Terri Sciavo has spent 15 years living in life-support apparatus. Unconscious, breathed and fed by the machine. She was diagnosed to have brain-damaged and declared in a "persistent vegetative state" a few years ago. Her husband, Michael, says that his wife would not want to have her life extended - a view her parent reject. She left no written directive. The controversy grew as both parties (spouse and parent) continued their debate in legal court, which later ruled for Michael's request to remove Terri from the life-support machine. Now the case profile is raised much higher, as US Congress, Senate and George Bush all jump to the legal debates on whether the right to life in cases like this should be decided as personal choice or not. The sad thing is, as the disputes continued and the lawyers/lobbyist all earned their much-deserved fees or the politicians got press coverage they've craved, the person that matter most in this case still lays unconscious, breathed and fed by a machine. Nothing's change for her. Or, medically speaking, it's more appropriate to say she couldnt notice if there are any changes on her.
But I guess the ultimate question is: who have the right to decide when your life is over ? If it is me, I will certainly reject the notion that I should live my life in the vegetate state beyond normal time needed to reach firm medical conclusion (Indonesian medical profession should be able to do that in a few days, given their prospensity to go for the short-cut). I mean, life is not worth living if you cannot do things that make you happy. If I already lost my sight that I couldnt read the glossy mags or watch my favourite sitcom anymore, lost my hearing that I couldnt enjoy music, lost my taste buds so I couldnt know the difference between my KSTMJ and TSTMJ*, is life worth living to me then ? If I lost the ability to joke with (mostly make joke on) the people I cared about, I wouldnt want to find out what kind of life will that be.
Some people would say that the ability to think is the most precious gift of life and losing them means you have lost the reason to live, as the much-abused principle "I think therefore I am" supposed to suggest. Me, I tend to agree. Yet if I do say so, certain people would say with straightface that I already lost my mind years ago anyway. So probably my opinion doesnt count in this respect.
But deciding these kind of thing for yourself is fairly easy, much more so if you have huge debt or just being dumped by your loved ones. The dilemma is to decide what to do when it happens to the people you cared the most: your kids, lover, parent. If the good doctor tells you that they have lost hope and the only one that keeps the heart beating and the brain ticking is just a machine, would you let them go ? Is it love or selfishness when you insist that they be kept in life-support to wait for new development in medical world or the intervention of God's hand ? Is it love or selfishness when you accept the realities and agreed with the verdict that not much can be done beyond letting life-support machine (instead of nature) run its course ?
Some would also say that if God really decide that your time in this wretched earth is up, then all the life-support machines in the world wouldnt be able to keep you from going away. The flipside of this argument is that as long as the machine kept you alive, then you should. But there are some problems with this argument. What about the feelings of those who have to endure this ordeals for a long time, not knowing what kind and when it will end ? Humankind naturally strive for certainty. Should we sacrifice the life of others who otherwise could be lived to the fullest just because they have to lived in this kind of uncertainty ? The psychological cost must be devastating.
From another perspective, this case is another indirect consequences of technological advances to our religious faith, just as those posed by the human cloning technology or time-travel opportunities (no doubt still being researched by my good friend Windo and his cohorts). Our forefathers (and foremothers, in case I would again be scolded for my gender-insensitive choice of words) didnt have anything to say on this because back then life was simpler: when you cant breath own your own then your time is up. It is as if that we must always rethink our fundamental precepts in life for every leap that humankind have made.
* KSTMJ & TSTMJ: respectively, Kopi & Teh - Susu Telor Madu Jahe (Coffee or Tea plus milk, egg, honey and ginger). One of the best culinary invention Indonesia ever produced. Can be found in established Padang restaurants or traditional Makassar style cafes. The best recipe so far is served by Phoenam Cafe, Jl. Wahid Hasyim, Jakarta.
"..Till the bird on the wire flies me back to you.."
I was listening to Bon Jovi's Bed of Roses a few minutes ago when suddenly the lyric reminds me to one of my all-time favourite song: "Bird on a wire", by Leonard Cohen. Some could say that this is a song to "slit your wrist by", as one of the more famous tags given to Cohen's works. Yet to me this song is more about redemption. At least, when trapped in the melancholy of thinking on what might (or should) have been, it's nice to know that the way out can actually be started simply by making a resolution to amend.
Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook,
Like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
If I, if I have been unkind,
I hope that you can just let it go by.
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you.
Like a baby, stillborn,
Like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
He said to me, "You must not ask for so much."
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
She cried to me, "Hey, why not ask for more?"
Oh like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free