Thursday, November 5, 2009

Demographic Euthanasia

Patient "A" was a very active 90-year old male who was experiencing extreme difficulty urinating. A prostate cancer survivor, he prematurely halted his own radiation treatments a year or so earlier because the radiation made him sick. His prognosis was not good. The cancer was back, and it had spread. As is the case with patients construed to be "terminal," the hospital moved him from the Intensive Care Unit [ICU] to the "Transitional Care Unit," or TCU. "Transitional Care Unit" is a benign synonym for "Terminal Care Unit." Every hospital has one. That's where those who are expected, and usually helped, to die are taken to await death out of the public eye. They are allowed to "pass" privately—with "dignity"—out of the view of gawking eyes from passersby visiting their own family members recuperating in ICU.

Other than knowing his cancer was inoperable, and knowing he was very likely going to die within a few weeks or, perhaps, a couple of months, Patient "A" was healthy enough to be released from the hospital. He decided if he was going to die, he was going to die in his own bed. But, that was not to be. When he called and told her he had asked to be released from the hospital, his wife—not the mother of his four children who had died almost seven years earlier—but a late-life partner, told him he should stay there because she couldn't take care of him. The call seemed to take the life out of him. He just gave up. A day later he was on a morphine drip. Two days later he was gone.