Author Archive

The Words We Choose: What Do They Say About Us?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Last week’s tragedy at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC captured the attention of the nation.  Our hearts go out to the families, friends, members of the congregation and community that are, no doubt, still in shock over this senseless act of violence.

As the events after the shooting have unfolded some people are starting to note of the manner in which the media is portraying this shooter, and how it is different from recent portrayals of violent incidents.  Words such as “mentally unstable”, “lone wolf”, and “troubled individual” are commonly used in reports about Dylann Roof, the suspect currently charged with the nine deaths.  In spite of being 21 years old, he is often called a “young man”.

Contrast this with the terms used to describe Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, or even Tamir Rice.  Frequently in reports regarding these individuals we heard terms such as “thug” and “criminal”.  There was little said about the possible mental condition of these young men (or in the case of Tamir Rice, young child), instead the focus was on their past criminal actions and their actions at the moment of their deaths.  Their youth was often dismissed or glossed over by the media.

Words are tokens we use to convey ideas and to communicate thoughts we have about everything we encounter.  Often our word choice reflects our underlying attitude towards that which we are describing.  For example, a person who fears snakes will often use words that reflect their dislike of them, even when attempting to describe the beauty of the more colorful members of the species, such as the coral snake or king snake.  A herpetologist, on the other hand, might choose words that convey their understanding of these reptiles, perhaps even their admiration for them.  Listening to the differences in word choices can give a view into the underlying feeling of the speaker towards that which they are describing.

What does it say about our media, and perhaps even about us, when we look at the words used in the description of Dylan Roof and compare them to words chosen to describe Brown, Rice and Martin?  Are these differences simply happenstance, or is there a deeper meaning, one that speaks more about us than about those we are describing?

Euthanasia: When is it the right choice?

Friday, June 19th, 2015

I recently read a piece in the NY Times advocating for passage of an “End of Life Option Act” in California that would allow terminally ill individuals to receive assistance in accelerating the process of dying. The story (“Death Without Dignity” – 10 JUN 2015) touched on a point that I have been wrestling with for some time, one that was succinctly made by a commenter on that story under the screen name “HappyCyclist” from Charlottesville, VA.

“For a long time people have taken their pets to veterinarians to be “put to sleep” when the animals have been too ill to live a good life any longer. I haven’t done this with a pet myself but I understand this process is painless and quick. So there is knowledge how to do this.”

In the case of a suffering pet assisted death, or euthanasia, is considered merciful and an act of love and caring for the pet. Those who continue to pump medicines into the animal or subject it to continued extraordinary care just to keep it around a few more days or weeks are considered cruel, selfish owners who are more interested in their own comfort than in the comfort of their beloved pet.

Yet when it comes to humans we turn that reasoning on its head. No longer are we concerned about the comfort of the dying loved one. Now we must use every means possible to deny death its victory, to extend that life just a little longer. This is done often when the patient is in a coma, completely unaware of what is going on, or worse when the patient is experiencing tremendous pain and must endure debilitating pain medications. It is akin to torture, and if we were to subject criminals to this during their executions it would rightly be branded as cruel and unusual punishment.

Are we, in our mistaken and misguided attempt to preserve life at all costs, simply prolonging the suffering of our loved one? Would it not be more humane, more loving, to allow our loved one some dignity in their final moments, allowing them to make the choice of when to die, when to say that final goodbye, and in doing so avoid what so many of us fear: a painful and torturous passing?