A Sad Story

Ruwan Rangana, from a small village in Sri Lanka, paid the equivalent of $1500 to be able to go to Australia. He traveled clandestinely about 3 weeks in a leaky trawler with dozens of others. But when he reached Australian waters, the boat was intercepted by the Australian Navy. A law passed a couple of years ago gives them the right to turn back boats of asylum seekers without their ever reaching Australian soil. This kind of fast track processing, sometimes no more than a phone call to a border official, enables them to say they have met the requirement and can legitimately deny asylum. The offshore fast tracking, however, is decried and criticized by several human rights groups. Once back in Sri Lanka Rangana was arrested, and was fortunate not to end up in jail because he was bailed out for $45, a heavy sum for his family which makes about $300 a month. When the case is disposed of, he probably won’t face a jail term, say the lawyers involved, but be given a fine around $750, something very stiff for a poor family. Now with no savings and no job, Rangana does odd jobs, barely making ends meet. Yet, he keeps hoping to try again to go to Australia despite the odds, because he feels that even were he to die at sea, it is better than to waste away in poverty.

With variations, some far worse, it is a sad story repeated thousands of times in any number of countries. It underlines that immigration laws in Australia, Europe, the U.S. or many other countries, are made by politicians mindful of their own concerns, not by statesmen and women interested in solving a big human problem.

Pre-Empting Laws

Decades ago the tobacco industry developed a strategy to reach state governments in order to get their agenda across. The strategy was perfected by the National Rifle Association. Now it is being used by the restaurant industry to fight wage increases and by a group of corporations in order to better fight common issues. The trend recently came to the fore after the new Texas governor, Greg Abbott, warned cities that by passing certain ordinances and regulations they were undermining the business friendly image Texas has been working towards. Pre-empting the power of local government, as this is called, is now standard practice in several states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina or New Mexico, states where Republicans control state houses. A new law in Arkansas, for example, forbids municipalities from passing ordinances protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. In New Mexico, the restaurant industry says it will support a small wage increase only if the state promises to pass laws forbidding other increases. In Washington D.C. a variation is at work where the Congress is trying to override a law legalizing marijuana which was passed by 70% of the D.C. electorate in November 2014. Given Republicans’ emphasis on local control, critics see hypocrisy in the use of these pre-empting laws. Democrats have been known to use them too, but apparently their practice is more sporadic and not as organized.

Understanding the uses and consequences of pre-empting laws defies easy explanations. That, of course doesn’t lessen their importance because if we believe in the democratic process, these laws are an instance showing us the need to know what corporate money is buying, or as in the case with Marijuana in D.C., one where the will of the people is being superseded and ignored—Both corroding, interfering and restricting the working out of what is meant to be a basic tenet of any country believing in democracy.

More Organ Transplants

On average, heart transplants, the most successful of all the transplanted organs have added 4.9 years to a patient’s life. Those who had a combined pancreas-kidney lived an average of 4.6 years longer. Kidney recipients lived 4,4 years longer, liver recipients 4.3 years, intestine recipients 2.8 years and pancreas recipients 2.6 years. All in all 2.2 million years have been added to the lives of organ recipients in the past 25 years. According to a study published in the medical journal JAMA Surgery, 533,329 patients have received organs between 1987 and 2012. More than half the extra years belong to people who had kidney transplants. Next are people who received new livers, then people who received hearts followed by people who received lungs, new pancreas, pancreas and kidneys together, then intestine. For a layperson such as myself there were surprises. I didn’t realize intestines were on the list of donated organs, nor did I realize the extent to which livers were transplanted.

And yet 579,506 patients were put on the transplant network waiting list, but did not receive an organ. It’s easy to imagine the anguish of those patients and their families. Somehow the fact that only 48% of patients needing organs receive them is a striking statistic. At some point in the future, it is possible that those waiting for an organ without being able to receive one could be a friend or member of our own family. There is to my knowledge no study of what people do with the years gained from being an organ recipient. I venture to say that rare is the person who did not make use of being given another chance or a chance to make their life count or succeed in however small a way. The bottom line remains though that less than half of those who need transplants are able to receive them. We definitely need more awareness and more people willing to donate their organs

Doulas For The Dying

The idea is new enough that there are no statistics as to how many there are. Their duties also vary, anything from arranging all sorts of details such as power of attorneys and funeral arrangements to counseling. Mostly there is a lot of hand holding. Increasingly people find that handling death is too much not only emotionally but also in practical terms given that the end of life comes with many details needing attention, so they turn to what is being called death doulas. Doulas, from a Greek word meaning woman who serves, are established in helping with births, so it seems natural that some would also chose to work with the other end of the life spectrum. There are now private courses to certify one to be a death doula. Some doulas or the organizations they are affiliated with use volunteers, and most charge fees, depending on what is required of them. Some were hospice nurses or volunteers for whom being a doula is a logical transition .When the nearness of death comes to a family, family members suffer in one way, while the dying member usually requires something different.  For many the idea of someone who will be there to guide them through this emotional journey is a great help and, as is the case with hospice, for the dying person that kind of comfort to them and their family can be welcomed.

Death is such a traumatic subject for so many, or at least one laden and fraught with fears that death doulas can, and sooner than we think will, end up filling a niche in our service oriented society. Hospice care, since it is covered by Medicare, at least for those over 65, is not class conscious. It helps the poor like the rich. With death doulas, since it is a service provided for a fee, it does make one wonder if it will turn out to be something that benefits the affluent more than others?