The Right to Die

Florida resident, Theresa Schiavo, has a right to live. Does that also mean she has a right to die? Her story has been headline in the media lately and has forced us all to take a closer, and, at times, a more personal look at this controversial issue. Terri has raised the discussion of death and dying. In this case Michael, her husband, wants to pull the plug and her parents don’t. This issue has come up often throughout the United States and I think about what I would want for myself. I would not want to be maintained by artificial means. At least that’s what I say right now—but how do we define artificial means? As a person who uses a motorized wheelchair for my mobility, I cannot walk as a person who is out riding public transportation, and I’m sure people see me and say to themselves, “How can that guy live like that?” Meaning me! The question is not should I want to die now. The question is to whom should that question be directed. In other people’s compassionate perspective, they may think I’m so bad off that, yes, I should want to die! But hold on a second, I can speak up and I say, no!

I’ve had a good life, and I’ve been so lucky in everything I’ve lived through since I’ve needed these extra assistive devices (my wheelchair, my hand splint, lifts on buses, curb cuts, etc.), each of which helps create this wonderful quality of life. I wouldn’t have these things if not for some state, county or federal program. My family is probably the most important piece, but theycould not have provided all of what government has. So, when it comes to maintaining this lifestyle, for me and for many others, we owe much of this life to government.

But just as government has helped me to create a lifestyle that I enjoy right now, the issue of whether the government will, or will have to, maintain this lifestyle, and to what degree, is still pending. The same is probably true for Terri. The first question is who is going to pay for Ms. Shiavo to continue to live? As the government has provided billions of dollars in research into the saving of life for many—that’s progress you know! However, with an expansion of the ability to keep someone alive there must be the provision of resources (i.e.: money) for the services to keep this person functioning.

I think I have an acceptable life and I use the programs I need; the medical assistance, the Social Security 1619 B., the buses with accessible lifts, the curb cuts, the personal care assistance (PCA) program. I read the newspaper, I utilize the Internet, I go out to dinner, I have a Summit Pale Ale here and there … I even go out on an occasional date. I’m happy. Maybe not always “content,” but my quality of life is, in my opinion, high. So the question is, who will continue to pay for Ms. Shiavo’s lifestyle—as well as mine?

Her husband says Terri had prepared for the end and for these circumstances. But what happens when the legislature, with its diverse religious beliefs and morals, has been allowed to assert perspective into the law? Right now I need to stay in Minnesota and my living will needs to be prepared with the laws in mind as they are now. Who knows what this state’s perspective will be by the time I die? Do I need to predict the perceptions of whatever bureaucracy is in power at the time of my death? And as an extension of that, am I being asked to predict the time of my death?

Let’s look at why this has become a problem, at the religious aspects and the monetary aspects, starting with the latter. Even though the costs have been and will be monumental, the conservative, right-wing point-of-view is, has been, and will continue to be, that life is more precious than the wills of both Terri and her husband, the one to which she chose to devote her life and the one who has been most intimate in her decision-making process. The question would even be much simpler—in fact, there would be no question—if the state would just open up its wallet and completely pay all the expenses that accrue from these situations.

The Shiavo couple and her relatives are not good examples of clear thought on the subject of whether to pull the plug or not, and the right to live or die. The emotional investment of both sides gets in the way of discussing the issue with openness and unbias.