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Can't buy me love

If your loved ones could inherit more from you if you died by a certain date, would you kill yourself? Amelia devours a recent news article on money, politics, and end-of-life decisions.
"Mommy, why don't we let the nurse feed Grandpa anymore?"

"Because, Sweetie, it's going to take some time for the starvation to kick in, and we really need that to happen before the new year comes."

"Why, Mommy?"

"Because when Grandpa dies, we're going to get all his money. But if he doesn't die soon, we're going to have to pay big taxes on it in January."

"But won't he be hungry?"

"Well, yes, Baby, but before he slipped into that coma, he told me that he loves you very much. And that probably means he would rather the money go to us than to the tax-man. You know, you could finally get that new video game system you've been asking for …"

"But I'd rather keep Grandpa, Mommy."

"Well, Darling, I would too, but Congress didn't vote the right way."

* * *

It's an unsettling conversation that experts are hoping won't take place toward the end of this year. It's ironic, too, given that last year on New Year's Eve, just moments before midnight, the dialogue might have gone something a little more like this:

"Shock him again, damn it! Keep him alive five more minutes or I'll sue you for malpractice—I will NOT let you pronounce him dead before the federal estate tax lapses!"

The Wall Street Journal calls it "a complex calculus with unknown variables" (in "Too Rich to Live?" 10 July 2010). This calculus, naturally, is referring to whether or not attempts should be made to hasten the death of wealthy individuals in order to escape the potential imposition of a hefty estate tax on the inheritance they'll leave behind. Last year, it appeared to be financially advantageous for rich folks to stay alive until after the clock chimed twelve on January first. Depending on what happens in Congress over the next few months, though, the situation may be on the verge of reversing itself, making it advantageous to die anytime prior to the ringing in of 2011, while the status of the estate tax is currently still in limbo.

All sorts of questions are being raised now. Wealthy people who foresee themselves possibly dying in the next year are contemplating suicide, so as to hand over their estates while there's still a chance of them being tax-free. Heirs of wealthy people on the brink of death are considering different questions, including whether to file a DNR order on a loved one's behalf, or even to "pull the plug," so as to knock off the rich guy before that pesky tax situation changes yet again.

Of course, although the questions have officially been raised, no one is officially sanctioning acting upon them. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal in the same article: "Estate planners and doctors caution against making life-and-death decisions based on money."

Finally we're hearing some good, solid moral advice from the secular world. People: If you're thinking of committing suicide because it might be a good moneymaking strategy for your survivors, or if you're thinking of killing off your sick old relatives so you can secure yourself a larger inheritance, know that EXPERTS WOULD ADVISE YOU TO RECONSIDER.

Normally, I would address an issue like this from the Christian standpoint, arguing that the act of hastening death, whether one's own or someone else's, is wrong no matter how you slice it. I could also approach this from the standpoint of politics, arguing that the tax policy should be one way or another, thereby making the question of "whether to do it" much simpler to answer. I think I'm going to call this one, however, from the pulpit of common sense.

No one knows, yet, what's going to happen with this tax. Why are people getting so worked up over something that's still very uncertain? Also, no one knows how much time anyone has left. Death might not be as imminent as some people think, so maybe try to stick around (or give Grandpop the chance to stick around) another year or two if God is willing, and see whether this tax issue might not disappear again. Stranger things have happened, both in legislation and in the universe.

Moreover, it's only money that's at stake here. Yes, everyone needs money, and yes, more is better—but is any amount of cash really more deserving of sanctity than human life? There are people everywhere facing all kinds of diseases but fighting to stay alive at the expense of everything from their money to their fundamental religious values. It's a slap in their faces even to be discussing suicide or euthanasia as investment strategies. There are also people struggling with depression, which is far more troublesome than the prospect of losing a chunk of an estate already valued at over a million bucks, who wake up every single morning and fight tooth-and-nail to not kill themselves. It takes every ounce of their courage to remain alive, while other people are simultaneously trying to muster up the courage to slit their wrists because it seems the frugal thing to do. It's a toss-up as to who's more psychologically diseased here.

Our contemporary society is clearly drunk out of its mind, thanks to an intoxicating combination of entitlement and impatience. If it weren't, we wouldn't be seeing articles like this in respectable newspapers. Our morals have degenerated, apparently, to the point not only of questioning whether we have the right to swap life for financial gain, but of demanding an answer to that question right now; we can't even wait to see what happens in terms of legislation, let alone how long God wills any of us to live. I don't even know what to say, other than "Lord have mercy." In fact, I think I'll leave it at that.