Earlier, I blogged about why people look at hospice nurses as “Kevorkian’s minions’ – and then I read this:
SOMERVILLE, N.J. (AP) – A former nurse has been charged with murder after claiming to kill 30 to 40 patients over a 16-year period, prosecutors said Monday.
During a court appearance, Charles Cullen stood and told the judge, “I am going to plead guilty. I don’t plan to fight this.” He said he did not want a lawyer.
I guess stories like that go a long way in forming public opinion about us. No matter how you slice it – it is not the right of any nurse to be making the determination when and how a patient, in their charge, dies. It’s a gesture of self-importance and incredible arrogance to take that kind of power into your own hands – as if it’s your right to do.
It’s no better than out and out murder. No matter how you feel about it, as a nurse, it’s is not our place to make that determination and decision. I’ve heard all the excuses from those types of ‘Dark Nightingale’s about why they think it’s the right thing to do.
They argue that they are advocating for their patient by helping them carry out their wishes. I’ve sat at the bedside with many, many a dying patient. I’ve held their hands while they took their last breath. I’ve been asked to help them speed up the process of dying by administering a bit too much medication. I understand their pain and their struggle – – and yet, it’s not my place to take their lives . . . even if I know they are dying. My purpose at their bedside is to help control the symptoms of dying….control the pain, ease the respirations, calm the anxiety….I’m not there to play judge, jury and executioner on their life – no matter how much they may beg me to do it.
They argue that they cannot stand to see their patient’s suffering. And yet, medicine offers us so many tools and methods that allow us to help keep our patients comfortable. In my 12 years of experience – – I have yet to sit at the bedside of a dying patient who died in utter discomfort and pain. If I had a patient who died in such a manner — I would feel horribly guilty that I did not employ the measures that I KNOW are available to keep them comfortable.
Now – it’s not always, always possible to take away ALL the pain and suffering in ALL of the patient’s ALL of the time. But for the most part, in my experience – it’s possible to attain comfort in at least 95% of the cases. It’s called using the nursing skills and assessment that you learned in school, and honed in practice. Figure out where the pain is – – where the problems lie – – then contact the doctor and request the things you know you need to resolve the discomfort. Now, mind you – – not all doctors are the most cooperative people in the world – – however, as I said – – it’s possible to attain comfort in at least 95% of the cases I’ve worked with. In my eyes – – when it comes to the care of a patient dying of a terminal illness – – there is no good reason why that patient should suffer or experience horrendous pain at all….not with all that is available at our fingertips to prevent it.
So, maybe it’s not about pain at all? Maybe it’s about dignity? Maybe this patient just didn’t want to live anymore in the state they are in. Again, I can appreciate the sentiment – – and I understand the frustration and overwhelming sadness that comes with what happens to a person, physically, when they start losing control over the most basic of functionality. But again – – it’s not my place, as a nurse, to take matters into my own hands and kill the patient. That rings too much like putting a horse out to pasture – – it’s not our role.
Aside from being illegal in the eyes of the law of the land – – – it’s also a speedy way to lose your nursing licensure, and thus, your livelihood. This guy killed 30-40 patients in his career as a nurse. To me, that is not a compassionate nurse – – that, to me, is a serial killer – and I expect that he’ll be charged as such.