Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Unfortunate Events at the End of Life

A busy week has kept me from posting since Sunday.

Walking the dogs when I arrived home tonight, I was thinking about the Terri Schiavo case and the many questions raised by the fallout from that most unfortunate situation. The politics and carpet-bagging aside, the avoidable tragedy that I see from this entire scenario is that Ms. Schiavo and her husband apparently never clearly put their feelings in writing in preparation for just such a turn of events. A living will or health care proxy document can clearly demonstrate a person's end-of-life wishes and can serve to appoint a person to make decisions for that person under situations where the individual is incapable of making decisions independently.

Perhaps it's our culture's inherent discomfort with death and dying that makes us so uncomfortable with these questions. In the American drive to live in the moment, the denial of death and eschewing of our responsibilities to prepare for death only seem to lead to confusion and anger. My heart goes out to Ms. Schiavo's husband, who, having been life partner to Ms. Schiavo, must be prepared to make such decisions for her, feeling that he knew her best. My heart also goes out to her parents who are acting from their own innate desire for the survival of their offspring, a sentiment which anyone can understand. I don't feel it's my place to pass judgment at this time, but I recognize that the current national conversation about the end of life that's now in process is a true opportunity, one which unfortunately may be drowned out by the misguided political and moral forces at work in the country at this time.

Here at home, Mary and I are reviewing our legal documents and putting into writing increasingly detailed wishes for our own end-of-life care. Although none of us wish for an untimely demise for ourselves or our loved ones, it is certainly our responsibility to be certain that our loved ones have the legal and ethical support to carry out our perceived wishes to the best of their ability. If you, dear reader, have not done so, please consider putting your wishes in writing, and avoid such potential complications and confusion for your loved ones.

This situation certainly deserves our attention, but it's always so unfortunate when the true issues and their consequences are usurped by those who solely wish to promote their own moral agendas. Serious ethical debate in this country is sadly often overtaken by moralists who don't seek to promote free thinking, rather, they seek to create pre-packaged opinion which will turn the public's view based upon the rhetoric of fear.

May we eschew fear and embrace a culture of reasoned debate that allows each of us to form our own opinions free of political and moral coercion.
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