In our fast food culture, we expect instant food, instant gratification, instant everything. Nothing can come quickly enough. Sadly, this has influenced the attitude among some families towards their elders when it comes to the issue of dying. In a nation that has done everything to avoid death and stay "forever young" even death must now be quick painless and with as little suffering as possible.
As a geriatrician and internist working mostly in skilled nursing facilities, my daily job places me at the bedside of dying patients on a regular basis. Over the past few years I have been getting more requests by family members to "speed things up a bit." Today a nurse asked me to consider changing a morphine order to a "straight order" rather than "as needed." What that means is that a patient would get morphine around the clock every two hours, whether they needed it or not. In the patient who had not been on morphine or other narcotics before this, that order would cause respiratory supression and death likely in less than 24 hours.
When I asked the nurse why she requested that she said the family had been asking for it. I examined the patient and they were completely pain free in no distress. They were beginning the process of leaving this world for the next. I talked with the family and explained that I would give as much morphine as needed to relieve pain or respiratory distress, but could not give the morphine with the express purpose of hastening death. They were not pleased with my answer but I explained that it was illegal in Pennsylvania to hasten the death of a patient by any means, medical or otherwise. I told them I truly understood the pain of watching their loved one in the last moments of their life but it wasn't up to me to purposefully bring it to a close by a morphine overdose.
God have mercy on our society when nothing is fast enough, including dying. Consider joining the Pious Union of Saint Joseph
to pray daily for the suffering and dying throughout our world, particularly in nursing homes and hospitals. It is free to join, and you just make a daily commitment to pray this prayer to Saint Joseph, patron saint of the dying:
"O St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus Christ and true spouse of the Virgin Mary, pray for us and for the suffering and dying of today."