From death in sleep to death in life, I wake
And look about the room in which I lay,
The hospital room where, for mercy’s sake,
I’m forced to stay and “live” day after day.
Not that I have a choice, for I lay still,
A quadriplegic, watered, cleaned, and fed.
They care more for my body than my will
And scoff when I insist that I am dead.
I gaze upon my hands, so limp and vain,
That once could sculpt with vigor and create,
And though my body feels no patent pain,
I suffer more with every passing date.
The dawn and light—I used to welcome both,
But they are now a source of pointless dread,
And if not for Hippocrates’ cursed oath,
Perhaps I might escape this bitter bed.
Some flowers and some friendly banter can
In no way lend advantage to my plight.
The right to live is that of every man,
But what of death? Do I not have that right?

(The above poem is my first stab at following NaPoWriMo’s poetry prompt, today’s being to write an aubade, or morning poem. In this case, I chose a darker tone than most, with influence from Phillip Larkin’s death-inflected “Aubade.”)

Recommended to me by my VC, John Badham’s Whose Life Is It Anyway? is a thought-provoking film adaptation of a Brian Clark play, which offers a morally challenging view into the subject of suicide. After a car accident (one of those sudden film sequences that remind us just how abruptly life can change), sculptor Ken Harrison is admitted to the hospital and returned to health, except for the fact he can no longer move anything below his neck. He jokes with the orderly (director Thomas Carter in a rare film role) and spews good-natured sexual innuendo at the attentive nurses, but deep down he believes his life is over and decides he does not wish to live. Yet when he asks to be released and left alone to die, the hospital administrator (John Cassavetes) refuses, believing he is not of sound mind. The legal battle that follows is sometimes funny, often heartbreaking, and impervious to any hard-and-fast answer for either side of the debate.

Richard Dreyfuss gives one of his finest performances as the bedridden artist with a death wish, and it’s a wonder that he wasn’t at least nominated for Best Actor. Whether you agree with his stance or not, his grief at the loss of his former life easily elicits sympathy, and like his lawyer (Bob Balaban), one cannot help but root for Ken, despite moral objections. The film itself would be hard to watch, if not for Ken’s frequent humor, which Dreyfuss delivers expertly (his “bunny rabbit” voice gets my VC into hysterics every time), and moments of levity alternate with reminders of the tragedy, both past and in progress. The film taps into questions regarding personal rights: If a clear-minded person does not want treatment, do doctors necessarily know best? What constitutes unbearable pain? Can people be forced through such pain on the promise that things will get better?

As persuasive as Ken’s pleas are, they failed to change my view from the start, that he should do his best to live with his condition and not throw his obvious intellect away. His most cogent argument involves his desiring the same courtesy mankind gives to wounded animals, putting them out of their misery, yet wounded animals lack the mental abilities that Ken still possesses. The way I see it, Ken focuses far too much on what he’s lost, his skills and his lover (both of which he dreams of in an unnecessary nude scene), concentrating on the past rather than the future; even if he’s lost nearly everything, he never tries to find something else he can do or find comfort in God. For me, the clearest refutation of his position is the life of Joni Eareckson Tada, the renowned quadriplegic who suffered the same kind of despair but overcame her handicap by learning to use her mouth to paint. There’s no reference to her inspirational story, but it seems that it may have aided Ken in daring to hope for a future he couldn’t see. While the film seems to take sides, the ending is open-ended enough for those of either opinion to hope for their preferred resolution, an impressive balancing act for such a difficult subject.

Best line: (Ken) “Some nurses and I went out for a little midnight skateboarding last night. The only trouble was that I was the skateboard.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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