Somewhere out there

Like whiskey, age has improved my appreciation for life. Indeed, my love of life has increased by an order of magnitude more now than when I was a younger man.

Even now, when I hear Somewhere Out There from the movie An American Tail, as our family did in that tiny Kearney, Nebraska theater shortly before the death of my first wife that horrible Christmas season in 1986, tears gush down my aging face. The emotions are still raw and real and, more importantly, precious.

My dog friends Elvis and Zoey from across the fence bring me utter happiness when I feed them the treats that Joan selects for them with such care. I cannot describe in words the love I feel for our grandchildren. The old woman I am wed to reminds me each day that the souls of human beings can, if luck is with you, be bound together. My work, and especially the people I work with, enrich my life beyond comprehension. Buttered popcorn never tasted so good as it does now.

I do not want to die. But, I will. And, when I do, I don’t want to suffer and I don’t want the people who care for me to suffer. Over the last three years Joan and I successfully dealt with our respective cancers. We were fortunate to survive, but we witnessed many others die painfully after being eaten alive by that horrible disease.

The idea that my life, or the life of any other person, is punctuated by pain rather than peace is an obscenity. With these thoughts in mind, I ask you to read and ponder the Canadian Supreme Court’s recent opinion on physician assisted death. See Carter v. Canada here (“We conclude that the prohibition on physician-assisted dying is void insofar as it deprives a competent adult of such assistance where (1) the person affected clearly consents to the termination of life; and (2) the person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”)*


*H/t Howard Bashman and How Appealing.


18 responses

  1. Judge:
    It’s a good thing you are not here right now because you’d come to no other conclusion but that I was “cutting onions.” The whole story, from beginning to end, is certainly heartbreaking. Yet, it did not break you and those you love. You and your family took incalculable personal grief and turned it into purpose (this blog is a good example of what I mean). That is all that matters. At times like these I am reminded of the Hemingway quote that “Life breaks all of us but some of us get strong at the broken places.” Judge Kopf: here’s to the broken places.

  2. In the broader context of death following life, you and your readers should be introduced to a brief but extraordinary book by Dr. Atul Gawande, called “Being Mortal, Medicine and What Matters in the End.” There isn’t much in it about assisted suicide, but there is a great deal of wisdom about serious illness and decline. I’d love it if folks would let me know what they think of it.

  3. This is but another poignant demonstration of the fact that Canadian judges are far superior to their American counterparts. When you see how competent, professional, and rational judges do their jobs, you are mortified by what passes for judicature in America. If you have a right under the Charter, the Canadian government’s hands are tied.

    Canada’s courts did away with official immunities, as granting them would eviscerate the Charter. (It does the same to our Bill of Rights, but our judges don’t respect the rights of citizens.) They permit private criminal prosecutions. Nonprecedential opinions are impermissible, and certiorari review is a matter of right throughout the Commonwealth. As a result, Canadians actually have rights, because the law never fails to find a remedy for their breach.

    In America, law is politics. In Canada, law is actually law.

  4. Nice story today on “CBS Sunday Morning” about the married couple that wrote that song. Their first big hit was,”You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.”

  5. My mother died the slowest, most excruciatingly painful death imaginable. My sisters and I watched this for about 10 days. She surprised even the hospice nurses that she continued to live despite her pain and the progression of her diseases. Finally, they “increased her meds,” i.e. essentially euthanized her. This was in New York, and of course no one called it that. That was actually her wish years before when she was healthy. It was the most humane thing to do, and it was unfortunate she had to endure so much pain before finally getting her wish.

  6. I am opposed to physician assisted suicide. I believe, however, that even if I believed it was good that I would be troubled about how this decision came about.

    A legislature and executive elected by the people banned a certain practice. A supreme court found that those regulations were constitutional. After several decades some people want to exercise the banned practice. They, rightfully, bring the issue before their legislators and are rejected four times.

    Finding an unsympathetic ear in the legislature, the proponents return to the courts. They find a sympathetic panel that reads exactly the same words they read decades ago and decide that they mean the opposite of what they meant decades before. While they make some fine legal distinctions from the primary case, the principal mover of the decision was the justices decision that the previously banned policy is now a good idea. I do not understand how this is not a recipe for tyranny from the bench.

    If the proponents think that the settled law was wrong, then there is an established method to request a change from the political branches of government. They did so and were repeatedly denied. This decision does not interpret the law — it blatantly rewrites settled law anew from the bench. The judiciary should not be empowered to legislate through vague constitutional incantations that a right to life somehow includes a right to do what ever the speaker thinks advisable, including to end the life the speaker asserts a right to..

    I am most concerned by this passage “Here, the prohibition deprives some individuals of life, as it has the effect of forcing some individuals to take their own lives prematurely, for fear that they would be incapable of doing so when they reached the point where suffering was intolerable.”

    As I read this, it seems that anything that might cause someone to kill themselves might be determined to deprive them of life. If I am willing to kill myself to avoid imprisonment (or taxes or military service, or etc,) is threatening me with imprisonment likewise denying me a right to life because I might kill myself ? I see no logical end to this argument where the law can insist on anything.

    I will not argue against physician assisted suicide today because even if I believed in it, this decision would be a dangerous way to advance that right.

  7. JDM, What is the point of the Charter and its protection of personal rights against the majority if the majority always wins? In addition there are some provisions for Parliament rejecting a decision though it has not so far as I know been used. At this point the arguments against assisted suicide have been dissipated by experience and we are left with a sort of non Islamic Sharia.
    Being on tv does not seemed to have destroyed S CT of Can or of UK.

  8. I’m going to argue for an even broader right (and I will undoubtedly annoy JDM and others). Mom is 93, soon to be 94. She’s tired. She grew up in a large family with umpteen cousins. They’re all dead. Can you imagine what it feels like to be the last of your generation? I do my best to keep her spirits up, but I can only do so much. She hung in there through the youngest granddaughter’s college graduation, but she’ll have to hit 100 for the PhD. There are times I ask God why he will not take this faithful servant to his keeping. It’s what she wants. Unfortunately (or fortunately), she’s strong as an ox. I think she ought to be allowed to say farewell. But, she can’t. I love her. I would miss her. I don’t see why she has to be forced to live longer than she wants to.

  9. When you think about it, it is the most fundamental right we have. My grandmother used to keep a bottle of sleeping pills at her bedside, which she was ready to use when the time came. This is the kind of decision that a judge who is faithful to the law will render.

    If there are even twenty judges with that kind of character in America, I would be surprised.

  10. RGK,
    I don’t think I can make the words adequate to convey my thoughts on this subject (and I’ve thought about it a fair bit). Maybe when I’m older I can explain my views more fully. Until then, I prefer to listen and watch others discuss it.


  11. Judge and All:

    I think it is time to contact our State Senators to ask that they view favorably – and help to pass into law — Legislative Bill 643 entitled the Cannabis Compassion and Care Act.

    All of us of a certain age know or have known friends, family, co-workers and others in our “networks” who have died miserable deaths after months or years of suffering, because they were not allowed to die.

    The Canadian Supreme Court had it right.


  12. Pingback: One doc’s point of view « Hercules and the umpire.

  13. Government exists, almost by definition to make people do things they would not do or not do things that they would do. Your definition of liberty seems to make the only acceptable law “don’t hurt other people” but even that rule would have people disagreeing about whether or not certain actions hurt others enough to be proscribed. It seems inevitable that any government will eventually govern my behavior, and that people will disagree about what is appropriate

    When our various governments got started we defined certain subjects too sacred for government regulation and set them off limits either in the Charter or in the Bill of Rights. I believe it is undisputed that for some time after those documents were produced, they were understood to not include a fundamental right to assist or be assisted in suicide.

    The framers of these documents knew that times would change, and provided orderly mechanisms to change our system of government. The proponents of physician assisted suicide tried those mechanisms and failed in Canada, but have succeeded elsewhere. If the groundswell of public support appreciated by the court is real, then legislative success is imminent.

    The justices in this case are not claiming to have found a long dormant and unrecognized right. They explicitly stated that times have changed and now they read new rights into language where they previously explicitly found absence of the same.

    This practice destroys the predictability of government. It says that a argument, regardless of how tenuous, (like saying a right to life includes a right to choose its opposite) could be accepted by a small group and become the law of the land.

    When my reasonable expectations of settled law are reversed on the whim of 5 justices, that is my definition of tyranny,

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