Not Invincible

By Mike Light

We were all winded and drenched in sweat, having just completed a high-intensity workout on a particularly humid June evening.  Lying on the grass, recovering, we began to discuss a common topic for us: nutrition and the best place to buy fresh produce.  Our workout group is composed of six recent college graduates.  We are educated, socially informed, and try to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible.  But while we care deeply about our own wellbeing, in an effort to prolong our lives, we never took the time to think about the end of our lives.

Since I started working on the Closure Intiative, I have become more enlightened to end-of-life issues.  Even though I volunteer as an Emergency Medical Technician and have helped patients not much older than myself who were seriously ill or injured, it never struck me that someday I could be in a terrible car wreck, or fall seriously ill.  Yet, more than 30,000 Americans 15 to 24 years old die every year, over half from unintentional injury. In the age of modern medicine, many of these deaths are preceded by invasive interventions and aggressive procedures.  So, lying on the grass, I asked my workout buddies if they had ever considered end-of-life care.  What kind of treatment would they want if they wound up in the hospital?  Would they want to be on a breathing machine? Did their families know their values and their wishes?  Were these wishes in writing? They each had strong opinions about what level of aggressive care they would want to receive and how much quality of life they were willing to sacrifice for an attempted treatment.  Perhaps not surprisingly, they did not have their wishes spelled out in writing, nor had they had serious discussions about the topic with their loved ones – the people who would have to make decisions on their behalf if they became incapacitated.


I was 16 when the legal battle over the fate of Terri Schiavo made national headlines.  Schiavo was 26 when she collapsed in full cardiac arrest in her home.  She was resuscitated but suffered severe brain damage.  She remained in a persistent vegetative state, kept alive by a feeding tube. Schiavo did not have a living will and therefore it was up to her family to decide what treatment she would receive.  Her husband claimed that Terri would not want to live tethered to a machine when her chances to recover were miniscule. Her parents claimed that “Terri was a devout Roman Catholic who would not wish to violate the Church’s teachings on euthanasia by refusing nutrition and hydration.”  These conflicting viewpoints from her surrogate decision-makers lead to seven years of legal battles that caught the national spotlight, and ended with a judge ordering her feeding tube removed.  This tragic situation could have been avoided and Schiavo’s true wishes honored if Schiavo had written an advance directive.

It is no secret that young people often feel invincible.  At 26, Terri Schiavo probably thought that death awaited her far in the future.  So did my workout buddies and I, young and full of energy, having just dedicated an hour of our lives to improving our fitness and health; with the sun overhead and another sixty years of life seemingly ahead of us.  Regardless of the effort we put into maintaining our own health, we should talk to our families about our end-of-life preferences and write an advance directive.  Just in case we are not invincible.

Written by robots= on September 15th, 2011 at
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