Arts & Culture / Mosaic / February 11, 2009

Guest speaker advocates taking control of one’s death

William H. Colby, a 1977 graduate of Knox College, came to speak last Friday on the subject of taking control of one’s own death. Colby spoke about the importance of family and friends having an open dialogue about what they want to happen to them in the event that they are ill and cannot decide for themselves.

Colby said that as a lawyer he has seen the difficulties that arise from lack of conversation, and the problems that poor communication case cause the family of a comatose person. Colby was a lawyer in the Nancy Cruzan case in the 1980’s; Cruzan was in a state of permanent unconsciousness and had a feeding tube, which her family wanted removed. The state would not remove it, arguing that there was not enough evidence of her wishes. It took until 1990 for the tube to be removed. This is the main reason that convinced Colby he needed to start informing people of the dangers of not discussing their wishes.

“[After the Cruzan case] I almost had a social responsibility to keep dialogue going,” said Colby.

Colby has since written two books on the topic, one in 2003 entitled Long Goodbye: The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan, on the Cruzan case and another that came out last year entitled Unplugged: Reclaiming Our Right to Die in America. Colby has been giving lectures for nine years and has given a commencement speech and other talks at Knox.

As for protestors, Colby said he has had them, but feels this topic is important to discuss and encourages vocalizing disagreement. He believes we need more discussion since as a diverse group of people in this country, and is against censorship.

Colby asked the crowd how often they thought patients on “ER” or “House, M.D.” were resuscitated. The answer was about 70 percent. Then he asked how often the crowd thought resuscitation happens in real life. He used a scenario to exemplify the answer. A healthy person has a heart attack and an EMT is right outside. That EMT gets to the person immediately and takes them to the hospital down the street. Will they survive? Even with all those lucky breaks, the person would only have a 15 percent chance of walking out of the hospital fully recovered.

Colby feels that the big problem is that people do not think the situation is serious so they do not discuss it. Also, it is an uncomfortable subject to talk about.

“It was a very informative talk, and now that people have more information they will talk more,” said sophomore Rachel Cullen. She believes this is very important to discuss with parents and family.

Colby was not afraid to voice his opinion on people that oppose his idea. He mentions John Ashcroft whose views are often opposite to Colby’s.

“John Ashcroft and I agree that college basketball is great and that’s it,” said Colby with a smile.

Distinguished Professor of Journalism Marilyn Webb wrote a book entitled The Good Death which dealt with topics related to dying in America, including issues surrounding assisted suicide. Webb met Colby when she interviewed him two years ago. Webb said he is a key guide in helping with the culture and age gap between people in the United. Sophomore Jackie Mares said she is 100 percent glad that Knox could have a speaker on this topic.

“[Colby is] one of the people I respect the most,” said Webb.

Jennifer Lloyd

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