Does Being Famous Make Dying with Dignity Harder? Here Is Arial Sharon’s Case!

By Donald A. Collins | 1 January 2014
Church and State

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

Readers of my December 13, 2013 op ed on dying with dignity might recall my point that Nelson Mandela was quite possibly kept alive for months with special equipment rather than allowing him to die without undue resuscitation. Whether he would have chosen this exit we likely will never know, but it would appear that his iconic status may well have made the more humane choice complicated.

Being famous may in fact be a real hindrance in making a humane exit.

One finds it hard to imagine that anyone with a choice (after a totally debilitating stroke or the deep onset of Alzheimer one can lose that option) opting to endure the course which was reported in the AP on January 2nd, “Former Israeli PM Sharon in critical condition”.

We are told that since his stoke in January of 2006 the now 85 year old “Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma for eight years”.

He is described as “in critical condition on Thursday, clinging to life after a decline in the functioning of various bodily organs, his doctors said.”

Whoa! What kind of life is that?

Well, apparently no MD there wanted (or was allowed by his family) to pull the plug. One attending physician “Dr. Zeev Rotstein, director of Tel Hashomer hospital, said Sharon’s condition had deteriorated over the past two days and that a number of vital organs, including his kidneys, were suffering from “critical malfunction.”

“He is in critical condition and his life is definitely in danger,” Rotstein told reporters at the hospital, just outside Tel Aviv. “The feeling of the doctors treating him and also that of the family with him is that there is a turn for the worse.” Sharon’s family are at his bedside, Rotstein said.

Jeepers! If my family lets this happen to me, I will return to haunt each of them!

Here was a guy at the peak of his temporal fame and power, as the AP notes,

[O]ne Israel’s most iconic and controversial figures, has been in a coma since suffering a devastating stroke in January 2006. At the time, he was prime minister and at the height of his political power.

Sharon’s career has stretched across Israel’s 65-year history.

As one of Israel’s most famous generals, Sharon was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders. As a politician he became known as “the bulldozer” — a man contemptuous of his critics while also capable of getting things done.

Sharon is credited with helping turn the tide of the 1973 Mideast war when Arab armies launched a surprise attack on Israel on the solemn fasting day of Yom Kippur, causing large Israeli casualties. He led an Israeli force across the Suez Canal, trapping part of the Egyptian army and turning the war in Israel’s favor.

A prominent hard-line voice over the decades, he was elected prime minister in 2001.

In mid-2005, he directed a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, ending a 38-year military control of the territory. It was a shocking turnaround for a man who had been a leading player in building Jewish settlements in captured territories.

He later bolted from his hard-line Likud Party and established the centrist Kadima Party. It seemed he was on his way to an easy re-election when he suffered the stroke in January 2006. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, took over and was elected prime minister a few months later.

Sharon had a first, small stroke in December 2005 and was put on blood thinners before experiencing a severe brain hemorrhage on Jan. 4, 2006.

After spending months in the Jerusalem hospital where he was initially treated, Sharon was transferred to the long-term care facility at Tel Hashomer hospital. He was taken home briefly at one point but was returned several days later to the hospital, where he has been since.

Now the Associated Press story’s punch line: “Although Sharon never regained full consciousness, his family has said he occasionally blinks his eyes and moves his fingers.”

When I read something like this, it makes my blood boil. How could any humane, loving person allow such a monstrous course of treatment be sustained for EIGHT YEARS??

Oh, I forgot to mention having been personally to the tombs of many famous people. In dictatorships such as in the USSR, now Russia, and China, they stuff their heroes bodies. Mao’s head looks like a Maraschino cherry, but he is there in full view for his adoring public to see. At least he isn’t subjected to feeding tubes anymore.

Poor Ariel Sharon has been allowed to lie in a coma for 8 years unable to make that key end of life decision which would have spared him and everyone else the emotional and expensive travesty of futile life extension.

Yes, Virginia, people do die, some well, such as after a massive heart attack or fatal stroke, which puts the over weaning physicians out of the picture.

And to be clear, many people want to extend life regardless of their condition. I personally had endured a death bed watch for my father and my late wife. Both made very clear they did not wish to end it early, so I had no options except to make it as painless and comfortable as possible.

This is what the dying with dignity issue is all about: Choices.

Recently, since the issue came up so clearly as described in my earlier OP Ed, my present wife and I have convened several family meetings on the subject, just to underline our strong feelings about choices. We have prepared the proper end of life documents which make our family responsible to keep those avid physicians at bay if we are not able to speak for ourselves.

Thanks to the pioneering work of organizations such as Compassion and Choices, substantial progress has been made toward insuring personal wishes can be carried out, but much remains to be done. Go to its web site to get the kind of practical information about how you want to end.

Compassion and Choice Founder , Barbara Combs Lee, just send me this January 4th message for the New Year along with a poem which frames the above issue very well. January 4th happens to be my mother’s birthday. Had she lived she would have been 107! She died comfortably without pain with both her children, my sister and me at her side, her last words telling us how much she loved us.

January 4, 2014
Dear Donald,

To express my gratitude for your support — and my best wishes for the New Year ahead — please allow me to share a brief “blessing” I presented at a Compassion & Choices luncheon in October.

Adapted from the Irish poet John O’Donohue, the blessing conveyed my deep admiration and respect for three Oregon doctors whose selfless commitment advanced the cause of end-of-life liberty.

In speaking to the courage of physicians unafraid to honor the most profound wishes of their dying patients, I hope these words also resonate with you. Like all members of the Compassion & Choices community, you, too, are fearless.

With warmest regards,

Barbara Coombs Lee

New Year’s Blessing
Your minds know the world of illness,
The fright that invades a person.
How it can strip a life of its joy,
Dim the light of the heart
Put shock and dread in the eyes.
You see worlds breaking
At the onset of terminal decline.
The elderly, who should be prepared,
But are frightened and unsure.
You understand no one
Can learn before hand
An elegant or easy way to die.
In this fragile frontier place, your kindness
Becomes a light that consoles the brokenhearted,
Awakens within desperate storms
That oasis of serenity, that calls
The spirit to rise from beneath the weight of pain,
To create a new space in the person’s mind
Where they gain distance from their suffering.
May you embrace the beauty in what you do
And how you stand like secret angels
Between the bleak despair of illness
And the unquenchable light of spirit
That can turn the darkest destiny toward dawn.
May you never doubt the gifts you bring;
Rather, learn from these frontiers
Wisdom for your own heart.
May you come to inherit
The blessings of your kindness
And never be without care and love
When winter enters your own lives

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA.

Clip from Documentary “Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die” (2011)

Peter Smedley at Dignitas (Switzerland). from GematoGen.Tomsk on Vimeo.

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