With Washington about to vote on I-1000, and the legalization of euthanasia/assisted suicide under serious discussion in Canada, Australia, and soon in California, Arizona, Vermont, Wisconsin, and elsewhere, an article by Rene Leiva, a Canadian palliative care physician, is worth pondering. He points out that untreated pain isn’t the biggest issue in helping people who are dying live their lives to the fullest–remember dying isn’t dead, it is living–but existential agony. And there is an answer. From his column:
The most challenging clinical cases usually are the ones where patients are suffering from existential distress, or in other words, loss of purpose in life in the face of suffering. I would also name it “depression of the soul.” Fortunately, there are ways to approach these problems
Dr. Leiva believes the great psychiatrist Victor Frankle had the answer–love:
I heard of a South American young man dying of AIDS and complicated with a rare type of cancer. His daily request was to be euthanized. His treating physician asked one of the hospital volunteers to offer to visit him. The doctor noted his request stopped, and one week later, the doctor asked the man why he was not interested in euthanasia anymore. His response was: “I do not want to die; now, I have a friend.”
In the face of unavoidable suffering, this man chose to find meaning in encountering someone. It is a personal choice, one which a physician does make for the patient.At the end, as Viktor Frankl says: “love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.”
Love, leads to compassion–the root meaning of which is to suffer with. Compassion leads to true empathy and inclusion. Alas, love is precisely the element that I believe is missing in the “choice” and “quality of life ethic” cuture into which we are sailing.