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« What Will We Know on November 5? | Main | Life of integrity »

October 23, 2008

’You Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying’

Matt200 Daniel James bought a one-way ticket to Switzerland, where he made the decision to not live past his 24th year.

A little more than a year after a rugby accident that dislocated his spine, leaving him paralyzed, James decided to take his life. Not even the coaxing of a fellow rugby paraplegic could change his mind. With the full support of his parents, a physician, and the Swiss government, he was admitted to a clinic on September 12, where it is believed he became the youngest person from the UK to have committed physician-assisted suicide in Switzerland.

He didn't enter the sport unknowingly. Rugby is considered one of the most dangerous sports today. According to the Telegraph, such accidents happen to three or four players each season. It's what they call a "catastrophic injury," which is damage to the brain or spinal cord. And yet many survivors choose to live with it. Players like Roger Addison.

Addison was another promising new face in the rugby world. But in 1966, the then 21-year-old Pontypool player was also paralyzed from a scrum. Forty-two years later, he battles on through life surrounded by a supportive family and hospital staff. An official at his old rugby club, Arthur Crane, told the Times Online, "Roger has this huge belief that he is here for a purpose. He has been an inspiration." (Read more here.)

Matt Hampson is another rugby paraplegic survivor who actually met with James shortly before his death. His story about meeting and trying to convince James to keep his life is riveting. (Occasional profanity.) He is paralyzed from the neck down and requires a ventilator to breathe, while James was paralyzed from the chest down, but could still push himself around.

But Hampson refuses to judge James's decision. Instead, he shared his story of living. He spoke of his first few weeks as the hardest:

Those first nights and weeks and months in hospital are as close as it gets to hell, as you struggle to come to terms with the cruelty of the hand you've been dealt. But soon there's a choice to be made; the same choice that Andy faced in Shawshank: "You get busy living or get busy dying." Me? I choose to live.

Hampson is busy living life, enjoying the simple pleasures of friends, family, and food. He also uses his time raising money for spinal care (for himself and others), coaching at Oakham School, writing a column, and running a trust.

Many following James' story have quickly jumped to judge him for his decision to take his life. In fact, some even took the issue to authorities. James' family had little patience for a well-meaning social service worker who is considering charging the parents in allowing the suicide (and an argument is to be made there). James' family argued that this woman has no idea what he or their family went through. His mother Julie James told journalists, "This was his right as a human being. Nobody, nobody, should judge him or anyone else."

Hampson echoes the James family: "His death was an extremely sad loss for his family, friends and all those who care for him but no doubt a welcome relief from the 'prison' he felt his body had become and the day-to-day fear and loathing of his living existence."

I would argue otherwise. While I cannot identify completely with James' or Hampson's physical condition or the pain the James family went through, I know there are times when life does not feel worth living and you feel limited by your surroundings -- even suffocated. Yes, sometimes life throws us a curve that we did not expect or want; sometimes it's painful. But that doesn't give us a right to take it. Life is given as a gift; it is not ours to take. While I can respect Hampson's choice not to judge, one could wish that the James family had spoken more words of life and urged him to take Hampson's advice and get busy living.

In fact, I think we all could learn a thing or two from Matt Hampson.

(Image © The Telegraph)

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Not to belittle James' suffering, but, to me, it seems like an insult to kill yourself when folks like Hampson are living full lives at even less capacity. Not to mention, this guy: http://thepoint.breakpoint.org/2007/05/life_without_li.html


Having argued with my son about this issue after his accident, I can rather confidently assert that the person who chooses suicide thinks only of the value of their life *to themselves*. I.e., "my life has no value to other people" or "I don't care if it has value to others (because I don't really care about others)". Several times I brought my son up short by reminding him of those outside his immediate family who would be devastated if he took his life.

Theologically, the person who thinks that suicide is better than life is thinking that they know as much as God. They've run the numbers, and they know for certain that what the future holds is not good. They also know that their life cannot have a positive impact on anyone else. Stated this way, most of us can see the colossal arrogance of such a position.

After all, just look at how inspired we feel by the example of Matt Hampson. (Puts that lousy commute to work in perspective, doesn't it?) When someone kills themselves, they deprive everyone who *might have known them or known about them* of the opportunity. *That's* why suicide is illegal.

My wife and I were so transformed by meeting some of her patients who died from cancer after great suffering. I thank God they fought long enough to give us that gift. I hope my son continues to do the same.


What happens after you (with a sound mind) commit suicide is far closer to hell than being in a hospital!


I question whether anyone committing suicide is of sound mind...


Matt wrote: "I question whether anyone committing suicide is of sound mind..."

Here in Oregon, a doctor who assisted in a suicide would be liable for malpractice if the patient was /non compos mentis/. Physician-Assisted Suicide would be murder without such a safeguard.

But we have quite a few who jump off bridges, including one that's not over water but is above the road in front of a business where several of my friends used to work. (Not a nice way to start your Monday morning.) And if the police catch someone about to do that, off they go to the looney bin.

So the jumpers are insane, but the PASs aren't. Go figure.

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