Euthanasia has always been around, yet, not surprisingly, it is not a popular topic of discussion, quite the contrary. Every so often something happens which reminds us of its presence, and significance, in our life. Lately it was personal accounts of several terminally ill Israelis who chose to end their lives in a Swiss clinic.
It seems that nowadays beautiful Switzerland is more than a tourist attraction for healthy (and quite comfortable) Israeli tourists: It has become a final destination for unhealthy (and quite comfortable) Israelis in search of a dignified death. In both cases the visit to Switzerland is a choice reserved only for those with money.
This morning on the radio (Reshet Bet Ha’Miznon, the canteen) Haim Zisovitch discussed mercy killing. In Israel mercy killing, and doctor-assisted suicide are illegal. Thus, for those terminally ill patients who could not afford the trip to Switzerland, the options in Israel are limited.
Luckily for dying patients, even here there are merciful ways to interpret the law. I personally know of several examples including that of my own mother.
When I was in kindergarten my mother, who was a nurse, took care of a dying cancer patient who was also a medical doctor. Then suddenly that patient died. As a child I didn’t think much about it, but years later, my mother gave me the details. She said that one of her patient’s friends, another doctor, helped her to end her suffering. My mother added, with admiration, that this was how doctors “took care״ of their own, that it was a professional courtesy, of a kind, for a dying colleague.
At that point I understood exactly what she meant and promised myself that, if needed, I would do the same for her. It was only natural that I remembered my promise when my mother was hospitalized with strong abdominal pain and was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My brother and I met her doctor and I asked him directly about the hospital’s policy regarding euthanasia. When I saw my brother’s reaction to my question I realized that our mother never mentioned that wish to him. But the doctor was not surprised, he said that they kept terminally ill patients comfortable and promised that they would do their best for my mother.
The next day I took my mother for an additional exam in another part of the hospital. On the way there we passed a beautiful garden “Look mommy” I said, “This is such a beautiful spot.” My mother, who used to love the outdoors seemed detached and said nothing. I realized that she was getting ready to leave. And when, a little later, she asked me to take home some of her things, because she “won’t be needing them anymore.” I didn’t protest, and understood it as her way to signal to me that it was time to leave, I accepted her decision. My mother died that night. For weeks, even months, I was relieved, even glad, that her suffering ended.
Next week we will mark the 20th anniversary of our mother’s death. Whenever I think about the last days of her life I also remember the compassionate and dignified way she was treated in a crowded Israeli hospital, and I am grateful for the gentle help she got in order to exit this world.