In a recent speech, with that shocking hint, the senior health minister lectured his nation’s older citizens. He implied that by living longer they’re a financial drain on the economy. Because of Japan’s traditional respect for its elderly, the man’s statement comes as a cruel blow to many of the world’s seniors.
It’s not just happening in Japan. California Governor Jerry Brown just made it legal for doctors to help elderly and terminally ill patients to commit suicide. Four other U.S. states already have that law. A serious concern is that this may happen in hospitals and nursing homes as an excuse to hurry the dying process.
We’re experiencing troubled economies, and medical care beancounters must find ways to cut back on spending. It wouldn’t take much incentive for them to pull the plug on those who can’t defend themselves. It could especially target patients who’ve run out of private money to keep paying the ever-skyrocketing costs of elder care.
My ultimate questions are: if (actually when) I become bedridden and totally helpless, will some doctor and/or bureaucrat arbitrarily decide I’m no longer worth keeping alive? Will this kind of procedure become the norm in healthcare?
However, although the Japanese minister’s statement is offensive, there is logic in his attitude. Some of my own experience can let me get beyond the morality and face reality. I’m not a medical nor geriatric care professional, but was a volunteer with the elderly for two decades.
For years, I spent several hours every Sunday at a nursing home where my aged mother was a patient. During that time I also created a program of weekly lunchtime workday visits to nursing homes. I participated regularly with groups of my company’s volunteer employees. After I retired, I continued to work daily with seniors at a community center.
There were many moments when I saw first-hand the reality of day-to-day services provided for the elderly. When I was present, with few exceptions, they were adequately cared for. However, there was always the depressing atmosphere of the inevitability of death.
Now that I’m in my advanced years, I recommend that every elderly person do what I’ve done to protect my family from unnecessary emotional pain. I signed a legal document, a living will, to cover that inevitable moment.
My wishes require that there be no heroic measures. That means the hospital or nursing home must not attempt to resuscicate nor keep me alive artificially when there’s no hope for reasonable physical and mental recovery. The difference between someone else choosing to pull the plug is that I’ve made the decision myself.
The description of providing for those final moments is expressed as dying with dignity, and for the patient to be as free of suffering as possible. Of course, families with religious and other constraints must deal with the situation based on their beliefs, along with the reality of the deteriorating condition of their dying loved one.