Everyday, across the world, thousands of parents and spouses are forced to make life-and-death decisions about whether to let their loved ones live or die. After the world mourned the passing of Terri Schiavo, MSNBC.com asked readers to share their personal experiences and thousands sent in their stories. Here are a few:
You cannot begin to know
I was forced, 15 yrs. ago, to make this decision for my 27-year-old husband injured in an accident. It is the most difficult and heart-wrenching decision I have ever had to make. Until you've seen it yourself, you cannot begin to know. Today, I am thankful I was able to make the decision I did, but this peace didn't come without years of pain. My prayers are with Michael Schiavo and Terri's soul.
Alive now with tube
My oldest daughter is alive due to a feeding tube that she has had since she was 15. She would not be alive without that tube. The question that we are facing is should we continue the feeding tube to prolong a life that is nonproductive (she is profoundly handicapped with a mentality of a 6-month-old). She is very healthy and from what we can tell she is happy. So why are we struggling with this question? We realize that one day we will be in the same place as Terri's family and are trying to make the decision now instead of when things are dire.
—Jeanette, Del Rio, TX
Fighter from birth
I went into premature labor with twins, just six months along. I was sent home on total bed rest. But the twins were still delivered two months early. They spent a month or so in ICU and were fine. Though, my little girl suffered related health problems. About a year later, she was back in the hospital with what they thought was Meningitis; she had a fever at 110 degrees and seizures. Meningitis was rules out.
After two weeks in intensive care, doctors kept telling me to give her last rites and let her go. She was in a constant daze and unresponsive. They were keeping her alive by machines it seemed there wasn’t an inch of skin to touch! I had gone home to discuss things with the family for a change of scenery since I hadn’t left her side since. Then, I got a call from her nurse and she had pulled out of it.
She made up her own mind that she wanted to fight. She is now nine-years-old and the biggest fighter you have ever seen.
—Gonzalez, Ft. Stewart, Ga.
Stroke at doctor’s office
My mom had a massive stroke at the Doctors office, of all places on February 15, 1995. With the entire medical staff on hand they where able to revive her. Unfortunately, she was deprived oxygen for too long and never regained consciousness. Our mom was on a respirator long enough for my dad, brother, sister and I to say good-bye. The respirator was disconnected February 18th, and she passed away on the 20th. Our mother made it very clear to all us that if she was ever in that situation she would not wish to be kept alive in those circumstances. It was incredibly hard but we honored her wishes.
—Randy Bella, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada
I had to make this decision for my father more than 15 years ago and for my mother almost three years ago. It is a hard decision but both my parents and I sat at the dinner table and discussed specific things of this nature. They repeatedly informed me that they did not want to be kept alive by artificial means. It was really hard with my father to be alone in the room with him as he took his last breaths--I wanted to run out of the room and have them help him, but he kept me strong or the memory of our conversations as he held my hand and reminded me what his wishes were. Mother was difficult as well because she had not opened her eyes in weeks and she was suffering so much for so many different reasons due to her health. We are an extremely large family and she had so many concerns for us. I remember telling her not to worry about us that we all discussed and we were leaving it up to the Lord to do his will. She had been on a machine helping her breathe and that is when I signed for them to release her. I loved both my parents dearly and still think of them but living artificially is not living. We have to love them enough to let go. We all need to take responsibility to have our wishes known in writing so others do not have this awesome responsibility to decide.
Existing, not living
My mother suffered from Alzheimer's Disease and when the time came that she could no longer swallow, my sister and I made the decision to not put in a feeding tube. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. With the Schiavo case, I find myself rethinking everything that happened five years ago. I do believe what we did was the best thing. My mother was not living, she was existing. There is a large difference in those two terms. My sister and I felt that was no reason to prolong the inevitable. She had suffered enough. We wanted her to have peace. We took her home and had hospice help with her everyday. They were wonderful.
—Sue Howard, Doerun, Ga.
A heartbeat isn't life
We've had to make this decision three times -- twice for our parents and once for an aunt. Each decision was made after they had long, draining, terminal illnesses -- including the loss of consciousness for periods up to two months -- and with doctors' input. Although we are Catholics, and our church favors no removal of life support systems, we felt our aged loved ones were suffering and it was our duty to let them die so they would be free of suffering, united with God, at peace, and in the joy of eternal life. All of them would have agreed that when you are all-but-dead, you are in fact dead. A heartbeat isn't life. Life is when you can talk to your friends and family, be interested in things, read, write, think, enjoy yourself, know your children and grandchildren. Only in one case of our three relatives was there an advance directive letter, but in all cases, all the family members agreed about what to do. If there had been disagreement, if anyone had said, "No, don't," we would not have had the life support removed. Between parents and husband, as in the Schiavo case, although the law says the husband may decide, it would be best if he deferred in this case to the parents. We don't know what Terri Schiavo really wanted for her life support, but we do know for sure she would not want the people she loves most to be at war about it, with the whole nation in on their cruel accusations and attacks on each other. My heart aches for the family, and I pray for the end of their pain.
—Pat Smith, Chesterfield, Mo.
A second chance
Six years ago my mother had a stroke during surgery and was left brain dead, the experts test revealing that the brain cut off at the stem had zero chance for recovery. After several weeks on a respirator, my family decided to take our mother off and let nature take its course. Before this was done we had test after test expert after expert tell us zero chance for recovery. The day the respirator was removed, I was there along with my father and two brothers telling mom we loved her and saying goodbye, when out of nowhere, tears started running down from her closed eyes. At this point I knew she could hear us. Even though we were shocked and somewhat hopeful, the doctors were still very clear that my mother would die within days, as she was brain dead. We stayed next to my mother for hours then days and finally months with these results. My mother eventually woke up. Although paralyzed from the neck down, she could talk, she recognized everyone, learned to eat on her own, and laughed and cried with all of us for about one year until she died.
—Mark Shipley, New Albany, Ind.
Life truly prolonged
In 1982, my husband suddenly lost weight and was diagnosed with widely metastasized cancer. He was 37. The doctors said nothing could be done to save his life and that they'd discharge him from hospital without further treatment. I refused and insisted that he be treated. They brought in an oncologist who had treated young men with testicular cancer. He started a course of chemotherapy to "prolong" my husband's life. Four months later he agreed to an exploratory surgery, which showed the cancer was gone. He's now 60 years old and has had years of happy and active living. I didn't know the first thing about cancer or chemotherapy. I wasn't making a religious decision. I just knew that it was unfair to him to give up.
—Elizabeth, Vancouver, B.C.
Forcing life is cruel
Not long ago, my father, living many years with Parkinson's disease, finally became incapable of swallowing, similar to the condition of the Pope. My father had left directions that he did not want any IV or feeding tube when that time came, and the Catholic nursing home where he lived abided by that choice of my father's - precisely the choice made by Terri Schiavo. Respect for life is respect for one's wishes. The Church seemed to have no problem honoring my father's wants, and there was far less wrong with him than there was with Mrs. Schiavo.
It's terribly hard for all concerned when a loved one reaches the end days, but forcing someone to live artificially when he or she does not want that is cruel beyond measure. My father died peacefully -- withdrawal of food and water is not a horrid way to die. He had a wonderful life. Thank God he had a peaceful and easy death.
—Elizabeth Sholes, Sacramento, Calif.
Twenty-five years ago, after an accident, my brother was said to have only brainstem function. One neurologist, one opinion, one quick decision. We took him off of life support, because we were told he would never recover. Eleven days went by without much response. My sister and I, 19-years-old, played a radio for him anyway. His favorite song came on, The Wall: "I have become comfortably numb." Chills went up and down our spines and we watched a single tear trickle down his face. His heart stopped the next morning.
I wanted to take him home and take care of him, but there was no way I could at 19. When I look back at it now, there was nothing we could have done. But that tear still haunts me.
—Lisa Klein, Plainview, Neb.
Former hospice worker
I made many medical decisions on behalf of my mother, an Alzheimer’s patient of six years. I decided against putting her on a feeding tube after she stopped eating. I was with her constantly during the last four days of her life as she slipped into a coma and passed away before my eyes. Since she was a former hospice worker, I knew that it was the right thing to do under the circumstances, and what she would have wanted even though she had not be able to speak for two years. I honored her wishes even though it was the hardest thing I have ever done. It is not about what the living want, but what the dying decide that matters. And I do not believe she was ever in pain during this period.
Turning off life support
My father suffered a heart attack last month. His heart stopped several times on the way to the hospital and he stopped breathing when he was in the ER awaiting transfer to another hospital for treatment. He was immediately incubated and we were told that he did not go without oxygen for long. He was extremely unstable and on a respirator and at one point we did see he was trying to open his eyes. However, as the next day progressed, it was increasingly unlikely that he would recover. Towards the end of the second day, the neurologist was called in and basic tests were done to determine his neurological status. He had severe brain stem damage and he was unresponsive and would not recover. His heart was very weak as well and it was put to us that he could pass at any time or he could last a few days to a week. My mother stated that he would not want to be kept alive if there was no hope for him and the decision was made to take him off support. It was a hard decision to make, but our family agreed it was the best choice. We asked the nurse to page the doctor to turn off the life support, and as we waited for the doctor to come to the room, we prayed for our father. Suddenly, his blood pressure started to drop and he went quietly on his own before the doctor arrived. Even though our father saved us the decision of having to take him off support, we knew it was the best course to take. All I can say is that if you are in that situation, you will know what is the best thing to do.
He wanted the tube out
My father was suffering from kidney failure due to his diabetes. He was in and out of the hospital for various complications. In 2002 he was in the hospital for two months after surgery that he contracted an infection. He was put on a breathing tube for a week while he slowly deteriorated. He told us that he wanted the tube out, and we asked him if he knew what would happen if it was taken out. He shook his head yes. So, all 11 of his children and his grandchildren were at the hospital when we all made the decision to let him go and honor his wishes to die in dignity.
—Elly Olson, Menominee, Mich.
Pulling the plug on me
In 1970, my husband had to make a decision as to whether to pull the "plug" as I was in a coma for one month. He did not, though I was given little chance to live. I had a brain hemorrhage was in the hospital for about six weeks, had to learn to walk again, and had to learn to reason again. I had the very best care at that time, the same doctors that operated on President Kennedy in Dallas. My husband said I used to look straight ahead, the same as Terri Schiavo, until one day I woke up. It took me about two years to be rehabilitated, but, I did it, with the help of my family and my husband.
—Karletta S Hart, Jennings, Florida
Yes, my father had terminal cancer — by the time he saw a doctor, the cancer was in every organ of his body with absolutely no chance of survival. When he could no longer swallow, the nursing home gave us the option of having a intravenous tube inserted into his jugular vein. The thought of my father having to go through this surgery, which would result in prolonging his agony, was a horrible option. With the advanced state of his cancer, he only lived another five days. It was horrible to watch my father, who was larger than life, wither away to almost nothing. Could I make this same decision regarding my child, I don't think I could - if there was any hope at all, in my father's case, there was none.
—Donna Harrison, Benson, Ariz.
Dying in dignity
My nephew was in a motorcycle accident and suffered severe head trauma. He was on life support for about three to four days. The MRIs showed he was brain dead, with excessive swelling and blood in the brain. He developed pneumonia and we were told that if he made it, which was doubtful, he would be brain dead. With no family other than the surviving aunt (me) and three more uncles, we decided to remove life support. After about 10 minutes, he passed on to a better life and he died in dignity, with much prayers and all his family by his side. My husband and I both have living wills and hopefully that will make it easier for our children to let us go, if they have to.
—Rose Martinez, Los Alamos, N.M.
My father, my sisters, my brother and I had to make a family decision in 1992. Our mother had an aneurism and we were told that if she had surgery, there would be a chance she would live but in a vegetable state. She had one in the year 1984 and she walked out of that one with no side effects.
But this one was different. The front part of her brain hemorrhaged, so she was in a vegetable state. The choices we were given was to have surgery and run a chance of having our mother but being in a vegetable state, or leaving her alone and take our chances. At the time, she had a father, sister, and two brothers living. After discussing the choice between our family, we decided to leave her alone. My mother had made us promise after her first one, if a vegetable state was an option, she wanted to die.
Her family didn't want to see her die but we wanted to abide by her wishes that she had discussed earlier with us. She only lived 24 more hours after we made the decision. We chose to leave her alone and are at peace with that.
—Tina Ortiz, Cordova, Tenn.
Prolonging the inevitable
A year ago yesterday, my mother passed away at home after being hospitalized for many months. She had many medical problems but this time we were told suddenly she had liver failure and would not live more than a week at home or two if hospitalized. She decided to die at home and we had hospice come in. My mother told my siblings and us the day after coming home that she was ready to die. We had an unusual situation in that so many relatives and friends came by that day to say goodbye to Mom (an "early wake"). The next two days she became less conscious as we gave her more morphine to keep her comfortable. It became very hard to see her in that state and we wondered if she was hanging on until her birthday the next day. My three brothers, sister and I all agreed with guidance from the hospice nurse that if it came to it, we would disconnect the ventilator that was prolonging her inevitable death. She knew and we know that is not living! She was a nurse for many years and I worked with head-injured patients for many years when I was in my 20's and I knew then I would never want to be in that state. Thankfully, although very sadly she died peacefully just before her 69th birthday and we didn't have to intervene..
My mother had a stoke in 1987. It left her unable to talk, eat or walk. She lay in a bed for six-and-a-half years. I took care of her in my home 24 hour a day. The hardest thing was watching my mother lay there day in and day out not able to let be know how she was feeling. Knowing that she was in pain and very uncomfortable, there was not much I could do. I prayed every day for god to relieve her from her pain. The last two weeks of her life was in a hospital fighting to breath, I didn't want to let her go, but it hurt more watching her suffer. I miss her so much; she died a year ago. I know she is at peace now. I let her go and think of all the good times I had with her. But, if she could talk to you she would probably tell me to do the same thing.
Dad didn't want this
Recently I had to help my mother make a decision about my 80-year-old father who, for whatever reason, had gone into respiratory arrest and gone a period of time without oxygen, thereby suffering brain damage. His situation was such that the doctors needed to know if he stopped breathing again or his heart stopped...would he want to be resuscitated. Due to many long conversations, we knew that dad did not want this. However, after we placed a DNR, the doctors told me that my father's condition was worsening and would the family agree to "with hold all medical treatment including hydration and nourishment. I told them to continue to treat my dad just as they had and leave it in God's hands. My father drifted away from us four days later with me at his bedside. I never even told my family that the doctor's had made this other offer to us. I knew how hard it was for them to go through the DNR order. So I felt it best to just forget the other offer.
—Teresa Sweet, Laurel Hill, N.C.
Knowing when it's time
Two years ago my father had a rather complex surgery that was supposed to be fairly easy one to recover from. But, 16 days later in the ICU area dad suffered three major heart attacks and continued to live on machines and medicines. All of these things weren't what he wanted in order to survive in life. His third wife couldn't and didn't know when to let him go. If I, his daughter didn't step in, dad would have died having more major heart attacks. In the middle of the night, I had to plead with medical personnel to stop treatment so my dad could go in peace. Thankfully, someone listened. All of us who dearly loved him were with him as he went peacefully a few hours after the medicines were stopped. It was the hardest thing to ever have to do in my life. Although I knew my father's wishes and he had no Living Will. I can't judge other folks choices in life for their loved ones. I feel Terri's parents have their child's best wishes in their hearts and will know when to let go.
—Diane Herrig, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Convenience or best interest?
An elderly bachelor uncle of mine was taken off of life support a few years ago, and I have always felt strange about his death because the people whom he entrusted to make the decision, my cousins, did not treat him well once his money had been expended for many years of medical care, and seemed to be relieved at his demise. Needless to say, I will always wonder whether the decision to disconnect life support was made for their convenience or because it was in his best interest.
She tried to tear out the IV
My mother was 88-years-old when she had a major stroke, which paralysed her left side and left her speechless and unable to eat because of paralyzed vocal chords. She was also in severe pain due to a severely degenerated hip. Fortunately she had a living will and violently reinforced her wishes when she tried to tear out the IV with her good arm. The Docs, however, still insisted on inserting a feeding tube and were quite indignant and hostile when I exercised her will (and my) refusal, which added significant stress at a sensitive time. She was transferred to a wonderful Hospice nearby where with skill and compassion they minimised her pain and made her comfortable. Two weeks later she died peacefully and with dignity. I never regretted the decision, feeling that to keep her alive would have been cruel and unusual punishment with no possible value for her prolonged suffering.
—William Piper, Reisterstown, Md.
I will never know if I did the right thing
My brother was 57 years old and had been in and out of the hospital for over a year, with multiple medical problems, mostly brought on by adult diabetes. It was very sad to see him deteriorate. He was in intensive care twice over this period and both times on a respirator and breathing tube. He did however recover and leave the hospital. On his last admittance into the hospital for respiratory issues, he experienced a heart attack and due to extenuating circumstances became comatose and was pronounced paralyzed from the neck down. Although he did regain consciousness he went in and out and the doctors advised us that he would never walk and that he would not survive if taken off of the respiratory equipment. His being 57 and not wanting to die that young made the decision a terrible one for me (I am his youngest sister and I was responsible for making the final decision), I decided that being a very vibrant and out going person he would never be happy being paralyzed and on respiratory equipment. I had the respiratory equipment removed and he passed on a week later. I will never know if I did the right thing, but at the time it seemed to be the right choice for him. These choices are heart wrenching and I advise all of you out there to create a living will so that your loved ones will not have to make this decision.
—Meredith Tallis, Hinsdale, N.H.
Fighting every day
My adopted parents were faced with a troubling, difficult decision. Their choice was to have my life end or chance my life being filled with medical bills they could not afford. Knowing I had severe brain damage they still made the choice to let me live. I was only 13 months old at the time. The amount of brain damage I live with to this day is a great amount. My whole life I attended classes for the disabled. I am stronger because of having to fight for my life since the very day I was born. I now understand that is probably why I was put up for adoption. When something is God’s will, people have to accept that. They have to look at the fact that I did not want to live this kind of a lifestyle all my life, but as an infant I chose to fight for my life after all instruments were removed.
—Anonymous, Tuscon, Ariz.
Death on Christmas day
I had to be a voice for my sister who died on Christmas Day 1995. She had a cerebral hemorrhage due to high blood pressure and was rushed into surgery in order to save her life. She made it through the operation but everything that could go wrong did. She had several strokes a day later and was left blind and paralyzed on one side. She was only 41 years old and had talked to me about never letting her become a vegetable and keeping her alive. She was in the hospital for a month and a half when the hospital said they wanted to put a feeding tube in her stomach and transfer her to a nursing home. I gathered her children, 19 & 16 and reminded them of their mothers' wishes and asked them to think hard on what she would want. We all agreed on respecting her wishes and after talking to her neurosurgeon, he too respected her wishes and said we could put her in a hospice room in the hospital. It was very tough and we did not get full support from all relatives. She died after six days of no life support but in the end it was a peaceful death. The reason that my sister and I talked about not being kept alive through artificial means was because our mother died from the same thing at age 48. My mother died within one day of her hemorrhage but she left six kids and a husband heartbroken.
—Shirley Garavaglia, Macomb, Mich.
Horror of complete paralysis
My siblings unwisely placed a feeding tube in my aged mother after a series of serious illnesses, the last of which left her comatose and unable to swallow, or control other bodily functions. Hospice agents urged us to forego the tube and let my mother die with dignity. Against my wishes, (I was the primary caretaker), the sisters and brothers had the tube put in. My mother "awoke" to the horror of complete paralysis, and I nursed her with that face full of fear until she finally died, months later. We should have spared her this kind of end.
—Marie, Live Oak, Fla.
Passing away in peace
Why don't they let this woman pass away in peace? Perhaps more attention could be paid to people like my father who in December was walking around Home Depot in Brooklyn carrying around lumber. A Queens, N.Y. hospital that earlier refused to release my father because they felt him incompetent to make his own medical decisions then abruptly put him in a taxi cab and sent him home. One day later he is in ICU from bowel and stomach lacerations caused by a misguided scalpel. After two, six-hour surgeries he has been left in a state similar to Terri Schiavo. I can't find a lawyer to represent my father because he is deemed too old.
—Alex Wasilewski, Royersford, Pa.Do not resuscitate order
Young and ill
My wife suffered from what is known as Early Age Alzheimers, She was 48 when she showed the first signs of it. Fifteen years later she would have to have artificial assistance to live. I had signed a document forbidding any such assistance. It was heartbreaking to see how over the years she went from being a living, vibrant person to someone who would have no capability to even breath on her own. Over the years I've met several people whose spouse or parent died from Alzheimers who felt that when they passed away they were betteroff, in Heaven with their God.
—Donald Murphy, Davenport, Ia.
Dignity in death
In 1992 my father was in a nursing home where he was bedridden because of a neuromuscular condition. After more than 10 years of being confined to bed he developed congestive heart failure. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was told he should be admitted and treated aggressively. He said No several times even though his speech was garbled. The doctor tried to convince him treatment was very necessary. After failing to convince my Dad, I asked the doctor to allow me speak to my Dad privately. I told Dad, we (his four children) would abide by his wishes but he should understand that if he did not receive care he would likely die in a short while. He assured me he understood that. He wanted to go back to the nursing home and die. We supported his wishes. He was not hospitalized and went back to the nursing home and died a few days later of heart failure with all of his family beside him. It was his choice and we supported him fully just as we did in his choice of donating his body to West Virginia University as his last contribution to his family and his community. I feel sure this was the most loving choice we could have made for the end of his life at 84 years. This was painful for us but we respected and loved him far too much to deny him his dignity in death.
—Melva Fisher, Columbus, OH.
Fighting the odds
Our son, Trevor, was diagnosed with Krabbe's disease. He is on a g-tube and has a trachea to breathe. He was to live only two years and now he is 15-1/2 years old, the longest living Krabbe's child. When he was diagnosed, the doctor said we could starve him and that would take care of the burden. He is being kept alive by the people who love and care for him, including the compassionate doctor of special needs kids. He is constantly challenged and treated like a normal person as much as possible and he shows it. The whole family (including my 2 kids) have seen things in his school, and hospital stays, that have opened their eyes to the real world, that have made them very compassionate and loving and caring for disabled kids and people.
—Carol Garbe, Newhall, Calif.
'Nobody in this state deserves to be kept alive'
In 1985, my father, then 82, suffered a massive heart attack. By the time an ambulance and paramedics were able to get to him, he, like Ms. Schiavo, had gone without breathing for several minutes. When they were able to resuscitate, he, like Ms. Schiavo, wound up in a persistent vegetative state due to the lack of oxygen to his brain. An EEG demonstrated that he was clearly brain dead (as is the phrase often used to describe this state). But the portion of his brain that regulates the heart remained viable. Despite the fact that he had no motor function and could not breathe without the aid of a respirator, his heart still kept beating. My parents had divorced many years earlier, and he didn't have a living. I had not lived with him under the same roof for over 2 decades. My sister and I implored the hospital to remove life support and let him go. But because there was no living will, and no one close to him that could attest to his last wishes, and because his heart kept beating on its own, the hospital was obliged to continue life support (and Medicare obliged to pay for it all) despite our wishes. He lay that way for 9 months before, mercifully, he passed away. Nobody in this state deserves to have to be kept alive.
—Robert J. Eckrich, Germantown, Md.
Pulling the plug on your baby daughter
My sister and her husband were very excited in the summer of 1997 to be expecting their first baby. The nursery was all set up, the names were all picked out, and everyone was excited for the first grandbaby/niece. A week before her due date, a rare gene in the baby caused my sister's liver to fail. She was rushed to the hospital and the baby was delivered by emergency cesarean section into the exact same condition that Terri Schiavo is in now - only a functioning brain stem. My sister went into a coma and had to be transported by helicopter to another hospital. We waited for a week, and while my sister gradually improved, the baby girl did not. My brother in law talked with my parents and his priest, and finally made the heart wrenching decision to turn off his daughter's respirator. There was no living will, no way anyone could have been prepared for the situation. But we are convinced that it was the right decision to let my niece be free from her pain and suffering.
—Sheilah O'Grady, Chicago, Ill.
'He kept asking me to take him home'
My husband was 34 years old suffering from malignant melanoma, which had spread to his bones and his brain, causing terrible pain, limiting his vision and causing seizures. He chose to have a craniotomy to relieve pressure in his brain caused by the tumors, which resulted in him having a full frontal lobotomy as they were bleeding. While he could still speak, he was confused much of the time after his surgery. He kept asking me to take him home. His cancer continued to spread to his liver and intestinal tract. Two weeks after his surgery I had all treatments discontinued, including the IV, which was keeping him hydrated. His parents stood by me through this difficult time, never questioning my decision to withdraw treatment (although we did continue to give pain medication and good palliative care) we knew to continue would only have continued his suffering, and the man we all loved was gone, leaving a wreck of a human being behind. He slipped into a coma two days later and died two days after that. I have always known I made the right decision, although I and his family and children continue to miss him, always. I knew he would not have wanted to live like that.
My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in May of 1992. It spread to his bones quickly, causing severe pain, which didn't respond well to any pain medication. He was expected to live several months in this condition, and was still able to eat, walk, etc., except that the radiation treatments used to decrease the bone pain caused swelling in his throat so that he couldn't swallow at times. While he was in the hospital getting IV's for hydration, he unexpectedly went into cardiac arrest. He didn't have a living will or a do not resuscitate order from his Dr., so the staff was required to start CPR. No family members were in the hospital at the start of the ordeal, but I arrived after they had tried several times to restart his heart. The Dr. told me they would defibrillate him one more time, but then I would have to make the decision whether to let him go. I knew he would rather be allowed to die, but felt that my mother and siblings would like to be there when he died, so I felt the weight of the world was resting on me. Fortunately that last attempt to restart his heart was successful, and the rest of the family arrived to see him. However, we immediately made sure that a Do-Not-Resuscitate order was written by the Doctor in case this happened again. Our family was given another chance to spend with him and say good-bye. In 3 days the same thing happened again during the nighttime hours, and the staff called to inform us that he had died peacefully in his sleep. We grieved horribly over losing him, and occasionally I would have a fleeting thought that we should have continued to have him revived, but overall, we knew we had done him a great favor, allowing him to escape from his misery here on earth.
—Marilyn Miller, Wabash, Ind.
What agony he would have gone through
Our father had lingered for over 13 years with Parkinson’s disease. He had gone through 2 major brain surgeries to relieve the tremors that the disease causes. Nothing helped and he was hospitalized one last time. We were told they wanted to insert a feeding tube since he was unable to eat. The doctors had already told us his body was shutting down and his kidneys and other organs were no longer functioning properly. The family all agreed not to allow the feeding tube or other machines to prolong his life. He was given morphine and oxygen only to ease his last few days. He lived 5 more days. I can only imagine what agony he would have gone through if we had "convicted" him to feeding tubes and respirators. He absolutely would have hated it and told us so if he had been able to.
Surviving without medicine
My mother was admitted to the hospital with congestive heart failure. Almost immediately upon arrival her heart stopped. Her heart was restarted twice and then she was put on life support. There are seven children and we live from Maine to North Carolina. We all made the mad dash back to Maine to see her and wait it out. Once we had all gathered the Doctor told us that she was not responding to treatment and the alternative was to put her on permanent life support or stop treatment. My mother was awake and aware and we discussed treatment with her. Her wishes were that she did not want to be "hooked up to tubes". As a family we could have overridden her wishes. We made the decision to discontinue the life sustaining drugs that were keeping her alive and leave it in Gods hands. I am pleased to say that my mother not only survived, but also rallied and is doing well to this day five years later. I do not regret saying to stop treatment. If she died, I still feel we would have made the right decision. I love my mother and feel we are blessed to still have her with us. That was God's choice, but I also would not want to have her tied to a ventilator and heart machine. This was the hardest choice I ever made, but surely would do it again in the exact same way.
—Lynn Cox, Downington, Pa.
'She did not suffer'
"My daughter was 32 at the time and dying from ovarian cancer. They had to put a shunt in her left side and because she was so swollen they were afraid they would puncture her lung or heart and if that happened and she stopped breathing did I want her brought back to life and put on a respirator and I said absolutely not. The doctor realized what a hard decision that is for a parent to make. But the bottom line is I knew Cindy would not wanted to have been kept alive by machines. They were able to put the shunt in with no problem, but Cindy passed away the following morning, December 13, 1995. God answered my prayers. When I was told 2 weeks prior that she was loaded with cancer, I asked God to either cure my child or take her fast. He chose to take her and for that I was very grateful because she did not suffer."
—Beverly Stack, Sayreville, N.J.
Disconnecting the machine
"My sister collapsed and lingered in a coma for 6 days, from complications of kidney failure and congestive heart failure. She was being kept alive by a ventilator, taking only 5 breaths on her own of the 22 breaths the ventilator was giving her. So we removed her from life support and she died and hour later. We knew that my sister was relying solely on the machine to breathe and we understood that there was no chance of a recovery, so we decided to take her off the machine and let God decide what His ultimate plans were, and sure enough He did."
—Mary Johnson, Sacramento, Calif.
'That was her wish'
"In 1997 my mother was told that she has cancer, that she only has about 6 months to live and she sent home. Four days later she was rushed to the hospital and hooked up to machines because she was no longer breathing on her own. We decided to unhook everything and let her go because that was her wish. She told everyone that she would never want to be hooked up to a machine."
—Tina Balch, Morris, Minn.
Saved by a feeding tube
"My family went through a horrible time when I was hit by a car, they had to decide wether to take me off of life support or not because the docters thought I was gonna die. So yes I had to suffer for a few months with a feeding tube (which I hated), brain damage, and going to therapy for a few years I gained my strength back and recovered!"
—Helen Lopez, Denver, Co.
'I removed the oxygen myself'
"When my father had cancer and toward the end he slipped into a coma. Some of the family wanted me to do everything that I could to keep him alive. I would only allow oxygen because I knew that he would not want to go on living hooked up to machines. Oh I wanted to because I didn't want my dad to die. After two days I removed the oxygen myself and he peacefully left this world to a better place. I miss my dad and it was so hard to do what I had to do but I knew that it was what he would have wanted. I had the same problem with my youngest son who had Reyes Syndrome. I would not allow him to be hooked up to machines. He would never be able to live a normal life. If the out come for both my dad and my son would have been a full life to live free of pain and problems yes I would have done what I had to do to keep them alive. What kind of a life would have they had living in a coma hooked up to machine? People who allow this are only thinking of themselves and not of their loved one who are really the ones who are suffering. Let them go, let them have peace, that is the most loving thing you can do for them."
—Cheryl Miller, Berea, Ky.
'My 12-year-old son'
"I have had to make a heartbreaking medical decision concerning my 12-year-old son. The decision was made over 26 years ago. He suffered from a little known cancer (at the time) Burkitt's Lymphoma. He had no chance of getting better and was in horrible pain. The doctors and I met and made the decision to withhold all medication except for pain medication. I told my son - who accepted the decision. He died peacefully one week later."
—Bonnie, Trubmull, Conn.
'It was his life'
"I had to make the decision to take my father of life support when I was eighteen. He was in a medically induced coma and there was no hope that he would have survived without a liver transplant. There was a six month waiting list to even get on the transplant list. As it was, he was on the highest dose of blood pressure medicine that they could safety give him and it was only keeping him stable. The doctors told me that there was nothing more that they could do for him, and they told us that we should consider taking him off life support, so I made the heart wrenching decision with my grandmother to let my dad go. It took him 4 hours to die after the doctors took him off oxygen and the blood pressure medication. He was 57 years old. He had told me that he didn't want to live hooked up to machines if it were to play out this way so we honored his decision. This was 9 years ago, March 14th, 1996. There are days when I wonder if there was anything more that we could have done, and I grieve the decision we made that day still, but I realize that it was his decision, no one else's. It was his life."
—Susan M. Dano, Las Vegas, Nev.
"My father had mentioned a couple of years before he became so ill that he did not want to ever be in a vegetative state. He was a good Christian man with great faith. I too had faith that if it was the Lords will to survive, he would have survived the removal of any equipment. He had gone into a coma, kidneys had shut down and he only had a very small amount of brain activity. He also had 'doll's eyes' which also help me determine that it was time to unplug his equipment that was keeping him in this state. The doctors agreed, his pastor agreed, so that's what we did. He did pass on within 3 or 4 hours and it was devastating but I did know that he was finally at peace and with the Lord. However, not everyone agreed with our decision. A step-daughter-in-law treated me as if I took a gun to him and killed him. She wouldn't be in the same room with me at the funeral home and was telling several people how I killed my dad. It was heartbreaking. It also brought in doubts that took a long time to pray through. Ask me if I would do it again - the answer is yes. I would like the same to be done for me."
—Annette Everton, Indianapolis, Ind.
'The decision to disconnect'
"My mother had cancer and after surgery which revealed that the cancer was not curable and even the healing would be difficult if not impossible, I had to decide to take her off the respirator. Prior to this time, I had had several serious conversations with my mother regarding her wishes in a variety of situations, and understood her heart in these matters. Out of respect for my mother's wishes, the decision to disconnect was made, so that she could past as peacefully as possible. No pain medication could even touch the pain that had been caused by the surgery, so it was a blessing to see her drift away in peace. The last clear conversation with my mother was September 14th before her first surgery, with 2 surgeries more shortly there after to try and close up that which was opened. She died 17 days later. Even though it was one of the hardest decisions that I have ever made, I couldn't treat my own mother with less respect than I would afford a pet, with respect to quality of life."
—Norma Crum, Grand Rapids, Mich.
'The right decision'
"I had to make the choice to have my 2-year-old son taken off life support. He suffered a major hemorrhage in his brain due to a brain tumor. We were told that he was "brain dead", and my husband and I made the most difficult decision in our lives. I know, to this day, that we made the right decision."
—M.K., Missoula, Mont.'The hardest thing you will ever do'
Tough call for young husband
"In 1959 my 23-year-old wife of 5 months was dying of kidney disease. Both kidneys had totally failed. I was told by experts (medical and legal) that she was in a vegetative state and would never regain consciousness. The recommendation was not to provide artificial life support. I concurred and my wife died in hours. It was a very hard decision for a 23 year old husband. But in her last days she had told me that she couldn't fight it anymore and had to give up. With my decision she was finally at peace."
—John G. Donahue, Elizabethtown, Pa.
Letting our child die peacefully
"My 12-year-old daughter, after 3 years of battling with cancer. was only suffering after repeated reoccurrences of the disease. She started out with the cancer in the bone of her left femur in April of 2000, then in February of 2001 the diseased appeared in her right femur and then a year later in her left rib cage. Within a few months the disease had spread to her lungs and she had surgery immediately after the findings, a few months later it was in the lungs again and the Dr.'s removed the infected areas. The third time it showed up in her lungs and in her lymph-nodes, the Dr.'s said they could operate, she may die on the operating table or even shortly after the surgery, but it was obvious to the Dr.'s and our family, that she would not survive this disease. Her poor, fragile, young body could only tolerate so many operations. So we had to decide if we wanted to continue with treatment, we chose not to. My precious child died on June 6,2003 only a month and a half after our last findings and the prognosis from the Dr.'s. She had suffered and endured so much for so long a time that we felt she should not have to suffer any more, if the Dr.'s themselves said she would eventually die from the disease, why should we prolong her suffering. We had begged and prayed for 3 years and I believe GOD had other plans for my daughter, plans for her in HEAVEN."
—Gisell O., Houston, TX
"My husband and I had to decide whether or not we wanted our 25-year-old son put in the ICU unit and placed on a respirator. He was hospitalized due to Hodgkin's lymphoma which had responded to no treatment. We knew that it was only a matter of time before he would die. We continued to pray every day for a miracle but instead watched our son slowly be taken away from us. We knew our son all too well to know that he would not want to live by means of a respirator. He would not be able to talk to us. He would not be living. He would only be existing and he would not have wanted this. Once placed on a respirator, we would probably have to make a decision at some point to remove him from this, and that is something I could never have been able to do. We look back with no regrets. Our son lived life to its fullest for as long as he was able to. Our son was not afraid to die. His fear was losing his dignity and we were going to make sure that that never happened. He died very peacefully with us by his side, and, as much as we miss him, we know we did what he would have asked us to do. If there is any doubt as to "living your life" and "existing", go see "Million Dollar Baby". There are no doubts when you leave the theater. As a parent, I can certainly sympathize with Ms. Schiavo's parents and family, but after watching my son suffer for five years and die, I have to applaud her husband in doing what he knows she would want. It takes a strong person to be able to let go of someone you love."
—Karen and Mike, Memphis, Tenn.
Still on a feeding tube
Due to a serious illiness/ muscle decease my sister is on a feeding tube, she is extremely ill, she is not brain dead but not aware but I feel can hear me at times and I feel we do receive a response sometimes through eye contact. She is breathing on her own and so Terri so therefore why are they taking the tube out.
—Shelley L Devane, Braintree, Ma.
Setting my daughter free
"I had to make this decision 2 years ago for my 5 year old daughter. She was struck by a drunk driver in a car accident. Her 17 year old cousin was killed instantly. My daughter was in a vegetative state for 4 months when the doctors told us there was no chance of recovery. At that time my husband and I chose to disconnect the feeding tube. I could have kept my daughter alive for my own selfish reasons (wanting to see her everyday although she couldn't respond or know I was there) or I could set her free where I know God would take care of her. I have never regretted my choice to this day, I miss her more than anything and I would have given my own life in the place of hers if I could."