Waiting to Die

There is an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Dr. Meredith Grey has a patient have a close call with death. Yet when she delivers the happy news that her patient has survived to the family, she is met with groans and disappointment. When I first watched this episode, I remember being appalled. How could beating death not bring about anything but celebration?

But after re-watching that episode, I realized that the family had every right to be disappointed. The woman had been fighting an illness and had previously had many ‘close calls’ with death, which left her exhausted and drained. She wanted to die and her family wanted to let her go, but medicine kept bringing her back. My question changed when re-watching this episode, and I wondered: when does our fear of dying become less of a fear and more of something to look forward to? And is having nine lives worse than having just one?

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Looking forward to death is not just a plot twist in a TV show or something new for patients being sustained solely by medical advancements. Traumatizing injuries such as paralysis from the neck down or illnesses that deteriorate a person’s body such as ALS have lead to excruciating mental and physical pain for many patients. Yet medical advancements have allowed for patients conditions such as these to live on, with severe side effects such as suffering and keeping the person ‘trapped’ inside of their failing body.  This balance between medical advancements and patient comfort has initiated a discussion on assisted suicide, bringing up the debate of if patients have the right to die.

The argument for allowing a patient to die, or giving their physician the right to assist them if they are physically unable to, is one that focuses on giving patients the right to die with dignity. Being brought back to life multiple times by having ‘nine lives’, having drug after drug pumped into your system or feeling your  body deteriorate while still mentally cognizant of it is a terrible fate. These treatments can turn the will to live into a preference to die, showing that saving body at all costs does not solve everything. It is necessary to let patients have the option to die because it gives them the option of quality of live over quantity of life.

Although some argue that letting a patient die by their own choice, or assisting in their suicide, is against the Hippocratic Oath of “do no harm”, I believe it is the opposite. Allowing or helping a patient die when there is no hope of getting better is a way of reducing pain and suffering.  Once a patient has been labeled as having no hope for recovery or given a warning that they will die in however many months, I believe that the patient should have every right to organize their death on their own timetable.

2 responses to “Waiting to Die

  1. Hi Chelsea! Thanks for sharing about the episode from Grey’s Anatomy. You say “It is necessary to let patients have the option to die because it gives them the option of quality of live over quantity of life,” but there are some important questions we need to ask when making such statements. Just to play devil’s advocate for a bit: What characteristics does a “quality” life have? How do we determine the appropriate “quantity” of life before extending the option of intentional death? Who gets to make these decisions? How would we address the issue of slippery slope? If assisted suicide were allowed, then would people suffering from mental illnesses be given the same option to die as people suffering from physical illnesses? You mentioned that “allowing or helping a patient die when there is no hope of getting better is a way of reducing pain and suffering,” but if we have the means to continue treating patients, such as in the Grey’s Anatomy episode, then isn’t there still “hope” left? I understand, of course, assisted suicide is a controversial topic and cannot be entirely unpacked in a class blogpost. I very much look forward studying the topic and hearing our classmates’ opinions later in the semester!

  2. Jessie Angel Brightman

    I am in full agreement with Chelsea’s sentiments. I believe that medical professions have taken the Hippocratic Oath,”to do no harm,” too literally. That, combined with our fear of death, has led us to elongate the inevitable at all costs. I believe that when the quality of life, whether in a human or animal, becomes unbearable, it is our right to decide when and where to terminate it.
    We readily accept “putting down” animals to prevent further suffering, so why would we not grant that same right to human beings? I believe that in the western world, we have ignored the reality of death, and consequently have become afraid of this unknown realm. If we accepted the reality of birth, aging, suffering and death as truth, we would be more inclined to let people pass on when their physical forms have deteriorated to a point of no return.
    Instead, the medical professions have become incredibly adept at creating cures to lengthen our lives, at all costs, and at great expense, and sometimes against the patients’ best interests or families’ wishes. We have lost sight of the most important factor of all, and that it is the quality of one’s life. Extending a person’s suffering just because it is physically possible to do so should ultimately be the choice of the patient in question, or their loved ones.

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