My dog Tucker was a long-haired dachshund who although a bit rough around the edges, and sometimes a biter, was my best buddy. As many dachshunds do, he had some back issues and by the time he was five years old, climbing and jumping became a problem. He would whimper and sometimes cry out, which prompted me to buy pet stairs for him, but they didn’t really solve the issue. I lifted him onto the bed or the couch, trying to make it easier for him, but if I wasn't there to help him, he would jump on or off by himself, causing him increased pain. His pain and suffering continued despite my efforts, and after many conversations with the vet, we decided that his quality of life was not comforting for him, and I agreed to let him go. This was one of the hardest decisions of my life.
After he died, I walked outside and sat on a bench in front of their office, and I cried. The veterinarian came and sat next to me. He said, “you did a very unselfish thing by ending his suffering. As much as he would have loved to have more time with you, and you with him, he was in pain, he was suffering, and this would have only worsened over time. You ended his suffering and that was the kindest thing you could have ever done for him.”
This comforted me.
This happened before I became a hospice nurse, and before I had any experience working in end-of-life care, where I have witnessed pain and suffering more often than anyone ever should. Sometimes we can reduce the pain, sometimes we can reduce the suffering, but when we cannot, I feel helpless, and it breaks my heart. No one should ever have to suffer like that.
The End of Life Option Act, Medical Aid in Dying, and Death with Dignity are some of the names that are given to the legal option for someone who is dying, to be able to end their life with dignity, as opposed to living whatever time they are gifted with increased pain and suffering.
We treat our animals more humanely than our humans.
When our animals are suffering, we are comforted in knowing that we can end that for them, that our last and best gift to them is honoring their life by allowing them a compassionate, peaceful, and gentle death. I feel very strongly, that the people we love deserve this too.
When someone is dying, we are made very aware of the fragility of time. We realize perhaps that we wasted the time we had together, we cannot except that our time is being cut short, and we want more time with them. And when someone else is dying, we tend to see only our reaction to their dying, our loss, and how we might feel about their death, and their dying. That is what usually motivates our behavior, so our response to doctors and nurses will always be, “what else can you do?”
I know this firsthand, I wanted more time, I wished there was more they could do.
When someone we love is dying, the kindest and most compassionate thing we can do, is to ask them what they need. And while it will be very difficult to hear, if exercising their legal right to choose to take medications to end their life sooner is something they wish for, we must find a way to say, “I support you.” Please know that this in no way means they are giving up. It means they are making a choice to die, on their terms, without furthering their pain or suffering. This allows them to have autonomy and choice, which was taken from them the day of their diagnosis.
When we say, “I support you,” it translates to I love you, I am here for you, you are not alone… they already know this is hard for you, they already know you want more time… they want the same thing. You might not agree with their choice, you might not understand it, and it may not be something you would ever do... but for them, it means peace, and it is the the light they so desperately wish to see. What they need most of all is for the people they love to see their bravery and strength, knowing how hard it was to make that choice, and to understand why they did... and just love them.
For those of you who do not support this, please know that I understand and respect how you feel, but I ask that in return you do the same for me, as well as those who make this decision.