Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Rethinking the Right to Die

I have been trying, without success, to write a piece called "The Right to Die". The piece was going to be about how science and medicine have blurred the lines that nature has drawn between life and death. I was going to opine upon how man, with vainglorious certainty, has circumvented the safety measures nature put into place to ensure the integrity and longevity of our species.

I was going to cite cases like that of Terry Schiavo, Juliana Wetmore, and Johnny Kennedy, and how these cases clearly illustrate that just because we can save or prolong a life does not mean that we should. I was going to denounce the selfishness and cruelty of condemning a person to life of pain and suffering, or vegetative nothingness.

But I'm not going to do that. There are two reasons.

First, my children are happy, healthy and whole. The most pressing medical issue we have had to face is whether or not to have tonsils removed. My husband has never been seriously ill or injured. My parents are still with me, and although my mother has a chronic illness that will eventually take her life, she is not in immediate danger. I have never had to decide whether someone I love should live or die. I have never had to wrestle with the decision to extinguish the life growing within me because it is flawed in some way. I have never faced the prospect of living my own life with a big, aching, empty hole in it.

I like to think I would be strong enough to let them go if their quality of life was so seriously diminished as to be devoid of all dignity and humanity. I like to think that my need to have them with me would not infringe upon my ability to make a sound decision. I like to think I would have the courage to grant them the peace that death would bring.

But if I am completely honest, I have to admit that I, like most of us, would give and do anything for just a little more time with someone I love. I would beg and plead. I would sell everything I own. I would offer my own life, surrender my own dignity. I would prevail upon every medical miracle available. I would even pray. I would promise a God I have doubted and ignored my undying loyalty and devotion if only he would let them live. So I can't, in all good conscience, criticize someone for a choice I would likely make myself, despite the knowledge that it might be the wrong one.

The second reason is a little more difficult to explain.

In gathering my thoughts about this piece, I solicited the opinions of some friends. These friends are mothers, and they have among them, an Autistic child, a premature child, and a child who was born with Spina Bifida. They helped me to see that "Quality of Life" is so highly subjective that it defies measurement and therefore, we cannot simply create a list of qualifications by which we determine the validity of existence. We cannot assign a standard by which to assess its value. And we cannot deny the fact that worth lies in perception, which is as widely varied as human beings themselves.

Who can say why a person is put here and what purpose has been set forth for them? Who gets to say that a life is sufficiently devoid of merit as to justify its termination? Who defines the terms by which we would govern those decisions? Me? You? Doctors, Lawyers? God?

In thinking about all this, I was taken back to my oldest child's infancy. There were several of us in the neighborhood with new babies. All of them looked and acted like any healthy infant should; all except Zach. His hair was flaxen blonde and his eyes were the purest cornflower blue. From the eyebrows down he was the most beautiful child I've ever laid eyes on, and when he had a hat on (which was most of the time) he looked like any other baby. But if one looked a little closer, they would see that his beautiful blue eyes were curiously vacant and that his hat seemed unusually large upon such a tiny little body. But sadly the hat was filled with his head, which was terribly misshapen by Hydrocephalus.

Zach, like my son, was born when prenatal diagnostics were becoming widely used and available. But somehow his condition was not detected until birth and the damage to his poor little brain was catastrophic. It was difficult at such a young age to determine how much awareness he really had, but the doctors felt that beyond feeling basic physical sensations such as cold, wet, hunger, and pain, he had very little sentience. He was completely blind, and would never walk or talk or have control of his bladder and bowels. I felt tremendously sad looking at him, as I contemplated the hopelessness and pointlessness of his existence.

His mother would bring him to our little gal pal group and set his seat among the rest of the babies. As they grew and became mobile they struck out eagerly to explore their surroundings while Zach remained confined to his seat. But curiously, they would return every now and then to bring him a toy, offer him a little pat, and inquire in sweet nonsensical baby babble, if he needed anything. They were taking care of him. They were learning compassion and empathy and acceptance from a child who was scarcely conscious. And I realized then that his existence was not as pointless as I had naively supposed. So he had taught me something as well, and I suspected that he would teach a great deal more before his time on this earth came to an end.

So...I won't talk about the Right to Die. I won't attempt to define Quality of Life. I won't pretend to have the solution to an issue that is largely philosophical. Instead I will simply try to recognize the inherent worth of all who share this plane of existence with us. And if the time ever comes that I need to make a life or death decision, I will try to be strong, but I will forgive myself for being weak.

In the absence of any clear cut answers, I think it's all that we can do.


  • At 8:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh, if only more people had the sensitivity and heart that you've shown in this essay!

    As with most things in this life, this issue is not black and white. Thank you for recognizing that.

  • At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am so loving your blog, very thought provoking!

    My Mother has a terminal illness and while she is currently doing great, that could change in a heartbeat. That being said, 2 years ago when things were not going so great, I was given medical power of attorney so that when the time comes, I (in consultation with my Dad) will make the life and death decision. We had to have the conversation about what she wants/doesn't want. That was one of the hardest conversations that I have ever had. The mere thought of me deciding to take my Mother's life is overwhelming, to say the least.

    Thank you for a wonderful reading this morning. I truly appreciate the sentiment and thougth you put into such a sensitive topic!

  • At 2:49 PM, Blogger Jess Riley said…

    What a lovely, thought-provoking, and sensitive post. This is such a complex topic, and really gets at some deep philosophical issues I'm not sure humanity will ever fully understand / resolve. Thank you for writing about this; I'm so glad you started blogging. :)

  • At 3:25 PM, Blogger Antique Mommy said…

    I had a niece that was microcephalic. She lived until she was about two. Like your friend's baby she had only enough brain function for breathing, pain and sometimes swallowing. The effort it required to care for her was tremendous. We all thought it a blessing when she died. Not all. I'm sure her mother did not. We all cried just the same. I thought I knew where I stood on that issue. Now that I have a child, a two-year-old child, that line that once was so clear cut, seems to have moved.

  • At 4:48 PM, Blogger Amber said…

    This was a very well written, and indeed thought provoking piece. People often put themselves on this side or that side of issues, depending on what party they vote with most of the time. But not everything is so black and white. I wish more people would dare to go where you did, even if you found no sure answers... I'm not a believer that we will always find the 'sure' answers while we are here. We just do the best we can, and need to forgive ourselves for the rest.

    This is my first time to your blog, and you are a good read. ;)I came to you through Sunshine Scribe.


  • At 6:39 PM, Blogger Mom101 said…

    Once again, you provide me with platters of food for thought. Agree with previous posters that you always dazzle with your sensitivity and your ability to apply such skilled critical thinking to any topic. You even make me rethink my own views in a way; but what I think it comes down to is a choice based on reasonable information and expertise.

    I look back at Schiavo and at that point, I think there's no doubt that she didn't even have a life let alone a quality one. I would hope that if I (God forbid) were ever in her situation, atrophied brain and body for however many years, that I would hope my husband would be strong enough to do what he had to do to go on with his life.

  • At 6:41 PM, Blogger Blog Antagonist said…

    Thanks all for your comments. I had a difficult time with this piece, so it's good to know that I reached someone, even if it's not the message I originally intended to send. I'm glad you found it worth reading!

  • At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This story really got me...anything with kids usually does - you wrote it so sensitively and thoughtfully - It is so hard to know what we would do in any given situation...thanks for a wonderful, thought-provoking post..and for making me think..

  • At 11:20 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Here via Perfect Post. Ditto to above comments. Well done.

  • At 5:55 AM, Blogger Sandra said…

    Thank you for writing that post. I struggle with how to articulate my own thoughts on this complicated issue. For that is exactly what it is ... complicated. You have so beautifully, honestly and carefully pointed out that it is not black and white. You words speak such truth that you can't judge until you've been there. That quality of life is not easily defined.

    You have really got me thinking BA. As usual. Thanks

  • At 9:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think about this a lot - namely because I work in health care and I'm just that kind of person.

    For me, I imagine that I'd want to live as long as possible - however, I've seen some folks that were questionably "alive" (what does it mean to LIVE? that is a huge question for me)... and I wonder if it was really better for them to be alive. More so, did they really want to still be alive.

    Quality of life is truly relative -and each person has their own definition.


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