DNR and Death 

The edges of life and death are fuzzy. Scientists, clergy, and pregnant people don’t agree on when exactly life begins. Is it at conception or implantation? Does it begin with fetal heartbeat, quickening, or viability? Or is birth the moment of new life? Death can be as tricky and subjective to pin down. Is a brain dead person in a coma and on life support dead or alive? 

When I voice my objections to lawful euthanasia, I don’t think I do a very good job of acknowledging the fears behind them. Prolonged and painful death can be terrifying. I know that dying sick and alone sounds far worse to me than suddenly dropping from a brain aneurysm, never to be consciously confronted with my own mortality. 

Some people fear the loss of control that comes with hospitalization. Some fear pain. Some would rather die than be sustained by life preserving machinery. Some would rather be home with loved ones to die in peace rather than go through one more surgery or one more ground of chemo. Some would rather kill themselves before their incurable disease has progressed. 

I acknowledge and support all of these. My objection is to assisted suicide not suicide, not palliative care, not refusing treatment. There are living wills and advanced care directives you can fill out, specifying exactly which extraordinary measures you don’t want, and how long after brain death you want hospital staff to wait before removing life support. You can mark down your burial preferences and which organs you’d like to donate. 

I strongly encourage anyone who doesn’t want the default of saving every life to be applied to them to file one of these documents with your physician and closest emergency room. These forms often include a Do Not Resuscitate order you can sign if you do not want to be revived should your heart stop. If severe disability is legitimately something you’d be unwilling or unable to endure, you can decrease the odds you’ll be in such a situation by signing a DNR. 

I also recommend you discuss this with your family and/or partner. My mother knows I want to be revived and I want to stay alive, even at the risk of more and greater disability. That’s my choice and I want to get to make it. I want others to get to make their choices too, with one notable exception. I don’t want doctors in the business of death. 

Right now the default standard in medicine is to save lives, and when that can’t be done, to provide comfort. That’s a default I’m comfortable with.  The inclusion of induced death in the job duties would harm or change this default. I support an individual’s right to end their life, but not to make a murderer of a healer. Not to change the rules so entirely. 

The edges of life and death are fuzzy. I draw the borders at birth and brain death. You may draw them somewhere else. Wherever you draw the lines for yourself, I encourage you to get paperwork confirming your desires. This is something you can do right now for yourself without endangering vulnerable disabled people. Your wishes matter, so do theirs. 

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