Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Mercy: Please Do Not Be Merciful
Sunday I read a dreadful story in the NY Daily News written by Wayne Coffey. The story in question, “Tender Mercy: A Horrific Football Injury, an Assisted Suicide and a Family Trying to Spare Others”, made my blood boil. Dreadful does not convey just how terrible the story by Coffey was. I have low expectations for tabloids such as the Daily News and even lower expectations for sports writers in general. Coffey’s article was maudlin in the extreme and essentially an advertisement for a new book, Like Any Normal Day by Mark Kram. Coffey wrote that Kram’s book was “brilliant” and “heart wrenching”. Coffey’s story and Kram’s book details the life and death of Buddy Miley, one of Jack Kevorkian’s victims in 1997. Like most of the people Kevorkian killed, Buddy Miley was disabled and not terminally ill. What drove Buddy Miley to seek out the infamous Dr. Death? Miley had a spinal cord injury when he was in high-school. Coffey makes it clear such an injury is a fate worse than death. Coffey does not stop here—he goes on to make it quite clear Buddy Miley’s brother, Jim, is a heroic figure and their mother is a saint. Jim Miley is portrayed as a man who could keep a secret and help his brother die.
Coffey’s article is filled with such gems as the following:
For almost a quarter of a century, Buddy had been imprisoned in a broken body, helpless in almost every way”.
Buddy also knew that brother Jimmy, the youngest of seven kids and more than six years his junior, was the one person he could count on to honor his wishes—and keep it a secret. And so begins a story of a brother’s bond, a families heart ache and Jim’s journey to an impossible intersection of life and death and the hopelessly complicated issues that surround them, all of which pivot on a single question: Is it an act of mercy or murder to help someone you love take his life?
It was such an act of devotion, Rosemarie Miley says, Can you imagine what Jimmy went through?
They all prayed for a miracle… It killed him [Buddy Miley] that his mother’s whole life revolved around caring for him as if he were a newborn”.
Buddy would often say I hope God gives me a heart attack tonight”.
From the day of the accident until 1997, Rosemarie was Buddy’s No. 1 care giver, changing him, feeding him, loving him”.
Clearly life after a paralyzing injury is nothing short of horrific. It destroys not just the life of the “victim”, Buddy, but derails the life of the entire family. Jim Miley’s baseball career was destroyed by poor choices and his overwhelming belief he needed to be with Buddy. Buddy’s mother was called “Saint Rosemarie” by the family. Why was the mother a Saint? According to Jim Miley she “was the only one that never left. Others would say I’ve got to get out of here”.
I find much of this story distressing. I do not find the family response inspiring or heart wrenching but rather inherently demeaning to Buddy. I do not doubt they loved Buddy and did what they thought was right. I do question the larger issues associated with Buddy Miley’s life and death. For instance, three years before Buddy Miley’s assisted suicide Rosemarie Miley wrote to Sports Illustrated about her son Buddy in response to yet another spinal cord injury that occurred in an NFL game. She wrote:
My son broke his neck 19 years ago playing high-school football. Since then our home has been hell on earth. The injury has altered the life of our family and the lives of our son’s friends. I am sure the majority of readers love football. I ask them to spend one day with my son.
When I read stories like this I shake my head in wonder. I am also transported back in time to those first rough years when I was first paralyzed. Those were hard times physically and mentally. But my parents were hard people—hard and loving. I was constantly told my mind worked and that is what makes us human. I was no different than any other person. I was going to be held to the exact same standards as my siblings. Not an ounce of sympathy was ever expressed. I was the same person I was before I was paralyzed. I could and should adapt. Life moved on and do not dare feel sorry for myself. All I got was unmitigated support from my family.
Given the above, I just do not understand families like the Miley’s. Deeply religious they took their son to a Pat Robertson crusade and Lourdes, France to visit the healing shrine. My folks were deeply religious too (heavy duty Catholics) but they never prayed for a miracle cure. This, they knew, was inherently demeaning. Prayer was a central component of my parents life but their beliefs were a private matter. More to the point, why did Coffey not see what is obvious to me: paralysis is not the end of a so-called normal life. Well-established methods of adaptation exist. No one who is paralyzed should suffer. Sure being a quadriplegic creates a set of issues I have not had to adapt to. But quadriplegics, virtually all of them, learn to adapt and move on with life. Again, I do not get it. We have had decades to hone care for the human body after paralysis. It is not complicated. Anyone can adapt.
The most disturbing aspect of Coffey’s article and by extension the book by Kram is it sells the idea assisted suicide is and should be a legitimate option. I would ask an option for who? Proponents of such legislation and groups such as Compassion and Choices, contend you should be able to control how and when you die. Proponents claim multiple safe guards will be put in place. Assisted suicide will apply to only those with less than six months to live. All the safe guards in the world will not protect people like Buddy Miley. When a physician or beloved family members ends the life of a person like Buddy Miley or Daniel James and others with significant disabilities it will not be perceived as a criminal act. Instead such a death will be deemed an act of mercy; an expression of great self sacrifice and love. Jim Miley stated in the Coffey article “Even if I went to jail, that would not have changed anything. I would’ve done it. It’s what Buddy wanted. He was the quarterback and he called the plays. I just ran them”. Let me pose one final thought: what if Buddy Miley was not a quadriplegic. What if he was deeply depressed after a serious car accident and in the midst of an arduous recovery that would require many surgeries and a year or more of rehabilitation. Under these circumstances there is no way an assisted suicide would take place. To me, this is proof positive a double standard exists. As such I consider myself and other paralyzed people to be a class apart. This worries more than you can imagine.