For part 1 of this post please go here.
I watched as she stabbed a piece of potato with a fork and gently placed it to his lips. “Ready for one more bite?” my mom asks, before sliding the potato inside his mouth.
I looked closely at my dad as he chewed that small piece of food for what seemed like an eternity before finally swallowing. He makes no eye contact with either of us, his gaze fixated on the dinner napkin he repeatedly creases out, folds up and then unfolds before starting the process again.
Is he aware at all of what’s happening? Is it painful having to depend on others for help with the most personal of matters?? Does the indignity of it all cause a piece of him to die every time he thinks about it? Does he even think any more? Where is the value in a life like this?
I ask because earlier that same day I had paid a veterinarian to kill my cat who was sick and in pain. I was too, as the heartache of watching him slowly fade away and dealing with the stress of constant care had taken a toll. My cat was suffering and facing death soon and the rational and responsible choice I’m told, was to hurry the process along. I did and am at peace with it. Mostly.
Why is okay to end my cat’s life prematurely like this but not my dad’s? I’m not staking out a political position here, nor looking for any grand debate, just fleshing out thoughts that have been ping ponging inside my head lately. For the record, I don’t think it would be okay to pay someone to off my dad, but am struggling with why. I love my dad and don’t wish to see him die, yet it’s hard to fathom him wanting to live this way.
He had been going downhill for years, but much more rapidly during this past one. In addition to his cognitive problems, he has severe back pain that keeps him wheelchair bound and has frequent bouts of anger with his caregivers, with my mom, me or anyone else that tries to get him to do something he has it in his mind not to do.
Needless to say none of this is pleasant for anyone involved, especially my mom and I fear the stress will kill her. The situation is stuffed to the gills with misery and suffering yet still, I believe it would be wrong to purposely end his life as would be called for with a beloved pet.
God gave humans dominion over the animals, which means we are their caretakers and are to treat them with dignity and respect. The authority to take the life of an animal is ours, if doing so is merciful and filled with grace. Ending your pet’s suffering humanely when no realistic options exist certainly meets this standard.
People are different. For one thing we don’t have dominion over each other and therefore no one person has the moral authority to take the life of another outside of extreme circumstances. In my dad’s case it would not be him making the decision, but a family member or medical professional who has no idea really what he wants.
There is also the question of value. As I wrote in an earlier post ,
“Life is always precious, no matter the physical or mental condition of the body. Who are we to assign less value to a man because his mind is failing and his legs are weak? To judge the road one is forced to take as not fair and unjust?
A painful and probably undeserved journey yes, but one loaded with blessings if you give up control and acknowledge there is a bigger plan being worked out here, a higher purpose you are assigned a sacred role in.”
We cannot determine the value of another person, that is God’s job and through his eyes we are all of equal worth, no matter how physically and mentally broken down we are. The Imago Dei, or being made in God’s image, gives us an intrinsic human dignity and value that cannot be taken away by illness or injury. While animals can be beautiful, majestic and loving, they do not share this trait with us.
There have also been some strikingly beautiful moments amidst this mess. Watching my mom carefully wipe soup from my dad’s chin, listening to his caretaker patiently work with him as he struggles to get words out, experiencing the kindness of a kitchen worker who sneaks my mom and I meals while we sit with my dad during dinner. It’s good to be reminded that love like that exists in the world and that people really do care. I have to believe this plays a significant role in any bad situation.
The reasons why people get horribly sick and maimed are not for us to know, only that deep beauty and grace can be found among the worst of situations. It’s in these moments that we realize how important our relationships to other people are and how astonishingly stupid most of the stuff we worry about in life is.
Sometimes only the door marked pain and suffering will bring us to that point. Closing it prematurely may not always get us where we think it will.