Last night we watched a new show, Three Rivers. We missed the first five minutes, but apparently it takes place in a major hospital in the transplant department. Within minutes I was hooked.
Mandy Patinkin guest starred on last night’s episode, a performance that should definitely garner him an Emmy. He was awesome. He played the part of a patient who was slowly dying from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and had been involved in a car crash. To summarize, there was some internal damage that meant he would have to live what was left of his life on a ventilator, having the machine breathe for him, essentially losing what little mobility he still had.
I have never knowingly met anyone who had this insidious disease, but Mandy was totally believable in this role. He brought the character to life. His character decided that he did not want to live that way any more. That he wanted his death to mean something. ALS was not going to be the victor here. He decided to donate his organs to those in need. His daughter wanted to block it, he was her father and she didn’t want him to die. But soon his heart was spoken for, then his lungs, his kidneys – many people’s lives would be changed due to his selfless gift.
In a very poignant moment you see the doctor asking the patient to sign the organ transplant release – something that is generally done by the family of the person that has passed and is making a gift of their loved one’s organs.
He was being kept alive artificially by the ventilator. Without the vent he would be dead. He died on his own terms – giving life and quality of life to others. He didn’t let the ALS win. As they wheeled him off to the Operating Room to begin the harvesting of the organs, he seemed so at peace. It was so emotional – his daughter saying goodbye, all the families of the patients that were to receive his organs were lining the halls as he went by. I was sobbing so hard at this point – poor KoD’s shirt got totally tearstained!
But is it morally and ethically right for a dying person to decide when to die? They portrayed a discussion between the doctors and the ethics committee and a vote on whether they were going to allow the patient to terminate his own life on these terms. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of him being able to choose.
On the one hand I am against any type of euthanasia – life and death is all in God’s hands, it’s up to Him to decide. But this man was put on a ventilator, and without it he would have died. How do we know whether it was the right thing to do or not, to put him on a vent? Maybe his time would have been up without the vent and by putting him on the vent they were just prolonging his life unnecessarily. But then again. on the other hand, he was dying, it was just a matter of months if not weeks. He wanted his death, that was going to happen anyway, to mean something. Shouldn’t he have that choice?
What about the surgeon who opened him up to take his heart? Did he actually technically kill him? How can a doctor knowingly partake in a surgery like this knowing his patient was going to die under his knife? Even if the medical ethics committee signed off on it?
While the show moved me more than any show in recent history, it left me very confused about who was right in this.
Please, share your thoughts. I would just like to add that we all know that this is a contentious issue, but please comment politely and do not attack people of differing opinions. If anyone knows the Halacha on this issue, please do not hesitate to share.