son mentioned previously – talk of living wills and wanting to move on when quality of life has diminished is frightening.

This is part of the fear that now surrounds talk about the health care bill. But, instead of “death panels,” the bill actually talks about end-of-life planning. There’s no accounting for the amount of money spent, the time lost or the shattered lives of those who were resuscitated when they really did not want to be brought back to life. The same losses could be stated for those who are in a coma from which they will never regain consciousness.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the White House health-policy adviser, stated that the provision in the health care bill that has come under attack is about allowing doctors to talk to patients about end of life care. An opponent of euthanasia, Emanuel states that opponents to his provision are taking words out of context and twisting them, because they “don’t have a solution” to the health care reform debate. And, many people may agree when he states, “We spend a lot of money and resources – hundreds of billions of dollars – for unnecessary care, care that doesn’t help patients.”

I know my father would have liked his doctors to be more honest with him in the past. Even now, doctors tend to hint around about the problems that could occur with his heart disease, and they don’t offer suggestions on how he could manage his situation. But, since his near-death experience, he has learned what he can do. He’s made it known to his family that – if a heart attack should occur again – he does not want to be resuscitated. He has the living will to prove it, too.

My father has made his decision about his end-of-life care. This does not make his family part of a death panel, nor will we be committing euthanasia. My father is loved, and we respect his decision because of that love.

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