Our Dad has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and has decided he wants to stop all his medicines and just die naturally. Can he do that?
This is not an uncommon situation: the family doesn’t want to lose dad and hopes that by making him follow the doctors’ orders for his other conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, they can keep him around longer.
It’s important to ask “why” has he made this decision?
Many families have stated that dementia is a disease worse than cancer because it robs them of the person they knew. Almost every adult today has witnessed the suffering endured by dementia patients and their families and so it’s not surprising when patients don’t want to follow a road that strips away their dignity and makes them a burden.
Patients tell me of their belief in a higher power and that a better life without suffering follows this one: so why be kept alive only to suffer longer?
The ethical principle of autonomy allows anyone the right to refuse any treatment, even if it may lead to an earlier death. Although stopping blood pressure medicines or diabetic drugs for example could shorten your life, many have done so and still lived a long (and more comfortable) time!
Dementias are life-limiting diseases that eventually cause death if some other disease doesn’t cause it first. Having another terminal illness interrupt the course of their dementia could actually be the patient’s ‘friend’ because it prevents that possibly prolonged and undignified road described.
By wanting to “keep him longer”, treating him against his wishes and interfering with ‘nature’, could result in some unintended consequences and unnecessary suffering.
Therefore, the bottom line is: he has the right to choose his future as much as reasonably possible and we all need to support him in that decision and ensure he is kept comfortable.
Although most of us want to live as long as possible, few want just to be “kept alive” for the sake of it while suffering needlessly.