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How can you decide to end a life?


goose
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We - my brothers and sisters and I - are facing the prospect of making the decision to turn off our Dad's life support.

My dad had an operation a week ago and slipped into a coma shortly afterwards. The doctors suspect that there is brain damage due to lack of oxygen.

We will have the results of tests next week and will know the extent of any brain damage. So do we allow him to die without intervention? or ask them to do everything possible to extend his life.

How can we make this decision? will there be huge guilt? will we always wonder if he could hear us and was aware what was going on?

Goose

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Good morning Goose,

I'm so very sorry for what must be an excruciating experience and decision, I'm not sure how I would ever make such a decision, especially in a case where your father seems to not have advanced orders and the decision is left to the family.

My 1st wife's father was in a coma for a few weeks and the family agonized over the decision (>20 years ago). The treating MD, realizing that this could go on for months and that it could likely destroy the remaining family, went into the hospital room weeks into the coma and injected him with pain-relieving medication. I was the only one the the room that evening, reading to him (even tho he was in a coma) from his favorite magazine-- National Geographic. Within an hour, he took his last breath and everyone interpreted it as death by "natural causes". Having worked inpatient for 12 years, I now know what had happened and while deeply disturbed and pained by what I had just seen, I also now see the wisdom of the MD's decision (even tho I have mixed reactions). My father-in-law had had several strokes and continued to have them daily, with each one shutting out more of his life and in the end, we had only the shell of a once great and loving man. He was bedridden, unable to move, and in a neuro-vegetative state. The MD, wrongly I believe, made the decision for the family, but the family was in deep pain, couldn't let go and was becoming profoundly fractured to the point of no return.

Goose, my strongest recommendation is to study the issue via reading about how others have arrived at their decision, what they felt after their decision, and what moral and ethical thinking is out there that can help clarify the issue so that in the end, the decision is in the best interest of everyone. For example, if your a Christian, or Buddhist, or Muslim or Hindu, (or almost any other religion), you'll find strong prohibitions to actually being forbidden (the Roman Catholic Church for example) to "take a life." If you're not, then there are other resources that will help guide you. In the end, this is one where finding your way is a lonely process. Here are some resources that may help you think thru the issue better:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/euthanasia/

http://www.trinity.edu/~mkearl/dtheuth.html

http://euthanasia.procon.org/

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-euthanasia.htm (look at comments section)

Good luck Goose and God bless,

David

Edited by David O
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Goose,

I think Julian makes an excellent point, that of everyone saying goodbye. When my father-in-law was in a coma, one thing that helped me transition was to say good bye to him while holding his hand. I held his frail hand with mine and read to him while holding the book with the other, his weak pulse nearly not registering in my hand anymore. I imagined that even in his comatose state, he heard me. This act alone both allowed me to transition to another stage in my life while also giving him permission to move on--- to his final awakening.

The body is a sheath for the soul.

David

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Thank you David and JP, both very enlightening responses.

My Dad is a devout Catholic, but quite pragmatic with it. The hospital that he is in is run by Catholic Nuns, so I am sure they follow the Catholic ethos.

My original fear was in fact that he would have some awareness but was unable to communicate this to us.

I am just back from the hospital and I am 100% positive that he responded to my yes/no questions by nodding and shaking his head - I believe he is still with us.

We all talk to him when we visit but this is the first time we have seen any response - I am so happy - maybe he is coming out of his coma. The doctors are not always right.

Goose

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Guest GingerSnap

Goose: Your family is in my prayers. Yes, the doctors are not always right so you will just have to feel your way through this. I always look at it from the point of "if that were me, what would I chose for myself" - I use that a lot of times and more often than not, people aren't agreeing with me. I know a lady in town that was told her heart was so bad that she had 3 to 6 months to live and as she told me a couple of months ago when I went to visit her home where she remodels her house and has a garden, "Eight years later, here I am." This is not a think from your head question but a think from your heart question. My best, Cathy

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Guest ASchwartz

Hi Goose,

This is the situation every family fears they will face. This is the situation every human being fears they could face with regard to their own life. I guess that is why there are living wills. Did your father leave any instructions with the hospital via forms he had to fill out? Did he want extraordinary means to be used to keep him alive?

As you know, there is no right or wrong answer with this. You have your family and I guess no one person will decide but it will be joint, with all of you coming to some type of decision guided by what all of you know of your father, guided by your religious beliefs and convictions and guided by what feels morally and ethically right to all of you.

None of this addresses the pain, anxiety and pressure that goes along with this.

My heart and prayers are with you, your father and with the family.

Allan :(

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Hi Goose,

I missed this post yesterday. I'm so sorry to hear of this painful situation and of your father's deteriorating health. It is a difficult situation for anyone to be in.

Back in 1992, I received a phone call from my father concerning my mother. She had been ill for years with cancer and had taken a very sudden turn for the worse. My father called my siblings and myself to ask how we felt about possibly turning the respirators off. I was more than 1200 miles away at the time. The decision wasn't easy, but knowing that she was in a tremendous amount of pain made the choice pretty clear. I very much regret not having been there with her when this took place.

This decision is a personal one and one's religious beliefs may also be very important. I'm wondering, as Allan also did, if your father ever mentioned what actions he might want taken in a situation such as this.There are many things to take into consideration and it is something you will want to discuss with other family members. I hope that you are receiving support at this time.

I very much agree with the others about saying good bye. If the time arises I would strongly suggest holding his hand and telling him everything. I would also very much recommend not letting the opportunity pass by to express to him any emotions that might be in your heart. Don't hold anything back. I never made it home in time to do this and it is something I still regret 17 years later. My mother passed away 11-28-92... right around this time of the year. Even if your dad is unable to understand your words, he may find comfort in a familiar and loving voice.

I very much believe those who we have loved during our lives remain with us even after they have passed on. I think that when we are close to someone we internalize some of what we learned from them and carry it with us. All of the memories of our time with them and the gifts they shared with us become some part of who we are. Family connections are especially strong. It is a bond that can never truly be lost because love stays with us always.

I hope that you father recovers and you do not have to make this decision. Take care.

Beth

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Guest GingerSnap

Goose: Have been thinking about you and saw this thread active and was so happy to hear the update. Miracles come true every day and am so glad you all were granted this one. Cathy

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