Monday, January 13, 2014

Dying With Choice and Dignity.

I just finished a really good, if disturbing book called, Knocking On Heaven’s Door, by Katy Butler. It is a memoir describing Butler’s experiences over a period of several years, as her parents aged, became ill and died. The core of the book, however, are the struggles she and her mother went through in their efforts to help her father die with dignity. Butler’s parents were both reasonably healthy and independent as they aged, living in their own, beloved home. Then her father suffered a serious stroke in his late 80’s and the family were talked into inserting a pace maker to assist his heart. They would have no way of knowing how difficult that procedure would make her father’s, and mother’s last years.

As her father slipped into dementia, and increasing ill health, Butler’s mother was forced into greater and more difficult caregiving responsibilities, until her own health was at risk. Neither could find a doctor that would turn off the pacemaker and allow her father to die quietly. After her father’s death naturally, but not peacefully, Butler’s mother insisted on being allowed to choose how she would die; something that occurred a year or so after her husband’s death, but which would be much more natural and peaceful.

The author does an excellent job at conveying the horrors of declining health as well as the incredible stresses of being a caregiver, especially an older caregiver. She did extensive research on the changes in medical technology and ethics over the last 75 years and she does an amazing, and relatively objective, job in presenting the issues to the reader. Although the book was difficult to read due to subject matter, it was very well written and thoughtful; I think it is absolutely necessary for families who will soon be facing these issues to read it.

Reading it made me very glad that I have managed to place dad somewhat under the medical radar. He has a very good physician who visits him regularly in his home, but dad is still so relatively healthy, and well-managed, that he only takes a few vitamins and an anti-depressant. I am trying to help him to age and die in the way I know he would have preferred, under the belief system that he held to so long – Christian Science. To that end, I won’t be allowing any heroic measures at the end, nor will I encourage any medical interventions other than those to keep him comfortable. I worry sometimes about how dad’s end of life will go, and I hope I can make sure that it is peaceful and natural. Reading this book only made me more determined for that to happen.

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