A story came out this weekend about a UK rugby player, 23 year old Daniel James, who had his family take him to Switzerland for a legal assisted suicide after he was paralyzed in a rugby accident.
I have been thinking about this for the past few days, dear readers, as I’ve been having a hard time figuring out where to even begin with this one. Stories like this literally break my heart. What is most disappointing are the various statements made by James’ family regarding his physical condition and decision to die:
He couldn’t walk, had no hand function, but constant pain in all of his fingers. He was incontinent, suffered uncontrollable spasms in his legs and upper body and needed 24-hour care.
Dan had tried to commit suicide three times but this was unsuccessful due to his disability. His only other option was to starve himself.
Dan had been a lively and hugely active young man he was highly intelligent, lovable and so loved by his family.
Whilst not everyone in Dan’s situation would find it as unbearable as Dan, what right does any human being have to tell any other that they have to live such a life, filled with terror, discomfort and indignity, what right does one person who chooses to live with a particular illness or disability have to tell another that that they should have to.
As I sit in my own wheelchair, nearly nine years post injury, I can certainly relate to the daily frustrations that come with adjusting to life with a spinal cord injury. It’s not an immediate transition and it is physically and mentally challenging. But who says life with an SCI has to be a life “filled with terror and indignity?”
Life is what you make it, whatever your physical capabilities or limitations might be.
Every day people with spinal cord injuries live perfectly happy, healthy lives. Unfortunately James, who was only a little over a year post injury, was unable or unwilling to see this yet. He was still dealing with the shock of this sudden and dramatic change in his life – a healing process that takes time, patience, family support and in some cases a good amount of professional counseling.
According to one report, James’ decision to kill himself was because he was not prepared to live what he felt was a “second class existence.” This is a great tragedy.
No human being, whatever situation they’re in, should ever feel that he or she has such a worthless life. Ever! And if they do, it is our duty to assure them that their life matters and has merit.
Sick and depressed people like James do not need help to die – they need help to live, to understand the inestimable value of their own life and their ability to pursue happiness despite the tragedy of their current situation.
As R.E.M. put it*:
When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on.
Don’t let yourself go, everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes.
Suffering in this life is unavoidable, we’ll all experience it to some degree at some point (or many points) in our lives, and it is often unbearable, but we must never violate human dignity to end or avoid it.
Facing our fears and accepting and overcoming life’s hardships shapes our character and strengthens us as persons. What’s more, for those who believe, we have the consolation of Christ on the Cross! When we unite our sufferings to Him there, we are never alone. He makes up for the strength we lack in carrying our own crosses, which then become the very instruments which lead to our sanctification (1 Pet 1:6-7).
Beautiful words from Pope Benedict during his very brief visit to a group of young people with disabilities in New York this year:
God has blessed you with life, and with differing talents and gifts. Through these you are able to serve him and society in various ways. While some people’s contributions seem great and others’ more modest, the witness value of our efforts is always a sign of hope for everyone.
Sometimes it is challenging to find a reason for what appears only as a difficulty to be overcome or even pain to be endured. Yet our faith helps us to break open the horizon beyond our own selves in order to see life as God does. God’s unconditional love, which bathes every human individual, points to a meaning and purpose for all human life. Through his Cross, Jesus in fact draws us into his saving love (cf. Jn 12:32) and in so doing shows us the way ahead – the way of hope which transfigures us all, so that we too, become bearers of that hope and charity for others.
Do take the time to read Mark Pickup’s moving essay on The Meaning of Suffering: A Christian Perspective
Why Matt Hampson chose to live – an article by UK rugby star also paralyzed in a rugby accident who did meet with Dan James after his injury and try to convince him that life with a disability is still worth living…
It’s not a bad life… it’s a different life, says former England under-21
Wesley Smith opines here and here
*R.E.M., Everybody Hurts (read lyrics):
It is unavoidable to hear the story of Dan James and to not have your heart break. To be so young and to give it all up leaves me feeling gloomy. I am left feeling hopeless; but it is stories like yours, Ms. Zimmerman, and Matt Hampson that return the feeling of hope. Both of your stories are uplifting.
You are truly blessed to have found your strength within your faith; Hampson is blessed to have found happiness through the support of his family and friends. I wish James’ life had reached the same joy. I wish that he had lived longer in hopes of accepting his new life. Hampson and you have both embraced your new lifestyles. If only James had done the same, there are some many what ifs that could have been answered.
I believe that Dan James was at the very least depressed and that he was experiencing an identity crisis. The world that he knew and loved was forever changed by his accident; however, he did not give his new life enough time to find his new identity. He was also grieving the loss of his former life, which is the natural reaction. I believe that he should not have died. I can’t help but think that to some extent it is disrespectful what James did. It is disrespectful to the people who are faced with similar debilitating challenges and find a way to still life their life. Dan James died because in his mind, his life wasn’t worth living. To generalize does that mean people’s lives are not worth living when they are faced with debilitating challenges? The answer is no! Thousands of people are living proof that life is worth living.
You wrote, “Suffering in this life is unavoidable, we’ll all experience it to some degree at some point (or many points) in our lives, and it is often unbearable, but we must never violate human dignity to end or avoid it” My only response is Amen.
We must all, no matter our story, Think of all the things you can do, not what you can’t. Keep strong and stay positive. Your life isn’t over; it has just changed. Embrace it” (Hampson). Embrace Life!
There is a very fine line between the results of shock and depression after terrible tragedy, and the actual conscious reflection of death in life. While the law must provide for an escape from pain for those who are doomed with a miserable natural death: to do the very least and remove the misery from the ultimate tragedy of the situation, it does open a very difficult moral decision on what to do with permanent misery, that will not ever lead to death.
The only purpose I can find in life is to experience happiness. A life without the potential for personal happiness or the ability to bring happiness to others is useless. But that nearly never happens. The fruitful lives of the paralyzed everywhere are grand examples of continuing life through tragedy.
But in certain terms, it is like giving nerve damage to a concert pianist. And being that our lives are our own to take advantage of, it is as much our right to take them away, as it is our ability. One can argue God’s will all they want, but the cold press of realism, and the individual’s ability to act as they choose, put idealists and moralists out of the picture, especially in terms of the law.
Religious beliefs hold no ground in such massively important arguments. When the words “God says” become a part of the agenda to be explored, the ability for any compromise or logical debate has left. It allows for no common ground and thus no morally-correct conclusions but those delivered by the Pope.
But don’t shut me out entirely in declaring that, because I agree with you. There is a great deal of logic in the comparison to those suffering tragedy physically, and emotionally. Daniel James was only a year in, and certainly depression lessens with time. It is a logical consideration that his death was allowed to be delivered, too soon. The fact that paraplegics exist who are fully content with their condition does not equate that every person should be forced to submit themselves to such great torment, but it does mean that the possibility for happiness does exist and should, within reason, be allowed the chance to surface.
This is no petty surgery or prescription we speak of. That this torment might rub off without intervention is a grand possibility, and far too great a battle won, if it does. Mind you, the only alternative is not a considerable decision. It is only through the greatest injustices of life that raped women are aborted and a victim of MS is killed rather that exist in an impenetrable prison. Suicide is not a logical decision. It is only considered because our world holds some of the worst fates imaginable. In them, alone, does it reveal itself logical?
I’m afraid to admit that suicide as a successful alleviation, but it must not be considered criminal.
The story of Dan James is tragic, a young man stripped of his self sustainability and physical power. I would love to think that he is going off to a better place, that his supposedly self perceived tragic life is now over. It is true that he no long suffers here anymore, but it is also true that he no longer exists except within the memories of those who knew him. We only have one life, and it begans, and ends right here on earth.
With only one shot at it, so many people learn to late in life that they didn’t take advantage of opportunities they had. Even at 17 this happens to me, and I can only learn from my mistakes. Not many people have such a positive aspect on life as you do Chelsea. From my understanding this comes from your love and respect for God, and you realization that suffering can bring you closer to him.
The two of us have too very completely different opinions on what exists in this “universe” or so to speak. The important part is that I completely disagree with you, yet I look up to you in a few ways. My first instinct is to tell you that your suffering for God is completely worthless, and that you are wasting your time. Upon reflection, I have come to realize that is a pointless and immature statement. The important part is that you have found a reason to keep on living, to enjoy life. You have decided to choose a high route of acceptance over bitterness. I am sure your attitude and actions have positively effected many people. It would be crazy for me to say that anything you do or believe in, that makes you a better person has no value.
I accept whatever your wishes may be, the importance of my statement may not strike you as important, or wanted, but it is the truth. With that said, why should anyone who disagrees with your, or your set of values have to follow them? Simply put, why should anyone else have to suffer for God who doesn’t want to?
Ms. Zimmerman. I spent a lot of my Thanksgiving break thinking about this topic. It came up a lot in my mind as we sat around the dinner table. Looking into the eyes of all my family members I began to ask myself some pretty difficult questions. When is suicide, if ever, something that should be used? What would my grandfather want if he started slipping away in a hospital bed, my father? Then the classic question, would I want death if I was terminally ill? But more germane to this blog, what would I want if I was permanently disabled?
Because you touched on the issue, I want to talk about God, and what it means to me. I believe in God, but not like anyone else. I have not read any holy books, nor do I intend to. I have popped in and out of many services, but never planned to return. I don’t know any prayers nor have I sung a song of faith. I chose to steer clear of these traditions because it is we humans that instituted them, and I believe that the influence of mortality should not invade on what is everlasting. I will not instill faith in the writings of God if they are written with human hands, and I will certainly not follow the teachings of a God through another human.
But don’t make the mistake of dismissing my lack of participation as irreligious. I see God every day in the things that I cannot see; some intangible presence inaudible to all but our souls only during the quietest moments of our lives. Some have felt it while driving at twilight, somewhere in the dancing night sky. I have felt it during the blackest nights at the seaside, where the jet sea’s lull seems to float you where you are, weightless and untouched in an obsidian cocoon.
What does it mean to me? I don’t know, I am young and am still looking for answers within myself, and perhaps it is something better undiscovered. “The truth can only add to the sum of what you know, while a harmless mystery left unexplored often adds to the meaning of life.” – Bryce Courtenay. But a more relevant question to my point, (I’ll get there don’t worry), what does it matter to you? My experiences and feelings towards salvation and morality are between me, my conscience, and my perceptions of God, and no one else in my life.
Humanity, no matter how inspired it is by faith, will never be God. To judge another human, as a human, and in the name of God, is the greatest hypocrisy and it troubles me deeply. The bud of faith wilts when human restrictions are imposed as God’s. Decent men cast away decent men as sinners, and what should be one of our greatest internal struggles surfaces as intolerance and plain heartlessness.
It is my conclusion on the Dan James dilemma that he made his own choice and it should ultimately be respected. God is different in each person; the standardized words in the Bible are incomparable to the opinions of Mr. James himself. To each his own I say. Matt Hampton asked “Who are we to judge?”
I reply, “Not God”.
As an interesting postscript, I have decided that I would fight and live should I become disabled. I would learn to cope.
Ideals are ideals and people are people. Even though I disagree with your opinions I think you are an extremely courageous woman. You have my greatest respects and your story immensely inspires me. Should you read this response I want you to finish knowing that I am honored you did.
Ms. Zimmerman, I respect your personal strength and moral conviction and I was impressed by the sheer amount of courage it must have taken to survive the curse of depression that usually follows along any form of paralysis. However, as much as I admire the amount of hope you inspire in others, I must respectfully disagree with your views about God; the rest of my comment may sting a little, for that I apologize for I am not very familiar with “political correctness” or polite language for I feel that changing one’s language will in turn, restrict the truth. No offense but, if given the choice, I would much rather pray to my toothbrush than to “God.” Allow me to explain, I could pray as much as I want to God, but the only way I am going to get past a tough obstacle like say, the SAT (I know my experience with suffering is nothing compared to yours but that is not the topic being discussed here) is to believe in myself. Perhaps God performed countless miracles for people, perhaps he/she did not, I do not know; but I do know that my toothbrush performs a miracle I took for granted until now: Cleaning my teeth. Certainly the toothbrush cannot clean my teeth by itself as I sleep, I must muster the desire to cleanse my own teeth then pick it up using the power of my own will in order for it to accomplish anything. Coincidentally, I am a bad brusher and my dentist has filled in all except my front teeth. This shows that, in life, the only thing that can truly be trusted at all times is the power of one’s own will. Without willpower, we are but empty shells.
Consider the example of Dan James, he had spent an entire year reflecting on his life’s accomplishments, weighed them against his current situation, then reached the conclusion that life must go on and only by embracing death can he allow himself to move on. Had he committed suicide within a week of his injury, I would have agreed with your opinion that he had overreacted to his situation, but he had not just several months, but nearly an entire year to reflect on his life. That is more than enough time to calm one’s mind down and weigh one’s options fairly and equally. Ms. Zimmerman, I realize that it is a sin in your religion to even ponder about being involved in someone’s death and that Dr. Kevorkian must be a hated name amongst your fellow believers; however, I must argue that death is not the end of one’s existence; rather, it is but a spoke on the Wheel of Life. Only by freeing his soul from the confines of his body was Dan James able to move on. Does the Devil not exist as a source of balance for God? If not, then why is the Devil allowed to exist in the presence of a being far more powerful than himself? Likewise, everything has a polar opposite that must exist in order for us to appreciate it. For example, how would you know whether or not hot coffee tasted better than cold coffee if you have only been given cold coffee your entire life? How would you determine if all of us are among the living or caught in purgatory? How would you know that we are alive if there was no death?
Finally, I believe that no matter what we all believe individually, it is not our right to force our opinions onto others. I most certainly am not telling people what to do with their lives for I do not know how valuable their life is worth. The only people who can make such decisions regarding a person’s life are themselves and loved ones (mostly parents). We can debate all we want about whether or not it is permissible for them to end their lives, but the debate is ours, not theirs; their lives are theirs, not ours. I am an advocate for free will, and as such, I believe that we should all be free to live our lives without the interference of others. Therefore, if I, or any other person for that matter, were to experience an accident and end up in a situation similar to yours, I believe that we should be given at least 8 months to reflect on our lives and then be granted permission to determine the best course of action. Do not worry, for I am not encouraging anyone to spit in God’s face by rejecting his gift of life, merely allowing them to determine if they are worthy of such a gift or not. Diversity is the spice of life, what good is it if we develop a rigid “if-then black and white” law system? Is suicide always going to be wrong? Should there not be at least one exception to every rule? After all, certain cases of what would normally be defined as “murder,” are justified as “an act of self-defense,” why not allow patients who have had plenty of time to consider their options the chance to decide for themselves whether they wish to remain in this world instead of letting others do that for them? I would like you to know that everything I have said was done so with the utmost respect for I cannot imagine the sheer amount of courage you must have mustered to accept your fate as a paralytic. It is one thing to attempt to live a normal life as a paralytic but an entirely different ballpark altogether to accept one’s condition and be so overcome with the joy of being alive that paralysis becomes easily ignored. (Sorry if this makes no sense, I know there is a better way to word things, but I cannot think of such a way at the moment.)
Anyway, Happy Holidays.
Dear Ms. Zimmerman,
Dissatisfied with my first post, I wish to expand on this whole topic. Since we began discussing the topics of euthanasia and suicide as a class, I have had a difficult time formulating my finite opinion. I was looking for the answers to be in black and white but everything came in gray. I felt I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I am raised Catholic and it is a part of my life that I am proud of. I attend mass every Sunday and I am heavily involved in my youth group and Confirmation program. At the beginning of this unit, I knew general idea of the Church’s belief on these issues, but I wasn’t sure if I believed for myself. I knew I was supposed to, but I was unsure if I truly did.
The voices of my classmates and friends have continually justified the actions of Dan James and Ramón Sampedro through the logic that it is theses people’s own lives and therefore their own choice. I disagree. I believe that euthanasia is “the violation of the divine law, an offence against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity” (Seper).
I disagree with the choice that Dan James made. I believe that Dan James was at the very least depressed and that he was experiencing an identity crisis. The world that he knew and loved was forever changed by his accident; however, he did not give his new life enough time to find his new identity. I am sad that he chose to die.
The story of Ramón Sampedro, a Spanish fisherman who became a quadriplegic after a diving accident, questioned my so-called beliefs. His life was forever changed when he was 25; he spent the next 29 years fighting for the right to an assisted suicide. After denial from the Spanish courts, Sampedro devised an intricate plan to commit suicide by drinking potassium cyanide. In viewing the reenactment Sampedro’s death in “Mar adentro”, he says, “When you can’t escape, and you constantly rely on everyone else, you learn to cry by smiling, you know?” He felt trapped and I feel guilty that my beliefs would be forcing him to suffer. I feel as if I am condemning him to a life of misery. The other side of me says it is wrong what he did. But how do you help people adjust to this new lifestyle? Is it to much for people to ask them to adapt? I don’t know.
I am saddened by the fact that it is legal in the states of Oregon and Washington for patients to request an assisted suicide and receive it. I know that is has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court but I feel it should be unconstitutional. It is not our choice to decide when we die; at least it should not be.
What angered me the most during this unit, was learning about Dr. Jack Kevorkian, as known as Dr. Death. The documentary we saw about him, left me feeling disgusted by the actions of this man. From his arrogance in the court room to his capability to create the “Thanatron” (death machine), which delivered the euthanizing drugs mechanically through an IV and the “Mercitron” (mercy machine), which employed a gas mask fed by a canister of carbon monoxide, I am frightened by the soul of this man. Kevorkian is relentless and defiant, which is seen through his persistent to “treat” patient after his medical license was revoke by the state of Michigan. He has murdered over a hundred people and gotten away with it. It truly sickens me. Finally, Kevorkian was brought to some justice when he found guilty of second-degree homicide. He had administered a lethal injection into Thomas Yourk, a man in the final stages of ALS and Kevorkian videotaped it. During the trial, Kevorkian created the argument that he did not intend to kill Thomas Yourk; but he intended to end Yourk’s suffering. To me, this logic is outrageously wrong. He intended to end this man’s suffering through death. Kevorkian purposefully gave this man a lethal injection. Another disturbing bit of knowledge comes from a moment on the footage from Yourk’s death, where it seems as if Yourk wanted to renege on the deal and choose to live out the rest of his days; however, Kevorkian proceeded with injection and no one will ever know if Thomas Yourk changed his mind at the last moment.
I believe by allowing assisted suicides, a culture of death is created. It is a slippery slope toward death on demand.
Some health professionals do not want assisted suicide laws to pass because it clouds the moral motives between a healthcare provider and their patient. It also changes healthcare from helping people to live to helping people to die.
When I become a nurse, I do not want there to be any insecurities as I take the Hippocratic Oath. I will confidently pledge “to practice and prescribe to the best of my ability for the good of my patients, and to try to avoid harming them.”
P.S. Another question I don’t know the answer to is passive euthanasia. I know the Church allows passive euthanasia. Modern medicine has progressed to the point, where patients can virtually live forever artificially. When is the time to with draw life-support? I also believe that with drawing a feeding tube from a patient in a permanent vegetative state, so they starve to death is barbaric and inhumane. But what do you do?
Ms. Zimmerman, I would like to preface this comment by thanking you for allowing my peers and me to post on your blog. Though we may disagree on some points, please understand that I respect you highly and am inspired by your perseverance through adversity. Thank you, again, for your generosity.
Mr. James’ accident was tragic. This is not in dispute. Going from playing rugby with grass stains on your shirt and the sunshine all around to losing even the ability to hold your mother’s hand would be heart wrenching to experience, witness, or even hear of. I cannot imagine the loss he must have felt, knowing that, at most, he would be a spectator to the activities he loved. For an athlete, this fate would seem like the end of the world.
What is being discussed is what Daniel James chose to do with his life post-accident.
I am having difficult time thinking about what I would do if I were in Mr. James’ situation. Uncontrollable spasms, constant pain, and total dependence on others- Where do you go from there? I cannot say what my point of view would be, without personal experience.
I have immense respect for life. It is the sum of all experiences, good and bad. Death- its opposite, is alien and unknown. In what emotional place would someone have to be in order to end their own existence? After a year, was Daniel James depressed and, with professional help and time, would he have chosen to live? It is possible that he could have been like Ramon Sampedro, a man left only with the ability to move his head, who expressed his determination to die for twenty nine years, until his suicide.
I do not belong to any particular religion. Though I respect those that do, I do not find strength or comfort in any religious belief system. The argument that it is a rejection of the gift of life, granted to humankind by God, does not persuade me. I believe that my life is my own, that anyone’s life is their own to do with as suits them best.
Regardless of how I feel, I believe that people have choices. Matters of life and death must always be carefully considered, with attention due to personal morals. I do not think that I have a right to condemn the actions of Daniel James. If he wanted to live with his condition, to try to make the absolute best of the abilities he was left with, that would be his own, personal decision. If he felt that his pain, spasms, and loss of independence was unbearable, and had made a clearheaded decision to end his life, what right have any of us to say “Sorry, but no. You have to stay in that bed and live with your pain, day after day after day.”
My feeling is that Daniel James did what he thought was best with his own life. I believe he had a right to do it, and that it was tragic that he had to flee the country. My thought is that there should be a regulated system, so that these people are handled on an individualistic, case-by-case basis with specific regulations and protocols. People who wish to die will do so, with or without regulation. It is better to institutionalize the practice of physician assisted suicide, so that it might be regulated, and no one will have to clandestinely fly to Switzerland in order to end their life.
Thank you once more, Ms. Zimmerman, for the opportunity to share my point of view. I wish you the best.
Ms. Zimmerman, I respect your choice to live to the fullest and carry on your inspirational messages around the web. Ideally, every life is perfect in God’s eyes and that every breath we take is a gift. But with life, we are also given free will; and that is something we cannot deny to one another. Though I think that Daniel James had the potential to see life in a different and brighter light, ultimately, it was his choice and people should be respected. Not all minds can be changed. Not all counseling can change one’s philosophy. To influence one’s outlook in life, it may take as much as retracing back all of their influential life experiences and rewiring those so that life will forever be seen in a positive light. But that may just be brainwashing.
Daniel James did not seem to want sympathy. He wanted what he thought was best for his life; he wanted to practice his free will that is granted through life. I think especially for Daniel James, the tragic accident broke him tremendously, more than it would for some others. Taking away an ability that was a major part of his passion is most cruel and it would be unfair to point fingers at him. It is reasonable to be depressed because of this. But it is also unfair to say that he gave up on life due to depression. There was more to it. He had spent a year of his life trying to cope, he probably received love and sympathy from others around the world, but the only love he would accept is perhaps granting his final wish. Though opinions may vary on his decision, in the end, we had not been there with Daniel James, we had not been Daniel James, and we had not felt the “terror and indignity”. I believe that each story is different, and I do not think you can argue with that. Daniel James only wanted to rest in peace. So let him rest.
Advocating for life is a noble cause. But denying disabled people rights by advocating life seems to be quite a paradox. With life, there is free will; with free will, there are rights. Perhaps no life is worthless. While I hope that is true, the definition of worthiness perhaps indicate different values in each of us. I would argue that life gains a value, a worth, when we can make our own decisions. A life suppressed by outside forces, whether ideologically, physically, emotionally, or otherwise – makes the life we know since born a little bit less ours. With God or not, with disability or not, I believe that life is very personal. Relativism should not trouble you, Ms. Zimmerman, because life to you means something different than it did to Daniel James and those who waste their life on drugs and alcohol. I do agree with you that the suffering need all the help and support we can offer them, but at the same time, I feel that they need the assurance that their life is in their own hands as well.
I read your blog on how this issue could turn into the holocaust all over again. Truthfully, that is a scary thought and that is why I think we need open governmental regulation of such acts. By regulation, I do not mean restriction indefinitely. By regulation, I mean that society will become aware of it so maybe that more sympathy will result in more advancing research and ultimately something to fully recover the disadvantaged. By regulation, I mean that society will reinforce the lessons learned from the holocaust and prevent any abuse of this practice of free-will. While we need to remember the lessons from history, we also need to grab onto the next ride toward personal betterment through freewill.
First off, props on quoting REM. I never anticipated 80s music entering the euthanasia debate. But anyway, I believe your message is absolutely one of love but also one of idealism. Yes, life is the greatest of blessings and should be appreciated. But is all life equal? Lets be honest, the post accident life of Dan James could never hold a candle to his old one. I understand why Daniel James was led to his decision. He had so much and must have felt invincible and then it was all taken away in a moment. Living as quadriplegic is an absolutely devastating change for such a young and powerful man. Daniel’s condition made him dependent on others for even the most basic human functions. He decided to die to preserve what dignity he had left. Dignity and self-respect are essential to quality existence. Even though I may disagree with his decision to be euthanized, I have to respect him. After all, It was his life and he couldn’t bare to live any longer, how could anyone have the right to force him to live? I believe that life is the sole possession of the individual. It is a shame that Daniel had to escape from his own country just to end his life with dignity and the fact that his family is at legal risk is deplorable. Mercy needs to be given to those who are suffering. It is callous to force life on someone for whom it is painful and humiliating. Dan James should be respected by both the government and the common man for his courage to live (or not to live) his life according to his own wishes. If a person doesn’t have self respect, they have nothing. Dan’s life was misery.
Chelsea you are indeed an inspiration. The life you lead is remarkable and I’m sure God is well pleased in you. That being said, should everyone be held to your standard? Not all people have the same outlook and foresight you so clearly possess. The way you live your life is certainly ideal but I don’t think all people are capable of that. Everyone on this earth must choose their own path. Even though two people encounter the same situation, the reaction of one is not necessarily the best choice for the other. I don’t believe that Dan James’s depression was a “stage.” It was not a temporary problem or something that he could adjust to in year or so. Just like Ramon San Pedro, Dan would have never felt fulfilled as a head on a bed. Daniel James was not another depressed young person looking for a quick and easy way out. He made the best decision he could in his situation and I respect that.
Before I say anything else, I wish to applaud your amazing resolve and determination. I truly admire the strength and conviction with which you go through life, and I am inspired by your strong faith.
I would now like to begin by saying that I agree with your point of view to a moderate degree. I personally am not a major proponent of euthanasia, nor of any form of death. Though others may speak of “death with dignity,” (and they have full right to do so), I believe that there is no dignity in death. Our bodies decompose in the most gruesome of ways, and for people who share Dan James’ viewpoint, their hope is not, I think, to die with dignity, but with humanity; to die without pain, without suffering. I came to this conclusion after reading the articles about Mr. James, Sr. Ramon Sampedro, and many others who have died the same way. Dan James was in an extraordinary amount of pain. I am not making excuses, or giving reasons. I am merely pointing out that he was literally a prisoner in his body. In addition to feeling constant pain and being unable to move or to relieve it, Dan James’ body was, for lack of a better word, disappearing.
I am certainly not defending his decision, nor am I making excuses for it. I am merely elaborating on his side of the story. Dr. Wesley J. Smith wrote an article in a bioethics.com blog about the ‘slippery slope.’ I think his point is valid. Where do we draw the line? Where do we tell people that they don’t in fact, have the right to die, as they previously though they did? I have been reading these questions for quite some time, so I want to pose a new question: when do we tell a person who is going through undeniable agony that they don’t deserve to live in such a state?
I, too, was born and raised religious. My family hails from the predominantly Hindu country of India. Traditionally, Hinduism frowns upon death as a whole, but has no set-in-stone doctrine concerning euthanasia. Most Hindu priests will tell you that euthanasia is discouraged, but mostly because they are influenced by their own opinions against death. I would like to pause a moment here, and clarify that I am not a proponent of death. I am merely forming a context. Most Hindus form their own opinions, based on personal experience, basic faith, and outside influence. I have done so myself, and have come to the (paradoxical) deduction that I do support the freedom of euthanasia. I believe that people ought to be able to, but not necessarily that they should. I believe they should, as you so rightly suggest, be counselled. Dan James had very little time to process what life would truly be like with after his injury; I have heard tell that the first few years are the hardest to bear, as one becomes accustomed to the new lifestyle, and the changes it may bring.
Abandoning all pretence of religious connection or indoctrination, I must here point out that no two lives are the same. One of my classmates stated in a post above mine, ‘It is my conclusion on the Dan James dilemma that he made his own choice and it should ultimately be respected. God is different in each person; the standardized words in the Bible are incomparable to the opinions of Mr. James himself.’ I must agree with this. No one person can judge another’s life, because they have not had the same experiences, and even if they have, they have not had the same thoughts. Just as no two snowflakes are made exactly alike, no two people think exactly the same. On the very slim chance that a person led a completely identical lifestyle to that of Dan James, I still do not think that they would perceive their situations the same way. Let us say, for example (regardless of the reality), that Dan James did not believe in God. His view of life would be completely different than that of myself, or even of you, Ms. Zimmerman. While you are a devout Catholic, and I am a moderately religious Hindu, we both allow God to influence our life and our decisions. Mr. James on the other hand, might not have. He would perceive his life differently: instead of believing that his life was a cross that God had asked him to bear, Mr. James might opine that his life was just miserable and full of pain.
The almond at the centre of the chocolate is that no two lives are the same, and so it rests upon each person to determine with the utmost consideration, what to do with his or her life. My only reservations from supporting euthanasia in its entirety are that A) I do not like death in any form, and B) each life has an impact upon another. So does each death. While Mr. James’ decision was taken with the full consideration of his family and friends, there are hundreds of people who do not take the time to consider what that decision might mean for loved ones. While they might think that their life is a lone wolf (and they are entitled to hold that opinion), no life is truly alone. The actions I take have an effect on my family, and I would despise myself if I took my own life, however horrible it may be, without first thinking of the pain my loved ones would go through. I believe each man’s life is his own, but I also believe that he does not stand alone in living it. ‘It’s my life:’ the typical cry of the angsty teenager. It is, but it has an impact on others, and I hope that those who choose this path have thought carefully about the consequences. This is one step, that once taken, cannot be undone.
When I read the story of Daniel James, I became saddened, because to me, I believe that society should focus on life and death should never be encoded in state or national law, as the case may be. I know if something were to happen to me that would affect me in such a drastic way such as his (or your) injury, I wouldn’t doubt that depression would be a early stage. I play field hockey, and right now I have a good shot at making the U-17 National team as a goalkeeper if I work hard enough and get good enough by June. I know that if I was the victim of a car accident, a field hockey accident, or anything else that would make a paraplegic or quadriplegic, I would grief at my loss. Even simply losing the ability to play field hockey would affect me in ways I don’t even want to imagine. But after the initial (or long) stage of depression, I pray that my family and my friends are there and can support me, and would encourage me to keep on fighting strong. I am a big advocator of personal responsibility and family values, and I know that if my family was there to help me, I could overcome almost all adversity, including such an injury. The reality would be hard to accept, and life would be difficult, but I wonder something: when it has ever been easy? In my mind, one of the greatest things about humanity is our ability to overcome new challenges and make new progress. Coming to peace with a new reality would be difficult for, but I know I would rather choose life than accept anything else. God’s greatest gift to mankind was the gift of life, and I am a firm believer in the idea that society should try and protect that life. As you point out, who is to say that Dan James couldn’t have bounced back, and learned to accept his changed life? That is depression couldn’t have been worked out, that he was less of a person? Committing suicide in this regard would be cowardice, and overall, I believe that this kind of assisted suicide is immoral. This is not only from a religious perspective, or the perspective of the humanities; it is a reasonable demeanor. And I wonder why anybody would give up his or her life to such a fate, and I question the morals of a society that allows it.
In class, we read an article entitled “Listening and Helping to Die: The Dutch Way” and honestly I can say that for the most part, it made me sick. The idea of a slippery slope has been mentioned before, and I don’t want our country to turn out like the Netherlands did. Doctors listen to their patients, but should not always grant their requests. It seems like that in the Netherlands, you can simply ask for death, and they would give it to you. And its not only to people with terminal illnesses (something that can be more justified), it could be someone with a handicap, or even someone like Dan James. To the extent that this is happening is the extent that the Dutch are saying that there is sliding scale on the value of a life. I pray that our society never comes anywhere near this Dutch “ideal”.
Did Dan James need help to live? Yes, he did. It sickens me that he wasn’t the only one headfast on this belief, but his parents, of all people, were too. I believe society should help these people, but it seems like some places are on a path to suggesting that their life has less meaning. I never want somebody to suggest to me my life isn’t worth living, because I know that it always will be until I am finally ready for that day that death comes naturally. I believe that your story is an inspiration to all who read it, and I say for certain that it was for me. When I hear the stories of Dan James, Chris Hill, and others, I feel that their suicide is being used for political purposes, and to encourage a culture that may as well lead to death on demand. I’m glad that I am hearing about someone that conquered this change, and made the most of it; someone that isn’t just talking about it, but living the realities. As you say, life is what you make it. Society should be placed back on the path that values this, and helps make this life worth living to the fullest extent possible. Thank you.
Ms. Zimmerman, I cannot begin to thank you for the hope that you have instilled in me. It is a relief to know that in the face of strife, I have someone to look up to who did not give up- even more so that the decision was largely based on a relationship with God.
Since being introduced to this tragic topic, I have mulled over what I might do in the case that I had a serious accident. Although I must admit, that if I was in a vegetative state I would want to be unplugged from any and all excessive measures at life- I have much more trouble with deciding whether or not to go on after being injured such as yourself or Daniel James. Part of me sees the beauty in life, the love of my family, and the teachings of my Christian faith. However the other part sees suffering and unhappiness of the ways my life has changed. I love the way my life is and I don’t take things I do everyday for granted! I am extremely active all the time and thats something that I don’t want to imagine my life without.
When I think of this issue, I imagine the different points of view and I can’t see why there has to be just one solution. Why is it that either everyone can to choose to medically end their lives or no one can? With probable cause, is it not fair that a person may choose to end their life, while another chooses not to? Yes, I realize that this goes against my faith.
Doctors squirm when they hear talk of assisted suicide- and with good cause, people are sue happy these days! But in becoming a doctor, they took the Hippocratic Oath, an oath in which they pledge to never harm a patient. When I think of the word “harm” I think of someone causing an unwanted pain to another person. In the case that I asked a doctor to end my life, if they agreed, I would not feel I am being harmed; I would feel entirely thankful for their courage! A doctor would be violating their oath if they unplugged their helpless unwilling patient from a ventilator, but not from someone who is begging to die.
What about Ramon Sampedro? He lived a long life with his disability, all the time wishing for death. He went this whole time, time enough to come to terms with his injury (as you have) and yet he still wanted nothing more than to be rid of it. I think herein lies the answer for me. I think that a person should try to accept their new life, they should wholeheartedly live the best they can for as long as possible. When you feel as though you cannot deal with it any longer, press on. If at some point the feeling of loss and regret fades- outstanding! One more beautiful life saved! But with someone like Ramon, I think the right to die has been earned. I think you have to earn your right to die. Live life to the fullest. Live life hard, and earn the eternal rest you will in turn get.
Ms. Zimmerman, you and I share many similar views. There is nothing that you said that I disagree adamantly about with you, and a lot of what you said really spoke to me. However, I feel there are issues that don’t address in the sad story of Dan James.
Before I move onto different aspects of the Dan James incident I would like to say that I agree with you completely that his death was caused by the option of suicide and the complete negligence of his parents. People say they respect what the parents did for their son and quote the parents on how they think that they made the right decision. But I wonder, would the parents ever think otherwise? When it comes to making major decisions in our lives we never like to believe that we may have made the wrong choice. It was only six months since he was discharged from the hospital after his accident, not nearly enough time needed to recover from such unbearable a loss; I know I would need years if not decades to recover. People tell me that he would never have recovered from the pain he felt; however, how will we ever know? It has become a cliché in my class but in cases such as this we see suicide as a permanent fix to a problem that may only be temporary.
Herein lays the root of the problem; buried in the shallow mentality of our society. Advocates for assisted suicide argue that they are helping patients escape unbearable mental pain and loss of dignity. Who is to say that the pain is unbearable; who is to say that they have lost their dignity? Our society shapes our views, as much as we would like to deny it, and I believe that our society is moving away from one that values life as highly as it used too. If we simply acted as if all lives where equal, regardless of our physical limitations, then perhaps people would not be drawn to the over fanaticized, over glorified image that suicide can help you escape from pain. Most people don’t realize that those who experience the most joy out of life are often the ones who are subject to the most pain. Does it not take the coldness of night to know the warmth of a summer day? Does it not take rust to have something polished? In the words of Jason Mraz, “It takes one to know the other”. But NO! In the vain outlook that has been developed in our world if we do not have perfect, fully functioning life then there is no point in living. Our society is even vain enough to come to the conclusion that if we don’t have that car or house or perfect Hollywood life and that perfect Hollywood wife then our lives are essentially a failure. So, logically it follows that if you become paralyzed then you really don’t have a life worth living. Do you see the problem in this?
Something else that disturbs me about the story of Dan James is the hypocrisy of those who support what he did. It is not hard to find people who say that it is not acceptable for a depressed non-paralyzed person to commit suicide, but that it is alright that Dan James committed suicide. The two simply don’t go hand in hand. He was depressed about his situation and his parents made no reference of trying to help him find a higher calling. We are not talking about a terminally ill patient; we are talking about a temporarily depressed patient. We do not know if he would have turned out like Ramon Sampedro, a man paralyzed from the neck down who fought for 30 some years who for the right to have someone help him commit suicide. He eventually committed suicide with the help of friends. For all we know he could have turned out like Matt Hampson. Alas, only time could have told us.
Earlier I mentioned some things that I think should be addressed regarding your response about Dan James. Like you, I am deeply rooted in my faith in Christ, and it dictates many of my actions, thoughts and beliefs; however, we must realize that it is not the same for everyone. We must realize that a large portion of our population does not believe in a God. While I may have been moved by your faith in God, many of my peers I know suddenly discredited some of what you wrote because of their adamant disbelief in a higher entity. I feel that you did not address in great depth reasons for living with a permanent condition that are completely void of spiritual influence. For example, while you and I find that God’s desire for us to cherish and live life despite the pain that we suffer is enough to satisfy us, it will not for those who have not accepted God into their lives. I urge you when you further argue for the protection of life that you look at things from an agnostic’s or atheist’s point of view; your audience is not only those who agree with you. I was not born and raised in the church so I know what it is like to see things in a completely different mindset, and by doing so it become easier to speak your beliefs from a different angle.
For example, you and I believe that our lives are not ours to throw away, because we know that is what God wishes of us. But think about it from a non spiritual point of view. We all have family, we all live, we all love. In this world we all have at least one person who loves us; whether it be a parent, sibling or friend we all have someone that we can love who loves us back. To go through with suicide, even an assisted one where the loved knew, would hurt the person deeply. If any of you take the time to read the comments from Dan James’s parents you can hear the pain in their voice. Dan James was selfish in taking his own life; he hurt his parents, and left them with a hurt that will follow them to their graves. This hurt that suicide brings is so great for those left living that suicide cannot be morally justified in any way. To hurt another is to steal from them happiness, and by carelessly throwing away your life you simply take your pain and dump it right onto the shoulders of those that cared for you the most.
Something else I would like to expand on is this quote from your blog, ” They need help to live, to understand the inestimable value of their own life and their ability to pursue happiness despite the tragedy of their current situation.” This statement holds so much meaning, truth and wisdom. It reminds me of a conversation that I had with a friend of mine about assisted suicide a few days ago. One of my friends presented the valid argument that all we are as humans, once we grow past childhood, is to grow and become more accomplished self-sufficient men and women who do not need to depend on the charity of others. My friend said that Dan James’s life was rugby and engineering. For those two things to be taken away would make his life not worth living, with his passions gone it makes sense for him to want to die. My friend said that he would do the same placed in the situation. But like you, I see it in a much more different light. Look at those crippled by disease and accident that made their lives into something extraordinary. Stephen Hawking, Christopher Reeves and dozens if not hundreds of others stricken by paralyzing illnesses or tragedies that have done things thought impossible. Some may claim that people like that are special, either extremely smart or extremely wealthy or stronger willed and that being like that simply isn’t in their ability. But I ask those same people why not make your lives extraordinary? Why not dare to dream in the face of a nation that is constantly looking down on those with disabilities and pitying them saying how bad they feel for someone and in the process make things all the worse for the person, being that our opinions are shaped by the words and actions of others? Why not dare to change the world when the world says that your life is suddenly less fulfilling? Why do so many insist on protecting suicide as an out, a permanent solution to a temporary problem? Why do people not realize the inestimable value of their own life? The reason is because our society is too afraid to dream. We keep telling ourselves no, a thousand times no, until all the no-I can’t’s become drilled into our personality. As a society we need to tell ourselves that no matter what happens to us that we can prevail through it all. We need to realize that if we want something we have to go and get it. Period.
For all we believe Ms. Zimmerman, we will never see our dreams of a society that embraces life. It is impossible to lay down ground rules for suicide for an entire nation as either it being right or wrong. As human beings, we have the privilege of free choice, and the choices of others will not always be the same as those of you and I. We shall all never have the same opinions, the same beliefs; because of this we must understand that there may not be a right answer, or a wrong answer for that matter, only an answer that we believe follows our moral compass more accurately. We should also acknowledge right now how little we know, and how much we think we know. Not just you and I but everyone who has a say about this issue. We need to realize we shall never come to a verdict, but we need to realize that in order to see what is right we need to continue to talk with one another, looking at it from every angle as well as taking it case by case. Right now we are only discussing Dan James. We also need to look at different types of euthanasia, passive vs. active. We also need to look at things such as DNR and disconnecting feeding tubes and people in PVS (Permanent Vegative State). We need to deeper explore the case of Terry Schiavo and the practice of Dr. Kevorkian. There is so much more to explore and only by looking at everything can we piece together our beliefs and take a stand for what we feel as morally just. We may never see the world become that perfect place that we envision, however we must try as best we can. After all, isn’t that all that God asks of us?
Ms. Zimmerman, thank you for being so strong; you remind me a great deal of someone I got to know my first three years in high school who lived his entire life in a wheelchair. He had a spirit that overflowed with a joy for life and he changed my life more than I can even realize and I can sense that same spirit in your writing. I hope you continue to grow in your faith and I hope you continue to write adamantly for what you believe in and I will be reading what you have to discuss. I apologize if some of what I wrote did not make sense; I simply get overwhelmed with topics of such magnitude that I loose my clarity of voice, not to mention a week is not nearly enough time for me to get my thoughts straight. Anyway I’m rambling now, but thank you for taking the time to read my response as well as those of my fellow classmates.
First off, I would like to commend you on succeeding on adapting to your situation. I realize that this must have been an extremely hard task for you, and it must have taken an enormous amount of strength. However, not everyone can endure as much as you have. My personal opinion is that euthanasia should not be outlawed. You mention that Catholicism condemns those who take their own lives and that euthanasia falls into that category. That is your opinion, and you are most definitely entitled to it. However, I am an existentialist / idealist. I do not believe a central truth exists, which is why I have a hard time with religion. I believe there may be a God, but I do not believe there is only one belief that is right. Such is the same with my views on euthanasia.
I have never been in the position where I have been desperate enough to desire to commit suicide nor have I ever been a paraplegic or quadriplegic. I do, however, have the desire for equal rights. If one is in a position similar to yours and makes the best of it, more power to them! Also, if one tries just as hard to make the best out of what they have and cannot lead a life of joy, then they have earned the “right to die”. That right is reserved for those that have given their best and have decided that they just cannot make it.
Being a Catholic, I believe that you would understand the fact that God is the only one who can judge us. I do not believe that my word is law, nor do I believe that I know what is best for everyone. That is precisely why I leave their beliefs up to the individual. If they have given their best and cannot stand their disability any more, then it is up to them, not me, to decide whether or not their life should be ended. Daniel James had constant pain in his hands even though he could not move them. Before his accident, he had lived for Rugby. At the point of his accident, everything he worked for had been snatched away by the cruel hand of fate. He tried to make the best of his situation, but decided months later that he could not stand his life nor the pain throughout his body. By trying his best, however, he earned his right to die.
You talk about how suffering is a part of everyone’s life, and I absolutely agree. My father has his spine fused up to T2. This is a mere two discs below C1. He cannot bend and suffers constant pain. Often times the pain is so severe that he becomes nauseated or becomes bedridden throughout most of the day. However, he has struggled through this for eight year. He was able to tough out his situation and make the best of what he had. He still has extreme pain, but he adapted. Unfortunately, not everyone can preserve like you or my father.
To make euthanasia acceptable is against God’s will. I agree with you there. However, not everyone believes in God. Not everyone supports the teachings of the Bible. I believe that our decisions for society should not be based on religious standards but rather on principles of humanity and morals. In my grandmother’s final stages of cancer, she was give enormous doses of morphine to dull the pain. This did not make her better but rather made her so delusional that she could not recognize people throughout the final weeks of her life. Keeping her alive was not allowing for some miracle to happen or allow treatment to make her better; it was simply prolonging the imminent and inevitable.
Everyone dies, whether it be as an infant or as an elderly person. No one leads the same life and no one know EXACTLY what someone else is going through. No one has the right to tell people how to live their lives if their perception of reality differs. I believe that the right to die is earned by though who have given their best shot, but that’s just me. Your belief holds true for yourself, and mine holds true for me. Neither of us are right or wrong. We just see the world from a different set of eyes.
You may think that Dan James is only killed himself because he was afraid of change and adjustment, but in reality it is you who is afraid. Afraid of death. Death is an inevitable act that every organic organism cannot escape. And you, being religious, should look forward to death for it is when you can be united with God.
I agree with you that suffering in life is unavoidable, but the extent of Dan James’ suffering is far greater than any suffering I have ever had or could imagine. You say that his actions violate human dignity; however he was deprived of all his dignity when he had his accident. He even tried to kill himself, three times! How dehumanizing, undignified, and embarrassing is that to not even be able to kill oneself. He could barely accomplish anything without the assistance of another. This is why he felt like a “second class existence”. He did not feel equal to us, and he was right. I am independent and can do almost everything on my own. James was trapped inside of his body and needed undivided attention. This is why James felt worthless, because he simply could not function by himself. He felt like a burden to others and his only solution to lift it was to pass on.
No one is in a position to judge Dan James’ decision. Him being an athletic, sports-loving teenager was his life, and that was taken away from him. He lost an important aspect of his life that he lived for. He can no longer be independent, exercise, write, and possibly even date. He did not want to be catered every hour of his life and unable to do things for himself. Everything was a task not worthy of effort. He has the greatest control to his life and his choices and we should respect them, not judge them.
And when you talk about your religion, I do not understand what your point is with Dan James when you say Christ died on the cross so that we are never alone and Christ eases the suffering. I think Christ may have over looked Dan James. And if Mr. God is almighty and powerful, then why? Why did he give Dan this unfortunate circumstance? Is this a gift? Why does he not offer a solution? Because He “works in mysterious ways?”
Dan James should not have had to fly all the way to another country just to end his life legally. Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon and Washington in the U.S. for many years now and there has been no “slippery slope” of euthanasia. Same story in Switzerland. In fact there are strict restrictions to physician assisted suicide, thus this to prevent any corruption and misconception.
Dear Miss Zimmerman, I have been hovering over the topic of euthanasia for those that are physically or mentally different than what society defines as “the norm” for some time now. At first, I believed in appreciating and preserving life regardless of the circumstances. I saw eye to eye with the Catholic approach to this topic and viewed life as something that should never be taken away.
Then, I was faced with a completely new idea. Seeing the movie Million Dollar Baby and hearing of several stories, like that of Dan James, I began to disagree with my previous standpoint. Why should society force people, who prefer death over life, be forced to live on? Every person is different and therefore reacts differently to a situation in which they become a paraplegic, quadriplegic or have a terminal illness. I admire the way you have coped with your disability and made it work for you. It shows a lot about your strength and determination to live. I understand your viewpoint as a Catholic and that every life should be preserved, seeing that I once held this belief as well. You are a powerful person, but not every is. So, I believe that it should be the individual’s choice- not that of society’s- to make decide whether euthanasia is a service the patient would like to utilize.
In the case of Dan James, it is wrong that he had to travel to another country to have the right to die. As Greg stated earlier, “there is a very fine line between the results of shock and depression after a terrible tragedy.” This is completely true and may have been the reason for Dan James’ assisted suicide. As you already know, Dan James was a very able-bodied man who’s life revolved around rugby, and the shock from not being able to even go to the bathroom without assistance must have hurt. His inability to mentally cope with the situation must have translated into depression, or what he may have considered depression. If I were in the position of James’ I would try to cope with my new lifestyle. On the other hand, it is not my place to compare what I would hypothetically do to what James’ actually did. It is impossible for me to fully understand what he went through. In fact, it is impossible for anyone to fully understand the trauma he went through after the accident since every person would react to it differently. Because of this, I support the right to die as long as the patient gives a clear and logical reason for their euthanasia. A patient in a permanent vegetative state should be allowed to have a physician assisted suicide if their family chooses this option. If the machines are the ones keeping the person alive, why shouldn’t the machines also be the ones ending their life. A lack of assisted suicide to those on life support is like playing God, which we are already doing with the machines. However, in this case, we are playing God in a very torturous way because we unnaturally force people to live their life without an end.
The Hippocratic Oath, the oath that all doctors must take before beginning to practice states, “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked,” indicating that it is against this oath to provide physician assisted suicide. However, the oath also says that abortion cannot be provided along with minor procedures as stated in the line, “I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest.” Therefore the Hippocratic Oath has already been broken numerous times, showing how outdated it is (written over two thousand years ago).
Refusing euthanasia to patients only provides them with a disservice. Taking away the right to die is just as harsh as taking rights like the freedom of speech and freedom of expression away. This is America, the land of the free, where no one should be forced to live against their own will. If a patient chooses to die with their dignity, as Dan James chose to, then they should be allowed to. Forcing someone to live does not help their dignity at all. How is preserving a life that a person does not want to live maintaining human dignity? It merely diminishes. Sure, everyone faces hardship at some point in their life, but if it is so unbearable and the patient has no dignity left, then death may be a valid choice. Sometimes, a life is not worth living if it only brings suffering. I believe that society should not be allowed to dictate what terminally ill and paraplegic/quadriplegic patients can and cannot do with their lives. Only the individual person should be able to make the choice without the government interfering with their decision.
Dear Ms. Zimmerman. First off, I want to let you know that you are a remarkable woman whose strength and courage inspired all and how much I respect you on being able to deal with the pain and suffering that you have endured. As we all may have heard, Daniel James’s story is very tragic loss to his family and friends. The way he chose to end his life very suddenly was, in my opinion, too early and should have given it more insight. Perhaps a couple more months or a year might have helped them make a better decision but I believe it all comes down to the individual. Please do not take offense at anything that I say even if it might raise displeasure in others. However, I must inform you of my stance on this debated topic which would be that I disagree.
A person’s decision must be respected even though other people disagree and all must understand that a person’s life should not be controlled in any shape or form by anyone, not even the government. They do not live our lives therefore why should they decide for us? All they know is our information such as our name, street, city we live in, etc. but they don’t know what goes on in our lives and should not intrude. If they did, it would be an invasion of our privacy and as citizens of this great country, we are granted rights as stated from the United States Declaration of Independence such as the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have a voice to let people hear how we feel and what decision we make and of course there are disagreements on certain subjects but never should one disrespect a person’s decision.
Now let’s get back on topic that we must discuss. As you stated above, I can see how a person needs help to live not help to die and how they must be able to find happiness above all odds despite the fact of their disabilities but a person should decide what is right for them. Sure Daniel James decision might have been too early and there may have been solutions to his problem but he was suffering and did not want to live his life this way. On February 25, 1990 Terri Schiavo collapsed in her home experiencing cardiac and respiratory arrest resulting in brain damage. She immediately lapsed in Persistent Vegetative State for 15 years until her death on March 31, 2005. In Terri’s case, she endured pure suffering for 15 years and I’m sure that her parents had tried everything to help her but it just would not go. Since her constant struggles of survival seemed slim and there was obviously no way of her getting out of this, the best thing to do was go ahead and pull the plug. After all the medicines that she had taken that did not work, she was suffering, not living life the way she wanted to and life is a gift given to us that we must cherish and enjoy.
What do we do if we had a loved one that was terminally-ill, feeling locked in a prison in their own body suffering and not being able to enjoy life? It is not fair to them to feel that way and as I feel the better reason would be for them is to rest in peace. As I look at it and if it were me put in that situation, I would simply advise family, friends and my physician to end my life. There is no reason to live because life is about living to the fullest and if I can’t live to the fullest then why live? There are so many ways people view death or any end of the life issues and I respect them however I feel strongest and convincing in my opinion by choosing to end my life if were in the same situation as the terminally-ill.
Even though Chelsea, my classmates and I may have disagreed or agreed with your stance, I appreciate the time you have given up in your day to read our opinions and how I thank you for allowing me to post my opinion on your website. Take care and thank you very much.
Ms. Z, I am impressed by your wisdoms and your thoughts that is shared on your blog. I am also very sorry about your tragic accident but at the same time I can see you don’t need anybody’s sympathy since you are living your life to the fullest, just looking at your web/blog site it is full of your wisdom, compassion.
After reading your blog on Daniel James need our help I am enlightened but also I have a different view on the topic. I like how you quoted R.E.M. “When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone, when you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hanging on. Don’t let yourself go, everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes.” This quote is true to some extant that everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes but the key words here I believe is sometimes what if a person is hurting all the time 24/7 would they still have the human will to live on just like in Dan James case, you also quoted the pope which I thought it added a nice touch to the whole thing “God has blessed you with life, and with differing talents and gifts. Through these you are able to serve him and society in various ways.” What my question is what talent and gifts do a paralyzed person from chin has to offer to god and to serve him? In the case of Dan James how can he serve god when he can’t even serve himself. What propose does he have to serve god? He is just a head in the bed; rely on other people to help him with his basic daily need. I respect Dan James and his family member’s decision on assistance suicide. He use to a rugby player in England life was good, life was simple. After the accident he lost everything love for and along with that he lost his pride his dignity. When some one likes him a head in the bed suffering from both physically and emotionally it is understandable that he and his family would make the decision of assistance suicide. What I am trying to say here is that as people we can’t judge someone until we walked their shoes. In the state of Organ, Washington assistant suicide is allowed, many people fear that if as a country we start allowing the practice of assistant suicide there will be a chaos within the country. I am sure you heard of a doctor name Dr. Kevorkian he call him self the angel of mercy he help his patient to end their life simply by pressing a machine he invented but he give all his patient time to think about if this is what they really want to do. On this case I am not sure where I stand, one side he is mercy killer helping his patient to end their pain and suffering but on the other side he is simply just a killer. And then there is Ramon Sampedro also a head in the bed just like Dan James for years he is perfectly sane, he has come in term with his injury and decides to end his life. Would you consider that rush in to things? Would you consider that act of cowardness? All I am saying is that who are we to judge we can’t judge them entil we walked their shoes, but you on the other hand
Ms. Zimmerman you could say you are one of them you are paralyzed but you still have the use of arms, hands, fingers. Dan James and Ramon Sampedro they are completely paralyzed so your view on life and their view on life can be completely different. But none of less you had to experience the pain of transition and I am sincerely sorry for that. But as a democratic and civilized society we can’t impose our point of view and wills on others. So I leave you with this don’t look down on anyone unless you are helping them up.
Ms. Zimmerman, I agree with you one hundred percent that life is what we make it. What a strong person you are to continue to find a way to live a happy and healthy live. Unfortunately not everyone is as strong as you. We would all wish that everyone with a major injury would slow down and take the help that can be offered to them before making the choice to end their life. After a major injury some people just know it is not a life that they can manage to live.
I think it is society responsibility to make people of aware of the help that is out there for them but in the end I still believe it should be each person’s choice to live this life or not. Ms Zimmerman, the choice you made was obviously the right choice for you. What a wonderful life you have made from an unfortunate accident. Maybe you still have days of pain, hopefully not too many but being the strong person that you seem to be you find a way to get through it. What right do we have to tell another person they have to continue to live a life of suffering, whether it makes them a stronger person or not? Why have them suffer more than they already have? For some it is just not the life for them, the pain, the suffering and slipping into a deeper depression.
In the case of Daniel James, an athlete who has only known the life of being very physical, thriving from his sport and looking at a bright future, to suddenly losing the only life he has known. After a bad accident of playing rugby he will always have to depend on someone else. This was totally a different life than Daniel has ever known, a life he felt he would not be able to adjust to. Maybe Daniel was still in shock of the injury and new life adjustment but he also knew it was a life he did not want to live. Trying to commit suicide three times on his own makes me believe that if his parents did not take him to the Swiss Clinic then he would have continue to try until successful. It also seems to me that he must have taken the opportunity to hear from a few others before still deciding it was not the life for him.
I understand his family’s pain of watching him suffer everyday not only from physical pain but slipping into a deeper depression and they wanted to help stop the suffering. I would hate to see my child go through that or even a relative and feel so helpless. We really cannot say if he had the family support and professional care we feel he needed to make this decision. What if he had everything and took the time we feel as a society he should take before making this decision and he still wanted to end his life? Then what? Shouldn’t he have the right, it is his life.
I do not think anyone would know how they would feel themselves until put in that position. We can all give our opinions but if we are in that situation, things might be different. It is not our position to judge, each person should at least have the right to make their own choice. I do agree sick and depressed people need to be educated that their life is still worth living. We need to get people to understand they still have the ability to pursue happiness and live a fulfilling life. I agree we need to find ways to help people live and not die but ultimately it is each and every individual’s final decision to live or die, not mine.
Euthanasia is making such a controversial issue within medical Professionals as well because they took a pledge to the Hippocratic Oath; an oath in which they pledge to never harm a patient. And like some of my other classmates I believe that harm essentially means to cause something damaging that is not wanted. Therefore, if a terminally ill patient asks for the doctors assistance in ending their suffering, and the doctor agrees, that the doctor is actually helping not harming.
This is all just my opinion and like you and I, and everyone else, we all have a right to our own opinion. Sometimes opinions change when you are put into the situation yourself but again the choice should be yours and only yours. Thank you Ms. Zimmerman for writing on this topic and sharing your story. You will continue to make your life a happy one since we both agree “life is what you make it” and as long as you believe, you can achieve! Thank you so much for the inspiration you have given me to live life to the fullest!
Ms. Zimmerman, I want to begin by saying I am sorry for your accident. Yet it amazes me how you have overcome that obstacle and the small everyday ones, and still have hope.
I never gave assisted suicide much of a thought until we began to discuss it as a topic in my bioethics class. I am still torn in my belief of what I believe is right and wrong. As I have no strong religious belief system, God does not play any part in my decisions. I completely respect your view on choosing life over anything, that life is the most valuable thing. However, I’m not sure I agree with it. Please bear with me as I try to explain what I believe, as it does not make sense sometimes.
The story of Daniel James was a tragic one. I understand that he was crushed by his accident, especially as he was a very active man playing sports. I can see where he is coming from as an athlete. I am also an athlete, a swimmer to be specific. Swimming has become my passion and I have no idea what I would do if that were taken away. I can’t even imagine it. So I can see Daniel’s point of view. The only that I don’t agree with in his decision is that he made it within the first year of his accident. I think that he was depressed as anyone would be after losing mobility in all limbs. He just didn’t give himself time to heal emotionally and mentally. It is always hard to make any changes in life, and a change as drastic as his needs a lot of time to heal. I think that he would’ve been able to learn to adjust if he had someone to talk to, like a psychologist. And after a few years, if Daniel still chose to end his life, I would support his decision. I’m sure everyone goes through painful things in life. Everything just needs time to heal, some things take longer than others, but I would hope that it would eventually heal.
On the other hand, some people just can’t learn to live with their disabilities no matter how long or hard they try. In class we learned about two men, Chris Hill and Ramon Sampedro, who tried to live as quadriplegics for many years and just could not bear to. Chris Hill was a reporter who lived a very fulfilled, active, adventurous lifestyle. He had traveled around the world and did things that people would never imagine to do in their lifetime. His accident occurred when he fell, as he was hang gliding. Chris tried to cope with his new lifestyle but just could not. He knew he would be leaving loved ones behind, but had also thought long and hard about his decision. Ramon Sampedro was in a similar position. After 30 years as a quadriplegic, he still could not find a way to live happily. In these two cases, I also understand the point of view the men are coming from. They both tried to give their new lifestyle a chance, and for many years too, but could not find a way.
With the new case regarding Debbie Purdy, I think that the decision should be ruled in her favor. Nobody wants to suffer to their death. And I’m sure that if someone was dying they would want to know that they people they loved most were still there and cared. I think Debbie should have the right to have her husband by her side at her death without him being charged for it.
I agree with assisted suicide in some cases and disagree with it in others. I support the act in the cases of Chris Hill and Ramon Sampedro, but not necessarily with Daniel James. When someone is critically injured or disabled, or has a painful or terminal disease, I think there should be a huge effort towards making that person’s life more comfortable and as normal as possible. They do need love and affection and the knowledge that people love them and could not bear them passing away. But sometimes, love and special care is not enough. And in those cases, once evaluated by many professionals, it should be all right to request the right to die and assisted suicide. I don’t think assisted suicide should be the solution to depression and other mental states and disorders though. People with mental disabilities and problems can get help. As I said earlier, I think they need someone to talk to, a professional.
I don’t know if assisted suicide should be legal. Although I am not against it, I am not completely for it. Each case, as each person, is different and unique. I don’t know if there could ever be standards that would justify every case. I believe each person’s life is his or her own. I can say whatever I want about their situation and try to impose my belief on whether it is right and wrong but in the end, its up to that person and the people in their life. I am not one to try to make decisions for anyone else. Any decision is theirs and they know what they want and what is best, not me. I do have my opinions but I’m not going to tell you how to die. I only hope that you won’t ever have to make the decision regarding assisted suicide.
Dear Ms. Zimmerman,
You are indeed a very courageous and strong woman, not only because of your ability to live a happy and fulfilling life in the wake of your accident but also because of your ability to be so steadfast in your faith and beliefs. I only hope that one day I can believe in something with as much passion as you do your faith. Although I found myself in obstinate disagreement with just about all your opinions, I want you to know that my respect for you is of the strongest nature.
I have read your blog quite thoroughly, as well as discussed the matter over with my parents, and the adamant opinion I had before has thus simmered down into thoughtful confusion. This is truly a question of gray area because there are so many different situations, making it hard to find an umbrella statement that won’t leave at least one case out in the rain, so to speak.
My confusion lies in the question of whether or not it is right to overrule a person’s choice to kill them self? At what point do we say “You are too depressed to make your own decisions”? A substantial part of me wants to say never, for when we do this, we ultimately condescend over that person’s ability to make judgments for themselves. But in the case of Dan James’ tragic death, I feel that it was ultimately a mistake for his parents to aid him in his decision (a decision which was made in the pangs of depression) to commit suicide because of his injury. Just as you do, I feel that “He was still dealing with the shock of this sudden and dramatic change in his life.” And perhaps if he would have lived longer, he would have found another way to be happy despite his injury. Of course, this is my opinion, and, seeing as neither I nor you knew him personally as his parents did, we have no right to judge whether or not they did the right thing in respecting Dan’s wishes.
But despite my confusion between my disagreement with his decision and my belief that it was his mistake to make, I still deeply believe in the power of the individual’s choice. We choose to live our life the way we want to everyday. And even when we cannot control the conditions we live in, we can still control our reactions, attitudes, and temperament towards life. We live in the power of our choices. And like all other things in life, the will to live is a choice; and I feel that something as intrinsic and personal as that should be left solely to the individual. It is my humble opinion (alas the opinion of a green and sheltered teenager, but an opinion none the less) that to take that choice away from a person, especially a person who may feel trapped in their inability to control their own lives, is to truly, as you write, “violate human dignity”. It is not because I pity the disabled that I feel this way, but rather because I respect the intactness of their mental capability to make sound decisions for themselves.
Furthermore, I was a bit hurt by your comment concerning my class’s responses to your blog (“I’d be lying if I said that the relativism that appears to exist in the minds of some of these young people wasn’t at least a little troubling to me. Hopefully they are really on a quest for the truth and not merely their own personal ideals and opinions.”). We have been bombarded with both perspectives of the universal question of death. We have even read the Catholic Church’s official stance on suicide. Academically, we are well versed on all of the history and questions concerning the matter of this topic. And so you could definitely say that we are indeed on a quest of some kind; but I do not understand your statement concerning our “quest for the truth and not merely [our] own personal ideas and opinions”. All we have are our personal ideas and opinions; we have no truth; there is no provable truth when death is discussed. What more can we give except our opinions?
On the other hand:
I have seen the pain and suffering of those who had wished to end their life in peace but instead were forced to live the last days of their lives in agony. I have read the desperate pleas of those who simply ask that they be able to choose when they die. All I know is that there is a great injustice being done the curtailing of these people’s fundamental rights. Their anguish is the only truth (and by truth, I mean “a verified or indisputable fact”) I can see. And to me, this reality holds more weight then your faith’s “consolation of the cross” ever will. And so I did find a truth, it just happened to have a different origin than yours.
With Deep Respect,
Ms. Zimmerman, I would like to thank you, as my fellow classmates have, for allowing us to comment on your posting and gain the out-of-class knowledge that few are privileged enough to have access to. Before discussing the beliefs addressed in your blog, I would like to say that you truly are an inspiration. I find your devotion to your beliefs very strong and your outlook on life refreshingly upbeat. Few people in this world have those things, even when not enduring all of the hardships that you have.
We have been studying the case of Dan James in our Ethics class at length and it has led us all to different conclusions. We do not dispute the tragedy of the incident, instead the tragedy of his decision. My heart goes out to the James family, because I can hardly imagine the pain of losing their son, both in spirit on the day of his accident and in body on the day of his death. Adding to the sadness of the case was his age. No one should feel a desire for death at such a young age, but his painful existence pushed him to it. I have dealt with much internal struggle on the topic of euthanasia. My Christian morals tell me that it is impermissible under all circumstances and God has his own plan for us and it is our duty to live through the duration of that plan. However, I understand fully that not everyone shares the same faith as I, and thus have different conceptions of death.
I believe that if death was what Dan James truly desired, there should be no legal action or action from others to stand in the way of allowing him that. What does disturb me, however, is the fact that he had only lived with his disability for a little more than a year. Many will say that a year is a long time for a painful existence, and that is true. But at the same time, I agree with you that that year was probably filled with shock and a blatant disgust for what he had become. Could he have accepted himself in his condition, or would have desired death another two or three years down the line? No one can say. I only wish Dan James had been open to the idea of accepting his new life, and perhaps given himself another few years to adjust. After that point, I feel he would have had a better grasp on what he could do with his disability rather than simply what he could not. Take the case of Ramon San Pedro for instance. He lived with a very similar disability for decades and expressed a continuous desire for death. I believe nearly 30 years was an unnecessary length of time, but I feel that, after wanting death for years upon years, it is acceptable. There is true thought and consideration behind the idea, and while it may be controversial, it was what that person truly wanted.
I truly appreciate your understanding of suffering and that it is a necessary part of life. I agree, too, that suffering is rarely a call for death. It seems too many people, teens especially, are so willing to just give up their lives over petty matters. For example, the recent tragedy involving Megan Meier. This is the young girl who recently committed suicide shortly after a woman pretending to be her boyfriend “broke up” with her. Once again, I extend my most sincere apologies to the Meier family. I cannot imagine the hurt they are feeling. I only wish that Megan had chosen not to take her life, to realize that there is more to live for. I am fearful for my generation and younger generations because it seems the “trend” of suicide over things such as heart break is becoming evermore prominent.
With all this in mind, I would like to point out that I do not, however, believe that legalization of assisted suicide should be illegal for that reason. I feel that suicide and assisted suicide should be legal in cases of severe terminal illness and for patients expressing a desire for death at least 4 to 5 years after a debilitating accident. It pains me that the only legal places for this action are Oregon, Washington and the Netherlands. I have family that has repeatedly stated that, should they be unable to breathe, eat, think on their own, they don’t want to be kept alive. And while it would be more than devastating for me to imagine the loss of any of these persons, I could not abandon their philosophies and selfishly substitute my own desire to keep them with me.
In conclusion, I agree with your stance that life is a truly sacred thing and should be regarded as such. I, myself, base the majority of my moral decisions on my faith. I just hope that the law and others do not discriminate against those choosing death because it is a disagreement. I believe provisions should be in place as to prevent the nearly “fashionable” connotation suicide is gaining among younger generations, but that it should still be a legal option for those whose morals allow it. I truly admire the direction that you have chosen to take your life, but understand and respect that others may not be able to take the same stance.
Ms. Zimmerman, your positive outlooks on life and you ability to overcome the challenges of having a spinal cord injury are to be commended. I would have liked to hear a more positive story of Daniel James the rugby player and overcame the burdens of his injury with the help of his faith and I am sorry that that wasn’t the case. I cannot judge Daniel’s decision, I don’t know enough about his life besides the fact that he played rugby, and had a family that trusted and loved him; however, I can analyze his situation and through my own belief system try and make reason of his solution to his devastating injury.
I have been raised a Reform Jew since my birth, I have clung mostly to Jewish tradition rather than faith, yet over the past few years I have begun to have more faith in the teachings of Torah. The idea I have most identified myself with in Hebrew studies is the idea of “one person’s life is the same as the entire world” and to save a life is the same as saving the entire world. When Daniel died he destroyed his entire world, and a part of everyone else’s world who knew him was destroyed as well; friends, family, anyone who knew him was somehow hurt from his choice of death. However, I wonder if Daniel James felt like his world, his life was damaged permanently from his accident. Daniel James was only 23, he probably hadn’t experienced love, he probably did not travel too far in his lifetime, he played rugby it was something he enjoyed; another thing he must have felt like he lost. He had a fruitful life ahead of him before his accident, he had more he could of lived for after his injury, yet with an injury wasn’t the way he wanted to lived it.
His choice mirrors that of Chris Hill a journalist, Chris had a very exciting life, one entirely made up his ability to travel, to participate in extreme sports; in a hang-gliding accident he was paralyzed from the chest down and after 14 months of attempting to cope with his injury decided to kill himself. In a suicide note he wrote his reasons; his inability to be independent, his inability to make love, how he would never be able to surf again, the burden he put on his family. To him his life was shattered the same as his spine and for him death was an escape from the agony he felt that he was destined to always be in after his injury. I would like to say time would have healed his pain, made him find something about life that would help him to live on; however I look at the choice of Ramon Sampedro who live for 29 years before he was able to have an assisted suicide and he much like Daniel and Chris during those 29 years found no meaning left in his life.
Daniel James like the rest of us had a plan for his life, a plan that was altered if not destroyed in his accident. I have a plan for life or at least for the next 10-12 years. As I said earlier my life has been deeply influenced by my Jewish heritage, I would have to say that without this heritage I would not be the same person, I would not have the same morals and values, I would not have a best friend that I would do anything for, I would never have gained confidence in myself to become a social person. Being Jewish is my identity it many ways it is my life, as rugby was Daniel’s life, as journalism and independence was Chris’s life. If I were to lose my Jewish Heritage the one thing I relate to that makes me who I am life would lose most of its meaning to me.
Daniel had the choice to live or die, his morals and values chose death. What many try to say is that by having the ability to go and have an assisted suicide is what truly killed him. Assisted suicide is not genocide (I would like to say we don’t have another holocaust on our hands, it somewhat offends me to think of the assisted suicide as that); Daniel wasn’t looked down as being less human, as less important. He was in pain, he wasn’t depressed, and yes he was upset but not depressed. He didn’t just get wheeled into the clinic and said I want to die, he talked to counselors he had discussions, they reviewed his reasons. They didn’t agree with him that he should die; they just listened to him and accepted his wishes. I like to say that he eventually would have found has value of life again. Yet to himself I think he thought he was already dead when the accident happened. He didn’t have his faith to help him to press on. He didn’t feel like he had anything left to live for. His life wasn’t worth anything less than mine, than anyone else’s, yet that is the way he felt, we are not all strong. They say that time heals all injuries; however, I am not so sure of that.
There is one thing we all know Death is permanent, “the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns,” a travel that Daniel James found refuge from pain in.
Mrs. Zimmerman, I want to start by saying that I too am Catholic and that your determination and faith is admirable and inspirational. You are clearly living out God’s plan. Being an individual of faith, as yourself, I believe that people should choose life and that it is indeed God’s greatest gift to us. It is the foundation of every joy, sadness, sensation, experience. There would be no music, no touch, no tastes – bitter or sweet – nothing. How can we possibly be given more than life; for it is the accumulation of everything we have ever, or will ever experience? I believe that religious or not, people should choose life; it is the natural way of things.
However, I believe that the key word here is “choose.” It means a lot more when someone chooses to live, rather than being forced into it. And personally, I believe that God sees everyone who would try committing suicide in the same light. Why would he favor a person who desires to commit suicide but cannot, to someone who desires to commit suicide but can? Further more, while my beliefs might always point towards life, others are free to make their own decisions regardless of what I say. From how I look at it, I should always advise living a moral life, but if I cannot change a person’s mind, forcing them into my own decision will do nothing. If someone pointed a gun to my head and told me to worship God, my prayer would mean nothing. And by choosing life for someone else, it would mean nothing to God as well.
Now, the problem that I have with Daniel James is that he was allowed death before he had time to try to adapt. I could only imagine that something like that would be a shock, and a possible first reaction would be that it is not worth it all (please forgive me if I’m wrong.) He was only a quadriplegic for just over a year before he checked into Dignitas. I believe that a person with a disability such as his must be given the time and necessary tools to see things from a new perspective. People can be closed minded and sometimes need the push. This might be an almost insulting comparison, but I think of it as parenting a child. When he is young he might want candy, but a good parent will not give in. The parents know that the candy might be nice in the short term but will be unhealthy in the long run. The hope would be that eventually the child would mature and see that eating the candy might not be the correct move. It is society’s job to be the parent. With that said, at some point and time, every person gets to make that decision on their own. I would like to refer to Ramon San Pedro. If you do not know who he was, he was a quadriplegic man who lived in Spain for 29 years and, for many years, fought for the right to die. Eventually, he drank poison and died in ’98. In my opinion, if someone endures 29 years and decides that death is still better, then I have no right to intervene. His decision was clearly thought out and not an act of desperation. It may not be the path I would choose, but Ramon San Pedro does not have to walk my path.
Hopefully, I have made my views on active euthanasia for the conscience person clear. So, really quickly, I want to go over people in a vegetative state and passive euthanasia. To start, I think that passive euthanasia is perfectly acceptable in all scenarios. Every person should have the right not to be plugged into machines and kept alive through artificial means. Now, I think that it should be a mandatory part of every person’s will whether they want to live or die if there is no brain activity. There will always be messy situations, like in Terry Schiavo’s case, but they can drastically be lowered by having a decision made before hand. As a general rule, I think that life ends, not when a heart stops beating, but when the brain stops functioning.
Lastly, I believe that having the option would help people with their fear of old age and with their distrust of doctors. I know most people, myself included, have seen people in senior convalescent homes waiting to die, fighting over attention from visitors, and loading themselves with drugs. And just about everyone says, “I hope I die before I get to that point.” Now, I do not believe that old people should have the right to commit suicide, but I think if they could be assured that they had control over their own life, they would be more content. If they knew they could stay DNR, not be put on machines, and (if the pain gets to bad) have the right to a dignified death, their last years would be easier.
I have no fears that the right to die will lead to a “holocaust” but I to have my fears that there will be a “slippery slope.” It will never go spinning out of control, but I have no way of knowing what people or the government will officially decide is “immoral.” The second it is allowed for terminally ill patients, it will expand to the disabled – that, anybody can be assured. There will be no way of knowing how it will be handled either. Many people are opposed to a waiting period for abortions, even though it has almost no affect; who’s to say there will not be a waiting period for amputated limbs or spinal cord injuries. Dignitas, the very same place that assisted Dan James to die, also assists in suicides of severely mentally ill patients and persons who are clinically depressed beyond help. This is severely wrong already, but chances are, as time goes on, the measurement for severely mentally ill might encompass more and more. One day people might decide that even those not clinically depressed, but just depressed, might have the “right” as well.
The struggle in all of this is that at some point people do have a right to their own life, and at some point they need the help and protection of their friends and family. There is no magical rights answer, just how different people feel in their gut. How I feel will be different from you, my teacher, parent, and most likely any random person I meet on the street. This is why it would be so hard to create a standard for euthanasia. I guess my ideal society would only allow assisted suicide for pain or quadriplegia, if they’ve waited at least five years. Anything more is taking the easy way out of a complex and hard situation. As for Dan James’ family, I will not pass judgment. They were parents who saw their adorable baby’s face asking for candy, and they broke and gave it to him. They wanted to do what was right, and I cannot sit here and insult them when they had their child’s best interest at heart. This is not an easy subject to figure out or to talk about. I do want to reiterate though that I do ALWAYS support choosing life. It should always be the policy to encourage life and to stay positive. We have one main philosophical difference and that is that it is should be encouragement, not force, which brings people to continuing their life.
I have a great deal of respect for you Ms. Zimmerman, as I do for anyone who would face life so bravely and garner such success in it after an experience such as yours. I beg that you do not think that this wavers in this disagreement, for I would do you no such insult.
I must begin with something in your article that struck me immediately, for in truth it rather perplexed me. You spoke of how “we must never violate human dignity to end or avoid” life. I consider it odd that you would speak of human dignity as if your ideas, and the ideas of your church, of your pope, held an exclusive monopoly on what constitutes as human dignity. We are not all Catholics in this nation, or this world, and just because you read the Bible in such a manner as to say that dignity and life are but two sides of the same coin, that does in no way mean that all manner of men believe the same. Your beliefs are not mine, they are yours and while I would lay down my life to see that you are able to live in a country which honors your beliefs, I think it just as prudent to allow others to exercise the same right.
As a paraplegic I understand that you have an insight into this matter which I have not. I have not lived through what you have lived through, my life is not yours, and my experiences and yours differ vastly. It is ironic though that this recognition of our profound differences allows me to appreciate our similarities all the better. I am not you Ms. Zimmerman, but you are not me. You are not Daniel James, not Ramon Sampedro, and not Chris Hill. To imagine that your belief system, however valuable and worthy it may be to you, can be mirrored on another man, is to demean the beliefs of the man you say you wish to save.
I imagine that your faith as a Catholic had a large part to play in your ability to greet the world so bravely after your accident, but as I said before not all men are Catholic, or even religious for that matter. Regardless of whether or not you agree with me on the importance of faith in daily life, saying that a man can overcome his affliction through “the consolation of Christ on the Cross!” who “makes up for the strength we lack in carrying our own crosses” is only good advice if the person you are speaking with is religious themselves. What then of the men and women who hold that, religiously based or not, suicide under such circumstances is not a sin and that their dignity, dignity being defined here as that which they make of it, for its meaning varies depending upon the person in question, and not their soul is that which is at stake? Are we to deprive them of that right because of your religious faith? Have we not already fought enough wars to live in an America that is governed by the precepts of individual liberty, of the right of men to live free from the union of church and state?
I am not proposing that we take to the streets and murder every disabled, crippled, ailing man, woman, or child that we find. To be honest, these alarmist tendencies exhaust me sometimes. I have all the time in the world for debate Ms. Zimmerman, but when you go so far as to say that eugenics and euthanasia are one and the same and by that to equate euthanasia as the first step Germany took to the Third Reich, I lose my patience a little. Yes it is beyond doubt that America and Europe committed unspeakable atrocities under the creed that, as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes said, “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” It was a frightful, decrepit chapter in our nation’s long history, but can you truly see no difference between strapping a woman down for being “predisposed” to “feeble mindedness” through a genetic trait that does not exist, nor did it ever exist, and forcing sterilization upon her against her will, and Ramon Sampedro pleading after 30 years of bitter fighting for the Spanish government to let him die in peace? If you cannot, if all you truly see is this “slippery slope,” then I am afraid that you have little faith in the American government, in the American people, and in reality itself.
Even were you to somehow convince me that I am wrong in this regard and that euthanasia is truly just the first step towards eugenics, I would still protest the latter part of your argument. Eugenics certainly played a part in forming the Nazi creed, in shaping the ideals of men like Hitler and those who formed the core of its early base, but do you truly imagine that they would have been able to sweep an entire country with them were it not for a multitude of other matters such as the resentment built through the War Guilt Clause of the Treaty of Versailles, the massive hyperinflation which racked Germany, plunging the country into the bleakest depression it had ever seen, to the point in which families, unable to buy firewood, would burn money, now depreciated to the point of worthlessness? Do you think that there would have been a Holocaust without the generations of anti-Semitism fed into the German people? Hitler turned to eugenics for guidance fair enough, but Germany turned to Hitler not because they had been years before turned into a barbaric culture of death society, but because they were desperate, poor, and starving. Men are far more willing to listen to foolish, hateful ideas if those ideas can put food in the mouths of their children.
To state my views clearly, I believe that men have the right to do, say, and act as they wish, provided that they are of sound mind and that their actions do not impair the natural liberties of another. Now I know you might say that anyone who would talk of killing themselves is not of sound mind, but after 30 years I would say that Ramon Sampedro was certainly of sound mind. He had had more than enough time to come to terms with his affliction, he was not irrational, merely in pain, and tired of watching his dignity be stripped away a little more each day. To say that he was not capable of rational decision making in that context is essentially saying that you do not believe that anyone can be sane if they do not agree with you. That cannot be the truth.
I have to ask how it hurts you to let men like them find relief, peace. Their death is not yours; it is not anyone else’s but their own. These men have their reasons and good ones, for there are some things in this world more precious to us than life itself, things that were we robbed of them, little inspiration would be left to merit drawing our next breath. What this is is different in all men, we all value different aspects of our lives differently after all. For Mr. Sampedro this was his body as it was for Daniel James. I believe that rather than condemning their actions with harsh words which they do not deserve, we should respect them, and honor them, our personal beliefs in the manner aside because frankly how a man chooses to live or die is his business, not yours and not mine.
There are men out there dying every day even if, thanks to modern technology, they are still medically alive. What they need is our love and our acceptance, not the words of a book which they may or may not believe in. All men are not all Catholic Ms. Zimmerman. They cannot all find comfort in the crucifixion of Jesus. They do not all believe in heaven or hell. But they are all men, and if you truly do believe in the words of your savior as I believe that you do, they are all our brothers. All men have the right to live their lives free, chasing their own dreams, their own aspirations, and they have the right to a death with dignity. Death does indeed take everything from a man, but when everything he values is already gone but that dignity, what right do we have to strip him of that too? I think it time Ms. Zimmerman that we learn to let go.
Dear Ms. Zimmerman,
To start, I cannot help but be awed by all of the obstacles you have overcome and the wonderful things you have done with your life. I do not say these things to butter you up or anything, the reason I say it is for one thing they are true. For another thing, this unit in class has made me think deeply on how I would or wish I would react if any of these things happened to me.
I do not believe it is wrong to take your life because it is a gift from God, but that is mostly because I am not a very religious person. I do however believe that each life is precious, but our own. Therefore I think every person should have the right to take their own life, but that does not mean I think people should. Life is a gift. Period. You only get one, and just because something happens that screws with all of your plans, does not mean your life is over.
I believe that the choice Daniel James was a personal one. Do I personally think it was a good one? No I don’t but just because I do not think he should take his life does not mean he should not be able to. I would like to give some deep meaningful insight that everything will get better, or that the longer you decide to stay with your family the happier they will be; but I cannot. I have never been in any position to know whether or not either of those statements are true.
This is not my opinion on assisted suicide though. I believe with all my heart that if I was ever in the final stages of a terminal disease that would strip me of my dignity, life, and therefore my happiness I would not want to continue to live. Dr. Kevorkian is wrong in the way he goes about ending suffering. States have laws for a reason, and in this day and age not only two states in America (Oregon and Washington) but also the Netherlands have legalized assisted suicide or Death with Dignity laws, so go there. People call him Doctor Death or an angel of mercy; I believe he is neither of those things. He is just a man who cannot stand suffering, but instead of legally trying to change the laws he is committing what is considered murder. This is wrong.
I believe that every life is worth living, even if it is not the way you had planned on living. Disastrous things happen every day, and if everyone ended their lives because of it the human race would have died out a long time ago. This is the only life we get, and if we want to live it we need to grow up, have courage, and fight back. I do not believe in fate or karma or any other cosmic retributions. Therefore no one can say the world does not like me, and decide that since something terrible and unexpected happened they can no longer continue to live. Taking your life does insult God, it insults your character. That is one thing no one should be willing to live with.
Thank you for allowing my classmates and myself reply to your blog, and if you would like to comment on my beliefs or if you would like me to elaborate further please feel free to e-mail me.
Before I begin, I have to say that I am a very opinionated person, and sometimes I may not realize just how I voice those opinions. I really do mean well, and I do not want to offend any person or his or her beliefs, which includes beliefs about what is right or wrong, about religion and its role in this debate, or about anything else that might come up. If anything should offend anyone, I really am sorry. I hope that happens to no one, because everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs, and I respect that.
I would also like to express my condolences, Ms. Zimmerman. I am sorry for your injury, and I am also incredibly respectful to you for having found the strength to get through it. Kudos. 🙂
I believe that life is sacred. If it weren’t, why would it exist, right? I mean, that was God’s great plan right? Create life so that everything would be fine and dandy on this perfect earth? Well, tell me. If God is so almighty and powerful to create such complex creatures, why didn’t he at least show a little bit of mercy towards us and the perils we have to face? Or was he not thinking of us when he created those chances for little mistakes in our DNA and all those tiny bacteria and infections that can become such a big problem for us? Did he realize the suffering that went on in the world, or did he simply stand back and let us make that mistake and suffer the consequences? I’m terribly sorry to say that we no longer have random people roaming the streets who can cure blindness with the palm of their hand…much less cure multiple sclerosis with a scalpel and morphine.
Now, this was in no way meant to insult anyone’s religious beliefs, it was purely the easiest example I could use. I fully respect every person’s beliefs, and I sincerely apologize if anything I said may have offended anyone.
Before you completely ignore me because I am some stubborn teenager who knows nothing about life and won’t know anything until I spend years through traumatic events and what not, I am saying this now: I fully understand the other point of view. I understand that life really is sacred because there are so many great things we are capable of. Besides all our worldly knowledge that continues to grow and grow exponentially, some of the greatest things we are capable of are the emotions we exhibit. We have loving families and friends; we live lives full of care and compassion, and one could argue that these feelings, this love that keeps us going is the greatest feeling in the world. Who would EVER want to trade that? I am very fortunate to have a loving family and some really spectacular friends who would support my every decision and help me through any hard times.
However, I have also been incredibly fortunate to have lived a very diverse life so far. By diverse, I mean that I have had the chance to do so many things in my life that it has really shaped who I want to be later on in my life. That person that I want to be though is a very active person with an adventurous life. Quite frankly, I’ve grown much too accustomed to my lifestyle that I know exactly what I would feel if I were in a situation like that of Daniel James. I know that I would NEVER be able to play my piano ever again. I would never have my independence. I would be stripped of my dignity because of my great dependence on everyone who loves me enough to endure the torture. Those three things right there are enough for me to fear ever being in such a situation because I know I would not be able to survive through the suffering it would put me through. And that fear isn’t a fear of death, but of suffering because those people who love me are not able to let go. As Sophocles once said, “Death is not the worst thing; rather, when one who craves death cannot attain even that wish.” I would never be able to walk again, I would never be able to run and let the concrete devour my footsteps. I would never be able to dance again, never express myself in one of the best ways known to me. I would never be able to write again, my sweet words never becoming solid and immortal on paper but rather be lost to the silent winds of solitude. Personally, I would never survive such torture. If the suffering from any pain of the injury weren’t enough, the deprivation of being able to do all the things I loved so much—all the things that define who I am—that is the worst kind of suffering. No person should ever be forced to suffer, and should they choose to escape the suffering, let them. It’s their life; they can do what they want with it. Theodore Roosevelt once said that “Absence and death are the same—only in death there is no suffering,” and it’s true. Death provides an eternal sleep, an escape from the prison that some people are left living in. Death is simply the most efficient mechanism of escaping.
Of course, there are some limitations as to where we should draw the line between death being an escape and death becoming the easy way out of a temporary problem. I have based my beliefs of this topic on a few simple unalienable rights that most people should know (or at least any high school student who paid attention in history). We as humans all have unalienable rights: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Here, we have two of my main reasons for my belief, one of which I will go into further detail later. The other reason is the last right of the three: the pursuit of happiness. If we are denied the pursuit of happiness, what are we to do then? Well, what if we are denied that pursuit of happiness because of an irreversible disease or injury and could no longer find happiness in absolutely anything we did anymore? Then it becomes even more difficult. How do we know when someone has truly lost their happiness of living or if they simply want to get rid of a temporary problem by taking the most extreme action to do so? Do we put a minimum waiting time before allowing someone to commit suicide (this includes assisted suicide)? How do we know how long they should wait? I’m afraid no one can generalize any answer to any of these questions because each of them would have to be personalized to an individual and the circumstances they present. But then again, who are we to take that role and decide for them even their own personalized timeline? Is it really up to us? Should we just let nature take its course? (If you answered yes to this previous question, I just want you to try this for fun. Get rid of every single thing in your possession that is not natural. This includes clothes that aren’t made of leaves, anything processed in a factory, fast food, ice cream, and pretty much anything else in your house except plants because everything else isn’t natural. We’ve been messing with nature for so long now; it’s almost hypocritical of us to decide what we can and can’t mess with anymore.) However, these are all very valid questions that no one will ever have the right answer to, because it will all always be opinions, whether those opinions are presented with facts that support them well or not.
I have a great respect for those people who are able to tough it out and live happy lives with these kinds of terminal illnesses or debilitating injuries, but the way I see it, life is a privilege. Life is a right, not a requirement. Who are we to decide that you absolutely HAVE to live your life even if you are incredibly miserable and we are only prolonging the inevitable? Is it really up to us to decide for you? And who are we to decide if you are of sound mind to decide for yourself? Is that just our excuse to try to decide for you and make your miserable life even longer? It is our excuse. Is it right? No. Life is a right. A RIGHT. Nowhere does it say that it is our duty to live our life until we die of “natural causes” nor does it say that we are REQUIRED to live. (And if we were all supposed to live until death by natural causes, wars would be one of the greatest sins in the world because bullets and bombs are in no way natural, yet we have grown incredibly accustomed to those now, haven’t we?) Now, while I strongly believe that there should be limits with euthanasia, I know I could never fully tell you just what those limits should be (dangerous, I know.) I also know that while life is the most incredible thing that we have been blessed with, I will always believe that it is still only a right.
Is God truth? He is. By definition, even the consideration of His existence makes this so. But who is God? And why the human face? Why the obsession to define, quantify and understand the infinite? I see his name branded, bought and sold, used, abused, worshiped and cursed. I see God, old and wise. He is, as so often described, both everywhere and nowhere; to be seen in all things, but only found by those who believe, those with faith incomprehensible to one without. I see his name and I see words. The Scriptures, First, Second Testament, the Koran. I see human words, flawed words. I must assert that the truth in this is plain enough as I’m sure you are aware. The vast historical evidence is ample and I feel no need to provide a long list. Extremism speaks for itself and while the actions taken by these groups are justified, I feel that I may have… missed out on their explanation somewhere along the way. They quote lines. They quote passages. They quote scripture. They commit terrible acts, but they justify it with the word of God. May be misunderstood metaphor, may be taken out of context, and may be so blinded that the words themselves twist into the coiled snakes of rage and madness, but the simple fact remains that with these words of truth, rapture and enlightenment may well come lies. I do not blame God, but human error. Necessarily perfect in God’s design, we nevertheless remain limited in ability, scope and understanding. Through narrow perception, we fail to understand. Through inadequate vocabulary, we fail to communicate. The word of God, once written down; once expressed in the tongue of man, lacks clarity. The purity and truth of God is rendered unto a mere human level, erroneous and open to interpretation and corruption.
There exist three sacred texts and many other writings besides. A religion will, more often than not, choose one of these, exclude all others and declare themselves the true followers of God’s will… but what becomes of the rest? They remain imperfect… a human organization, perhaps good in will, but lacking the connection with God held by true followers. This belief in a “true path” is illogical and sadly fallacious in basis. One is presented with multiple options, all provide the same arguments, and all promise to lead you to the same spot, each one denouncing the other. From a logical standpoint, if one value, namely the pursuit of God’s “one chosen path”, may lead to multiple answers, than the problem itself is in error.
I believe in God. I have my own faith, but I am adamantly opposed to organized religion. The will of God may be truth unquestioned, but you will excuse me if I do not feel inclined to accept the words of a fellow being, flawed and weak. I would prefer that humanity seek God as we were created, as we are meant to be, as individuals. No human may ever understand the will, or truth of God in life and perhaps not even in death, but it is preferable that we all try and fail singularly, than to work at gathering together our personal ignorance and imposing it on others. Spiritual belief is necessary in a well-rounded, intelligent and aware individual. It guides perceptual understanding, by serving as a grounding point from which all things are judged and weighed. By giving up this right, by consigning yourself to the prejudice and preconceptual ignorance of an established religious organization, you lose the purpose of God’s greatest gift. You lose the freedom and understanding which comes from individuality. You commit yourself to ancient text and to the words of another human, a person whose knowledge of God may very well be greater than your own, but whose ability to express said wisdom is gravely limited by human language… and so God’s will is lost in the translation.
To the day I die people may come to me quoting scripture, saying that “God wills this,” or “God wills that,” speaking of the morality of “right and wrong,” “justice” and the “value of life.” With all due respect, to those well-meaning, if somewhat misplaced people that I must surely encounter throughout my life: Good for You! Do, believe and say what you will; it matters not, but when you start to impose your will on me. When you take away my most fundamental God-given right, the right to my own spiritual perception of God, you take away my individuality; you take away my worship, you take away my very soul.
Now, onto the subject at hand. I see your fears and I acknowledge that they are real. There exists a definite historical precedence for discrimination of all kinds and for all reasons, none the least of which is physical disability, but here, with this circumstance, we are in disagreement. I have heard of the “devaluating of human life” and the “slippery slope.” These are legitimate concerns, but I do not believe that they are terms which apply to a voluntary, medical euthanasia system, based not on the assertion of a doctor’s personal opinion, but the representation and practice of an individual patients rights. First and foremost, these patients are already dying, no action taken will fix their condition and they are dependent on life support. It is understood that a patient has the right to refuse treatment; even the Vatican will admit this. (I’m sure we could disagree on the Terry Schiavo case, she was not after all conscious enough to refuse treatment, but I’m not going to argue over physiological implications of being “brain dead” and the possible applications of which to a spiritual debate. I’m tired of such things.) The inherent problem with this “choice” is of course fact that one must then choose to either starve, or suffocate, neither of which is particularly desirable, even to the already dying. However, people near death will occasionally choose to end their lives in this manner, in effect, causing their own death. The only true difference between this “church ordained suicide” and voluntary, assisted euthanasia is the rate and ease at which death comes; everything else literally comes down to arguments over diction, both within the bible and within general word usage, to develop an uncertain boundary between the two. If many quadriplegics were to refuse artificial mechanical aid in either the form of respirators, or feeding tubes, they would die. This should logically place them in the same category as cancer patients and persons possessing other serious illness. They have a right to extend their life through artificial means for as long as their body can continue, but this state should not be imposed on them and if they should ever choose to be relieved of life support systems, then they too should be allowed a decent, mercifully quick passing. These things I say and the conclusions that I reach, are meant to lack the influence of external moral reasoning. Some devout Christians may see purpose in their own final, painful breaths, but this may not be the case for others not so spiritually aligned with the ideals of “sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice.”
This is not about taking away anything. They are already dying. It is about preserving an individual’s rights and showing them the respect they deserve as a fellow human and as the case may be, a fellow child of God. To do anything less is an arrogant assumption that your beliefs are better than theirs, a hard case to make indeed, since religion of any sort is based purely on faith.
It is the essence of human error to assume understanding of God.
Dear, Ms. Zimmerman,
I would like to thank you for giving us this opportunity to post on your blog. I really respect your determination, and inner strength. It is inspiring to see you living your life to the fullest and transporting your message throughout the interweb. Thank you once again.
At the current moment our Bioethics class has been learning about assisted suicide, Euthanasia, and many people that were involved with it. The one story though that stayed in my mind was Mr. Daniel James. It was tragic to hear he was in a horrible accident that changed his life forever. From the articles, his life, and passion was rugby. Through the details it seemed that rugby was the reason why God placed Mr. James on this earth, and suddenly, his whole world was taken from him. When he finally found out he no longer could move from the neck up, it must have been soul shattering. After his accident, he no longer could partake what use to be his reason for existence, his devotion.. He must have felt that his old self was already dead.
His decision on killing himself is good or bad depending on one’s opinion. Where, his hands caught and felt the roughness of the rugby ball in the past, are now forever lost in the constant pain in his fingers. Where he had to be aided hand and foot twenty four hours a days, for three hundred and sixty-five days a year. It would seem difficult to stay on this earth. One year is surely enough to understand if you want to leave this humanity at this time, and Mr. James did. There is no need to feel sympathetic towards his actions, because in the end, it was his conclusion to act upon it. He did not need a longer healing process, which would just be more time to suffer, nor was his parents not supportive. In my opinion they seemed more supportive then anyone else, as they allowed their child to make his choice and placed his own life in his hands. Instead of watching their son suffer from the pain, and failed attempts of suicide, they decided to allow him to leave peacefully from this earth.
Ms. Zimmerman, I believe in god. I have just become a true Christian I little while ago, and I believe God loves us all and treats us all as his children. I understand the suffering, which happens in our lives, like losing loved ones, and other big challenges. But how can severe accidents be called acts of God? Why would God want us to suffer more upon the earth he created? Aren’t we all loved equally and are all seen as God’s children in his eyes? Then how is it fair that one person loses ninety percent of his body and have that a act of God? God has created our minds and maybe creating assisted suicide might be a sign from him. Maybe God wanted Mr. James up there with him. That is the reason he gave Mr. James the opportunity to find the method. Can it really be a sin, if the person inside the body has already been physically, emotional and mentally killed?
Even though everyone’s opinion is different on this subject, I still believe the people in our society, in our country, in our world, should have the choice of their lives. They should not allow any form of government or human being stop them from choosing their own fate. I am not saying it should be mandatory, but if they are really suffering that bad, there should be another path they can take to peace Thank you again Ms. Zimmerman
Hello again, Ms. Zimmerman.
Well, my students were supposed to write on your blog by this morning, and many have – but there are some late posters, as many were intimidated by the idea of posting “in real life” and asked for extensions on this assignment to more fully polish their prose. So it goes.
One of the things I dislike about communication on the Internet is that often the like-minded find each other out through the online ether and proceed to harangue the converted. The liberals go to one website and argue with each other, having almost no contact with conservatives – and vice versa. Persons of dissimilar points of view do not meet, debate, or learn from each other. Of course it is easier to associate with those who share worldviews, but there is profit to be found in mixing with those who disagree with us: it is in disagreement that we can sharpen our thinking. An aspect I liked about having my students post on your site is that there was a wide diversity of opinions. As you may have noticed, there are some very strong Christians in my class who agreed with you almost entirely. And then there were some who did not, and then there was a lot in between. This is real. This is the way the world is. And in this spirit I hope you took the opinions of those who differed with you in stride.
So a few students might have post all the way through Friday, and they were fulsome in their thanks to you in allowing us this discussion, as I am. This is real learning. The kids were excited to talk to you.
And we shall have one final treat for you in a week or two…
Very Truly Yours,
To put it plainly, I don’t like the idea of assisted suicide. Having the option of taking away your own life may be “death with dignity” to some, but it doesn’t change the fact that a life is being purposefully ended.
I’ve grown up believing that every life is here on earth for a reason; each life has a purpose. That purpose doesn’t disappear when circumstances change; how you accomplish or fulfill that purpose might, but just because you may have suffered dehabilitation does not render you life purposeless or of less value.
Just look at Stephen Hawking. If the value of life is determined by physical capabilities, then he shouldn’t even be alive. But life isn’t just about what limbs a person can move; there’s so much more: the abilities of the mind, the heart, the soul, the spirit. It is for these reasons that I choose life.
Assisted suicide is already legal in Washington and Oregon, and I do believe it may very easily slide down a slippery slope. A man with terminal lung cancer may request a silent death due to how he values his remaining weeks, months, or years of physically-compromised living. If he sees no value of life in the day ahead, then what about a professional soccer player who lives for the game, but becomes paraplegic? Does she have the right to request a few pills if 10 years after the accident, she still has not reconciled with her living in a wheelchair? Or an 80-year-old widower who has no living relatives or companions and feels so utterly alone that he sees not value of living on? Or a young adult whose girlfriend died in a car crash 8 years ago, yet he still remains in depression? Am I taking this to an extreme? Oregon’s first assisted suicide was administered to a depressed patient.
Just because assisted suicide is legal doesn’t mean it’s right. So, what determines what is right? Is it individual to each person? Do we go by the morally ambiguous maxim “It may be right for you but not for me?” So let’s say that each person lives by his own set or morals and standards, by what he thinks is right for him. Everyone may have contradictory rules, but if morality is relative to the individual, then it’s okay. So, is a serial killer justified in murder? “No! Of course not,” you say. Why? Obviously, most of us would agree that murder is wrong. The killer may have gained from it, but we say that it wasn’t for the greater good. So, does a majority decide what’s right and wrong? What about Hitler? He believed he was acting in favor of the Greater Good of Germany and for the Aryan race. And, he had a ton of support behind him? So, if the consensus of the majority determines what’s right, then Hitler was okay in attempting to exterminate the Jewish race. But today, most people agree that it was wrong. So who’s right? Moral relativity doesn’t work. Two contradictory opinions can’t both be right.
Someone asked me something quite thought provoking: Is this life really my own? Now, I believe that humans are given free will, to do what they please. But think about this: Did you have any control over when you were born? Did you pick whom you were born to? Your gender? Your ethnicity? Did you have any say over whether or not you were going to be born at all? No. So what about death? Should we have any control over that?
I am of the opinion that each day is a blessing, an opportunity to do something, anything worthwhile. And each day is a mystery of its own – no one can tell what the future holds, not tomorrow, next week, next month, or the upcoming years. If you have a terminal illness, how do you know for sure that your next few months aren’t worth living? Or how do you know for sure that you only have a few months left? How do you know you won’t prove the doctors wrong and surpass their estimation?
Furthermore, is this life here on earth really the end? Or is there something afterwards? If you don’t know what lies ahead, how do you know if assisted suicide is sending you off to a better place?
I believe that suicide is not the answer.
P.S. A note to Ms. Zimmerman: Thank you for your encouragement to us all! Your life is an inspiration to many. I want to share a site with you about a remarkable woman named Joni Eareckson Tada. You may have heard of her before, but just in case you haven’t, she has a wonderful testimony: http://www.historyswomen.com/historyinthemaking/joni.html
Ms. Zimmerman I firmly respect your beliefs. You are extremely inspirational by the way you pursue your life with such an optimistic tone.
In the case of Dan James, he may not have made the best decision. Many quadriplegics and paraplegics have led very successful and happy lives. So was it the right decision for Dan James’ family to take him to Dignitas? Is assisted suicide right? If he had not decided to die he could still be living a life to the best of his ability, and his family could still be happy just enjoying his prescence.
However, every day comes at a price. In our lifetime, we are meant to be happy. In Dan James’s lifetime after the accident he was in constant pain. He may have just been depressed. However who are we to judge?
In any situation, who are we to judge what a person does with their life. If a person is in pain, and they have decided to take their life, then who are we to judge them let alone stop them?
Everyone has their own opinion, and it should be respected. With this kind of issue. There is no right or wrong answer.
Dear Ms. Zimmerman,
I have to say that all through learning about assisted suicide, I thought that Dan James’s decision was justified. After reading the story over and over, I thought that yes, this man was suffering intolerably, and if I was in the same position, that I too might have made the same decision.
It was your blog, however, that changed my view. Reading your words and the passion you convey on the topic truly changed my thinking. We had read about the Catholic view of suicide in class but it all seemed so distant. Your insight brought a personal touch to the other side of the argument, and deepened my understanding and opinion of the topic at hand.
While reading about you and the work you do and the people you meet and inspire, I thought- Dan James could have gone the direction that you went, and not let depression grab a hold of him. You seem to have a full, purposeful life, doing things that even people who have full control of their bodies don’t do. It is such a waste and tragedy that Dan’s life could have been just as rich; instead it is gone.
Just as it takes one multiple years to adjust to the loss of a family member, so also should it take years to adjust to losing most of your own body. Both, I imagine, are harsh setbacks and emotionally painful experiences. Dan James had only been injured a little over a year before he decided to take his life. I don’t know how long it took you to learn to adjust to the immense changes of becoming paralyzed and I imagine that for myself, it would take many, many years. I agree that Dan James should not have taken his life, because it was much to hasty of a decision.
That being said, what if Dan James had decided to live, but never found fulfillment? I am sure that others before me have mentioned the decision of Ramon San Pedro. His story is also a reflection of what Dan James’s life could have been like. Perhaps it was the combination of your intense faith and strong character that caused you to adjust so incredibly well, but I am sure that not everyone has such qualities. How can you instill a sense of hope into someone who refuses to listen? I am sure that Dan James’s family tried to encourage Dan to take the stronger route, but how can you tell someone that their wishes are wrong?
This is where I come to a standstill. Personally, I believe that no one should take his or her own life, but would I go so far as to make this the law? People do not have the freedom to kill others, but what do we say when this the life they want to take is their own? The influence of the Catholic Church is crucial in keeping a strong, positive outlook on the sanctity of life. However, when someone is set on committing suicide they are going to find a way do it. I have a hard time forcing people to stay alive against their will, only for them to die in a painful, shameful, and illegal way. What if Dan James was not allowed to kill himself? True, I would like to think that he would have dealt with it positively when the choice to die was not there. But there is also the fact that he had tried to commit suicide numerous times, and it could have eventually worked. He would have not died comfortably surrounded by family. He would have struggled and suffered to death.
I am wary to mention the whole argument that people have ‘different standards of living.’ It goes along with what you mentioned, about how people believed that Dan James was living a ‘second-class existence. I also believe that everyone’s life has purpose and value no matter the circumstances. When one says that another is living a ‘second class existence,’ they are saying the other person’s life is inferior. If someone is living their life happily and fully even though they live with a disability, then their life is obviously up to a ‘standard of living,’ no matter what that standard may be. When it comes to human life, I believe there are no standards, no point where one can look at another’s life and decide for them that it is unlivable. Dan was living much, much differently than he had before, and even though his body was not at all what it was, his mind was still there, he could’ve still had success in his life.
I feel inspired to read the passion that comes across in your posting about your love for God, and how you have dedicated your life to His service. I myself am not Catholic, but I do go to a Christian church and follow similar beliefs. I respect your strong beliefs not because I agree with them word for word, but because of the way you proclaim them with confidence. Thank you for posting such a thought provoking blog, and being such an amazing role model.
I would first like to start off by thanking you for giving a rather large group of high school seniors the opportunity to reply to your passionate posts and share our personal feelings about Dan James and his sad end. I respect your vivacity and passion and it amazes me how someone can take an accident so debilitating and completely turn it into something so remarkable. You live each day with so much love for Christ despite the many hardships you no doubt face. Your enthusiasm in the sanity of life instilled more hope than I could have imagined that life can go on and hardships can be overcome.
With that said, one must not forget to take into account the fact that each life is different in one-way or another. Though one person may overcome adversity and live life the best way possible, another might not be so fortunate. No two people live their lives in exactly the same manner and as controversial as it may be, the definition of life is not the same for each individual. Ms. Zimmerman, you stated that life is what you make it and that “every day people with spinal cord injuries live perfectly happy, healthy lives.” However, in the case of Dan James, who is to say that life as a quadriplegic, no matter how long he attempted to transition into a daily routine, is the life we wanted to live. Obviously due to the events of his life’s end, he could not foresee a happy, healthy life for himself. Though the outcome is a tragic one, in the end it was his decision; not his parents’, not his friends’, not his teammates’, but his alone.
As I stated before, I respect the hopeful life you have chosen for yourself. Personally, after reading about your life, based in your strong Catholic beliefs, I know that I would want to continue living life to the fullest were I in your situation. However, with no disrespect to you or your beliefs, I would like to point out something of concern. You stated that James was depressed and unable or unwilling to see that people, such as yourself, can live long happy lives. However, Dan James lost complete function of all of his appendages, suffered uncontrollable spasms, lived day to day with constant pain in all of his fingers, and required care around the clock each and every day. He was a quadriplegic and could not do anything for himself other than speak and breathe. What kind of life does one have when they are unable to do anything for themselves? You, Ms Zimmerman, are able to hold the Bible in your hands and read scriptures; Dan James could not. You are able to visit nursing homes with your mom; Dan James could not. You look forward to attending Catholic Distance University and expanding your education while achieving an ecclesiastical teaching credential; Dan James had no such future.
I agree with the fact that life should be lived to the fullest and I believe that it is the most beautiful thing we have. If you think about it, life is really all anyone has while death is the only thing we know of for certain. You and I share very different opinions on euthanasia. I believe that for the terminally ill and quadriplegics it should be legalized. People suffering from debilitating diseases should never be forced to live out their last days with their loved ones in utter pain and absolute misery. Personally, if I were suffering unbearable pain from a disease that would eventually kill me anyway, I would want a peaceful way out. I would want to die with dignity in the presence of those that loved me without fear of putting them in any danger of incarceration. And for quadriplegics all I can say is that life is not simply sitting back day to day in an idle haze. I do not personally feel that burdening the people I love with taking care of me as I lay like a “head in a bed” is a life worth living. Sometimes, we just have to learn to let go.
Not every person shares the same opinions and the beauty of life is that people are entitled to keeping those opinions. I believe that people should have the power to make their own choices, especially the ones that affect their own lives. Legalizing assisted suicide would not make it mandatory for each individual, but rather make it a choice for those that simply cannot move on.
I cannot say enough how inspiring you are to everyone that hears your story. You have given me new insight of the sanctity of life and I could not ask for anything more. I thank you again for allowing all of us to share our own beliefs and I hope that you continue publishing your own for they are filled with outstanding hope and immense passion.
Ms. Zimmerman- I wanted to start off by saying I think you are a very courageous and amazing individual. To go through the type of accident you went through and still find the good in life. It takes a great amount of strength to go on with life as you did.
I start to think to myself, could I make the same decision as you if I were to suddenly become paralyzed? To never have use of my legs or even arms again? Yes, you may live a very healthy and happy life. However, for me it wouldn’t be the same. I am a very active and athletic person. I live my life through softball. Ever since I was five years old I have dreamed of playing for my dream college and making to the Olympic team. I have devoted 12 months out of the year to my softball dreams. To suddenly be stripped of that ability would devastate me. So, as sad as Daniel James’ decision was, it is something I understand and would most likely consider myself. Being under 24 hour care and not being able to do the normal everyday tasks I am so used to would put me in a constant state of depression. People might tell me to look towards the future. To wait it out, things will get better. I’ll get used to my disability. But to be completely honest, I know myself, I wouldn’t be able to cope with such a disability.
Seeing as you touched on religion and rely heavily on God. I thought I would discuss my stance on religion. I am not a religious person. I do not believe in God or a higher power. I do not attend church and I do not pray. So I don’t look towards God to give me a miracle. I rely on myself and my friends and family around me.
In the end, I respect your decision but don’t think anyone should have to suffer or live their life in complete despair and depression if they do not wish.
The story of Dan James is a tragic one at that. Unfortunately as we all know these types of decision tend to happen time and time again. Feeling so, I believe that the path he chose, the one he wanted was the correct one. We are not him, most of us have never even experienced anything all that awful. To say that everyone’s life is worth preserving no matter what state that the life may be in even against the will of the person living it is, in my opinion, very naïve. Experience changes opinions. I’m sure that Dam James prior to his accident had rugby layering his thoughts; he wouldn’t have considered suicide at all so obviously the accident was the cause.
After he was paralyzed his world changed, and yes was undoubtedly depressed, yet I do not think that he would get over it and lead a new life. Some people have one interest and no other and when that is taken they are lest with nothing. In Dan’s case he was in pain and had already tried and failed a few times at killing himself. Now having no first hand knowledge this is only my assumption but I’d say that overdosing and having to recover from that is horrible and only heightens and prolongs the suffering. He just wanted to rest, to no longer feel the agony his life was bringing him, doctor’s medicines were to no avail so he chose an assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide is illegal here in our country. I join the Hemlock Society in my belief that if so chosen the person may have an assisted suicide. There is no reason to make them do it themselves, some people cannot take the steps to eventuate their own steps so wouldn’t it be nice to be taken care of, gently, in tranquility in the protection of his or her own unconsciousness? I definitely think so. Everybody has heard of Hippocratic oath and probably almost as many people have heard of Dr. Kevorkian. “Dr. Death”. He was a physician who was said to have assisted over a hundred people in their suicides, after jailed for this he was released and assisted people more. He would say “Dying is not a crime”. For helping over a hundred people he was charged for second-degree murder and spent eight years in jail. Basically we the people, those who like to be known as the free and the prosperous, those who’s rights are not only recognized but are cradled and protected by any means necessary are the people who do not retain the right to die. Yes, it is a big decision into which a lot of thinking ought to be invested but it is a personal decision—not one to be controlled from officials in a far-away office who have never heard of the person seeking euthanasia. We may pursue happiness but may not halt pain.
I can see the other side of the argument, maybe it’s only temporary and the person will get over it, maybe they can learn to live with it, maybe. Some people might say that they are crazy and therefore require treatment and forfeit some of their rights in the name of their own security. However, some people confuse the desire to die as a symptom of mental illness. Does it make someone crazy, absolutely not. Some people’s predicaments are sufficient to truly wish to do anything for it to stop. To that they should be allowed and our country should do them one last favor for them.
I read your article quite by chance on a night that I am wrestling with the same problems and feelings facing this poor young man. I am 3 1/2 years in this chair. I have a lesion on my spine and I became a incomplete parapelegic (can’t even spell it yet)in 40 minutes in my kitchen. I have always been independent, type A, anal retentive personality, military raised everything in its place do it right or don’t do it all attitude. I am HIV positive/Hep C. I have lost my life, my boyfriend of 12 years, my kids are all but grown and I can’t take care of my own grandchildren and to top it off it has rained for a week straight stranding me alone in my apartment giving me way to much time to think. I have been over all of my regrets, failures, lost opportunities and my total waste of the life God gave me (didn’t really think about that until all the time sitting with this). In my insistence to try to do things the “way I did” I have alienated most people I knew and then the “freak” reality sets in and I know I don’t fit in anymore. If I decided not to take any more meds and allowed the terminal illnesses I have to run their course, do you think God would see that as suicide or just giving up. I am so very lonely and horribly sad – I want to go home, I want to see Jesus face and ask him to forgive me and let me come home. This girl I am is not me and I can’t be her and she has lost everything I held dear, I want her to die, I want her to let ME go. I am at more than I can bear – this last life mishap follows a lifetime of the same. I feel invisible, am numb, can’t sleep, lots of leg pain and the bathroom stuff just thrills the hell out of me, I am not a real girl anymore.
Thank you. Pray He comes for me soon.
My thoughts, ones I’m sure you’ve heard before.
Isn’t the difference between you and Daniel James, the fact that you needed a reason to justify what happened to you so that you would be able to cope?
That you offer up suffering to God, that it gives meaning to a horrific accident that damaged your spine and changed your life?
Because otherwise, what on earth would we live for?
What point would there be to trying to survive adversity, pain, paralysis?
No offense Ms Z..these are issues I struggle with and I’m not a paralytic. I have a hard time with God, and the randomness of suffering, pain and anguish.
And I’ve often thought, that were it not for my belief, I’d simply end it all.
This is a dreadful world, one where happiness is more rare than sorrow…
Obviously Daniel James, whose entire life was physical activity, was not able to find the same rationale that you have to survive.
You have been able to channel your energy into something that makes you feel that your injury serves some cosmic purpose. Instead of focusing on the chance that it was just a random event, meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
You may be right….I sure hope so.
Because if God doesn’t exist…its the biggest cosmic joke in the world.
I believe, but I still don’t understand ….
Bless you and good luck Ms Z.