“I want to die, I want to die,” she repeated over and over as the trauma team stabilized her body. The patient, a female in her late 70s with Parkinson’s disease, presenting with a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head. It was at that moment I saw the complex cruelty of her situation. The despair in which she found herself and in the manner in which she sought to end it is telling of not only the extent of her suffering, but also, what is lacking and in want of reformation.
As a society, the obvious, simple solution came to mind: euthanasia. Physician-assisted suicide provides patients the choice to leave this life in a more compassionate, peaceful setting. However, the obvious, simple solution does not imply that it is not without the complexities that need to be muddled through before it can present in an ethical, medically sound, and socially acceptable algorithm that addresses the moral, psychological, legal, economic, and inevitable false positives.
I thought and felt that euthanasia was the solution to this patient’s unbearable burden of being until I was able to process the patient’s presentation. Death is simple: It is a resolute state in which its being is in relation to what is living.
Life is complicated: It is sensitive to and in relation to the many beings in time and space. Euthanasia is indeed a final, compassionate solution to an unbearable life that seeks death.
However, it is also in life that provides us with the many opportunities and encounters to humbly seek to help carry the load for those whose burden in life is far greater than ours.
As the team was rushed off to the next trauma, a motor vehicle accident, some of us stayed behind, and while we were wiping the caked, matted blood from her rigid face and contorted hands, I thought to myself: Was there anything more that we could have done as a society, as fellow human beings, and as medical providers to have prevented this mother in her late 70s suffering from Parkinson’s disease from picking up a gun and struggling to pull the trigger on a Sunday evening, five days before Christmas?
The patient soon after asked for her son.
Joan Choi is a medical student.
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