On most Saturday mornings, you will find me sidewalk counseling at our local abortion clinic. On one recent Saturday, I heard a fellow sidewalk counselor call out to an African American woman, “Black lives matter. All lives matter – except apparently the lives of black babies.” I looked at the woman’s car and saw a Black Lives Matter sticker proudly displayed on its bumper. The woman looked at us but did not pause or respond as she entered the clinic.
I could not help but think she had been completely brainwashed. Here she was, presumably, to end the life of her unborn black baby (a reasonable assumption since abortion is the “medical procedure” done at 7:15 am on Saturday mornings at this clinic) while showing support for the Black Lives Matter Movement. Nowhere is the hypocrisy of the Black Lives Matter Movement more obvious than at an abortion clinic.
In an article from lifenews.com, titled “Planned Parenthood Claims Black Lives Matter, But Kills 247 Black Babies in Abortion Every Day,” the writer states, “Planned Parenthood was founded by Margaret Sanger – a racist eugenicist who sought to sterilize and exterminate the black population. Not only was Planned Parenthood founded with the goal of controlling the breeding of ‘inferior races’ but, to this day, Planned Parenthood still celebrates Sanger, branding her a woman of heroic accomplishments.” (Note: Since this article was published, a few Planned Parenthood affiliates have dissociated themselves from the tie to Margaret Sanger, but this has not changed their horrendous racist agenda.)
Fast forward two weeks. I was nervously riding in the car with my teenage son, who had recently gotten his driver’s permit, when we saw a Black Lives Matter sign in a neighbor’s yard. My son nonchalantly said, “Mom, by the way, our house may get egged.” I asked, “What are you talking about? Why would someone egg our house?” (It is noteworthy that, earlier in the day, he had told me he wanted to take a self-defense class.) He replied that he had been responding to social media posts concerning the Black Lives Matter Movement. In his posts, he had conveyed that, while he believes in the statement “black lives matter,” he doesn’t support the Black Lives Matter Movement because their platform advocates for abortion (as well as other issues he disagrees with). His position angered many kids his age. They called him a racist and worse. In short, as a minority himself (he is adopted from Guatemala), he was being bullied for standing up against the Black Lives Matter Movement’s pro-abortion position and standing for his pro-life belief that all lives matter equally.
I was proud of my son for standing up for his principles regarding a vitally important issue but was concerned that he was being bullied. I urged him to refrain from posting any more comments on the Black Lives Matter Movement. This advice stemmed from my belief that it is impossible to win a serious argument on social media. Also, I do not think social media is the optimal forum to touch people’s hearts. It saddened me that a fifteen-year old kid is dealing with such serious issues. When I was his age, I was not discussing matters like racism and abortion.
Kids like my courageous son are not the only ones being bullied for expressing their beliefs. Almost daily, newspaper headlines highlight the latest public figure who has been fired for criticizing the Black Lives Matter Movement. People are labeled racist simply for disagreeing with the movement. This infringement on freedom of speech, combined with the failure of many to recognize the hypocrisy of the Black Lives Matter Movement, means that we have a colossal battle before us. We must not cower in silence. We need to do everything we are humanly capable of doing to protect and defend life – whether black, white, brown, preborn, elderly, handicapped, employed, unemployed, poor, rich, smart, demented, sick or healthy – because ALL LIVES MATTER!
By Margaret Pole
Bradley Mattes, president of the Life Issues Institute, observed, “Guidelines denying family members the ability to accompany an at-risk patient eliminate a patient advocate [emphasis added] who could halt or report abuse or facilitate communication on behalf of the patient’s wishes.” His sobering observations on discriminatory healthcare during the coronavirus pandemic brought to mind my father’s stay in a nursing home several years ago. Thankfully, no lockdown was then in effect. But what if there had been? I shudder to think of what the consequences might have been.
I had been caring for Dad and Mom at their home since early 2013. A multiple fracture in his left shoulder sent Dad to the hospital for a week in December 2014. Then he was transferred to a nursing home for rehabilitation. The hospital had given us little choice in this decision, since we didn’t have the proper equipment and support to provide at-home care.
Dad had mild dementia. I worried that the unfamiliar environment of a nursing home would increase his confusion and thus prevent him from remembering that this situation was temporary. I knew I would need to spend as much time as possible with him there, despite my other responsibilities.
I visited Dad daily for at least a few hours and sometimes for several hours in the evenings. He always brightened up when I arrived. After he was put into bed, I rarely saw any nurses or nurse’s aides check on him. Dad didn’t understand how to use his call button, so if no one checked on him, he couldn’t ask for help. I worried about him while I was gone, but at least I knew I could return the next day.
Mom was quite frail, so she was only able to visit him a few times, but her visits made a huge difference. Other family members, friends, and neighbors also visited him. Most importantly, our pastor came to give him the anointing of the sick, and he received weekly visits from our parish’s extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
Even with the blessing of this much social interaction, I’m sure the partial isolation of being in a nursing home depressed Dad and worsened his dementia. I can’t imagine how he—and our family—would have fared during the total isolation of a lockdown.
After a couple of days at this facility, my father (who was tall) was slouched over in his small, short-back wheelchair, with his head hanging down. He said it was because his neck hurt. Due to chronic back problems and old age, he couldn’t support his back and neck for long periods of time. The nursing home doctor finally yielded to my insistent request that they put him in a tall-back wheelchair.
I also discovered that Dad was being left in the wheelchair about 12 consecutive hours per day. The head physical therapist finally agreed to put him into bed for a nap after lunch. Between the transfer to the tall-back wheelchair and being able to nap, the slumping back and hanging neck problem improved significantly.
Around this time, a conscientious nurse’s aide showed me, on the sly, that Dad had developed a pressure ulcer. The head nurse claimed it was only “an abrasion,” but my niece texted photos of it to her husband, an experienced internist. He confirmed that it was a stage-two pressure ulcer and informed Dad’s physician (to whom we had transferred his care by then, to bypass the lackadaisical nursing home doctor). Dad’s doctor promptly ordered the facility to treat it as a pressure ulcer and send him for evaluation at the nearby hospital’s wound management clinic.
The head nurse was clearly nervous as she showed me they were now properly bandaging and treating the wound, and it was healed by the time we went to the clinic. The clinic confirmed my suspicion it was caused by sitting too long in the wheelchair.
Mealtime madness and mitigation
Prior to Dad’s fall, he could feed himself, but now he needed assistance, and he was a slow eater. Despite my explanation of his needs to the nursing home staff, he was left mostly unattended in the dining room. When the dining room had to be cleared, an aide frantically fed him as quickly as possible, which didn’t give him enough time to swallow his food or finish his meal. As a result, he was retaining food in his cheeks after meals. Therefore, I tried to be with him for lunch or dinner daily so I could feed him in his room at a leisurely pace. We greatly enjoyed this time together. Quite often he was peacefully dozing by the time I left.
Escape from exile
After a couple of weeks in the nursing home, Dad was rapidly declining physically, emotionally, and cognitively. He received 15‒20 minutes of physical therapy daily. But I saw no evidence of rehabilitation occurring. After a few weeks in the tall-back wheelchair, he was again stuffed into a short-back wheelchair and was again slumping over badly. I begged Dad’s doctor to order his discharge, but it seemed she was at the mercy of what the physical therapists told her.
I was elated when a therapist announced Dad would soon be discharged due to lack of progress with his physical therapy, but the next day the nursing home reversed course, on the pretext that he was suddenly doing some walking during physical therapy sessions. Skeptical of this claim, I hired a private-duty certified nurse’s aide to stay with him a few hours each morning and report back to me. She observed his physical therapy, and by her fourth day on the job, the therapists announced they would soon discharge Dad.
We brought Dad home on January 22, 2015, after six weeks in the nursing home. He was extremely weak, pale, and uncommunicative. By then we had obtained the equipment, supplies, physical therapy, and nurse’s aides needed to provide adequate in-home care. We soon realized he had severe pain in his right leg. An ultrasound revealed it was full of blood clots. His doctor prescribed the appropriate medicine, which brought quick relief.
If we had been locked out of that facility, would we have been able to get him discharged as soon as we did? It most likely would have been more difficult or impossible. Would anyone have noticed the above-described problems and addressed them? Probably not. If he had remained there much longer, I believe Dad would have suffered dire consequences resulting from medical complications, as well as the cumulative effects of neglect, isolation, confusion, and depression.
After just two days at home, Dad began a remarkable recovery—physically, emotionally, and cognitively—that continued for almost a year. Unfortunately, by December 2015, he was showing symptoms of terminal lung cancer. In March 2016, he passed away peacefully at home. We were and remain incredibly grateful to have had those priceless 14 months with him at home after his discharge from the nursing home.
|After two weeks in the nursing home, Margaret’s father began to decline in health rapidly.||Once he was able to go home, it only took two days for him to make a remarkable recovery.|
The lessons we need to learn
In a New York Times op-ed (“What’s Behind the Nursing Home Horror,” published on May 17, 2020), bioethics professor Charles C. Camosy condemned “a throwaway culture that . . . has marginalized these populations and made the nursing-home crisis a tragic inevitability” by sending coronavirus-infected patients and personnel to nursing homes, thereby creating “a raging wildfire of infection and death.” In a subsequent interview Camosy “pointed to a cultural trend of families pushing elderly members into nursing homes and forgetting about them, helping to explain why states failed to protect nursing homes from the pandemic.” (Matt Hadro, “A wildfire of death’: Policy, culture and coronavirus in nursing homes,” (Catholic News Agency, May 20, 2020).
This heartbreaking Minnesota newspaper headline, “Isolated during the pandemic, seniors are dying of loneliness and their families are demanding help” (Christopher Magan, Pioneer Press, June 19, 2020) confirms that nursing home patients are dying not only from the coronavirus but also the social and emotional effects of the lockdown. Magan cites three recent cases in which “social isolation” was listed on the patient’s death certificate as a cause of death.
My experience as caregiver for my parents in their own home (see “Mom’s Final Journey,” (halovoice.org, Newsletter, October 2018) and my father’s nursing home experience had already made me a strong advocate of home care for the elderly and disabled when circumstances permit it. What has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic has only strengthened that conviction.
I couldn’t agree more with what Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, wrote in his June 1, 2020, blog post titled “Rethinking nursing homes. Supporting community based care.” Citing a study indicating that home care is vastly superior to institutional care and less costly, he asserted, “The recent reports of nursing home abuse and the horrific number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths, and other nursing home deaths, should make [us] not only think about improving nursing home care but [also] rethink nursing homes. . . . [T]he answer to the problem is to move to a system of home care.”
It’s long past time for a radical paradigm shift in our approach to caring for the elderly and disabled. Perhaps this pandemic will serve as the starting point. As Professor Camosy put it in his op-ed,
Times like this have produced major cultural changes in our past. If we do take a hard look, we may change more than just the way we treat older Americans. We may, along the way, find a way to push against throwaway culture in all its forms.
Instead of denying the reality of cognitive impairment, aging and death, could our culture begin to embrace it forthrightly in ways which lead us to honor the final years we have with the family members and friends who go before us? To honor the moral and social equality of every human being, regardless of their mental or physical status?
Let us pray that these changes will happen sooner rather than later!
Margaret Pole is a freelance editor.
In this month’s newsletter we explore the inhumanity of denying life-sustaining treatment and basic care to those who need it.
In the couple of years preceding my mom’s death at age 87, I accompanied her on many visits to doctors. Whether she was visiting her primary care doctor or a specialist, the experience was always the same. When I brought up new symptoms that mom had been exhibiting or shared my observations, I heard one of two responses – “Your mom has lived a good, long life and you need to let her go” or “The symptoms your mom is exhibiting are normal for someone of her age.” I am not talking about minor aches and pains. In Mom’s last 18 months of life, she experienced significant heart arrhythmia, fainting spells, memory loss, and balance issues. No doctor seemed interested in treating her or in identifying the root causes of her health problems. It became apparent that they simply wanted to send her home to die because she was old.
After watching what happened to my mom, I am deeply passionate that no one should be denied basic medical care. Last week, I had cause to remember this when I interviewed Mary Kellett, Executive Director of Prenatal Partners for Life. Mary’s son Peter was born with a condition called Trisomy 18. The doctors did not comprehend his value, but the incredible love Peter gave and received taught his family much about life. Listen to Mary as she describes the joy Peter brought to everyone around him, and the tragedy that ensued from a medical culture that did not value him. This is the heart-warming and heart-breaking account of a six-and-a-half-year life well lived, and a legacy that lives on.
Mary explained during our discussion that it is not uncommon for hospitals or even clinics to have a medical futility policy. Medical futility policies are based on the premise that life-sustaining treatment can be withheld or withdrawn, against patients’ or families’ wishes, based on arbitrary “quality of life” and/or “cost-benefit” judgments. In many cases, it is the patient’s life that is deemed futile (i.e., useless)—not the treatment. For additional information on medical futility policies, read HALO’s “Medical Futility—What Does It Mean?” fact sheet.
Another example of medical futility is a Texas statute known as “the 10-day law.” According to this law, a hospital committee can decide to withdraw treatment, for any reason, including the subjective assessment of “quality of life.” The hospital can remove treatment, even life-sustaining treatment (ventilator, dialysis, oxygen, antibiotics, etc.) against a patient’s/family’s wishes and they are not allowed to appeal the decision. For more information about this unconscionable law, please see Texas Right to Life’s recent virtual conference where Emily Cook, General Counsel, discusses the ramifications of this law and describes specific cases in which she and others have intervened to save lives.
Without a major change in medical training, attitudes, and laws, more and more of us will be at risk when we seek care. Therefore, it is vitally important that all of us learn how to be advocates for ourselves and others. As Dr. Howard Koh, formerly the assistant secretary for health at the US Department of Health and Human Services, has stated, “Advocacy is the engine for change, and the beauty of it is that it can begin with just one person.”
My husband and I adopted our first child, Tommy, from Guatemala in 2005. The process took two long years to complete. As we prepared to bring Tommy home to Minnesota, we knew we needed to get a family will and trust in place to ensure that, if anything happened to us, our children would be provided for.
Providentially, my husband had signed up for a group legal plan through his employer. This benefit provided a network of attorneys to write a will and trust for us. We selected an attorney and met with him. He outlined the will preparation process and asked us a series of questions. We were prepared for the first questions, including “Who do you want to care for your children if you should both pass away?” However, as we moved along, the questions got progressively more challenging. For example:
When we had set the appointment, our goal was to answer all questions definitively so we could return in another week or so and sign our will and trust document. Nevertheless, when the attorney asked us to state our medical preferences for possible future circumstances, my husband and I blankly looked at each other. It quickly became apparent that we needed time to do some research. Being passionately pro-life, I wanted to make life-affirming elections. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t certain what constituted life-affirming healthcare. Thankfully, we took the time to do further research before answering these crucially important questions.
Why I am writing about this now? Well, recently, a HALO board member reminded me that, if you have a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order on file, it will make you ineligible for a respirator to treat COVID-19 and other illnesses. If my husband and I hadn’t done our research back in 2005, we each would have opted to have a DNR on file – and our DNR’s would still be on file today. Those DNR’s would make us ineligible for a ventilator should we be diagnosed with COVID-19 and need to be placed on one.
What’s right? What’s wrong? How do I decide?
HALO’s fact sheet called “Life-Affirming Principles for Medical Decision-Making” explains seven basic principles that will help you make life-affirming, medically appropriate, sensible, and informed health care decisions. This fact sheet is an easy to use tool designed to help you formulate and discuss your values and wishes. Click here.
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