AuthorErvin, Mike

One of my friends is quite deft when it comes to juggling his life. In addition to working and doing all the other things he has to do every day, he lives with and takes care of his ninety-year-old mother, who is deep in the throes of dementia.

He talks often about his mother. But it's not what you might think. It's never in a mournful tone. He never comes off as someone who's tormented by watching a loved one suffer; he just shrugs and moves on. He never appears to be too stressed out about it. He seems like someone who is just doing what he has to do.

So one day I finally said something about his mother's situation that I'd been thinking about for a long time. I said I wondered how much someone who is as far down the dementia road as her is really suffering. Sure, it's mighty painful for us who are watching from the outside to see someone spinning further and further away from being the person we had known them to be. But what about her? By this point, she doesn't realize who she once was or how different that is from who she is now. She just knows what's here and now. Sometimes my friend says she'll enjoy a pleasant visit from a dead relative. Is being reunited with someone she doesn't realize is long dead such a bad way for her to spend the day? It may be painful for us to watch, but is it necessarily painful for her?

I'd hesitated to bring this up because I didn't want to risk offending him. He might think it was in bad taste for me to question how much his mother might be suffering. He might think I was diminishing what she was going through.

Indeed, my intention was to do just the opposite. I was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. I was trying not to dehumanize her by passing judgment on the quality of her life based on my own observations. Because I think that if I ever need an organ transplant to save my life, I'm a goner, especially if I'm relying on Medicare or Medicaid to pay for it. And it would be because I was being dehumanized in much the same manner.

Human organs are in short supply. So when you need an organ, there's a triage process involved. You get on a waiting list, and when your name comes up, someone decides whether or not, based on their own assumptions of your quality of life, you deserve to receive this precious organ.

I'm a senior citizen who has used a wheelchair all of my life. Because of that, I fear that I would surely be deemed unworthy of even being placed on a waiting list. If somehow I did make...

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