Archive for July 2011
A couple weeks ago I rented “You Don’t Know Jack”, a movie that aired on HBO about Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Directed by Barry Levinson and starring Al Pacino, the film was so good it should have been released theatrically. It focuses on Kevorkian’s late career as a leading, lonely advocate for physician-assisted suicide.
The film largely portrays Kevorkian in a positive light, though he is a flawed man. Driven by his zeal to promote his cause, he counsels some patients who were later determined to not be terminally ill to proceed with suicide. But that may only underscore his philosophy that it is the right of each person to determine how they should go and when.
I support Kevorkian’s philosophy that we all have the right to determine our own manner of death. I think a lot of people do too, at least in terms of life support: when the mind checks out, what’s the point of keeping the body alive? But “YDKJ” raises a valid point: while it is legal to remove someone from life support, which causes the body to slowly die via starvation and dehydration, it is illegal in all but three states to bring about death in a quick and painless manner.
Why should people have to wait until they are unconscious from whatever ails them, if they are in pain and there is no hope of recovery? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to bring about an end to their suffering in a peaceful, dignified manner of their own choosing?
The argument used most often against physician-assisted suicide (or euthanasia, which is slightly different) is that it is playing God with our lives and bodies. Well yes, it is. So what? In an article discussing “YDKJ” and his own thoughts on suicide, Roger Ebert offers this rebuttal:
“When he was asked if he wasn’t playing God, Dr. Jack replied with perfect logic: “Every doctor plays God.” This is the simple truth. When doctor cut us open, stitch and mend, medicate us, drug us, radiate us and prolong our lives, they are playing God. In a more direct sense, if we choose to abuse tobacco, drugs, alcohol and wise nutrition, we are playing God. We have decided we should not live the lifespan our bodies were programmed for. And if we do not believe in God, we can hardly welcome someone else, or the law, playing God on our behalf.”
Dudley Clendinen, an author and former writer for the New York Times, was recently diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Earlier this month he wrote a touching essay about his choice to die before his time comes, and how he addressed that decision with his children. I highly recommend reading it in its entirely. Here is a choice quote:
“We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate. About having sex and children. About how to live. But we don’t talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull. But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative — not governing — in order to be free.”
This article made me think of “Joe Versus the Volcano”, a 1990 film in which Tom Hanks is told he has only so many months to live, and how he chooses to embrace not only his remaining days but also his death.
And “The Sea Inside”, the 2004 Spanish film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language film, in which Javier Barden, a quadriplegic who fought the Spanish court system for 29 years for his right to end his own life. I was moved by the detail and moral considerations that went into his suicide plans.
And I remind myself of “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”, which won the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes film festival. The film tells the story of a man dying of terminal illness (liver failure), who is visited by the spirits of loved ones in the days leading to his own death. It is interesting to see how other cultures view death in different ways, and sometimes they are similar — how Uncle Boonmee walked into the cave and awaited his fate, much like how Dudley Clendinen has accepted his own “quiet and calm” way.
While I’ve never given any thought to suicide and I’m currently in good health (great health, in fact), I support the belief that, if I’m suddenly faced with a short-term expiration date, then I’m going to exercise my right to die in a manner of my own choosing. Even if that means traveling to Oregon, Washington or Montana, the three states that currently allow physician-assisted suicide (under varying regulations). But don’t worry, I’m going to get as much out of life as I can before that happens.
This bacteria-sized worm lives in the deep sea and is mostly found around hydrothermal vents. This image has been magnified 525 times: the real width of the field in the image is 568μm, or 568/1000 of a millimeter. It’s far larger than an atom, but still among the smallest living things.
[h/t: Huffington Post]
Back when I sat and wrote emails all day long on the MCU side of the building I used to stream The Current out of the Twin Cities. That was years ago. Our department moved to the east side of the building and I don’t think I’ve turned on internet radio more than a handful of times since then. I know I haven’t listened to anything within the past year, if not longer. But I should have. Monotonous office work is far more tolerable when you have a melody to set it to.
So today, with a couple hour’s worth of authorization forms to process, I put in the earbuds and turned on MPR right at the beginning of “One Day” by Sharon Van Etten. I let her words drown out the chatter around me. A combination of my too-long absence from workplace music and a lack of the usual stress that has ended most of my workdays in recent weeks allowed the song to swoop up out of nowhere and leave me feeling elated as I left the building into the 101ºF heat.
Kept busy this past weekend. Friday afternoon was spent running a 5K for the first time in a month. 27:37. My lungs hated me and my legs ached the next day. Rode through the rain to the PL after dinner, right as Cory and Cara pulled up to the front door. We shared a drink, they left, Ben and his sister arrived, we shared a few drinks, they left, I had another and returned home. Inexplicably ordered and ate an entire medium sausage & mushroom pizza all by myself while watching the first hour of “Harry Potter 7.1”.
Saturday — woke up slightly hung over (I’m realizing it doesn’t take much anymore to make me feel loopy the morning after), took care of laundry, then bicycled to Waterloo in the sweltering afternoon heat for a pre-wedding party courtesy Andrea’s friend Alyssa. The usual rogue’s gallery attended. We kept to the shade outdoors while the parents loafed about in the a/c indoors. Drinks, chitchat, pork sandwiches, throwing games and sand volleyball (on Olympic-quality sand, no less!) before sunset, then more drinks and a twisted marathon game of Apples to Apples. Called it a night around midnight. Took a much-needed shower before crashing.
Sunday — got a good night’s sleep. Did a bit of reading/notetaking, watched the sky darken and listening to a quickly-passing thunderstorm roll through. Bicycled to Mulligans to watch the Women’s World Cup finals match w/ Andrea, Robert and Micah. The U.S. lost to Japan during an overtime kickoff. Returned home, realized I had nothing to do for the rest of the night, went to Hy-Vee for groceries, made an impromptu decision to see if I could get into the next screening of “Harry Potter 7.2”, which was surprisingly not sold out, went into the theater and took a seat in the same row as Katya and her parents, who yelled at me to come join them, which I did. Very good movie — more on it later. Went home, watched the rest of “HP 7.1”, did a bit of reading and went to bed.
This week: it’s hot. Very hot. Mid- to upper-nineties with heat indices well over 100-110ºF. The humidity is insufferable. I limited myself to only 12 miles of bicycling today. I think I’ll spend most of the week focused on running… indoors… in the air-conditioned gym. The weather will hopefully be better next week, but my partner at work will be gone and I predict a lot of overtime for myself. Some relief the following week: potentially some new people in my department, and a short workweek before I leave for my vacation.
This latin Bag End is my kind of dwelling…
The first picture shows Kenneth Bray and his son Chris watching the first shuttle liftoff of Columbia from the Kennedy Space Center on April 12, 1981. The second picture shows them watching the final shuttle liftoff of Atlantis on July 8, 2011.