Euthanasia vs. The Power of Prayer

Terminal care is physically demanding and emotionally nerve wracking. Most families have had the experience of dealing with a family member or a relative who was dying of an incurable illness. They see the ill person suffer from pain, pneumonia, urinary tract infection, back pain, bed sores, sleepless nights, shortness of breath, bowel obstruction, stomach tube, constipation, enemas, multiple pills, multiple injections, confusion, delirium, fear, anxiety, depression …the list goes on and on.

My mother’s last few weeks in this world were no different.

She knew she was going to die. In her room, in a Calgary hospice, she wanted the clock on the wall where she could see the time clearly. During the day, she would ask, “How come the time is moving so slowly?” In the silence of the night, I wondered if she could hear the clock tick telling her that although her time was up, she will have to wait for her turn to die.

The place of her death was already decided, it was not going to be her home in Calgary. Her wish to die at home could not be fulfilled because, after four months of gradual deterioration in her health, the nursing care provided by the members of her large family came to an end when they were physically and emotionally exhausted. The family was rescued by the wonderful people at Home Care, Palliative Care, Foothills Hospital and Agape Hospice.

Now, who was going to decide on the timing of her death?

My mother was a deeply religious woman. She believed in the power of prayer and prayed very hard to God to end her life and stop the misery of pain and indignity. She requested all her visitors and family members to pray for her quick end. During her better days she used to ask me to promise her that I, as her physician-son, would not let her suffer if she was terminally ill and in pain. She wanted me to end her life with some medications. I explained to her that such actions were not legal in this country.

When she was diagnosed with terminal gynecologic cancer, she reminded me of our discussion about euthanasia. When she was in the hospice suffering, I felt she was a right candidate for euthanasia. In the last few days of her life she could not find a comfortable position in bed. She could not get out of bed and she had lost control of her bodily functions. She could not breathe comfortably.

The slowly growing pelvic tumor had made her abdomen very large and eaten away all her body fat and had wasted all her muscles. She had quit eating due to constant nausea and abdominal fullness. She was weak and frail. Every movement was painful.

Lately, she was sleeping a lot with the help of morphine. Each day there were few hours of bright moments. She would watch her favourite television shows. She would listen to her favourite religious songs. She enjoyed all the visits and phone calls she received from friends and relatives locally and from all over the world. Her memory never lost her but her hearing gradually got worse and her voice gradually got weaker. The end was near.

Finally, her prayers were answered. Her role as a wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and great great grandmother came to an end at 7.40 p.m. on Saturday April 19, 2008 in the presence of family members. It was end of an era. She was the matriarch of the family. At 87, she was the last surviving member of her and my dad’s siblings.

The power of prayer had won.

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