Thursday, June 26, 2008


A recent event in our city highlighted the collision of church and state in our medical system. The 'death' of an 85 year old man has reignited the debate on a delicate issue.
This patient had been, for all intents and purposes, gone or 'gorked' as they say in the biz, long ago. He had been placed on life support for over 200 days at a cost of nearly half a million that could have been re-allocated towards helping a younger person who actually had a chance of recuperating and moving forward with their life.

The man's adult children, in accordance with their interpretation of their religious beliefs, it doesn't really matter which religion, refused to have him taken off of the machines in order to die when he was ready, and their God 'took' him. Three attending Doctors refused to continue and actually quit working at the hospital in order to sidestep a court order that was won by the family's lawyer.

Cases like this present an emotional minefield for all of us to cross. The simple truth is that had the man NOT been put on life support he would have died 200 days ago. Ok I'll state the obvious...if it was one of my children I would be inclined to hope for the best and interpret every flicker of an eyelash as a desperate plea to continue..Doctors are not infallable...but, if it was an elderly member of my family I would have probably let them 'go'...
to my way of thinking a mechanically preserved 'shell' of someone who had experienced a long life deserves to expire in a timely fashion...
being mechanically sustained with no sign of improvement is not my definition of a human 'being'...
I'll say it...Age matters.

On the flip side religious organisations that need no introduction still refuse to allow their subjects to practice birth control because it interferes with their interpretation of what happens during coitus. I presume that they think that a tiny angel that looks like Tinkerbell swoops down the Love Canal and sprinkles glittery magic dust on the lonely exhausted sperm as it burrows into the reluctant egg. Really. This is incredibly convenient because it 'magically' provides a builtin supply of pew warmers and tithers. Hmm.

Despite the fact that billions of other multicellular organisms on the planet perform this identical method of reproduction millions of times every hour, somehow we are special eh? Really.

What both of these situations finally come down to is a clear legal definition of what a Human is.
Is it a half mystical being comprised of an eternal, indestructable, imvisible spirit destined to either be recycled or sent off to a heavenly reward or infinite torment?

Or are we bipedal mammalian uber-primates that have by chance and billions of years of trial and error, somehow managed to evolve with an extraordinarily over developed brain that has allowed us to be conscious of our existance, and able to remake our world?

Thirdly, could it be some inexplicably complicated and bizarre combination of the two? Hmm..this is where many of us stopped examining the enormity of the question. Idunnoknow?

Because we refuse to confront the conundrum of WHAT WE ARE, we sort of reluctantly deal with life and death issues with kid gloves. Economic factors will eventually provide most of the solutions through a supply and demand driven osmosis..
more so than Ethics..
because there simply aren't enough resources available to keep every self interest group happy, for lack of a better term.
Politicians will kowtow to the whims of the almighty voters and merrily swing either way order to stay in power.
Many will stake their political 'lives' on designing their demographically driven platform to dovetail with the religio-politico the exclusion of others who believe otherwise...ah think that this is the best method of settling issues that we have to work with.
God IS 51%.

Here in the West we seem to be fairly nonchalant about 30,000 children on the OTHER side of the world starving to death every day and yet we'll spend half a million dollars preserving a single 85 year old man that 'died' almost a year ago.
We really need to talk about how we are coming & going.


  1. Ah-men to that one brother!

  2. The first mistake we make is to assume that along with religion comes compassion, perspicacity and wisdom. Often it's the opposite. (Now I'm cringing as I expect a bolt of lightning to smite me dead.)

  3. Donn, as a nurse, I see this kind of thing all the time. And I am totally on the side of the doctors who resigned over this case.

    I can't believe the money 'wasted' on elderly people who have exceeded their average expiry date already by however long, to keep them alive at all costs - literally. I so often see life with no quality. So many people (read: family members) cannot see that death is an inevitable part of the cycle of life.

    I would so hate to be in that position - on life support and dying a bit at a time, slowly inching my way out the door, when, if there was no medical intervention to prevent it, death would be quick. And we have lots of medications to keep people comfortable as they exit stage left. Both my parents died and were kept comfortable to the end.

    Everyone in my family knows that if something happens to me and there isn't much hope of having a quality existence, then just pull the plug, pump me full of morphine and let me go.

    The universe awaits and there's lots of interstellar exploration for my energy to do.

  4. If God wanted us kept alive by machines, he'd have invented the machines himself! But I guess they would all have shorted out around Noah's time... Seriously, if I believed in God, I'd believe that somebody kept on life support is depriving God of a soul he obviously wants in heaven. God struck them down with age or infirmity, who are we to try to keep them here?

    But since I don't believe in God, I believe that keeping very old or very ill people alive artificially is a drain on emotions as well as money. Geez, say goodbye and be grateful you got the chance, then let 'em go.

    It sometimes seems like religions (as you say, it doesn't matter which one) delight in extending and increasing our earthly suffering; I suppose it makes people more likely to want to go to heaven??

  5. i am i the only one in this world that believes in bowing out gracefully???

    good lord,, preservation of life my ass.. this is such a joke.. i have said it before and i will say it again,, if you cant make me 25 again,, don't bother..

    i better shut up,, cuz this whole topic really ires me....

  6. Anonymous6:10 p.m.

    I agree with Stace - surely life support is as unnatural as the use of condoms? We've all got to go sometime, as God intended it...

    Aren't loads of hospices set up by religious organisations? I thought that was the whole point of them - that according to their religion the best death is a natural, pain-free, dignified death?

    My Brother the Idiot owes the tax-payer more money than he will probably ever be able to pay back. And he's only 18...

  7. My father is in the end stages of Parkinson's Disease. Before he got to that state, he told my brother and I not to prolong his life medically. I am very thankful that I don't have to make that decision for him, but if I did, I'd like to think I would let him go in peace.

  8. LOL @Church n State pic!

    Religious or not, life dun give a damn. U just hv to face it somehow.

    I came, I struggled, I went.


  9. that is exactly why i have a living will in place :)

    horrible to keep such an old bird alive just for the heck of it...

  10. Anonymous8:46 a.m.

    I wonder what the Dad would have wanted, had he been able to say? It's crazy what we spend keeping peopele alve. My living will is clear - no extraordinary measures, no life support.

  11. First, my personal contribution is that I have already (at 37) made a living will which states that I am NEVER to be put on any type of life support for more than 48 hours... Why bother. If it's my time, it's my time.

    Not only would I be (as you said) wasting valuable resources (time of the doctors & money which could be used elsewhere) but then I'd just be gone and my family wouldn't be toiling over what the hell to do with me.

    I don't give a rat's ass what the church says about it. If I'm gone, I'm gone.

    Furthermore, in regards to lack of allowed birth control in certain religions is just lame. I agree with the idea that continually have soccer team sized families will certainly ensure the survival of the church. Why else??

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Some countries allow peple to state advanced care directives specifying what should be done for their health in case they're no longer able to make decisions (a living will, not sure if this is the name for that), but it's still very controversial. Some consider it as interfering with gawd's plans.

    Religions still have some power on this particular subject. And on so many others. :(

  14. DNR is the thing to be written upon the medical chart. It must be stated, however, that as we age our perception of what old age is is most often bumped up!LOL Great article with many layers of topics to be addressed. Society in general in the U.S.A. has removed itself from the realities of human exsistance and forfieted the owership of life and death.

  15. I'd want someone to place a hit of acid under my tongue and AWAY I GOOOOOO!

  16. Anonymous10:37 a.m.

    Makes no sense at all why we do some of the things that we do.No sense at all!

  17. option 2 please.

    If heaven is so great why were his family so keen to keep him here on earth I wonder?

  18. Everyone should have a living will & let their wishes be known about whether or not they want to be on life support. You just can't predict how rational the people that love you will deal with their grief at a time like that. Some peoples emotions get out of whack.

    My grandmother always let everyone know she didn't want to be on life support. But, when she went into a coma on her deathbed, my Aunt became hysterical when they wouldn't try to revive her. Thank goodness there were other people involved so Grandma could die quickly & in peace.

    200 days is a bit long, though.

  19. This is destined to be one of your classics, so well documented and laid out and argued...

    And that last para's a keeper and a brilliant way to sum it all up.

    For your readers' benefit, it should be added that the docs who refused to treat him in the end complained that doing so was actually harming him more than helping him...treatment for all his bedsores and stuff, I imagine, and the continued need for injecting him with this and that.

    This is a glaring example of the bad side of a legal system that now is all about protecting the rights of the few even when it harms the many.

    There's good reason to have safeguards to protect the individual, but this was just plain stupid.

    The medical system, in its intelligence, said it was time for him to go. But it was forced to keep him alive, like a wilting tomato in the garden, by a politically correct legal ruling and the whole church mess.

    Super, super post.

  20. i want to go, fast.
    whether on support or not.
    hokie, i'm outta line.

  21. Very thoughtful post and comments...we had to make this decision early this year regarding my grandmother- she had no chance of recovering her mind or body so we took her off support.

    I'm partial to the primate theory.

  22. Anonymous4:38 p.m.

    How very nonchalant you are with the lives of others. Who needs God when there are such mighty minds to determine who lives and dies, eh?

  23. I find it very interesting that we have lots and lots of well-written, logically constructed agreements with Donn... and then one Anonymous rhetorical question expressing, I think, disagreement. It seems to adequately sum up the two sides of the debate in general.

  24. Well, I was going to say that Stace was the only one to mention the emotiional cost/drain.She's bang-on, of course.
    Then, damn! if Stace doesn't pop up agaion saying what I'd have said about ANON's shallow and cowardly (sign your bloody name!)tuppenceworth.
    ANON is entitled to an opinion, of course, as are we all.
    But in the final analysis, each man must make his own choice.But please don't expect the taxpayer(whom you don't know)to cover your chosen costs.
    OH, case you think I have no personal experience in this... I do. It was never easy, but it was done with compassion.

  25. Isn't it amazing how so many people will keep their 'loved' one alive by artificial means, prolonging their suffering, providing them with a lingering death, but would never think twice about doing that with their 'beloved' dog or cat. Wouldn't want the animal to suffer....

    Hello.... what the hell do you think the human is doing? If spending almost a year in ICU, with a tube down your throat to breath for you, attached to a zillion IVs to maintain your blood pressure, antibiotics t fight the inevitable infections, feeding tubes hanging out your nose, etc, isn't suffering, I don't know what is....

    And as WW mentioned, the bedsores, muscle wasting, tendon contractures, and everything else that goes along with being immobile for any length of time are reason enough to not put someone through all that.

    The cost of human suffering caused by families with good intentions but in denial of the reality of the situation is staggering. If you wouldn't put your dog through that, why on earth would you put your father through it? Just doesn't make any sense at all to me.

    And I have been through this with both of my parents (at young ages too, not old age) so I know from whence I speak - plus I have worked with these types of patients as a nurse. I have seen both sides of this many times.

    I am still very much in favour of pulling the plug if there is no hope of a decent amount of recovery so the person can have quality of life. And never mind the $$ cost of this either.... that is just unbelievablly astronomical...

  26. What a most wonderful post...... truely..


  27. I noticed "the one who wishes not to be known" coming out and accusing us of playing God with people's lives. I want him to come back, as himself, and explain to us why putting hopelessly dying people on life support, even when they are in torment, is not interfering with "God's will"? Did Moses have a ventilator provided by God himself in order for him to live as long as he did? I would suggest to "the one who wishes to not be known" that he listen to what George Carlin had to say about the value of life, in that the religious right is downright rabid about allowing a fertilized egg to come to term, no matter what that life might have to endure, yet once one is born, seems to be nowhere in sight. I have yet to see "Good Christians" line up to adopt special needs children of color. So, whoever you are, let me assure you of this; if we go somewhere when we are finally "ALLOWED" to die, I want to meet you there just so I can kick your ass for adding to the misery we poor mortals face down here on this merciless Earth, populated by nutcases who torture their loved ones in the name of a "loving" God.

  28. What The Michael said. And many others.

    Show your face, anonymous arse, and make your god-on-high moral statements in front of all who can see you rather than hiding behind those soap-box morals.

  29. To everyone but Ann Onymouse,
    thank you so much for all of your thoughtful replies..hopefully tomorrow I can sit down and reply.

    "How very nonchalant you are with the lives of others. Who needs God when there are such mighty minds to determine who lives and dies, eh?"

    First of all Annie, you should know that I actually look forward to receiving contrarian views, descenting opinions, even the occasional asshat blathering, otherwise I would just post pictures of my Grandma's doilies!

    For the most part I am quite willing to listen to almost anyone..I've only jettisoned one total nutjob in three years, not bad EH? He of course was a certifiably deranged self proclaimed prophet of THE God and may I say what a complete f*cking spamming little twat he was, takes all kinds,

    as you can see some of the 'reggies' don't think much of hiding behind anonymity, not that I blame you for being scared of a confrontation.

    I mentioned at the very start that it was an emotional minefield and as you can see many of us have gone through it. If you want to engage in a real dialogue and state your case, you need to 'man-up'.

    btw: It's amazing how much information is recorded on these site meter thingamabobs...
    nobody is ever really anonymous out here.

    Anyway, I'll leave it up to you,
    you shouldn't feel bad about defending your beliefs..are we supposed to somehow guess that you're right by osmosis or telekinesis?

    If you don't COME OUT AND SAY IT IN PERSON how will we ever know what we've missed?
    You may even get your hat handed to you a few times so what...
    what's the worst that could happen?
    Some person that you'll never meet will say "I think you're wrong"?


  30. George Carlin also said, "If I lapse into a coma, don't pull the plug, feed me ice cream and prop me up in bed. I wanna watch Geraldo! I'd have to be in a coma to wanna watch that stuff." (paraphrase)

    I'm gonna miss that guy.

    Anon: I'm not sure which side of the argument you're on. If you think your god was calling this old dude, then the people you are criticizing when you say "Who needs God when there are such mighty minds to determine who lives and dies, eh?" are the ones that kept him alive. Mighty emotionally screwed up and selfishly motivated minds indeed.

    They had help getting that way. One must remember, they live in a fantasy world constructed to make them docile and their behaviors exploitable and predictable. In this fantasy world, prayers work, and their god can magically suck out all the dead brain cells and barf up new ones to replace them. It helps to remember that they are members of a super-cult network that can listen to songs with titles like, "Open the eyes of my heart" and not have a problem with that. I gotta go take the wax out of the ears of my pancreas. Later.

  31. Like WW said, this is a winner HE!

    First, I think that it is a very EMOTIONAL decision to make. Not a practical one and it really is a choice that the family makes.

    That being said, on a personal note, this is one of the things that make me question the Church's stand on a lot of things. There are a lot of inconsistencies in what the Catholic Church espouses and my husband and I have had several debates -- he's more "devout" than I am, obviously.

    Artificial means of contraception is a no-no. They do not agree with artificial means of reproduction like in-vitro fertilization. And yet, artificially prolonging one's life is ok??

    Doesn't make sense to me. I have yet to hear an argument that will convince me that this makes sense.

  32. It goes against my nature to agree with so many people, but I guess I do. Grrrr!
    I'd love to take the oposite view and offer some support to anon, but i can't think of an angle. I'm annoyed because there are bound to be two sides to this, but I'm struggling. Might it be diferent if you are the relation, and the whole thing drifts into this situation, and suddenly you find you are having to play God - then it is gonna seem like a huge responsibility.
    I know its not the same, but I have taken the decision on animals loads of times, and it always feels a little odd (for a short while at least). Admittedly they were,'t clinically dead or whatever this guy was, but I still played God.
    There you go - not a bad shot at a reasoned opposite point of view.

  33. Gary Numan said it all:

    Me I've just died but this machine keeps on humming
    I'm just another peace of dead meat to keep running

    Tubeway Army album, The Life machine)

  34. The part I've never understood is that if heaven is the end-all and be-all...and we "get to be with God when we die"....then why wouldn't we wish we and those we love die asap so we could be blissed? Why hang on?

    Does. Not. Compute.

  35. Thank God he died. that case made me crazy. Ill. and all the stuff you said at the end paragraph is stuff that rolls and collides around in my brain to painful proportions. We're nuckin' futs.

  36. lol... so how many of those tiny fairies are there d'you think?


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