Out of Loving Respect

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Last Tuesday, October 27, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Joint Committee on Public Health held a hearing on H1991, Compassionate Care for the Terminally Ill Act, a Death with Dignity bill proposed by Representative Louis Kafka and co-sponsored by 39 legislators. Supporters of the end-of-life option gave heartfelt testimonies based on their personal or professional experience. Our supporter Teresa Nagle was in the latter group. Here’s a transcript of her testimony, which she sent us after the hearing.

Testimony in support of H1991

To the Members of the Committee,

I am here today because of my experiences years ago working as a personal care aide for a local hospice. I am here out of loving respect for the people I once bathed and dressed. I am also here for myself and those like minded who wish to have a choice in how it is we spend our last days if we are terminally ill.

I witnessed incredible suffering: the suffering endured by patients and by families witnessing the agonizing end of those they love. Time and time again patients would say to me, “I just want to die, will someone please help me to die?” I will share one example. I used to bathe a woman whose complications due to diabetes had taken her legs below the knees. Her legs never healed and the wounds remained wide open. Her pain was excruciating. By the time I had come to her with the hospice program she had been bedridden for years. Quality of lifeā€”none. The days when she could come out of that morphine induced fog were rare, but when she did it was always to beg to die. I spent eight weeks watching this slow and excruciating death. Her family was devastated.

The dosage of morphine and medications given to terminal hospice patients is almost always gradually increased. It is called palliative care to help relieve and prevent the suffering of patients. I witnessed over and over again physicians increasing and nurses administering larger and larger amounts of morphine to relieve the excruciating pain that comes at one’s end with cancer and other diseases. Basically the morphine in such large amounts will end a person’s life. I have witnessed this method. It is the status quo.

I am here today to tell you that I do not want my suffering prolonged. Had this woman been legally able to ask her doctor for the meds needed to hasten her end she would have done so. I know that if her doctor would have been able to legally assist her he would have. These laws must change for compassionate reasons.

I am here today to tell you I want to have a choice about how it is I spend my last days if I am suffering with unbearable pain and the loss of my dignity, the inability to clean myself up after my diarrhea has once again soiled my bedding, the inability to eat solid foods or take fluids without gagging, my skin breaking down due to the inability to reposition myself, tubes and machinery doing the work my body used to do. I am here today to tell you that I do not want my loved ones to go through the heartache and helplessness that comes with watching an extended period of dying. I am here out of loving respect for all those who I once bathed who wanted but were denied this choice.

Image by Tony Fischer.

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