In Honor of an American Veteran
Hoping for Light Beyond the Horizon
This story begins with a young man embarking on a career path of travel and adventure by joining the American Navy. The young man's travels led him to find true love with the girl of his dreams and together they started a happy and healthy family. The family was well provided for and life was wonderful. This could have been a tale of the iconic American dream, but the good fortune with which this American veteran's life was initially blessed was to be overturned in turmoil. Ultimately, he lost everything and passed away under tragic circumstances which might have been different if regulations for the final care of the terminally ill had been less riddled with politics.
This was a case of do not resuscitate (DNR) in a hospital environment which emotionally charged this author to try raising awareness of the need for change in such cases. Despite the tragedy, this story is also a tribute to personal triumph. By the end of his life this remarkable man had become a better person from facing his ordeal head on. The inner strength of character and noble selflessness he developed was very befitting of an American veteran, and that inspired this author to carry a symbolic torch in his honor. In telling the life story and tragic passing of a beloved family man and American veteran, this author hopes to relate to the reader on a personal level a very real situation anyone could face. Hopefully, this story will touch some readers and get them thinking. With sufficient view numbers, perhaps the story might even contribute in some way towards the evolution of a more informed perspective in handling terminally ill cases in the future.
The story uses pseudonyms and some details have been modified or presented in a generic context out of respect for the family's confidentiality. Otherwise, aside from a touch of dramatic liberty, this is a real life account. The story and follow up debate, are hereby dedicated to the late "Oliver".
Oliver's First and Only True Love
Oliver experienced a fairly typical youth growing up in the American South until he reached early manhood and decided to join the Navy. At that point in his life, Oliver was a single young man in his prime who was ready to face the adventure of exploring the world. For the next ten years he did see the world and would be stationed in several exotic Asian countries where he immersed himself in learning about and enjoying local lifestyles. A young American man in uniform with a steady paycheck tended to make quite a favorable impression on the local ladies. So, young men being what they are, Oliver became quite the charmer with the ladies wherever he was stationed. In his younger days, Oliver's womanizing prowess would likely have been the envy of many a young man indeed. Then one day he met the kind of girl for whom even someone as partial to casual courtships as he would become dumbstruck with genuine feelings of affection.
Mei Ling was every man's image of purity in body and soul. Just by gazing upon her lovely expression one could easily see Mei Ling was a cherished pearl of the Orient. She had a very warm and naturally pleasant disposition. Her hair was long and healthy and it flowed like silk with a dark black sheen. She was demure in her gestures which was her way of showing respect to others. However, Mei Ling also carried herself with the pride and grace of an eligible young lady who expected the same respect from her gentleman callers she showed them. Mei Ling was the type of lady for whom Oliver was more than willing to become the best man he could be to try and win her over.
Oliver was transfixed. He knew in his heart he must make himself worthy of this mesmerizing young Asian princess, so on his best behavior he pursued Mei Ling for many weeks. Being aware of Oliver's womanizing ways, Mei Ling politely kept her pursuer at arms length, but over time she began to notice a change in him. Though Oliver had been kept at a distance for weeks, his focus on the girl of his dreams had sparked him in earnest to change his former ways. Mei Ling sensed this change was sincere and their romance began to evolve from there. Oliver was so smitten, he married Mei Ling and had his first born son Raphael with her within eighteen months of their courtship. Three years later they had a baby girl Daphne, who was every bit the joyful personality of her mother. The young Asian American family was very content with their lives, as yet unaware that circumstances would begin to change for them.
Oliver had been out of contact with his family in America for many years. There had been pressing family matters which Oliver needed to be a part of. His long absences abroad with little or no word caused the relationship with his family in America to become estranged. This had not been Oliver's intention, but even when he returned home to try and reconcile, things were never the same again. By this time, Oliver's young Asian American family had taken up residence in America. The estrangement with Oliver's family never improved and to complicate matters, Oliver's Navy career required him to return many months at a time to the Asian base near where he met Mei Ling. As fate would have it, while overseas, the long absences from wife and kids caused Oliver to fall from grace and resort back to his former womanizing ways. One of the woman Oliver had been with was an acquaintance of Mei Ling's family. With great sadness Mei Ling's family contacted her about Oliver's indiscretions.
Mei Ling's pure heart was never able to reconcile the betrayal and Oliver paid dearly for his transgressions by losing her loving devotion to him for good. Meanwhile their children were now sufficiently mature to understand the situation. They convinced their mother to remain with Oliver until they were grown up enough to be independent. Mei Ling was a very nurturing mother, so she did not hesitate to keep the family together. Though they would continue living together as a family under one roof, she insisted Oliver accept they would no longer live as husband and wife. They were not divorced, but from then on they would live together as a separated couple. Despite Oliver's other short comings, he was a devoted father and loved Mei Ling as much as he always had. He accepted her terms, including the deep sorrow those terms imposed upon him.
Oliver honored their agreement for many years. He loved and respected Mei Ling, hoping his commitment to her would eventually result in them making amends. He even resigned from the Navy to spend more time with his family and show them what a wonderful father and husband he could be. The couple never did reconcile though, and tensions between them only worsened. After leaving the Navy, Oliver's employment prospects were not very promising. He wound up drifting from one job to another with many periods of unemployment and hard times in between. The resulting stress manifested itself in Oliver developing an increasingly abusive attitude towards Mei Ling and the children. That neither ingratiated him with his family, nor with potential employers. Mei Ling picked up some of the slack by working, usually part time, whenever she could but this was few and far between so their struggle continued.
The Wheels of Fate Turn to Changing Times.
Oliver's stressful situation became a contributing factor to his now deteriorating health. Over the following years his weight fluctuated between 200 and 400 pounds and he developed diabetes. He also suffered several heart attacks and stokes. These were minor enough to recover from initially, but over time their intensity increased. Fortunately, Oliver still had veteran health benefits which helped see the family through some of the hardest times they had ever known. Mei Ling stood by the father of her children but her hope for the future had become severely tarnished. This was not the dream of coming to America she had envisioned. The joyous light that once typified her disposition was growing ever dimmer as time went by. Unbeknownst to her at that time, fate had already set events into motion which were to turn her life around once more.
One such event took place late one night at a hotel valet and taxi area. A man named Gabriel steps into the back of a taxi after an evening on the town and asks to be driven home. Being partial to the occasional evening of social drinking, the man had taken cabs home from that same location before and had gotten accustomed to talking to the cab drivers there. Not with this cab driver. He had a green cap pulled down low over his forehead which hid his eyes and was clearly in no mood to be social, so Gabriel passed the time by leafing through a pamphlet a prior passenger had left behind which promoted a local tavern. When the cab arrived at the destination, Gabriel thanked the driver in a polite but impersonal tone, then paid the fare plus a modest tip and stuck the pamphlet into his jacket pocket as he stepped out. While this encounter seemed rather ordinary at the time, little did the cab driver and his passenger know that in due time they would get to know each other very well.
After quite some time had passed, Gabriel rediscovered the pamphlet in his jacket pocket and made a point of visiting the tavern the next time he was to have himself a night on the town. He was completely unprepared for what happened when he met Mei Ling working there part time. The casual pleasantries they exchanged initially when Gabriel ordered his first drink seemed to hover timelessly in the moment. There was a dreamy energy in the air between them from the start, and both clearly sensed this when their eyes met. Gabriel had been smitten the very moment he met Mei Ling, just as Oliver had been. Mei Ling was working, but Gabriel had plenty of opportunity to continue getting to know Mei Ling by staying and ordering a few more drinks. Mei Ling had not gone out with another man since Oliver whom she was still living with for years by then on a separated basis. Though uncomfortable about the idea, Mei Ling accepted Gabriel's offer to go out. A budding romance was to develop over the next several weeks.
When Oliver learned of the romance, his reaction was refreshingly reasonable. His children were in their late teens by then, and he had come to terms with his wrong doings toward Mei Ling, so he wished only the best for her. However, he was going to make certain Gabriel was deserving of Mei Ling's affection. Oliver decided his children, Raphael and Daphne, would go to a show and dinner with Mei Ling and Gabriel so they could report back to him what sort of man their mother was seeing. The children gave Gabriel a thumbs up, so Oliver accepted their evaluation and on a following occasion he would join the kids and Mei Ling to meet with Gabriel. Initially, neither was overly eager to befriend the other, but they had a sense of respect for each other and over time they would become close friends.
As Oliver's health continued worsening, he became less and less able to provide for his family. The reality of his situation prompted him to take stock of what his priorities were in life. The welfare of Mei Ling and his children were at the very top of that list. Though it tortured his soul, Oliver divorced Mei Ling so Gabriel could marry her and gave them both his blessing. Gabriel had a good job and money in the bank, so he bought a nice house in which he lived with Mei Ling and her kids. Oliver was a regular visitor, and was always a guest at Thanksgiving and Christmas. He and Gabriel realized they both had a penchant for philosophical speculation so they often exchanged lengthy opinions on a variety of lofty topics. Oliver had mellowed considerably due to his failing health. Despite the averse affect on his physical well-being, socially he had become a better person for it.
The Darkest Hour
In many ways Gabriel had learned from Oliver who was now very frank about how wrong he had been to risk losing Mei Ling's precious love over senseless infidelities. He was also very repentant about how he had let his frustrations in life affect his attitude towards the people most dear to him. Gabriel realized Oliver had done some deep inner soul searching to face his demons down. By and large Oliver had successfully become the type of man who sincerely put the interests of his loved ones above all else. This was truly apparent when Daphne, every bit the same loving spirit as her mother, offered Oliver one of her kidneys after the doctors advised he would have to go on dialysis. Oliver wouldn't hear of possibly putting his daughter, or anyone else, at risk to save himself.
Though Gabriel never said the words, Oliver had become his best friend over the years. And so it was with a very heavy heart that he and Mei Ling received word from the veterans administration about Oliver being in the emergency room in a coma. This was not an ordinary coma. Oliver was in possession of some of his thought processes as he could often blink to answer yes or no to a question. This was inconsistent sometimes, yet spot on at other times. Other than blinking to communicate, he was completely paralyzed and kept alive on a respirator. Mei Ling, Gabriel and kids were by Oliver's bedside every day encouraging him to recover. At times there were slight movements and cause for hope, but after more than a week of watching him suffer on a respirator the inevitable question arose whether to proceed with Oliver's declaration of "do not resuscitate"? His loved ones knew he would not want to live this way, and when asked to confirm his "do not resuscitate" wish, there was a clear blink replying "yes". This was asked again to be absolutely certain with the same confirmation.
And so Oliver's life would soon come to an end at his own request by taking him off of the respirator and letting nature take it's course. Much as Gabriel winced at the idea of witnessing his best friend's passing, he knew Oliver would have stood by him if the situation was reversed. He was not going to put Mei Ling or her children through that, so he volunteered to stay with Oliver. Gabriel offered comforting reassurances with his voice and held on to Oliver's arm throughout his final moments. Though Gabriel readily honored his moral duty to help his friend through this, it was nevertheless one of the most depressing experiences he had ever lived through. This was to affect Gabriel profoundly from then on.
When it was over, Gabriel left with a cold, hollow feeling inside as he pondered the many lively discussions and experiences he had shared with his just deceased friend. Still deeply absorbed in thought, Gabriel arrived home to Mei Ling who had begun to organize some of Oliver's personal effects into boxes. On top of one particular box filled with clothes was a green cap Gabriel thought looked eerily familiar, so he asked Mei Ling about it. She explained years ago Oliver drove a cab for a while and always wore that cap to work. He would pull the cap down low over his eyes to minimize personal contact with passengers. Gabriel flashed back to having encountered an anti-social cab driver with a green cap over his eyes years before. He asked if Oliver's route had included the hotel from which Gabriel had often taken cabs home at night in the past, to which she replied "yes". At that, Gabriel was as aghast as he was excited by the irony of it all. It had been Oliver driving the cab that night, the same cab in which Gabriel found the pamphlet advertising the tavern where Mei Ling worked. Somehow that event from long ago was the catalyst which redirected the course of their lives up until that very moment. That cap represented the start and end of a chain of events in which Oliver played a pivotal role in bringing Gabriel and Mei Ling together. What a wonderful parting gift Oliver had blessed them both with. Rest in peace dear Oliver.
The Reality of Do Not Resuscitate.
The hospital staff came in to administer an intravenous medication intended to ease Oliver's passing and proceeded to take him off of the respirator. Gabriel hung on to Oliver's arm throughout the procedure while periodically reassuring him with "I'm still here Oliver... you are not alone" and "Your family loves you... I'll always look after them". And though Gabriel tried his best to maintain his outward composure so his best friend could rely on him for moral support during his final moments, inside he was anything but composed.
While Gabriel is the first to recognize he is not a member of the medical profession, nonetheless in his eyes what he witnessed was nothing like the dignified and peaceful death he had thought "do not resuscitate" should be. This story is not intended to cast blame on the hospital and\or staff whom for all intents and purposes appeared to be doing their job to the best of their ability. Nor is this story intended to go into the morbid details of Oliver's disturbing and undignified passing. Rather, this story hopes to raise awareness of the politics involved in these situations which should not be robbing individuals of their right to a comfortable, peaceful, and blissful death in DNR and similar cases.
Gabriel had expected the medication administered to Oliver prior to removal from life support to have the affect of almost putting him at eternal peace without technically doing so (for legal reasons). Ideally, that would have made removing the respirator no more than a final nudge into eternal peace. That is not what happened. Oliver's final moments were an arduous and ugly struggle. It did not take a doctor to determine that no one would want to die like that if a better alternative had been available. Oliver had family who loved him, and he was a veteran who served his country proudly. He deserved the right to pass away calmly. Gabriel kept the details to himself when he returned to Mei Ling. He saw no point in upsetting her or the children. As a gesture of respect for Oliver's dignity, to this day Gabriel has not described the event in other than general terms. Gabriel fully believes Oliver would support him in going forward with getting the word out about the need for a better way to handle these cases.
The Legal Status of Death with Dignity, Assisted Suicide, and Euthanasia.
Initially, this author considered championing the cause of Dr. Jack Kevorkian who strongly advocated in favor of terminal patients' rights to voluntarily end their lives when suffering, and helped many a terminal patient do so. However, further research suggested certain aspects of Kevorkian's actions were morally questionable even to some who might otherwise have been liberal supporters. Respect is due Kevorkian for the drive, energy, and public awareness he brought to bear on this controversial subject, but this author will remain neutral about Kevorkian himself. Interested readers are encouraged to view the 2010 movie "You don't know Jack" in which actor Al Pacino portrays Kevorkian, or search the web on "Kevorkian" to learn more.
Among the more prominent subject areas for which related laws exist are those generally referred to as death with dignity, assisted suicide, and euthanasia:
Death with dignity allows terminally ill patients to obtain a doctor’s prescription to obtain drugs for ending their own lives, providing they are legally competent and able to administer the drugs personally. In the USA, there is a Death with Dignity National Center which strives to promote this movement beyond the few states where it is currently legal. Unfortunately, as these laws exist now, they are not an option for terminal patients with medical conditions which physically disable them from administering drugs themselves.
Assisted suicide refers to the same idea as above whereby a patient may end their own life if their health is deteriorating from an incurable terminal malady. The term “assisted suicide” stirs up much controversy among “death with dignity” supporters in that it suggests the person wants to end their life because they do not value it. That might be the case if the person were suicidal from chronic depression and otherwise healthy, but such cases are not terminal and have real hope for a cure so they do not qualify for assisted suicide. By contrast, terminal patients often value their lives and want to keep living as much as healthy and happy people. However, if one’s life is plagued with pain, disability, and indignity with no hope of alleviating that plight, then death with dignity becomes a choice for the lesser of two evils.
Euthanasia makes a significant distinction between being either “active” or “passive”. Active euthanasia is the direct assistance by a third party (typically a licensed medical professional) in carrying out the procedure to end the life of a terminal patient at their request. Passive euthanasia has the same objective but results from inaction rather than the more objectionable direct action. For example, do not resuscitate is passive euthanasia whereby medical care is either discontinued or not administered at the terminal patient’s own request with the intended result of allowing them to die.
Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS). While researching this subject, this author often encountered the terms "euthanasia", "assisted suicide", and "physician assisted suicide" used synonymously. Politics tend to escalate around the semantics of this issue, particularly around the term “active euthanasia”. In the letter of the law, the act of one person knowingly ending the life of another person is technically a crime. However, death with dignity advocates contend there are cases in which taking this technicality too literally may result in a grievous injustice. They would argue the moral spirit of laws embodying the edict “thou shalt not kill” is not violated when ending irreversible agony at a terminal patient’s own desperate request. Furthermore, a case could even be made for it being a crime to deny mercy by adhering too strictly to the letter of the law in cases where the spirit of the law should recognize grounds for exemption. Indeed, if a mentally competent terminal patient requests their own tortured existence be put to an end, then is it not a serious injustice to deny them relief from dying in agony based on the shortcomings of legal technicalities?
Existing laws in the USA and abroad are more tolerant of passive euthanasia than active euthanasia because the intentional act of one person ending another person’s life does not apply. In the USA, the states of Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington also have laws permitting the more controversial assisted suicide, but draw the line at active euthanasia which remains illegal in all states. In countries, such as The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland there appears to be less focus on how semantics affects the legal technicalities surrounding active euthanasia, and more concern with establishing reasonable grounds by which doctors may be exempted from prosecution. Though technically the crime of “homicide” still applies, doctors are not prosecuted if they comply with specific legal exemptions from the letter of the law.
Perhaps states\countries which have yet to address the legal ambiguities in this area, could take an example from some of those mentioned above. No one wants to overturn “thou shalt not kill”. Rather, the death with dignity movement is about recognizing circumstances for which the letter of the law is in dire need of practical guidelines for exemption. There will always be situations entailing judgment calls worthy of rigorous debate. And that is how it should be if hope for recovery exists. But there is no hope in "do not resuscitate" cases, especially when life support is removed. There is only certainty that the person will die in a very disturbing and undignified manner. In those cases, a qualified doctor can materially improve a terminal person's last moments to be as comfortable as possible. Doing so also makes it a lot easier for friends and family to stand by and bid farewell without having to witness what could otherwise be that patient's shockingly traumatic demise. To the average pragmatist with a solid moral conscience, the above would probably be held as an a priori truth on logical, as well as ethical grounds. And yet, active assistance is not practiced in DNR cases.
This author believes that doctors should not have to fear prosecution if they err on the side of mercy when administering potentially fatal pain relief (or other) medication prior to removing a terminal patient from life support. It may not be medically possible to gauge the precise dose which would be just a shade enough below the lethal amount to not put a doctor at risk of criminal or malpractice charges. A reasonable exemption clause would eliminate whatever hesitancy a doctor might have in ensuring a terminal patient’s passing is as comfortable as possible. One doesn’t need to be a lawyer, judge, or doctor to see that in these instances the right thing to do is err on the side of mercy. If the law cuts doctors some slack when they are on the edge of life or death decisions, then they will have less legal reservations about doing the right thing in DNR and life support removal situations.
With the goal of public awareness in mind this article is dedicated to Oliver in the hope that his passing may have significance to others who may face this traumatic situation in the future. If nothing else, at least charitable contributions in Oliver’s honor to a Squidoo veterans charity will be made from any American Patriot products which are bought via this lens. Readers are invited to research this subject further (links below added for convenience), to express their opinions, and to take part in the pro or con opinion poll provided.
Weblinks to Alternative Information
If you are interest in learning more about this topic, the following links should be of use to you to get started. Please also contribute to the pro or con opinion poll. If enough people submit their votes and a quick note about what they think, then perhaps this article might make a difference in the future. Thank you
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Because Oliver was a veteran, donations in his honor are automatically made to Squidoo's veterans charity by anyone who purchases American Patriot products via this article.
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Medical Relief from Suffering for Terminal Patients (MRSTP) - Invitation to Pro or Con MRSTP Opinion Poll
There are specific circumstances in which MRSTP trumps any logical, moral, or ethical argument to the contrary. For example, in cases such do not resuscitate (DNR) where patients are taken off of life support, there is no hope for life and no doubt the patient will die in a disturbing and undignified way, quite possibly for an unnecessarily prolonged period. Readers are invited to take a stance and express their views pro or con below.
Please bear in mind when expressing views that in no way is the intent of this article to advocate contempt for existing laws, religious beliefs, etc. Rather, this article attempts to address grounds for re-evaluation of existing standards under appropriate democratic protocols. Factors to consider in such a process should of course include rigid controls, including: thorough medical evaluation\confirmation, mental competency of the terminal patient, and\or agreement of family in cases where the patient becomes legally incompetent but may not have prepared a legal document of their intentions in advance. In summary, the pro MRSTP case is made on the grounds of basic human rights, including the individual's right to make such a choice unencumbered after exhausting all other options. Furthermore, this article contends that freedom of choice in these instances is consistent with the values of liberty and justice for all which American veterans serve their country to defend every day.
This author hesitated at length before publishing this article because of the potential controversy it might invite. Any and all reasonable views will be happily accepted for inclusion, including contradictory views. However, should any views be submitted which can clearly be deemed fanatical, intended to ignite hostility, and have no redeeming contributory content, then these views will be respectfully disregarded and excluded. Looking forward to a courteous and productive debate. Thank you.
Should MRSTP be a legal option, particularly in DNR cases where a terminal patient is taken off of life support?
Yes. This should be an inalienable right of personal choice.
The author's views are published above in the sincere belief that these views are in the best interest of interests human rights, personal freedom, and liberty. Should you have any suggestions on improving the contents of this lens or would like to critique the overall style of the content, then please do so here. Thank you