Today, the most routine medical procedure requires your initials and signature in various places to document you are aware of all the possible death scenarios. After you sign off on these possible tragedies so as to decrease medical liability, you are presented with “living will” documents to fill out.
The instructions to fill out this life-and-death decision are generally as follows. “I, John Doe, want to choose how I will be treated by my doctors and other health care providers during the last days of my life. I do not want to suffer unnecessarily and I do not want to be kept on machines that will serve only to delay the time of my death. My choices about treatments which have little chance of making my condition better, if I am unable to make my own decisions, are listed below.”
This official questionnaire asks you to check box “yes” if you want treatment or “no” boxes if you do not want treatment. The box checked will determine if you receive certain types of treatment to, or not to, preserve your life. In other words: to pull or not to pull the plug — that is the question. Before you rush to automatically pull the plug, remember times are changing.
No one wants to exist permanently in a vegetative state only to die. This dependent quasi-dead life would make the person a burden to family and society without awareness of the world or ability to contribute to others. Few, if any, individuals would see this state as desirable. Everyone would want the plug pulled if there is no chance of being a cognizant, feeling human being.
The question that immediately should strike the person filling out this life or death decision document is who is going to determine that your body and mind cannot heal sufficiently to live a meaningful life? A person in an unconscious or permanently confused state cannot make this decision. The professional assessment that CPR, life support, surgery, blood, tube feeding are only going to “delay the time of death” and have “little chance of making my condition better” will be initially made by medical professionals. A designated surrogate will be the one to integrate this information and make treatment choices.
This life-and-death decision has to be based on assumptions about the probability of one’s health improving. The person who would have your best interest at heart would be your most intimate relationship. This person would be best able to protect you in the hospital and decide what would be the best for you. Leaving the evaluation solely to professionals could eliminate the necessary time for your body to sufficiently recoup to make an accurate decision.
There is no medical staff that can predict with certitude the course of an illness or a traumatic accident. The best a group of professionals would be able to do is to make a series of educated guesses of the probability of a person’s chance of recovery and weigh it against the cost factors of keeping the person alive.
Financial concerns influence our cultural attitude toward life and death. Government pricing of allowances for specific services and procedures directly influences the medical industry’s perspective of long-term care. This medical pricing is influenced by the state of the treasury. As the generational war unfolds, young people’s resentment will increase, as they are required to shoulder the burden of the taxes for the “baby boomers,” who have not saved for their own health and retirement expenses. The flood of geriatric patients will result in radical cutbacks in services, especially for the acute and chronically ill, to avoid bankruptcy. The scarcity of resources makes it more difficult to be on the side of prolonging the patient’s life.
The sanctity of life is under attack — especially for the elderly. Prolonging artificial life at all costs as during the 1970s is over. Suffering is no longer seen as an inevitable part of living but something to eliminate even at the expense of ending life. Euthanasia has been passed in Oregon and is being considered in other parts of the USA. Death is the final answer to physical suffering of the patient and psychological pain of the loved ones. Europe is pulling the plug early and is spending substantially less per patient. There is a real incentive for patients to die early.
Before you check the box for prolonging your life, you may be under the misconception there would be no possibility for your recovery. The “culture of convenience” is making it more likely that our government-dominated medical industry might decide to make sacrificial lambs of people over a certain age to appease a more aggressive and politically powerful segment of voters.
Checking “yes” to treatment and designating a trusted loved one to watch over you when you may be temporarily incapacitated is probably the best way to prevent your meaningful life from being snuffed out before God intended. Although a loved one would be hard pressed to go against the prognosis of the authorities, this individual would have the greatest motivation to exhaust all possibilities before giving up on your life.
Death may be cheaper and a final solution to an aging population. But it should not be left in the hands of a medical establishment that receives its instructions from centralized government bureaucrats.
Dr. Domenick J. Maglio, Ph.D., is the author of “Invasion Within” and “Essential Parenting.” He is a psychotherapist and the owner/director of Wider Horizons School.