AN EXCERPT - See the PDF file or the Long Version for much more...

By now Terri Schiavo’s experience should have launched a national debate about how to dispose of nuisance citizens in a manner that is consistent, discreet, legal, sanitary, and (most importantly) humane. While she is merely the latest of thousands of people in the U.S.A. who have been dispatched when their guardians have grown weary or have given up hope, she has generated enough media attention that no thinking person can be unaware of the debacle.

I wonder what I would prefer if I were not clearly dead but were deemed by a court to be dead enough to be finished off in some gruesome way - if I were in Terri's predicament. And not only I, but if I am called upon to concur that a person under my care and guardianship is likewise due to be dispatched, these are a few of the ways I’d consider among my options, for myself and for someone else:

Starvation and thirst – The Terri Schiavo solution. This is slow and, I must believe, agonizing even to a person who is already partly or legally dead. The brain stem is a powerful advocate for food and water, and it is the brain stem that sustains respiration and circulation. For me, at least, I would ask that my guardians consider my will to eat and drink as strong as my will to breath and pump.

Suffocation – Not with a pillow pressed over the face. That would be too dramatic. Instead, this could merely be a plastic tent placed over the head to slowly reduce the supply of oxygen to my lungs. One assumes that I wouldn’t have the involuntary reflex to strike the tent away with my already-dead arms. As long as it was a “natural” suffocation by merely depriving me of oxygen, in the manner of starvation by merely depriving me of sustenance, it would be a peaceful and efficient way to go, and certainly quicker than starvation.

Drowning – Assuming a compassionate intent to attend to the partly dead person’s comfort – after all, we do surround them with pillows and such – nothing is quite as soothing and comfortable as a warm bath. I could be lowered into a bathtub, the warm water could slowly be raised in the tub until it completely covers me, I would inhale a little of it, and then it would be over.

Freezing – This is a possibility that removes most of the worry about the suffering that some might ascribe to the previous methods. Even conscious people “suffering” from hypothermia aren’t aware that they are suffering. (Judges take note: People don’t feel it, as those who’ve been rescued from the edge of death-by-freezing have testified.) They become disoriented – if I were already partly dead presumably I would already be disoriented in the extreme – and then they slip from consciousness, and then their systems quietly shut down. I think freezing Terri Schiavo would have been more humane than starving her.

Buried “alive” (but in fact partly dead) – If I were partly dead but a consensus couldn’t be reached concerning my wishes, I could be placed into a coffin and lowered into a grave where any of the foregoing consequences could take place and no one ever need know which one succeeded.

Bleeding – If I’m already partly dead and my heart and lungs haven’t the good sense to shut down, this may be my first choice of a way to go. It would be quick, and it would not need to be messy. I’ve already donated roughly 80 units of blood in my “life”time, and this would be a way of donating ten or so more units of good blood under a controlled collection process. Then someone else who is not already partly dead but in need of more blood could be prevented from becoming partly dead. If I’ve reached 90 donated units before I become partly or legally dead, then finishing me off in this manner would help me earn the coveted 100-unit pin!

Cremation – The opposite of freezing. This has its advantages because it not only makes one completely dead but also completely resolves the secondary debate about what to do with the remains. I frankly reject this solution for myself anyway, because I cannot accept that I wouldn’t feel it. Cremation, however, would be my disposal of choice once I am completely, 100% dead dead. I am concerned that there isn’t enough land to keep burying people and pets and plastic. Take the pressure off the land and burn me up.

Natural disposal – A very simple solution used by aboriginal Americans, according to pre-PC literature on the American Indians. My partly dead body could be placed onto a platform high above the ground, out of sight of people who might find it distasteful to accidentally glance upon the scene, and the crows and vultures and other hungry creatures of nature could each carry part of me away. Digested in this manner, it would be nearly as efficient as cremation. And anyone who wants a souvenir of me wouldn’t have to settle for a lock of my hair. There are about 206 bones in the body, enough for all my friends to have one after they’ve been cleaned of the fleshy parts over a couple of weeks of exposure to nature. I don’t think being picked apart in this manner would annoy me. In fact, if I’m sufficiently disoriented, it might tickle.

Lethal injection – This would be fine but probably wouldn't be approved by any court because it's too much like punishment, which is what the judge ordered for Terri Schiavo, but we pretend that it wasn’t a death sentence.

Assisted suicide – This is an option under certain circumstances. If I am partly dead, (dead enough to be put to death under a court order but too weak to protest that I didn't commit any crime worthy of execution), but still marginally conscious and able to manipulate something, I might want to go this way. The type of contraption that would make this effective would depend on my residual voluntary abilities at that point and is beyond the scope of this discussion.