Let's take the Way-Back machine to the early 1990's. Dr. Grumpy is a 3rd year medical student, doing a 6-week surgical rotation at a VA Hospital in the heartland. Please remember, I am at the level of a peon (or lower) and therefore have no input in the case.
Patient is a 75 year old man, who, to use a medical term, is sick as shit. Multiorgan disease. Metastatic cancer. Sepsis. On dialysis. He has gigantic bedsores down to muscle and bone on his back and butt (this is why surgery was involved, to debride these horrifying things). He's suffering terribly. He's had a stroke, and can't talk or understand speech.
He has a wife, 20 years younger than him, who he married 2 months earlier, when he was still ambulatory. She is the POA. I know nothing about how long she'd known him previously. If he had kids, I don't remember, and I never saw any.
This poor man needs to die. That is blunt, but true. He will never have a meaningful quality of life, ever. He is suffering, and we can do nothing to really comfort him. We can't give him Morphine for his pain, because that might shut down his breathing and make him die because...
He has a large life insurance policy, the details of which I don't remember. BUT I do remember one thing very clearly, because it was a big topic of discussion. The wife ONLY gets the money IF the patient dies after June 1. If he dies before, she gets nothing. Maybe his unknown kids would get it before then, I just don't know. Please remember this was over 15 years ago, and I don't remember a lot of the details.
So it's now February 24. Over 3 months left until the wife can collect money. And the patient is a full code. He codes at least once every 2-3 weeks. Each time the medicine team runs in, shocks him, forces him to stay alive. Forces us to continue cleaning these horrible gaping wounds down to the bone. And, from a financial viewpoint, his care is likely costing $5,000 to $10,000 of your tax dollars per day.
And the wife won't let him go. She maintains that she loves him and can't live without him, and can't bear to let him die. Maybe that's true. Or maybe not...
I don't know how the story ends. I went off rotation, and to another hospital, at the beginning of April.
Sorry to be a downer, but I thought it would be interesting to toss out an ethics case after the responses to last night's post.