“The Old Lady Who Would Not Die”

By Dave Andrusko

Yesterday, after I thought about this the first time, the second time, and the third time, my plan was to systematically debunk a piece that had run in the British publication, the Mail. But by the time I got to reflection #4, I realized that “How I helped my mum to die” so angered me, it would be better to cool off for a day and come back calmer.

But that didn’t help, especially after I re-read the subhead:“They were never close—But When Jane Agreed to Help Her Ailing Mother Starve Herself to Death. And that shocking Pact Brought Them to Together.” (In England they call this “Voluntary Stopping of Eating and Drinking.”) So, rather than take this apart, line by line let me make two comments.

#1. As we learn at the end, this is an excerpt from “A Bittersweet Season,” a book by Jane Gross. “As the days passed, I watched the hands of the clock from my perch in a corner of my mother’s room,” she writes. “They seemed to have stopped moving. She soon became a curiosity, as staff stood in her doorway to watch the old lady who would not die. I accused staff of sneaking her ice cubes when my back was turned. I was twitching with impatience. I wanted my mother to hurry up and die, and was ashamed to admit it.”

Her mom did die–after 13 days without food and water.

#2. The context. There is as scary a case as you could imagine being weighed right now. Britain has already legalized withdrawal of food, fluids, and treatment from patients diagnosed to be in a “persistent vegetative state’ (PVS), even though it is increasingly obvious that a huge percentage of these are misdiagnoses. The case of “M” would extend that to those in a “minimally conscious state.”

Forget the alleged differences in intellectual capacity, the underlying rationale is EXACTLY the same for both: they “wouldn’t want to live that way”—a.k.a., they can’t do any of things that “make life worth living.”

If you think for 30 seconds that if her family is authorized to starve “M” to death it will stop there, let me politely suggest you have probably not visited the kind of nursing home or a rehabilitation center where the women (they are almost all women) are hard to reach, difficult to feed, impossible to have “social interaction” with. They would be next, as surely as “B” follows “A.”

Ordinarily I provide links to any story I comment on. Not this time. It is ghastly enough that she was a party to her mother’s starving herself to death, but almost worse that Ms. Gross is so self-congratulatory about  abandonment masquerading as a reconciliation.

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