Monthly Archives: May 2013

Playing God

Miss Cleo was one of our three cats. She started acting strangely on a recent Saturday night. By Monday morning Cleo was so weak we rushed her to the vet for tests. We learned Cleo  had serious kidney disease. So serious, as a matter of fact, the vet told us her numbers were “off the charts.” The vet flushed her system to ease her pain from the phosphorus build up, then sent her home with us with some special food and medication.

Within 24 hours Cleo wasn’t any better, but worse. She wasn’t eating, barely moved and her cries told me she was in pain. I called the vet who asked me to bring her back to the office. A few hours later I received a call from the vet who suggested we discuss “quality of life” issues. Translation: We should consider euthanizing Cleo.

Richard and I had already had the “quality of life” discussion when Cleo was sick three years ago with liver disease. As a matter of fact, we thought this latest episode was another liver issue and we were prepared to let her go if that was the case. So when Richard arrived home later that afternoon we had “the talk,” and drove to the vet’s office to say goodbye to Cleo.

I approached this event with a matter-of-fact attitude. After all, Cleo was a cat, right? She was in pain. The vet explained that Cleo’s readings were so high that bringing her back to the “old Cleo” wasn’t feasible, and what life she would have left would most likely be compromised in quality. She also explained how Cleo would feel no pain, death would be a matter of possibly a minute, she might lose control of any remaining bodily functions, and her eyes would remain open. All that said, I thought was I duly prepared to see Cleo off.

I wasn’t even close.

Cleo was gone in less than 30 seconds; and while her bodily functions remained in tact, her eyes did indeed remain open. I will never forget those eyes looking at me. I couldn’t decide whether she was saying, “Why are you doing this to me?” or “Thanks for stopping the pain.” Yeah, I know; pet owners think weird things like this when our “kids” die.

Richard and I went home, toasted Cleo and cried. Friends and family shared condolences and told us that, while euthanasia is a tough decision to make, in the end it is in the best interest of the animal because no quality of life remains. A week or so later we received a card and note from the two vets who saw Cleo. They shared their condolences and said we made the right decision for Cleo. Good to know we had the support of the professionals, right? As right as that decision was, however, it doesn’t make us feel any better about making that decision.

As strange as it sounds, since Cleo died I’ve been thinking a lot about people who have no quality of life. I’ve wondered why we sometimes treat our pets better than we treat one another. Yes, I know there is  a huge difference in the ability of pets and humans to make end-of-life decisions. Still, why do we allow our fellow human beings who are in vegetative states to waste away in institutions while hooked up to machines? Some of these folks can’t even breathe on their own; and as far as we know they will never have any quality of life; yet we do everything we can to keep them breathing (note I said “breathing” and not “alive”).

Why?

I respect that sometimes people make these choices themselves before they enter vegetative states. That is, they want everything possible done to keep them on “this side of the grass,” as I’ve heard it said. Other folks–like me–make sure everyone knows we do NOT want any extraordinary measures  performed to keep us alive and we put those wishes in writing. Of course, I’ve seen people disrespect the wishes of their family members, too. Still, when you’re comatose or otherwise unable to enforce your wishes,  there isn’t much you can do about your loved ones’ desire to play God.

Of course, some people might say folks like me are trying to play God by instructing caregivers and family members to let us go when it is apparent that, while we are breathing, in reality, we are no longer living. Fair enough. Still, as I’ve told people who disagree with my choice to be cremated, “My body, my life, my choice. I respect your choices; please respect mine.”

Something I’ve found interesting about end of life decisions, however, is how often it is people of faith who are the ones who do everything in their power to keep their loved ones on “this side of the grass.” If you believe your loved one is bound for heaven or an otherwise blessed afterlife, why would you prolong their pain on this side of that blessed existence? And if you are afraid they are bound for eternal damnation, again, why prevent the inevitable? Suffer here, suffer there–what’s the difference?

I understand my thoughts sound cold and harsh to some people; and in all honesty, I don’t mean to hurt anyone or make light of their decisions. I’ve had to make those same decisions for people I love, too.  At the same time, I’ve watched so many friends waste away and die (including my second partner), that I just cannot fathom why anyone would prolong that experience waiting for a “miracle” that in all probability isn’t coming. And that last comment isn’t so much a denial of God as it is an affirmation of the circle of life.

Here’s a thought: maybe the miracle occurs when we are able to make the well-informed decision to let our loved ones go to whatever existence may or may not wait for them beyond this life.  Maybe the ultimate healing comes when they are released from the pain of so-called “life” on “this side of the grass.”

When it comes our time to choose–and trust me, that time will come–may we choose life.

And remember “breathing” doesn’t always equate to “living.”

In love and respect,

Danny

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Christian Persecution Complex

As most people know by now, Jason Collins came out this week as the first active gay athlete in the NBA. In fact, if I understand correctly, he is the first active openly gay athlete in any of the major sports leagues. His announcement was met with an amazing amount of support–even from the President himself!

Of course not everyone was happy with Collins’ revelation–especially many conservative Christians. That’s OK; we’re all entitled to hold and respectfully express our viewpoints. At the same time, some of the commentary from “Christians” has been anything but respectful; in fact, some of the commentary has been quite hate-filled. And to be fair, not all of the commentary from “progressives” has been civil, either.

Something I don’t understand, however, is how some Christians have taken Collins’ announcement and turned it into a big pity party with Christian persecution as the primary theme. One post that landed on my Facebook page stated it was OK to profess being gay in the military, but professing your Christianity could get you discharged. And while I am still dubious of the validity of this post, I checked out the link for this claim, and the word used is “proselytize,” not profess. In other words, no religious conversion therapy allowed. Another post read: “Tim Tebow gets bashed for professing Christianity. Jason Collins gets praised for professing homosexuality.” Then there was a scripture reference from Isaiah about the dangers of calling evil good.

Chicago Tribune political cartoonist Scott Stantis added his two cents, as well. This week he published a cartoon that in the first frame depicted Tim Tebow telling the media he’s a Christian, and the media tells him to keep it to himself. The second frame is a depiction of Jason Collins telling the media he’s gay, and the media calls him a hero. You can see the cartoon and accompanying commentary at:  http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/taking-a-stantis/2013/04/collinstebow-and-the-media.html.

Stantis states: ” This cartoon is a comment not so much on either Tebow or Collins but,  rather, on the media and the culture we live with today. The fact that  we seem to care more about what a high-profile athlete does with his  privates versus what they believe. Faith often informs a person how to  treat themselves and others around them. In Tebow’s case his profession  of faith was often met with derision.”

First, there is absolutely no comparison in the stories of these two athletes. Tim Tebow is a white, heterosexual evangelical Christian male–not exactly an oppressed minority in the United States. He is not the first professional athlete to profess his Christianity. He is, however, probably the first to apply for a trademark for his prayer pose (otherwise known as “Tebowing”). And let’s not forget the nickname some folks gave him when he played for the Denver Broncos: “The Mile High Messiah.” He received a hero’s welcome when he moved to the New York Jets, too. Although if you want to carry the Messiah imagery forward, Denver was like a Palm Sunday party and New York resembled Good Friday.  And so far, no resurrection. Tebow’s brand of Christianity received far more positive media exposure than it was ever bashed. And I’m fairly certain there aren’t many young men struggling with the decision of whether or not to be “openly Christian” for fear of not being able to play the sport of their choice.

Jason Collins, on the other hand, is a member of two historically oppressed minorities. He is the first active professional athlete to come out as gay. And we all know there are young LGBT people out there who struggle with the decision of whether or not to come out–and not being able to play the sports of their choice is often the least of their concerns. So, yeah, to me Jason Collins is a hero.

The only thing I can see these two men have in common is they are both Christians. Unless, of course, you agree with ESPN analyst Chris Broussard’s definition of Christian–a definition that excludes Collins and a host of other folks, including me. Actually, I consider that kind of exclusion a compliment.

Adding to the whole Christian persecution complex was National Organization for Marriage president Jennifer Roback-Morse, who told Lutheran Public Radio on Tuesday that it takes no courage to come out as gay. Something tells me she hasn’t read the homeless statistics for LGBT youth who are thrown out of their homes once they come out. Roback-Morse went on to say she believes it took more courage for Chris Broussard to say  he’s a Christian and that he believes “sex belongs in marriage and it belongs in man-woman marriage.”

Yeah, it sure takes a lot of courage to profess you’re part of the religious majority, doesn’t it?

Here’s a thought. Maybe it isn’t as much the profession of faith as it is how that faith is shared that turns people off. Just because some people object to what largely amounts to Christian proselytizing–again, not profession of Christian faith–doesn’t mean Christians are being persecuted in the United States. Not praying in schools or before athletic events doesn’t mean anyone’s religious freedoms are being violated, either. And I don’t really care what words are on our currency. Given the war, poverty and various forms of oppression and abuse in the world, do you really think God cares whether or not the word “God” is on our currency?

As I’ve seen it expressed in other places, freedom of religion doesn’t mean just your religion. Or mine.

So let’s all take a step back and relax. No one is trying to steal anyone’s religious freedom. Then let’s get out there and feed some hungry people, clothe folks who need it, house people who need it, and profess our faiths in ways that make a real difference in the world.

Blessings on your journeys!