When we don’t know what to choose

The NY Times magazine had an interesting and heartwrenching piece in this past weekend’s magazine.  In “What Broke my Father’s Heart, ” Judith Butler describes the deaths of her two parents and the challenges the family faced while her father was declining in his health.  In this piece, she describes the choices her mother made which prolonged her father’s life to a point of complete mental deterioration instead of allowing nature to take its course.  Her mother decided to have a pacemaker placed in her husband to prolong his life.  She then immediately felt regret and spent the next few years wishing she could turn it off.

The piece describes the family’s struggles with the current medical establishment regarding the lack of discussion of advanced planning as well as what they perceived to be unnecessary medical procedures.  The story concludes with the author’s mother deciding against anything aggressive that might incapacitate, thus allowing her to die on her own time in complete control. 

I will leave aside the clear political leanings of the article.  In terms of the human element, I always find that either people are ill-informed and don’t know what to ask or that people are too timid to ask questions.  At the same time, there are drs. who sometimes forget that healing isn’t always about making physically better.  Drs also run into problems when it comes to advising because there is a fine line between allowing for patient autonomy and also providing them with legitimate, expert advice. 

Read the piece and consider the challenges of dealing with our elderly.  This goes back to the piece I discussed a few weeks ago about the dual thinking about death and dying.


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