THE RESPONSIBILITY OF DEATH

DEATH DOESN’T JUST HAPPEN WITHOUT A REASON.

It is 11:45 on a Saturday night and you are sound asleep when the phone rings. You fumble around for the receiver, pick it up and mumble “hello”. The man’s voice on the line is very calm, but the words he says changes your life forever. A quick burst of adrenalin surges through your body as he states in an even voice that your 17-year-old daughter has been killed in a car accident. You are stunned and you feel like you can’t breath. You have gone from being groggy to more alert than you have ever been in your life. You begin to argue that it can’t be true, but he is certain. Her identification matches this address and phone number. The emotion of absolute heartbreak now comes flooding over you and you can barely speak. The state trooper is patient. He has, unfortunately, made this call many times. He explains that your daughter and her girlfriend were struck head on by a drunk driver. They were both dead before help could arrive. There is more explanation given and some phone numbers you are to call but it is just a blur. You can no longer focus on what is being said. Finally after expressing his deepest condolences the officer hangs up.   

As you begin to sob you simply cannot believe the horror is true. Only 4 or 5 hours ago you kissed her goodbye. You were going to spend the day together tomorrow. She was so beautiful and kind and intelligent. She had been making plans for her future and she wanted to be a force for change in the world. Everyone loved her and she had countless friends. She had her whole life ahead of her. For Christ’s sake she was only 17 years old. As the realization slowly sets in that this is not a nightmare but actual reality, you begin to give up. You collapse into absolutely paralyzing grief. A million questions fill your mind. How could this have happened? Who is responsible? Why did it have to be your daughter? What had your family done to deserve this?  

Months later, the days following the phone call will be difficult to remember. You know you managed to function somehow and to make the decisions that were necessary, but it is not clear how you were able to keep going through the overwhelming pain. You spent hours breaking the news to family members. You went to the mortuary and picked out her casket. You endured the funeral itself and then finally you said goodbye for the last time at the graveside. You can remember bending down and gently kissing her coffin and knowing with certainty that this was the end. She was gone forever and you would never see her again. From that moment on you were not the same person. No matter how long you live there will always be a part of you missing. You know that her birthday and holidays will bring fresh pain. You will watch her friends go on to college, get married and start families, and although happy for them, you will not be able to help feeling a certain amount of envy for all the things you and your daughter will miss. Until your final breath you will never understand why her life had to be taken.  

What must be realized is that with needless death there is responsibility. In this particular case there were many individuals who played a role in allowing this tragedy to occur. First and foremost was the person who tried to drive while under the influence of alcohol. That decision was not only stupid but also incredibly selfish because he not only put his life at risk but the lives of countless other innocent people. Also bearing responsibility are the friends he was with who did not prevent him from driving. They could have arranged for some other type of transportation, but they let him get behind the wheel knowing full well he was impaired. They did not want to offend him. Also at fault was the bartender that continued to serve him even after it was apparent he had consumed too many drinks. His desire for profit superseded any concern for the public’s safety. All of these individuals could have prevented needless death by taking action, but they refused. None of them had the courage or the conviction to step in and take responsibility for a situation that was out of control. Consequently two innocent young women were killed through no fault of their own. Their families were devastated and dozens of lives were adversely changed forever. 

This example demonstrates how needless death can occur in our lives. But for those in extreme poverty if happens in other ways. For instance, a child chronically suffers from malnutrition and eventually hunger overwhelms her immune system. She fights off illness after illness but each one leaves her weaker. Finally the hunger ravages her body to the point where she cannot recover and she dies…So, who or what is responsible for this little girl’s death? Is it drought? Is it famine? Is it spiraling food prices? Is it just an act of God – or is it you and I? You may wonder how you could possibly have anything to do with the death of a little girl from hunger when she is thousands of miles away. After all, you would never knowingly harm an innocent child. You love children. However, because those of us who live in comfort in the West have the ability to feed those who are hungry, we have a responsibility to take action…but we choose not to. Why?  

We are all part of the same human family. We are all responsible for each other. Every life is important and each life has equal value. When a needless death occurs anywhere in the world there is responsibility shared by those of us who could have prevented it. The fact that you don’t want that kind of responsibility on your shoulders doesn’t matter. You carry the burden whether you want it or not. Just like the individuals who had the knowledge that a man was going to drive under the influence you know that a child is going to die from hunger. Just as they had a responsibility to take his car keys to prevent a tragedy you are under the same obligation to feed a child. In both cases a death can be prevented by another person if they are only willing to get involved instead of just turning away. Each day you have multiple opportunities to save human life. It is your responsibility to do what you can to prevent death and suffering among those who are depending on you for help. To do otherwise makes each of us an accomplice to tragedy.  

ANYTIME AN INNOCENT PERSON DIES BECAUSE OF THE NEGLECT OF SOMEONE ELSE, IT IS MORALLY WRONG.

WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHERS.

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