A great article in the NY Times: Hard Choice for a Comfortable Death: Drug-Induced Sleep. If you have hung out much in nursing homes with relatives or friends waiting to die, you want to read this long and informitive piece. It talks about something we use to do all the time when I was a hospital chaplain at Letterman Army Medical Center on the Presidio when it was a full scale teaching hospital. Hospice does relatively the same, which I think is great. They simply increase the morphine and the terminally ill, who at this stage are not with us, other than still breathing, slip into the terminal sleep. According to the article, it is called terminal sedation, a treatment that is already widely used and as the article says, “vexes family and a profession whose paramount rule is to do no harm.”
What is different about this article is that for the first time, at least as I’ve seen, the medical community admits that they do this and even talk about cases and drugs they use. The two most popular drugs are ativan and roxanol.
As I read on, I almost fell over as this is the sort of thing that we need to think about, especially those of us who can see the end. We all die and so to figure out how to do it as easy as possible is no small thing.
We simply don’t do a good job of helping people die. There comes a time when someone is not going to get better, they are not going to recover so why not make the end the very best we possibly can. This is the basis of the article.
What is fascinating to me is how reticent people, even professionals, are to talk about the end of life. Why? is always an issue as we all die.
Seeing folks at the end is so sad, most in 90s and beyond. You would think that these “front burner types” who’ve lived long and rich lives would simply be “ready” to hit the trail so to speak. Not so as the denial of the process is a big factor. A doctor friend of mine told me about his mother, 92, well educated, had lived a beautiful life according to him. He was convinced that when it came “time” she would opt for the, “no extraordinary means.” Shaking his head still in disbelief, he allowed exactly the opposite, “do everything you can,” she said. “I want nothing spared to keep me alive.”
Presently, my wife and I are doing all we can to prepare a loved one to die because it is what she wants. Her once vibrant life has been reduced to being almost helpless with wearing diapers which, for her, is the height of indignities. If anything happens, “no extraordinary means to keep her alive,” are her wishes. God bless her and more power to her. I’m going to sign off with a HooAhhhh for her Mom who use to love this when I did it for her at the chapel. HooAhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh