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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is it “honorable” to use assisted suicide to die? - "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!"

"Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" is a quotation attributed to Patrick Henry from a speech he made to the Virginia Convention. It was given on March 23, 1775, at St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia, and is credited with having swung the balance in convincing the Virginia House of Burgesses to pass a resolution delivering the Virginia troops to the Revolutionary War. Among the delegates to the convention were future US Presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Reportedly, those in attendance, upon hearing the speech, shouted, "give me liberty or give me death!"

The quote “Give me Liberty, or give me Death” has become forever woven into the fabric of American culture.  It pronounces that there is valor and honor in fighting for the concept of liberty, the “American Dream”.  Throughout history the notion of “dying in battle” has been portrayed as glorious and heroic.  Death is not to be feared but honored.
Even today we have hundreds of thousands of American troops fighting wars and battles throughout the world, with Americans dying or being maimed each day.  We rightfully view their dedication to us as honorable.

So it makes one wonder why we have such issue as an American public discussing death, and the choices that are being made every day as to who lives and who dies.
Death panels?  Actually, in a way, yes.  Our current system is set up so that medical treatment is available to some but not all and that decisions as to who lives and who dies are being made daily by both the government and corporations.
So what do we agree upon about death?  Most agree that if a person decides not to continue with treatments (will not take pills) which would prolong their life, but not “cure them”, that such person has the right to die with dignity and refuse treatment.

Funny how when we change one simple word, “not”, so as to allow people to die with dignity, with the aid of modern medicine, we create a firestorm of debate as to “dying with dignity” versus “assisted suicide.”  Somehow we decide that valor, honor and heroism is saved only for those who die in battle.
HBO in “How to Die In Oregon”, winner of the Grand Jury Prize (Documentary) 2011 Sundance Film Festival, adds a human face to the question of dying with dignity.

Have you ever watched someone die from a terminal illness? 

Terminal illness is a medical term popularized in the 20th century to describe a disease that cannot be cured or adequately treated and that is reasonably expected to result in the death of the patient within a relatively short period of time.   A patient who has such an illness may be referred to as a terminal patient, terminally ill or simply terminal. Often, a patient is considered to be terminally ill when the life expectancy is estimated to be six months or less, under the assumption that the disease will run its normal course.
Some terminally ill patients stop all debilitating treatments to reduce unwanted side effects. Others continue aggressive treatment in the hope of an unexpected success. Still others reject conventional medical treatment and pursue unproven treatments such as radical dietary modifications. Patients' choices about different treatments may change over time.

According to Patient Refusal of Nutrition and Hydration: Walking the Ever-Finer Line American Journal Hospice & Palliative Care, pp. 8-13, March/April 1995:
People who feel they are near the end of their life often intentionally refuse food and/or water. Published studies indicate that "within the context of adequate palliative care, the refusal of food and fluids does not contribute to suffering among the terminally ill", and might actually contribute to a comfortable passage from life: "At least for some persons, starvation does correlate with reported euphoria."
So we allow people to starve themselves to death but we object to other more humane ways to end life?  So why do we view it as "heroic" for someone to suffer pain impossible to imagine until they ultimately die as opposed to assisted suicide for a terminal illness with no hope of survival?  Is it just the historical mythology of gladiators fighting to the death?  What is “heroic” or “honorable” about fighting pain and misery so intolerable that no rational person would endure it?
 Those who are opposed to the “right to die with dignity” say that it is “weak”, “that the dying person lacks “dignity”, that ending life (when terminally ill) is somehow different than dying with “courage” and “valor” and excruciating pain .    We Americans like our heroes to suffer?  Right?
Death is an inevitable part of life. 
If we give mothers drugs to bring us into “life”, then why are we so opposed to allowing adults with terminal illness the right to use the same to bring us to the “after-life”.  We are all headed there.   None of us are immune from death.  Or is it that various religious ideologies are being imposed upon us?  But that is why we have separation of Church and State so that no single religion should impose its doctrines on all of us.  It should remain a personal choice.
Peter Richardson’s documentary How to  Die in Oregon follows the lives, the decisions and the experiences of people with terminal  illnesses who consider whether to achieve a peaceful death using life-ending  medication under the guidelines of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.
Why would you or should you watch what undoubtedly will be painful to watch?  Because that person suffering could be you, me, your mom or dad, or sister or brother, husband, wife or partner.   We all hate the thought of watching the people we love suffer.  We all want to know the answer to the question of “what is best for my mom (etc.).”
And that is the ultimate question, “what is right for the person dying?”  We all want our mom or dad to die with dignity.  Watching a loved one die is never easy.  But what is a “dignified” way to die?  And who gets to decide?
In 1994, Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to legalize physician aid-in-dying.  At the time, only two countries (Switzerland and the Netherlands) permitted the practice, but more than 500 Oregonians have since ended their life using the law. How To Die In Oregon is a powerful, compassionate exploration of Oregon’s historic and controversial Death with Dignity Act, which legalizes physician aid-in-dying for some terminally ill patients. The film tells the stories of people who died under the act, and follows the crusade of one woman who honors her husband by fighting for similar choices in the state of Washington.

Peter D. Richardson, the Director and Producer of this film took fours years to follow the lives of persons struggling with terminal illness as well as their families, friends and Doctors.

Using personal interviews with volunteers, advocates, and terminally ill patients throughout Oregon and Washington, Richardson paints a picture of these struggles but does so in a way that it affirms life as opposed to focusing on death.

Perhaps the most compelling story emerges with Cody Curtis, her family and her oncologist. Through Cody and those around her, director Peter Richardson created an emotional and life-affirming film which will help people everywhere better understand what it means to regain control of one's own end of life care when faced with a terminal illness and to die with dignity.

You can read first hand Cody's own account of her story HERE.

Cody was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in December of 2007, at the age of just fifty-two. Cholangiocarcinoma is a cancer of the bile duct. Your bile duct runs through your liver.

According to Cody in her own words:
"The outcome is clear in my case. If you’re willing to look at what’s likely to happen, it’s fairly awful. People with this kind of cancer die of massive organ failure and it’s not pretty. And I already did that to my family last year, bouncing in and out of the hospital. My husband took six months of family leave from his job as a consultant. Our son was just back from the Peace Corps and was with me in the hospital every day. Our daughter flew home a number of times. "

"The hardest part about the Death with Dignity stuff is deciding when to take the drugs. It’s a totally loaded subject because for people who are religious it’s a mortal sin. I have friends who are religious and I don’t want to offend them. But it’s an important choice to have, instead of the model where we throw so much money at "treating” people who are dying. I’m extremely grateful to my doctors for leveling with me about the course of this disease, so my family and I have a choice about how and when to die."
So it begs the question again?  Who should decide what is best for you when you are terminally ill?  Why should we consider it to be somehow more "heroic" to suffer until we die a death which is inevitable?  And why are we so easy to send our young men and women into battle to die, yet object to some one's decision to have death with dignity? 

Isn't that the ultimate form of Liberty?   Death is not to be feared but honored.

HBO's documentary "How To Die In Oregon" premiered May 26 on HBO.  It may be watched at HBO On Demand (under documentary) or at these times.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Michele Bachmann - You Must Be Stupid, Stupid, Stupid (Or Not?)

If you are a John Grisham fan, you are likely familiar with the quote "you must be stupid, stupid, stupid" from The Runaway Jury.

If you read my site you also know that I have been highly critical of Michele Bachmann's political positions because she seems to just make shit up.
Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels (29 October 18971 May 1945) was Adolf Hitler's Propaganda Minister in Nazi Germany. He also served as Chancellor for one day, following Hitler's death. He was known for his zealous and energetic oratory and virulent anti-Semitism. He is often credited with saying (although there are no proven allocations of the lines):
 If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. // If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. // If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. // If you repeat a lie long enough, it becomes truth. // If you repeat a lie many times, people are bound to start believing it.
Michele Bachmann must be a fan of Goebbels. Just say something enough times and it must be true.

 But at least one person, a high school student no less, is calling her on her lies. In his Article "Michele Bachmann's Stance on Evolution Demolished by High School Student" Michael Zimmerman calls out Michele Bachman to meet the high schooler's challenge.
 "What most don't know, though, is that her educational policies are being challenged by an amazing high school student from Baton Rouge, La. You should get to know this student, Zack Kopplin, and his efforts because he's likely to make a difference.
I've written about Zack previously because both his story and his commitment are incredibly impressive. As I first noted, he recently began an effort to repeal an atrocious stealth-creationism law in Louisiana. The law, the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008, encourages attacks on evolution to be taught in Louisiana's public schools under the banner of critical thinking. This is the only state law of its sort in the country and, as Zack so well points out, Louisiana students interested in science are being done a huge disservice by its very existence.
Zack hasn't been content to simply complain about an educationally irresponsible law, however. His organizational skills have been nothing short of phenomenal and he's gathered a collection of supporters second to none. His repeal effort has been endorsed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest general science organization in the world with over 10 million members; the National Association of Biology Teachers, the country's main organization for biological educators; The Clergy Letter Project, an organization of more than 14,000 clergy and scientists recognizing that religion and science need not be in conflict; as well as a host of other scientific groups including the American Institute for Biological Sciences, The American Society for Cell Biology, the Society for the Study of Evolution, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Additionally, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to support the repeal.
Zack's work didn't stop there. He wrote a petition that was adopted as's featured one of the week where it has amassed more than 65,000 supporters. And, as I reported in April, in his most extraordinary effort, he collected the endorsement of 43 individuals who won a Nobel Prize in science.
Which brings me back to Michele Bachmann. Not only is Bachmann a fan of creationism and its anti-intellectual offshoot, intelligent design, she's made some outlandish claims about the pseudoscientific subject. For example, she's asserted, "there is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact ... hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, believe in intelligent design."
Zack has now challenged Bachmann on her claims. Using a poker analogy and the huge number of scientists who have endorsed evolution, in general, and his repeal effort, in particular, Zack has written, "Congresswoman Bachmann, I see your 'hundreds' of scientists, and raise you millions of scientists."
Given the strength of the hand he has, he doesn't stop there.
For the next hand, I raise you 43 Nobel Laureate scientists. That's right: 43 Nobel Laureate scientists have endorsed our effort to repeal Louisiana's creationism law. ... Congresswoman Bachmann, you claim that Nobel Laureates support creationism. Show me your hand. If you want to be taken seriously by voters while you run for President, back up your claims with facts. Can you match 43 Nobel Laureates, or do you fold?
It would be difficult for someone with a sincere interest in science education not to take Zack Kopplin's challenge seriously. Having said that, I fully expect that Michele Bachmann will completely ignore Zack, the voice of the scientific community, the combined pleas of 43 Nobel scientists and thousands of religious leaders.
Michele Bachmannn you must just be stupid, stupid, stupid. Or perhaps, like Goebbels you just believe if you lie enough then people will accept it as true.
What may even be worse is that you have been outsmarted by Zack, a high school kid.  Education is not dead in American, but Michele Bachmann would like to kill it.  Perhaps Bachmann is more like Goebbels, who according to Otto Ohlendorf:
Goebbels considered humans as objects to be used for political purposes - for the moment.
Does Bachmann really believe all the lies she tells or is she just using "humans as objects to be used for political purposes - for the moment."  Her only objective to be President, truth be damned.

No?  What about these great statements:
  • ''Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.''
  • “But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” (Note, many of the founders owned slaves and never fought for their elimination)
  • ''Not all cultures are equal.'' (Sounds dangerously like Goebbells)
  • “Unelected bureaucracies will decide what we can and can't get in future health insurance policy. That's why they are called death panels."
  • ''This cannot pass. What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn't pass.'' (Perhaps she was in the same coven as that lunatic from Delaware)
  • ''If we took away the minimum wage — if conceivably it was gone — we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level.'' (Didn't she just complain about slavery?  I guess getting paid nothing (or little to nothing) for work doesn't count because you need it to feed your starving children.)
  • ''Normalization (of gayness) through desensitization. Very effective way to do this with a bunch of second graders, is take a picture of 'The Lion King' for instance, and a teacher might say, 'Do you know that the music for this movie was written by a gay man?' The message is: I'm better at what I do, because I'm gay.''
  • ''I don't know where they're going to get all this money because we're running out of rich people in this country.''
  • ''I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out under another, then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence.''
  • “The big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax. Its all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”
  • “I just take the Bible for what it is, I guess, and recognize that I am not a scientist, not trained to be a scientist. I'm not a deep thinker on all of this. I wish I was. I wish I was more knowledgeable, but I'm not a scientist.”
Yes Michele we wish you were a deep thinker or at least took time to think before you just make shit up.  And perhaps you should rethink your positions on some issues.  Bachmann has called for phasing out of Social Security and Medicare.  Bachmann says in dealing with Iran, diplomacy "is our option", but that other options, including a nuclear strike, shouldn't be taken off the table.

Is this someone you want as your President? 

Michele Bachmann - You Must Be Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.