Tag: Advance health care directive

The Right to Die

Brittany Maynard has a few months to live. Or three weeks, if she ends her own life on November 1.

For those of you who can’t or don’t want to watch the video, she has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. There is basically no chance she will live for more than a few months. She has moved to Oregon, which has a law allowing terminally ill people to self-administer drugs to end their own lives. Doctors may participate if they choose. She is using the last months and week of her life to advocate for other states to enact similar laws so that people may make similar decisions if they choose.

I don’t know that I would personally make the same choice Brittany has but, then again, I’m not facing the same grueling brutal decline she is. I do think people should have the option to end their lives if they choose. It is, after all, her life. I’m a bit uncomfortable with laws that allow physicians to direct this (and I’m convinced that the infamous Jack Kervorkian was no hero). This is an issue I’m still pondering.

I may have mentioned this before, but we have developed a medical system that has an astonishing ability to bring people back from the brink of death. But it can also drag out the suffering of the dying. Enormous amounts of money are spent keeping terminally ill patients alive. The left favors a solution that involves bureaucrats making decisions about withholding care. I prefer a simpler and more empowering solution: anyone who is on Medicare has to fill out a living will.

There would be no regulation of what is in the living will. And Medicare patients could change it at any time. Many people will choose the most extreme life-saving measures and that’s fine. But I believe that a lot of patients would choose to forgo the extreme heroic measures that are the default in most hospitals. Doctors rarely choose extreme life-saving measures. My mother used to be a nurse and wealthy people who could keep themselves out of the hospital system almost always just wanted a quiet room and something for the pain. I’ve spoken to numerous seniors who don’t want extraordinary measures taken but have yet to fill out a living will. They rely on their families to remember this.

What people don’t realize that if you are dying in a hospital and don’t have a living will, they will almost always go the last full measure to keep you alive. Hospitals do it because they don’t want to get sued for letting great-grammy die. And families allow it because they can’t let go or deal with the guilt of letting a loved one die who might be saved.

If we are going to preserve a Medicare system, I don’t believe we can allow people the luxury of pretending they are never going to die. Make people express their wishes and then respect those wishes.