31 December 2011

Revisiting the Execution of Terri Schiavo

Note: I first published this in March, 2005 at www.DamnYankee.com because I was stunned that a Florida judge ordered Terri, a U.S. citizen, to be executed by starvation without being charged with a crime or the benefit of a trial.  Tens of thousands of Americans in circumstances similar to hers are vulnerable to the same sentence for the same reasons that led to Terri's execution.  I still hope to stir some national resolve on this topic in 2012.  Don't know who she was?  Go to www.terrisfight.org.

By now Terri Schiavo’s experience should have launched a national debate about how to dispose of nuisance citizens in a manner that is consistent, discreet, legal, sanitary, and (most importantly) humane.  While she is merely the latest of thousands of people in the U.S.A. who have been dispatched when their guardians have grown weary or have given up hope, she has generated enough media attention that no thinking person can be unaware of the debacle.

We need to engage in this debate without submitting to the emotion of the zealots forever commanding media attention over abortion (both sides), who, for years, have shouted from the same opposing ramparts and have prevented rational dialog.  Many of the same zealots have tried to hijack the Schiavo situation.  Anyone with megaphones needs to be ignored by those who want to resolve the matter.

We need to have this debate among ourselves, as Americans, and we need to leave the rest of the world out of it.  Many other countries have their own solutions.  If we were fully aware how inconvenient citizens are disposed of in other countries from Scandinavia to Southeast Asia, it would be sobering to everyone on both extremes on the Schiavo issue.  We might, however, study other countries’ solutions and find some guidance there, guidance both for how to select individuals to be dispatched and what methods are most efficient.

We need to make this a national debate not subject to states’ rights.  Rather, we need to define that which makes us citizens of the U.S.A.; clearly we understand that one is a citizen who has been born here or naturalized and who has not renounced citizenship.  We even confer citizenship posthumously.  What about citizens who are still breathing?  We need to decide when a breathing corpse, as Terri Schiavo was clearly perceived by Judge Greer, ceases to hold the rights of citizenship.

The definition of “dead” used to be a lot simpler in centuries past, but now we seem uncertain whether a “viable fetus” is alive, whether a body on “life support” is alive, and whether a person who is “brain dead” is alive.  Terri Schiavo was deemed dead enough in one respect that a court ordered her body deprived of food and water so that it would have the good sense to go with the already dead part.  We need the national debate to define “dead” once and for all.  And concomitantly it can encompass the definition of “not-yet-alive.”  We permit fetuses with beating hearts to be declared not alive yet, so maybe that could be instructive at the other end of... of a lifetime.  (Heart beating but not yet alive: heart still beating but already dead.)  We need one definition nationally, because, once again, there cannot be fifty definitions of a U.S. citizen.

We need to debate this definition outside the courts.  Courts settle disputes according to laws already on the books and decide the constitutionality of such laws.  There is nothing in a national debate for the courts to get involved in as long as there is not yet a national consensus and a national law on what “dead” means.  Judge George Greer, the unwitting villain in the Terri Schiavo case, took it upon himself to declare her legally dead.  But he was grasping at a definition that did not yet exist in our laws.

We need to disregard what will surely be a shrill attempt by lawyers to lead the debate.  Again, it concerns what is not yet law, and what is already law must be set aside.  Legal precedent does not inform us here.  “Not-yet-alive” and “dead” are concepts found in our national soul, not in the Internal Revenue Code.  Lawyers should be welcome in any national debate not as experts on irrelevant law but as individuals who may or may not have personal experience that informs each one’s position.

We need to reach one accord and then tell Congress what we’ve decided.  Congress then needs to render our decision in the form of a simple, unequivocal law.  “This (insert results of debate here)  is what defines life.  Anything not fitting this definition is not life.  Dispose of corpses appropriately.”  And, incidentally, that which defines not-life for humans ought also to apply to beached porpoises, comatose rhesus monkeys, laboratory rats, and the like.

Indeed, a constitutional amendment may be the proper result.  We cannot leave it to different courts with 50 separate sets of state laws to decide upon different ways to execute nuisance citizens.

This debate needs to be held by ordinary citizens and the rational organizations that represent many groups of citizens.  It is not a debate that can be resolved in Congress, because nothing decided in Congress has anything to do with finding a real solution, much less dealing with anything but contrived problems.  Congress is ever obsessed with finding a compromise, between opposing sets of values, that both sides can agree wreaks the least political damage to the two parties that control the government.  Compromise in Congress is not about agreeing on fixing something; compromise is about appearing to fix something and getting at least part of the credit.  When the fix doesn’t work, each side can say it wasn’t their fault because their entire agenda wasn’t incorporated in toto into the “solution.”

We need to have this debate because, through our collective compassion, we have preserved populations of humans in our midst who cannot be relied upon to take responsibility for themselves: pathological criminals, the seriously mentally ill, those with serious physical or mobility limitations, the seriously mentally retarded, the frail and demented elderly, and of course, those in a rapidly-deteriorating state or a persistent vegetative state, which may have arisen out of anything from birth defects to terminal deterioration to self-inflicted loss of function or consciousness.  Terri Schiavo reached her persistent vegetative state by initially depriving herself of nutrition necessary to sustain consciousness.  Others inflict permanent incapacity upon themselves by such means as over-consumption of substances that they know will destroy them, by submitting themselves to absurd risks, and by overtly attempting, and failing, to kill themselves.

In order to have a rational national debate, we need to reach a consensus on who represents some of us.  I prefer to speak for myself, but others are not confident doing so.  So I’m on my soap box and you can get onto yours.  Or you can get behind someone who thinks like you do.

There is a vanguard of citizen groups that vigorously oppose the death penalty under all circumstances.  Of all citizen movements, this one, to my observation, generates perhaps the most universal respect for its agenda.  We should consider including these people as rational participants in the debate.  There is another vanguard that advocates permitting the terminally ill the option of assisted suicide.  This too is, for the most part, a rational and compassionate group of citizens and we should let them participate.  And there are rational voices on the plight of the unborn.  Zealots, too, on both sides of that, but the rational voices can be identified.

We should let the politicians participate who have a personal perspective to contribute.  Otherwise, they are our servants and should sit it out until they are instructed to act.  Even those of us who are “members” of passionate organizations must agree to set aside our most ardent passions and tell our too-vocal organizational leaders to put a cork in it.

A debate needs moderators.  A national debate needs someone to do this who can command some media attention, some financial backing, and most importantly, the respect of a significant majority of us.  When two former Presidents appeared together to appeal for voluntary contributions from Americans for victims of the 26 December 2004 tsunami, they formed such a team.  They are not necessarily the ones to manage a national debate, but they suggest one sort of possibility.  Twenty years ago another group of influential people came together for one brief session and recorded “We Are the World.”  The effect was fleeting but pervasive.  Americans from two to 102 were singing it.  People like those who made that song are acting responsibly when they allow themselves to be persuaded to use their enormous influence in an unusual  but benevolent way.

I’m merely squeaking like a cricket under the porch.  I can’t bring the media to my door to listen to this idea.  I can hope only that someone with that kind of power pauses to listen to me chirp for a moment, and understands.

A debate, though, involves a clash of opinions.  It differs greatly, too, from the din of opposing zealots.  Zealots try to shout each other down and rely not upon thoughtful argument but upon insult and rage.  In a debate, the opposing sides at least suspect that the other side has a point that could be respected.  They listen to one another.  And they submit their best arguments to a panel or a populace.  When the populace decides, the debaters accept the result.

And so, as I advocate for a national debate, I am offering opinions along the way in the hope of stimulating support or opposition, but opposition that attempts to persuade me, not destroy me.

For my own part, I certainly have an opinion.  I also have a personal perspective.  And I have an emotional response to the Terri Schiavo incident as well, so I’ll get that out and be done with it: I struggle with a court’s decision that Terri Schiavo didn’t feel her starvation and thirst.  We assume that a hanged criminal doesn’t feel the snap when his neck breaks.  But we don’t kill people that way any more.  In the judge’s opinion, she wouldn’t feel it because she was already legally dead.  Since his was a legal opinion not subject to direct knowledge of what she could feel, it is no more valid than my opinion, legally held, that any judge who could reach that conclusion wouldn’t feel it if a broomstick were rammed up his rectum and then mounted on a marble column on the front of his courthouse.  You had a tough case put before you, Judge Greer.  But I think a brilliant judge could have alerted the legislature in a different way to tell them that there is a law on the books that stinks and needs to be rectified.  It didn’t require a human sacrifice.

There.  Now I don’t need to say it again.

I also have a global, (in the sense of wider), more comprehensive, perspective.  But first my personal perspective: For fifteen years I too have lived with someone who has survived all that time only because of a feeding tube.  (We never thought of it as “life support” though.)  He doesn’t walk or speak.  He follows a balloon with his eyes when it is passed before him.  He is diapered 24 hours a day and must be bathed and wheeled about.  We, his family, believe that he takes pleasure in things, and we can tell when he is uncomfortable, but when he hurts he can’t show us where, or when he is frightened, why.  Maybe we are deluded to think that he communicates in his own way.  Maybe his quality of life is crap too.  On paper he would appear to a judge to be a lot like Terri Schiavo.  Certainly he is a financial burden on society, on Medicaid and the medical insurance, and on his family.  Maybe it’s time to stop feeding him, too.  Who wants to sit there and keep vigil while my son starves to death?

On a wider perspective, I learned a little about Dr. Albert Schweitzer when I was a youth.  His influence on me is borne in the term he coined: “reverence for life.”  To the extent that that concept affects us, we struggle to understand the killing that is necessary so that we might eat and the killing that others force us into so that we might defend ourselves.  But necessary killing does not justify unnecessary killing.  To this day, I still release spiders outside that I have caught in the house, rather than killing them.

Perhaps those same words, which describe the principle Dr. Schweitzer attempted to elucidate in his Philosophy of Civilization, published in 1923, became the basis for our culture’s turn toward greater compassion for all people.  Perhaps, though, that turn had already begun to take place and Dr. Schweitzer merely uttered what was already understood.

Thus, years before I had heard of Terri Schiavo, I had begun to contemplate the inevitable consequence of America’s scramble to assist all people, in whatever manner of decay and incapacity, to hold onto life at any cost – cost in money and cost in effort.  In the first place, assisting children with genetic mental and physical challenges to reach adulthood – children who until a hundred years ago or less would have died sooner (and still do, of course, in most of the rest of the world) – helps assure that their genetic material will be passed on.  As more and more medical solutions are made available, more and more children or their guardians assert a right to those solutions.  I participate in that process myself on behalf of my son.

With medicines and machines we already preserve the elderly, including the hopelessly demented elderly, beyond their ability to sustain themselves, and at extraordinary cost and extraordinary emotional drain.  We wage costly battles against dread diseases on a national and international scale, fighting malaria and polio, smallpox and influenza.  These largely indiscriminate, periodic, shotgun-approach campaigns affect whomever they can and leave others at times unprotected.  But we also wage costly individualized battles against such dread diseases as cancer, on the premise that every American has the right to muster whatever resources one can on the off-chance of becoming one more survivor.

When people who are predisposed to develop such a disease, and who are young and strong enough to recover, do survive, they often reproduce, increasing the odds that there will be more people genetically predisposed to the same disease in the future.  When someone is severely injured in an accident or loses significant function due to a stroke, just two more examples out of many, we don’t just let them go.  We encourage them to try electric scooters at public expense (Medicare), prostheses, and rehabilitation of indefinite duration.

We build dialysis centers, and clinics to rehabilitate addicts who would otherwise die in oblivion and who are at increased likelihood to become candidates for long-term care later anyway.  We agonize over the homeless and try to steer them toward wellness and recovery at public expense, and largely public waste, considering their recidivism.

Nowadays we give no thought to the marriage of a man and a woman who each endure severe myopia (of the visual kind), people who in past centuries may have been ridiculed and tortured for their clumsiness or devoured for their blindness before the opportunity occurred to marry and reproduce.  As innocuous as it seems, this too is an example of our rush to assure the physical weakening of our population.  And so it goes with people who have chronic asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, a predisposition to addictive behavior, hemophilia, and the list is endless.  It is our national will to assure us each and every one the fighting chance we never before would have had... to weaken the gene pool.

We have declared insane asylums inhumane, even though they once helped keep our streets safer and to some extent inhibited procreation.  We have moved their populations into the communities to be integrated as much as possible with regular folks.  That’s good!  They have rights.  They aren’t dead yet either!

Nobody wants to volunteer to forgo available medical treatment that will help them fight their way back from a disease or injury.  Nobody wants to abandon their physically or mentally weak children or grandparents to the life they would lead if they had to be dependent completely on their own responsibility and faculties.

We all want assistance in all of these circumstances.  Most of those who don’t have insurance have some claim to public funds for acute or critical care.  Other than the somewhat-meaningless lifetime maximums in health insurance policies, there are no limits to what someone can seek for treatment.  Seek it, schedule it, and ask for donations to help pay the bills afterward.  Declare bankruptcy if you must.  But our attitude is that we don’t have to sit home and die as our ancestors did when they knew it was serious.  And there are certainly no statutory limits to the care one may seek.

We are becoming a nation almost overrun with people who are, if not outright nuisances to the rest of us because of their dependency, at least greatly inconvenient to have around.  We must discuss whether this is the way we want to go on.  Unless we do something, the percentage of nuisance people in the population will only increase.  Are we okay with this?

Terri Schiavo’s example at least begs the debate on whether we can’t get rid of a few – perhaps quite a few – people who have no awareness, no hope of developing any awareness, and presumably have no quality of life.  (If we don’t debate it and agree, then we’ve already assented to let the judges decide quality of life for us based on “law. “)

It almost leaves moot the debate on what to do with people who are plainly and permanently unconscious.  At this point, consider the distinction between awareness and consciousness.  Terri Schiavo was conscious and had a relatively normal wake-sleep cycle.  But she was arguably not aware.  She apparently processed nothing that her senses took in.  At best, she had reflexive responses to certain stimuli.  So say certain “experts, “ anyway.

Unlike her, my son, despite the superficial similarities, is aware.  He is in an aggressive school program where he has learned to communicate through a picture-exchange system.  He follows precise verbal instructions to match, separate, and otherwise manipulate objects.  He soothes himself by playing sometimes sweet, sometimes raucous “tunes” on the piano.  He points when asked to “pick the one you want.”  If he is sitting on the floor before the television and we cajole him to turn it on, he will scoot to it and press buttons until it comes on.  He has a couple of hand signs which he invented and uses to communicate.

Someone who is conscious, then, may or may not be aware.  But someone who is aware is, almost by definition, also conscious.  (I had to say “almost” because I’ve read Dalton Trumbo’s poignant novel, Johnny Got His Gun.  Poignant because it's fiction; tragic were it true.  But let’s not go there.)

If you haven’t seen them, there are institutions in every state where children, born in a persistent vegetative state are cared for who can’t be cared for in their own homes and for whom there is a paucity of foster homes.  I’m familiar with such an institution and, as closely as discretion allowed, have spent considerable time observing the conscious-but-not-aware, immobile children that mostly populate the place.

If it’s cruel to say it and nobody else wants to, then I will be the first: These children are an inconvenience.  Many of them I’ve seen have no awareness, no hope of developing any awareness, and presumably no quality of life.  Many have been abandoned by their birth parents.  Under the criteria used to kill off Terri Schiavo, these children are indistinguishable from her, in other words, legally dead already, under Florida law anyway.  They are, nevertheless, U.S. citizens and, without a clear expression of national will codified into law, judges in different states have the option to order them executed under a mish-mash of indistinct state laws.  (I use the term “execute” rationally and according to its dictionary definition: to “put to death according to law.”  But then, I see my error: How could Terri Schiavo be put to death when, although her heart continued to beat on its own and she breathed without assistance, she was already legally dead.  You cannot kill again that which has already died...  You see, I can appreciate both sides of the debate!)

A nation with a growing population of nuisance individuals needs to decide what to do with them.  Why?  Because it costs a lot to maintain them and they are consuming valuable time and resources that could be applied to the living?  Some day that will be the incentive, but not yet.  Because they are weakening the gene pool?  That’s really only a mild side-effect involving a few individuals at this point.

We need to decide what to do with them because if we don’t reach one accord, we must realize that some day each of us may become not a national inconvenience but a personal inconvenience to the ones we most depend upon to look out for our interest.  Any of us may, then, be deemed unable to feel or comprehend and may then be sentenced to death by starvation or some such method.  Why would we want to subject our loved ones to the agonizing decision that Michael Schiavo had to come to and the rest of the family to a feud with no winner?

We could choose, after rational, national debate, to continue to be compassionate toward the partly dead among us, so that those who, like Michael Schiavo, have simply gone on as long as they can and need to be relieved will have a recourse other than a court order of execution.  Those who give up caring for the partly dead need to be forgiven for giving up but also need to understand that there should be no financial gain or loss in doing so.  They need the liberty to turn guardianship and custody over to the state, not so that the state can put their vegetable to death, but so that the state can then contract for further care if not equipped to maintain nuisance people in state-run semi-incarceration or warehouses.  A necessary adjunct to this decision will be to make possible a network of foster homes where people who have been turned over to the state can be cared for with the compassion that others can no longer muster.

Or we could create a national rating system and simply execute people who don’t score above, say, a ‘two’, or some logical but fixed threshold.  If we do create a national rating system that provides for the execution of people who don’t meet the threshold, Terri Schiavo being a good example, those of us with loved ones in declining health who can’t speak for themselves – my son for instance – must accept the national will and step aside when that threshold is passed on one’s way to total death.  We must let the last heartbeat be assigned by the state, but according to a national law or constitutional amendment that leaves little doubt what the criteria are.

However such a debate might turn out, let us nevertheless accept the wishes of each individual who, while coherent, has expressed a desire to avoid “heroic measures” and “life support” when in a coma, persistent vegetative, or even quadriplegic completely-dependent state.  That is, if the national will dictates that we must sustain what life remains by whatever means are possible – pretty much as things are now despite the winds of change heralded by our collective apathy over Terri Schiavo – and if the individual says: “When I’m clearly on my way out, let me go,” then the debate should let the perspective of that individual be respected.

If instead the national will dictates that a scorecard will determine when to execute someone, but that someone, while aware and reasonably believing that such an end is coming, chooses a quicker end, that means ought to be arranged and respected.

For what follows it is necessary to acknowledge that there are several versions of the life of dubious quality.
  • There is the person who was born essentially legally dead, or what is genteelly referred to as a persistent vegetative state – PVS.
  • There is the person who has, for whatever reason, slipped into a permanent but persistent state of unconsciousness, PVS, and depends on artificial support only for sustenance.  (This was Karen Ann Quinlan.)
  • There is the person who has, for whatever reason, slipped into a permanent but persistent state of unconsciousness or unawareness and depends on artificial support for respiration or circulation or both, as well as for sustenance.
  • There is the conscious person who depends on artificial support for respiration, circulation, or sustenance, or any combination of the three, but who can persist indefinitely, even function productively, with that support.
  • There is the person who is conscious and aware but severely mentally impaired, either from birth or from the occurrence of some event, who is dependent on artificial support for respiration, circulation, or sustenance, or any combination of the three.  (This is my son, Sam, who is on “life support,” that is, a feeding tube, for sustenance only.)
  • There is the person who is apparently conscious but who persistently has no apparent awareness of things and is therefore dependent on artificial support for respiration, circulation, or sustenance, or any combination of the three.  (This was Terri Schiavo, who was on “life support,” that is, a feeding tube, for sustenance only.)
  • There is the conscious person who is enduring a slow, agonizing death and who must gradually be brought under artificial supports as well as treatment for pain.
  • There is the unconscious person who is enduring a slow, agonizing death and who must gradually be brought under artificial supports as well as treatment for pain.
  • There is the person who was apparently healthy only a few days beforehand and who is rapidly slipping away due to a virulent infection, other ravaging illness, or mysterious causes.
  • And on it goes.
Given that I do not expect the U.S.A. to take from the Terri Schiavo incident any cogent lesson (but rather, I expect us to turn it over to Congress for endless, tiresome “debate”) and that, therefore, I will one day want to spare my loved ones the absolute whim of a court, for I seriously anticipate arriving at a state of complete dependence some day, I offer the following alternative.  It is my hope that, if the determination of my percentage of deadness is up to a court to decide, then the court will consider this analysis, or better still, will turn the matter over to my family because I have had the good sense to give some guidance here, thus sparing the court the trouble.

I should define clearly that my family, or loved ones, for purposes of this question, are my wife and two biological daughters.  That’s not to imply that I don’t also love someone else, but I don’t want my other loved ones, however many they may be, given control over my death or execution.  I’m sure the three I’ve named, or those that remain of the three when my time comes, can readily come to one accord and I bless that decision here and now.

If I am incompletely dead and anyone should suspect that the best thing for them, for me, and for my fellow man is that the rest of me should be put down, give me this test.  ‘Yes’ answers point toward sustaining life, ‘No’ answers point toward certain death.

Absent heroic measures and intensive testing:

1. Can I breathe on my own?

2. Does my heart beat reliably without external stimulus or support?

3. Can I cooperate with my own feeding or care?

4. Am I (apparently or occasionally – briefly every day for instance) conscious?

5. Perhaps restating #4, do I respond occasionally and deliberately to questions, gestures, or touch, and do two or more people agree that I do?

Given at least some intensive testing:

6. Am I free from virulent infection or other consumptive disease that, in my state, is likely to kill me in a few days anyway?  (Note: ‘No’ means Yes I have such a condition.)

7. Do I have any brain activity suggestive of awareness?

8. Is there a rational basis to assume I’ll ever again become conscious or aware?

9. Are my ancillary systems such as kidneys functioning with apparent intent to continue as they would if I were normal for my age?

10. Do two or more dispassionate “experts” agree that I have some residual cognitive consciousness, awareness, or potential for recovering some rational conscious awareness?

Once this test has been given, if there is any disagreement among my loved ones, I then suggest that two or more dispassionate individuals be chosen by consensus of my loved ones and be charged to interpret the results and render their advice.  I then enjoin my loved ones to accept that advice.  If I have, previous to becoming incapacitated, expressed a desire to be supplied with the means to artificially accelerate the end, that is, the means to finish dying quickly, then I request that two or more dispassionate individuals advise my loved ones on that matter and that they likewise accept the advice, to the extent that they may legally do so.

(I would not ask to have an assisted suicide arranged for myself unless I were consciously aware of present or impending unendurable pain.)

On the above test, if I score two or more on the Yes side in #1 through #5, then I think I would like to be sustained until it is more clear which way I will go.  If I get one or two in the Yes column on #1 through #5 but it’s doubtful, then I would like to be sustained for a while if I also get two more in the Yes column on #6 through #10.  In no event do I want to be kept alive for more than a year if I am unconscious or apparently unaware throughout that time.  I’d probably be fine checking out after six months in that state, but if more passionate individuals prevail, then let them understand it just can’t go past a year.

If I have become apparently unaware and there is no prognosis for regaining awareness, as would be the case if I were being consumed by a virulent infection or metastasizing cancer, I also don’t want to be kept “alive” by heroic means.  Here’s an example how to interpret the test above.  If I’m not conscious, therefore on “life support” for sustenance, AND if either my breathing or heart won’t keep going without tubes and wires, AND if I ain’t coming back from this situation, then give it a few days if you must and then let me go.  I don’t consider Terri Schiavo that far gone, by the way.

I participated in the decision to “unplug” my father only four or five days after he had packed to leave the hospital under his own power following surgery for lung cancer.  But he had a serious reversal, and the decision was simple when the answer to #1 through #6 and #8 through #10 above was No in every instance.  I don’t remember whether #7 was answered.  Was that an execution?  Nooooo, because he wasn’t “put to death according to law.”  It was a medical determination, and the answer to #6 was the clincher.  Life support systems would have been insufficient to sustain him for another day anyway.  He drew his last breath two or three minutes after being disconnected from the ventilator.

So, on the supposition that the national debate and clear direction to the courts will not be forthcoming in my lifetime, I wonder what I would prefer if I were not clearly dead but were deemed by a court to be dead enough to be finished off in some gruesome way – if I were in Terri’s predicament.  And not only I, but if I am called upon to concur that a person under my care and guardianship is likewise due to be dispatched, these are a few of the ways I’d consider among my options, for myself and for someone else:

  • Starvation and thirst – The Terri Schiavo solution.  This is slow and, I must believe, agonizing even to a person who is already partly or legally dead.  The brain stem is a powerful advocate for food and water, and it is the brain stem that sustains respiration and circulation.  For me, at least, I would ask that my guardians consider my will to eat and drink as strong as my will to breath and pump.
  • Suffocation – Not with a pillow pressed over the face.  That would be too dramatic.  Instead, this could merely be a plastic tent placed over the head to slowly reduce the supply of oxygen to my lungs.  One assumes that I wouldn’t have the involuntary reflex to strike the tent away with my already-dead arms.  As long as it was a “natural” suffocation by merely depriving me of oxygen, in the manner of starvation by merely depriving me of sustenance, it would be a peaceful and efficient way to go, and certainly quicker than starvation.
  • Drowning – Assuming a compassionate intent to attend to the partly dead person’s comfort – after all, we do surround them with pillows and such – nothing is quite as soothing and comfortable as a warm bath.  I could be lowered into a bathtub, the warm water could slowly be raised in the tub until it completely covers me, I would inhale a little of it, and then it would be over.
  • Freezing – This is a possibility that removes most of the worry about the suffering that some might ascribe to the previous methods.  Even conscious people “suffering” from hypothermia aren’t aware that they are suffering.  (Judges take note: People don’t feel it, as those who’ve been rescued from the edge of death-by-freezing have testified.)  They become disoriented – if I were already partly dead presumably I would already be disoriented in the extreme – and then they slip from consciousness, and then their systems quietly shut down.  I think freezing Terri Schiavo would have been more humane than starving her.
  • Buried “alive” (but in fact partly dead) – If I were partly dead but a consensus couldn’t be reached concerning my wishes, I could be placed into a coffin and lowered into a grave where any of the foregoing consequences could take place and no one ever need know which one succeeded.
  • Bleeding – If I’m already partly dead and my heart and lungs haven’t the good sense to shut down, this may be my first choice of a way to go.  It would be quick, and it would not need to be messy.  I’ve already donated roughly 80 units of blood in my “life”time, and this would be a way of donating ten or so more units of good blood under a controlled collection process.  Then someone else who is not already partly dead but in need of more blood could be prevented from becoming partly dead.  If I’ve reached 90 donated units before I become partly or legally dead, then finishing me off in this manner would help me earn the coveted 100-unit pin!
  • Cremation – The opposite of freezing.  This has its advantages because it not only makes one completely dead but also completely resolves the secondary debate about what to do with the remains.  I frankly reject this solution for myself anyway, because I cannot accept that I wouldn’t feel it.  Cremation, however, would be my disposal of choice once I am completely, 100% dead dead.  I am concerned that there isn’t enough land to keep burying people and pets and plastic.  Take the pressure off the land and burn me up.
  • Natural disposal – A very simple solution used by aboriginal Americans, according to pre-PC literature on the American Indians.  My partly dead body could be placed onto a platform high above the ground, out of sight of people who might find it distasteful to accidentally glance upon the scene, and the crows and vultures and other hungry creatures of nature could each carry part of me away.  Digested in this manner, it would be nearly as efficient as cremation.  And anyone who wants a souvenir of me wouldn’t have to settle for a lock of my hair.  There are about 206 bones in the body, enough for all my friends to have one after they’ve been cleaned of the fleshy parts over a couple of weeks of exposure to nature.  I don’t think being picked apart in the manner would annoy me.  In fact, if I’m sufficiently disoriented, it might tickle.
  • Lethal injection – This would be fine but probably wouldn’t be approved by any court because it’s too much like punishment.
  • Assisted suicide – This is an option under certain circumstances.  If I am partly dead, (dead enough to be put to death under a court order but too weak to protest that I didn't commit any crime worthy of execution), but still marginally conscious and able to manipulate something, I might want to go this way.  The type of contraption that would make this effective would depend on my residual voluntary abilities at that point and is beyond the scope of this discussion.
There is but one matter left to consider.  Whatever the outcome of a national debate, and before it has been decided, it simply makes sense that each of us should prepare a living will.  I have one, and it authorizes the same people who would decide whether to sustain me by artificial means, upon deciding not to, the option to then authorize the removal of parts of my body, through legitimate medical channels, to be used so that someone else can live.

For it is life which I revere.  I understand that just living through one day at a time may be difficult for some, can stink really.  Suck even.  I can’t invoke spiritual, religious, or cosmic arguments here.  Even though I am guided by an authority above myself, I assume that authority only over myself.  When I assume that authority over you also, you have the same right to rebel that I have if you projected some alien authority over me.  More religious people are logical than logical people are religious, and it is the intensely logical people who seem most not to understand what the big deal is about Terri Schiavo.  I don’t condemn those who don’t understand.  I appeal to their logic.

Terri Schiavo, whatever she was – woman or vegetable – was a citizen of the U.S.A.  She was executed at a judge’s order, and not by lethal injection or some other humane means but by starvation and dehydration, which, if inflicted upon a criminal would be condemned as a cruel and unusual punishment.  She was sentenced to death without a criminal charge, a trial, or a conviction.  What was done to her cannot legally or ethically be done to a disobedient dog.  As a disabled person without a voice, she apparently had forfeited her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  One might have supposed that the ADA, a federal act which presumably, until Terri Schiavo, applied equally to all U.S. citizens, confers the right to remain disabled indefinitely.  That it does not is perhaps the most frightening implication of this event to those of us who care for the severely disabled.

It initially astonished me that those charged with carrying out the sentence didn’t protest en masse and invite the judge to come clamp her off himself, if that was his order.

I want to be charitable toward Michael Schiavo.  He had tried to do the right thing for his disabled wife all these years and even, I heard, studied nursing and took time off to nurse her himself.  Eventually he wanted out, and the history of the case shows that there have been earlier attempts to do away with the nuisance that Terri had become.  He knew that there is a conventional way to dump a wife you don’t want to stay with, and that is divorce.  (There was some mumbling in the media that Florida made that difficult for him.  So what prevented him from dragging her to Georgia?)  There is an unconventional way, and that is murder.  And for him, because Terri was a unique burden, there came a new, convenient way.

Never mind the accusations that it wasn’t until seven years after she uttered it that he mentioned his wife’s wish not to be kept on life support if anything tragic ever happened.  Never mind the insinuation that it was the cash from a malpractice settlement that motivated him to want her dead rather than divorced.  Never mind the other woman and the second family he started.  It comes to this: For whatever reason, he wanted his wife out of the picture.  Instead of divorcing her, getting on with his life, and letting Terri get on with hers – and who would have blamed him? – he found an accomplice in a judge and a law that could be twisted around her feeding tube, choking it off.

Is this how we all want to be treated?  And is this the sort of decision we want to inflict upon our families, whether parents, children, or spouses, when we have become burdensome and they have come to the end of their endurance with us?

What defines life and therefore citizenship and therefore protection under the law is not something to leave to the politicians.  The politicians get the second and third parts of it, but the first part, the very definition of life, must come from something deeper than politics and also something more rational than religion.  It must be found in the soul of our culture and must be plain to all of us, or else none of us is safe.  We must debate it and we must decide.

©David A. Woodbury, 31 March 2005

19 December 2011

If I Lived in New York City

I haven't walked the streets of New York City since I paid my daughter a visit there in 2004, but I suspect it wouldn't be much of a different experience now. It wasn't much different for me in 2004 than at my first visit, in 1965. So, I imagine you can still find photocopied announcements posted randomly at eye level around the city inviting anyone and everyone to

Come See
Sephalie Bane-Todo
Only Appearance This Month
at the
Electric Danger
Sandwich Experience
305 East 5th Street
Thursday, June 17, 2004
4pm to closing
Low Cover Charge
Free Whores' Ovaries
(Hors D'Oeuvres)

New Yorkers are acutely attuned to the 'artists' among them, in all media, and love to be the first among their friends to speak the name of the soon-to-become famous person who just may become the next David Sedaris. Until that person becomes famous, he or she can be found cruising the little eating and drinking spots, arranging venues for her blood-on-pizza-box paintings, or his strolling-minstrel-history-of-North-Korea-in-12-tone songs. Some, such as David Sedaris, whose work I appreciate, stretch the limits but keep one toe inside the circle of conventional expression, thereby standing a better chance of attracting the sort of backing (publisher, promoter, investor) who will one day help them reach a broad audience outside Manhattan and become rich.

If I lived in New York City, I would most certainly be a single person, since I would be too poor to support a family on $50,000 a year, or even to support a wife, in a place where a low monthly rent is $10 a square foot. (Who owns the buildings in New York City, anyway? Corporations? Who lives in them? Corporation-haters? Why?)

So I'd be a single person, trolling, no doubt, for a connection with someone now and then. So maybe what I'd do is make my own poster:

Come See
Lonicera Tatarica
Only Appearance This Week
at the
Bread Kettle
Garden and Café
215 East 5th Street
Thursday, December 29, 2011
2:30pm to closing
No Cover Charge
Great Bread Samples

Beforehand, I'd attend a few of the legitimate scenes and see what kind of people show up at what venues in which neighborhoods. Once I've chosen the best neighborhood and shops for the type of person I'm attracted to, then I'd choose a cozy but clean store-front eatery in that same neighborhood. Naturally, I'd give my fictitious performer a name calculated for intrigue. And I wouldn't need to ask the shopkeeper's permission, since he would not realize that the posters are going up and all I'm really going to do at the appointed date and time is go sit in there, like every other patron, and wait for the announced soon-to-be-famous person to appear.

I would be checking out the faces in the shop, minding my own business, appearing to wait expectantly, and choosing the person whom I would approach at the right moment.

When the audience begins to grow restless at being stood up -- about the time two or three people have asked the shopkeeper where he or she is, this Lonny Cera -- I would approach my chosen stranger and strike up a conversation about the missing not-quite-celebrity; maybe propose that we go together to the one around the corner which is supposed to start in a half hour or so.

That's what I'd do if I were an under-employed, poor, single intellectual living in voluntary confinement in New York City.

14 October 2011

Brain Leak

Instead of pissing contests, which don't smell good, why not have cat-throwing contests? If you paint a target on a barn wall, maybe the cats' claws would stick for a moment, and someone could keep score!

05 August 2011

Das Neues Reich

Saturday I get to leave for a two-week family vacation, driving my Ram 3500 diesel pickup with five of us aboard from Maine to Indiana, round trip, to visit my daughter, Leigh and son-in-law, Conor. It so happens that, several years ago, Leigh, during her first year of teaching elementary school, became active in cowboy action shooting at a local club. She and her husband shoot clays with me once or twice a year when they visit Maine.

For this trip I was cheerfully planning to bring along a .22 magnum revolver to give her, since she does not have a handgun in a caliber conducive to her petite size and of suitable economy for practice.

Since I am a licensed firearms instructor with a concealed weapons permit, as well as a Registered Maine Guide with a degree in wildlife management, I always have a couple of loaded guns in my truck appropriate to traveling the Maine woods. Needless to say, like most homes in low-crime Maine, my house is well-equipped to discourage intruders. So I almost didn’t give a thought to tossing in the little revolver for the trip.

For the heck of it, I decided to check a guidebook on the gun laws of the 50 states. What I discovered in that little volume is like stepping into someone else’s nightmare novel of what the United States would have been like if it hadn’t started with a clear, supreme Constitution.

Obviously, I have no firearms issues in Maine, whose state constitution paraphrases the country’s Second Amendment and says the right to keep and bear arms shall not be questioned.

I looked at the summary of regulations for the other states that I will be driving through. NH, with its motto, Live Free or Die, is predictably observant of the Second Amendment. Indiana, my destination, is also a free state.

The confederation of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, which may as well be dubbed Maconjny: Das Neues Reich, has apparently seceded unnoticed from the USA. Those four states in particular have written regs of their own that mock the U.S. Constitution. Let me paraphrase, but I’ll base it on the First Amendment rather than the Second:

· Anyone transporting printed material, critical of the government of Maconjny, through the Reich of Maconjny, must have evidence of a destination that is outside the Reich, such that the only reason for being in the Reich in possession of such material is to reach the other side essentially without stopping.
· Anyone intending to transport such material must first apply for and obtain a dangerous materials transport permit from the governor-general of each state or through which the material will pass.
· Issue of such permits is at the discretion of each governor-general.
· An application must be accompanied by a non-refundable fee of $10 for each state on the route, and each approved permit will require a fee of not less than $45.
· A permit is valid only for the state of issue. Obtaining a permit from one state on the route does not permit transport through other states on the route, so failure to obtain permits from each of the remaining states on the route renders the intended transport illegal in the remaining states.
· An approved dangerous material transport permit will be good for nine days from the date of issue and will cover one trip through the state of issue.
· Anyone transporting such printed material must keep that material stored in a locked container separate from the passenger compartment or in a manner that clearly prevents anyone in the passenger compartment of the vehicle from seeing or reaching the material. Each state may modify this rule at its discretion without notice. Rules in effect on the permit date may no longer be in effect on the date of transport.
· Approval of methods other than a locked container will be at the discretion of an arresting officer.
· Anyone transporting such printed material through the Reich must have evidence of a destination that is outside the Reich (a printed motel reservation, for example).
· A vehicle transporting such material may make only brief stops for fuel or food.
· Anyone stopping for reasons not related to reaching the other side of the realm, such as to visit relatives, will be deemed to be stopping with the intent of using or distributing such materials within the Reich and will be deemed in direct violation of this rule.
· What constitutes printed material critical of the Reich will be at the discretion of the governor-general of any member state (or a designee), regardless which state the material is transported through.
· The operator of any vehicle which is transporting any printed material, including material which does not in the opinion of the operator constitute dangerous printed material, which vehicle is stopped for any reason, with or without a permit, must submit an example of the material to an agent of the governor-general of that state and the subject material may not be transported further than the point of arrest until deemed free of criticism of the Reich.
· Material found to be critical of the Reich, which is not accompanied by a timely dangerous materials transport permit will be cause for arrest of the operator of the transporting vehicle as well as arrest of any other occupants deemed by the arresting officer to be involved.
· Transport of materials assumed safe by the transporting person but which are later deemed critical of the Reich, or of materials previously deemed dangerous but which are being transported in violation of these rules, will subject the responsible operator and responsible others to mandatory imprisonment of not less than one year without appeal.
· Distributing, discarding, posting, public reading, or any other disclosure of any portion of a printed item which, in the whole, is deemed critical of the Reich will subject the responsible person and/or others to mandatory imprisonment of not less than one year without appeal.

These are, almost word for word, the laws of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, regarding one or our most fundamental rights. If these really were the rules infringing on free speech (and freedom of the printing press), wouldn’t they cause universal, if not violent, protest and disobedience? Wouldn’t the idiots be impeached and disbarred, who wrote the enabling legislation giving the Fourth Branch of government (the regulatory branch) the option to write such rules? Substitute the topic of the second amendment -- simple antiquated armaments of self-protection -- and the subjects of Maconjny find these rules soothing and comforting.

Germany's (Hitler's) Third Reich had achieved restrictions like these in the 1930s before setting out to conquer Europe. At least one credible historian (Clayton Cramer, Firing Back) believes that "if the population of Eastern Europe were as well armed as the average American, the Nazis would have lost much of their military capacity attempting to implement the Holocaust."

I am baffled all the more to realize that these states, while they have seceded from the USA, are still receiving the remaining benefits of the Constitution, particularly social welfare and common defense. With regulations such as these, they are not members of the United States.

If any random phrase can be erased from the the US Constitution in a state legislature, then the entire Constitution is optional at a state’s whim. Therefore why did the nation’s founders bother to write a Constitution? Oh, yeah… it's just a list of suggestions. Most of its provisions have been twisted into opposite meaning by the Supreme Court which is supposed to uphold it. For all but the first 50 years of this nation’s history the Supreme Court has regarded the Constitution as something comparable to the Bible: too vague and contradictory to be read directly and therefore eligible for interpretations in direct reversal of its actual words.

Our culture has embraced all manifestations of lunacy as valid expression since the 1960s. Where we once had criminal codes that protected us from the truly dangerous, the truly dangerous, who should not have guns, face no restrictions on possession. As a result, we get monthly reports of massacres by nut cases who would not have been running around loose 50 years ago. And, as a result of their miscreancy, we get regulations like the above and demands that there be restrictions on all owners of firearms.

My daughter is not a lunatic. She can own a .22-caliber revolver. Unfortunately, there is no legal way for me to give her one, neither for me to transport it to her in Indiana, nor for her to take it back with her the next time she visits Maine. Thanks, Maconjny!

12 March 2011

Epson Perfection V330 scanner review - YES!

[The following is the review I submitted when I installed and registered my new scanner.]
I have the Epson Perfection V330 connected by USB to a MacBook Pro Intel dual-core home computer running OS 10.6.6. Long delays during installation made me nervous, but my patience was rewarded. I let it do the full install and it went without a hitch. I registered it but left the final install screen open because it had the link to write this review. You can be glad I did.
I ran my cords but didn't plug anything in until the simple Start Here guide told me to. I had to dig a little in the Applications folder on my desktop once it was finished, but I found the Epson Scan icon and dragged it to my dock for every-day use.
I scanned one of my pen-and-ink sketches first, on full auto. It cropped it too closely, but the white paper had no border so I wasn't concerned. A photo next. Nice and clean and bright. Then for the test I had been waiting for for years. I prayed that some day I would be able to scan old negatives. I pulled out a strip at random and didn't bother to figure out what it was.
Be prepared: It took me four tries before I understood how orient the negative and slide holder. You remove the white panel that's built into the lid. You lay the slide holder onto the glass so that the negatives, if that's what you're scanning, are in the middle and will be against a frosty screen built into the lid when you close it. If you're scanning slides, which I will do too, then I assume you rotate the slide holder so that your slides are against the frosty screen instead.
I ran a preview. Omigosh! Four pictures I had taken with an old manual 35mm camera in the summer of 1969: three from the top floor of Siddall Hall at the University of Cincinnati at night and one daytime picture of a praying mantis on the sidewalk! One of the night pictures includes foreground details under streetlights and the full downtown skyline - good enough to use as the desktop image on my 17" monitor - this from a 42-year-old 35mm color negative. (I will post the image at http://woodburyyankee.blogspot.com.)
If you have the negative preview showing in the Epson Scan program, don't tinker with the dpi. Look at the proportional choices instead. When you click on each one (4x6, 5x7...), the thumbnail has an overlay to show you how each one will crop, and a line on the lower right shows you the length and width pixels and resulting file size. This is my best guide for final resolution and file storage implications.
When I had settled on, I think, 5x7, so the result would be about 1500x2100 pixels, I clicked scan, and that's when I was able to see the final results. I am impressed.
I haven't played around with the MediaImpressions, although ArcSoft PhotoStudio was my favorite user-friendly photo software on a Windows PC up until 8 or 10 years ago.
Be aware also that the slide/negative holder can be stored in the lid behind the white panel. There are plastic tabs on both pieces to guide you, and you really don't want to line them up wrong or break one off!
I read the reviews carefully before buying this scanner, wanted it for the slide/negative capacity, and am pleased so far with the automatic scanning features. As I understand it, the difference between the V300 and the V330 is that the latter will set you up in Windows 7 and Snow Leopard, while the V300 is just one step down in operating system readiness. I gleaned that from other reviews - so I can't say trust me on that one. Epson's own web site is not helpful on that.
The Epson Scan interface is a little eccentric, but I am a good learner. It works as advertised and will serve my needs splendidly. This is a great little scanner for the purposes I've described.
[A few days later... The software is odd, but it works. It has "modes" for scanning: Full Auto, Home, Office, and Professional. Full Auto works with the negative/slide holder. But if you need to crop before scanning or make other adjustments first, use Professional. You just have to try the other two modes to see how they're different, but they're essentially just pre-sets.]