Overview -- by Daniel T. Zanoza
Like many others, I believed pro-life issues only concerned the saving of the innocent unborn from abortion. However, my naiveté regarding the sanctity of life topic was clearly evident after I learned about what is taking place in our country involving the care of those approaching life's end.
Now, when I talk about life's end, I'm including the terminally ill, elderly, infirm and those whose circumstances have led them to face death from afar or while approaching the threshold of death's door.
I learned of a series of articles written and edited by Bill Beckman, Executive Director, Illinois Right to Life Committee [http://www.illinoisrighttolife.org/].
In reviewing Beckman's work, I quickly realized Americans were being led down a dark and foreboding path regarding end of life issues. I quickly came to the belief a series on such issues would be one of the most important projects I would ever work on. The information was so critical I felt one day's hesitation could cost someone's life or the life of a cherished loved one. However, all too often, in this electronic world, we are flooded by so much data, it is impossible to process. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to look back at the series and personalize what the previous six articles meant to me.
Perhaps the most stunning revelation was addressed in the first article of the series titled, "The Myth of Living Wills: You Are Actually Signing Your Life Away." I learned it was a priority for my wife and I to never sign a living will. The simple fact of the matter is; signing such a document, which is often made during times of dire circumstances, actually takes away your control over medical decisions made about your life. I learned, if you have a living will, you should tear it up. If others are in possession of copies of that living will, they should be informed those documents are no longer valid and should be destroyed.
Taking such actions may actually save your life or the precious life of a loved one. There are alternative documents which will ensure you have control over the medical procedures that will be taken in life and death situations. One such alternative is the IRLC's Patient Self-Protection Document [available for review at: http://www.illinoisrighttolife.org/pspdoc.htm] which provides a life-affirming Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. You can also obtain a copy by calling the Illinois Right to Life Committee at (312) 422-9300. But the most important thing is to do it. Act now, don't put your fate or the fate of those you love in the hands of others.
Article three in the series dealt with "futile care" a diabolical system by which health care providers determine whether an individual's life is worth saving. I once experienced this in my own life regarding my late Mother. I am quite sure if I would not have let the doctors know I cared deeply about my Mother's life, she could have easily succumbed to futile care over a decade ago. I saw it in the doctor's eyes as he prepared to operate on my Mother and I saw his reaction when I said, "May God guide your hands." Matters have gotten much worse in recent years. Do not take it for granted a medical facility's primary motivation is to save the life of a patient.
In article four Beckman says, "You should be especially concerned if your relative is diagnosed as “brain dead”. “Brain death” is not a definitive means to establish that a person is dead. For this reason, IRLC has already been recommending not to choose organ donation because it could lead to your premature death. IRLC has presented informed concerns from medical doctors about the tentative nature of this diagnosis. For example, see Ethical Dilemmas Defining Death (www.illinoisrighttolife.org/ EthicalDilemmasDefiningDeath.htm) and "Brain Death" is Not Death! (http://www.chninternational.com/brain_death_is_not_death_byrne_paul_md.html).
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the end of life series involved the issue of hospice care. It is clear, in 2006 some hospice care providers see death as a compassionate means of ending suffering. Those choosing hospice should take extraordinary precautions to understand the philosophy of the organization(s) they contact. The failure to do so may end in the most dire circumstances.
In summary, I was disturbed to find life and the continuation of life is no longer a priority for many health care providers when it comes to end of life situations. In the past, the onus was on physicians, nurses and hospitals to support the Hippocratic Oath. Sadly, this is no longer the case in many health care facilities and organizations. Whether this is due to economics or a new philosophical approach to health care, some hospitals have become dangerous places for the seriously ill.
Responsibility now lies with us all regarding the treatment we will receive in life's most trying times. But we still have the ability to take control over our destiny. This cannot be done by a passive approach. We cannot hope for the best any longer. The key to end of life health care is self-responsibility, which includes a pro-active approach to what may be the most important decisions made about our lives.
This column was first posted on RFFM.org in September of 2006.
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