The day after watching the shocking Frontline documentary, “The Suicide Plan” about assisted suicide and specifically the assisting group, “Final Exit”, who went on trial, I find myself thinking about two things. One, do some of the extending life measures make life so unpleasant that one feels compelled to back out unnaturally? And two, what about the statement of the juror who said he saw no difference between hospice care and self-inflicted death by helium? I think he was referring to how prescribed Morphine, a respiratory suppressant, is sometimes used to hasten death.

I’ll address the second. The horrible thing about “Final Exit” is that the vulnerable despairing person is left alone with them with no family consent. The “Final Exit” team uses a hands-off, instruction-only approach to teach the person how to acquire helium and a plastic bag, they visit the person during the event, sometimes holding down their hands which are described as spasming and tearing at the bag during the final moments of consciousness, then they remove the equipment and leave, intending the body to be discovered by their support person who has no knowledge of this event, with the intent that natural death conclusions will be drawn. All this at the request of the person wishing to die.

This is very different than hospice administered Morphine, which I do not condone in such doses as to hasten death, that the family and hopefully the patient, if conscious, is aware of. If the family isn’t aware, then I believe that deception is wrong too. I think suffering the natural consequences, with as much palliative care as can be safely administered, of terminal illness is less soul-destroying than taking a life.

But if the juror meant that hospice denies artificial means of extending life, so that is equated with prematurely ending a life, then he has placed way too much value in medical interventionism during the end of life. Some people probably think that denying resuscitation or artificial life support is similar to murder. Ethical doctors will make wise judgments. This will cause the family to be supported in these very difficult decisions. To have to go against an aggressive doctor who wants to push endless radiation or chemo on an aged, frail person is stressful.

These are very difficult decisions that I pray God’s mercy will sustain us through as we seek his will.

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