2014

3 December 2014: Assisted suicide a contentious battle

Assisted suicide a contentious battle

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; / For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow / Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. – John Donne, “Holy Sonnets: Number 10”

“I am not suicidal,” wrote Brittany Maynard.  “If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.”

Brittany was a gift to us.  By not denying and embracing the inevitability of her fate, Brittany conquered death.

Brittany was 29 in the prime of life, a time when one does nothing but look forward to joys, challenges, and fulfillment of a life not yet lived.

She and her newly-wed husband Dan Diaz were trying to have children, to start a family.  Then nature took her course.  When the final diagnosis came in, all modern medicine could offer was to suffer greatly and then die.

In her beautifully composed apologia published on CNN online, Brittany detailed the struggle with which she, her family and loved ones dealt from the time she learned of the cause of her headaches to the end. She and Dan pulled up stakes in California to find a temporary home in Oregon, one of five states that compassionately allows those suffering excruciatingly to choose to end their lives.

Brittany’s was a hero’s journey.

Brittany’s choice also raised the hackles of religious fundamentalists and other rightists who, while beating the drum for personal and religious liberty, hypocritically work to deny such liberty for anyone who does not subscribe to their point of view.

In her opinion piece in the Denver Post, Krista Kafer pumps the fear argument calling physician-assisted death a “slippery slope.”  For evidence she travels inexplicably to the Netherlands rather than to Oregon where it has been legal and rarely used since 1997.

According to Oregon’s Public Health Division, as of 2013 a total of 1,173 people have had Death With Dignity Act prescriptions written and 752 patients have died from ingesting medications prescribed under the DWDA.

CNN reports that in 2013 “There were 71 physician-assisted deaths last year in Oregon.  The median age of those people was 71, and none was under 35.

“Since Oregon passed its Death with Dignity Act in 1997, fewer than 1 percent of its 752 doctor-assisted deaths have been people Maynard’s age.”

Kafer sophomoric reasoning about dignity helps explain why she and others like her cannot be taken seriously when it comes to thoughtful discourse.

“If dignity depends on one’s physical condition,” she writes, “then none can boast of it for there is little dignity in eating, drinking, laughing or much of what goes on in the bathroom or the bedroom.  Dignity is a condition of the soul.”

Actually, young Krista, all of those very human activities and functions can and ought to be exercised in a dignified manner.

Four other states allow death with dignity: Washington and Vermont by law and Montana and New Mexico by way of the courts.

Colorado has the opportunity to become the sixth in 2015 due to a bill to be introduced by Rep. Joann Ginal (D-Fort Collins) and Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver) that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in Colorado.

Taking one’s life can be called the ultimate choice since there’s no turning back once it’s done.  Therefore, it should not be taken lightly nor should it be something taken for granted.

To listen to the Krista Kafers of the world, one would think Oregon had become the Temple of Doom and Death, but that is not the case.  In fact, Oregon has shown us the way.  Considering the tens of thousands of deaths that likely occurred in Oregon in that 16-year stretch, merely 1,173 asked for assistance in dying.  Interestingly though, over a third opted not to exercise that right once it was awarded.

Each day countless men and women choose to put their lives at risk, some in the line of duty and others for the thrill and adrenaline rush.  Many might consider the latter foolhardy, but we do little to try to stop them.

The current Death Row those suffering from terminal illnesses are forced to endure can be dehumanizing.  A Colorado version of a DWDA would allow such patients to maintain their dignity through ravishes they are forced to endure.  It’s the least we can do for our fellow humans.

Read Brittany’s letter at http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/07/opinion/maynard-assisted-suicide-cancer-dignity/.

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