I wasn't sure whether I should write this post. My last post was on the wrong side of miserable and I don't want to get a reputation for misery. But this post is something about which I have strong opinions. You probably have strong opinions too as this topic is emotive to say the least. Let me explain...
Just over eleven years ago my dad was a fit and active 63 year old.He had retired early and was indulging a life of wind surfing, travelling and generally having a good time.He had always lived life to the full - a keen sportsman, artist, you name it he would try it.At the age of 62 he had joined us skiing for the first time and he loved it.
He started to get joint pains and arthritis was diagnosed. The pains came and went and some days were worse than others, but he didn't let the pain stop him from living his life.And then he developed a dry cough.It was especially noticeable when he was on the phone and before long it became hard for him to hold a conversation.He started to get breathless and investigations diagnosed lung disease.Not any old lung disease either - he had some weird arthritis related thing that destroys your lungs and leaves them scarred. Gradually his lung capacity got smaller and smaller.
He was a doctor and he knew exactly what was happening to him.The simple things became unbelievably difficult - shaving,showering,talking.I never heard him complain, ever. The house was set up with piped oxygen and he was confined to a wheelchair.This all happened very quickly - within a year.He was always a man who took great pride in his appearance, loved clothes, was aware of his looks. Now he was ravaged by the disease and the steroids used to treat him.
He used to sit on the front verandah in the sunshine, enjoying the warmth and even continued to go down to the rugby club to watch the game from his chair.You could see that people were a bit embarrassed that Doc was in this condition, but his real friends still saw that underneath the gasps and the pain he was still there, still fighting.The week that he was due to see the consultant about a lung transplant my dad contracted a chest infection and in 4 days he was dead.
The thing that got me though, and the thing I am really writing about tonight is how he suffered in those last few hours and how we, he, could do nothing to help.We knew that he was going to die. There was nothing left of his lungs and the chances of him lasting long enough for a transplant were nil.But those last few days and especially the last night, that Saturday night,his suffering was terrible to see.
I sat with him, my turn, in the early hours of the Sunday morning and I was so angry.To see my dad having to suffer, to slowly suffocate, turning blue, was something I would not wish on my worst enemy.In those early hours he wanted to die. It was too much for him.He could not speak, but with a last massive effort he pulled off his oxygen mask.I will never forget his eyes as he looked at me, imploring.He knew that with the mask off he would die.I asked him if that was what he wanted and he nodded.
My mum, a nurse, came in and saw what was happening. She put the mask back on.
When she went again I was very close to putting a pillow over his face and ending it for him - but I didn't. I didn't have the guts and I didn't want to let down the rest of my family.
But if he had been a dog, or a horse or a cat we would have been prosecuted for allowing him to suffer like that. Because he was a human being he had to be made to cling on to life to the very end - the ghastly, painful end.There would not have been a miracle recovery, ever.Why could he not have been allowed to go to sleep peacefully, with dignity? Our laws force people to live even when they know that death is on their shoulder.We grant dignity to animals, but not to our fellow human beings.
I know that this is not a simple issue. There are twists and turns, questions, morals, fears and dangers. But that night there was only my dad and that night he had earned the right to die without pain.Maybe he would only have lived a few hours less, but those few hours would have been hours that he did not have to suffer.
As I said, people have strong views on this, but until you have looked into the eyes of someone begging you to let them die, please don't tell me that humans cannot play God.I did not want to play God that night, I wanted to show my humanity.