Gnomicon 138

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  138
Monday 24 September 2012

Read gnomica 1-100 here!

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The prime goal is to alleviate suffering, and not to prolong life.
And if your treatment does not alleviate suffering,
but only prolongs life, that treatment should be stopped.
Christiaan Barnard(8 Nov 1922 – 2 Sep 2001)

He is famous for doing the first human heart transplant (on 3 Dec 1967), but even that fame may not protect him from the ire of those objecting to this bold statement.  For the record, I agree with what he said.  And I appreciate that not everybody will feel the same.  It is a thorny issue.

But I ask myself:  what would I want if, say, I were in intractable pain that will not cease, were incapable of doing the simplest things for myself, were no longer functioning cognitively. I know what the answer for myself would be, and at the same time certainly recognize that others may legitimately have a different view of the matter.  Mere life – having a heart beat, being able to breathe, but not being “me” – would not be enough for me.  I value life as much as the next person, and although I won’t say that it is sacred — at any cost – for me it has to come down to a serious question about what “life” is. And for me it must be more than just being an insentient vessel for physiological processes.

Again, I speak only for myself.

Why even bring the matter up?

I read more often than in the past – or perhaps with more affirmative percipience than at younger ages – about a kind of looming ‘problem’ regarding a rapidly increasing geriatric population kept physically functioning by ‘modern medicine’ but not, as I define the term for myself, alive in a meaningful sense of that word.  I do not mean to be morbid, or to raise unpleasant matters, but as one gets far beyond any reasonable version of one’s mid-point, that issue acquires a certain salience in one’s thinking.  I do not pretend to have any kind of general ‘answer’ here, but I have one that is satisfactory and sensible for me and me alone.  Others will have their own versions of how they would wish to deal with a debilitating senescence or an incapacitating life at any age.

I believe that each should have the right to make that decision, and, wisely, should in fact do so in legal form while still compos mentis – I for one would not want such decisions to devolve on distraught family or friends.

Again, I speak here only for myself, and I bring in no verdict on your views about this formidable business – only that, like me, you have the right to do as you wish.

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