BY TONY BOUZA
One of my closest friends, Joe Selvaggio, (who is probably well known to you) has done more for poor people than anyone but Mary Jo Copeland. Joe is an ex-priest and has strayed. Today he wrestles with death and asked me to include this and respond:
“The wise man dies when he ought, not when he must.” —Seneca
Good advice, but not always that helpful in real life. Joe Selvaggio says he ought to die now (or soon) because he is almost at the point where he cannot take care of himself, and he cannot volunteer much for “good causes” in the community. However, his wife and one of his sons want him to “soldier on” a bit longer.
How much should the loved ones of a person have to say about when one “ought” to die? Shouldn’t they have enough respect for the rights of their loved one to let him make his own decision?
“I never thought this would happen to me.” –William Saroyan on his deathbed.
“Dying is easy. Humor is difficult.” –The actor John Drew (think Drew Barrymore) on his deathbed.
The issue is autonomy.
We control our lives—mostly—but not our deaths. Abortion is a battle for control. So is euthanasia.
Why should the state decide our fate? Pharmacology has provided safe (an oxymoron to be sure) and effective (and even comfortable) ways of ending our lives. Why and how can the state intrude to forbid it?
Our attitude is informing. We reflect it in our language. In the world I occupy no one ever dies—but a whole lot of folks appear to have passed (water?).
The ironies are endless.
Rightists are law-and-order nuts yet oppose the most effective tool for crime control ever devised in America—Roe v. Wade in 1973. New York went from six murders a day to less than one a generation later. Emblematic of the across-the-board experience in the U.S. in street crime. We live in a peace bubble delivered by Harry Blackmun, a great Minnesotan.
Men might well aspire to the blissful exits of Nelson Rockefeller and John Garfield—in flagrante delicto—but that is a far-fetched hope.
We terminate a lot of folks—even fetuses—why shouldn’t we be free to terminate ourselves?