Saturday, May 14, 2011

Life and Death

Writes Oregonian staff writer Helen Jung:

Wearing shackles and a red transport prison uniform, Gary Dwayne Haugen sat at a table in a Marion County courtroom Friday and greeted the judge who had presided over his 2007 death-penalty trial.

"It's like deja vu," he said in a friendly tone to Marion County Circuit Judge Joseph Guimond.

But the 49-year-old, who has been in prison since he was 19 and on death row since 2007, said he's ready to move forward. He scoffed at arguments from his own attorneys seeking a 90-day delay to assess his mental competency.

"I think it's cruel and unusual punishment that counsel continues to give delays and give postponements," said Haugen. "This is my life we're talking about. I've got a lot of things to prepare for and I'm cool with it. I don't think they should keep getting chances until they get that trump card."

I think Mr. Haugen's statements regarding his death is really a remarkable achievement for an(y) individual, as well as for society -- in that we see someone accepting death bravely, resignedly, responsibly and consequentially -- which should be the whole objective of our justice system, as well as the whole meaning of life.

And he doesn't want to be cheated out of his contribution to society by the courts, the lawyers, the bureaucracy and the ideologues, who wish to use him to serve their own agendas. He wants to own his own life entirely -- and is at peace with himself and everybody else, apparently. Yet everybody else in the "system" wants to challenge his mental competence for having such clarity.

We don't often see people give up their lives with such grace and dignity -- preferring instead to see people hang on at any cost, even long after they have lost most of their senses, cognition and quality of life -- which is the major problem facing the maturing societies of the world. At what point do people say that they've had a fair chance at life and now it is time for that end -- under the best of circumstances, even at the time, place and conditions of their own choosing?

We're all going to die at some point -- but we have too few examples of people dying at peace with themselves and everyone else, and that moment, should not be sullied by everyone else's confusion and ambivalence about life and death. His story is fairly unique but should not be lost, or tarnished with the many other issues that people reflexively argue over as their entertainment because they don't want to face the significance and profundity of such serious matters, issues and moments.

Life is important, but death also gives meaning to that life -- and how one accepts that, or any other consequence of living.

How we define "life," as well as "death," is probably the great challenges of the future, because we now have so much control over prolonging life long past the point of no return, and are into denial about this ever-increasing period of every life now, that we need to establish a few benchmarks and milestones on the journey that is not so capricious anymore.

In the past, we could rely on wars to wipe out a few hundred million, but now, only a very few die that way. So both life and death have become unprecedentedly controlled and controllable, with tremendous unforeseen consequences of this success, that can threaten to become its own cause of decline and even extinction. We've become victims of our own "success."


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