In dying, loved ones can teach us how to live

Categories: Opinion.

Re: “This doctor sees death daily,” Jan. 4.

I read with interest Dr. Manuel Borod’s view on euthanasia and its alternatives. I’ve had the honour and privilege of being present in many end-of-life journeys with loved ones.

With each death I wrestled with the thought of whether or not euthanasia would be a more compassionate choice than to witness my loved one suffering the insufferable. In complete honesty, I asked myself whether it was as much to ease my suffering as it was to alleviate theirs.

With each death the answer to that question was revealed in a way my heart could accept.

The dying person may be the victim of two types of suffering. First is the physical and often brutal aspect of the dying process. The love of family, spiritual beliefs and medical intervention can make this as comfortable as possible.

In reality, even with the best care and intentions, the end-of-life journey can be painful and frightening.

Second, there is often a feeling of guilt that loved ones are burdened by witnessing this journey. Conversely, people on the sidelines do not want their loved one to suffer the indignities of the process of death.

If we are honest, both the patient and the caregiver reach the “enough already” point many times before they reach the end. The reality is that caregivers and loved ones can experience the same degree of emotional and physical burnout as the dying person.

The focus is on managing the illness at hand, not giving treatment and compassion for the pain, depression, fatigue and anxiety that family members may also suffer. It is brutal for both sides to fight a battle they know is futile.

It has been my experience that the sick are either cognizant of this or completely oblivious to it. Depending on where they are in the process, it could affect their personal decision to end life sooner rather than later.

At present, that can be achieved by suicide or stopping treatment. However, euthanasia would open the door wider to more compassionate choices.

Herein lies the problem with euthanasia. Often the choice to end your life takes place during these very stressful and emotionally charged periods when everyone’s suffering is seemingly beyond human endurance. More than once, a feeling of “what is the point of continuing when there is no hope?” descends for moments, days or even years.

I have learned that in life there are only students and teachers. Dying people teach us how to live.

They teach us compassion and patience for ourselves and others. They teach us to appreciate more fully our own life with all of its imperfections, to cling closer to our remaining loved ones, and to forgive one another for our sins, indiscretions and faults, lest we should lose each other as well.

To read the full letter, please visit the The Edmonton Journal.

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