On Nov. 15, 2012, my wife, Shirley, died in a hospice setting where she had been sedated and starved for days until she succumbed. Most people die under similar conditions. Can't we do it better?
Euthanasia, or painless "mercy killing," is not usually practiced in the United States on terminally ill patients. Here, they become hospice patients. "Hospice" refers to a program of interdisciplinary care given to terminally ill people. It focuses on the patient's comfort until death. Pain management and spiritual counseling may be provided. Food and water may be withheld from a sedated patient when pain management is a primary issue. But little else is done to shorten the life of a dying patient.
Practicing euthanasia on humans is illegal in this country. But in Switzerland, several groups provide assisted suicide to those patients who are found to be of sound judgment after an examination by a psychiatrist.
Remarkably, 40 percent of the deaths in this country are in a medical facility. It is a multibillion-dollar industry. That's why mercy killing is unpopular with the medical/nursing profession. Hospice care is an immense financial resource and a growing industry. Remarkably, proposals for reducing this Medicare/Medicaid burden by endorsing euthanasia have gained little support. Rationing patient care, other than by dictating payment to providers, is frowned upon by federal agencies.
And so, the question before us is, why isn't euthanasia accepted and practiced as a method of terminating the irreversible situation terminally ill patients face? It is commonly done to animals but rejected as a procedure for ending human life. When properly and professionally performed, euthanasia is quick and painless.
The same merciful assurances cannot be said about the preferred and legal practice of providing a hospice setting for the slowly dying patient. The patient may be subjected to decreasing amounts of food and water, be incontinent, have bed sores and be unable to care for his own basic needs. Gradually dying from a terminal disease is not a pleasant experience. Euthanasia is a better option.