Thursday, March 31, 2005

This Was the Draft 

Terri’s dead. Sad, but not uncommon. I’ve been around long enough to bury a lot of my friends, relatives, even a son, and surely all of you have dealt with this somehow too. People die. Okay, let’s get down to it, then. This isn’t an “us” versus “them” issue unless we let it be. Death and taxes, all that—it will happen. Granted, any power to frame this discussion is limited, but I contend that most people in this world are faced with similar issues all the time, usually on a scale that eludes the Kens and Barbies on the news, at least on-air.

I’m talking about end of life, quality of life issues. Philosophically, it’s thorny ground, lying in the realm of ethics and debated for a very long time: utilitarianism is but one example, Bentham’s mummy, theories of the afterlife being trotted out and so forth.

If real power is the power to choose, then who gets to decide to make end of life decisions? The individual? Well, what about individuals who can’t decide? Living wills? Frank discussions? Okay, then what about people who literally can’t decide? People who were born with, or developed, cognitive ability so limited they can’t decide? Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters then decide? And what of those who would laugh at the problem, since all around them people are dying from diseases that could be easily prevented or cured, with the money and access to the means? Have we decided that universal health care is the answer after all? I mean, there are people dying all around the world as I write this, and many are dying from a lack of clean food and water, a lack of access to basic medical care. Nursing homes? Extraordinary measures? Ha! Not an option. Who decides for them? The World Bank? The IMF? Big Pharma?

And then there’s the issue of what makes life worth living, anyway. I like to eat, sleep, screw, drink, write, paint, play music and lots of other things (not necessarily in that order). If I couldn’t do any of those things, should I be allowed to die? Frankly, I’d say yes, I should be; I don’t think lying in a bed attached to tubes is anything close to life as I know it, and the thought of becoming worm’s food sounds pretty natural to me. I have a document that lays this out. But that’s me. What about others, especially those whose ideas—or their caretaker’s ideas—of what makes life worth living differ from any “norm”? And what if their means allow them to keep these folks alive indefinitely, whether they would want it or not, no matter the expense?

I can’t help but think of a mother somewhere in Africa watching her baby die of diarrhea caused by bad water, knowing there’s nothing to do. Or Nazis emptying hospitals and killing undesirables, while lying all the while about why. What decision? Seems obvious, but think of how it will be pitched by Rove. I shudder.

Still, it’s coming at us, folks. And it’s as good a time as any to think about it. You can bet the one-dimensional machine of destruction is thinking about how they can use this issue even further to prop their agenda. Which, by the way and obviously, has nothing to do with life but more with greed and fear.

Sorry to be a bummer, but sometimes that’s…

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The Washington Chestnut
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