The life expectancy of Americans has increased dramatically over the past 160 years. In 1850, it was 38.3 years, in 1950, 66.3, in 2000, 74.8, in 2009, 78.5. No doubt, medical advances that combat almost every killer disease account for a large share of our greater longevity. Maladies such as stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, blood deficiencies, thyroid conditions and kidney problems magically disappear by just popping a pill (or 20 of them) each and every day. Even erectile dysfunction, depression, and allergies can be stemmed with narcotics. But, as we live longer, we experience true old age and deterioration of our bodies. Are Americans willing to trade longevity for life style?
I experienced several situations in which beloved relatives and friends withered and died before my eyes. Everything was fine and then a terrible health problem developed. Often, the most aggressive ailments steal a person’s mind, ability to control bodily functions, mobility, enjoyment of food and sensory perception. Do we really want to erode as our loved ones watch us and while financial resources are wasted for a few extra days of life?
I often joke that I have a special silver bullet for the time that my life style becomes corrupted by a horrible disease or other impairment. The silver bullet is a metaphor for a real bullet that I want to kill myself with, or a pill with which I can end my life peacefully. In either case, I think I will be better off and my family will be spared the agony of witnessing a long and drawn out death spiral. It is a depressing thought, but we all will encounter the grim reaper at some point in time.
What about the morality of euthanasia? The Catholic Church has indicated that suicide is a mortal sin, the only sin that we might commit without an opportunity to repent. Seems like a pretty significant gamble. If the whole mortal sin thing, and affiliated eternal damnation, is really true, suicide is a bad trade. It would be better to suffer a few more days or weeks or months and be rewarded in the afterlife. My problem is that I have serious doubts about eternal damnation; I guess I am an optimist.
The U.S. has debated the pros and cons of euthanasia for many years. Some people think Dr. Jack Kevorkian was a real hero for championing suicide for the gravely ill; others think he was a murderer. I am in the first camp. Jack gave people of sound mind and failing bodies a peaceful and expedited way out of this life. His patients were doomed to temporal hell; he helped them avoid unnecessary pain and suffering. It is a beautiful thing if you accept the “sound mind” supposition.
The problem is who presides over the decision to end it all? In a perfect world, an individual, who is of sound mind, should be able to make the decision based upon his or her conscience without interference. But, others may have a different perspective or agenda. Maybe, family should have a say in the matter. Maybe someone “of the cloth” should be consulted to offer spiritual guidance. I say no, based upon the “sound mind” principle.
The possibility of abuse is an overwhelming consideration. When do you shut down life support, be it a ventilator, medicine and/or food? Is it when the family is “tired” of caring for a dying relative? Or, is it when the dying person is tired of living? Of course, it is the latter. But sometimes, the decision-making can become problematic. The only protection a dying person has is his or her living will, which, if prepared correctly, takes the life-ending decisions out of the hands of everyone.
I am in a quandary. Intellectually, I love the idea of taking a pill, going to sleep and not waking up when my time has come, as I define the latter. The alternative, of endless suffering for my family and myself, seems unnecessary. Metaphysically, I have issues. Legally, I am concerned about misapplication of the “right to die.”
What do you think?
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