7/21/2005

The Right To Die

You are paralysed from the neck down. Your mind is filled with the agony of half alive nerves screaming in their attempts to work. You have no control over any of your bodily functions so you are constantly filling the diaper you wear and smell like shit to yourself. There’s a feeding tube stuck down your mouth and oxygen going up your nose. You sit tied into a wheel chair otherwise you and all your wires would slide onto the floor. You are kept in a semi coma state from the amount of pain medication prescribed. You sit in your chair and drool. As you retain control over your face muscles occasionally you’ll exert the effort to suck it back into your mouth. You call that exercise. Any time you receive a visitor you sit and stare at each other. You look into their eyes and see your agony reflected back at you. You know they are suffering in their own way just as much as you are. You love them and want to help. When a doctor deigns to come look at you inevitably he will let you know what a miracle it is that you are alive. If it wasn’t for the latest in technology there would be no means of keeping you here. You want to curse the person who invented the stuff but the effort is too much. The nurse comes in three times a day to change your diaper, check your feeding and breathing tubes, and makes sure all your wires are properly connected. They wouldn’t want anything going wrong now would they? The easiest way to change your diaper is to run a hoist under your armpits and lift you out of the chair to dangle in mid air. They check on the catheter attached to your penis, and clean up the excrement that has puddled in the seat because the diaper doesn’t completely keep everything in. The two things you can still do are feel pain and embarrassment. Even though the nerves can’t send a signal through the mess of your spinal column strong enough for even the smallest of involuntary twitches they still feel pain. Damaged nerves cause an increase in pain because of their efforts to work. Like a signal from a broken amplifier the harder they work the greater the distortion, or in your case the pain. Sometimes as you hang twisting slightly in the harness and listen to the nurses talk about you and their lives as if you were not there. Which of course your not really. You feel like a side of beef anyway, waiting on its hook to be hauled into the next phase of slaughtering. How “there” can you be if all you can do is drift in and out as the ear in a conversation? You have no response to make save for staring at the other’s face. Sometimes you are able to manage a gurgle that could be taken as an affirmative or a negative. No one is quite sure. You try to remember whether you had said to anyone what to do if this ever happened. Hadn’t you said something about a non resuscitation order. But the doctor’s had explained to you, in one of your lucid moments, that it only applies to a person in your situation if you were to stop breathing. All this gear was post-operative, you have yet to stop breathing, have heart failure, or experience anything that would hasten your demise. What all that means is that anybody who unplugs anything could be charged with murder. If you could laugh you would. Murder. Of what? Murder implies that there is a life to be taken. Slabs of meat waiting for butchering don’t have much of a life. Hell at least they have the benefit of being life giving. You just feel soul destroying Your own soul dies a little more each time someone sees you for the first time. You see their pity, fear, and revulsion staring into your face from their eyes Why is this alive? The ones you love and who love you wither and harden like pieces of dried fruit baked in the sun. They feel guilty because they can’t love you like this; they barely even know you. Once by accident, some happened to be visiting when a doctor stuck his nose in. They gathered in a corner whispering, the doctor shaking his head emphatically over and over again. When he finally escaped their circle he fled less they corner him again. Someone standing behind your chair mutters under her breath: “It would be a mercy” You want to turn around and shout out yes, but of course you can’t. You stare at the wall and suck in some drool. Currently the state of Oregon in the only locale in North America that has a form of “right to die” legislation. George Bush’s administration is seeking to overturn that law in the Supreme Court and have filed suit already. This should come as no surprise after their efforts to intercede in the Shiavo case. What is surprising is how someone who boasts of how many people he had executed while governor of Texas can justify denying anyone the right to die. But he’s just a reflection of the double standard that’s so prevalent today when it comes to so called “moral” issues. People who have no problem supporting or ordering the deaths of thousands of other people through the deployment of high explosives and weapons quail at the thought of someone choosing to die with dignity. They call it murder. Those who are proponents of allowing people escape from their suffering are considered not to far from being murderers. In Canada where suicide is legal a man who was still able to control his own destiny took his own life by pushing his head into a plastic bag until he suffocated. He had previously phoned the police to notify them of his intentions, so that none of his family could be implicated. He also decided to use himself to publicize the issue, and to let the world know that if it were allowed he would have preferred to wait a little longer. But doing so would have left his family open to murder charges because they would have had to assist him. As it was his family had the legal obligation to call an ambulance after his suicide attempt, or they could have been charged with being accessories after the fact. The horrors that family must have gone through waiting for the ambulance to show. Hoping and praying their loved one would be sufficiently gone so that resuscitation would be impossible. Can you imagine their agony of having to relive all of this again in if he had survived? As a society it is time for us to grow up when it comes to dealing with the terminally ill. Not only do we let them suffer needlessly by not providing adequate pain medication we force them to stay around long after they have any desire to be here. After life what greater gift can we give our loved ones than an easy death? What right do we have to deny their desire to end their suffering? If we claim to have any compassion as a people we would find a solution to this problem. Isn’t there enough pain in the world as it is without us denying succour to those most in need?

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