Whose Life Is It, Anyway?
Dear Margo: I live in Massachusetts, where a Death With Dignity initiative was defeated on the Nov. 6th ballot. Do you think physician aid in dying is really necessary when palliative care is available to patients who have terminal illnesses? How do you feel about allowing patient choice at the end of life? Have you had any personal experiences with a dying relative or friend? Help me sort through this stuff! — Undecided
Dear Un: I, too, live in Massachusetts, and both my physician husband and I voted for the measure. I am pro-palliative care, but I also know that some illnesses do not respond to opioids. My mother, for example, had multiple myeloma, and no drug totally addresses bone pain. She said more than once that if she were able, she would bring down the curtain. I, myself, have a little list of illnesses that I would not want to see through to their natural conclusion. When life is no longer life, when there is little function, great pain and no pleasure, what is served by “letting nature take its course”? I have an aunt, now 95, who has had Alzheimer’s since the early ’90s. One can only imagine what the days are like for her and her family.
To answer your question, I think physician aid in dying would be a wonderful gift to suffering patients. Many of the older docs are steeped in Hippocrates’ “first do no harm,” but my hope is that the younger ones understand that oath to mean “let no one for whom life is a punishment suffer.” Theatrical merit aside, I very much agree with the title of the play, “Whose Life Is It Anyway?”
The states that have approved physician-assisted dying have shown no abuses and rather low rates of people requesting help. An interesting side note is the emotional comfort of such a law being in place. Many patients secure the means but do not use them.
If the religious lobby succeeds in blocking this initiative, people need not feel helpless. There’s a wonderful group of dedicated people who have made common cause with “Compassion and Choices.” They are at www.compassionandchoices.org. They offer local phone numbers and provide, well, choices. Often it is guidance to hospice. I hope I have answered your question. — Margo, compassionately
Dear Margo: My son “Ben” and his wife, “Kay,” love being the center of attention. This has caused many scenes. My other son’s wife, “Carol,” lost her mother last year. After the funeral, family members gathered at our house. Carol spoke with everyone but soon needed privacy. As she was leaving, Kay demanded she stay. Ben then announced that Kay was pregnant. Carol gave congratulations, and then she and my other son quickly left.
My husband took Ben aside and explained that it was inappropriate to make their announcement just then. Ben argued that it was convenient since everyone was together. Since then, Ben has called us for money, but he has excluded us from everything. We only found out about the birth because Kay’s mother kindly sent photos.
Now they’ve sent an email saying they want no contact. Kay wrote that we are an embarrassment and our values are not in sync with theirs. My husband wants to sue for visitation. I don’t want to be aggressive, but it seems the alternative is to just give up. How do we resolve this? — “Embarrassment”
Dear Em: Nice touch that Ben would ask for money and then inform you that they want no further contact. That pair of showboats sound seriously off base, not to mention mean. I doubt that you can repair things with them, given the way they think, but depending on the state you live in, you may be able to sue for grandparents rights. You can research this on the Internet. — Margo, appallingly
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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at www.creators.com/dear-margo.html. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.
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