Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Give Me Liberty And Give Me Death?

Mention the word death, and a single image springs to mind – the ending of life. Depending on culture, religion or other similar views, it can have many connotations. For some, it can mean simply the end of a life, coupled with the process of grief and coping that accompanies such loss. For others, it can represent a glorious extension of, and beyond, this life into the next that is to be honored and rejoiced. However, death for a growing number means only one thing – the end of suffering, for them and their loved ones, by means of euthanasia, otherwise known as “assisted suicide.” It is a choice that many have made, and that a majority of Americans support. Aside from the moral debate, the question is can that choice ever be reconciled with the legal challenges facing it?

Naturally, the average person does not want to die. After all, that is the secret to life – not dying. With funerals that cost the price of an average car, who wants to die in the first place? Still, many people in extreme cases refuse life-sustaining medical treatment. Such was the case for Teri Schiavo, the Florida woman who laid in a vegetative state for years and sparked a landmark legal case over the right-to-die. In such instances, an individual has only to state their wishes, such as in a living will, in a clear and mentally competent way. In Schiavo’s case, her intentions were the center of the case as she had no living will. In essence, the person is making a legal contract for their future suicide should it be necessary. What then is the difference between refusing life-sustaining treatment, often communicated through a second party, and assisted suicide, both of which produce the same fate?

The moral argument against euthanasia is ambiguous, as many cultures and religions consider suicide honorable and respectable. The classic example is the samurai warrior taking his own life in the name of honor and duty. As Americans, we are all too familiar with the kamikazes of World War Two – seen as an expression of the samurai virtue – as well as the present-day suicide bombers attempting to derail the democratic process in the Middle East. For the majority of Western culture, however, suicide is a disdainful selfish act, not to mention a sin. Nonetheless, it is an individual act dependent on either the acceptance or rejection of such morals concerning it.

The legal side of the argument is more broadly problematic. Morals aside, does an individual have the right to die by his or her own hand with the help of another? After all, one party is asking another to help murder them in order to end their suffering. It is analogous to homicidal suicide – or would it be suicidal homicide? – with legal consequences for the assisting party. However, sometimes the right, i.e. lawful, thing to do is not always the moral thing to do, and vice versa. Just ask Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who saw it as immoral to stand by and do nothing for terminally ill patients in spite of the legal ramifications. For Kevorkian and others like him, their oath to do no harm means helping end pain and suffering when no other options exist.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is the founding principle of this nation. The question is, when life is diminished terminally and irreversibly, does liberty allow for the pursuit of dignified death? How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life and, as in life, each individual should be allowed to deal with it in their own way. It simply depends on one’s own beliefs and convictions, and only in terms of the situation at hand. It is idealistic to hope that no one ever has to make such a choice, but likewise, there is the hope that the choice could be yours to make rather than a lobbyist or bureaucrat. With the Supreme Court’s latest 6-3 ruling in support of Oregon’s “Death With Dignity Act,” that hope still remains. 

©2006 Steve Sagarra

Friday, January 6, 2006

Choosing The Inevitable

"The question that faces every man born into this world is not what should be his purpose, which he should set about to achieve, but just what to do with life? The answer . . . is more a practical question . . . then a metaphysical proposition as to what is the mystic purpose of his life in the scheme of the universe." -Lin Yutang

It is an age-old question: what is the purpose in life? Theologians and philosophers alike have pondered the question for several millennia. Without a doubt, it arises most often when there is little sense of direction in life. In such instances, there is the human need to question the nature of existence and to look to an overarching plan from a higher power. Is it as simple as divine serendipity, or nothing more than setting goals and achieving them on your own?

The role in life can be an allusive one. Should we be an individual or part of the collective? Are we to play the part of oppressor or the oppressed or a collection of individuals that fight for the oppressed against the oppressors? Throughout history, the answers have often been determined by the standard sociological measures social, economic and political status, as well as place of birth. These factors are not limiting, however especially at the dawn of the 21st century. Any person, entity or nation can branch beyond what they are given at birth. It is simply a matter of wanting, and striving towards that goal.

Yet, there are those who are unable to reach their potential, their purpose, through no fault of their own. They become victims of their circumstances. In the course of human history, failure has often outweighed success from the first amoeba that failed to reproduce to the hundreds of dotcoms that went bust. What can be said about that trend? Is it that some are destined to fail, that that is their purpose, while others are born for something greater? Or that failure, no matter the effort, is a natural order of existence, and success can only be measured by it?

Of course, some people merely quit, crushed by the weight of trying in life. They have lost the quintessential emotion next to love - hope. When hope no longer exists, the same is true of dreams and life itself. Fortunately, when all hope is lost the only place to look is up. Only then do some find their role in life.

In the pursuit of the answer to our purpose, more often than not we end up finding the purpose without realizing it. The question drives us toward our purpose; the answer itself is irrelevant. Without the question, there would be no sense to act and we would fail to answer the question. What is the purpose in life? The answer is already known - it is a leap of faith based on the strength of our convictions and the ability to act upon them in order to reach our goals. It just depends on whether one accepts failure as an option.

©2006 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Reinventing The Wheel In Order To Build A Better Mouse Trap

Are there no new ideas?  To borrow from Hollywood, are there only old ideas to be re-imagined? In the 1980s, Coca-Cola attempted to re-image a classic by introducing New Coke. It was a disaster. Prompted by the choice of a new generation, Coca-Cola switched back to the tried and true formula. There have been many others to muddle with a good thing, not fortunate like Coca-Cola to rebound in such a way. The adage has proved repeatedly that some things should not be changed, as “new and improved” does not necessarily translate to better.

The question remains though, are there no new ideas? Perhaps it needs to be examined from a different perspective – have we reached a point where only the improvement and reinvention of old ideas is viable? Can there be any new ideas? Styles and trends are the epitome of old versus new, creativity versus re-imagining. This occurs when an innovative idea becomes the norm, and then is repeatedly copied until the novelty is worn out. The problem lies in the fact that even when “new” ideas are introduced, they are simply old ones relabeled. It is simply a way to reintroduce products to a new generation. Take for example bell-bottom jeans, now back in style after a long hiatus. Only they are not called bell-bottoms – they are called “flares,” “boot cut,” or any plethora of names; they are, however, the same wide-legged jeans of the 1960s & ‘70s repackaged under a new name. Very original.

The worse case of this creativity, however, comes from Hollywood itself – the Mecca of re-imagined storylines. Tim Burton did it with a remake of the cult classic Planet of the Apes (ironically, Governor Arnold was to star in another Charlton Heston cult classic, The Omega Man), as did George Clooney et al with Ocean’s Eleven. Is Hollywood so lacking new ideas that they must continually remake and re-imagine earlier works? Film is not Shakespeare to be re-interpreted over and over and over ad nauseum, which only serves to dilute the originality and take away any importance the original may hold. Is it not too far of a stretch to perhaps one day see the likes of actors and actresses recasting Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, or even Citizen Kane?

Change is inevitable, and the catalyst for a society, but the change must be a measurable one that shows actual growth. While it is natural and beneficial to expand upon the work of others, especially those that came before us, there are just certain things that should be left alone. Newness as change that perpetuates the old is not change at all, but rather stagnation. So, when a politician, author or Uncle Lou touts a “new” idea based on the innovation of old-fashioned values, take them at their word. It is just another old idea that someone else thought of before, repackaged for a new, and unsuspecting, generation. 

©2006 Steve Sagarra