March 22, 2005

Who Will Make Your Medical Decisions?

If there is anything of practical value to be gained from the attention being paid to the sad circumstances of Terri Schiavo, it might be the impetus for many of us to give some consideration to the question of who will make decisions on our behalf should we become incapacitated. These are conversations that most of us don't really want to have. Confronting our own mortality, or that of a loved one, is not a comfortable thing. We tend not to think of these things at all when we're young, and frankly, these conversations tend to become more uncomfortable, rather than less so, in middle age.

So where do you start? Do you have a spouse? If you don't, do you have children, a sibling or a trusted friend who could make important medical decisions with your best interests at heart? How much do you wish to be done for you? Do you want medical science to exhaust every effort, or is there a line you don't wish to cross? Who have you told about this? Did you impart this information during the course of a casual conversation, or have you written any of it down? If you don't write it down, do you trust those closest to you to have the courage of your convictions when the time comes to make a decision that might end or extend your life?

If you think you're ready to start thinking about any of this, the American Bar Association and the AARP provide a couple of starting points where you can get some of your questions answered. In most cases, it's not as difficult as you might think, and you don't even need a lawyer. What you do need is a willingness to give the end of your life some thought.

March 15, 2005

On blogging anonymously...or not

In the interest of giving myself a fresh start on all of this, and in the hope of keeping it up on a more regular and interesting basis...

When I first started blogging (such as it is – I don’t write nearly often enough, a condition I hope to rectify), it seemed quite natural to take on a pseudonym. I christened my virtual self Distorted Angel, a reference designed to tell you just a tiny bit about me, but not too much. From within the confines of anonymity, I felt relatively safe. You are free to judge me, but not too free, because you don’t know who I am. If you judge me, and find me lacking, it’s not the real me you don’t like. Is it?

The thing about the internet that is at once wonderful and terrible is the ability it gives us to be whatever we pretend to be. In the absence of any externally verifiable data, I have to believe that you are who you say you are. You may or may not be telling the truth, or at least not some version of the truth that I would recognize if I met you face to face, but at some point I have to choose how much of your truth I am going to accept. There are, of course, perfectly valid reasons for wanting to preserve one’s anonymity. Bloggers have been known to lose their jobs because of their blogging activities; it’s easier to write about your family or friends if you don’t have to worry about embarrassing them (or yourself). Women in particular have issues of personal safety to consider. The flip side of all this, of course, is that if you’re at all interested in being taken seriously, it helps if you have the courage to attach your name to your opinions.

In any case, the decision to blog under my real name boils down in the end to a matter of ego. A few weeks ago, a fellow Blogcritic asked my permission to reprint a review I had written in a professional newsletter that he edits. I was happy to be asked, and once the piece was printed, he forwarded me a copy of the newsletter. It looked good, and I’m proud of the piece, and realized I would have been prouder still if it had my name on it. So from now on, everything I write here is going to have my name on it, for better or for worse.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.