Death as an Option
Death is an uneasy reality. The concept of death is interwoven with myth, religious beliefs, law, and science. Death is a part of our life story. People have the option to choose how and when they will die. Of course, the choice comes with strings attached. In order to make a choice regarding death, there are various ways and means, but in America, people are given the option to create legally binding declarations via Advance Directives. An Advance Directive is a legal document which defines the type of life a person will live in the event of an untimely accident.
When I was a teenager I talked with my parents regarding my wishes if something should happen to me. I was explicit in what I viewed as a quality of life. A few years later, in a graduate class, the topic of advance directives was broached as were the views of those in the class. The controversy surrounding advance directives focused on when it is acceptable for a person to be removed from life support or to be denied life-giving medical assistance. Those who supported and opposed the ability to choose what type of life is acceptable both voiced their moral beliefs. The opposing voices cited their religious beliefs and said personal choice should not come into play. Those who support advance directives cited their religion as well as the belief the views of others should not determine the choices of everyone. My Professor weighed in with a metaphor that I still use.
Let’s say you hate orange jello. You never want to eat orange jello but suddenly orange jello is your only choice. Do you eat orange jello and become accustomed to it or do you refuse to eat it? Life support and quality of life are orange jello. I’m used to how my body is. I am accustomed to a certain quality of life that I do not wish to see reduced. I can’t imagine living in a diminished capacity so I chose to draw up an advance directive stating what is an acceptable quality of life. I do not want to ever eat orange jello because I know I will never be okay with it. Some, however, are willing to adjust their taste and become accustomed to orange jello.
People often ask me how do I know if I will never accept orange jello. I have died twice and I have been brought back to life twice. I didn’t suffer a diminished lifestyle. I have also undergone several surgeries to increase my quality of life. I know what a diminished life is and I do not want to be dependent on others, trapped in my body while my mind still works, I do not want an orange jello life.
Orange jello is a choice. A choice no one should make for another. People need to be able to exercise their autonomy despite what others believe. No one is being forced against their will to die. They have a choice to whether to create an advance directive or to ask for all medical interventions needed to sustain their life. Taking away another’s choice is denying them their right to choose how they want to live.