Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Assisted Dying

I read Daniel Bergner’s article in The New York Times Magazine on December 2 and had a very negative reaction to it. Because I was writing about other issues at the time, I decided to ask my father for his input on this article. He and I feel very much the same about assisted dying, having faced the issue head on more than once, and he is very knowledgeable about the issues.

By way of background, my mother was diagnosed with cancer 11 years ago. She lived for about six weeks following the diagnosis. She had recently tended to her only sibling who had died following heart surgery. Her sister lingered for some time in a coma before expiring. My mother told me that she did not want that to happen to her. If she were ever in such a state, she would want an end to it. Unfortunately, I was unable to satisfy my mother’s wishes, and she lingered in a coma for week before her body finally gave out.

Whether my mother wanted to die before slipping into a coma is, to me, the only issue. Whether this was her desire because she did not want to be a burden, did not want to suffer, did not want the indignity of the process, or whatever is irrelevant. At the time of our death we are who we are and we should be allowed to determine our own fate based on that. If we need help to satisfy our wishes, help should be provided.

I want to make a couple of points before I get to my father’s response. The article struck me as the same old “we know better than they do” crap. When is it that children finally learn that they may know different things than their parents, but that doesn’t mean they know what is best or what is right? Finally, regarding Mr. Kervorkian, Mr. Bergner writes:

The first reported patient to seek him out and receive his aid was a 54-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease. His first eight such patients were women, and half of them had no terminal condition. Of the reported 75 suicides Kevorkian assisted through 1997, according to research by Silvia Canetto, a psychology professor specializing in the study of suicide at Colorado State University, 72 percent were women, and more than three-quarters of those women were not terminally ill. (Multiple sclerosis affected about 30 percent of them.) The disproportionate number of women could not be explained by the fact that women generally live longer than men and so might be more likely to want to escape life at its end. The average age of Kevorkian’s female patients was a year younger than that of his men. And, Canetto noted, Kevorkian’s women were more often middle-aged than elderly.

This all sounds like maybe we could conclude women are being victimized by Mr. Kevorkian. What Mr. Bergner fails to point out, however, is that MS strikes women at a rate of four times that of men. So, while age may not explain this ratio of women to men, the incidence of MS does. Seems to be pretty obvious.

With that introduction, here is my father’s opinion on Daniel Bergner’s article:

Daniel Bergner's article (Dec.2) on assisted dying was one of the most egregiously specious pieces of journalism I've ever encountered. The opinions of three people, each with a personal agenda that bears no relationship to the objective facts in this controversy, are put forth in great detail, while the Oregon studies, the only reliable indicia of the effects of legalized assisted dying, are virtually dismissed in a few sentences.

Doug Gardner, the born again tennis player, so deeply resentful of his father's neglect in his early years, thwarts the latter's humane concerns by adducing religious arguments about "God's Will." A hundred years ago, people died in great numbers, from diseases that are now routinely curable. Is "God's Will" then, predicated on medical technology?

As for the "scholar," Ms. Susan Wolfe, her radical feminist paranoia causes her to interpret statistics regarding the greater number of women than men helped by Kevorkian, as some kind of gender plot. So convinced is she that her fears are real, she ignores her dying father's pleas for help, and sits "stroking his hair," while he lingers on! What would Ms. Wolfe make of the fact that, among those in the general population, who are not seriously ill, the number of “successfully” completed suicides is overwhelmingly male?

Mr. Duane French's fears that voluntary assisted dying would somehow threaten the handicapped, are without foundation. The very essence of the assisted dying movement, is the belief that the right of those who are terminally ill or suffering, intractably, to seek a quiet, merciful, dignified end to their lives, is the most fundamental right of all; and, the decision to do so, is totally, and without any qualification, voluntary.

Because of the lobbying efforts of the Catholic Church, Oregonians voted, not once, but twice for assisted dying legislation, and voted against repeal of the law by a margin of 60 – 40, substantially higher than the 51% margin of original passage.

The Catholic Church is, indeed, the principal opponent to the legalization of assisted dying, and as such, it's own position is worth examining. It holds that, if a seriously ill person expresses a desire to die, all food, fluids, medication, and life support systems can be withheld, thus permitting that individual's death to be hastened; but, nothing may be provided to him, that would achieve the same goal in a faster, more merciful, and dignified manner. They may claim the moral high ground for such a distinction, I call it meaningless, Jesuitical casuistry.

We live in a society that provides a merciful death for dogs, cats, and serial murderers, but withholds that same mercy from its citizens. It's time that such issues are decided by those most affected by them, and not by religious fundamentalists, the Pope of Rome, gender fanatics, or the misinformed.

Thanks Dad:-)

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Palermo's Blog said...

This is a comment by a friend of my Dad:
"I got the impression from reading "Death in the Family" that at least two of the three opponents of assisted suicide see themselves as oppressed people, previously dominated by strong parents, who now > that the parents are ill are in a position to pay the parents back for not living up to the children's idea of how parents should act. Gardner Booth is trying to give his life meaning, not commit suicide, not asking for help in committing suicide, but his son, Doug, is going out of his way to oppose his father's mission in ending other people's suffering.

In another family, the feminist daughter who feels oppressed by her father's domination earlier in life , now has an opportunity to dominate him. She is lashing back not only at her father but at all white males with authority. She feels that the backers of assisted suicide are white, well-off males who would easily victimize women and other minorities.

Finally the white male in a wheel chair who leads a chapter of Not Dead Yet feels oppressed, not by parents but by able-bodied people who he thinks would kill him if they could.

None of these points of view has anything to do with the feelings of a person who is so afraid of his future of pain and immobility that he wants to end his suffering. These points of view have everything to do with punishing authority figures by prolonging their suffering. Facts or data about whether laws allowing assisted suicide actually foster abuse and murder are ignored if they do not fit the preconception that assisted suicide must be stopped."

Thanks Frank

John said...

What Frank said. What your dad said. What you said.

I was raised a Catholic. And my mother doesn't understand why I look on the Church with scorn these days.

This is another good reason.