Tim Bowers a 32-year-old Indianapolis man who was injured in a deer-hunting accident last Saturday, was brought out of sedation immediately after the accident and asked if he wanted to live as a quadriplegic, possibly with a ventilator, he said "no."
"The last thing he wanted was to be in a wheelchair," Abbey Bowers said Wednesday. "To have all that stuff taken away would probably be devastating. He would never be able to give hugs, to hold his baby. We made sure he knew that, so he could make a decision."
His ventilator was removed and he died shortly after that.
It is unimaginable that anyone could be asked a life-or-death question so soon after being sedated. And it is unimaginable that the hospital agreed so quickly to his wishes without any counseling or time for further consideration.
The extent of nerve damage and repair is something that can only be determined over time. But the more significant issue is around the alacrity with which family members assumed that a life as a quadriplegic is a life not worth living. But quadriplegics do live lives very much worth living. Paul J. Tobin, President of the United Spinal Association, faced the same kind of decision when he, as a young man, was injured: "If given the opportunity at various points after my injury to relieve my family of the burden, or out of my own sense of loss or despair, I might have taken up the offer."
Clearly, people become depressed and despondent immediately upon facing quadriplegia, but within a year their assessment of their own life changes dramatically. In one study, lottery winners and people with quadriplegia were compared. Both groups, after time, were equivalent in their assessment of their happiness.
Not understanding that a life with a disability is a worthwhile life leads family members and friends to think that death is the better alternative. That knee-jerk reaction is based on "ableism," the belief that people with disabilities lead lesser lives and that it is always better to be "normal" than not. But that belief is a dangerous one, and was for Tim Bowers -- who himself applied ableist standards to his own life.
We can mourn for his lost life, even by his own decision, but we need to work to have all people understand that disability is a human condition -- and a condition of life, not death.