Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Highly Recommended Reading

I’ve never met him, but I have to say that Bathus, one of the occasional authors of Adeimantus, is one of those lawyers I trust in a time of need.

In the current environment, or news cycle if you will, the almost universal wisdom is for everyone to rush to a lawyer’s office and prepare a “living will.” It seems sensible. It seems noble. But Bathus has a different take on the matter. They may be nothing more than costly, and deadly, pieces of paper.

A couple of samples of his work follow for your edification:

“Yeah, I understand the idea is to relieve your family members of the burden of difficult decisions about end-of-life care and also to make sure that your own wishes are clearly expressed and honored. On the other hand, as a lawyer I have learned entirely to disrespect the power of any flimsy piece of paper to ensure that people's true intentions will be honored. In the event of a real conflict, whether about end-of-life questions or anything else, a piece of paper usually serves merely to provide additional pretexts for whatever machinations the most manipulative person in the situation wishes to pursue.”

There’s also this about the agony of these decisions. Bathus believes that these decisions should be agonizing. It’s that wrenching of the heart that indicates love is present:

“So yes, my wife and I occasionally talk about "what we would want when the time comes," but those vague and abstract musings cannot and should not, any more than some legalistic document, be presumed to supply an easy answer about what's the right thing to do with my bag of bones in the particular real life situation when it looks like my time might be up. Instead, my wife's just going to have to play it by ear. Like all of life's most difficult decisions, the best way to approach it is not to go into it with preformulated ideas about what must be done, but to muddle through when the time comes.

That approach is definitely a lot harder than just pulling out the notarized form to verify which box has been checked. What makes us think it's all supposed to be so damned cut and dried? Can't we leave aside the legal forms and act in accordance with our God-given humanity for just this one thing? Dammit, it's right and natural that these things should be difficult, that they should be confusing, that they should require tears and tribulation.”

And there’s this conclusion:

“Don't get me wrong. It's not that I would want to hang onto life at any cost for my own selfish sake, but I really do think we all have a God-given duty to keep up the struggle to live the life He gave us until it's beyond question that He has better plans for us. Exactly when that moment has arrived is something that can't be determined in advance according to some dry legal formula.
So in case anybody ever asks you, my message to the doctors is, "You haughty SOBs had better keep doing everything you can to keep my body and soul on speaking terms until either I or my wife tell you otherwise." And my message to the lawyers is, "You bastards just leave us the hell alone." If there's a living will composed of just those two sentences, then maybe I'll sign it. Otherwise, I think a living will is at best useless (accomplishing nothing that would not come about soon enough anyway) and at worst might very well get you killed off before your time.”

I believe that Bathus is right. There was a time when I had a death wish. I don’t now. Like Bathus, I don’t want to hang around any longer than is necessary. After all, heaven is on the other side. But I don’t want my earthly fate sealed by a piece of unfeeling, uncaring paper. I don’t want my “case” resolved by a check mark on a legal form.

If you really care about this matter of “living wills” I recommend you read Bathus’s wise advice in full. It would be well worth your time.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Thank you for this post. It is very timely for me and my family. My father-in-law is in the midst of surgery for a sudden condition that threatened his life.
Bathus is right that such decisions should be made with tears and tribulation. Trying to sanitize the decision making process is trying to purge us of our humanity.
We thank the Lord that after 8 hours my father-in-law has made it through the most dangerous part of his surgery.