Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"The Sea Inside"

The other day I watched a very power movie, called "The Sea Inside." It is a Spanish film, that came out in the theaters, back in 2004. The story is based on the true, life story, of a quadriplegic man named Ramon Sampedro. He was injured in a diving accident (very similar injury to my own), off a cliff, nearby his home, into the sea. After his accident, he spent nearly thirty years fighting with the Spanish government, for the right to end his own life. The movie chronicles his uphill battle against the government, in a country, which is highly influenced by Catholic church. It depicts his day to day home life with his family, and caretakers, as well as the development of friendships, with two key women. One woman, named Rosa, is a local, single mother of two, who learns about his plight, through the media coverage of his case. The second woman, is a lawyer, who is battling with a debilitating neurological disorder, and decides to help him win his case, in hopes of securing her own to die, with dignity. Both women come to know, and love him, and end up helping him, in very different ways. In the end, Ramon gets his wish, despite losing the case, for the petition, to legally end his own life. The movie is extremely well written, acted, and touched my heart, and mind on many different levels. It is a story I can completely relate to, and Ramon's view points, and philosophy on life, are very similar to my own. If he were still alive, I'm sure we could talk for hours on end, about the cruelties of paralysis, and how important the quality of life is. I think if there's a heaven, we might become good friends. I'm interested to read his book, which was published shortly before his death, and am inspired by his tenacity and courage.

One of the things that struck me most about the movie, was the interpersonal relationships, between Ramon, and his family members, and the different dynamics each of them shared. It was insightful for me, and hit very close to home, to see the pain and anguish that his family members experienced, do to his injury, and the different way each of them coped, with having to help him, and also each of their varying attitudes, towards his wish to die. An especially poignant scene, is where his ailing father, who is normally very tightlipped, and somber, says something to the effect of "it's hard enough to lose a child; it's worse to watch a child, that wants to die." It's evident how much his father has suffered, watching Ramon suffer, and the feelings of frustration, and inadiquicy that must come along, with not being able to help his son heal. He is also torn between, his two sons, who argue bitterly, over Ramon's injury, and its impact on the family, as a whole. Ramon's older brother Jose, clearly feels resentment over his brother's life, and care being a burden and strain on the family, and yet he is the one most adamantly opposed to his brother's wishes to die. I found it interesting, that although he clearly blamed his brother for having a negative impact on his life, he seemed most affraid, and hesitant to let him go. I can't help but wonder, and compare my own situation, to Ramon's and think about all the stress, tears, and suffering my accident has caused on my family. Despite their spats, it was clear that Ramon was very loved, and well cared for. In fact his sister-in-law, Manuela, serves as his primary caregiver, and doted on him, as if he were her own child.

Ramon's case became a big media blitz, and caused a bit of scandal, given the influence of the Catholic church, and it's roots, into the heritage, and history of the Spanish goverment. One point in the movie, a Catholic priest, who was also quadriplegic, decided to make it his mission, to "save" Ramon, by going to see him, and try to persuade Ramon to change his views on living life, despite paralysis, and publicly suggested that perhaps it was just that Ramon lacked love and compassion, and that his petition for the right to die, was just a cry for help. Naturally, his comments both offended, and deeply hurt his family, whom loved him very much. Like myself, Ramon felt that this life is not a quality life. He believed like me, that it is a second best, compromise of the lives we once had, that strip of us of our freedom, and dignity. He was not happy with settling for life with paralysis, and neither am I.

It is not that I (or Ramon) don't appreciative the love and compassion my family and friends have for me, but love alone is not enough, to take away the physical and emotional pain that comes along with having to live such a limiting, unnatural way of life. Wanting to die, has nothing to do with lacking love, and/or support. Ramon's family was deeply invested and involved in Ramon's overall health, and well being. He had many interested, caring friends. I too have an abundance of love, and support. I am blessed with a strong network, of family, friends, and medical staff, to support me, and provide me with the best possible care, given my condition, and my limitations. I am grateful for the love, and interest my loved ones take in helping me, and being there for me. Unfortunately, love alone, is not enough, to counter balance the physical suffering, emotional trauma, loss of indepedemce, and losing the life I once had. There is nothing, short of a miracle, and/or cure, that can give me back (some of) what I lost, and make up for all the suffering I endure. Neither is very probable, or likely to occur, within the near future (or realistically speaking, even within the next decade.) I understand Ramon's wish to die, and respect his decision.

Its not to say I think all quadriplegics should die, or that their lives aren't worth living. I can only talk for myself, as did Ramon. He was not satisfied with having to endure the indignities that we're forced to face every day, every second. We don't get a break, and all the love in the world doesn't heal this type of injury. It doesn't take away the fevers, the cold sweats, the lack of privacy, or independence. Ramon's attitude was based around the idea, that each individual person has their own threshold for suffering, and while one person might find satisfaction in living dependent on others, and/or machines that, that low standard of quality of living should not be forced upon those of us that have to live it. After all, only Ramon knew what it was like to live in his shoes, and the personal hell that he had to endure, for almost thirty years, against his will. For me, and Ramon, paralysis is worse that being a prisoner. We are being punished, by being forced to live through unnatural means, against our will. That isn't fair, nor is it humane.

I can't speak for other quadriplegics, I can only speak for myself, about my struggles and the physical, and emotional impacts that paralysis has had on my life. I don't judge people who want to live this way, by calling them crazy, for giving in, for settling, for enduring, despite all the pain. I only know what I lost, what memories haunt me, what standards I hold myself to, and what brings me joy and fulfillment. It's easy to judge, when you don't have to deal with a fraction, of what I (or Ramon) went through, and in my case, continue to endure. No one has to sit every day, battling my inner deamons, frustration, disappointment and disgust, over the way I'm forced to live, but me. I think everyone should have the right to determine their own level of worth, and value, in terms of living, versus suffering. Let me worry about my own soul. Let God be my judge, instead of presuming his/hers/its purpose for my life.

Unlike Ramon (who cleverly had a chain of people prepare him a glass of water, mixed with poison, which he ingested, through a straw, on camera), my conscious would never allow me to jeopardize someone else's freedom (by making them criminally liable), or share the burden of the responsibility, for my death, by asking friends, or loved ones, to carry out, my wish to die. If/When the time comes, that I've reached my threshold, and can no longer continue to suffer, as I am, I will choose to excersise my right to refuse nutrition/hydration. It will not be quick, like Ramon's death. It will most likely, be days, or weeks, of slowly waiting to die. Although it might be painful for my loved ones to witness, it is the only option, that safeguards my loved ones, and keeps all the blame with me. Personally, I don't view my refusal of help, as suicide, rather the natural progression of nature. I feel as though my life is being sustained through artificial means, and do not find joy, or quality, in the lifestyle that paralysis has forced on me. I don't see my refusal of nutrition/hydration, any differently than my refusal to want to be hooked up to a vent, feeding tube, colostomy, or any other artificial life support. Right now, people act in place of machines. Either way, I'm unable to fend for myself, and would have died long ago, if I "left my life into God's hands." I think it's bad enough, I'm forced into a corner, where my only options, are to accept this low standard life, full of chronic illness, and no cure in sight, or have to starve to death. We treat our pets more humanely, and like Ramon, it really pisses me off, that God & religion, have such a strong influence, over laws, in a country where church & state, are meant to be separate.

During his campaign to die, Ramon befriended and fell in love with one of his lawyers, Julia. She was suffering from a degenerate neurological disease, similar to MS, and in my opinion, used Ramon's case, to give herself peace of mind, and as a selfish means, to try and use Ramon's case (in the event the government granted him permission, to die by lethal injection) as a precedent, to be able to end her own life, with dignity, before her disease effected her ability to reason, and/or memories. Whether intentional or not, and despite the fact that she was married, she toyed with his emotions, and even went so far as to help him write, and publish his book, and promised him that'd she'd personally help him carry out his wish to die, and die alongside him, once his book was published. Instead, she backed out of the deal, by letter, leaving Ramon, more heartbroken and suffering, than before she met him. Ultimately, it is a local woman, named Rosa (who fell in love with him, became his friend, around the same time period as Julia), who agrees to take the pivotal part, in helping Ramon, realize & carry out his plan to die. It is ironic, that during their first meeting, Rosa goes to meet him, in hopes of inspiring him to find a reason to live. Over time, she came to love and respect him, and finally understood, that the most loving gift, she could give him, was to recognize his suffering, and respect his wish to die.

Like Ramon, my wish is for people to understand how much I'm suffering, and to also respect my wish to NOT want to live THIS way. It is not a normal way to live. It is not easy, being 100% dependent on others (I find it frustrating that some people could accept & respect my wishes, to not want to be dependent on machinery, but yet expect me to accept being dependent on people). Being dependent on others is in many ways harder than being dependent on machines (which I have been), because there is shame, guilt, and judgement, involved in having to reveal yourself and be cared for by people. It is degrading, embarrassing and humiliating to have to be bathed, clothed, and fed, like a baby. It is extremely hard having to accept help, and share your private, personal space, when you have lived and are accustomed to being, an independent, self sufficient person.

Ramon was right, in that "this life has no dignity." I don't think that it's fair that such a low quality standard of life be forced upon people. I think people SHOULD have the right to die with dignity, and peacefully, if all life offers them, is a life of chronic illness, and suffering. People with incurable, debilitating diseases, shouldn't be forced into living UNNATURALLY long life spans, just because there are resources and means available to extend their lives. People like me & Ramon, should have a humane option, out of being otherwise, prisoners in our own flesh. I'm not saying that everyone in my shoes would chose to "opt out," I'm just saying that sometimes ending a life to prevent prolonged suffering, is more humane, than forcing someone who would otherwise be dead (because they can't care for themselves), to live and suffer.

My hope is that, if I do choose to one day stop accepting help, that those people closest to me understand my reasoning, respect my decision and know that I tried to live THIS life, for as long as I possibly could, for their sake (I do not go through all this Hell for myself. That point has come, and gone, a very long time ago). I hope that my loved ones will forgive me, and know that it is not for lack of love, that I want to leave them, but out of exhaustion and being tired of suffering. I wonder if Ramon's family have forgiven him, and have been able to move forward without him. I wonder how well, or poorly they coped with his death, despite knowing his wishes, and witnessing his suffering. I wonder if there is a heaven, and a God, if Ramon is there, beside him/her/it. I think if God exists, he/she/it will weigh the suffering, compassion, and generosity, of people like myself, and Ramon, and consider the amount of good a person has done, against the bad, and that a loving, all knowing God would forgive people, in our situation, for wanting to leave THIS life behind.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Interesting side note: I did a little more digging, into the back story, behind the movie. I'm curious to know how much of the movie is fact, versus Hollywood dramatization. It turns out, that "Rosa" is actually named, Ramona Maneiro. Apparently, she was arrested, shortly after his death, but released, due to insufficient evidence. She broke her silence, on a Spanish television talk show, once the seven year statute of limitations passed. She also published a book, dedicated to Ramon. I wanted to purchase, and read his book, "Cartas Desde Infierno" (Letters From Hell), but they don't offer it, in Kindle format. I'm tempted to buy it anyway. I'm curious to read it, plus it'd be good practice, for my Spanish.

  2. I had no idea she had written a book, I'm curious to read what she has to say. I thought the movie was beautifully done, though I do not share the same experience, it allowed me a glimpse into what it might be like. Have you watched "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"? It's based on a man's perspective living in a locked in state, Julian Schnabel did an excellent job directing.. Thank you for sharing your most honest thoughts with the world.