Life & death decisions: who chooses?

Scale of justice

Scale of justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was pleased to be included in a panel on Advance Directives recently for the Bar Association of San Francisco, surrounded by three very smart women. Organized & moderated by SF Bar’s John O’Grady, the panel included Harriette Grooh of HGA Personal Care Consultants, Sara Stephens of Good Medicine Consult & Advocacy, and Attorney Elizabeth Krivatsy. The audience — in post-event evaluations — gave us mostly all fives out of possible one to five ratings, which would be a nice touch to my resume if I had a resume. I was there as writer on end-of-life issues, and acknowledged as the wearer of two hats. My death & dying hat alternates with the abortion hat, which I explained was how never to be invited to cocktail parties.

But this panel’s focus was on end-of-life decision making: how, if we consider it, would we prefer to die? Most of us say: At home, at peace. Physician aid in dying — now legal in four states and a movement that is finally gaining ground around the U.S. — is key to peaceful death for many of us, and significant to my work in the area. But opposition to this rational, humane way to die comes from two powerful directions: The Catholic Church (NOT most Catholics, certainly not the excellent folks at Catholics for Choice) and the far right — mostly religious fundamentalists who somehow believe that pain and suffering at the end of life should never be shortened.

The issue becomes one of who chooses: the dying individual, or religious and political powers.

My hats are interchangeable. Comprehensive, justice-rooted women’s health cannot put the fetus in control and cannot take the potential decision to choose an abortion away from the individual. But opposition to this rational, humane way to live comes from two powerful directions. You guessed it: Catholic officialdom and the religious/political right.

Happily, there’s progress, slow but sure, in end-of-life justice and my hat is off to all — Compassion & Choices in particular — who are leading this battle. Unhappily, my other hat might need to be a helmet to protect against the slings and arrows of those opposed to reproductive rights.

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