I believe that when medicine cannot save your life, it should make you as comfortable as possible and allow you to live the remainder of your days with peace and dignity. Now words like peaceful and dignity aren’t clear cut medical terms but I think it is what most of us would hope for when we approach our own deaths. In Sara’s case in “Letting Go” it would have been to make her comfortable an allow her to enjoy her newborn baby, without struggling with chemotherapy and other medications. This would have meant for not only Sara and her family to “let go” but also the doctors. In fact, my impression of Sara and her husband Rich is that they both tried to stay positive and managed to maintain optimism even in the face of her diagnosis and poor prognosis. It was the doctors that seem to have a hard time letting go. They knew Sara’s prognosis was bleak and yet they kept prescribing drug after drug and procedure after procedure, many of them with adverse side effects that made Sara ill or caused her discomfort. This is where Sara missed her peace and dignity in her death. She was on medications that would at best maybe let her live another month or two but made her break out in “an extreme, nearly overwhelming allergic response” and this is on top of all the symptoms that chemotherapy can cause.
Peace and dignity also factored in Craig’s decision to seek out a physician assisted suicide in The Suicide Tourist. He faced a terminal diagnosis and after losing most movement in his limbs he refused to decline any further and ended his life. I also think this is an acceptable use for medicine in cases like Craig’s. He maintained his dignity by not allowing himself to decline to the point where he would need feeding tubes, to have someone clean and change him, and to have his family witness his condition. He was also able to die in peace- listening to his favorite song, his wife holding his hand as he simply drifted off to a wakeless sleep.
In Sara’s case medicine could not save her life and was used to prolong it unnecessarily. In Craig’s case it was used the opposite way and ended his life. While killing you certainly isn’t the end goal in medicine at end of life, it was much more effective in Craig’s scenario. It made him comfortable and allowed him to die in peace.