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As Congress considers repealing the Obama administration’s healthcare bill, public discourse has returned to discussions about end-of-life care.
In a Newsweek article, published Sept, 12, 2009, called “The Case for Killing Granny” Editor at Large Evan Thomas shared thoughts about his own mother’s decline, loss of quality of life and finally death from emphysema. But Thomas doesn’t stop there, he makes a case for rationing healthcare for the elderly.
“A significant portion of the savings will have to come from the money we spend on seniors at the end of life because ... that’s where the money is,” writes Thomas.
Thomas’ argument may make dollars and cents when it comes to Medicare $avings, but it is a reminder that those of us who value the sanctity of life must not be silent. Whether one lives or dies is not our decision, and should never be the decision of bureaucrats.
“As President Obama said, most of the uncontrolled growth in federal spending and the deficit comes from Medicare; nothing else comes close,” Thomas continues. “Almost a third of the money spent by Medicare—about $66.8 billion a year—goes to chronically ill patients in the last two years of life.”
Death with dignity for the terminally ill is an emotional and heart-wrenching issue, but the talk of mandatory end-of-life counseling, which some call death panels, is disturbing. In 1999, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was convicted of giving a fatal injection to a 52-year-old man who had Lou Gehrig’s disease, but Kevorkian boasted of assisting more than 130 suicides in the 1990s.
I believe that all life has value and fulfills a purpose whose greatness is beyond our feeble understanding. From gray swirls pictured in an ultrasound film to the lone gray-haired soul who spends day-after-day in a hospital bed, with no one to hold their bony hand or sooth their brow with a moist cloth. Those lives are just as valuable as those of us who are actively contributing to society.
When my Granny Cochran was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, she displayed courage and grace that amazed all of us who knew and loved her.
Sylvia Lee Knight Cochran was a woman of considerable size who loved to tell about her birth in 1908. “I was the size of a dinner knife,” she said with a grin and her brown-black eyes flashing. “Mommy and Poppy kept me in a shoe box,” she would continue. And her ample body draped in a sleeveless moo-moo would jiggle, as she gave a hardy laugh.
After Grandpa died, Granny gave up her home and made several moves, but ended up in a mobile home in my parent’s side yard. There she kept busy ordering from catalogues: Sears, Lane Bryant and Romans, and then—she mailed back whatever it was she ordered. In fact, my Dad said that she had returned so many things to the mail order companies that they were confused—they didn’t know if she was ordering from them, or they were ordering from her.
As years went by, her childlike spirit endured, and sometimes she confused fact and fiction. Perhaps she wasn’t a pillar of wisdom, teaching us about life, but as she approached the end of her life in 1996, she was an astounding example of God’s provision for dying grace.
“Cancer—I’m just et up with it,” she said to her telephone friend as we sat around her cranked up hospital bed. We listened to her conversation, feeling like eavesdroppers on a telephone party-line—we reacted awkwardly, as if she was already dead.
“You need to move that stuff off the extra bed, cause when people come for my funeral, they may need to sleep in there,” Granny said, as if to let us know that she hadn’t departed yet.
We were amazed, that she was dying with much more courage than she had lived.
“You all need my cream pie recipe,” she said continuing her orders. “I found that little Pillsbury cookbook in the trash when I worked at the Dime store. Bring me my old black pocketbook; the deed to the trailer is in there.”
In life, she taught us to clutch onto the childlike wonder that we all start out with. And in death—she showed us that dying with dignity doesn’t mean assisted suicide or euthanasia.
I would hate to think of her last months cut short, and we would have missed all she had to teach us about facing death. Perhaps that time wasn’t for her at all; but for us. So, when I hear all this talk about dying with self-worth, I can’t help but recall her precious final days and I often think: Dr. Death (Kevorkian), you weren’t needed here—cause Granny died with dignity.
Granny Cochran’s Coconut Cream Pie
1 pint milk 2 Tbl. coconut 1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs 3 Tbl. Flour pinch salt
½ C. sugar 1 Tbl. Butter
Make custard of the milk: heated with butter, flour, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla; also a pinch of salt. Cook until this thickens, remove from fire and add the coconut. Have a pie tin lined with a baked pastry, put in the filling, whip egg whites with 2 tablespoons of sugar, spread over top of pie and sprinkle with coconut. Put in oven (350 degrees) until it becomes a light brown.
(Linda Lawrence is the editorial assistant for the Grant County News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)