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Going deeper and deeper into “Johnny Got His Gun”, a couple of things have really been just screaming for me to talk about them, with the loudest calls for my attention coming from the vivid description and extent of Joe’s injuries, and, inexorably, the psychological trauma that Joe experiences as a result of these physical injuries. Joe describes the state of helplessness and dependence that he finds himself in as being similar to “being stuffed back into his mother’s body,” and likens his state of existence to being similar to a baby in the womb.
Indeed, the inability to communicate conventionally, reliance on external machines and doctors to support his digestive and respiratory systems through tubes, and lacking all senses save for touch leaves him, functionally, as a human-sized fetus. The psychological trauma that would foreseeably arise in most people as a result of being trapped within the prison of their own minds, fully dependent on others, devoid of senses, would conceivably be enough to shatter one’s psyche, and truly leave them as a shell of a person, human in base biological structure only, with any and all shreds of humanity that they may have had left being destroyed.
However, the resilience Joe displays in the face of his plight is remarkable, despite initial, unsuccessful attempts at suicide. To cope with the trauma, Joe spends a lot of time reflecting on his past, and during his periods of consciousness, develops a system of communication based on Morse code that eventually leads him to try to get his doctors and military supervisors to use him as an example of the reality of war to try to educate and protect America’ youth.
Despite this request going unfulfilled, Joe is able to channel his own suffering into genuine will to help others, protecting the future generations of his country both on the battlefield and in his state of disability. Joe displays an unusual extrinsic motivation not commonly found in most people. While most, if placed in Joe’s circumstances, would most likely go completely out of their mind, Joe is able to power through his struggle and use his coping mechanisms to remain sane, highlighting his sheer mental fortitude that, I believe, is not common in the general population.
The treatment of Joe’s injuries, and his continued forced reliance on life support, despite initially communicating that he wanted to die, brought up another societal issue that is not often addressed; medical treatment for individuals wishing to die. Many people know of “do not resuscitate” bracelets and similar indications of a patient’s refusal of treatment. However, in cases where the patient’s wishes are not disclosed initially and medical personnel have begun treatment, it is generally accepted in the medical community that the overseeing medical professionals have the duty to provide their best efforts in saving the patient or at least keeping them alive. The Terry Schiavo case obviously springs to mind here, though in this case Schiavo was not able to express herself and her fate was left up to two other parties, ultimately ending in her death following extensive litigation.
A lesser known case, but one that is as equally disturbing as the state of existence Joe is kept in, is the 1999 case of Hisashi Ouchi, a Japanese nuclear power plant worker who, through his employer’s negligence and misdirection was inflicted with such bad radiation poisoning that he was kept alive in a hospital bed, blind, unable to speak, and with his skin having literally melted off his bones, muscles disintegrating, bones breaking, with his chromosomes shattered and white blood cell count near zero, for 83 days. Mr. Ouchi had actually “died” a couple of times during his time in hospital, by way of heart failures, before finally succumbing to multiple organ failure. Early on into his hospital stay, Ouchi had repeatedly communicated his desire to die, stating that he was not a “guinea pig” for doctors to keep alive.
Despite his repeated pleas, he was resuscitated after each of his heart failures to continue existing in a living hell. What right do doctors have to keep their patients suffering against their will through such horrendous conditions? If a consenting adult, in full command of all his mental faculties, wishes to die, he should be allowed to do so. While cases like Joe’s and Mr. Ouchi’s are rare, they represent a big problem. While euthanasia is a very sensitive issue, and not one I would normally even think of touching with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole, seeing the way in which such severe cases of disfigurement affect their victims has spurred me to develop and communicate my own position on the topic.
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