Diane Stranz on American Life

On Euthanasia and Other Complicated Issues

My mother told me yesterday she was going to a Memorial service for an elderly neighbor who had just died:  D. A.   She said the sad thing is that his wife had to approve ‘the plug’ being pulled.  Something didn’t sound right.  “Wait,” I said, “Isn’t this the same neighbor you mentioned last week who has been on oxygen for two years, and his problem is that his airways are so constricted he can barely breathe?”  “Yes:  he was telling me his airway was down to the size of a straw, and that is why his health was failing so rapidly.”  Okay.  But how did he suddenly end up so incapacitated he was on life support such that his wife had to metaphorically ‘pull the plug’?

As I questioned my mother more about the facts (as I am wont to do), I discovered that the reality is that when D.A. ended up in the hospital for the third time in two months, his doctors approached his wife about withholding oxygen (while he was under sedation) since he was clearly dying and was certainly not going to do anything but further deterioriate until the point of death.  I said to Mom, “He wasn’t unconscious and unable to make this decision for himself?”  “No, but he was asleep because they had sedated him.”  OH MY GOD!  That’s not the same thing as ‘pulling the plug’!   Basically the doctors asked his wife to give them permission for them to withhold oxygen and let D.A. die via asphyxiation instead of allowing the sedation to wear off so they could ask him directly.   This is the idea which appalled me:  that they deprived D.A. of the right to participate in the decision when it was his life after all.

It also made me wonder how painful that type of death is . . . and it made me think about the fact that if D.A. and his wife had been at home and he had suddenly said — upon prayer and reflection — “Honey, I’m in a lot of pain and discomfort here, and we both know I am not going to get any better . . . and I’ve made my peace with God and I am ready now to go, and to have YOU let me go . . . could you please disconnect the oxygen tank and let that happen for me?”  the net result could have been a criminal conviction of homicide for his wife.  Yet these doctors are completely immune for a similar conviction because (I assume) they have ensured all appropriate paperwork has been worded so as to cover their asses (sorry to be crude).

Which gets me back to my real point:  I do not condemn fertility treatments across the board (although I have a problem with with most of them, considering that orphanages are full of children who would LOVE a permanent family and home) and I similarly do not condemn abortion or euthanasia across the board even though I believe that 95% of the time abortion and euthanasia are the wrong choice.   A certain level of suffering is redemptive (even during the process of death) and I have read many accounts by women who later in life deeply regret that their youth, fear, rage and/or lack of wisdom and discernment caused them to choose abortion earlier in life.

That said, these are deeply personal matters which should be left in the discerning hands of the individuals involved.  This is especially so since EVERY TIME ‘we the people’ try to get involved en masse as a corporate body (i.e., by making it illegal for individual to exercise free will and free/legal choice) all we seem to do is create even more injustice, suffering and heartache than what already exists on its own.  And surely God doesn’t intend THAT!

Despite my Catholic upbringing — which subjected me to more than one gruesome film about abortion — I became a pro-choice legal advocate in my 20’s for one primary reason:  watching movies like Behind These Walls and learning the history of abortion in America before it became legal convinced me that without doubt human suffering is increased when abortion is banned legally, across the board.  Class distinctions heighten, and injustice based on wealth (or the lack thereof) increases, because the rich ALWAYS have the right to a decently performed abortion by a medically-trained individual, whether abortion is ‘legal’ or not.  And there is MORE loss of human life when abortions are done illegally because not only do the fetuses die but so do many of the women themselves.  The number of women who died as the result of ‘wire hanger’ and other non-medical, secret homemade abortions during the years abortion was banned in America is staggering.  If you care about human life, you must care about the woman’s life as much as the fetus’, amen.  If you do not, then you are just a misogynist (a hater of women).

But!  I also love the movie Vera Drake and have compassion for its (fictional) heroine:  a grandmotherly former midwife who helps desperate women (who are usually single and poor) abort fetuses using an age-old method of douching with lye.  She is loving and compassionate, and she does what she does without pay because she has compassion for women who feel they have no other recourse.  She sincerely believes she is doing a service, and she did not deserve a jail sentence because one (out of hundreds) of the women she helped had complications.

Similarly, check out the true story of Hungarian gynecologist and Holocaust survivor Gisella Perl portrayed in the movie Out of the Ashes starring Christine Lahti.  Dr. Perl was ardently pro-life until she discovered that in Auschwitz, pregnant women would either be summarily executed or subjected to gruesome ‘experiments’ by Dr. Mengele.  So she started performing mercy-abortions.  The fact that she did this came back to haunt her and was held against her when she applied for U.S. citizenship after WWII, since abortion was illegal in America.  Uh!  Talk about none of us having ever had to even REMOTELY walk in that poor doctor’s shoes!

This brings two Gospel passages to mind:  Matthew 9:13 (Jesus said, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice”) and a passage I cannot put my finger on at this moment (but which I know exists) about how neither Jesus nor God Himself are sitting in judgment of us:  if left alone with our own decisions, we will each eventually effectively judge ourselves in all the ways necessary . . . not to mention that the fabric of Created reality is PERMEATED with divine justice, such that consequences and karma and ‘what-goes-around-comes-around’ happen of their own accord in God’s divine time, whether we feel that we can see and perceive that or not.  It is just reality.

Peace, Shalom, and Good night.  Diane Stranz.

Disclaimer:  Post fueled by liberal doses of Fantasia Barrino singing I believe:  

“I believe in the impossible, because I feel it deep within my heart.  See, I strive to be the very best, shine my light for all to see, because anything is possible when you believe!”