Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Personal Notes

I am back home with the family after two weeks spent with my mother and father while he recovered from several serious complications. I am humbled by how complicated end-of-life issues have gotten in the face of medical costs, advanced methods, a plethora of pharmaceuticals, Medicare, and insurance. It is no easy thing to decide how far one should go in using invasive measures to extend the life of the elderly. "Natural death" has become a mythological standard, and the presence of state funding encourages doctors to try heroic measures that may only cause more suffering in the long run.
I am adamantly pro-life, and have always felt that the least the doctors should do is feed and hydrate the patient to the very end, however artificially. Now I know that it is not so easy. A feeding tube may cause the patient to aspirate and vomit; an i.v. may repeatedly "fail" in fragile blood vessels, emptying its contents in the subcutaneous layer and causing great pain.
Then there is the issue of the role of the state. With the availability of Medicare, private insurance companies often refuse coverage until the state coverage has run out, leaving those (like myself) who have a principled objection to state involvement in a quandary.
There is no doubt that my dad would have expired by now without Medicare-funded intervention this month. It has allowed him another chance to prepare for the hereafter. For that I am grateful.
On the other hand, the same conditions that threatened his life (diabetes and cholesterol blockage in the vessels) remain, and he will still die from complications caused by them. His legs which were on the verge of amputation have been saved by stenting, at least for now. For how long, we don't know. He complained bitterly about his treatment in the hospital and rehab facility, though he got decent, pleasant service and they did save his life. The costs may approach $100,000 by the time all bills arrive. Was it justified?
If Medicare hadn't been available...private insurance would have kicked in. If my parents couldn't afford insurance...my dad would have stayed home, cared for by my sacrificially-loving mother, and suffered greatly in his slow, "natural" death.
We surely need an extra dose of wisdom to know how to apply Biblical principles in this modern age.

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