A Death By Any Other Name Would Not Be Accepted

Sometimes when writing a posting, one knows in advance that it may be controversial and has the potential to be met with anger…and sometimes that leads one to decide against ever publishing it. Other times, despite the probabilities, one pushes ahead and publishes such words because one believes they need to be spoken regardless. This [...]


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

Sometimes when writing a posting, one knows in advance that it may be controversial and has the potential to be met with anger…and sometimes that leads one to decide against ever publishing it. Other times, despite the probabilities, one pushes ahead and publishes such words because one believes they need to be spoken regardless. This is one of those postings.

On Memorial Day weekend…as well as any time one seeks to stop and remember those who are no longer here…we look for ways to understand death and to reconcile with the ominous nature of our mortality. Try as we might, one is never fully prepared for the death and loss of a loved one…and though time may lessen the time we spend in pain, it never lessens the depth of the pain that we do experience.

When we attempt to understand death, we often draw comparisons in order to help us accept our loss. For example, with the death of an aged grandparent, we might tell ourselves that despite the obvious loss, our loved one had the good fortune of living a long and meaningful life. Unfortunately, there are times when our loss is virtually inconsolable and we’re unable to find a single scintilla of justification. Clearly, we all hope to avoid the latter…but life doesn’t always afford us our hopes.

The death of a soldier is an event that rarely goes without notice…and that is as it should be. Nonetheless, it is also quite troubling…and though we may not take the time to fully understand our reaction…in some primal way, it is known without analysis or discussion that the loss of a soldier requires a debt of gratitude since the life of each soldier is given in the service of the country we embrace. This unspoken, though well understood, sense of debt exists regardless of how one views the conflict that facilitates the loss of a soldier.

When a war is unpopular, or thought to be unnecessary, it creates a heightened angst when one is forced to recognize and assimilate the loss of a soldier. That heightened angst, in my opinion, comes from our natural tendency to seek to justify the loss of life. If one opposes the war, one may well struggle to find the means to soothe the loss. Perhaps the void that internal conflict creates is something we should embrace since it may be the very mechanism by which we can bring an end to conflicts that seem unwarranted. Nonetheless, navigating this highly sensitive terrain is akin to walking a mine field…if one fails to step lightly, an explosion can ensue.

With that said, I embark on a perilous journey…a journey intent on not only exposing the angst mentioned above…but a journey intended to accelerate that angst. To be clear, I honor and value the lives of every soldier lost as well as– every individual and though I infer no disrespect, I realize some may not agree…and so I apologize in advance should my words seem otherwise.

This coming Friday, Dr. Jack Kevorkian will be released from prison after serving eight years for his part in assisting in the suicides of over one hundred individuals…individuals that by and large suffered ailments that would eventually end their lives or that had taken from them the lives that they cherished such that they already felt dead…though by some trick of fate, remained here in this existence against their will.

Assisted suicide is legal in only one state under highly regulated conditions and it remains a very controversial issue. Perhaps that is because we prefer to engage death as a matter of chance rather than as a matter of choice. I understand that argument though I’m not sure it can withstand a reasoned review. Again, let me be clear…my argument is not meant to minimize the religious beliefs that stand in opposition to assisted suicide and I readily accept objections to assisted suicide on that basis alone.

Notwithstanding, I’m of the opinion one can make a reasoned argument that we frequently fail to apply our beliefs about death consistently. Three headlines, one from 1998, and two from this Memorial Day weekend help demonstrate my point.

From The New York Times in 1998:

Kevorkian Deaths Total 100

Dr. Jack Kevorkian has helped a 66-year-old man with lung cancer kill himself and has now assisted 100 suicides, his lawyer has reported.

Mr. Herman died one day after the Michigan House of Representatives adopted a bill addressing Dr. Kevorkian, who has been acquitted in three trials.

The bill would make assisted suicide a felony punishable by as many as five years in prison and $10,000 in fines, or both. It now goes back to the Senate, where minor changes are expected to be adopted before it goes to Gov. John Engler, who is expected to sign it.

From The United Press International – 05/27/2007:

More Than 100 Soldiers Killed In May

BAGHDAD, May 27 (UPI) – At least 101 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in May, the seventh time since the 2003 invasion that the monthly toll passed 100, military officials said.

In April, 104 soldiers were killed, the Web site icasualties.com – maintained by the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count – said. The U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed 3,439 U.S. military deaths in Iraq, and 13 more await confirmation.

From The Associated Press – 05/26/2007:

U.S. Deaths Near Grim Memorial Day Mark

BAGHDAD – Americans have opened nearly 1,000 new graves to bury U.S. troops killed in Iraq since Memorial Day a year ago. The figure is telling – and expected to rise in coming months.

In the period from Memorial Day 2006 through Saturday, 980 soldiers and Marines died in Iraq, compared to 807 deaths in the previous year. And with the Baghdad security operation now 3 1/2 months old, even President Bush has predicted a difficult summer for U.S. forces.

This past week Congress authorized a military spending bill that met with the president’s approval and that did not include any timetable for withdrawal from Iraq…despite the fact that one can argue that the 2006 election– sent a strong message that our elected officials bring an end to the war in Iraq and prevent the deaths of more U.S. soldiers.

Every indication suggests that George Bush will leave office…after eight years…with a significant presence of U.S. military troops still in Iraq. Back in 1998, the state of Michigan passed a law that led to the eight year imprisonment of Dr. Kevorkian for his part in facilitating the deaths of individuals who wanted to end their lives. Now I’m not suggesting the president or this congress should be imprisoned for their part in facilitating the death of 100 soldiers during the month of May…or the nearly 1,000 since last Memorial Day…or the 3,439 total soldiers killed in Iraq since the war began back in 2003.

However, on this Memorial Day weekend, I am suggesting Americans consider this information and put themselves through the process described above…the one which we humans go through when we lose a loved one. If at the end of that process, one feels some additional angst due to the growing absence of justifications for these deaths, then may I suggest that perhaps its time we demand that our elected officials do the right thing? If 100 assisted suicides warranted a law to imprison Dr. Kevorkian for eight years, what would be a reasonable equivalent for accepting the further loss of life in Iraq?

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Sunday, May 27th, 2007 by Daniel DiRito |

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