Choosing to die well

September 24, 2018

In response to Vince Torres’ My View (“All lives are worth the fight,” Sept. 9), it would behoove those who employ the language of war in health care to remember that in every war there is collateral damage.

The collateral are the family and friends of the deceased in this futile war against death. Having been a bereavement counselor for over 10 years at a nonprofit hospice center, it quickly became apparent that the type and degree of damage was greatly informed by the circumstances of the dying process.

Those who are dying, who recognize the impact this process will have on their loved ones, may want to minimize the collateral damage. Many choose hospice care because they do not wish to spend their last days in a hospital receiving treatment that would be painful, and offer no quality of life.

The fact that this treatment may leave the family hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt is usually the least of the families’ concerns. They must stand by and watch their loved ones suffer and then be required by many physicians to “pull the plug” themselves. By choosing to end treatment and opting for hospice care, family members enjoy the last days or weeks with loved ones who are pain-free and very often able to celebrate their lives and face death peacefully.

The most difficult circumstances are those of young families losing a parent. Children grasp the finality of death in stages, so their coping skills vary according to age. What is constant is that going to school every day, not knowing if your parent will be dead when you return, impacts that child for life. Growing up with an incapacitated parent regularly forces a child to grow up prematurely. And no matter what reassurances or belief systems are offered, children will feel abandoned after the death. Some preparation for the imminent death rather than proffering all the positives of living every moment could greatly mitigate the collateral damage.

Torres’ faulty logic of “if suicide is dignified, then fighting for life is not” means also that if “fighting for life is valiant, then choosing hospice or assisted suicide is cowardly.”

Again, the vocabulary of war — win or lose, hero or coward, survive or die. But this does not hold up. We are all going to die and should have the right to choose how.

Anne Webster lives in Santa Fe.

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