Monday, August 9, 2010

"Low Quality of Life" = Not Deserving of Life Itself?

As I predicted, my learning experience from DC is not over with the conclusion of the Academy! 
On our way home, we spent the night with a long-time friend of the family: a man by the name of Devin who my parents met in college. I remember seeing pictures of Devin and I when I was a baby, but I was too young to really remember him, and now I was finally getting to really meet this special man who I had heard so much about.

During the last week of the Academy, we learned about how the medical field is starting to try and classify people who have a "low quality of life" as not worth living. People who are thus classified are now considered to merit the denial of lifesaving medical treatment, food and fluids, in order to hasten death and "get rid of the hassle and cost." Doctors should determine what level of care is necessary, not whether or not to provide basic care at all. We heard story after story of doctors deciding independently of families (and usually against patient's wishes) to "pull the plug" when the life was deemed no longer worth living. These stories did not just include "old people" - they ranged from infants with disabilities to teenagers who had experienced trauma.These determinations are not based on scientific medical fact about the estimated life expectancy: these are completely subjective standards that are simply value judgments, completely degrading the sanctity of human life. Who are is a doctor to decide whose life is worth living? What is scary is that 4/5 of the US do not have laws that protect patients from doctors who will hasten death in order to reduce cost if one's life is deemed no longer worth living.

To the casual observer, my friend Devin is man who would be considered to have a "low quality of life". He was born with 2 club feet, none of his four joints (elbows or knees) will bend, and his hands and fingers are twisted severely inward. He has never been able to walk without the assistance of crutches and never will. He wears special shoes with braces that allowed him to use crutches to throw his weight forward, until a few months ago when blood clots forced him to stop using the crutches to walk long distances (he's not supposed to be using them at all, but he cheats and uses them anyway to get to and from the car). He has been waiting for nine months a very special motorized wheelchair in order to even get around his house. Hopefully it will arrive soon and give it an enormous improvement in access and mobility. He can't use a regular wheelchair because he can't bend his arms in order to spin the wheels. Devin's life is FAR from worthless

When he was born in 1965, the doctor shook his head in disgust.. He suggested that his parents throw him in a garbage can and just forget about him. But even though his parents didn't understand why their son had so many physical deformities, and even though they knew that Devin's physical condition would make life challenging for the entire family - hey firmly believed that he was their responsibility and they would do everything to the best of their ability to provide for their 7th son. Dealing with Devin's problems was no small feat - he was born into rural Pennsylvania farming family with few resources or medical assistance close by - but his parents made sacrifices to get Devin the proper treatment. (even though it included 4 years in a hospital as a baby that was several hours away. They visited as often as possible - once a month). Devin's life is FAR from worthless.

Extremely smart, a tutor recognized his talent in 6th grade and urged him to continue in his education. Devin eventually entered college, attending Colorado State and majoring in Wildlife Biology. And that's where he met my parents, and through the campus ministry there became a Christian. For the last 20 years, he has faithfully worked for the US Forestry Service. He loves his job and they love him. Devin's life is FAR from worthless.

There's something you have to know about my friend Devin. He never, ever gives up. He finds a solution to any challenge. Since he can't use his hands to feet himself, he asks for his plate to be placed on a tower of boxes on the table so that it is mouth level. He has attaches his toothbrush and his cellphone on sticks so that he can hold it in his arm as he talks on the phone or brushes his teeth. He actually bought a truck 10 years ago that was customized just for him so that he could drive it with a joy stick for the right hand and a control box that is mounted on the door for the AC/turn signals/windshield wipers, etc. Going on road trips and exploring is his favorite hobby, because he is finally not bound by his limited mobility: he has traveled to over 40 of the states. He loves to read, and has now discovered the Facebook so that he can easily reconnect with his friends all over the country without ever having to leave his chair. Devin's life is FAR from worthless.

We laughed together, shared memories, stories and jokes, got a spin up and down West Virginia's hilly roads in Devyn's truck and just enjoyed being together. Spending time with Devyn for just evening deepened my understanding of the verse that says "Nothing is impossible with God." Devyn, by the world's standards, should have every right to be depressed and stay inside wasting away because of his very severe challenges. Instead he faces each day head on, accepts the challenges as they come without complaining, and then adapts - finding a new way to accomplish tasks that seem ordinary and simple to us - eating, walking, typing on the computer, brushing one's teeth, getting into the car, buckling one's seat belt.... Ready with a laugh, a smile, or a hug (where you lean over and hug him while he leans into you with his head), Devin's life is FAR from worthless. 
My friend Devin is a perfect flesh and blood example to me that ALL life is sacred - even if the body itself is not perfect... If he ever has to go to the hospital, should he be put to death with the denial of life-saving medical treatment and food and water, because his "quality of life" is low? NO! What does quality of life even mean? By some standards, Devin could probably have a higher quality of life than most people - he appreciates the little things of life and is grateful for the gift to live another day. Every human, no matter the condition or the age or the stage of the development deserves our respect and honor.

Thank you Devin for reminding me of this important truth ... and for being an incredible man of courage and integrity who isn't afraid to try again and again AND again. I want to be like you when I grow up and never lose sight of what is truly important in life.
How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life, you will have been all of these. ~GWCarver

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you 100% about Devin. He is, and always has been, a tremendous example and encouragement for me. Grandpa and I love him dearly. Thanks for sharing his story.