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Life Choice: Who Can Truly Make the Decision to End It All?

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So often, we are subject to the incessant ranting of various pundits, politicians, and preachers about why it is nothing short of unfathomable that an individual chooses to end his or her life, particularly if suffering from an illness for which there is absolutely no hope of recovery. Often, I wonder exactly what it is that could motivate someone who is, by virtually all other accounts, a good and decent person to attempt to force such torment on another who is already in what could only be described as the most horrid of conditions. Many proponents of, essentially, living death turn to their fervent religious beliefs in order to muster support for their ideas. Should they feel that such notions work for them on an individual level, then that is perfectly fine. However, to suggest that another opting to pass away in a vaguely comfortable and dignified manner is engaging in an act worthy of eternal damnation is nothing short of sickening.

My own feelings on this matter are so strong because it strikes a deeply personal cord. A few years ago, a very close aunt was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Informed that she had an indefinite number of months to live, family members from all across the Eastern Seaboard flocked to visit her at her cozy, impeccably kept home as soon as they heard the news. My father, uncle, and I never failed to drop in every Tuesday evening for a jovial discussion about whatever came into our minds, though this became much more difficult as time wore on for her speaking abilities were diminishing at a rapid pace. Eventually, she had to be moved into a nearby Hospice center where she was given only the best treatment that could be asked for. Once this happened, we came to see her on a daily basis and did not necessarily speak of any topic at length, rather simply appreciated her company. When my aunt felt up to it, both she and I would exchange jokes; many of which lightheartedly concerned politics as we were of very different philosophies in that regard and had no problem poking fun at this. I was with her, holding her hand as her body shut down, right up until just a few hours before she died. I went home that night to get whatever sleep I could get, and by the time I had awoken, she was gone. This, however, was only because she had ordered her feeding tube to be removed ahead of time. Had she not, and done things the glorified “natural” way, she would have been alive for a prolonged period in which pain would not have spared her even in slumber.

It is taking this story, as well as millions of others like it, into consideration that I ask people to simply mind their own business. When all is said and done, the only master of one’s own destiny is the person in question. While engaging in the morbid debate of whether or not to die in a controlled or uncontrolled manner, the last things needed are the self-righteous and insidious screeds of those who, quite obviously, and thankfully I should add, have not been there. After all, is this not the United States of America; a nation which was founded upon the unshakeable principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Should we not all, therefore, have the ability to join, as Edwin M. Stanton once said, the “ages” in a fashion which we each deem suitable for ourselves? As far as our respective lives are concerned, who can truly make the decision to end it all?

Only we, as individuals, can.

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About Joseph F. Cotto