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Monday, January 16, 2012

Matters of Life and Death

Warning: The following article contains controversial and adult subject matter. Graphic descriptions are involved. Parental Guidance is highly recommended....
....A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. *It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult!* Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what *we* stand for: *justice, truth... and the value of a single human being!*
Abby Mann- Judgement at Nuremberg
He eats through a tube. And whatever comes in through a tube has to go out through a tube. He is the armless, legless wonder of the twentieth century. And yet, by God, he's just as alive as you and me.
Dalton Trumbo- Johnny Got His Gun


Homer, here in St. Cloud's, I have been given the opportunity of playing God or leaving practically everything up to chance. Men and women of conscience should seize those moments when it's possible to play God. There won't be many. Do I interfere when absolutely helpless women tell me they simply can't have an abortion - that they simply must go through with having another and yet another orphan? I do not. I do not even recommend. I just give them what they want. You are my work of art, Homer. Everything else has been just a job. I don't know if you have a work of art in you, but I know what your job is: you're a doctor.
John Irving- The Cider House Rules
Oh, the lingering of death. What a business. Keep death alive. Hospitals don't make money otherwise. Drug companies either. If you're rich and you have the money, you can pay to die. But the poor, they can only afford to stick it out and suffer.
Adam Mazer- You Don't Know Jack
If there is any one thing that can be pointed to, assessed as the most crucial issue of last fifty years, it is this; What is human life? When does it begin? When do we have a right to decide as to how it should end? Culture would be in conflict with itself over what is often it's most basic rule: Thou Shall Not Kill.
In the case of when life begins, and if it is permissible to
terminate pregnancies, the practice is actually as old as sharpened sticks and learning which herbs are poisonous.. But, this often conflicted with some cultures rules about the importance of actually being born, in order to receive the blessings of an afterlife... which then implied that infanticide was preferable during times of drought or famine, to control excesses of population. Abandoning newborns to the elements being the preferred method in many cultures.
It was only in the 20th century, with the advent of modern medicine, that the debate began about which state of prenatal development was truly the demarcation of being a human being or not. While prophylactic methods of prevention were known, many were unreliable, and often dangerous. Female chastity until wedlock was the preferred method. Societal pressure to make sexual recreation a shameful practice was informally enforced. Thus, abortions often could be dangerous affairs, resulting in septicemia and death. Many hospitals would ban the operation, upon grounds of their religious sponsors' banning such practices. And yet, a hospital might occasionally hold such procedures under the guise of 'hysterectomies' or other such gynecologic operations. Many American states had outright bans on abortion procedures, causing some women to cross state lines seeking medical help. And risking punishment under laws prohibiting the transport of minor women for illegal motives.
The FDA approval of what was known simply as "The Pill", in 1960, gave women new contraceptive control over their bodies. With the Supreme Court case, Roe V. Wade, the tide turned in favor of women having the right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. And yet, many cultural factors often still opposed these practices. These separate oppositions merged upon the introduction of the "morning after pill", designed to terminate a pregnancy immediately after conception. The "pro life" and "pro choice" sides were massing to wage culture war. With occasional outbreaks of real violence taking place.
In the case of defining what is life, what constitutes death, and how much control we can exercise legally over the matter, it was also the advent of 20th century medicine that changed everything. Modern medicine operated under a strict directive to preserve life for as long as possible, without much consideration for the unintended consequences...
The very technologies that were used to keep the human body alive during transplants of hearts and lungs, enabled the physician to keep a body viable in the absence of brain function. And those same technologies would keep a human brain functioning even after much of the body had shut down. And, in the absence of consent to halt treatment, a hospital would be obliged to continue providing such services despite the lack of funds to support it. The necessity for 'living wills', declarations of custody and medical authority. were now apparent. Without proper legal authority being recognized by court, costly conflicts could arise.
Yet another matter was the suffering of those with incurable conditions, who would eventually die while living with extreme pain or incapacity. Suicide is often against the law. It's transgressors may be beyond the reach of punishment, but consequences can be levied upon the surviving family. But, the question of whether it is humane to force someone to live in what amounts to continual torture became an issue. After all, Euthanasia was often an accepted historical practice. And the practice was acceptably humane when applied to animals, so why not to humans?
One advocate for medically assisted suicide, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, made it his life's mission to test the ethics of the Courts in such matters. His arguments brought up the issue of whether or not we had the right to control the manner of our death, outside of any medical conditions.
So now, in the year 2012, we face a presidential election campaign where these issues of life and death will again be brought into discussion, and conflict.

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