TO BE OR NOT TO BE?
Well, according to Times Magazine, August 3, the coming thing is not to be. Nancy Gibbs romanticizes the suicide pact of Sir Edward Downes, former conductor of Britian’s Royal Opera and his wife, terminally ill with liver and pancreatic cancer. There are two things that scare me about this article – one that Nancy directly addresses and another she alludes to. Her point in the essay is the slippery slope – where does the right to die become the “duty to die” and the impact this might have on the American medical system, but that’s not the issue I’m most concerned about.
The tone of Ms. Gibbs essay is in favour of the choosing of one’s own death. For her it seems that we have a right to choose the time and manner of our ending, subject to some very nebulous and unthought out societal reasons – i.e. that society may value one’s life more than the individual seeking to end it, or that society might derive benefits from treating every life as precious – she mentions but doesn’t follow up on.
That tone scares me because it’s the logical progression from the general societal feeling of a few years ago, when the fight for assisted suicide raised all kinds of debate and controversy. Then, the feeling in our culture seemed to be that to wish to die was wrong, and to put that wish into action was anathema, but excusable in certain very serious cases – like terminal illnesses, especially those with intolerable pain. And the recognition that for centuries, doctors had compassionately and quietly helping those along who communicated their sincere desire to go. The feeling seemed to be one of “in those cases, and only those cases, why not allow it and let compassionate physicians do legally what they would risk their careers to do anyway?”
Now, we seem to have moved to a sense of it’s okay for someone to choose their own death, as long as they are at the end of their lives, hit by intolerable pain or illness, bereaved and sorrowing and unable to contemplate life without a person they love or severly disabled. That scares me for two reasons.
One is what right do we have to end our lives in the first place? It’s a decision that is God’s, not ours, even if we don’t happen to believe in God, and it’s one that impacts far more people than the person wishing to die. It hurts every one the suicide knows. Don’t they have a say in whether one should die or not? Aren’t their beliefs and feelings and connections important and valid and deserving of consideration and respect? Additionally, there are, or can be, moments of great grace in the approach of the end of life – grace that conveys spiritual and emotional healing to everyone involved in the death, from the person dying, to their nearest and dearest and to the caregivers looking after them. There are lessons to be learned and growth that can occur in the approach of death and in the dealing with sorrow and loss and in coping with disability that can bless and sanctify and ennoble everyone involved. Why would anyone want to cut that short, or not experience it, or pressure someone else to not experience it?
The second issue is a more practical one – the next logical progression – that it’s the medical profession’s right to determine when someone will die, and down the road the feeling that it might become a “duty” to die if you are old, infirm, terminally ill or severely disabled. If you think it can’t happen, check out the Netherlands, where there are reports (since 1995!) that:
In more than 1,000 cases a year, doctors actively caused or hastened death without the patient’s request. In more than 5,000 cases doctors made decisions that might have ended or were intended to end the lives of competent patients without discussing the decisions with them (van der Maas, van Delders and Pijnenborg 1992). Psychiatric Times.
The second is a report of an involuntary euthanization whose original reporting I can’t track down – I’ve seen this referred to in Ms. Gibbs article and numerous on-line sources, but I can’t find the original place it was reported, so while I take the meaning of it, I honestly can’t say it actually happened. According to all reports, a Dutch physician took it upon himself to end the life of a RC nun, “who was dying painfully of cancer. Her physician felt her religion prevented her from agreeing to euthanasia so he felt both justified and compassionate in ending her life without telling her he was doing so.” Reference here. This may be the original source, I don’t know.
It didn’t seem to occur to him that her faith and her refusal to ask were an integral part of her, and that he was violating her essential self and her true wishes in doing what he did. He didn’t seem to realize that for someone whose faith has taken them to a place where their entire life is devoted to God, that such a choice doesn’t even exist – there is no choice but to live your life until it ends of its (or God’s) own accord. He seemed to assume that had she been given a “free choice” (if she ‘weren’t a nun’) that she would have asked for death. That the rational, sane and normal choice when faced with severe pain is to ask to die is what he is saying by his actions and his rationale. And that religion or faith is non-normal and can ‘warp’ what would otherwise be a ‘normal, natural’ choice. And that really scares me, that my death, that my choices, that any religious person’s choices and death will be removed from God and put in the hands of fallen, fallible and sinful people who judge “rational” and “sane” and “normal” by shifting and changeable paramaters and definitions.
Tied into this is the idea Ms. Gibbs puts forward that “society . . . [might] derive a larger benefit from treating every life as precious . . .” Either every life is precious, or none are. Our society used to believe that all lives were precious. It’s why we didn’t have euthanasia or assisted suicide and why we’ve done so much medical research – because life is precious and a gift and it deserves to be respected and lived to the fullest. It’s also why so much work has been done with helping the disabled to be independent – their lives are worth living and we can help them live better ones and more independent ones by finding ways for them to function. It grew out of our Judeo Christian background. We believed in God, we believed that God loved us, both collectively and individually, enough to die on a cross for us, to save and redeem us. The least we could do was to respect the most basic gift he’d given us – that of life. But now, that’s not the case. Life is only precious if you are young, healthy and not disabled.
Don’t believe me? In the same article of Time Magazine, an article describes the death rate of preemies and how it’s a major stain on the American medical system that they rank 30th in the world in infant mortality figures, lagging behind even Cuba, Hungary and Poland. That it’s wrong to let these babies die (and it is!) and everything possible should be done to help them live and to find out why preemies happen and prevent it. And it should. No question or argument.
We’ll blow the budget, spend millions in research and experiments to make sure these babies live, but we’ll (at the moment) encourage people with painful terminal illnesses to die, (and down the road a bit) we’ll encourage people with severe disabilities (especially if they’re painful) to die, and we’ll probably follow Holland by eventually euthanzing patients who still have a week or more to live because we “need the beds”. (Same link as the nun & the doctor who killed her for my source.) That is not respecting life – every life – as precious and a gift and worthy to be nutured and celebrated and loved. That’s saying that the criteria for life are as changing and flexible and as mutable as what is on the runways in the fashion designer’s houses this year. And it’s wrong.
God has His own reasons for deciding when and how to end life – or for not intervening when life is ending. Given that He’s omnicient, merciful, loving and just beyond our ability to comprehend, I think I’ll trust Him, assuming that society’s shifting definiton of “normal” allows me to do so.
* * * * *
GET IT RIGHT!
I’ve been ruminating on this awhile, and going back and forth on whether to post a grumble on it or not. On one hand, it seems like a typical author complaining about a bad review. But I don’t think so. (Of course I don’t!) The review, from CM Magazine was lukewarm – it kind of damned with faint praise even as it recommended the book. Fine, I guess, it’s one way of reviewing a book.
It’s not the actual lukewarm reception that bothers me so much, though. It’s the fact that she GOT IT WRONG. She read too quickly and said that she felt uncomfortable with the fact that I allowed Candlewax to finance his new life with weed stolen from the Crew, the rival gang. Here’s what she said::
In the end, he [Candlewax] abandons his initial desire to join the gang but chooses to begin a new life with a stolen bag of marijuana.
In fact, that didn’t happen. He stole the weed, and attempted to bribe Big to let him off going in the tunnels. Big took the weed, and then forced Candlewax into the tunnels anyway, by holding a gun to Katherine’s head. I didn’t outline that in bold, neon letters, but it was mentioned in the text. If the reviewer had been paying attention, she could have done the mental work involved to see that the bribe failed. I mean, come on, this is a gang leader who wants what he wants and has never been taught the concept of ‘fair play’, honour, or keeping your promises. What else would he do but doublecross the main character? And if CW was going to finance a new life once he had the weed, why did he stick around for the rest of the book? Had that been the point, he’d have been out of there before the end of the chapter. Thus leaving me with a huge problem, but CW wouldn’t have cared about that. I expected Brianne would have had the smarts to figure it out without a map and written directions. She’s a grad student in children’s lit for crying out loud.
Children’s and young adult literature need not have a didactic or moral lesson for readers; however, I have concerns about glorifying Candlewax and his decision to start a new life with a stolen bag of weed.
Well, again she’s got it wrong. I didn’t glorify Candlewax’s decision to start a new life with a stolen bag of weed. First, the weed got traded and CW got the shaft. Second, if the weed was downplayed to the point where she can’t remember what happened to it, I can’t see how she can call that glorifying – it’s the exact opposite, it’s minimizing.
If you’re going to review a book, at least get it right before you damn the thing with faint praise. Geepers! And that’s what else I don’t get. She had nothing good to say in the review. It was full of the problems she had with the book – among which was the moral issue of the stolen weed. Sure, part of a review is to let the reader, or potential reader, know what the weaknesses of the book are. But it’s also to point out the strengths, which from what I saw in the review was the fact I was using a “very unique” perspective. (I know, I know, I’m trying my hardest not to take a cheap shot at that ‘very unique.’ ) That was it. Yet she recommended it. I don’t get that. Yes, you can like a book and recommend it when you have problems with it, of course you can. But why not tell us as well why you’re recommending it? What about the book made you recommend it, what made you enjoy it and what about it was your ‘favourite part’?
Grumble, grumble. The least she could have done was to read the darn book carefully enough to get the facts right.