Friday, 20 June 2008

Living with Death

I had a conversation today with a group of people about a video we had watched last week. The video was a number (~15) of years old, and followed the story of an elderly man, his wife, and his doctor in the Netherlands. The documentary told the story of this man's death. Or, more exactly, him being killed. For it was a documentary about this man's journey to euthanasia. I choose the word 'killed' carefully, and not for generating undue emotion, for the doctor himself comments, and recognises, that what he is doing when he injects this man with a lethal dose of a narcotic is, in fact, killing him.

The group I was with was discussing the issues of pastoral care in this situation. While we discussed the overall ethics and morality of the subject, the purpose was to consider pastoral care in such cases. It appeared (and this is only my perception) that some people I was talking to were of the opinion that the most caring thing in these situations is to assist in, or certainly not hinder, the decision to end life. I disagreed, for many of the reasons set out here.

Additionally, much time was spent speaking about the care of the doctor. He suffered terribly - he noted that his practice of offering this service left him depressed; he often couldn't sleep after it had happened; and at times, when he was cycling and his mind wandered, the images of people dying came back to him. Clearly this man has been horrifically affected by what he does. There needs to be support for him, it was argued, because of all that he had gone through.

But there was another person who requires care in this situation, and indeed should possibly be more fully considered in discussions about the topic. It was the man's wife. For after he had died, she was heard weeping, and asking herself if she had done the right thing. She was complicit in what had happened - she was by his side the whole time, and yet he is now gone, and she is not. She has to live with what she has agreed to. And how do you live with that? What answers are there when you wake up in the night and ask yourself, was it right? Was it his time. Might he have rallied? Was he depressed when he asked to die? What affect must this practice have on those who remain, who were intimately involved in the decision making.

I'm not saying that this is an easy issue. Anyone who has sat with someone in extreme pain, who has seen the massive and rapid degeneration of a loved one, is aware of the plethora of emotions which erupt. But I am saying that euthanasia should not only be thought of as an end. For it is also a beginning. The beginning of a life where those close to the dead person have to live with uncertainty and doubt. It's the beginning of a life where one has to live with death.

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