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Art Censorship
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Notes from the Cultural Wasteland

The N-Word

Pain & the
Human Race

Death with Dignity ... or a .22?

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Manifest Destiny in the Balkans

The Cost of a
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Death with Dignity
... or a .22?

by Susan Sterling

art/Marty Kelley

With one bang of the judge's gavel, I felt my life change. Witnessing the man who represents humanitarianism, Jack Kevorkian, sentenced as the United States' newest political prisoner, fears of my future surfaced, bubbling forth like molten lava.

Let's face it, no one wants to think about dying. But, from the moment we kick and squirm our way into this world we are on that path. Some of us take a long time to get there, others are clipped from the earth in an instant, too tragically, too early, yet cleanly.

Those who manage to live long and prosper often find themselves the victim of the latest side effect of what someone discovered too late to warn us about. Or there's Alzheimer's, and ALS, and MS, and MD, and the ever present cancer.

Sometimes we are just tired, when you have to have your britches changed for you, and you can't walk around and care for yourself, you know you've lived long enough, perhaps too long.

I like life because I wake up each day and do for myself. I do for others too, and willingly so, but the most important thing is that I have to ask no one for help. Maybe I'm overly proud and self sufficient, but it's my choice to be so.

When this no longer is, then neither shall I be.

When the time comes, and it likely will, that I can no longer fend or care for myself, I want to die. It should be my choice. It IS my choice.

Oh, my family may gather around me and try to pretend the stench of my diapers doesn't offend them, or that they don't really mind having to feed me as I drool out the corners of my mouth. They can ply me with pills and plump my pillows and push back the graying strands of hair from my wrinkled face and tell me they love me. Maybe I'll understand them, maybe I won't. I'll be brave and try to pretend the pain isn't excruciating, that my dignity is still intact. I'll try awfully hard not to be a lot of trouble for them.

Damnit, if they love me, why won't they let me go? And why won't the government allow people like Dr. Kevorkian to help me? It isn't like it can't and won't happen anyhow. Factoid - The older generation has the highest incidence of suicide of any age group.

Nay, could it be the millions of dollars the physicians, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies would lose should I choose not to suffer needlessly for several years, dragging out my need for medical assistance in the form of pills and people?

Oh, they can fall back on the "Hippocratic Oath" which is truly borne of religion rather than medicine, or the doctor's wail that they are trained to save lives not end them. But what's it really all about? Wasn't this country borne of the search for the freedom to live outside of a dictatorship? Why then the trampling of this right, the trapping of our will?

Think of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, that we are not truly free to live until we are free to die. Unfortunately for him these uttered words prefaced his assassination, hardly his choice, but he left a legacy; the quest for liberty. Freedom is the key. If the government can step in and uphold the right to life, why do they choose not to uphold the right to die??

If the government can, with a single wave of their hand, send our men and women off to war to die, or to kill others, how do they then justify anti-euthanasia? Think too, that they only accept healthy able bodied people in our armed forces, so they will have the strength to fight to their death, while those who are infirm and weak must fight FOR their death.

The government has their hand in how we are born (think: abortion laws), in how we are raised (think: the fights of parents who choose not to immunize; think: the fights of parents to home school), how we live, what we earn, how we spend. The government, by its laws has often allowed a young child to die by the hands of their caretakers, despite repeated abuse calls to social agencies by concerned family members. They LET our children die. The "where"s, "how"s and "why"s of our entire existence fall under some rule. When does it end? Apparently not when we choose.

And, hell, we are not only allowed to soothe the family pet with a swift and painless demise, we are jailed for allowing them to exist in the misery we would tolerate on their human counterparts. Jailed for permitting Bowser to loll about in anguish and jailed FOR releasing Granny from her tortuous existence. I'm desperately searching for the reasoning behind this inequality.

I'm a champion of living your own life as long as your actions do not harm another. Live and let live, mind your own business. Whose business is it if I choose to end my pain? Who will I harm? Now, before you get your panties in a bunch about my family, can I not turn the tables and say that they are guilty of what you are about to accuse me of doing? If I choose to end my life, you can declare I'm being cruel to my family, but if they expect me to live when I no longer have what can be perceived as a life, then they themselves are being cruel. Indeed!

We are allowed the "Living Will," giving us control over being "kept" alive, this, however, after much legal maneuvering and grandstanding. Life and death do not need to be this complicated. Yet, where is the line between withholding treatment and "allowing" death to occur by shutting off life assisting machines and Dr. Kevorkian's civilized euthanasia? Other than the time factor, and the fact that an assisted death is more merciful to the dying, damn the difference!

The U.S. government and the AMA, however, refuse to condone this intelligent and humane practice that is both ethical and reasonable, regardless of the strong arguments, in spite of the desires of those who want this available to them. How do they condone needless suffering?

I can choose to die, surround myself with my friends and family, say my good-byes and peacefully drift off to sleep with the medical assistance of my physician. Or I can walk into the woods and put a gun to my lips.

Given the choice, which would you imagine my family would really prefer? Which would YOU prefer?

If I need to, I'll go with or without Dr. Kevorkian. I choose to make it my choice. Wake up people, when they jailed Dr. K, they jailed us all.

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