A Life Worth Living
I am a Kiwi who is opposed to euthanasia in any form. This opposition has root in both personal experience and also my Christian faith, which teaches us to respect and give dignity to all life. But I want to share with you a beautiful story of my in-laws.
In 1997, my mother-in-law collapsed with a brain haemorrhage. She was rushed to hospital in Napier and was flown to Auckland and given an operation to try and get it under control. After a number of days in a coma, she gained consciousness and eventually returned home. Her speech and coordination were impaired and she began to suffer seizures.
After around 10 months Mum became desperately ill again and was rushed back to hospital. The doctors were unsure of the cause and told us she had likely succumbed to viral meningitis which may have attacked the unhealthy brain tissue. She was in a semi-comatose state and was eventually transferred to a rest home as it was felt the hospital could do no more and beds were at a premium. Mum was unresponsive at this time and was taken off all feeding tubes. The doctors said that the scan showed there was little or no brain function and that this condition was irreversible – Mum was effectively in a vegetative state and would never talk again.
Our father was devoted to his wife and was constantly at her side caring for her. When the caregivers ceased to provide Mum with nourishment, he fashioned a pipette and began to feed her liquid foods like yoghurt – Mum was able to swallow when her throat was stimulated. He was chastised for doing this and told to “let her go”, but he maintained that no wife of his would ever starve to death.
After a few months, Mum started to take notice of what was going on in her room. Then she would catch your eye and smile occasionally. This brought the family much joy and Dad would look forward to those moments as they became the highlight in his days.
A pattern settled in whereby Mum would have seizures and would be unresponsive every 6 days and she would be sleepy and largely unresponsive on the day either side of the sixth day, but during the days in between she appeared to be much more alert and responsive. Then one day, as Dad was sitting on her bed, holding her hand and stroking her forehead, he said to her “I am so happy you married me” and Mum responded clearly “and I am so glad you asked me”. He was so overjoyed after so many months of heart ache and hopelessness.
From this point on, Mum remained bed-ridden but would speak a little on her alert days and always in context and often with witty one-liners as had been her trademark. We all looked forward to these days when she would be responsive to us. While it was a hard road, we found our expectations for life changed accordingly and this was a life worth living. There was much love to be had!
My mother-in-law lived like this until 2004 when she died a natural death – peacefully. During these years, she was always serene, never showing any sign of distress. The highlight was their golden wedding. We threw a party for them in the rest home and invited nearly 100 friends from around NZ. We wheeled Mum into the large lounge area in her bed-chair and she smiled and had personal words for everyone there – and she knew them all by name. It was a wonderful occasion with lots of laughter and happiness – a very special memory – and one that you would not want to take away from them.
The next day, I was sitting on her bed reading through their cards with Mum, but I was unaware if her old reading glasses were still right for her eyes. So I asked Mum and she said she could see – and just to prove it, she read the words in the card out loud. Someone else in the room asked who had made the cake, and Mum answered correctly. This was the same woman who, some years before, had been diagnosed as not having significant brain activity and it being an irreversible state.
Life for our parents was still precious, they were still in a loving relationship, their expectations were lowered but it was a life worth living. Who but God could choose to take this life away?
I share this story not to criticise the medical profession – who I believe do a remarkable job to the best of their knowledge and ability – but rather to show that we must not legislate a right to choose when somebody dies. If euthanasia was legal, my mother-in-law could have been killed at the time she was given the brain scan and diagnosed as hopeless. But the medical profession cannot always predict or explain the unexplainable. The family certainly can’t. And neither can the sufferer.
When a wrongly convicted murderer has their conviction overturned and is pardoned, we release them from prison and we debate whether there should be compensation for them. How will we release and compensate euthanasia victims where they are wrongfully killed?
Let’s not play God with peoples lives.
Originally posted on Euthanasia Debate