Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Keeping an Alzheimer's Patient Alive?

In Canada right now there is a court case in which a family is suing a nursing home for spoon-feeding their loved one.

Her advanced directives say that she does not want to be fed if she becomes incapacitated. She worked as a nurse and she's seen people die from Alzheimer's. She was abundantly clear with her loved ones that she did not want to die like that.

But the feeding isn't being forced upon her. She's opening her own mouth and swallowing the food. Although her family argues that it's just a reflex, I say that's irrelevant. The important thing is she is doing it, so on some level she's feeling hunger and she's eating.

They say she's in a so-called "vegetative" state. She has to be transferred using a lift. She spends her day in bed or in her wheelchair. Eating is likely one of the only things she can do anymore. And again, that is also irrelevant. Euthanasia is always wrong.

I think my opinion in the case is pretty clear, but this is where it gets murky. The nursing home has threatened to call the police if her family tries to take her out. They have refused to transfer her to a hospice. I think the nursing home is overstepping it's bounds in those respects.

No, she should not be denied food that she is eating on her own, but that does need to be balanced with the family's rights. The family is wrong in insisting that she starve to death. The nursing home is wrong in not letting the family move her. Yes, she needs to be protected from abuse. But, it's still her family.

I've seen people die from Alzheimer's as well. It is not a pretty way to go, but no way is pretty. As Dr. House said (Edited for language):
"Our bodies break down, sometimes when we're 90, sometimes before we're even born, but it always happens and there's never any dignity in it. I don't care if you can walk, see, wipe your own [butt]. It's always ugly. Always. You can live with dignity, we can't die with it."
This case in part shows how advanced directives can be tricky. No one can account for every possible circumstance. Who knows, she might have been only referring to getting a feeding tube or hydration through an IV. Spoon-feeding is not unreasonable, especially if it's not forced. As one person noted on Free Republic, if spoon-feeding becomes optional, what next?

Also, how can we judge her quality of life? We don't know what it's like until/if we get into her shoes. Quality of life arguments have always bugged me. Only the person living the life can judge it's quality and, again, I question the relevancy of the question.

So, if quality of life, how conscious she is of eating and her disabilities are all irrelevant, what is relevant? She's a human being, for starters. Even from a secular perspective, the value of human life has always been seen as an absolute good that can only be taken away for an important, grave reason.

From my religious perspective, life is a mysterious gift that is not ours to take away. God formed us in our mothers' wombs (Psalm 139:13), and only God can take us Home. It's like that Bill Cosby quote, "You know, I brought you in this world, and I can take you out." Only God can do that.

No, no she can't.
The most important thing in this case is that this woman is a child of God. Everything else is secondary. Primarily, she needs to be protected. Secondarily, her family has rights as her legal guardians and I'm not sure if this nursing home has not overstepped their bounds a little bit in this case. I'll be awaiting the outcome of this case. It will be an important decision setting precedence for or against euthanasia in Canada.

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