Everybody’s going to die eventually. A fact that many try to ignore. The grim reaper is a specter many dread but there are those who look forward to the end of this life and are ready to face whatever may be offered on the other side.
When that time does comes there are some of us who do not want any obstructions in preventing it. Sorry to start one of my posts with this morbid sentiment but it seems that the recent death of 87 year-old Lorraine Bayless at the Glenwood Gardens Retirement Home in Bakersfield, California has raised an issue here that involves a person’s “right to die”.
Most of the focus from the media on this story has centered on a care-taker’s decision not to administer CPR to the dying Ms. Bayless. An act that on the surface seems cruel and heartless for someone to do to one who is under their care. But allowing people to die under certain conditions is not that callous when you take some important facts into consideration, quality of life being the most paramount. Take for example this account by Iona Heath, GP and president of the Royal College of General Practitioners in the Great Britain, of a patient with similarities to that of Lorraine Bayless.
Some years ago, an elderly patient on my list was admitted to the hospital after she collapsed. She was in her late eighties, a widow and very frail. She was admitted to a coronary care unit and received the highest possible standard of care including fibrinolytic treatment delivered according to the latest evidence-based guidelines. She made a good recovery and was discharged home, apparently well, a week later.
I went to see her and found her to be very grateful for the kindness she had been shown but profoundly shocked by a course of treatment that she perceived to be completely inappropriate. She explained to me that not only her husband but almost all her generation of friends and acquaintances were already dead, that her physical frailty prevented her doing almost all the things that she had previously enjoyed and that she had no desire to live much longer.
No one had asked her about any of this or attempted to discover whether the effective and therefore recommended treatment for her condition was appropriate in her particular case. She died three weeks later while asleep in bed. SOURCE
I don’t know what Ms. Bayless’ situation was like. Most people who are commenting on this likely don’t either. But according to the accounts I have read thus far, she was not only aware that her caretakers had instructions not to make heroics efforts to save her life should she fall seriously ill, but it has also been reported that she had signed a DNR order (do not resuscitate) in the event of her impending demise. This to me signifies that she was prepared and intent on meeting the so-called angel of death on her own terms.
Furthermore, it’s not clear if a daughter of hers, who is herself a nurse, was Ms. Baless’ Medical Power of Attorney, but if she was she expressed her views that exonerated the facility where her mother died conveying that she “was satisfied with her mother’s care.” This appears to indicate that Glenwood Gardens had honored her mother’s wishes to not implement heroic measures should her condition warrant them.
We seldom can choose when, where and how we die but we can and should be allowed to choose death as an option when we feel there no longer exists a life that we find rewarding, especially as our health deteriorates to the point where pain accompanies us each waking moment of each day we draw breath.
Those of us who rejoice in life and make take offense that someone failed to help Ms. Bayless hang on to what we treasure do so without fully understanding that death itself should not be feared. A life without purpose is not something people want or choose. When age and physical condition inhibit and even prevent a meaningful and healthy life then the choice to accept the end when it comes without reservations or artificial means to sustain it should be a choice that we all honor.
Mourn not for me since I have lost my breath
My pain was such that it made me wish for death.
Other articles of mine on this topic: