Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I Don't Know Jack

My husband and I watched You Don't Know Jack over the weekend. Apparently it was an HBO special in 2010 that I heard about watching the Golden Globes earlier in the year. Al Pacino plays Jack Kevorkian. I think they would have had to try pretty hard to make this a bad film because the topics of doctor assisted suicide and euthanasia are complicated and intriguing.

On the one hand, if you are in constant agony and have no quality of life left and there is no chance or improvement it seems humane to allow that person a choice in how they die. Inmates sentenced to death often get a choice in how they die. We find it humane to end the suffering of animals when nothing more can be done. It makes sense on many levels.

On the other hand, something feels wrong about it. Most of our lives we spend fighting for life. We fight against diseases, we try to control the dangers around us, if someone or something threatens our lives we instinctively fight against it. Suicide is so contrary to that. But there is no shortage of serious, seemingly insurmountable mental and physical challenges. I've certainly had deeply dark days, as I'm sure all of you have as well. Still I find it so hard to imagine choosing to end my life before my body or someone else's body imposes it on me. But that doesn't necessarily mean others shouldn't be able to come to a different conclusion and be able to carry out their decision under the safety and supervision of a caring doctor. But then I think about all the shitty doctors I've run into in my life and I can't help but be kind of fearful about what that means for physician assisted suicide. But that could be applied to anything, Shitty doctors can perform surgeries poorly but that doesn't mean none of us should ever have surgery.

I also wonder if allowing this sort of thing could become a slippery slope. One of the arguments against Jack's methods in the film was that it could become a cost cutting measure instead of intended purpose of being a humane and dignified end to life. What if doctors were inclined to identify someone as being terminal and start pushing these sorts of life ending options. It would save a great deal of money if someone were to choose death over life. Those with means and strong family support could easily prevent this from happening to them, but what about all the people with neither. The people who don't have access to preventive care and can't pay the ER bills they incur. It would be naive to believe this wouldn't impact those living in poverty differently than it would impact the wealthy. Plus, doctors simply can't always know for certain who can recover from what.

But shouldn't we be allowed to choose to save that money, just as we are allowed to choose whether or not we want to be resuscitated or put on life support if anything should happen. It seems sort of arbitrary that we are allowed to make that life ending choice but not the other. Abortion is legal, is that really all that different? Just because technology and modern medicine can keep us artificially alive doesn't mean that it is always the right thing to do. Or is it? Should we always do what we can?

It can't be wrong to let people die who are dying, can it?. No matter what we do, we are all going to die eventually. It is just as natural as breathing. These issues are so complicated. The toughest part about choosing a side is that both sides are right and both sides are wrong - so nether side is right and neither side is wrong. How can we ever possibly expect the courts or the legislature to regulate this.

I don't have the answers but the discussion is fascinating. Have you seen the movie? What do you think of all of this?


  1. This sounds like a movie I will have to watch. My dad wished he could visit 'Doctor Death'. It was extremely difficult watching him struggle day in and day out. I think it should be a personal choice. I don't think it's fair for anyone else to tell you that basically, you have to live in chronic pain, or not being able to breathe well. What's so wrong in wanting a quiet, comfortable death?

  2. I believe people have the right to life.

    People choose everyday to die when they sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate order)...and when they sign a living will stating they don't want to be artificially kept alive and want fluids and feedings witheld. (My grandfather for instance)

    Now I have limitations on what I believe is right. For instance...I cannot justify a woman coming in claiming she had 5 elective abortions because she is too stupid and irresponsible to use birth control. However, I have witnessed a mentally challenged child give birth to a baby as a product of rape from a family member. Yes, we have 11 and 12 year olds having babies at my hospital...I can in that case...justify termination.

    Another fine line for me in the medical field is a Code Blue. I have fought for hours to keep a mother or a baby alive...saying to myself at some point...when are we going to stop? As much as we want to save them...sometimes letting them go seems like a better choice...I would not want my child nor myself nor Jesse to be kept alive brain dead on a ventilator for years and years never to wake up...something else I have been witness to.

    Again....MY OPINIONS!

    Such a touchy subject.

    And yes...if I was terminally ill and suffering...I'd want a lethal dose of morphine to ease me to sleep...and out of misery.

  3. I haven't seen the movie. However, best always to have an updated living will around for when you can't speak for yourself!

    I'm not an extreme measures type of gal, but there are occassions where you can be on life support for quite awhile and still come out of it. Not sure where I would stand for euthanasia. Knew a gal in Oklahoma that grew up neighbors to the Kevorkians in some other state and said he was a very kind man.