Friday, July 23, 2010

They Died As They Lived: In Love and In Control

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a very moving story about an elderly doctor and his wife that chose to end their lives the same way they had lived them: In love with each other and in control.

An excerpt:

The two-page handwritten letter is dated July 16, and it is signed by both Gute and his wife, Katherine, whom he calls "Kitty." Kitty Gute had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease more than a year before.

The note describes Kitty Gute's failing health, daily indignities and chronic pain. It touches on their determination not to allow the vibrant life they had shared come to an end in a nursing home, where they feared their deaths would be no better than dragged out and wrested from their control.

"I am hoping that sometime this weekend I will have the guts to act to deliver us both from a more dismal situation," he writes.

"I have been thinking about this for a long time. It will not be easy. However, as time goes by it will not get any better."

One of their three daughters, Mary Witte, found Daniel and Kitty Gute's bodies Sunday.

The two were inclined toward each other in the front seat of Kitty Gute's car, which was parked in the garage of their River Hills home. They had asphyxiated themselves with helium, an inert gas they pumped into plastic bags that covered their heads.

Some of the early comments on that story call the couple psychotic and cowardly. Maybe they were. But I don't think so. I think that they were in full control of their faculties, and they had mutually seen the future, and realized that this is not how they wanted to end their lives. Instead, they did it of their own choosing in time, place and method, and tried to maintain as much dignity as they could.

It also reminded me of another story the paper ran a few years ago. In that sad tale, a 79 year old man stabbed his wife of 55 years to death, as opposed to seeing her go through another day of pain from her liver cancer.

I wrote about that then, still new to the blogosphere, and posting at folkbum's. Going back over it, I realized that I still feel the same as I did then:
I was able to completely relate to what Mr. Rogutich was feeling. The frustration, the helplessness, the impotent rage at the impartiality of fate. Also, the overwhelming desire to see his loved one put at ease. While I cannot condone his methodology, I understand his motivation.

It also made me wonder, in a world in which people are outraged at Michael Vick's cruelty, a world in which people will put their pets to sleep rather than let them suffer, that we don't offer the same consideration to people. Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating wholesale assisted suicide or abortion of a child that would grow up with defects. Those are separate issues. But if a person who is terminally ill, with no hope whatsoever for survival of more than a few days, weeks or months filled with excruciating pain, they should be allowed to choose to die with dignity. We come close with hospice care, but even in these places filled with such compassionate medical personnel, people can suffer beyond the powers of modern medicine.

Some may argue to the sanctity of life, but where is the justification in making someone suffer needlessly? I don't know of one hunter or farmer that would hesitate to shoot an animal to put it out of its misery, but we let these people linger in torment and pain, crying out for death, just to satisfy our own sanctimoniousness.

Everyone expects and works towards having a certain level of quality of life, not only for themselves, but for their loved ones. We should be demanding and working towards the same quality at the end of life. Then people like Mr Rogutich won't have to put themselves in the personal hell of having to take the matter in their own hands. Even though he has the support and love of his children, it will never take away the memories.
May these people rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. There is a difference between biographical life and biological life, and if the person's biographical life is over, it should be up to them when/how to end the biological life.