Brian Keaney

Tag: Death

The final ride

Here in the Hub of the Universe and surrounding environs, there is a debate ongoing about the merits of a bill that would allow doctors to write prescriptions to kill their patients.  Not all patients and all the time, but those who are suffering from a terminal illness and wish to call it quits.

I have a tough time getting worked up about it either way.  On the one hand, I say that if you want to shuffle off this mortal coil, who am I to say you should be forced to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?  On the other hand, I know that if I saw a distraught looking man standing on the precipice ready to jump, I’d do whatever it took to stop him.


Still, these are people who are likely in great amounts of pain, and are in all likelihood going to die soon anyway.  Additionally, it’s not as if Billy Costigan will be asking his doctor, “Why don’t you just give me a bottle of scotch and a handgun to blow my fucking head off?”  Presumably their deaths would be a little more dignified than that.

Still, I am ultimately pursuaded that the state should only be sanctioning death in the rarest of rare cases, such as during a just war, or when society has no other way to protect itself.  Even in other times when a death may be morally justified, it still should not receive the approbation of the state.  If every human life has an intrinsic value, and I believe it does, then society should not be condoning any taking of it.

I was also pleased to see in the press an argument made with a philosophical flair that is all too rare in the General Court.

“I think we as a society, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, using our intellect and our ingenuity and combined energies, we define ourselves not by allowing our citizens to die with dignity but by empowering our citizens to live with dignity while they’re dying,’’ said state Representative John Rogers, Democrat of Norwood. “And in that distinction, we define ourselves as a great, humane society.”

I do appreciate Rep. Rogers’ distinction, and hope that it carries weight with his colleagues.

On a related note, some time ago I noted in this space that

I’ve often said I don’t want to die an old man in my bed.  I’d much rather go out in a blaze of glory when a bolt on the world’s fastest roller coast snaps, or by falling off a 500 foot cliff after surmounting Everest.

Little did I know that I might be on to something.  In the roller coaster scenario, I had anticipated dying in a horrific accident that would likely leave tens dead, hundreds bereaved, and thousands scarred.  It need not, however, if the coaster itself is designed to kill you.

If ever built, the Euthanasia Coaster would consist of a 12-car train capable of holding a total of 24 passengers. Riders would climb 1670 feet before dropping down an equal distance on the other side, which would result in the train traveling at 220 mph. The drop leads to the first of seven clothoid inversions which get smaller and smaller before a sharp turn returns the train to the loading platform.

For a total of 60 seconds, passengers would experience 10 g forces, enough to incite cerebral hypoxia, or lack of oxygen supply to the brain. The first two loops are designed to be lethal, while the additional five are added for good measure.

Those on board would feel no pain, but rather experience gray out, tunnel vision, and eventually black out as they lose consciousness thanks to the speed in which they enter the coaster’s several inversions.

Fortunately, the coaster is “[m]ore of a tongue-in-cheek social statement than a serious project.”  I can only imagine the battles on Beacon Hill over permitting for that thing, but man, what a way to go.


Going out with a bang

I recently accepted a position of some responsibility with an organization that that does much good work in the world and one where I am proud to be a member (so I’m not willing to ridicule them by name).  That said, as I’ve moved up the organizational ladder, I’ve been somewhat amused and somewhat frustrated with how seriously the people at the upper levels take themselves.  At a recent meeting there was a lengthy discussion on how people in my distinguished position should always ensure that we are seated in a position of honor at all events, or in the front of the line of processions –  ahead of these types and only behind those few others.

Bobby Kennedy's gravesite

Please.  I am well aware of my own insignificance in the universe.  If someone reserves a seat for me I’ll take it, but I’m not going to lower myself to clamoring for it, even if it means debasing my lofty title by sitting in the back.

My own insignificance is one reason I’ve always said I don’t want an elaborate service or expensive measures taken when I die.  The idea of spending thousands of dollars on embalming and gold lined coffins is absurd.  Put me in a square pine box and throw some dirt on me… after my organs are harvested and med students have a chance to hack away at my corpse for practice.

On my grave, I want nothing more than what Bobby Kennedy asked for: a plain white cross.  I figure that by the time it rots away I’ll have been forgotten anyway, so why bother with an expensive and permanent tombstone?  Actually, I wouldn’t even mind being buried at sea.  I love the ocean, and I’ve always liked the prayer where you commit the soul to God and the body to the sea.

My least preferred way, up until the other night, was cremation.  It’s just never appealed to me, though having my ashes scattered over the Atlantic does sound better than being buried in a hole.   What changed was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, a Stuff You Should Know episode on cremation.  After going through an explanation of how cremation works and a warning to stay away from less than reputable purveyors of the craft – and a reference to The Big Lebowski (And so, Theodore Donald Karabotsos, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, which you loved so well.) – Josh and Chuck mention that Hunter Thompson had his ashes mixed in with fireworks and then launched over his ranch.

At the already increased risk of sounding like a young person who has thought entirely too much about death, I’ll mention here that I’ve often said I don’t want to die an old man in my bed.  I’d much rather go out in a blaze of glory when a bolt on the world’s fastest roller coast snaps, or by falling off a 500 foot cliff after surmounting Everest.

This fireworks idea has got me thinking, though.  Now, even if I do end up old and decrepit in my final days, I can still go out with a bang, literally, if not figuratively.  More than that, I’m well aware that wakes and funerals are for the sake of the living, not the dead.  If my funeral can bring a smile to someone’s face, that’s well worth the cost of the life insurance needed to pay for it.

The photo above by Lode Vermeiren is used under this Creative Commons license.

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