Betsy Hart: Admitting we can't control how our lives end

Scripps Howard News Service Published:

I listened with fascination to the news story this week about a nurse at a retirement home in California who called 911 on behalf of a resident who'd collapsed. While waiting for the medics, the nurse refused, even at the behest of the 911 operator, to perform CPR on the dying woman. The elderly lady did, in fact, pass away later.

The retirement home defended the nurse's actions. Administrators argued, according to news reports, that their standard protocol of not administering CPR was correctly followed and that the policy was known to its residents.

A shocking story to others, but it wasn't to me. But now I know this question is faced countless times a day in our culture.

In January, I had an involved open-brain surgery to "clip" a menacing and potentially deadly cerebral aneurysm we'd found, amazingly, before it bled.

There was a chance that I could die or become incapacitated just from the surgery alone. So I revisited my will and documents about end-of-life decisions.

I found that "living wills," a version of which I'd hastily put in place after my divorce years ago (and which, it seems, every medical facility practically demands that you have), now generally shocked me, too. But one can rarely dictate these things. If A happens, do B; if C happens, do E, but do NOT do F. And so on.

Really. Who dies like that?

I opted for a durable medical power of attorney only, in which a trusted person is allowed to make necessary health-care decisions if I can't. I think it's a good thing to express such desires, and I'm sure those who love me will try to meet them as I would theirs. But come on. In the end -- literally -- we can't really control our ending. Knowing that is part of the wonder of life.

Well, I believe the elderly woman in California should have had basic CPR administered. Even when we don't feel like it, I think we have a responsibility to take reasonable measures to try to support life, whether our own or another's.

But the fact remains that I have about as much say over my death as I did my birth. Neither a living will nor a durable medical power of attorney -- nor anything else -- can change that. Ultimately, I need to trust God, and trust others, and decide to rightly cherish life and its unfolding mystery without idolizing it. Sadly, in our culture today, it seems to me such an understanding can be, well, pretty shocking.

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