Something’s been bothering me ever since I heard about it. The story about the Indiana man, Tim Bowers, who fell 16 feet from a tree during a hunting accident and was paralyzed from the shoulders down. His family asked that he be taken out of sedation long enough to decide for himself whether he wanted to live or die. He wanted to die. Doctors removed his breathing tube and five hours later, he was gone. He left behind a wife and unborn child. And I can’t stop thinking about it. Or feeling sad.
My heart goes out to his family and I can’t imagine the gut wrenching emotions they must have gone and are still going through. I don’t pretend to have all the answers here. Not by a long shot. But I’m troubled by this. For many reasons.
It was reported that the family had an idea what Bowers would want because he’d previously talked with his wife about not wanting to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. I wish it had read that they had an idea he wouldn’t want to spend his life on a ventilator. Or live all his days in a hospital. Because for all my love of life, even I can agree — that’s no way to live. I might have done the same. But to report that the family knew he didn’t want to live his life in a wheelchair? You guys know there’s a difference here, right? Because statements like this, as if they are one and the same, just perpetuate the myth that becoming disabled means life is over.
I’m reminded of a Push Girls episode in which the mother of one of the girls admits to having wished the girl had just died because she didn’t think she’d have much of a life in a wheelchair. I hope your mouth has hit the floor over this as much as mine did. It seems ludicrous. To me and probably everyone who knows me or anybody in a wheelchair. But this perception is out there, people!
So I’m going to stress it again to all of you able-bodied people out there. In the sad event that tragedy strikes you or someone you love. LIFE IS NOT OVER. Yes, it’s the end of the world as you knew it. But it’s not the end of the world.
But back to Tim Bowers. I’ve read that his family had a small window of opportunity in which to let him make his own decision. If he’d decided at some later point that he didn’t want to live, then it would be called murder.
This is why I support an individual’s right to die. I think Jack Kevorkian had it right. If someone like Bowers decides two years down the road (when he might actually be better equipped to make such a call) that he doesn’t want to go on, that his quality of life doesn’t warrant sticking around, then I believe he should have the right to call it quits. But to decide that in an instant? The day after a tragic accident?
And I realize this may come as a shock — but doctors don’t always get it right. The day after an accident? Who knows how the prognosis would have changed over time and with therapy and technological advancements?
I’ve met all kinds of people that thought they didn’t want to go on. But they have gone on. Gone on to fulfilling and productive lives that they are thankful to be living. The paraplegic who taught the rock climbing clinic I took wrote in his book that at first he wanted to die. He wanted to hurl himself out of the hospital window. The only thing that stopped him was the fact that he physically couldn’t get out of bed, let alone get to the window. He wanted to die. And yet he went on to become the first paraplegic to climb El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. And inspire thousands like him along the way.
I have a friend who can only move her head (and one hand on a good day). And I’m betting she wouldn’t trade getting to see her granddaughter’s face light up or watching her take her first steps. It’s different. I know it’s different. My friend can live at home and get around out in the world. I don’t know what it’s like to face a future as bleak as Bowers’. Everyone must decide for themselves what in life, if anything, is worth living for.
I guess I’m saying I wish he could have had more time. Slept on it a night or two. Of course he immediately wanted to die. It’s just a shame we couldn’t have asked him later.