the dignity of life…

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This is a story that begins with the lives of two different individuals. It continues in how those examples relate to being a human being.

The first story

The personal perspective

A group of unelected blackrobes made the ultimate decision on the life and death of a young woman. The lady was not in a coma. She was brain damaged from cardiac arrrest, but alive and able to think and communicate with her parents. She had a full life ahead of her. And, more importantly, she was still very much a living human being.

And contrary to the news and Wikipedia writings, she was not in a completely vegetative state. She was able to express herself. Photos show her lifting her face to her mom for a kiss. Other photos and videos showing her smiling when talked to or touched.

She was able to recognize and react to human interaction. The woman was not completely vegetative. She could open her eyes when requested, move her head, and responded to those who asked her questions and talked to her. While under hospice care, she was not even hooked up to machines or other equipment to keep her alive. She was not terminal nor brain dead.

The problems…

The only problems she had were that she was unable to swallow food on her own, was on a feeding tube at night, and was unable to move by herself. She depended on others to help her. But during the day, she was able to sit in a chair and watch TV during like a lot of people. And she understood what was going on around her.

Being that she was not able to function like a “normal human being”, she was dependent on the charity and kindness of others. She was considered profoundly disabled.

And her family was willing to carry the burden of keeping her alive.

The battle for her life ensued for 7 years, having the feeding tube removed more than once during the course of the fight for her life.

Ultimately, her husband made the decision to have his wife removed from her life giving feeding tube because, he argued, that was what she wanted. He claimed that she wouldn’t have wanted to live in a vegetative state.

But no one asked her. She was able to communicate to the nurses and her parents. And she let her family know that she was scared, that she didn’t want to die.

A moral perspective

The problem becomes not a legal one, but a moral problem. That moral problem in her position was defined in her Faith. She was Catholic.

To a Catholic, all human life has a right to life – born, unborn, abled or disabled. No one has the right to take it away without just cause – and that is even debated on if that right ever exists, even in the case of serial killers. It is a touchy subject.

A famous nun

Mother Theresa was a celebrated, living advocate of this moral belief, rescuing those cast aside by society and letting them die with dignity under the care of a face, loving them until they were take their natural final breath. She was famous for her work in India, but she ran facilities of love around the world. Even here in the United States.

A beloved pontiff

Pope John Paul II was drawn to this battle as well, voicing his concern, stating,

“…there are some who cast doubt on the persistence of the ‘human quality’ itself, almost as if the adjective ‘vegetative’ (who use is now solidly established), which symbolically describes a clinical state, could or should be instead applied to the sick as such, actually demeaning their value and person dignity. In this sense, it must be noted that this term, even when confined to the clinical context, is certainly not the most felicitous when applied to human beings.

In opposition to such trends of thought, I feel the duty to reaffirm strongly that the intrinsic value and personal dignity of every human being do not change, no matter what the concrete circumstances of his or her life. A man, even if seriously ill or disabled in the exercise of his highest functions, is and always will be a man, and he will never become a ‘vegetable’ or an ‘animal’.

Those in a vegetative state…

Even our brothers and sisters who find themselves in the clinical condition of a ‘vegetative state’ retain their human dignity in all its fullness…

…The sick person in a vegetative state, awaiting recovery or a natural end, still has the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc.), and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed….

I should like particularly to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act…

Death by starvation…

…Death by starvation and dehydration is, in fact, the only possible outcome as a result of their withdrawal. In this sense it ends up becoming, if done knowingly and willingly, true and proper euthanasia by omission…

such an act is always ‘a serious violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.”

(Excerpts from the address to the Participants in the International Congress, entitled “Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas” by St John Paul II)

The courts

But when the court system is involved, there are no moral issues. Only legal ones. And, without a Loving Will (not Living Will) and a hospital advocate set up before she had her brain injury, she was unable to express her actual wish to live or die. She was 26 when she sustained her injury. So the person who legally had control over her life had been, ipso facto, been allowed to determine her will. And that was her husband.

The courts sided with him.

The resulting outcome

Her feeding tube was denied her after that final battle with in the court system. She was not even allowed the Last Rights, a sacrament fundamental to her Catholic faith, because it consisted of a crumb of bread and a drop of wine. To the medical community, that was considered “food” – the life source they just removed from her body. And after the deed was done, the attorney said she, like others who have their feeding tubes removed, said that she died “peacefully”.

But most of those others are in a completely vegetative state or are in a coma and wouldn’t be able to express that to anyone through normal human interaction. She was not.

Even those nurses who watched her die say differently. Her brow was not allowed to be wiped, nor ice chips or a sponge placed on her tongue during that time. She suffered horribly, and her breathing became strained. Those, even the nurses, who had to stand down, watched in horror as she struggled to live. She died a slow, painful death for 13 days from starvation and dehydration.

She was only 41.

The second story

But there was another one among us who did live in a similar physical state. Steven Hawking. He had to have a tracheotomy to breath as his lungs became paralyzed. Toward the end of his life, he, too, was on a feeding tube. He lived the last of his long life in a computerized wheelchair. It allowed him to communicate with computerized speech. Even when the paralysis was so severe he only had once cheek muscle that moved, he was still able to using that only remaining muscle in his cheek to operate the device. He was still able to move via the elaborate machine, moving it in the desired direction with a wand near his face, and “talk” to those around him.

But someone still had to take care of him. He was paralyzed from the waist down with a debilitating motor neuron disease – ALS, or Amyotophic Lateral Scerosis. The man had became totally dependent on the charity and kindness of others to feed, bathe, and clothe him.

In spite of his infirmities, he divorced his first wife and married again as his body declined. But he lived a full life until he was at the ripe old age of 76. His second wife, his nurse, cared for him until his death. And he was celebrated by the world as a great intellectual, writing massive amounts of work on black holes and other theories.

What is the difference between these two human beings?

The first human being was not important enough in the eyes of the world to keep alive. She was not a “functional contributor” to society. She was draining the human and physical resources taken to care for her, feed her, keep her alive. Even though the financial resources were won in an earlier lawsuit by her husband to be used to sustain her life.

The second human being was already famous, contributing writings and discoveries to the global scientific community at large. To lose him was to lose a great mind to the world, and they would do whatever it took to keep him alive. At all costs.

In the eyes of an average person, neither of these cases affect them. They neither care about black holes, nor about some young woman who was brain injured and kept alive on feeding tubes.

But turn the picture around

What if it were you? Are you someone worth keeping alive to the rest of society? Do you contribute anything that would be of interest to the rest of the world? If you were to suffer a traumatic disease or injury, would anyone be there to keep you alive – to support your right to want to live?

Or are you depending on someone else to make that choice for you?

In a world where life is taken for granted, the average person does not think about those things. Most people act like they will live forever. They never doubt that they will live to see tomorrow.

But many people, younger than either of the two above, have had a change of heart regarding that when their lives suddenly changed in the blink of an eye. Car accidents, physical injuries from sustaining neck trauma, aneurysms in the spine or brain, etc. Nothing is off the table. The body is fragile, and is balanced. If that balance is removed, the body will begin to deteriorate or collapse.

The body…

The body holds something very precious. It hold the life force of a human being. Every human being wants to live as long as they can in this life. To take one’s own life or the life of another thinking they will gain peace in death may or may not get their wish. And the suffering that can ensue during that course of death can be traumatic. Especially for those around that one who love that person who chose euthanasia or suicide.

Those who have endured pain or along lives may tire of the journey. And that is understandable. But understanding that we each have a purpose should rightfully sustain us until our last breath. That last breath shouldn’t be up to us. Animals struggle to survive, even when injured or abused beyond repair. Their instinct is to remain alive. They do not choose to take their own life. We, humans, often decide that for them. Sometimes justifiably, sometimes out of convenience.

We humans seem to think that only those who serve a purpose to society have the right to live. We determine who is living with a “quality of life” we define as deserving to continue living. In an effort to provision such an “humanitarian act”, we begun to purge those who are defined as being “a burden to society”.

Take away food and water from an animal in the same state and let them starve to death, animal right advocates will be fighting for the rights of the animals.

Quality of life

But who defines “quality of life”?

Some people think all disabled people, even the Downs Syndrome kids, should be eliminated because they don’t fall under the label of “quality of life”.

Others believe that unborn babies who might have a birth defect should be eliminated because that disability might completely hamper them from living a full quality of life.

Consider this and ask those who have survived such attempts at murdering them.

Murder is defined as the “crime of deliberately killing a person especially with the malice of aforethought.”

online Meriam Webster, February 11, 2022, for those who do not understand the terminology
  • A young woman goes around the country discussing the right to life. She has no arms. They were cut off in a botched abortion attempt.
  • Another young woman goes around with speeches about how valuable and awesome her life is. She has Downs Syndrome.
  • Another young lady walked down the aisle on her own. After suffering a physical malady, she was told she’d never walk again. She beat the odds.
  • Parents were told that he would be born with a brain problem because his skull wasn’t developing properly in the ultrasounds. The parent chose to carry him to term. A little baby was born completely healthy.
  • Other parents were told that their baby would be born without a brain. They chose life. And they were able to spend the few hours he lived in their arms. In their words, they got to meet their little son and introduce him to the family.

What is the difference between these people and those who think life is only meaningful if the body is completely healthy and looks “normal”?

Being human

These people who fought for life understood that there is more to life that just the body. It is what is inside that body that is important. It is the whole human being. The gifts, the treasures, the determination, the personality, the characteristics, everything that makes each person unique. It is more than the body. Is is the whole human existence. It is the whole human being.

When we lose sight of that and only consider a person based on a narrow definition, we lose sight of what it means to be human. And we cease to recognize people who are not the same as us as less than human.

At that point, we feel empowered to eliminate them because they are inconvenient, a detriment to society, and less than we consider ourselves to be.

That is wrong…

And that is wrong. We are all humans. Let us recognize that fact. We can disagree and still be okay with that. And we can be on different sides of a political fence and still get along. Perhaps we can eat different foods, speak different languages, look differently, act differently, believe differently. But intrinsically, we are all part of the human race.

Recognize that fact, and you will see that people are people, no matter their physical, mental, emotional, or other features that are not the same as us. We are all humans. And we need to respect ourselves enough to respect others. Life is life. Humans are humans. We come in all different forms, shapes, sizes.

Revel in that fact that you, too, are a part of that human race. Your life matters no matter what anyone thinks.

Respect your life, and you will respect the lives of others. Uphold the rights of every human person just as you would wish to be upheld.

Even if you, too, aren’t perfect.

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