Do Not Resuscitate: May 2007: Archives

May 29, 2007

A Reflection On Happy Remembrances genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Happy Remembrances

A Reflection

I’ve never really liked holidays since for the most part they no longer seem to be about the person or event that triggered their creation. By and large, we’ve turned virtually all holidays into commercial opportunities and a reason to have some time off from work. With our “what’s in it for me" mentality and our need to be entertained, holidays have become a whirlwind of events and activities that leave little time to reflect. By the time we do these things we do, its time to get back to work and we once again begin the process of anticipating the next holiday inspired hiatus…often leapfrogging their real meaning.

My grandmother’s birthday is at the end of May and I’ve always associated it with Memorial Day. She died just under eight years ago and would have been ninety six this year. As a child, most of my holidays included my maternal grandma and grandpa…my paternal grandparents weren’t around as my dads mom died before I was born and his father died not long after I was born. They were all Italian immigrants who came to America as young adults.

When I think back on how we spent most holidays, they usually included a traditional meal prepared by my grandma and spending time around the dinner table listening to the conversation and the reminiscing of the older adults. They were all storytellers and they each seemed to have a style all their own. I’m sure that by the time I was a young adult, I had heard each story numerous times…which happened because we frequently had company that hadn’t heard the stories before and invariably, someone would ask one of the older folks to recount a favorite story for the newcomers. We never grew tired of hearing them because they were colorful, insightful, and about real life situations.

One of my favorite stories was told by my grandpa. As a young man, he lived in New York with his parents and worked as a laborer on the Empire State Building. Life at the time, and particularly in the Italian community, frequently involved a large circle of friends and relatives. From time to time the older and better traveled ones would give advice to the younger, more naive ones…advice that came from their more rapid assimilation into American culture…which frequently didn’t conform to the beliefs and customs of the older Italians.

As the story goes, one of these younger men, during a conversation with my grandpa, asked him if he was saving his money from what was at the time a decent job. My grandpa answered that he wasn’t…he was doing what young Italians who lived at home did…he gave his money to his parents. So his relative told him that he needed to start saving some money and suggested my grandpa open a bank account. After some sustained prodding, my grandpa acquiesced and began putting his money in the bank. With the ensuing payday, he deposited his earnings.

The deliberate nature of Italian familial dynamics led his parents to say nothing after the first payday passed without my grandpa placing his earnings on the table. Keep in mind that the Old Italian mind set was often accompanied by an unspoken strength and patience which was employed long enough to allow for the unexpected…but not much longer. Another week passed and my grandpa failed to place his earnings on the table. During dinner, my grandpa’s dad…pa as my grandpa called him…finally broached the subject. He told my grandpa that they (his mom and dad) had noticed that he didn’t bring home any money from work and they wondered if he might be having a problem that he wanted to discuss (giving the benefit of the doubt fits the above style perfectly). My grandpa explained that his cousin had suggested that he start saving his money for the future so he had opened a bank account. His mom and dad said very little other than to acknowledge what they had heard.

The next evening, my grandpa came home and as usual, his mom was preparing dinner. When it came time to eat, my grandpa noticed that there were only two place settings at the table…located at the seats where his mom and dad typically sat. As his mom began to put the food on the table, my grandpa finally broached the missing place setting. He calmly inquired about the missing plate; asking if there was a problem…to which his dad calmly responded, “no, there isn't any problem". Puzzled, my grandpa asked, “Well Pa, then where is my plate?" His dad, with continued calm, replied, “Where is the money you made from work?" to which my grandpa stated, “Pa, I told you last night that I started saving it in a bank account." His dad paused for a moment (there is an art to sending messages in an Italian family) and calmly said, “Well, then you should go eat at the bank", and with that the message had been delivered.

Without fail, everyone listening to the story would burst into laughter regardless of how many times they had heard the story. Thinking back, I’ve occasionally wondered why we laughed…but it was because my grandpa was imparting a story about the lessons we learn in life and he was doing so with humor which was an integral part of our Italian cultural tradition. While the incident involved a serious situation, once my grandpa understood the message his parents were delivering, there was no doubting that the story was priceless and he had perfected its delivery. I think the humor is also the result of a more pensive approach to life…one that sought to impart wisdom while preserving dignity…so more was said with less.

In truth, his dad and mom could have simply demanded to know why the money wasn’t on the table the very first night…but they thought wiser…and waited and watched in hopes that clarity would emerge and perhaps their son would offer a reasonable explanation…or on his own realize the inequity of the situation without the need for confrontation. When that didn’t happen, they delivered a gentle, though jolting, message that illuminated the relevant realities.

As it turned out, before the next payday, my grandpa and his dad agreed that he could continue to save some of his money but that he would pay a portion for his room and board. Thus an important lesson was learned and my grandpa would be a better man and better prepared for the coming travails of adult living.

So as this holiday comes to an end, recounting this story has allowed me to return to those years when each holiday was a time of reflection and an opportunity to learn more of life’s lessons. As Memorial Day passes, I long for those moments around the table and those simplistic stories that determined what I believed and shaped who I would become…and I fondly remember those who have left this life and I recommit myself to maintaining the texture and depth of their legacies of love.

Daniel DiRito | May 29, 2007 | 9:39 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Some Thoughts On When Death Comes Calling genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Happy Remembrances & Hip-Gnosis

When Death Comes Calling

Its no wonder death is a controversial issue. While it’s something we all have to do, there are differing opinions on what it means and whether or not an individual ought to have the right to determine when to die.

The practice of physician assisted suicide is even more volatile. With the upcoming release from prison of Dr. Kevorkian, the doctor who assisted in over one hundred suicides, the topic is once again front and center and the subject of new polling. The full article can be found on MSNBC.

NEW YORK - More than two-thirds of Americans believe there are circumstances in which a patient should be allowed to die, but they are closely divided on whether it should be legal for a doctor to help terminally ill patients end their own lives by prescribing fatal drugs, a new AP-Ipsos poll finds.

Though demonized by his critics as a callous killer, Kevorkian — who is to be released Friday — maintains relatively strong public support. The AP-Ipsos poll found that 53 percent of those surveyed thought he should not have been jailed; 40 percent supported his imprisonment. The results were similar to an ABC News poll in 1999 that found 55 percent disagreeing with his conviction.

The new AP-Ipsos poll asked whether it should be legal for doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their own lives — a practice currently allowed in Oregon but in no other states. Forty-eight percent said it should be legal; 44 percent said it should be illegal.

More broadly, 68 percent said there are circumstances when a patient should be allowed to die, while 30 percent said doctors and nurses, in all circumstances, should do everything possible to save the life of a patient.

Few people have actually encountered an individual that sought to end his or her own life as the result of a terminal or debilitating diagnosis. In my own opinion, being around an individual dealing with these circumstances brings a new perspective to the topic as well as a better understanding of the prevailing dynamics.

In many instances, the first reaction to a newly diagnosed terminal illness is often a consideration of suicide. From what I’ve experienced, the reaction is a relatively natural response to the loss of control over one’s destiny…and I contend the consideration of suicide is an attempt to capture some degree of control.

Over time, the vast majority of these patients rule out suicide as the will to live…even if it comes with severe pain and other disabling limitations…exceeds the desire and the need for control. In fact, I see the consideration of suicide as part of a process…a process that forces an individual to actually review and reconcile their beliefs with regard to death.

Often, at the end of that process, there is an effort to compartmentalize one’s pending death…a means to block out that reality in order to savor the time that remains. In many ways, that ability is a fortunate defense mechanism.

Nonetheless, there are individuals that view the knowledge of death as the equivalent of death…whereby that thought is so disruptive and so overwhelming that it precludes the ability to partition the act of living from the reality of pending death. For others, the decision to die results from the fact that the illness has put an end to all that brings joy and life loses its meaning and its purpose…all of the positive incentives have evaporated and the will to live simply fades away.

Frequently, the decisions surrounding death are more difficult for friends and family of the dying individual. The refusal to accept the inevitable loss of a loved one can be a powerful force for denial. Factor in religious beliefs and it can actually become quite contentious.

Only 34 percent of those who attend religious services at least once a week think it should be legal for doctors to help terminally ill patients end their own lives. In contrast, 70 percent of those who never attend religious services thought the practice should be legal.

Just 23 percent of those who attend religious services at least weekly would consider ending their own lives if terminally ill, compared to 49 percent of those who never attend religious services.

Men are also more likely to consider suicide and they favor allowing doctors to assist by a wide margin…a fact that I would suggest supports the theory of controlling one’s destiny…a feature I would argue is more culturally ingrained into the male mindset.

Men were more likely to say they would consider ending their own lives if faced with a terminal illness — 43 percent of men would consider the option, compared to just 28 percent of women. And 53 percent of men think it should be legal for doctors to help end the lives of terminally ill patients, compared to 44 percent of women.

Death is perhaps the most personal of all human events…something that is almost always done alone. In my opinion there isn’t a right or wrong way to deal with one’s own death.

Anyone with an interest in the topic would be wise to see the Spanish language movie The Sea Insidebased upon the real life experiences of Ramon Sampedro to end his life after an accident left him a quadriplegic. It is a beautiful and poignant expose on the right to die which eloquently presents both sides of the argument. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in further exploring this topic.

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Daniel DiRito | May 29, 2007 | 2:12 PM | link | Comments (0)
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May 27, 2007

A Death By Any Other Name Would Not Be Accepted genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Happy Remembrances & Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad

A Rose By Any Other Name?

Sometimes when writing a posting, one knows in advance that it may be controversial and has the potential to be met with anger…and sometimes that leads one to decide against ever publishing it. Other times, despite the probabilities, one pushes ahead and publishes such words because one believes they need to be spoken regardless. This is one of those postings.

On Memorial Day weekend…as well as any time one seeks to stop and remember those who are no longer here…we look for ways to understand death and to reconcile with the ominous nature of our mortality. Try as we might, one is never fully prepared for the death and loss of a loved one…and though time may lessen the time we spend in pain, it never lessens the depth of the pain that we do experience.

When we attempt to understand death, we often draw comparisons in order to help us accept our loss. For example, with the death of an aged grandparent, we might tell ourselves that despite the obvious loss, our loved one had the good fortune of living a long and meaningful life. Unfortunately, there are times when our loss is virtually inconsolable and we’re unable to find a single scintilla of justification. Clearly, we all hope to avoid the latter…but life doesn’t always afford us our hopes.

The death of a soldier is an event that rarely goes without notice…and that is as it should be. Nonetheless, it is also quite troubling…and though we may not take the time to fully understand our reaction…in some primal way, it is known without analysis or discussion that the loss of a soldier requires a debt of gratitude since the life of each soldier is given in the service of the country we embrace. This unspoken, though well understood, sense of debt exists regardless of how one views the conflict that facilitates the loss of a soldier.

When a war is unpopular, or thought to be unnecessary, it creates a heightened angst when one is forced to recognize and assimilate the loss of a soldier. That heightened angst, in my opinion, comes from our natural tendency to seek to justify the loss of life. If one opposes the war, one may well struggle to find the means to soothe the loss. Perhaps the void that internal conflict creates is something we should embrace since it may be the very mechanism by which we can bring an end to conflicts that seem unwarranted. Nonetheless, navigating this highly sensitive terrain is akin to walking a mine field…if one fails to step lightly, an explosion can ensue.

With that said, I embark on a perilous journey…a journey intent on not only exposing the angst mentioned above…but a journey intended to accelerate that angst. To be clear, I honor and value the lives of every soldier lost as well as every individual and though I infer no disrespect, I realize some may not agree…and so I apologize in advance should my words seem otherwise.

This coming Friday, Dr. Jack Kevorkian will be released from prison after serving eight years for his part in assisting in the suicides of over one hundred individuals…individuals that by and large suffered ailments that would eventually end their lives or that had taken from them the lives that they cherished such that they already felt dead…though by some trick of fate, remained here in this existence against their will.

Assisted suicide is legal in only one state under highly regulated conditions and it remains a very controversial issue. Perhaps that is because we prefer to engage death as a matter of chance rather than as a matter of choice. I understand that argument though I’m not sure it can withstand a reasoned review. Again, let me be clear…my argument is not meant to minimize the religious beliefs that stand in opposition to assisted suicide and I readily accept objections to assisted suicide on that basis alone.

Notwithstanding, I’m of the opinion one can make a reasoned argument that we frequently fail to apply our beliefs about death consistently. Three headlines, one from 1998, and two from this Memorial Day weekend help demonstrate my point.

From The New York Times in 1998:

Kevorkian Deaths Total 100

Dr. Jack Kevorkian has helped a 66-year-old man with lung cancer kill himself and has now assisted 100 suicides, his lawyer has reported.

Mr. Herman died one day after the Michigan House of Representatives adopted a bill addressing Dr. Kevorkian, who has been acquitted in three trials.

The bill would make assisted suicide a felony punishable by as many as five years in prison and $10,000 in fines, or both. It now goes back to the Senate, where minor changes are expected to be adopted before it goes to Gov. John Engler, who is expected to sign it.

From The United Press International - 05/27/2007:

More Than 100 Soldiers Killed In May

BAGHDAD, May 27 (UPI) -- At least 101 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in May, the seventh time since the 2003 invasion that the monthly toll passed 100, military officials said.
In April, 104 soldiers were killed, the Web site -- maintained by the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count -- said. The U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed 3,439 U.S. military deaths in Iraq, and 13 more await confirmation.

From The Associated Press – 05/26/2007:

U.S. Deaths Near Grim Memorial Day Mark

BAGHDAD - Americans have opened nearly 1,000 new graves to bury U.S. troops killed in Iraq since Memorial Day a year ago. The figure is telling — and expected to rise in coming months.

In the period from Memorial Day 2006 through Saturday, 980 soldiers and Marines died in Iraq, compared to 807 deaths in the previous year. And with the Baghdad security operation now 3 1/2 months old, even President Bush has predicted a difficult summer for U.S. forces.

This past week Congress authorized a military spending bill that met with the president’s approval and that did not include any timetable for withdrawal from Iraq…despite the fact that one can argue that the 2006 election sent a strong message that our elected officials bring an end to the war in Iraq and prevent the deaths of more U.S. soldiers.

Every indication suggests that George Bush will leave office…after eight years…with a significant presence of U.S. military troops still in Iraq. Back in 1998, the state of Michigan passed a law that led to the eight year imprisonment of Dr. Kevorkian for his part in facilitating the deaths of individuals who wanted to end their lives. Now I’m not suggesting the president or this congress should be imprisoned for their part in facilitating the death of 100 soldiers during the month of May…or the nearly 1,000 since last Memorial Day…or the 3,439 total soldiers killed in Iraq since the war began back in 2003.

However, on this Memorial Day weekend, I am suggesting Americans consider this information and put themselves through the process described above…the one which we humans go through when we lose a loved one. If at the end of that process, one feels some additional angst due to the growing absence of justifications for these deaths, then may I suggest that perhaps its time we demand that our elected officials do the right thing? If 100 assisted suicides warranted a law to imprison Dr. Kevorkian for eight years, what would be a reasonable equivalent for accepting the further loss of life in Iraq?

Daniel DiRito | May 27, 2007 | 11:32 AM | link | Comments (0)
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