"There's more to life than living and more to death than dying.” Those are the intriguing words on the cover of Finding Frances, a 2010 novel by Janice M. Van Dyck.
Frances is a 74-year-old woman who, beset by illness, is ready to die. She doesn’t want further medical care that might save her, so she asks her son to help her bring closure to her life. But permission to die is not easily granted. The doctors want to keep her alive by all means possible.
As is noted early in the book, “medical intervention saves lives, but there is a point when medical intervention stops being a life-saving measure and starts interfering with a natural death” (p. 39). That is the situation Frances faced.
After two interventions, Frances exclaims, “I don’t want any more saving” (p. 60).
A Washington Times review of Finding Frances remarks,
Our current medical system is required to do whatever it can to prolong life. Is there a way for us to improve on that model? Van Dyck brings these questions smoothly to the surface without ever pushing an agenda or setting up arguments. She leaves the reader wishing death could be made easier and glad that the family and hospital finally helped Frances go.
The sticky matter of euthanasia has been discussed/debated for a very long time, but it is even more relevant, and stickier, now than ever before because of the way medical establishment can extend life almost indefinitely.
Even though I have spent much more time and energy thinking about “youth in Asia” than about euthanasia, I have long supported the idea of “passive euthanasia.” That means allowing a person to die with dignity as comfortably as possible without using all means possible to prolong their life.
Back when “Obamacare” was first being debated, critics charged that the ACA was sanctioning “throwing Grandma under the bus.” Well, while they certainly want a gentler way to “check out,” there are many grandmas, such as Frances, who are ready to die and who do not want massive medical intervention to sustain their physical life.
Perhaps the government (whether through Medicare, Obamacare, or whatever) does not have a mandate to provide funding for extending the life of people who no longer have any desirable quality of life left or any hope for things to get better.
For many years now, 25% of the Medicare budget has been spent on the last month of people’s lives. Probably most of these people, and their families, would have been better off had the patients been allowed to die naturally rather than to receive extensive treatment that extended low-quality life for only a few days or weeks.
There are many helpful articles about such issues available here in a 2014 Wall Street Journal webpage.
But is there any possibility of affirming physician-assisted suicide, which would be a form of active euthanasia?
Suicide has sometimes been called “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” But some people have a terminal illness, are in great pain, and have absolutely no hope for the restoration of health or any satisfactory quality of life. Theirs is not just a temporary problem that might be solved.
In spite of widespread opposition, maybe for such people physician-assisted “suicide” should be a viable option. That might well be the most loving, and thus the most ethical, course of action.
Note: Finding Frances and related end-of-life issues will be discussed at this month’s Vital Conversations meeting beginning at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, July 8, at Mid-Continent Public Library in Gladstone, a suburb on the north side of Kansas City. Visitors are always welcome.