January 15, 1999 (Ira Pilgrim)

Birth and Death

We have been led to believe that we cannot come into this world, nor leave it, without the assistance of a member of the medical profession.

Recently Jack Kavorkian, M.D. appeared on 60 Minutes where he was seen killing a man with advanced Lou Gherig's disease. There was no indication that he offered the man the reasonable alternative of simply dying on his own, unassisted by anybody. If a person does not take food or water, he will die a peaceful death in 2 days to 2 weeks. Usually it is less than a week. In this man's case it would have been a relatively simple thing to do, since the people who cared for him approved of his wish to end his life. For sure it would have been simpler than what was done by Dr. Kavorkian. And it would have been legal.

Perhaps Dr. Kavorkian will also get his wish and may spend the rest of his days being cared for in a prison. There is no doubt in my mind that there are better places to end one's days.

Oregon passed an initiative allowing physician assisted suicide. It has a two week waiting period and the usual amount of red tape associated with any law. A person could end his days on his own in much less time.

There is always the option of a bullet in the head, but, while it is instantaneous, it is sloppy and can make things hard for your loved ones.

It is a matter of taste as to who you want around you when you die. I know that the last person in the world whom I would want is Jack Kavorkian. He reminds me of how I envisioned the undertaker character on the Fred Allen radio show whose exit line was, "I guess I'll be shoveling off." Next in line for whom I would not want around me when I die is any member of the medical profession. If it is unavoidable, I would prefer a kind nurse to a doctor. If I was in pain, I would want a doctor to prescribe some medicine to alleviate it, although death is still the perfect anodyne. If it can't be someone like my wife, who loves me, I would prefer to die alone.

Women have been giving birth to babies for as far back as mankind goes. It has been relatively recently that physicians were thought to be a necessary adjunct to childbirth. In a normal delivery, they are superfluous, hence the nickname for obstetricians of "baby catchers." In a complicated delivery, a skilled physician can mean the difference between life and death for the mother and the child. I don't know what percentage of deliveries are complicated, but it is a small number. If I had become a physician, my choice of specialties, after research, would have been obstetrics because happiness is better than sorrow and pain, and obstetrics is mostly happiness. I have watched people and animals being born and it is a wonderful and joyous event. A skilled obstetrician rarely loses a patient. Neither does a skilled midwife.

I suppose that a team of physicians is needed if people are trying to break records for multiple births, which are also physician induced. The word "iatrogenic" applies here, which means a physician induced disease. That is what super multiple births are; a disease. They are dangerous for the mother and the for the resulting children. They are totally unnecessary and should be outlawed. The physician in charge of producing those octuplets is guilty of medical malpractice.

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