Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Fight to Die

For everything there is a season...a time to be born, and a time to die
Ecclesiastes 3:2

Today's Supreme Court decision to allow Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law to stand is a reminder to us of the pitfalls of progress. Medical technology and scientific knowledge have expanded in our lifetimes to the point where dying has become a "right" that must be fought for.

In centuries past, people lived their lives much closer to death. Dying was simply an accepted fact of human life, an ever-present force of nature. There were no vaccines, no drug treatments, no sophisticated surgeries or diagnostic tools. People were born, and people died, each at their appointed time. Many people died of natural causes at a young age, because there was no way to block the march of illness. Women often died during or after childbirth, and children perished from illnesses that are no threat today, all due to modern medicine. Today, with so many dying agonies prolonged by the wonders of medical advancement, I sometimes wonder just how much better off we are.

Death is not a right; it is our destiny. The legal battle for "right to die" is like expending energy fighting for the "right to breathe." Death is something that is foreordained and unavoidable for mortal mankind. With our cultural focus today on increasing longevity, new cures, improved medical treatments, and healthy vigor into advanced years, we sometimes lose sight of where this journey called life is inevitably leading us. Death will come to each of us, regardless of how hard we fight to either hasten or prevent it.

Dying is a natural, often painful process that takes care of itself, if allowed. While I do not agree with the deliberate administration of a fatal dosage to a terminally ill patient, I certainly support the patient's right to refuse extraordinary measures to extend life and the right to as much palliative care as is necessary to be comfortable.

As for those of us who are well enough to pursue litigation and legislation on this subject, I have one thought: Perhaps our energies would be better spent concentrating on the benefits of improving our lives and living well while we are blessed with the time and health to do so.