We live in dangerous times. Dangerous that is if you fall seriously ill and have to go to a hospital in my corner of Quebec. Dangerous because you just might run into a physician who decides that it’s better for you to die than to be treated.
Why would I make such an allegation? Let me explain.
Tonight I am preparing to celebrate a funeral for someone (let's call him 'H' to protect his privacy) who, while suffering from cancer, was admitted to hospital with an unrelated problem, a bladder infection. H's family had him admitted to the hospital earlier in the week under the assumption that the doctors there would treat the infection and then he would be able to return home. To their shock and horror, they discovered that the attending physician had indeed made the decision NOT to treat the infection. When they demanded that he change his course of (in)action, he refused, stating that it would be better if 'H' died of this infection now rather than let cancer take its course and kill him later. Despite their demands and pleadings, the doctor would not budge from his decision. In fact, he deliberately hastened 'H’s end by ordering large amounts of morphine ‘to control pain’ which resulted in him losing consciousness as his lungs filled up with fluid. In less than 24 hrs., 'H' was dead.
Let me tell you a bit about 'H'. He was 63 years old. He leaves behind a wife and two daughters who are both currently working in universities towards their undergraduate degrees. We are not talking here about someone who was advanced in years and rapidly failing due to the exigencies of old age. We are talking about a man who was undergoing ongoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. We are talking about a man who still held on to hope that perhaps he might defy the odds long enough to see his daughters graduate. Evidently and tragically, in the eyes of the physician tasked with providing the care needed to beat back the infection, that hope was not worth pursuing.
Again let me make this point abundantly clear: It was the express desire of both the patient and his spouse that the doctor treat the infection. This wish was ignored by a doctor who believed he alone and not his patient possessed the authority to determine whether or not he deserved to live or die. For the life of me, I cannot comprehend how someone who professes to follow the Hippocratic Oath could presume to take such a life and death decision from the hands a patient… even more so in a case like this where the patient and his spouse both made it clear that they wanted him to live, and where no 'extraordinary means' were demanded or asked for. All that they wanted was the application of sufficient antibiotics to defeat the infection. And their wish was denied, and the patient paid the cost of that decision with his life.
This is happening more and more frequently in this new age of legalized ‘doctor-assisted death’ where the prohibition against taking an innocent life has been abrogated. Doctors such as the one I am talking about in this case apparently assume that they alone possess the right and capacity to determine the timing and manner of a patient's death. In these days of overcrowded and underfunded hospitals, this is happening far more frequently than you might have imagined and this is something that should concern us all.
As a pastor of three parishes with significant senior populations, I have seen this situation play out in more and more cases. It must not be allowed to go unchallenged lest we soon arrive at a place where health care professionals and institutions fully take unto themselves the sole role of being the arbiters of someone's life or death.
We are indeed living in dangerous time, that is until some hospitalization brings us face to face with a physician who chooses to take unto him or herself the right to determine whether our 'quality of life' warrants treatment or death.
Be afraid, people. Be very, very afraid. We are indeed living in very dangerous times.