End of Life Issues

Blogger Matt Abbott tries to generate some heat on the hospice movement. Quoting Ron Panzer, of the Hospice Patients Alliance:

Hundreds of thousands of patients are killed in the world each year in this manner …

That’s sure an attention-getter. Mr Panzer describes my understanding of the last stage before a patient dies:

In the ‘active phase of dying’ — the very, very end — a person does not eat or drink naturally, for he or she is truly dying: The individual’s organs and bodily systems are shutting down. At that time, it would be inappropriate to provide food — he or she would choke on it or it would be aspirated into the lungs — and a good amount of fluid would easily go right into the lungs.

I’m more concerned with how he prefaces the remark:

Evil has a way of mixing in truth with untruth, partial truth rather than whole truth, or using something appropriate at one time but misusing it at another time.

Well, it can be Evil. It can also be human nature, and we see it all the time in the blogosphere: people have a belief they wish to be true, and they emphasize aspects of truth that buttress their viewpoint, and ignore aspects that don’t.

Matters medical can also be less obvious without being evil. When the body begins to shut down, is it always an immediate and irrevocable shift: one minute the patient’s digestive system is receiving fluids and nutrients, and the next not? Can we keep in mind that hospice caregivers might also make an error? Ordinarily, error is not sinful.

As usual the Pewsitter headline would be funny if it weren’t so blatantly emotional: Quiet Genocide by Hospice.

Usually, one refers to genocide in terms of a racial, national, or ethnic group of people. Maybe “the dying” qualify. But “genocide” is a hot coal of a word. Toss it along with the mention of Terry Schiavo or the “media lies” into the discussion and an issue some of us might take seriously is suddenly a campfire chant. And a conspiracy theory to shelve next to the grassy knoll or Roswell.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to End of Life Issues

  1. Dolly says:

    A good news show on end of life issues and hospice, here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IQNPILzI-g&feature=player_embedded

  2. Tim says:

    I have worked with hospice patients and their families. I have yet to encounter a family member who was concerned that their dying loved one died of thirst. Hospice patients who are not able to assimilate water by drinking have as an option small sponges on a stick (like a sucker) which can be rubbed on the patient’s lips and inside of the mouth. In the dying process the kidneys naturally shut down and to force fluids into the body would serve no comforting purpose for the individual. After reading Mr. Panzer’s comments in the blog cited above I respectfully disagree with his observations.

  3. crystal says:

    I remember reading an article when Terri Schiavo died about the awfulness of dying of thirst. I can’t understand why a dying patient wouldn’t be given IV fluids.

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