Friday, November 8, 2013

Snap Decisions Will Kill You

Many who follow issues of disability are commenting on a story from Indiana. Here it is. 

In short, a fellow falls out of a deer stand. He breaks his neck. His family wakes him up from an induced coma, tells him he's paralyzed, he'll live out his life as a quadriplegic using a ventilator, and asks him if he wants to pull the plug. Yes, he does. And so he dies, or more precisely, he allows the others to take the action that will kill him.

All right, we know this is a personal decision. Or as the mother of his soon-to-be-child said, "The last thing he wanted was to be in a wheelchair."

I'm not particularly fond of being in a wheelchair, but to me, it's better than being dead. I've been in a wheelchair for a half-century, and I suppose I could have chosen "dead" any time during those 50 years. I haven't. I'll say it again: I'm not particularly fond of being in a wheelchair, but on good days, I see it as a marvelously useful device for living as fully as possible this life given to me.

What really bothers me about this case is that the guy was pretty much a mess (shock, fear, anger) when they asked him to make the decision. Tubes. Ventilator. IVs. ICU. Scary place, really. If you want to add complexity to the story, you can consider this. The victim's sister is a registered nurse with ICU expertise, and while you or I might have found this a source of comfort, a resource, there seemed to be only support from his family for his decision. See the other story from Indiana here.

It almost seems to me it would be analogous to his family—and the medical professionals—getting him drunk and then asking him to play Russian roulette.

The fellow wasn't in a rational place. The circumstances weren't the best for making a life-and-death decision. Contrast this situation with the bus driver persuading a woman not to commit suicide. Both were in situations where they were not thinking without emotion; one was mentally hurt; one was physically hurt. Why does society believe the physically damage person has the right to suicide while the emotionally damaged person does not?

Let's add another (imaginary) act to this tragedy, if you're thinking, Hey, leave the guy alone. He made the decision. Consider that the fellow's wife is pregnant. What if she were to decide now she didn't want to be a single parent and chose to abort the baby? 

The man's decision has made a few headlines, yes, but can you imagine the firestorm if that was, as I said, the next act in this tragedy?

Stick that pistol with one round in the chamber to my head, and I'll tell you I'm ambivalent. The man made his choice, and died with it. I cannot know what was in his heart. I will not judge. But consider next that the family accepted (it is in no way fair or responsible or accurate to say they encouraged) his choice. Now they must live with the decision to have acquiesced to his suicide. Cynics will say they've saved themselves a lot of pain and money, but I doubt that was a motivation. I think they too felt what he felt: unadulterated fear.

I'm ambivalent because I don't have a whole lot of courage or self-discipline either. I fear. I know there are thing in life that hurt and not all of us have the strength to face them. I know one of those things could be out there waiting for me.

But my fundamental reaction—which I think is the basis for some of the criticism from the disability community—is that in some measure this man, or rather his decision, has diminished me and every other person who chooses to live out a life using a wheelchair.

This man's decision says what we have made of ourselves is not enough, that we are not worthy of respect as a human being, that being asked to live a life dependent on objects more complex than corrective lenses means will cannot live happily and productively.

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