July 13, 2008

Bioethics & the Family

Many will remember July 12, 2008 as the day that Tony Snow and Bobby Murcer died. Each of them popular for their careers had also endured long battles with cancer. Most likely, no will remember -- or even know -- that on this same day my dad, Fred Brendemuehl, also died. He was 82.

Every person is created in the image of God and has dignity. As I watch my dad take each breath I was happy that he was alive, knowing that soon his breathing would probably become more labored and living more difficult. It was unclear to me if he knew we were there with him, we tried to let him know. I think I saw him smile once. But during his suffering he never lacked dignity.

I've always known the practical implications of bioethics, I never expected for them to present themselves these last few days. The "palliative care" team at the UW hospital was eager to take things to the next phase. The desire to keep dad comfortable during his last days or hours was overshadowed by those who simply believed in ending the life of the sufferer. On day 2, withdrawal of nutrition and hydration was brought to my family as an immanent option. In all fairness, a feeding tube had not yet been inserted, but the palliative care team made no efforts to educate my family on the rationale for their recommendations. Reflecting back on those moments, I recall these 3 professional women speaking in a soft tone with compassionate words of kindness, discussing the ways they could possibly make dad comfortable should he be in any pain. Moving from his comfort to his death was without segue, and in my opinion, the height of arrogance.

I also know that my dad's advance directive was signed by him on July 8, 2008. This is 4 days before he died and during the time he was having neurological difficulties. I'm not suggesting he never thought about the circumstances of his death before this time, I know he did. But I'm unsure how much he actually understood about "tube feedings" which was indicated on the advance directive as something he did not want if found to be terminally ill.

Overall, I believe my dad was well cared for in the hospital and I think he felt the love of his family around him. But it is even more clear to me that bioethical decision making happens to every day people, it is not just a topic for the halls of academia.

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