For about 25 years I was part of a medical research institute. The main thrust was developing new techniques and technologies to protect and repair soldiers who exposed themselves to danger in defense of our nation. It was good work, with good people, for a good reason.
Along with my exposure to the richness of scientific research and the wealth of brain power my colleagues represented, I was also able to examine the motivations and ultimate results of human intervention in changing the outcome of life itself. I began to wonder about where it should all end. Were we right to be expanding the limits of human existence? That’s what we were doing, in a way. Historically, war and pestilence had been the factors that determined life-span and population growth. As we (all of us, not just scientists) expanded the boundaries of life through improvements in agriculture, water quality, clothing design, transportation, medicine, and so much more, we introduced an unanticipated problem: over-population. At the same time, we were doing things that now we understand are reducing the capacity of this planet to support life as we know it. Not soon, but unless we make some radical changes now, later will be here sooner.
As I studied what my colleagues were accomplishing on the scientific side, I came to the conclusion that, at least morally, we could do no less than we were doing to compensate those young people who gave their lives (or at least a part of their lives or of their minds and bodies) so that the rest of us might live free. We were honor-bound. But what about the rest? Disease and trauma are part of living, part of the design for living as a world. There is only so much air and water and earth and life. The number of organisms that our small planet can support is finite. We may not know what the number is (yet), and hopefully we will not find out. New discoveries and old threats may extend life and our ability to live it, at least until the sun fades completely.
The question that I have tried to answer (for myself) is where will I place a stop order? I have a living will, have executed (interesting choice of word there) a DNR, and know that I cannot live forever. Of course, I’m not ready to stop living yet, but that time will come, and I have already made the decision that when I cannot live without machines and vast quantities of pills or injections, when life is simply breathing in and breathing out, I want no more of it.
It is not about me. It is about all of us: When is enough, enough?