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End of Life - A Loving Gift


Published: 04/29/2013

by Jim Campbell

Hospital corridors and seating areas are often where tough questions are asked. A member of your

family, a loved one, is hooked up to beeping pumps, and monitors with their ever-changing graphs and
numbers, their body pierced with an array of tubes from IV bags dangling on poles, all designed to

sustain the person’s vital signs. The attending physician explains her patient is no longer responding

to treatment, and is getting weaker and weaker.


“It is only a matter of time before the person’s life ends.” Then comes the moment no one wants to be in.

The doctor says, “As you can see, the machines and the drips are all that’s keeping him
alive. It is time to decide when it is appropriate to disconnect everything.”

 Who, me? You want me to decide? Am I to be responsible for his death? Or, as some crudely put it,

“You want me to pull the plug?”  “How come it’s my responsibility? What if there is a ‘miracle’? Miracles happen, don’t they?”


Past generations of family members did not have to face such a decision; we didn’t possess the devices

and techniques that are available today. The end-of-life process could not be put on ‘hold’.


Modern equipment and practices provide physicians with the tools and techniques to give the body

support as it kick-starts its healing resources. The various types of equipment can be lifesavers,

sources of ‘miracles’.


Miracles do occur, like when a young child’s body is given the opportunity to gather its resources and

take charge, or when someone, following an operation or an accident, needs support to deal
with the trauma as their body marshals its healing forces. So, miracles often happen.


Miracles are less common when physicians are dealing with older patients, when the natural aging process

has diminished the body’s ability to handle infection, sickness and injury. Thus, when a major
trauma event takes place, the path to assist the body to take control is steep and precarious.


So, the boost the equipment provides allows the body’s natural healing processes to do their work, but,

as we get older, sadly, our ability to take charge diminishes. The treatment is given as an interim or a temporary procedure. The medical staff, early on, can see if the body’s healing resources are able to take hold. If the application of these complex support systems is not making a difference, it becomes a problem. It seems logical that unsuccessful treatments should not be continued; particularly when all the attached tubes, needles, monitors, drains and IVs are often stressful and uncomfortable for so many patients – so stressful that many who are hooked-up struggle to remove the tubes and devices and, unhappily, end up with their arms tied down.

So questions about disconnecting the apparatus present us with an opportunity to perform an act of compassion, to make a decision to let the normal and natural processes at the end of life take place. It’s also a decision that enables the physicians to use their skills to ease any distress the person may have. It is an opportunity to give your loved one a last, wonderful gift.  


Jim Campbell is an Oakville-based author and writer.  

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