Fulcrum Ruminations

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Death and Taxes

Okay, so nothing about taxes. Deal with it.

Death has been much in the news lately, what with Terry Schiavo and the Pope and all. Then of course there's that little earthquake/tsunami thing in the Indian Ocean. Plenty of death there.

Difference in scale, that's all. One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. Cliched, but true.

By all accounts the Pope is just sort of sinking down to oblivion by slow degrees. This at the end of a long, extraordinary life, too. There's no controversy here, unless it's the "who will be the next Pope" question, which is hardly germaine. And I believe I've heard that the Pope left instructions that there were to be no heroic measures taken on his behalf. This is a man whose soul is at peace, fully prepared to meet his Maker.

Terry Schiavo, of course, is a much different story. Taken by suprise by what seems to be a random act of fate, left in some sort of vegetative state (the exact degree of which is open to some argument), and the new poster child for the "right to die" crowd.

I'll not get in to the specifics of Schiavo's case. Opinions are already too fossilized for one more observation to make a difference. I want to talk about the right to die.

Is there such a thing? Do we have a "right" to die?

Usually the right to die is invoked when someone has some kind of profound medical condition, no quality of life, very little dignity, no hope of recovery, but they are not beyond the ability of science to keep them alive. "Kinder to let them go" and all that.

Some merit to that argument. I know I wouldn't want to be lying in a bed with tubes running in and out, trapped in a body that would never work again. Which is in fact why I've made clear to my fiance that should that situation arise, there were to be no heroic efforts on my behalf.

None of which is the same as letting a vegetative woman die of thirst, of course. Barbaric, detestable thing, that. Anyway.

Do we have a "right" to die? Death is inevitable. I don't know if you can invoke a "right" to something that is going to happen whether you want it to or not. I think what people making this argument are really getting at is a right to die with dignity. If you're going to die of some horrible wasting disease, or are little more than a rutabega in a hospital bed, it's preferable to end it cleanly.

And yet, there's this little nagging voice in the back of my head. I've always believed that suicide (which is what the right to die folks are talking about, let's not be coy) is the coward's option. Another old cliche says that where there's life, there's hope.

I know in my case, the way things always work for me, is if someone pulled my plug, a day or two later there'd be some announcement in the news about a radical new cure for whatever I'd been dying of, or a way found to reverse brain damage, or whatever. Kind of the "my lottery numbers hit the one day I didn't buy a ticket" thing.

Then there's the God angle. God apparently doesn't like it when people anticipate Him. He'll call us when He's ready to, not before. But, if you're not a believer, this point won't hold much weight for you.

I have no answer to this question. The lever continues to tilt on this particular fulcrum. I only know what I would want done in my case.

You, Breathless Reader, will have to find your own balance point on this matter.

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