by Sandra Wekesa
he pain and agony that Lucy Wanjiru* had been subjected to as her son’s caregiver is something she can still not explain, five months after he died. The sound of the machine he had been plugged to six months ago is the only thing that lingers in her mind.
Even as she comes to terms with his absence, Wanjiru’s wish is to get back on her feet and resume her life as she lived before all this.
She recalls how her James*, just like many other teens, was trying to complete school and set a path towards a career as a doctor. He always topped his class and it was not a doubt that one day he would get to live a full life and take care of the family.
But as fate could have it, in 2017 when he was in form two, he started falling ill. He got headaches so severe that he had to go to the hospital. “I remember every time he got these headaches, we would take him to hospital only for the tests to show nothing was wrong. We would get him painkillers and take him back to school,” Lucy explains.
After some time, the pain become unbearable, and they opted for more tests, with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) as the first option. The tumour discovered wasn’t that big, making it easier to be treated with an operation.
But it wasn’t as easy because the family had to dig deep into their pockets to ensure their child got well.
“Treating the tumour was the hard part for our family. As an entrepreneur, I didn’t believe I could come up with money for surgery, but eventually, we were able to raise it, thanks to well wishers,” Lucy recalls.
James got well and went back to school but after a year, his health deteriorated.
“He now had to stay away from school because he was not stable enough to even do anything for himself. We then went back to the hospital, and that is when he was diagnosed with brain cancer,” she says with sobs and tears down her cheek.
Getting out of this as a family was hard; they had to look for money for chemotherapy as the cancer was advanced.
She didn’t have any other option than to sell everything they had, from the family house in Nairobi to the car and other property, everything had to go to support their child.
Her business suffered since she would spend so many hours in the hospital, yet James still didn’t show any sign of improvement.
“My son slipped into a coma, and I had to be there full time. He was just a teenager who needed his mother.
I couldn’t afford to go to work with all this going on, so I just stayed at the hospital and waited for him to wake up.
But this went on for months, the bill was accumulating and I just didn’t have any other option other than to ask the doctor for advise on how to lessen the pain.” Lucy explains.
This was how her son died, after a series of pain. It wasn’t the kind of experience she would wish for an 18- year-old.
Geoffrey Wango, a psychologist at University of Nairobi, says euthanasia also known as mercy killing is intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering.
He adds that although it is illegal in Kenya, some countries such as, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and states such as Washington and Oregon have embraced it.
Euthanasia can be voluntary, non-voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary is conducted with consent and non-voluntary is conducted on a person unable to consent due to their health conditions, therefore, the decision is made by another person.
The third one is usually performed on a person who would be able to provide informed consent, but still does not for any reasons including they don’t want to die.
This process causes a psychological dilemma in caregivers, whether family or friends, for instance, they might not know whether to allow it or let faith come to play and work miracles for them.
In some instances, patients normally have this spelt out in their will, indicating clearly that when they become critically ill, or are undergoing excruciating pain, the family should just let them die with dignity.
However, the family might not know the extent of the pain, making it difficult for them to make a decision.
“After this, some families might go through trauma because of guilt that they might have murdered their loved one, and this kind of psychological trauma is not that easy on them,” Wango says.
The UoN don adds that in as much as people might consider financial burden as a reason for ‘mercy killing,’ it usually is never an option because most people always think of the pain their loved one is going through.
Pastor Edward Kamau of God’s Grace Ministry says death with dignity is not an act of compassion, but of breaking the commandments.
“The first thing that should come to mind is ending the life of someone who has a chance of regaining is not right, because God is the only one who gives and takes away life,” he says.
The narrative is not different in the African cultural context, where communities believe talking about death means inviting it to your home and that human life is sacred for we are only stewards of our body and answerable to God for it.
Peter Wambua, an Akamba elder, says mercy killing in African culture was not allowed. Some communities believed that life and death of a person is in the hands of the God and ancestors.
“Since we live in a system of belief it was not right according to our culture to take away the life of a person; instead, they should be allowed to live to face another day and enjoy their life here on earth,” he says.