A hot topic recently in global news is the downward turn in the health of Nelson Mandela at 95 years old. Obviously a great, strong man that when he does pass away will be a loss for the entire world. I thought I would blog about this to discuss not only my internal confliction but to be able to generate a conversation over a difficult subject.
With that loss being tragic, it made me think about some of the statements I was reading and watching in the news. At Mr. Mandela’s advanced age of 95, my initial thoughts were things like hospice care, and dying with respect and dignity. In regards to Mr. Mandela, it seems that he is undergoing extensive and invasive treatments to prolong his life. Incredibly enough, these treatments seemed to be somewhat working. This is wonderful news, especially for his family. However it made me wonder, why are his family and physicians working so hard to prolong the end for an individual that is obviously coming to the end of his life? This made me think of my grandfather who recently passed. As sad as it was, I was comforted that my grandmother made the brave decision to let him die comfortably, in peace, and without the intensive treatments that would allow him to live maybe a month, or two or hell maybe a year uncomfortable and not like the man I remember.
With that being said, I had the pleasure during my MBA program to partake in an ethics and morals class taught by one of the smartest people I have ever met, John Begala. Mr. Begala is the current Executive Director of The Center for Community Solutions and professor at Baldwin Wallace University. Mr. Begala is also hands down the most well-read individuals I have ever heard speak whose knowledge about philosophical people, quotes and anecdotes are second to none. I remember spending a lot of time in his class talking about this subject. We talked, and debated in this class about things like dignity. Common questions arose like:
- Is it more dignified to allow yourself to give up and pass away pain free or go down fighting in pain and try to prolong your life as long as possible?
- Is the decision to pass, yours or your family members?
- Is there an age that dictates this decision?
- Do Children count or are they exempt?
- Does your financial situation or social class dictate these decisions?
Many people are uncomfortable answering or even thinking about how this plays in our society. A lot of these subjects have even been polarized in the political realm, most recently with the Affordable Care Act and how conservatives labeled some of these directives as “death panels”. It is also amazing to me how for instance, in our MBA class, how polarizing this subject was. Our group was basically in the same social class, age demographic, education level and overall a very directed and focused group. But, when it came to this topic, our group was split down the middle as to the beliefs on this subject.
Here are my thoughts, which I hope will spark some conversation and dialogue. I believe that this is the ultimate personal decision, up to a point. I believe that your family/friends have little impact on the decision except to honor your wishes. However, I believe there does come a time that others may need to interject. In my opinion, we all owe one another the right to some sort of basic healthcare rights, even if there is a price everyone to shares. When I say basic rights, I mean that if someone has ripped his arm off, we just don’t let him bleed out on our streets. I do believe we should provide basic family or internal medicine services to the public. I also believe that this (right) is directly tied to your financial situation. As cold as that sounds, healthcare cannot be allowed to be the only thing in life that is not controlled by the all mighty dollar. Let’s face it. In our society, everything we do is based what we can or cannot afford. Can I eat, can I put gas in my car to go to work, can I go on a vacation, etc.? Why is it expected that if I am 70 years old, have little to no funds, I should be able to go in for a heart transplant on our collective funds?
In Mr. Mandela’s case, if providing extraordinary measures is what he wishes for, and if he has the funds to pay for the treatments and , more power to him. If not, is it not our duty to put some logic to these decisions for the greater good?