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Idiocy, Humilty, and End of Life Issues

alec vanderboom

One of the cool things about my life in Carmel, is that by spending so much time in quiet prayer and I start to see some of the puzzling events of my life knit together in a new way.

My last year in Law School, I had a perfect job at my State's Elder Law Center. It was a prestigious internship. I got paid. I worked with great people. I had did interesting work at reasonable hours. It was the perfect segue into a great job. Yet I didn't even apply to interview for their permanent staff opening. I could have stayed in the city I loved and kept dating my cute boyfriend, Jon Benjamin. Instead, I moved 500 miles a way to start a harder public interest job, for less pay, in a city that was so depressed economically there were almost no 25 years in sight.

I couldn't explain to anyone why I didn't audition for this job that I really liked. I now recognize I was kept away from that job opening because all the End of Life Advocacy Work. I would have worked for a hidden evil I had not yet recognized.

In Law School, I drank the Kool-Aid. There was this scary court case, called Nancy Cruzen that we studied as part of Con Law I. Nancy suffered a traumatic brain injury after a serious car accident. She was in a "persistent vegetative state" of minimal brain activity for decades. Her family wanted to end her life support, the State of Missouri wanted "clear and convincing evidence" that Nancy herself wanted to die.

In Law School, they threw around this court case to terrorize us into signing Power of Attorney's for Health Care. They told us we 20 somethings were at most risk for spending decades of painful life confined to a hospital bed. If we had a brain injury, our healthy bodies could keep going for 30 years. To spare ourselves and our loved ones that trauma, we were supposed to immediately notarize a document saying clearly that we wanted to be pulled off life support if we were "brain dead."

I'm not an expert at Catholic moral law. I do think that our faith allows us to have a Power of Attorney for Health Care and lets us morally sign some types of Do Not Resuscitate Orders. My Catholic faith does not require me to undergo quadruple bypass surgery when I'm 98. I can choose to forgo extraordinary life saving measures if the cost seems too high, and die quietly in my own bed with my rosary around my wrist if I wish.

But my Catholic faith does forbid me from signing away my basic dignity as a human being, even if I'm old. Even if I'm "brain dead." My faith says that I do not have the right to sign a document that denies me basic needs like food and water. All humans will die without food and water. I don't suddenly have the right to deny myself food and water just because I become "useless" as a cripple or old person.

I wasn't Catholic when I made the decision not to take the Elder Law job. I didn't know about all the fine points of Catholic moral law. But God did! God knew that one day I'd become a Catholic. That I'd become strongly pro-life. So in the deepest recesses of my heart, God steered me away from a field of law that would be highly problematic to my still underdeveloped spiritual beliefs.

The Right to Life from conception to natural death is an issue that is close to my heart. At six days old, my three year old daughter Tess was diagnosed with a fatal birth defect in her small intestine. She could not digest or eliminate her food. Her birth defect was 100% fatal. A fairly minor surgery (if any six hour surgery on a tiny newborn can be called minor) had a 97% chance of curing her for life. As her parents, we gratefully chose surgery. On September 7, 2010, the doctors at Children's National Hospital in Washington, DC saved my daughter's life.

My daughter's birth defect often occurs in Down Syndrome patients. About thirty percent of the patients with duodenal atresia also have Down Syndrome. There are parents who chose to refuse the duodenal atresia surgery because their child has Down Syndrome. I can't read about those cases in the Washington Post without vomit coming up in my throat. I'm not judging them. I'm not trying to shove my Catholic morals down their throat. I just know exactly what a newborn baby looks like who hasn't digested food in six days. My daughter turned from a rosy cheeked newborn to a listless green skinned alien who was unresponsive to touch, or sound, or even painful spinal tap needles. It hurts my heart to imagine a baby dying of starvation when a common surgery could help her eat normally for the rest of her life.

We live in scary times. We have the right to kill our babies in utero if the mother deems them too "annoying." We live in a crazy time where relatives have the right to kill elderly people if they get too sick, too expensive or too "annoying." Worse yet, we encourage the elderly to "be responsible" and sign a legal form that consents in advance to their murder if life becomes too scary and too full of suffering.

I'm eager to read a new book called "Five Days at Memorial" by Sheri Fink. It's about the chaotic medical decisions hospitals made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Apparently several doctors decided to euthanize 20 of the sickest patients who had Do Not Resuscitate orders, rather than evacuate them. Sometimes real life is far scary than any Science Fiction Move. Here is the book's link on NPR.

St. Teresa of Avila, you had a near death experience in a severe coma yourself. Please pray for all of us in America to Protect All Life.