Saturday, September 27, 2008

Life, Death, Mercy and Morality

Brother-in-law the Wiser has been in intensive care in the hospital for a over month, most of that time in a drug induced coma. I spent much of last week sitting by his bedside simply being there for his wife. The few times he was awake he looked absolutely terrified and in agony. He could only move one arm and his head. He consistently tried to yank out his ostomy bag and breathing and I.V. tubes. The doctor ordered a padded cotton boxing mitt placed on his hand. Being unable to snatch out the things tormenting him, he flailed mightily with his arm, hitting anything within reach -- mostly himself. The few times his wildly staring eyes met mine I saw nothing in them but horror. It didn't look like anybody was home in there.

Even if his body survives this ordeal, will his mind?

It seems to me that we are kinder to our pets than we are to our fellow man. If a pet is in agony at the end of life, it is considered acceptable, even commendable, to help them die with speed and dignity.

When a pet is dearly loved, it is not an easy decision. I have had to make it twice.

Five years ago Handsome the cat became desperately ill with an infection in his chest. The vet said that he might be able to save him with extreme measures, keeping him on IV antibiotics and nourishment for probably a week or more. Though Handsome was only ten years old, in the prime of life, I knew the LittleDude wouldn't want that. He trusted me to take care of him, so I said goodbye. I miss him still.

My beloved cat, Esmerelda, was eighteen years old and in chronic kidney failure. I decided, after having tormented her by administering subcutaneous fluids for several months, that I would keep her as comfortable as I could without invasive treatment and when she "stopped smiling", I would let her go.

Two years after my decision, she stopped eating and purring, wanting only to rest curled in my arms. I called the vet. He came to my house after hours and gave her a shot. I held her close with my forehead pressed to hers as her frail body relaxed.

I loved Esmerelda with all my heart,we were "SimoneezerTwins" for twenty years. She wasn't a pet, she was my best friend. Her absence has left a hole in my heart and life that will never be filled. Even after seven and a half years, I still weep for her.

I'm crying now for my brother-in-law and Esmerelda and Handsome. I am crying for my Grandmother who lived through three years of unceasing pain because my Grandfather begged her to stay with him every time she was fading. And for my Grandfather who lived for seven years after her passing but was never the same. And my sister-in-law and her daughter sitting for hours beside a hospital bed, waiting.

I know I did the right thing with Esmerelda and Handsome. How could I ask someone I love to cling, suffering, to life so that I wouldn't miss her?

Why are we less kind to the humans we love than we are to the animals? Why do we artificially and torturously prolong their lives when there is little or no hope that they will live a quality life or even the life of a vegetable? How can that be a kind thing to do? Where can one draw the line between mercy and morality?

And then the little voice in the back of my mind whispers, "But what if he can recover?"

I am overwhelmingly relieved that it is not my decision to make.

For myself, however, DNR - Do Not Resuscitate. I have told my husband and my parents. When it is time, let me slip away gracefully.



Iron Needles said...

I am so grateful that my mother made her wishes well and completely known to all of us. It was her final gift.

Kate said...

I am sorry that you are struggling with this. Having been there I know it is a tough situation to deal with.