Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Secret is How to Die

Dan Brown’s hit book The Lost Symbol opens with the words “The Secret is how to die. Since the beginning of time, the secret has always been how to die” (3). Truly, there are only two guarantees in this life: (1) you will be born, and (2) you will eventually die. As such, birth and death should be of great interest to everyone.

In society, talking about death is taboo. Death is something that is not fully understand. In fact, it is something that many do not wish to contemplate. For those lives that death has touched, it leaves a burning hole, a feeling of loss, often chased by despair and depression. As society politely sweeps the dead under the carpet with as little exposure to the living as possible, the people avert their eyes from the unknown and unknowable. We fear death because we know it not, we cling to life because it offers warm familiarity. Death is no tragedy, death is no sin, it is a step into the dark, a step all must one day take. The secret is how to die.


    In Greek there is a word that is defined as “good death”, this word is Euthanasia. Euthanasia is the practice of allowing one to choose when they wish to end their life.  Euthanasia is most often performed when an individual has decided there is more unavoidable pain and displeasure to come than happiness and they would prefer to end their life prematurely. The choice to be euthanized can extend to the family of the person if the said person is not in a condition to grant consent.   Currently, there are only five countries that legally allow a form euthanasia.


 As one examines the nature decision making, it is a parent that individuals constantly make choices they believe will bring happiness and joy. We weight the possibilities and make an individual choice of which option will afford us the most happiness or the least amount of displeasure. All our rights have been given to us so that we can achieve a greater level of freedom and happiness as individuals and as a society in general. There comes a point where the happiness of the individual and society would be greater if the individual were allowed to end his life.


That being said the legal acceptance of Euthanasia should be carefully defined and outlined as this concept could introduce several cultural and social issues if improperly applied. Many of us feel at points in our life that we would rather not have to continue living, we may feel that there is nothing worth living for. More often than no we come to realize in retrospection how wrong we truly were. It would be inappropriate and irresponsible for society to allow a healthy sixteen year-old boy to end his life prematurely because of a failed romantic relationship. Although he may wish his life to be over it would be rash and illogical for him to do it on the basis of utilitarianism and on the study of others such experiences.


Despite the potential negative implication of Euthanasia if inappropriately applied, the beneficial qualities far outweigh potential depravities. Let us consider a case wherein Euthanasia would be considered moral by utilitarian standards.


Doris’ husband was 82 years old when he started having serious medical issues. He had specifically placed in his will that “[He] didn't want any extreme measures taken [to preserve his life].” The time came when he was no longer conscious and his life was in question. Doris was influenced by her children to place her husband into a special care facility. She visited him every day that he was in the facility. Doris described it first hand:
     He was in intensive care. Tubes were inserted in his neck, oxygen was given, and he had a tube down his throat. Every day different specialists examined him. He remained unconscious.                       
     After a while, the tube down his throat caused a problem, so it had to be removed and a tracheotomy performed. He had to be suctioned to keep the fluid from filling his lungs. The tubes in his neck area became inflamed, so they were moved to his other side. He was turned constantly to avoid bedsores.
     Every day we were told he was improving in one area but failing in another. The resuscitation cart was always outside his door. The one time he regained consciousness, he started shouting that he wanted to get out of there. The doctors assured me that he didn't know what he was saying.
     This went on for 45 days. Every day I stayed with him, and the family gave me what support they could.

            As we consider the ethical values implicit in the Euthanasia issue we must put ourselves in the plae of Doris and her Husband. What is the ethical thing to do in that situation? Is it ethical to prolong his life indefinitely or would it better to stop his suffering?


            Doris chose, with the affirmation of the doctors, to discontinue further treatment. Her husband was placed on a morphine drip to quell his pain and was taken off of treatment. He died the next day.
This is a day of rights, where all humans are given the ability to choose what they believe to be right. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Declaration of Independence we have past milestones in obtaining freedom and morality while remaining in civilized society. For one to be restricted on a reasonable medical request to end one’s life is paramount to taking one’s life out of their control. In the afore mentioned Declaration of Independence it states:          


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”


            To deny euthanization can be seen as an obstruction to the pursuit of happiness. When the pain and degradation of life, or unavoidable future pan and degradation, outweighs the pleasure and happiness that their life bring the logical course of action in the pursuit of happiness is to end your life. This would beneficial not only the recipient but also society as a whole, as it would allow for better medical attention, less money spent by the family and government, and better peace of mind and closer for the family and friends knowing that the person is no longer in pain.   


            As responsible loving pet owners often we see this issue much clearer.  There comes a time when you can see an animal is in pain, when you see that it hurts every moment of every day. To euthanize it is the responsible thing to do, it is the charitable thing to do, the human thing to do. How are humans different? How much more do humans deserve this treatment when they so ask for it? We deserve to die in dignity in whatever way we see fit, to aid in the reasonable termination of life is not a tragedy, it is not a sin, it is a service. We all must die at some point, when you leave this life do you want to do it in a situation of control or a situation of compulsion? The secret is how to die.

Works Cited 
Brown, Dan. The Lost Symbol. Doubleday, 2009.

Harris, NM. "The Euthanasia Debate". J R Army Med Corps 147 2001: 367-370.

Doris. "DORIS' STORY." Compassion & Choices. Compassion & Choices. Web. 06 July 2010.       .

Jecker, Nancy Ann Silbergeld., Albert R. Jonsen, and Robert A. Pearlman. Bioethics: an Introduction to the History, Methods, and Practice. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett, 2007. Print.

17 USC. Sec. 304. 2000. Print.

Meier, Diane E., Carol-Ann Emmons, Sylvan Wallenstein, Timothy Quill, Sean Morrison, and  Christine K. Cassel. "NEJM -- A National Survey of Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the United States." NEJM -- Conflict of Interest in the Debate over Calcium-Channel Antagonists. The New England Journal of Medicine, 23 Apr. 1998. Web. 06 July 2010. .

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