In short, Mr. Fletcher is living proof that a dedicated support circle and wholehearted commitment to healing within the medical community can lead to a life worth living, even for someone lacking control of his body or bodily functions.
“Bodily functions” is code for a bright line in EuthanasiaSpeak: Control equals “dignity”; no control equals no dignity. The complex caregiving and machinery that sustains Mr. Fletcher’s approximate workaday parity with his peers was designed with the understanding that no life is without value, which is why the attention he received was unconflictedly focused on recovery, however partial.
But through a social lens that sees a hierarchy of value in human life, such single-mindedness is impossible. Although they are too polite to say so out loud, many euthanasia militants, however admiring of Mr. Fletcher’s contribution to society, quietly assess the resources involved in meeting his physical needs and eye his unique mobility apparatus with calculating, even resentful speculation as to how many of their tax dollars are earmarked for someone who is, after all, not living with “dignity.”
Or, as one of our readers astutely put it, “To religious pro-lifers, human dignity has its origins in our being created in the image of God. To the secular, it seems to have been reduced to being able to wipe our own bottoms.”
Speaking as someone who enjoys full control over my bodily functions, I admit this is a part of what we might want to call “autonomous living” that is good. I don’t really want to think about how I would feel if suddenly I needed help in that department. But for crying out loud, is this really the yardstick we should use to measure whether someone’s life is valuable enough to avoid being dispatched for dignity’s sake?
May I bore you with karate stories? Thank you.
This is the time of year at our dojo when brown belts who are scheduled to test for their black belt in late spring start their intensive training. It’s a pretty daunting prospect for most people – unless you’re already an elite athlete used to testing your limits and performing under pressure, the thought of that famously scary black belt test is, well, famously scary. As it should be – we are not, after all, testing our knitting techniques, we are testing the fighting techniques and physical endurance of martial artists. (No disrespect to knitters; there are many challenges in knitting but most do not involve hours and hours of unrelenting physical pain and humiliation.)
I have gone through that long intensive training and scary test twice (once for my first-degree black belt in 2004 and once for my second-degree black belt in 2007). Now I do my best to guide brown belts through theirs. And one way to help them is to remind them, as they begin their intensive training, that what they should keep in mind after 2 or 3 hours of hard karate isn’t how wiped out they feel compared to when they’re fresh, but how great they look for someone who, technically speaking, ought to be face-flat-on-the-floor-dead from sheer exhaustion.
See, it’s all about perspective. If you compare yourself to when you’re fresh, you’ll be miserable and will not enjoy pushing your limits. You may even be tempted to give up (some do, every year) and never get a black belt. But if you compare yourself to someone who ought to be dead, and you’re still standing, then you immediately start feeling better.
Back to euthanasia. If we assume that our life now, as able-bodied adults who are in full control of our bodily functions, is the only kind worth living, we’ll be making a very terrible mistake. Ask Steven Fletcher whether his life as it is now is worth living or not. Maybe we ought to measure the value of “impaired” life (for lack of a better term) as compared to death, not as compared to completely autonomous life.by