medical interventionSome religions have followers who refuse to accept blood transfusions, and other religions actually prohibit medical intervention of any kind. They believe that prayer alone will save those who are ill or injured, and if it doesn’t that it was “God’s will” for that person to die. 

Those of us who don’t belong to those religions tend to shake our heads and feel that they are being unreasonable.  After all, if medicine and/or medical knowledge is available, why should we allow our loved ones to suffer or even die without making use of it? Some would even argue that “God’s will” has allowed us to create the life-saving hospitals and medicines in the first place. Surely, if we love someone we will do everything in our power to save them, won’t we? We pray, but we also avail ourselves of doctors and hospitals.

The question we must then ask ourselves when someone we love is suffering is: At what point are we just prolonging the inevitable demise of a person?  Is it “living” if we are not aware of what is going on around us and can’t breathe by ourselves, or talk, or feed ourselves and have no control at all over our bodies?  How much is too much?

As I write this, my mom-in-law is in Intensive Care in a Private Hospital.  She was operated on 11 days ago and hasn’t really regained consciousness since.  They had to put in a central line to administer her medicines, as her veins could no longer handle the IV infusions. She is being fed via a tube through her nose. She is breathing via a tracheotomy (hole in her neck) attached to a machine that forces air into her lungs.  She has a catheter through which she passes urine into a bag and a colostomy bag (another bag for “number 2”)   But she has yet to pass anything into the colostomy bag as her intestines don’t seem to work at all.  She is also attached to monitors which let you see at a glance what her temperature, blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, breathing rate and heartbeat rate are. She is considered “critical” but they are still aggressively treating her.  This morning they were giving her physiotherapy!

My mom-in-law is 84 years old and weighed a mere 37 kg before she went into hospital. She was always petite, but she became underweight in the 20 months since the death of her husband. She now looks like the victim of a concentration camp – literally skin and bones.  When we visit, she sometimes manages to open her eyes, but you can see that she isn’t really focusing. She can’t so much a raise a finger by herself.  She has a fever as she’s battling an infection, and yesterday her kidney function started to deteriorate as well. Her arms are totally black and blue from the numerous blood draws for daily blood tests.

We told the doctor in charge that we don’t want her to suffer like this.  His response was that she wouldn’t remember anything of her time in ICU, so she wasn’t really suffering!

Does that make sense to you? Simply because she won’t remember the pain she was in or what was done to her, it doesn’t mean that she isn’t suffering – at least not as far as I’m concerned!  Still, euthanasia is illegal in this country so we can’t withdraw life support.

This brings me back to my original question.

“How much medical intervention is too much?”  Where do we draw the line?  If a beloved pet is in pain they get “put to sleep.” We can be charged with animal cruelty if we fail to do so!  What about cruelty to the terminally ill?

My husband and I have “living wills” – documents which categorically state that we refuse to be kept alive artificially.  This experience with my mom-in-law has reinforced my opinion that being kept alive (when there is very little to no hope of recovery) is akin to torture – both for the patient and for his or her loved ones!

As long as the heart is beating and the oxygen is circulating we can’t really grieve because she is technically still alive.  On the other hand, lying in a bed hooked up to machines is not really living, is it?  Then again, miracles do happen every now and again.  So we stay on this roller-coaster ride of hope and despair with no clear end in sight.

What is your answer to the question “How much medical intervention is too much?”  How do you feel about euthanasia or “doctor assisted suicide”? 

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Mamma Simona from Cape Town, who shares her home with a husband, a 20 year old son, a 17 year old daughter, 2 cats and 2 dogs.

Mamma Simona (South Africa)

Mamma Simona was born in Rome (Italy) but has lived in Cape Town (South Africa) since she was 8 years old. She studied French at school but says she’s forgotten most of it! She speaks Italian, English and Afrikaans. Even though Italian is the first language she learned, she considers English her "home" language as it's the language she's most comfortable in. She is happily married and the proud mother of 2 terrific teenagers! She also shares her home with 2 cats and 2 dogs ... all rescues. Mamma Simona has worked in such diverse fields as Childcare, Tourism, Library Services, Optometry, Sales and Admin! (With stints of SAHM in-between). She’s really looking forward to the day she can give up her current Admin job and devote herself entirely to blogging and (eventually) being a full-time grandmother!

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