Sunday, February 27, 2005

State Assisted Suicide

I was going to leave this alone until Monday; but it just wouldn’t go away. Being that it is Sunday, I work at balancing the various aspects of my own humanity so that my spiritual being has some pure input. The Terri Shaivo court case has some very spiritual aspects to it. I read a comment on one of my blogs that caused me pause. Have we not instilled a sense of humanity into the next generation?

The person that put herself in this situation in the first place was trying to kill herself. She was intentionally not eating and only drinking liquids to keep her alive if even that. This resulted in her brain damage that put her in a vegetative state. All the courts did was a favor to her. She was a vegetable after she did this to herself.”, quoting from the comment section of my blog.

When I was a patrol officer, many times over my career I was dispatched to a “disturbance in progress”. Upon arrival it would turn out to be an attempted suicide in progress. When enough officers had arrived to put the advantage on our side we would out maneuver the dangers, take away the weapon of choice and then control the individual. At great risk to our own selves we would often tackle these people to take away the weapon. It would have been so much safer to just “pop a cap” and call for a clean up crew to haul off the completed “suicide” victim. Why did we not do that? Maybe its because we believe that even the most deranged people deserve a chance at a better life. We “arrested” them from doing damage to themselves and/or others, took them to the local emergency room for treatment which would automatically place them under psychiatric observation and care. It was societies hope that these individuals would eventually come to grips with the issues and come out leading a productive life.

Were there times when I thought to myself, “What the heck am I wasting my time over this piece of garbage?” Possibly, but I can’t recall any off hand. On occasion we would joke about some of the “successful” suicides; call it thick skinned police humor. Someday I will post the story about the Killer Dr Pepper Machine; just not today.

There used to be a wacko close to downtown who would stand on the side of a major thoroughfare, wait for the right moment and then jump into the middle of the street in an attempt to get hit by a car. I got the call to check it out and the idiot tried to get hit by my patrol car. I wonder how many folks went home with their heart stuck in their throats all the way home; thanking God that they hadn’t run over another human being. I took this wretch to the hospital and filled out the necessary forms. I don’t know what ever became of that person. Hopefully time healed the wounds.

On another attempted suicide I happened to be working in the capacity as Field Training Instructor. I had my rookie with me when we investigated the call. The “suspect” had been transported to a local hospital prior to our arrival. The room where this fellow lived had several “ear marks” that lent credibility to the suicide angle. On the floor were several framed photographs of family members, all in a semi-circle where he had been going over his life prior to taking his own. He had put on his going to church Sunday suit, made his bed and left a short note. What had saved his life that day was a momentary flinch when he pulled the trigger. The bullet had glanced the top of his forehead and bounced off his skull rather than penetrating it.

We followed up with a visit to the hospital where he had been treated for an “accidental gun shot wound”. The ER doctor could see that there would be much more paper work involved had he called it an attempted suicide. I did talk to the doctor, who considered it “risky” to his own career. “I made him promise not to do himself in for at least 6 months”. The story would have ended there, at least I would never have found out about “the rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey says on his radio show.

Six months and a day later this poor soul did finish the job. It happened on evening shift and two units were called to a disturbance, “man holding a shotgun”. One of the units happened to be the rookie I had been training, the same one who had a prior knowledge of this fellow. Upon arrival the suspect recognized the young officer, funny what some people remember. He made it a point to clear the doctor of any chance of getting in trouble, “Its been six months now.” He then blew himself up, getting pieces of human debris all over the young officer’s uniform. This officer waited around the station until I came on for my shift to tell me about it. He had regained his composure by then, all the same he took it to heart about how “just maybe” we had let him down by not having him committed. He was right, no doubt about it. We had permitted a chance to be lazy to sway our judgment. Do I beat myself up over missed opportunities to have done a better job; to a certain extent, yes. Memories and conscious awareness are what make us who we are. The fact that this comes to mind at this point in time makes it relevant to the Terri Shaivo case.

Whether or not Terri attempted to starve herself to death became a mute point the moment she came into the care of those who know better. Whether she was committed as a psychiatric ward of the State or simply a patient in a facility able to care for her needs; the fact remains that our society does not assist in suicide. I would hope that this is still important to us as a people.

Can you just see the SOP manual for the Police Department a few years from now if Judge Green’s ruling stands up; “Upon arrival determine if the citizen desires to commit suicide. Discharge your firearm in such a manner as to mortally wound “suspect” without causing damage to surrounding property or injury to others” Oh yes, this will be lovely.

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