Most of us are aware of the horror of abortion, of parents paying a doctor to kill their child, even if it goes by a sugar-coated name such as “choice” or “planned parenthood.” Too few are aware that at the other end of life, children, in an ironic turnabout, can pay a doctor to legally kill their own parents; the sugar-coated names for this are “hospice” or “palliative care.”
I learned this from the case of my own mother, who recently fell victim to “palliative care” and was killed at the hands of doctors and nurses, on the orders of one of her own children. She had imprudently chosen the wrong child to be her “health care proxy,” who then immediately had her physician sign a bland, one-sentence statement that she was legally incompetent. It is true that my mother was somewhat confused, particularly about time, but she recognized and cared about people, ran her own life, and knew what she wanted. Although she should not have made a major financial decision at that point, she certainly knew whether she wanted to live or die.
Unfortunately, a few months later she fell and fractured her pelvis, requiring a move to a nursing home while the bone healed. The nurses attending her were charmed by her kindness and her stories, and said that with physical therapy she should soon be able to walk again. However, her proxy decided instead that it was time for her to die. My mother was removed from medical care, and placed in hospice, or palliative care. As much as I and my mother fought for medical care, there was nothing we could do. No medical aid, including nutritional supplements or physical therapy, were to be provided – just morphine, ostensibly to relieve pain, but as later made clear, actually to hasten death.
The doctor ordered large doses of morphine at six-hour intervals, whether my mother was in pain or not. Morphine is known to depress appetite; it is used, illegally, by runway models to lose weight. When she weighed little more than 70 pounds and was losing about a pound a day, I asked that she be given a nutritional supplement, such as “Ensure.” I was told it was forbidden, under doctor’s orders. When I asked that the morphine be given only when in pain, I was told it had to be given by the clock. When I confronted the director of nursing, saying “You are allowed to give morphine to relieve pain, but not to hasten death” her reply was, point blank, “Not true – it depends on the quality of life.” When I asked what the terminal condition was that justified her being put in hospice, the answer was “she is 96 years old and has a broken pelvis.” A broken bone is not a terminal condition. What they were saying is it was time for her to die.
Although her weight dropped to about 60 pounds, she ended up dying not of starvation, but of thirst. When she became too weak to lift a glass to her lips, the nurses were forbidden to syringe any water into her mouth – under doctor’s orders, at the behest of the proxy. My mother’s will to live kept her alive far longer than the “authorities” wished, but she eventually died after an excruciating last few weeks.
The irony is that as a young Jewish woman in Germany in the 1930s, she was slated to be exterminated at Auschwitz, but miraculously escaped from the train en route. Ironically, 75 years later she died a 60-pound skeleton, looking for all the world like an Auschwitz victim, killed not by that Holocaust but by our own Holocaust, that of our “culture of Death.”
ROY SCHOEMAN is a Jewish entrant into the Catholic Church, best known for his writing and speaking on the Jewish roots of the Church, particularly in his bestseller, Salvation Is from the Jews. He has taught theology at Ave Maria University and Holy Apostles Seminary, and currently hosts a weekly radio show on Radio Maria.