My brother’s father-in-law died last week at age 93. Hector had always said he didn’t want life support at the end, but he went to the hospital several weeks ago for heart problems. He rallied and was sent home with an oxygen tank. A few days later he was returned to the hospital. This time he was released to a care center—with a catheter. Every few days he was back in the hospital. A respirator was added to his support system to ease his breathing. Finally a feeding tube was added. The cost of prolonging Hector’s life for a few more weeks of misery was probably hundreds of thousands of dollars. I don’t know whether he or the family made the decision for each phase of life support added. Life is precious and these are tough decisions to make for self or family.
Historian, Barbara Tuchman, died at age 77. She refused extended treatment for her terminal cancer saying, “A lady knows when to leave the party.”
My 79-year-old Aunt Hero refused to eat or drink after surgery for a broken hip and died within a week. She knew years of steroid treatment for her asthma had left her bones so brittle that the rest of her life would be spent in a wheelchair or hospital for repeated breaks.
It’s easy to say, “No life support” for ourselves or loved ones while we’re healthy. The tough decisions come when essential body parts prove they have an expiration date. And who wants to leave a party that’s still going strong for everybody else?