Some years ago, a dear friend came down with terminal cancer. Most of us didn't even know he was sick until he was gone.
Mutual friends revealed what had happened: An elder long past retirement age, he worked until he became a burden. Then he went into seclusion and fed himself morphine until the day he drifted off.
No chemotherapy. No insurance companies. No bankruptcies. It was sad and abrupt, but also completely true to his character: Logical, contrarian, compassionate. He wanted to spare those who loved him a long, painful slide to the inevitable.
Such stories always polarize. For every person who sees the sense, there is another to insist that the sanctity of life demands as long and hard a death as necessary. We talk about our freedom to live as we please, yet balk at allowing others to die according to their own wishes.
Now a similar story is roiling waters. But this one involves criminal charges against a family member and caretaker who tried to carry out the end-of-life directives of Joe Yourshaw, 93. His daughter, Barbara Mancini, 57, stands charged with assisted suicide by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office in connection with her father's consumption of prescribed morphine.
Yourshaw had made arrangements ensure a peaceful death in his home. He legally named his daughter as his medical surrogate. He stopped taking medications, wanted no interventions or resuscitations. Then he reportedly took a large dose of morphine allegedly handed to him by his daughter. A hospice nurse found out and informed her supervisors, who then called 911. Despite his order not to resuscitate, EMTs showed up and rushed Yourshaw to a hospital while police charged his daughter with assisted suicide.
Joe Yourshaw died four days after being revived and learning that 1) he had been taken from his home, and 2) his daughter faced 10 years for attempting to carry out his wishes. That's almost as unbelievable as it is sad. But it raises some important questions.
Do we really want cops and medical personnel arbitrarily making decisions that overrule our express wishes?
What kind of society institutionalizes our fear of death and loathing for grief in such a way that absurd, bureaucratic extremes are the result?
Some believe from a religious standpoint that life should be prolonged as long as possible, regardless of misery and suffering. For others, it's a purely personal — and maybe a bit selfish — matter of wanting as much time with loved ones before they go.
But when officials cast end-of-life issues through a pro-life prism for political gain, we start treading on unholy ground. Anyone remember the sad case of Terry Schiavo?
No one's life or death should be exploited in the public arena. That's how we get laws against assisted suicide in the first place.
It boils down to individual automony. Everyone should have the freedom to manage their life and death the way they wish.