Snuff It #1
by Pastor Scott
Life is far too serious a business to be taken seriously, according to many
renowned experts on the subject. Nowhere, it seems, is life taken more
seriously than in the courtroom. Indeed, where is any legal case without the
corpus delicti? Let's examine the body of evidence concerning suicide.
Assisted suicide has been a common practice among caring doctors since
before the time of Hippocrates. Every new doctor takes the Hippocratic oath,
to heal and save lives. Many do nose bobs and tummy tucks, but for those who
save lives, death has always been part of the equation.
The practice of euthanasia is so widespread, and has such a long history
that the very word "euthanasia" says it best. Derived directly from
the Greek, it means "good death." Surely, Hippocrates and the Greeks
believed in death with honor and the "good death," concepts they
passed on to the heirs of Western civilization. But times change.
It's said that Constantine adopted Christianity as the Roman state religion
after the Christian God delivered him victory on the battle field, in two very
decisive battles fought to save the Empire. Zeus and the rest of the pantheon
hadn't been delivering victory, so Constantine made the switch. "Dear
Christian God, if you only grant me victory in this final and decisive battle
to defeat and kill and butcher and rape and maim my rotten and bad-smelling
enemies who are after my power, wealth and reputation... well, if you just
grant me this, I'll make you the state religion."
In his infinite wisdom, God granted Constantine victory. Personally I can't
see it, but I'm sure God had his reasons for doing it at the time. State
religions are nasty little arrangements. If you've never had the opportunity
to experience one, they work this way: dispute the law, that's treason; dispute
the religion, that's heresy. The formula works both ways in a vice versa
manner; either way, you get put to death.
It would seem that suicide would make a neat exit from the church-state
double bind, and it would, except for one person: Judas, that weasel bastard,
the first traitor of the Christian faith. It wouldn't have been any big deal,
especially for Christ, who seemed to be particularly forgiving of being betrayed
to the Roman legion. It's just that Judas had to go and kill himself with a
rope. For Judas, it was a direct trip to hell. Do not pass go. Do not collect
$200. So, under a state-run religion, if the state doesn't catch you at being
bad, when you do go, you're headed South anyway, at least according to the
magistrates, rule makers, and scribes. You could say that Judas forever
tarnished the public's perception of suicide.
Now, only six dirty years from the next millennium, the state is trying to
re-legislate the laws concerning suicide. True, we do not have a state-run
religion. It's just that the major religious sects have major lobbying efforts.
They've got the lawyers with the huge expense accounts. Indeed, there's an
awful lot of money involved on both sides, and there's the rub.
With roughly 15% of the GNP devoted to the health care of an aging
population, with malpractice suits sending insurance rates through the roof,
and with the specter of super-regulated national health care scaring the
children when you turn off the lights... With all this, the routine practice
of euthanasia (never formally sanctioned by the church or the state) must now
be regulated to a gnat's ass, just like everything else in the health care
industry. Hospitals, insurance companies, administrators, and lawyers are all
demanding written policy on all procedures.
The laws regulating assisted suicide are now being written; policy and
internal memos will soon follow. Up until now, what could be called
"murder on the installment plan" has replaced outright assisted
suicide: ghoulishly common bizarre and macabre research on dying patients
who are willing to bet their remaining lives on long shot procedures and
new drugs being tested by the FDA. The pharmaceutical companies make an
enormous amount of money experimenting on terminally ill patients, but the
bodies linger on. Meanwhile, the health care institutions are asking,
"how can we afford to support all this (nearly) dead weight?"
Throw the well-healed [sic] religious lobbyists into the mix and you get
a good idea what's at stake in the Kevorkian legal battles.
We read about the heroism of the slowly dying patient, or the brilliant
attempts by doctors, or a drug that could revolutionize the way we think
about depression. In fact, all of these headlines belie the fact that
millions of Americans (in the third world they at least know how to die) will
have their final days stretched out like putty, perhaps testing the next
generation of chromosome therapy; this, while the federal health care system
runs our hospitals with the high standards they now enforce through the
Veteran's Administration. People will demand death.
In fact, people are demanding death now, and not getting it. Doctors no
longer follow the spirit of the Hippocratic oath; they must follow policy.
This is not as it should be. Humans cannot be left jello-eyed in the busy
corridors of our hospitals, or the back hallways of our mental institutions,
as test subjects for drugs, medical procedures, and ambitious political
agendas. As a pastor, I implore those who would kill slowly and without mercy
to instead offer the "good death."
Bureaucratic policy making is a grubby affair. It's also organic. So,
like a manure compost heap, it just keeps on growing, just as long as you
keep your horses in the stable; that is, if you're a hospital administrator/
stable hand. And with growing inter-office memo manure grows a certain
smell. I once spoke with one of the head financial administrators at U.Mass
Medical. He said, "Every time the feds rewrite medical billing and
subsidy regulations, they hire us guys from the medical community as
consultants, and we haven't taken a pay cut yet."
Aside from being effective, assisted suicide must be made easy to obtain
without a lot of policy hang-ups. And for God's sake let's keep the
insurance companies out of it. I can imagine a worst-case scenario:
"Doctor, I'm feeling so terribly depressed."
"Yes, I understand, but the state board medical regulations don't recognize
your type of depression as grounds for assisted suicide."
"Isn't there any hope, doctor?"
"Well, if there wasn't the matter of claiming your life insurance you could...
but then there's the matter of the pain, or a botched job."
"Isn't there someone else who could help?"
"Okay, here, I'm going to take you off the Prozac, and send you down to Dr.
Frankenstein. He's a very somber fellow. I can hardly stand to be around
him. See him, get a second opinion, and if you're lucky enough to slip into
a chronic non-response depression, maybe he'll send over to see Dr. Vader
in the new Nixon wing. He heads up our suicide ward."
"Thank you, doctor, but I sure wish there was a faster way that was still
covered under the '97 Clinton health reform act."
"So do I, Mrs. Plath, so do I."
Mrs. Plath would get shuffled from doctor to doctor, treated with a candy
store assortment of research drugs to test the ailments of other people, never
arriving at the ultimate cure. When her bodily systems had become a puzzle of
nightmarish side-effects she would be less than mercifully "put down."
In a simpler world, I could imagine this:
"Doctor, I feel worse than yesterday."
"Well, it looks like the only procedure covered under your federal health
plan is assisted suicide. Any questions?"
"Good. Take two of these tonight and have your wife call my secretary in
the morning. Sign here."
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