There are times when I read a story and am reminded of sitting in support group meetings listening to the stories of those facing a life-threatening illness. The decision that catches the most people off-guard is when someone in the group announces that they aren’t going to take treatment for their illness. The roar in the room is amazing and the buzz is disconcerting. Everyone in the group challenges the individual about going for treatment, but there is one thing we always need to remember…Not taking treatment is a choice. We live in a universe where free will still presides and if someone doesn’t want treatment; they don’t have to take treatment.
The story I read was in a book about those with illness who write books about having an illness. The individual was diagnosed with bladder cancer and after hearing the treatment options decides to pass. His decision is based on two factors: he didn’t get truthful information from the doctor about the prognosis of the treatment, and his desire was to be as present throughout his illness and confront the illness on his own terms. At the end this also meant his refusal of pain medication because he felt that it left him out of touch and his goal was to be present till the end.
Why is refusing treatment so shocking? We’re inclined to believe that life is precious and everyone wants to extend their life no matter the conditions. The reality is that there are many people who place quality of life over quantity of life; so extending their life through treatment that will diminish their capacity and leave the me somewhat disabled isn’t really an option. Choice is tricky. We seem to believe that we have a group-think when it comes to longevity; that’s not true. Our decisions about life and death are as unique as the number of people in the world.
We shouldn’t be judging those who don’t choose to engage in a treatment regimen simply because it doesn’t align with our world view. We need to honor these people for their bravery in having a conviction and sticking to it. It may not be your cup of tea, and that’s why you get to make a different choice.