My father-in-law was what some people would call a war hero, and others would call a baby-killer. He was career military (Army), and he and my mother-in-law raised seven good, healthy kids on a drill sergeant's salary. Who knows how many of his trainees didn't die in Vietnam because of what he taught them. He taught his children that good, honest work is never beneath them, and he taught them the meaning of such words as honor, patriotism, and loyalty. He had a marriage to my mother-in-law that I, among others, envied. When he was lying on his deathbed, he still looked at my husband's mother, even though they'd been together for fifty years or more, like he was still amazed this beautiful woman had chosen to share her life with him.
He died four years ago this month. Three exposures to Agent Orange while he was in Vietnam finally caught up with him, and within three weeks he went from relatively healthy to dying of blood cancer. Even though he had a Living Will stating that he wanted no respirator, and to not be hooked up to any life-continuing machines, somehow he was. I'll never forget our driving through the night to get to the ICU waiting room and start arguing his case for having the machines removed. But the family didn't believe him, so he had to write a note to the doctor stating he wanted to die. By the time he chewed through the respirator tube, trying to get rid of it, everyone figured out that he'd meant what he said in the Living Will.
So he was unplugged -- partway. And now he was in a great deal of pain, and the law as it now stands forbade the doctor from giving him any morphine, or anything else to ease the pain, because to do so would kill him. He was dying anyway. Within 24 hours he did, finally, pass. But the last hours of this war hero and good man were spent in pain -- just because the law said this is the way it should be.
About a year and a half ago, my dog Herman became very sick with a genetic disorder that prevented his body from absorbing protein. The vet tried everything, but warned us that he could have a heart attack or stroke any minute. Except to me, Herman really wasn't all that special. He wasn't a disability assist dog of any kind, he wasn't even a therapy dog to visit children or old people in the hospital.…