Is Hospice Care Mercy-Killing?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

I’ve read that the hospice movement began with Kevorkian and continues to be assisted suicide by morphine, etc.. It seems to me that the drugs used to put hospice patients into a coma and dehydrates them are the main tools of assisted suicide under the guise of “comfort”. I wonder what your take is on this issue, Roger?


Dear S,

My dad died under hospice care—it was one of the best decisions our family ever made.

I remember flying to Dallas on Monday. After dinner dad was being his usual old-positive self as he talked about his exercises and how he was soon going to be back up on his treadmill. Then he turned to me and asked, “Isn’t it a little unusual for you to come to Dallas on a Monday.”

“I just came for a visit.”

“That’s not why you’re here, is it?” I realize now, years later, that he knew exactly why I had come.

“No. Not really. Mom can’t care for you much longer here at home. I came over to help us find a nursing home.”

“Oh”, he said reflectively—and mostly under his breath.

Several months earlier his doctor had told him that there were no more treatments to try for his lymphoma. “Well, I guess this is it,” he said quietly. Then, he quoted once more his favorite Bible verse: “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” I rolled him out to his wheel chair and we drove home.

Three months had passed since those gut-wrenching moments. Now it was time to die. We never made it to the nursing home. Tuesday morning he took a turn for the worse. No nursing home now. It was like he gave up all desire to live. We realized later that he would rather go on to glory than to be in a nursing home. It is lonely there.

The hospice nurse arrived on Tuesday afternoon. We discussed the details and implications of allowing him to die at peace at home with his family instead of in the hospital most probably with tubes and hoses entering and exiting his body

The nurse showed us how to use glycerin to keep his mouth and lips from drying out. Fortunately, he was suffering no pain so there was no need for morphine and/or anti-pain killers.

We talked and shared some special moments on Wednesday. Early that evening he stopped talking and quietly closed his eyes. His breathing dissipated through the evening. About 5:00 a.m. Thursday morning Jesus came and took him to his new home in Heaven. It is not lonely there.

My brother Ronnie and I carried him out of the house and into the mortuary hearse which took his body away.

I can’t tell you how nice it was to spend those final days with him at home. I am forever grateful that he could die at home instead of in a strange room filled with strange people with a breathing mask of some kind in an attempt to gain him just a few more short-days alive.

I am a believer in hospice care.

Hospice is a philosophy of care that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of those patients who are nearing death. These symptoms can be physical, emotional, spiritual or social in nature.

Palliative care, unlike regular hospice care, is a specialized type of healthcare which includes all who are terminally ill. Palliative care may be seen as an expanded sphere of hospice which includes patients in all stages of disease, including those undergoing treatment for curable illnesses, those living with chronic diseases, as well as patients who are nearing the end of their lives.

The first hospices are believed to have originated around 1065 during the Crusades. Those wounded and unable to travel were taken to dedicated locals to treat those wounded in battle. The movement has continued in a variety of forms to this very day.

Now, S, let’s get to your questions and straighten out some unfortunate misconceptions . You wrote:

I’ve read that the hospice movement began with Kevorkian and continues to be assisted suicide by morphine, etc.. It seems to me that the drugs used to put hospice patients into a coma and dehydrates them are the main tools of assisted suicide under the guise of “comfort”.

The hospice movement was solidly in place and operating long before Kevorkian came on the scene.

Hospice care often includes the administration of morphine and other pain relieving drugs in order to mitigate suffering and to make dying patients as comfortable as possible. Drugs are never used to induce death. If they are, a crime has been committed.

Drugs are not utilized to put hospice patients into comas nor to dehydrate patients in order to expedite death. What hospice care does is to allow patients to die as comfortably as possible. In my mind there comes a time when a patient can no longer drink. Pouring in IVs to keep them hydrated is an artificial elongation of the natural life span. There comes a time to die. To extend life artificially may make a person late for his/her appointed time to come into God’s presence in Heaven.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16).

I don’t want to miss my appointed day to meet Jesus in Heaven. I have a living will that declares my intention to not have extra heroic efforts to keep me alive after my time has come to die. I hope that I get to die at home on the very day God has planned for me to go off to Heaven. I have an appointment with Jesus and I don’t want to be late.

By the way, euthanasia and suicide end life before it’s time. I also don’t’ want to go early into God’s presence and hear Him say, “What are you doing here? Why are you early? I am not ready for you yet!”

By the way euthanasia will become more of an issue I our country as our economy is unable to keep up with the needs of all the people. Cries for rationed healthcare are increasing. I am not surprised! We have more people than we have money. Where do we draw the line?

Denmark is working on a plan to give no more health care to seniors over a certain age. After all, they reason (not unreasonably so) that the older ones have had their turn at life. Now the money needs to go to help the younger ones who haven’t lived so long.

A physician friend recently told me that one-half of all Medicare expenses occur during the last month of peoples’ lives. If we could just get all the seniors to die one month earlier we could save million of Medicare dollars!

Dealing compassionately with the dying is and has been a problem in every culture. For most cultures throughout the centuries the practice was to set people aside when they can no longer produce and thus become a threat to the viability of the others. It was time to withdraw care. Many Native Americans tribes simply put their old and dying under a trees, packed up the tepees and moved on. Some Eskimo cultures once put their unproductive ones on ice floes and sailed them off to eternity. Most hunter-gatherer societies abandoned their elderly to the elements. The margin of survival for the others was infinitesimal.

So, we do the best we can. Sometimes we forget that most people in the world have no access to health care whatsoever. They die at home without health care and medicine because there is no where else for them to go.

I like our hospice care system much better than those others.

Well, S, thank you for asking. The whole hospice question stares many Boomers in the eyes. Adult children are returning home just as mom and dad need more health care than ever before. Hospice care is a helpful tool that can potentially offer succor and aid to many in today’s sandwich generation.


Thanks again, S. God bless you.


Love, Roger


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