The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

January 4, 2014

Life is to be lived, not merely endured

ENID, Okla. — “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” ~ Dr. Seuss.

Life. It’s a marvel, it’s a mystery, it’s what separates us from rocks.

Earthlings have spent billions to spend various machines to Mars to determine whether or not that planet ever sustained life, or still does in some primitive form.

We are not up there looking for discarded candy wrappers, old shoes or the remains of road signs, artifacts of some long-ago civilization, we are looking for microbes.

Microbes are, of course, alive, as are chrysanthemums, maple trees and crabgrass.

But just how alive?

Plants are alive, but not sentient. They can’t laugh, cry or communicate. They have no hopes, no fears, no doubts.

They have no self-awareness. They don’t wake with the dawn thinking, “Today, I am going to be the best plant I can be.” They simply are what they are. They perform their designated functions automatically.

Life is so much more than that. It is pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, a miasma of thoughts, feelings, plans, schemes and dreams.

Jahi McMath is alive.

She breathes, her heart beats, her blood circulates, she requires sustenance. By most measures, she is alive.

But the 13-year-old’s brain has ceased to function. In the wake of a tonsillectomy last month, there were complications. Jahi began bleeding profusely, then suffered cardiac arrest. In a matter of days, doctors declared her brain-dead.

Her family is, of course, devastated. They can’t bring themselves to let go. They are fighting the California hospital in which their daughter lies, her body continuing to function with the help of machines.

Children’s Hospital Oakland wants to remove Jahi from life support and let nature take its course. The family has refused, maintaining that Jahi is still alive. Naturally, the matter has ended up in court.

The family wants the hospital to operate on Jahi, to insert breathing and feeding tubes. The hospital has refused. The family also wants the hospital to keep the girl on the ventilator that is sustaining her breathing until they can find a long-term care facility willing to accept her. On Friday, an agreement between the hospital and the family was announced, allowing Jahi to be transferred to an unnamed facility.

The family is receiving support from the family of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was kept alive until 2005 after being declared brain-dead after going into cardiac arrest in 1990.

Ariel Sharon, former prime minister of Israel, has been kept alive by machines since suffering a stroke in 2006.

Just this week, his family was called to his bedside because his condition had deteriorated.

In a sadly related case, 33-year-old Marlise Munoz of Texas suffered a pulmonary embolism the week after Thanksgiving. She made her wishes clear — she did not want to be kept alive by artificial means.

But Marlise Munoz is hooked up to a ventilator nonetheless, against her family’s wish. An obscure Texas law mandates that she be kept alive, because she was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed. The fetus still has a heartbeat, but the prognosis for its survival is poor.

It is understandable that family members would want to cling to any tiny shred of hope, to keep their loved one’s body alive, even if their mind no longer functions, in anticipation of a miracle.

But is this living?

There is a great deal of expense and effort involved in keeping a brain-dead person function, but that’s not really the point. Family members must ask themselves whether their loved one, if they could momentarily sit up and speak for themselves, would choose to continue to exist in such a state.

Such is the value of living wills and advanced directives. If you don’t want machines to keep your body alive long after your brain is declared dead, make your wishes known and put some legal clout behind them.

Life — it’s a marvel, it’s a mystery, it’s what separates us from rocks. It is to be cherished, savored. It is to be lived and experienced, not merely endured.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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