from the desk of the EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR


September 2020
By Anne O'Meara

In 1992, on Father’s Day weekend, my dad died from emphysema. During the two years leading up to his death, Dad had been hospitalized with pneumonia on three occasions. The first two times, he was placed on a ventilator. The third time, he died before he could be placed on a ventilator.

My mom and I were in the room with my dad when he took his last breath. His final moments appeared very peaceful. Nevertheless, I watched my mom struggle with feelings of guilt in the months and years after Dad’s death. She felt she had unintentionally allowed Dad to be euthanized; that she had watched medical professionals give my dad doses of morphine, blindly trusting he was being given appropriate amounts of this powerful drug.

“Don’t let what happened to your dad happen to me.”

I thought that questioning the amount of morphine given to Dad was Mom’s way of dealing with his death. However, in the years after Dad died, Mom spoke to me about euthanasia. She said something I will never forget: “Don’t let what happened to your dad happen to me. End-of-life situations can be complicated. If I am in an end-of-life situation, make sure you err on the side of life. If you are not certain what to do, speak to a priest.” (My mom was a life-long Catholic.)

Fast forward to 2016. My mom was 87. She had heart issues and dementia. Not understanding how challenging it can be to find a truly pro-life hospice, my siblings and I placed Mom in a hospice recommended by a Catholic hospital. After a couple of weeks in hospice, Mom was diagnosed with a bladder infection. The hospice refused to treat the infection as “that is not what hospice is all about.” My siblings and I were horrified. We removed Mom from that hospice and moved her to a second hospice which would treat a bladder infection. Shortly after she was admitted to the second hospice, my siblings and I observed that she seemed unresponsive or almost in a stupor when we visited. Concerned, we demanded to know what medications had been given to her. We found out that, without telling us, the hospice staff had given her dosages of morphine and Ativan to “keep her comfortable.” Upon placing Mom in hospice, we had agreed that these drugs could be given to Mom to alleviate pain. It is notable that my mom had not expressed to anyone that she was experiencing pain. As a result of our discussions with the staff, the hospice promised to notify us before making any medication changes.

A few weeks later, while out-of-state on a business trip, I received the call that no one wants; Mom’s death was imminent. I rushed home to be with her. As I sat at her bedside, I observed the nurses administering pain medication. My siblings and I questioned the dosage because our mother had not shown in any way she was in pain. The nurses responded that Mom was receiving a low dosage of morphine to keep her comfortable. Upon hearing this, sadly, we did not ask about it again. Hours later, my mom died as I was holding her hand.

Use your voice!

Afterwards, we discovered that her “low” dosage of morphine was quite high. In retrospect, I wish I had questioned the specific dosage amounts. If I had even done a simple Google search, I would have been alerted that Mom was receiving a high dosage. Instead, I blindly trusted what I was told. Now, like my mother, I live with feelings of guilt. Even after being forewarned, I had let my mom down.

Recently, I was reminded of my na├»ve handling of Mom’s care when I answered a HALO Helpline call (1-888-221-HALO). The caller was looking for assistance in defending her loved one who was in an end-of-life situation. What struck me about this caller was her passion. She was leaving no stone unturned. She was using her voice to question and challenge the treatment of her loved one. She was not naively accepting everything she was told. This woman, who was using her voice to ensure her loved one received the best care imaginable, inspired me. I cannot help but compare this to my own behavior with my mom. If I could go back and do things differently, I would. Now, I use my voice to share a lesson learned so that YOU will be prepared to protect a loved one from a medically-hastened death.

Learn how you can use your voice to defend the medically vulnerable! Visit www.halovoice.org for information that will help you educate yourself.

HELP HALO GET OUR MESSAGE OUT!

Last week, Craig Johnsen, Chair of the Church of St. Raphael’s Pro-life Committee in Crystal, MN, scanned our recently issued first edition print newsletter and forwarded it via email to a large distribution group! We are grateful for Craig's assistance in expanding HALO's outreach to people with eye-opening, life-affirming educational materials. Also, last month, Georgia Right to Life ordered a large number of HALO publications for distribution to its members. Perhaps you are in a pro-life organization, church group, social club, etc. whose members may be receptive to receiving HALO’s monthly e-newsletters or quarterly print newsletters, or some of our other educational materials. Word of mouth is a great way to spread HALO's message. We deeply appreciate anything you do to help HALO get the word out!

By the way, if you would like to receive the first edition of our quarterly print newsletter, please email 
feedback@HALOvoice.org to request it. Be sure to include your mailing address. We'll have it in the mail to you posthaste (pun intended).

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