We can help those suffering to find meaning beyond human limitationsDR. RENE LEIVA
As a response to the challenge of euthanasia, Dr. Rene Leiva explains how he helps patients who suffer from "depression of the soul".
As a palliative care physician, I found Leonard Stern's column very accurate.
The most challenging clinical cases usually are the ones where patients are suffering from existential distress, or in other words, loss of purpose in life in the face of suffering. I would also name it "depression of the soul." Fortunately, there are ways to approach these problems.
One that I use frequently and I teach medical residents is the one developed by the great Jewish psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl. After losing his family and surviving a concentration camp, he managed to write his masterpiece Man's Search For Meaning. In it, he makes the point that people can find meaning in life: by creating a work or doing a deed, by experiencing something or encountering someone (the meaning of love) and by the attitude one takes toward unavoidable suffering (the meaning in suffering). He was fond of repeating Nietzsche's words: "He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how."
He challenges us to go beyond ourselves and move to a level where we can find meaning outside our own human limitations.
I heard of a South American young man dying of AIDS and complicated with a rare type of cancer. His daily request was to be euthanized. His treating physician asked one of the hospital volunteers to offer to visit him. The doctor noted his request stopped, and one week later, the doctor asked the man why he was not interested in euthanasia anymore. His response was: "I do not want to die; now, I have a friend."
In the face of unavoidable suffering, this man chose to find meaning in encountering someone. It is a personal choice, one which a physician does make for the patient.
At the end, as Viktor Frankl says: "love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality."
Dr. René Leiva. "We can help those suffering to find meaning beyond human limitations." Ottawa Citizen (Canada) November 4, 2008.
Reprinted with permission of Dr. René Leiva.
Dr. René Leiva a palliative care physician in Ottawa, Ontario
Copyright © 2008 Ottawa Citizen
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