Longtime assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian died yesterday. He has been a somewhat of a controversial figure as he has assisted the death of, according to his own account, 130 people who mostly had terminal diseases or severe Alzheimer’s. Though he is seen as a rather sinister figure, especially from the religious right, his intentions to constantly bring up the subject of euthanasia, though flawed in its execution, was and is a moral and just cause.
In this country we believe that every man has a right to live with dignity and honor. The closer we get to our mortality, the less a chance we will get to die with dignity and honor. In 17th century Japan it was normal custom for one to take his or her own life over the issue of honor. Oda Nobunaga, one of Japan’s most notable warlords during the Sengoku Jidai era, was a brash youth who once embarrassed himself at his father’s funeral. His mentor committed remonstration through suicide or seppuku. Somehow the thought of a noble death has been lost in our society. Many still believe we should not choose our own demise and that it should be God’s place when and how to take you. But, I argue, is not every man fearful in the face of death and if this is so, then are those who are willing to face it in their own manner really physchologically deranged?
I agree with those who would say a sane man can make choices about his future but one devoid of sanity are less capable of making those choices. I also agree that psychological profiles should be considered. Depression should not be the reason for assisted suicide. But let’s be frank, a person who is committed to committing suicide will find a way. Of course, it’s as easy as jumping off a bridge. The point is that people make a choice to live or die and a sane person who wishes to end their life should not be judged with the hand of God by his peers.
The euthanasia issue is not about killing, murder, and death. It is about compassion, humanity, and choice. My own grandmother has told my family repeatedly that she wishes not to be enfeebled and wishes not to live out the rest of her life on an infirmary bed. She recently had a stroke in China and has been unable to leave the hospital for 4 months. If she in all her sanity asked me to pull the plug, it would be an easy way out to take the moral high ground. I think that I would kill my grandmother if the circumstances were right and I knew her suffering.
I believe that is the crux of the matter. How does one know another’s suffering. Since we can’t experience another’s body and mentality, we can never know without objectivity and so the debate continues. But I think it is a shame that in our culture we have abolished the right to die in the manner we choose for ourselves. The elimination of choice eliminates dignity from the equation also and instead we allow others to tell us how to properly die.
In ancient Japan, a warrior sought to find a noble death that imparts meaning and gives focus to the living. This is the ultimate service to humanity, to sacrifice yourself so that others may learn. In the story I related above, the brash youth Oda Nobunaga took his mentor’s death to heart and became the man who unified Japan. In Buddhism there are the Bodhisattva who, though ready in mind and spirit for Nirvana choose to return to the world so that others may too one day reach enlightenment. Those who give the ultimate sacrifice of a noble death deserve to be revered and martyred.
I understand that Dr. Kevorkian’s methods were a bit distasteful to some, but his intentions of compassionate human care should not be forgotten, so that his death may also be a lesson to the living. In fact, for a survivor of a holocaust (see the Armenian genocide) and who had witnesses some of the most atrocious deeds of mankind doesn’t it seem ironic that the public would demonize him.
RIP Jack Kevorkian… Also check out some of Dr. Kevorkian’s art work he did during his later years. They are rather stirring and remarkable if not outwardly gory, yet also sublimely political with unambiguous meanings.