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Hospital Procedures and the Rights of the Dying

December 13, 1986

In response or comment to Mary Van Gorder's letter on "Why Is a Terminally Ill Man Being Kept Alive?" (Nov. 29) I would like to add a note on my experience with my dying mother.

When we admitted her to the hospital at the age of 92, with a broken spine due to osteoporosis--she had been in and out of hospital several times and also in a convalescent home--at her request we submitted her signed "right to die" statement and made it clear to everyone we talked with that no heroic means were to be taken as she was in great pain and very tired of being submitted to hospital routines including needles, catheterizations, IVs, etc. They promised that their treatment would be limited to making her comfortable.

She was totally coherent and alert and constantly reminded us that this was not in her mind, living, having been extremely active up until the time of her fall, and was quite ready to move on with the blessings of all.

One morning we received a call from the hospital that she was sinking and not expected to recover. Upon arriving at the hospital we were informed that she had had a massive coronary and that "Code Blue" had been instigated and that it remained to be seen how she would react. Well, she reacted. She came through beautifully--to then be subjected to an additional six weeks of torture and indignities. Finally, she had her way and left an exhausted and heart broken, guilt-filled family who all felt we had all let her down.

She also left a hospital and doctor's bill for those last six weeks sufficient to put a medical student through at least a year of school. So we all pay, especially the taxpayer, for services rendered by a medical profession who put the needs of the hospital ahead of the dying request ahead of a dear, little old lady.

I hope she forgives us.

JANET BROWN

Hermosa Beach

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