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Monday, December 27, 2010

Right to Die . . .

I believe that a person has a right to end his or her own life. I do not think it should be done frivolously or without safeguards or on a whim. But I do believe that if a human being's deteriorating medical condition reaches a certain stage of their own selection, they should be able to end the pain, the suffering, the drain on their loved ones, etc. You should be able to designate that if you reach that certain stage and cannot take your own life, it will be done for you. I think the infamous "Dr. Death," Jack Kevorkian, is a hero who should not have been sitting in a prison cell. His style was a bit eccentric but his viewpoint is more compassionate and committed to human dignity than the ravings of those who insist that all lives must be preserved at all cost.
This is not a viewpoint I came to out of sheer theory. It evolved out of watching a beloved neighbor deteriorate in old age. Long past the time he might ever again utter a coherent word or be able to do anything for himself, he remained technically "alive" in a manner that was sheer torture to his wife of more than fifty years. Taking care of him became a 24/7 job that destroyed her health and bank account. I am sure that if he ever did have a moment of lucidity, he would have been horrified at the harm that his condition was inflicting on a spouse he loved and he'd have jumped out the window or something.

One often hears people, especially of the "religious right," insist that life is sacred; that no one but God has a right to end it and that humans must preserve it, no matter what. In theory, that sounds noble to me but I cannot reconcile the principle with what I witnessed in the lives of those neighbors, or, indeed, my own mom. Prolonging that heartbeat meant nothing but pain and personal destruction.

I used to think that the worst possible thing in the world would be to wind up like that live in pain and to destroy the lives of those you loved. I was wrong. After reading all about the Terri Schiavo case, I think the worst thing would be to wind up like her or my old neighbor and to become a political football. A lot of people who didn't know the poor woman were suddenly weighing in on her situation and trying to resolve it in favor of whatever view they hold about euthanasia.

As I said, a step like that should not be taken unless the person has indicated they wish it and a rational due process has verified that fact. If I formulate an opinion based on what's being reported in the press, it would seem that this was not the case, and that the officials who stopped her termination took the right step. Then again, I believe so little of what I see reported in the press, I don't feel qualified to assert that. I doubt that anyone is, apart from certain family members, doctors and parties who are intimately involved with the woman's situation. Everyone who was commenting from afar were just pushing their personal views on mercy-killing, for or against, with no real consideration of Terri Schiavo's needs.

So: I believe what I said in the first paragraph above and I have no opinion on whether or not it was proper in her case. But the main thing is that I think I'm going to insert a clause into my will. It will say that if I ever am so ill and infirm that my friends, loved ones and doctors are debating the ending of my life, they should make that determination, knowing that I would never want to be kept alive if there was no real chance I would ever again think and communicate and function and eat pizza. And if it reaches the stage that people on the Internet are joining in on the debate, they should pull the plug on me...immediately. Perhaps they could even hook my life support up to Google News and when the topic arrives there, it would send out a shutdown signal.

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