In October of 2003, the case of 39-year-old Terri Schiavo once again brought into focus the debate over the so-called "right to die." The Florida woman was temporarily removed from her feeding tube (via a court order received by husband), but was put back on it a few days later when the Florida legislature authorized Governor Jeb Bush to issue a stay. As of this writing, her fate is still being debated in the courts and her case might now be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. But I wonder if the right to die is something we really want? I always shudder a bit when politicians start talking about giving me more rights. Rights have a funny way of morphing into obligations.
In the state where I live, you can legally make a right turn at a red light if there is no sign stating that you can’t. This right is supposedly optional. However, if you’ve sitting at a red light with your turn signal on and five vehicles behind you with horns honking, it doesn’t seem quite so optional. I fear this will be the case with the right to die if it ever becomes law.
Some people just don’t have strong wills and I’m one of them. Many times in my life, someone with a stronger will has coaxed me into doing something I really didn’t want to do. I could never serve on a jury because I wouldn’t be able to maintain my independence. I would just go along to get along, even it meant not expressing what I honestly felt.
Recently, there was a study released which found that many of the people who signed up for the federal do-not-call list regularly bought stuff from telemarketers. The conclusion reached by thy group that did the study was that these people lied when they said they did not want to be called. I see it differently. I think they honestly do not wish to be called by telemarketers. Why then have they been buying from telemarketers? Because they don’t have very strong wills and telemarketers pressure them into buying stuff they do not really want. That’s why they have registered for the do-not-call list.
I believe a similar thing would happen with the right to die. Many people will say they don’t ever want to be kept alive artificially because that’s the fashionable thing to say and they know that’s what other people want to hear. However, deep down, some of them would like for all means possible to be used to keep them alive. Saying you want to be kept alive artificially is not a popular thing to say. Most people will criticize you for it. Even people who have enough courage to actually say this will often back down when the pressure begins to mount. People will scold them with statements like "you shouldn’t be so selfish", "why do you want to be such a burden to your relatives and friends?", or "you’re old, you should be willing to die and make room for the younger people."
When someone is on life support and is subsequently found to be brain dead, they can be taken off life support without the permission of their family in many states. Even with that being the case, most doctors will still euphemistically tell the family they need to make a "choice." Of course, in the case of brain death, there is no real choice, since it’s totally different from euthanasia or cutting off life support from someone who is still alive. I wonder, though, if we would have any real choice if we actually got our "right to die."