Showing 1 - 10 of 100 annotations tagged with the keyword "Euthanasia"

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise


This intelligent and compelling book invites us to evaluate the losses pertaining to “modern death” and to consider better ways—whether from the past or in the future—to care for the dying, their families, and all care-givers.   
Some chapters, such as “How Life (and Death) Were Prolonged,” are historical, describing changes in inoculations, living conditions, and medical care that extended the human life span but also changes in dying, now often prolonged by technology. Another chapter, “How We Learned Not to Resuscitate,” relates how CPR, initially lauded and popularized, is now widely understood as futile care, especially in older people. Warraich discusses various attempts to define death (brain-based, heart-based, American Bar Association, Harvard Criteria, Uniform Determination of Death Act, even NASA) and some of the issues that still remain. 

Other chapters are more physiological:  “How Cells Die” explains natural processes of cell death (necrosis, autophagy, and apoptosis). Most non-medical readers haven’t heard of these and perhaps some medical personnel as well. Unaware of them as regular and usual processes, we resolutely expect people to live some four-score and ten, perhaps even more. The next-to-last chapter, “When the Plug is Pulled” discusses “terminal sedation” (a legal dosage that eases pain but is not strictly speaking euthanasia or murder) and statutes that allow for assisted death and removal of life-sustaining machines. The Nancy Cruzan case and others illustrate many difficulties. (Cruzan was in a persistent vegetative state and supported by a feeding tube. A 1990 U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 decision allowed the removal of the tube.) Warraich argues further for “patients’ right to demand and acquire the means to end their suffering with the aid of a physician” (p. 263).              

Lack of resolution of these difficulties leads to problems for families of the dying and all medical personnel attending them, especially in ICU situations. Living wills are often of no help and “the end of life has become a battleground” (p. 211).
He argues that surrogate roles for decisions at the end of a life often do not represent what the patient actually wanted because the surrogate's values may be different from the patient's and family members may not reach agreement on decisions. He concludes, “All in all, overinvolved family and underinvolved doctors unsurprisingly make for a particularly caustic combo” (p.214).                      

In “When Death Transcends” we read that spiritual and religious matters are often ignored in medical settings. Such resources, however, “may be the only means that patients have of finding comfort” (p. 148). Warraich surveys various religions, including his own, Islam. This is one of the longest chapters in the book and carefully considers the wide range of faiths people have and the regrettable lack of training for doctors in this area.

Warraich concludes, “Death needs to be closer to home, preceded by lesser disability and less isolation” (p. 278). For deaths to be “truly modern,” we need to push past taboos and misunderstandings about death. 

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Haneke, Michael

Last Updated: Jul-10-2018
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film


The film enters late into the lives of Anne and Georges, a Parisian couple apparently in their 80s, apparently long married, and apparently retired music teachers. Maybe they still teach music, and maybe they still play, based on the important place a grand piano is given in the grand living room of their apartment. Their daughter, Eva, is a working musician and is married to one as well. When Georges and Anne sit together in the living room, the controls to the stereo system are never more than an arm’s length away. This family is serious about music; they love music. But, their love of music is not the love of the movie title, “Amour.” Amour is the love between Anne and Georges, and the forms this love takes. 

We first see the amour of Georges and Anne in their quotidian activities. They eat breakfast together at the small table in the cramped kitchen. They sit across from one another—or one of them lies down on the adjacent couch—and read to each other from the paper or talk about various subjects, like music. They have been doing this for decades, and probably would for decades more, but that isn’t likely, and we see why soon. 

While having their breakfast one morning, Anne becomes unresponsive to Georges while looking him straight in the eye. She eventually comes to and goes about her business as if nothing happened and doesn’t know what Georges is talking about when he describes the incident. She probably had a transient ischemic attack—a warning that a stroke may be coming—and as a result, had surgery to clear an occlusion from her carotid artery to prevent a stroke from actually occurring. However, something goes wrong in the hospital and Anne suffers a stroke there nevertheless. She returns home with some paralysis on her right side. The form of amour changes. Now the quotidian activities involve Georges administering care to Anne: he sees to her toilet, washes her hair, cuts her food, reads her newspaper articles, and helps her walk from one spot to another in the apartment when he’s not pushing her in a wheelchair. During a moment when Georges and Anne are in their customary chairs in the living room, Georges says to her, “I’m so pleased to have you back.” To which Anne responds, “Please never take me back to the hospital, promise?” 

But when Anne has another stroke, Georges takes her back to the hospital. She returns home having lost most of her ability to move at all, she can only eat or drink with considerable difficulty even with assistance, she can’t communicate verbally to any extent, and she wets herself. Georges adds feeding her and exercising her arms and legs to his established routines of bathing her, reading to her, and telling her stories. Amour has taken the shape of getting her through the days with great effort and later with help from nurses. 

Anne wants no more of her life despite Georges’ efforts and pleas. His daughter argues with him about the care her mother needs. The nurses can’t administer care to Anne in a way he expects. Anne does not want her daughter to see her as she is. She cries out for her own mother. She won’t take water or food. She is in pain. Georges is left with only options that test the extreme boundaries of amour.

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Dying: A Memoir

Taylor, Cory

Last Updated: Aug-21-2017

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir


Australian writer Cory Taylor was diagnosed with untreatable melanoma at the age of 60.  In a few short weeks she wrote this memoir, exploring what she was feeling and what is missing in modern medical care of the dying.  She died at the age of 61, a few months after this book appeared in her native country.  

The book has three parts. Part I, Cold Feet, starts right off discussing a euthanasia drug purchased online from China. Taylor’s melanoma has metastasized to many parts of her body, including her brain. It was first diagnosed in 2005, a malignant mole behind her right knee. In the decade of her cancer, she has tried three drug trials, thought about suicide, and received palliative care. She has harsh words for doctors who don’t mention death, a psychologist who doesn’t help her “Adjustment disorder,” and medicine in general that sees death as a failure.      
Taylor feels anger, sadness, and loneliness. She finds comfort and camaraderie in a group called Exit, where there’s frank discussion about death. She writes, “We’re like the last survivors on a sinking ship, huddled together for warmth” (p. 14). She has neither religious training nor interest in it. She became a writer late in life, and now she sees a clear purpose for her “final book.” She writes, “I am making a shape for my death, so that I, and others can see it clearly. And I am making it bearable for myself” (p. 31).  

Although scared and suffering, she is reluctant to commit suicide because of the impact on her husband, two sons, and friends. Dying, she writes, “is by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and I will be glad when it’s over” (p. 49).

Part II, Dust and Ashes, describes her earlier life with her mother and father. Her parents were unhappy together and eventually divorced. In her life review, Taylor searches for meaning in the influences on her life. Her family moved often in Australia, also to Fiji and Africa. She feels rootless herself, traveling to England and Japan. Both of her parents die with dementia; she was with neither one at their ends.  
Part III, Endings and Beginnings, goes further back to her childhood. She reflects on an idyllic time in Fiji, her discovery of the power of language and writing, and various trials of growing up. She worries that she wasn’t vigilant enough in checking her skin, thereby allowing her disease to become fatal. She feels autonomy in having the Chinese euthanasia drug, but her life is clearly closing in. She says she weighs less than her neighbor’s dog. The last page of the book imagines her death as a cinematic montage, ending with “Fade to black” (p. 141).  

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The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

Mosley, Walter

Last Updated: Mar-07-2016
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


Walter Mosley writes in various genres but is probably best known for his mysteries. His 2010 novel, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, could be considered another one of his mysteries, but the mystery plot takes a secondary role. Featured more prominently is the struggle the main character, Ptolemy Grey, has with dementia.   

The reader first encounters Ptolemy Grey when he is 91 years old and living alone in an apartment he has inhabited in South Central LA for more than 60 years. Both he and the apartment are in appalling shape. The apartment is cluttered, disorganized, and dysfunctional—as is his aging brain. He knows his mind is failing and seems to him as if it “had fallen in on itself like an old barn left unmended and untended through too many seasons.” (p.153)

Throughout the novel, Mosley presents aspects of dementia and some of its oddities. For example, while Ptolemy is riding on a bus through his town, certain sights trigger clear memories from his childhood 80 years before. At the same time he is unsure where he is going or why. Mosley also shows how people can possibly realize they are slipping into dementia, for example, when Ptolemy stops talking to a friend once “he could see in her eyes he wasn’t making sense.” (p. 122)

Ptolemy’s great-grandnephew Reggie provides him with the assistance he needs to barely maintain his lonely existence in squalid conditions. When Reggie dies, a new person comes into his life. Robyn, a 17-year-old orphan living with Ptolemy’s grandniece, begins to straighten out his apartment and then his mind.    

As Robyn gets Ptolemy’s apartment more organized and functional, Ptolemy’s mind starts to get more organized and functional as well, but only a bit more. Unsatisfied with his progress, Robyn takes Ptolemy to a physician who has an experimental drug for dementia. Ptolemy is told that if he takes the drug he will regain his mental acuity but probably not live more than a few weeks, or months, at best. Without hesitation he takes the drug—“I wanna make it so I could think good for just a couple a mont’s, Doc” (p. 126)—and rapidly regains many memories and mental capacities. During the time he has with his newfound mental agility, Ptolemy is able to make good on a commitment from his childhood and to solve the mystery of Reggie’s death. While the experimental drug enables Ptolemy to wrap up his business, it also produces a rather violent end to his life.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise


The author, an experienced surgeon, believes that we will be less frightened by the prospect of death if we understand it as a normal biologic process. He points out that 80 percent of deaths in this country now occur in hospitals and are therefore "sanitized," hidden from view, and from public comprehension. He describes the death process for six major killers: heart disease, stroke, AIDS, cancer, accidents/suicide, and Alzheimer's disease.But the power of the book is in its intensely personal depiction of these events and in the lessons which Nuland draws from his experiences. The message is twofold: very few will "die with dignity" so that (1) it behooves us to lead a productive LIFE of dignity, (2) physicians, patients, and families should behave appropriately to allow nature to take its course instead of treating death as the enemy to be staved off at any cost. Only then will it be possible for us to die in the "best" possible way--in relative comfort, in the company of those we love/who love us.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise


Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal is both ambitious and synthetic, qualities that well suit his difficult subject, death.  In Western culture, there are taboos against death because it fits neither into post-Enlightenment notions of progress and perfection nor into medical notions of control, even domination of human biology. A surgeon and an investigator, Gawande draws on his patients, his family, and travels to various hospitals and other caregiving places in order to confront death and see how approaches such as hospice and palliative care can improve our understanding, acceptance, and preparation for death.

Gawande has harsh words for contemporary medicine, the supposed caregiver for the dying and their families.  Relying heavily on technique and industrial models, it ignores the deep needs of the dying and provides, instead, versions of “warehoused oblivion” (p. 188), for example long, futile stays in ICUs.

As opposed to traditional societies like India, Westerners prize the independence of individuals, a status that is, of course, never permanent. In the chapter “Things Fall Apart,” Gawande describes how longer lives are now the norm but they include chronic illnesses and inevitable decline in vitality.  Our deaths are now routinely in hospitals, not at home, and often extended—sometimes brutally—by technical support and unwillingness of doctors and families to stop aggressive treatment.       
Also, sadly, there are fewer and fewer geriatricians at a time when there are more and more elderly.  A good geriatrician takes a long time with each patient, is not well paid, nor does s/he do income-generating procedures. Worse yet, some training programs are being discontinued.  

Gawande illustrates his ideas with case studies of patients and describes, from time to time in the book, the elderly journeys of his grandmother-in-law and his own father.  These passages make vivid the abstract ideas of the book. But it’s not just elderly patients who face death: health calamities can come to anyone, for example, a 34-year-old pregnant woman found to have a serious cancer. Various treatments are tried without success, but family and doctors act out “a modern tragedy replayed millions of times over” (p. 183) of a medically protracted death. Finally her mother calls a halt to treatment.
Family members often bear a heavy load in caring for a sick elder, but many nursing homes are often worse, designed for control, not support of the patients. 

The chapter “A Better Life” describes the first in a series of places that offer much improved settings for the elderly, with birds, animals, gardens, and, in general, richer lives that have a sense of purpose.  Gawande describes hospice care, palliative care, and advanced directives (including Do Not Resuscitate orders) as improvements needed to break the norms of “treat at all costs.” The old roles of Dr. Knows-Best and Dr. Informative need to give way to physicians and others who talk with patients and families about their values, their wishes for the last days, and their preparations for death. In short, aggressive treatment should no longer be the “default setting” for hospital care.     
The book ends with a dozen moving pages about the death of Gawande’s father. The “hard conversations” have clarified his wishes, and hospice care has provided “good enough” days.  Pain control has done well. Then, finally, “No more breaths came.” The family travels to India to spread his ashes on the Ganges. 

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Hurt Hawks

Jeffers, Robinson

Last Updated: Mar-22-2015
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry


"Hurt Hawks" is a narrative poem about a wounded hawk in free verse of 27 lines divided by the poet into two parts. Part I, which is 17 lines long, describes the setting of the poem in third person. Part II is 10 lines long, written in first person, and comprises the resolution of the carefully constructed tension set up in Part I. Some critics feel that Part II is sufficiently different in style and focus that it was originally an altogether separate poem (see below). Succinct yet lyrical, elegaic yet harsh, Hurt Hawks is, like the hawk that is the center of the poem, fiercely and unrelentingly an advocate of the natural - as opposed to the civilized - world. Hawks held a special place in Jeffers' heart, whether it be this poem or the longer "Cawdor," "Give Your Heart to the Hawks" (the name of a 1933 collection of his poetry), or "Hawk Tower," the edifice that he built for his family in 1920 on Carmel Point in California.

Part I sets the stage for the action in Part II, an Ecce Homo stage where the Homo is an injured hawk living in and around the poet—who makes clear, however, that the hawk is not a prisoner, either in the poet's eyes or its own. The poem opens with:

The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days:

Midway through Part II, Jeffers notes that

We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance.

This poem is arguably not only Jeffers' most famous poem but often the only one still taught, when Jeffers is taught at all, in undergraduate courses. One reason for the inclusion of this poem in the curriculum is the famous first line of Part II, "I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk." Aside from its popularity and this rather striking sentiment, the poem has proved a fertile source of discussion amongst critics for other reasons. First is the striking shift in voice from Part I to Part II, leading some to state that this poem was welded together from two distinct poems. Secondly, the plural "Hawks" in the title is mysterious and unclear since there is only one hawk mentioned in the poem—or is there? One interpretation of the plural is that in fact Jeffers and his family harbored two hawks and only the second was killed. Tim Hunt feels the second injured hawk in the poem refers to the saddened, or emotionally hurt hawk, i.e., the poet of Part II.

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Death of Sarpedon


Last Updated: Apr-20-2014
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Sculpture

Genre: Red-figure vase


This early Greek painting depicts an episode from Homer's Iliad where Sarpedon, a hero of the Trojan War, is killed by the spear of Patroklos, an enemy warrior. Zeus watches as his son "dies raging" (Iliad, transl. Richmond Lattimore, book 16, line 491). Two winged figures who represent Sleep and Death gently lift the still-bleeding Sarpedon off the battlefield. Standing stoically behind Sleep and Death, are Laodamas and Hippolochos, two Trojan warriors who were killed in battle prior to Sarpedon.

Euphronios, one of the first to work in the red-figure method, uses his simple but skillful technique to draw the hero's body at the moment it succumbs to death. Especially vivid are the three open wounds on Sarpedon's body from which blood spills to the ground. Sarpedon's eyes are closed, his limp hands drag along the ground. Zeus, powerless to prevent his son's suffering and death, sends the god Hermes to attend to his son's burial. Hermes, in turn, summons the caretakers Sleep and Death to transport Sarpedon to his grave.

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Five Days at Memorial is the book length expansion  of the New York Times Sunday Magazine article that the author, a Pulitzer Prize-winning physician-journalist, published in 2009. The book, the result of years of research and literally hundreds of interviews, chronicles the five days (August 28 to September 1, 2005) during which the medical staff remaining at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans tried to care for the patients -- over a hundred of them stranded, like the staff, in a hospital without water or electricity --following the flooding wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

After an 8 page prologue, the book is divided into two sections, "Deadly Choices" (228pp, the narrative of those five days) and "Reckoning" (256pp, the legal battles over the injections of midazolam (a sedative) and morphine by some of those staff and prosecuted as homicide -- what others called "euthanasia.") "Deadly Choices" relates almost hourly the five days inside Memorial from the viewpoint of patients, patients' relatives, physicians, nurses, administrators of Memorial, Tenet (the holding company owning and running Memorial) and LifeCare -- the long-term care area within Memorial devoted to the care of terminally ill and debilitated patients -- owned by a separate company. Ethical and legal questions of triage, DNR, record-keeping, accountability, communication (primarily the failure thereof) and leadership are on almost every page. At the heart of this book, however, is the mystery of the unexplained deaths of so many patients during those five days. (On September 11, 2005, a disaster mortuary team recovered 45 bodies from many different places in Memorial, page 234). The crux of the mystery of these deaths is the manner in which nine in particular died in the beleaguered hospital on the fifth and last day when, paradoxically, relief had become real and effective and inclusive, seemingly obviating such injections.

The final pages of "Reckoning" deal with the fallout - historical, ethical, political and medical -- and current events relevant to these five days and the almost two years following. (The final verdict of not guilty -- the actual wording was "Not a true bill" since it was a grand jury declining to indict the one physician, Anna Pou, and the two nurses, Cheri Landry and Lori Budo -- was rendered on July 24, 2007). There are a map of Memorial Hospital and a cast of characters at the front of the book and extensive notes, bibliography and index at the end.

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Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)


This collection of 16 short stories focuses on doctors and patients in San Francisco, where a wide variety of wealth and culture impact the delivery of medical care.  Further, there are many restrictions—financial, bureaucratic, ethical, and legal —that limit what doctors can do, especially in cases of patients near death.

The author, Louise Aronson, is a geriatrician who knows this terrain very well, having trained in San Francisco and worked as a physician there. A skilled writer and close observer, she has created dramatic and often funny stories that reveal social and bioethical complexity. About half the stories describe end-of-life issues for the aged and the dilemmas for their physicians and families.

In ‘The Promise,” Dr. Westphall orders comfort care only for an elderly patient who has suffered a massive stroke, but a hospital gives full treatment because there was no advance directive and the daughter told the attending to do “what he thought best.”

When Dr. Westphall sees this barely functioning patient in a skilled nursing facility seven months later, he tenderly washes her face and hair—although the text teases us that he might have been prepared to kill her.

In “Giving Good Death,” a doctor is in jail charged with murder; he has fulfilled the request of Consuela, a Parkinson’s patient, to help her die. When it appears that she may have died for other reasons, he is released, his life “ruined.” He leaves San Francisco, and, we surmise, medicine. In three other stories, doctors also leave the profession: the cumulative stresses of work and family and/or a sense that it’s not the right path bring them to that choice.

On the other hand, one of the longer pieces “Becoming a Doctor” celebrates the profession, despite all the rigors of training including sexism against women. 

The stories bring multicultural insights; we read of people from China, Cambodia, Latin America, India, Russia, and the Philippines. Some are African-American; some Jewish, some gay. These different backgrounds color notions of health, death, and medical care. There are also pervasive issues of poverty and, at another extreme, professionalism that is hyper-rational and heartless.

Indeed, a recurring theme is care and love for people, no matter their background or current health status. A surgeon realizes (regrettably too late) that the secret of medical care is “caring for the patient—for anyone—just a little. Enough, but not too much” (p. 135). 

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