Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ending Life

As Tennesseans vote in this current statewide election, which includes voting on whether or not to preserve the right to privacy regarding women’s making their own decisions about reproductive health, we hear a new debate: whether or not people who are terminally ill have the right to make decisions about how they will die.

Voting No on Amendment 1 will help women, their families, and their doctors make careful decisions about abortion, whereas this newer debate concerns those who are suffering and dying horrific deaths.

Look at the cover of People magazine ( death-with-dignity-compassion-choices). Young Brittany Maynard has chosen the time of her death. Her brain tumor and her move to Oregon have given her this choice. Doctors described her potentially terrible dying process and because of Oregon’s law, Brittany has decided to die with her friends and family on November 1st, choosing not to suffer needlessly during the last few months she has left to live.

Parents’ choosing whether or not to end a pregnancy is fraught with a great mixture of feelings, including agony and confusion. The decision to abort is not made carelessly nor easily by most women and families who face this crisis. This is a heartrending time that greatly impacts the mother and her family.

Some terminally ill patients who have been told that their deaths will be full of pain and loss of capacities, and that medical procedures will not be able to reduce this torture, can choose in just a few states to ask their doctors for a prescription they will use to end their lives. This is death with dignity, death that is far less painful and horrible for the patient, their families and friends.

Both abortion and physician-assisted death are very difficult decisions not to be made lightly.

How many of us have suffered while watching our beloved parents or friends go through a horrible process of dying? In the past, my father and adolescent brother had to hold my grandfather down while he was in the throes of great pain while he died from cancer. More recently, I had to hold my father down after doctors gave him medications that sent him into violent shaking prior to his death. These events leave ongoing scars and distress for all of us.

Human beings take death very seriously, and we all suffer when making such final decisions about life. Vote No on 1 during this current election, and then let’s talk about Tennesseans’ creating better laws that allow for dignity in the death of those who are suffering tremendously and who are actively dying.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

An adolescent crime of extreme violence

A Hopkinsville, Kentucky 15 year old boy has allegedly been sexually assaulted by three men and two juveniles (with more arrests possible), leaving him with life-threatening injuries in an intensive care unit.  These 17 through 20-something year olds also allegedly videotaped the event then shared the video by cell phone. There is so much wrong about this tragedy, I am not sure where to start.  The topics to be explored are gang rape, voyeurism, the developmental stage of adolescence, and violence.  Alcohol and drug involvement is certainly a question as well.

First of all, there is nothing sexual about sexual assault.  This is not gay sex nor any type of consensual sex.  This is a violent action toward a young boy by older boys when the younger boy was perhaps unconscious. Without knowing all the details about the relationship between the victim and his perpetrators, or the motivation for this particular criminal act, we can say that this primitive, gang or mob-like behavior is related to issues of “power over” another, violence, and rage.

This kind of violence happens in our culture that was born in violence specifically with the genocide of American Indians by European settlers.  Our society continues to promote physical violence in all sorts of ways from war mongering in the name of freedom to football as a national sport, rewarding its celebrities with riches while damaging their brains and bodies for our benefit. I am reminded of The Hunger Games, a metaphor for this type of violence: violence as entertainment for the public designed to distract us from the harsh realties of life. We are all somewhat complicit in such violence by our votes, or lack thereof, and by our acceptance of violence as the status quo.

Emotional violence is another matter. Competition reigns in our world. Emotional violence can be extremely damaging, prompting enormous anxiety, depression, fear and paranoia.  These kids, the victim and the perpetrators, are all products of our culture of violence. Each person involved in this event will suffer huge consequences to be played out the rest of their lives.

Sharing the videotape relates to voyeurism and bullying, male bonding, competition and humiliation.  Perhaps some of the perpetrators have been sexually assaulted themselves but this is still a tragic crime.  Rage can result from such victimization. Peer influence also impacts behavior, and explains how even “good” boys can participate in acts of horror when they take their lead from alpha males. 

This kind of gang behavior and single sexual assaults are found in every community in our nation, and especially on college campuses.  Alcohol and drug use increase such violence.  Ours is a drinking society where alcohol is not only well accepted but supported.  Alcohol itself is still legal whereas other, less harmful drugs are not. Football viewers get drunk on Sunday football afternoons, resulting in increased acts of domestic violence toward women.  We also have to wonder about how the levels of testosterone in males influence mood resulting in irritability and increased anger and hostility.

I have not heard speculation about the boys’ sexualities, nor does it matter.  Remember that rape is rape and is about violence not sex. Using a object to sodomize a young boy, perforating his colon and damaging his bladder both illustrate the severity of this particular violent act. How this event has damaged this young boy’s psyche is a longer and perhaps more tragic story as it follows him the rest of his life.  And, by the way, why isn’t there more media attention given to this crime?

Sharing the sexual assault by video is a violation itself. Adolescents’ brains are not fully formed and they have not yet developed the full brain function needed to make good decisions. They often act out recklessly and riskily, sometimes forever changing their lives with poor decisions they have made during this fragile period of human growth and development.  Death and injury are prominent in this age group.

There is no recipe for who becomes a perpetrators or a bully, but there are some characteristics of adolescence and family dynamics that contribute to the likelihood of such violence.  Add in alcohol and drugs, and a perfect storm can arise.

If you know anyone who has been raped violently, you know that this one act has changed them forever. You can’t undo Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Yes, there are mental health treatments, alternative therapies and techniques that can help victims survive and learn to deal with their shame and horror.  And, the impact spreads, affecting not only them but their families and friends, neighborhoods and cities, creating much fear about safety for our young people.  What can we do about this kind of violence perpetrated on our children by kids not much older than they?  Let us shine the light on such treacherous acts and work together on violence in our culture.