Friday, January 16, 2015

We have a right to die with dignity

It didn’t take long for Colorado legislators to kick up controversy in the current session of the General Assembly. Courageous lawmakers are introducing, and show every sign of fighting hard for, a “right to die” law similar to the one Oregon has had since 1997. Washington, Montana, and Vermont have similar laws, and 14 states besides Colorado have bills either before their legislatures or being drafted.

Variously called “assisted suicide,” “right to die,” and “death with dignity,” such laws allow terminally ill people, while still of sound mind, to avoid prolonged agony and the loss of human dignity that usually comes with dying of a ravaging disease.

There is much that is logical about making such a decision possible. Hospice care of a dying patient is incredibly expensive; the idea is to keep the patient as “comfortable as possible” in the final weeks, days, and hours, while nature goes about its sluggish process of killing the patient. That requires massive doses of painkillers while the body struggles to complete its assigned chores, all of which produce various effluents and odors, none pleasant. I’ve watched people die in hospice; it’s an awful way to go, no matter how comforting the word “hospice” sounds.

Fighting to stay alive to the bitter end is also costly and can bankrupt families of modest means. And the victim isn’t the only one who suffers. I can attest that there is no pain worse than that of watching a loved one die slowly, and my experience was mild compared to others who have watched spouses, parents, and even children succumb to creeping death.

A right-to-die law would allow a victim in the final stages of cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or any of the other terminal illnesses to surrender without enduring the pain of the disease’s ultimate victory. The method would essentially be a lethal dose of medication that would stop the heart. I don’t have space here to describe the process; suffice it to say it isn’t easy to get the necessary medical approvals, and tipping back the lethal brew (you don’t just swallow a couple of pills; it take s massive dose of barbiturates) can be a moment of intense self-examination.

Taking one’s own life is not to be done lightly, and Colorado’s bill will have in it all of the safeguards and emergency buttons necessary to make sure no one uses it to escape their rightful worldly obligations. And while I hope no one I know and love now will ever have to use it, I want Coloradans to have the right to die with dignity, should the need arise.

There are those who object, of course. According to the Denver Post, Janet Morana, executive director of the New-York based Priests for Life, made the pro forma religious statement about the proposed bill, “You're taking away their hope, and you're taking away their chance for a miracle or a cure.” Reality calling Janet: I don’t believe in your miracles, and if I’m ever sick enough to consider suicide, all hope of a cure will long since be lost. I don’t want to suffer weeks of agony because of your religion, okay?

I hope, after a thorough airing of opinions and with the necessary safeguards built in, Colorado’s death-with-dignity law becomes a reality. It will be another step toward enlightenment and reason for this greatest of states.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dog's killing solved nothing

Much happened this past week that would enrage an old liberal – Muslim extremists murdered a dozen people in a Paris magazine office because the magazine dared to mock Islam; some pinheaded bigot tried to blow up the NAACP office in Colorado Springs, evoking gut-wrenching images of the Sixties; a Denver couple left their three-year-old sleeping with candles burning in a trailer house while they went down the street to drink and drug, and the child died when the house burned.

But the story that broke my heart this week was the story about Sydney, the good friend and constant companion of a Colorado Springs woman; Sydney was shot to death in a park last week for absolutely no reason.

Details are sparse; the so-far unidentified woman was playing ball with Sydney, an Australian Shepherd, in a park a week ago today. Sydney was off the leash, which isn’t allowed in that particular park. She spotted a so-far unidentified man walking on a sidewalk and, ball still in her mouth, bounded up to greet him. There is no indication Sydney did anything remotely threatening. Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows what Sydney wanted; she wanted the man to throw the ball so she could chase it again.

Instead, the man did what he probably figured any red-blooded American man with a gun in his pocket would do – he exercised his Second Amendment right until Sydney was dead.

And then the sonofabitch walked away.

While the wanton, cold-blooded killing of a helpless creature is bad enough, that’s not what really made my blood boil. Well, okay, it did, but my head nearly exploded when I read the possible consequences of the crime. According to a report on the KKTV News website, if police catch the guy, “the suspect could face reckless endangerment charges for illegally firing a gun within city limits.”

As the kids say nowadays: “What the fuck!?”

Reckless endangerment? He didn’t “recklessly endanger” the dog, he killed it! He didn’t just fire the gun up in the air to scare the dog off, he fired bullets into the dog. Several of them.

I understand it’s not the murder of a child but that doesn’t ease the grief Sydney’s owner feels now. Reckless endangerment? What about cruelty to an animal? How about illegally carrying a concealed weapon (because no properly-licensed concealed carry permitee would use his handgun so irresponsibly. No, I’m serious here – he’d have too much to lose.) Good Lord in Heaven, at least tell me they can charge him with destruction of private property!

This kind of thing is what I mean when I talk about the “culture of the gun.” It’s a culture in which a gun is seen as the solution to any number of problems.

I’m going to wildly speculate the worst case here; that the shooter has been carrying around a handgun for some time just waiting for a chance to use it. Maybe he got mugged recently, maybe he’s very angry with his ex-wife’s lawyer, maybe he’s just fed up with a lifetime of being screwed over and figured nobody would mess with a man with a gun. Maybe I’m reading too much into his simple actions.

One thing is for sure, though: This guy’s gun didn’t solve his problem. If anything, it just made his problems worse.