Tuesday, March 08, 2005

postal scrotum!

Yes, it's time for the mail bag to be opened.

The Maven writes:

Hi Kevin,

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you and thinking the best for you in your new-ish digs as well as the banking situ. Waiting for the other shoe to drop as it were.

I've been giving some thought to your quality vs quantity (prolongation) questions.

1. Do we have a moral obligation to prolong life if prolongation is possible?

My response to this is conditional. I'm against prolongation for prolongation's sake. Quality of that prolongation has to factor in. One thing that pro-life advocates tend to gloss over is that the human body was designed to deteriorate over time. Death is inevitable and unavoidable. Just imagine, over a hundred years ago, this notion was probably not as fiercely argued, and it's only due to technological advances, not human evolution, which has forced this argument. Some folks tend to get too wrapped up in prolongation by any technical means possible. Death is an organic process. Why complicate matters?

Example: My aunt Millie was a real firecracker. Until the age of 82 she was still jet skiing and globe trotting etc and had a very full life. She had a real ZEST that folks half her age didn't have. At 82 she was diagnosed with a defect with a valve in her heart and was informed that unless she had it replaced, she would be dead in six months. She opted not to have the replacement. Her argument was how much more time would that replacement give her? Five years? And what would the quality of those years be? What little time she had left, she certainly did not want to become a burden to her family and she certainly would not "settle" on a lengthy rehabilitation, with severe limitations on what she could and could not do for the rest of her life. Out of spite or perhaps a true joy for living, she lived 18 months after her diagnosis. She lived to see me get married. And when she started her rapid decline and ended in the hospital and it was apparent that it was the beginning of the end, she was released home. She was lounging on her sofa and asked her son-in-law for a cocktail (she had been a reformed alcoholic). She asked for a Cosmopolitan. She had two. And after the second one, she took a nap and never woke back up.

So I counter your question with one of my own: How does dying on one's own terms, and letting nature run its course any less valiant or any more repugnantf than to die in a hospital, hooked up to menacing machines, with folks leaving this plane of existence with the last sounds being the mechanical, impersonal beeps of the machines?

2. Does the quality of the prolonged life figure at all in the decision to prolong it? E.g., is life in a vegetative state desirable on the off-chance that that state might someday be reversed?

3. If we have such a moral obligation (to prolong life when possible), is it morally wrong for me to, say, sign a Do Not Resuscitate order or one of those "no heroic measures" writs?

Again, where is the honor in prolonging a life, only to prolong agony? Rarely do folks emerge from a lengthy vegetative state to return to their lives as they lived it previously. Doesn't this go against the Hippocratic Oath "to do no harm?"

Perhaps I am too much of a pragmatist. NONE OF US had a say in whether we were born. None of us asked to be here. God gave us free will. We are to be stewards of our bodies, and to treat our bodies as temples or vessels of Godliness. By that virtue, shouldn't each of us be the best judge of how to tend to our bodies, the quality of our lives, and ultimately our deaths?

Another point to ponder would be: is the argument of quality of life vs prolongation of life for prolongation's sake more of a classist/socio-economic argument, considering the countless folks who die homeless and hungry (in the USA)? If one cannot afford to be in a hospital, and one died in the streets or a homeless shelter due to their own (as well as societal) neglect, isn't this all moot?

How is alienating ourselves from an organic transition/departure from this life any more valiant or Godly than dying in a hospital? The only people who benefit from that are the insurance companies and the hospitals themselves.

Keep the replies a-comin'!


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