Birth and Death Control

Hillary Clinton writes that the Bush Administration’s impending clampdown on access to birth control and "morning after" pills is outrageous interference in the lives of women.  She’s right, of course, although the decision also impacts men only a little less directly.

These rules pose a serious threat to providers and uninsured and low-income Americans seeking care. They could prevent providers of federally-funded family planning services, like Medicaid and Title X, from guaranteeing their patients access to the full range of comprehensive family planning services. They’ll also build significant barriers to counseling, education, contraception and preventive health services for those who need it most: low-income and uninsured women and men.

The regulations could even invalidate state laws that currently ensure access to contraception for many Americans.

It should be understood that contraception is not a right guaranteed by either the Constitution or any holy writ of which I am presently aware.  It is, however, a basic aspect of life that should fall under the control of citizens of a modern nation.  If the Bush administration persists in butting its peeping Tom head into the bedrooms of Americans it deserves a punch in the nose.

A significant majority of Americans say that morning after pills should be readily available and I agree with them.  Indeed, the people have spoken repeatedly on this issue.  President Bush’s steadfastness, so admirable when it comes to fighting terrorism abroad, is foolish and invasive as relates to personal birth control choices.  None of the mechanisms HRC describes could reasonably be categorized as abortions; the comparison is absurd, as is the notion that governments should be involved in the issue at all.

Government control is equally prevalent at the opposite end of life.  Because of ready access to certain deadly concoctions, Mexico is a favorite destination for the terminally ill – as well as friends/family of the same – who are ready for a peaceful end to life or simply want insurance against the pain of disease.

…aging and ailing people seeking a quick and painless way to end their lives say there is no easier place on earth than Mexico to obtain pentobarbital, a barbiturate commonly known as Nembutal.

Once widely available as a sleep aid, it is now used mostly to anesthetize animals during surgery and to euthanize them. Small bottles of its concentrated liquid form, enough to kill, can be found not on the shelves of the many discount pharmacies in Tijuana but in its pet shops, which sell a wide variety of animals, as well as medications and other supplies for them.

As the availability of such medicines has become more widely known, steps have been taken to keep the drugs from being sold and from being taken back to countries where they are sought after, Australia and the U.S., to name two.

The Catholic church calls suicide a mortal sin and many western governments have outlawed assisting a person in ending their life.  People on both sides of the debate have strong feelings.

“It’s awful to me,” Mr. Velazquez, the Tijuana veterinarian and pharmacy owner, said of euthanasia. “I think people should live as long as God decides.”

That’s a point of view that I’m sympathetic to.  However, ultimate responsibility for one’s conduct during life lies with the individual, not with the state.  State-mandated prosecution of individuals who help grant the wishes of terminally ill people who wish to end their lives is, on the face of it, just as foolish as attempting to dictate birth control methods.  It is certainly not the place of the state to judge God’s laws for Him.

It is true, I think, that condoning assisted suicide would lead to abuses of the practice.  That’s the sole redeeming aspect of the current ban – it’s unequivocal, even if it’s wrong.  Then again, the purpose of courts is to decide the legality of cases that fall into moral and ethical gray areas.  Must every aspect of life and death be scripted by the law?

Not in my opinion.  In its attempt to legislate and adjudicate perfect justice, western societies have entangled themselves in a mass of legalistic nonsense that is both ever-present and inescapable.  One can neither live nor die without getting permission, it seems, from the state, something that’s particularly troubling at a time when the American government is increasing its surveillance of our communications and monitoring of our travel.

Enough is enough.  Have we not even the right to manage our own bodies without Uncle Sam poking his head around the corner to say, "Don’t touch that!"?  The law should only be used to define basic morality.  The rest is between us and God.  Governments would do well to remember that.

Deciding to Die

From the NY Times:

Modern medicine can keep people alive into their 9th and 10th decades, when in years past they would have succumbed to any number of conditions. Now a small but growing number of these people are asking why. What is the point of living so long if you can no longer enjoy living? What is the point of living until your mind turns to marshmallow and you are reduced to an existence that is less than human?

Why shouldn’t an emotionally sound, thoughtful person be able to call it quits when life has dragged on too long? When there is nothing to gain and much to lose from an ongoing existence?

Good question. 

Gloria C. Phares:

“I was healthy until 90, and then Boom! Atrial fibrillation; deaf, can’t enjoy music or hear a voice unless 10 inches from my ear; fell, fractured my thigh and am now a cripple; had a slight stroke the day after my beloved husband died after 61 years of marriage.

“I’ve lived a happy life, but from here on out it’s all downhill. Is there any point in my living any longer? I’m not living — just existing. I very much want to die, but our society doesn’t let me. Oh for a pill to ease myself out and end my pain, pain, pain.”

Cases like this are so sad.  Should Mrs. Phares be forced to live out an existence that is a painful burden to her? 

I have to admit that I’ve never understood why people answer "Yes" to that question.  It makes no sense to me, particularly when coming from Christians, that a person’s life must be prolonged past the point that the pain and infirmity can be tolerated.

Yes, Paul wrote about suffering for the Lord as a virtue,  But there is a difference, I think, between the pain of a young or middle-aged man hard at work pursuing a great and mighty goal and that of an elderly person confined to a death bed, artificially held there for months or years by the forces of social custom and modern medicine. 

That difference is elusive, but seems to be largely made up of hope for the future and the capacity for choice.  Paul could have given up his burden at any time, had he so desired.  The people whose stories grace this article do not have that luxury.

More from the article:

My high school biology teacher was 94 when I visited him at an assisted-living center. Though physically independent and medically well, he was not happy. Gesturing toward a dining room of people in various stages of physical and mental debility, he said: “I feel like my mind is going, and I don’t want to end up like them. While I still can, I want to be able to check myself out. Will you help me?”

And more:

Ida was a loving, funny, delightful human being. She was also a no-nonsense, take-charge person. So when Ida’s life had become a series of debilitating medical crises — “Every day is bad,” she said — she asked her daughter to help her end it.

“Mother,” Ms. Rollin responded, “is that really what you want — to die?”

“Of course I want to die,” Ida said. “Next to the happiness of my children, I want to die more than anything in the world.”

And still more:

I thought about my mother, who died at 49, a year after learning she had advanced ovarian cancer. When it was clear that no therapy could save her, when her life had been reduced to pointless treatments and prolonged hospital stays, she twice tried to end it, first by slitting her wrists and later by drinking rubbing alcohol.

Twice, to my 16-year-old thinking, her life was saved. But when I grew up, I asked myself, saved for what? More misery, an increasingly bleak future with no hope for recovery? If I were in a similar position, would I want to be rescued?

I think not.  Several years ago a good friend’s father had a stroke and his mental capacity was virtually completely extinguished.  During his father’s prolonged physical decline, he and I agreed that we would want help out of a similar situation if we were ever to be in his father’s place.  After over five years of watching his father waste away, how can anyone dispute my friend’s right make to that decision for himself?

To Die For

Dr. Jack Kevorkian will be released on parole June 1st after serving 8 years in prison for helping a 52 year old main suffering from Lou Gehrig’s Disease die.

In various interviews, Kevorkian has said:

“Legally it was wrong. It was an infraction of the law. I had to do it that way — or so I thought”

“I assumed it was a constitutional issue of choice. I learned the best way to approach this issue is at the legislative level.”

It’s the opinion of this author that Kevorkian never should have gone to jail at all, let alone been forced to serve 8 years for what should not be considered a crime at all.

The Ayn Rand Institute agrees:

“Hopefully,” said Thomas Bowden, “Dr. Kevorkian will be successful nationwide in promoting the right to commit suicide with voluntary physician assistance. Currently, only Oregon has set forth clear procedures by which doctors can insulate themselves from criminal prosecution while easing their dying patients’ pain and suffering.”

“What lawmakers and judges must grasp,” added Bowden, “is that there is no rational basis upon which the government can properly prevent an individual from choosing to end his own life. Our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means that we need no one’s permission to live, and that no one may forcibly obstruct our efforts to achieve personal happiness. But if happiness becomes impossible to attain, due to a dread disease or some other calamity, a person must be able to exercise the right to end his own life.”

“To hold otherwise–to declare that society must give us permission to commit suicide–is to contradict the right to life at its root,” said Bowden. “If we have a duty to go on living, despite our better judgment, then our lives do not belong to us, and we exist by permission, not by right.

“For these reasons, each individual has the right to decide the hour of his death and to implement that solemn decision as best he can. The choice is his because the life is his. And if a doctor is willing–not forced–to assist in the suicide, based on an objective assessment of his patient’s mental and physical state, the law should not stand in his way.”

Well said, Mr. Bowden. I cannot add anything to that.

I occasionally get asked how I can be for the death penalty, for legalized assisted suicide, and still be against abortion.

“Aren’t you being inconsistent?” is the net effect of the questions. In fact, this argument was recently made by Roland Martin from his lofty perch at CNN:

…it’s still important to at least philosophically explore the issue of being a staunch pro-life advocate, yet stop the moment the child is born.

“I believe that every human life at every phase is unique, is beautiful, is a child of a loving God, period.” Those are the words of [Sam] Brownback, but does not that person — even that hardened criminal — fall under the same banner?

Folks, it’s hard to say on one hand that every life — at every phase — is important, but then say, “Send them to the death chamber!” Those two are diametrically opposed to each other.

Martin is incorrect, first in his assertion that being pro-life ends at birth – an utterly ridiculous statement – and second in saying that death penalty and abortion positions opposed to each other in any way.

In fact, the positions I articulated above are completely consistent when the concept of personal responsibility – one of the most important aspects of American life – is applied to each.

By definition those on death row have deliberately and with malice committed the most terrible crimes imaginable. They had the opportunity to do anything they could imagine with their lives and chose, of their own free will, to kill other human beings. By doing so they voluntarily ended their right to live in our society.

Similarly, those ailing patients who have turned to Dr. Kevorkian and others like him have reached the age of consent and have chosen to end their lives on their own terms. As Bowden articulated so well, there is no valid reason to step between a determined patient and his/her doctor.

Abortions, on the other hand, are imposed by force on the most defenseless lives among us. While I support the right of couples to end pregancies prior to the baby’s medical viability, an abortion performed after than point can only be described as a killing to which the victim has not – and indeed cannot, considering the “age” factor – consented.

This is being utterly consistent, the exact opposite of what I see from politicians who doggedly follow the party lines regardless of their illogic.