Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Treating Human Life Like an Old Car

I have not previously discussed it here, because it is so personal to me, and is still, almost a year later, a wound that festers. My mother died on the 5th of June last year. As so often happens, we had known it was coming for five years or so, but when it happens, you still mourn. My mother was one of those who did all the "right" things, eating right, not smoking, not drinking (she took the very occasional drink for social purposes) and yet she ended up having some form of dementia. Toward the end, I could see the doctors, and the nurses treating her took the attitude that she did not have a "quality of life" that justified her continued taking up of oxygen. It was largely on the strength of both my Dad and me that she lived for another 2 months before slipping away. I have yet to write the obituary of my mother, and I wonder if I ever will. I know she would be disappointed, as an English teacher, that her son could not write her obituary. But each time I start, tears come to my eyes.

So, it was with great interest that I read this story, at the American Thinker, entitled The Death Panel's Loving Embrace, by Daren Jonescu. The story hit many of the criticisms that I felt during my mother's ordeal. I wanted to share it with you, gentle reader, in the event that reading a first hand account of the cruelty of Socialized medicine may cause you to think about the virtues of a market based system.

One of the things that I thought about a great deal as I sat there with my mother was this notion of "quality of life" (QOL). We all have things that, if we could not do them anymore, our quality of life would be impaired. Someone who cherishes his daily run may find that as he gets older he can no longer run. So he switches to the gentler bicycling. Does his QOL shrink? I think so, but not a lot. How about an older motorcyclist who at a certain age has to switch to riding a trike instead because he can no longer trust his legs to catch the weight of the motorcycle at stops? How about an elderly person whose eye sight becomes so impaired that he can no longer drive himself on his various errands, and must depend on neighbors and family members to take him where he needs to go? Question: When does QOL drop to a level where we decide that putting more resources into maintaining that life no longer "pays off?" Second question: If you can define that point, then what stops you from redefining that point whenever you need to because of budgetary shortfalls?  This is the fallacy of QOL as defined by others.  Your QOL may have suffered, but you may still see your life as valuable.  Should someone else then decide that it is not?

We have been discussing human life in utilitarian terms. Like a old car, we seem to have decided, without much debate among those who will be affected, that at some point we just throw that person away. We view people as if they were units, not unique individuals. But each human is unique. Their presence touches our lives, and our lives would be poorer if they were not there. The cost of repairing the old car is greater than old car is worth. But, a human life can not be weighed by its utility to anyone in particular, or to society as a whole. If we were to weigh a human life in terms of utility to society as a whole, more prisoners would be executed, rather than spend the $30,000 that the average inmate costs society in this country. Surely criminals contribute nothing to society. But we don't execute people for petty crimes.

Life is a gift from God, and only God has the right to end a life. It is not for us to hurry death along, particularly for the reason that this hospital bed is needed by another, so just hurry up and die.

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