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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Quality of Life, Quality of Death

by capper

When I read this morning's column by Jim Stingl, it struck a nerve. The column was about Rudolph Rogutich, a 79 year old man that was so overcome by seeing his wife of 55 years, Betty, in pain and dying a slow, horrific death from liver cancer, that he stabbed her three times with a butcher knife, killing her. Mr. Rogutich was charged with her murder and went to court where he pled guilty. The judge, using uncommon compassion and wisdom, sentenced Mr. Rogutich to six years of probation. The column also reports that after Mr. Rogutich stabbed his wife, she told him she loved him. She knew that he did this horrific thing to protect her from more pain. Mr. Rogutich would not have felt compelled to do what he did, if there was a more humane solution available to him and his wife.

It reminded me of watching my mother die of cancer eight ago. I remembered the once vibrant woman racked with pain, crying because it hurt her to just sit up or to take a deep breath. I remembered seeing her, even under heavy sedation from morphine, gasping for each breath. Even more painful, I remembered my grandfather, her father, watching his "baby girl" in such pain, knowing there wasn't a damned thing we could do for her. I remembered going from praying for her survival to praying for her to pass quickly to cursing the heavens for letting her suffering continue.

I also remembered going through similar experiences with the deaths of my grandfather and a dear friend.

I was able to completely relate to what Mr. Rogutich was feeling. The frustration, the helplessness, the impotent rage at the impartiality of fate. Also, the overwhelming desire to see his loved one put at ease. While I cannot condone his methodology, I understand his motivation.

It also made me wonder, in a world in which people are outraged at Michael Vick's cruelty, a world in which people will put their pets to sleep rather than let them suffer, that we don't offer the same consideration to people. Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating wholesale assisted suicide or abortion of a child that would grow up with defects. Those are separate issues. But if a person who is terminally ill, with no hope whatsoever for survival of more than a few days, weeks or months filled with excruciating pain, they should be allowed to choose to die with dignity. We come close with hospice care, but even in these places filled with such compassionate medical personnel, people can suffer beyond the powers of modern medicine.

Some may argue to the sanctity of life, but where is the justification in making someone suffer needlessly? I don't know of one hunter or farmer that would hesitate to shoot an animal to put it out of its misery, but we let these people linger in torment and pain, crying out for death, just to satisfy our own sanctimoniousness.

Everyone expects and works towards having a certain level of quality of life, not only for themselves, but for their loved ones. We should be demanding and working towards the same quality at the end of life. Then people like Mr Rogutich won't have to put themselves in the personal hell of having to take the matter in their own hands. Even though he has the support and love of his children, it will never take away the memories.

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