Case Presentation: Cowart Rejects Treatment-and is ignored

Donald Cowart was a single, childless, college graduate of 25. He had just moved back home after 3 years in the Air Force including a tour in Vietnam. He was living with his parents and trying to start his career as a pilot outside the Air Force. He was a very

active and healthy man.

In July 1973 Donald was severely burned in an accident involving a faulty propane transmission line. His father died as a result of the same incident. From the moment he realized he had sustained serious burns he wanted to be allowed to die. He made this clear to the farmer who was the first on the scene. Donald asked him to get a gun. The farmer said he couldn’t do that. He made his wishes clear to his mother, the doctors and nurses that treated him and he was ignored. He was in total agony and all he wanted was to die. His fingers were burned off to the second joint, he was completely blind and he had third degree burns over 65 percent of his body.

Due to his request to be allowed to die he was examined by psychiatrists. They found him to be of completely sound mind. He was making the decision to die rationally. He did not want to live this way. He refused treatment which resulted in the burns getting infected and more agonizing treatment that he refused, but was forced to endure. This continued for ten months. At this point Donald had lost all his fingers, was blind and was terribly scarred and horribly disfigured.

Donald Cowart is now enjoying life and is glad to be alive. But he still believes it was wrong that he was forced to undergo all that pain just to live. He says if the same thing were to happen tomorrow, knowing he would reach the point he is at now, he would rather die.

I believe Donald should have been allowed to die as he wished. I wouldn’t want to live through what he has. I wouldn’t want to suffer and I certainly would not want to watch any human suffer like that. Especially if they truly wished to die and were found to be competent to make that type of decision. In the U.S. we are offered life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Shouldn’t that pursuit allow us death as an option? Shouldn’t the offer of life include the choosing the time of your inevitable death? If Donald would have had fingers he would have very likely found a way to take his own life. He did make an attempt to overdose after his release from the hospital. He was found soon enough for his stomach to be pumped. He was denied death once more. I feel it’s selfish of us to choose whether someone should stay alive if they don’t want to. We speak of being humane. What’s humane about putting someone through agonizing pain.

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