Sunday, December 3, 2006

Done to death

22-year-old marine corporal Tim Jeffers would kick any rear end very hard that has a front end speaking in favour of assisted termination of life, or at the very least I’m pretty sure he would’ve liked to if he could have. Unfortunately he can’t because he lost both his legs, his right eye and suffered horrific head injuries that necessitated the removal of a portion of his skull after being blown up in Iraq by a roadside bomb this May.

When brought in, Jeffers’ doctors had very little hope and were prompted by the severity of his injuries to consider terminal action. Luckily, Jeffers survived the attack and the ‘well-meaning intentions’ of his doctors. In a recent National Geographic story, the soldier from Salinas, radiates with desire for rediscovering his ‘life’. “I am (still) the same person (inside)…” he says.

On the other side of the Atlantic, doctors are seeking the right to ‘kill’ premature (22 weeks or less) babies because the babies might develop severe future complications, find usually futile efforts to save them “invasive” and “stressful” and more pertinently, “disable” the family. Euthanasia, a form of social, staggered, at times voluntary, genocide, is always a step taken in a moment of weakness by the sufferer or the surrogates. Whether we admit it or we don’t, the honest truth is we choose euthanasia because we want to move on, because we are sick of being in a situation we can’t help, because the lie of being in control of our lives is laid bare every time we see a loved one in apparently unbearable pain and are forced to imagine and endure the same, interminably. We want death to come because not only does it liberate the patient but also those who can’t be patient any more. Everything seems to have a shelf life, even an emotion, and expire it must. Whether it is a dog, a son, a husband or a father, it is only a question of degree.

But life has rights, and hope. If the doctors at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology have their way then surely they would find it appropriate to clinically terminate children like the Thalidomide generation from the 60s when 10,000 American children were born with phocomelia as a result of their mothers having taken the drug while pregnant. Born with severe deformities like tiny flipper-like appendages instead of limbs, doctors with the license to kill would’ve surely recommended ‘destroying’ the entire generation, in search of a ‘dignified ideal’, and many parents, fearing a ‘disabled life’, would’ve reluctantly but surely acquiesced. These doctors should go and ask phocomelics like actor Mat Fraser, MBE artiste and photographer Alison Lapper or one of the finest opera singers of his generation, Thomas Quasthoff, if they would’ve preferred dignified termination as a foetus or infant or are they happy to have endured indignity as children and yet emerged as beacons of hope for mankind, disabled as it is.

For every unfortunate Terri Schiavo or Venkatesh, there are others who suffer in silence, awaiting death without hope or the hopeful beside them, and yet they endure, not only because miracles happen but simply because death isn’t a solution. We do not understand it and therefore cannot ethically offer or impose it as a solution. Euthanasia is not a release from pain as much as a release from hopelessness, both in the patient and in those around. But isn’t there always hope?

This debate really isn’t about the law but about ethics. Holland allows euthanasia and films like Million Dollar Baby, popular soaps and even national dailies are taking up cudgels for those who want the right to kill those who want to die. But euthanasia is not an answer but a question that tickles the very root of our being – our humanity. May you or I never have to face such tough questions in life, but if it is to be, I sincerely hope that one will find the strength to hold on to hope and humanity, whether it is for a father, a husband, a son or a dog. God bless!

Death-wish warriors

“The terminally ill are a class of persons who need protection from family, social, and economic pressures, and who are often particularly vulnerable to such pressures because of chronic pain, depression, and the effects of medication.”

Beyond the doom and gloom, here are a few reasons for hope, even for those who may feel that there can’t be any.

Alison Lapper: Born with the grossly-debilitating medical condition called phocomelia, Alsion Lapper survives with limbs barely longer than seal-flippers. Abandoned and institutionalised since 7 weeks of age, Lapper is one of the brightest members of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (AMFPA), has given birth to a perfectly healthy baby boy and today, her sculpted figurine radiates inspiration from the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square.

Janice Elsner: Janice is a victim of muscular dystrophy too and is confined to her wheelchair, clinging on to the hope of seeing her teenaged daughter graduate. Almost 50, Janice wasn’t supposed go past 20, but there, she hangs on still...

There are countless others, aware of the creeping shadow of death and yet they smile and live, by choice. Some, like Jason Mitchener, a ventilator-dependent 36-year -old author and speaker, have become heroic talismans against the ‘for euthanasia campaigns’. Hopefully, these heroes will inspire those amongst us who can stand by them when they might need us most in their moments of weakness, instead of thrusting the burden of our suffering on their shoulders and condemning their claim to life.


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