Life and Death

From whence did the phrase “It’s a matter of life and death” originate as a way of saying something is of the utmost importance? We seem to recognize the rights regarding how we can live, but somehow death has been religated to a spot of lesser importance. 
Dr. Kevorkian died of cancer June 3rd, 2011 in the hospital without euthanasia. Some seem to take the view he lessened his cause by not opting for an assisted suicide himself, but I take the opposite view. When one can take a stand for something believed in strongly, and take a stand where there is no self interest, then one can honestly be said to have acted on principal. It is those moments which I believe define character, and he showed something from which society should learn. How many of us would have ended the suffering of the terminally ill if it meant possibly going to jail?  He went to jail for a belief in the right to chose how to die, and in the end he chose.  Much like many pro choice people would not have an abortion, he did not have euthanasia.
Yes, he could have let the man push the button to kill himself like his previous patients. In stead he spent 8 years in prison to make a point. Our laws on end of life care are cruel. We can put down a suffering pet, but we are often forced to make our loved ones continue to suffer. Our culture tries very hard not to think about death. We find it somehow amoral to die by choice at a time of our choosing. Who would have thought we would treat the act which begets human life and any act which ends it as something taboo…as if each and every one of us isn’t a part of the cycle. We can say “dust to dust,” but in our culture those words seem to be about as much detail as we want to talk, and as such they wring hollow to me. Doctor Kevorkian forced us to talk about one end of the spectrum, death, and I attribute many states’ passage of legal euthanasia bills as a direct effect of the national conversation he forced.
It’s a little sad to me Dr. Kevorkian will probably never receive the accolades of Martin Luther King or even Harvey Milk. The rights these men fought for were for equal rights for people of all races and sexual orientation. Is a right to die a lesser right? As many people were touched by MLK and Milk, I think the rights for which Dr Kevorkian fought are even more universal. We all die. Sadly many don’t seem to care to think about how. His battle was for a truely fundamental right.
Dr. Kevorkian, thank you for forcing us to consider our mortality and rights we should strive for as a culture. When I read about him years ago was around the same time as I was diagnosed with MS. I made my living will shortly there after. I have also told all of my friends and family if I can no longer communicate, they should assume I am in a lot of pain. I expect each of them to come to see me and give me pain medications while forgetting to document the drugs. I’ve also said when I can no longer hope to communicate, I am dead. If I am correct and my body is kept “alive,” I will come back and haunt everyone who keeps me “alive.” My wife has at least agreed to withhold food and drink in such a situation.
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