My ethical judgment was put to a severe test only once in the past. However, when it happened, it completely overwhelmed me that I could never be certain until now whether I made the right decision. It involved my 90-year-old great-aunt whom I loved dearly and who had no other living relative besides me. She was rushed to the hospital in a comatose condition, no blood pressure reading, and no pulse. She was later diagnosed with sepsis secondary to infection from her bed sores after being bedridden for more than a year.
She was finally transferred to a private room with a blood pressure reading of 60/40 and a rather weak pulse but stable, according to her attending physician, considering the circumstances. However, days and weeks later, her condition did not improve. She was still comatose, and antibiotics did not seem to be taking any effect. Later, she developed pneumonia. I was informed by the hospital staff that it was expected in her situation. After all, they told me, she was a weakened, 90-year-old woman in coma.
One day her doctor talked to me about her condition. He informed me that there was nothing wrong with her heart – she had a very healthy heart. What worried him, he said, were her lungs because they were ready to collapse. The moment her lungs collapse, my aunt would immediately stop breathing and die in spite of a healthy heart. There was only one thing they could do if I wanted her to keep on breathing and stay alive – technically alive, at least. They could insert a breathing tube that would reach her lungs and pump air into her using a breathing bag.
However, he wanted me to understand that the procedure would be very painful for my aunt – a painful procedure that would not even help my aunt recover consciousness. But first, he wanted to get my consent to perform the procedure on my aunt when the need arose. I could not answer him instantly. I knew what he was asking me. I heard some nurses talking about “heroics” in connection with dying patients. My aunt’s doctor wanted to know if I would ask him to write the words “no heroics” on my aunt’s card so that they could allow her to die – I could leave her to die – as soon as her lungs collapsed.
I was the next of kin. Since my aunt could no longer decide for herself, the decision was up to me. I was staring at euthanasia in the face! I asked the doctor if I could give him my answer the following day. He said yes, but reminded me not to delay or it might be too late. I spent the whole evening thinking about it – asking myself some questions. What would my aunt have wanted me to do? My aunt was a devout Catholic. Would she want me to decide as one? The following morning I told her doctor: “Please do everything for her! ”