Thursday, 19 November 2009

A life worth living?

Twenty-two years ago this week our dog, Fudge, was put down.

Something had been wrong for a couple of weeks and she was taken to the vet on Tuesday morning. I came home from school to find that she had cancer in her stomach and was put down.

Three days later we were told that my mother had weeks, perhaps only days, to live. She died the following morning.

I often wonder about this peculiar week. Fudge was 11 years old, not a bad age for a dog, and clearly she would have been in ridiculous pain and discomfort if we had not had her put down. It would be mean and unfair to let her live in that condition.

So, is it more fair to keep a human alive? We all think so. After all, we are all human (well, most of us!) But is it right to keep someone alive who is in pain and discomfort, who genuinely has a short life-expectancy anyway?

Of course, there are many examples of people who have far outlived their prognosis (Jane Tomlinson would be a fine example) and I am delighted for them and their families. There are probably stories of dogs who have done a similar thing, fighting back from what would seem an impossible situation.

Every so often my husband, in his work as a paediatrician, tells me of children he is caring for that he is sure will die. They have such awful, horrific diseases that he can see no way that they will survive to have a 'normal' life or to contribute to society in any way. Of course, the hippocratic oath demands that the best is done for these children but sometimes - just sometimes - I wonder if 'the best' is actually to let them die in peace and dignity, rather than after weeks, months or even years of invasive treatments.

I was touched last week by the compassion shown by the parents of baby RB. This child had a dreadful condition meaning that he could not live except with artificial breathing. The parents had been to court, but ended up settling amicably on switching the life-support machine off. Last Friday that was done.

What an awful choice for a parent, whilst presumably right for the child.

Could I have done it? Wouldn't I have fought for my child's life, for as long as possible? Wouldn't I demand the best healthcare (to hell with the cost!) because it is my child, my love, my future?

There is no easy answer. But the juxtaposition of the cancerous deaths of my mother and our beloved family dog does make me question the virtues of prolonging life at any cost.


The Dotterel said...

There is a lot to be said for quality over quantity. Of course, it's an impossible thing to judge unless you're in the thick of it. People want to prolong the lives of their loved-ones for as long as possible, perhaps in the faint hope of a miracle cure, perhaps because they simply cannot bear to part. Like you, I find it next to impossible to think clearly about.

Mark said...

It is a difficult area, but one that we shouldn't shirk. One of the best writers on this is Jonathan Glover - his book Causing Death and Saving Lives is a classic of modern ethics. He also wrote an excellent book called choosing children

All very readable.

cheshire wife said...

I agree with the Dotterel. It is the quality of life that is important, rather than the quantity, but I would hate to have to decide.

Really Rachel said...

What a big, difficult decision. I cannot even begin to imagine how to make such a choice. I like the 'quality not quantity' viewpoint though. Great post.

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