Chapter XXVII: Death in the Gray Zone

By Fenigsen, Richard; Fenigsen, Ryszard | Issues in Law & Medicine, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Chapter XXVII: Death in the Gray Zone

Fenigsen, Richard, Fenigsen, Ryszard, Issues in Law & Medicine

The Death of Gene McC. (461) Shalom Newman was on the phone.

Shalom: I can hardly believe what Halina told me about Gene's last days. Do you think it can be true?

Richard: I see no good reason to doubt the story. Unfortunately, nowadays those things are being done.

S: But if this is true, it was murder!

R: You can call it so, but it would be difficult to prove. The doctors and the nursing home personnel say they had to stop the feeding and the fluids because it was no more benefit to the patient and his body no longer accepted it.

S: This is a lie! The feeding ran smoothly, Gene was in good mood, making plans for the summer vacation- and then the feeding bag and the stomach tube were removed. On the next day Halina found him dull and mumbling, a few hours later she could no longer awaken him. He was comatose for another two days, and then he died.

R: Yes, after the removal of the tube he was heavily sedated, and they will say that since fluids had been stopped they had to sedate the patient to prevent suffering due to dehydration. Of course, you know Halina was remonstrating, begging, and shouting, but all that was no avail. She had no standing, being just a friend, while Gene's children repeatedly called from Florida insisting that their father "be allowed to die." They had demanded that again and again: five years ago, when he had his first surgery for bursting aorta, and when the aneurysm recurred. When another recurrence of aneurysm compressed Gene's esophagus, the children tried to prevent the insertion of stomach tube.

S: A remarkable man he was! He used to joke about his tube, said his usual portion of white wine should be added to the meals.

R: Oh, he was a great guy. Quietly proud of his war-time colonel's rank, on first name terms with all Boston's politicians, his shirts always impeccably white, his belt buckle a work of art, his car perhaps a little battered but always a Cadillac; and while keeping up all those appearances he remained such a simple and friendly man, and so patient and brave while facing his illness. I shall miss him badly.

S: But say, why did the children wish his death? He had adopted this boy and this girl, raised them, supported them all his life. Inheritance? Gene hardly left anything worth while.

R: I think they wanted to get rid of the psychological burden, the sick father lingering somewhere in a Boston nursing home. And, above all, power! Power! There is no greater sense of power than that derived from putting a human being to death. They now know how to express such wish in socially acceptable terms, they speak in modern lingo.

S: You know, Richard, I am all for the right of a competent person, acting under no constraint, to choose the time of his own death and to be assisted in committing suicide. But that was not what happened to Gene. He did not want to die, he was murdered!

R: What you support is an ideal concept. What happened to Gene is the reality. (462)

What is happening to elderly persons in hospitals and nursing homes has alarmed public opinion in several countries. In hundreds of cases there have been clear indications that medical personnel acted to cause or at least hasten old people's deaths.

In Britain, the deaths of fifty elderly hospital patients were being investigated by police and health officials in January, 1999, "amid allegations of a creeping tide of backdoor euthanasia." (463) At least five hospitals were at the center of police inquiries as a result of relatives' complaints or nurses' whistle blowing. The number of deaths under inquiry soon increased to sixty. (464) The published reports and case histories illustrate the various ways the deaths of older people were induced by the staff. The nurses at Kingsway Hospital in Derby claimed that forty people with dementia were starved and dehydrated until they became so weak that they died from infections. …

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