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
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