Thursday, February 14, 2013

Word of the Day: EUTHANASIA

No doubt the title of this blog entry got your attention.  "Euthanasia" is a loaded word, emotionally packed on both sides of the issue.  Here in America, that word still invokes memories of news stories involving Dr. Jack Kevorkian (aka "Dr. Death") and his administering of assisted suicides to patients deemed terminally ill and who wanted their suffering to end during the 1990's.  The idea of death with dignity, including Death with Dignity laws having been passed in Washington state and Oregon, was, and remains, the impetus for assisted suicides.

In this entry, however, I want to focus on a story out of Belgium that took place two months ago, but just recently came to my attention.  It's the story of twin brothers, Marc and Eddy Verbessem, who were euthanized late last year.  The 45-year-old twins were already deaf when they learned they were also beginning to go blind.  It was their deafness and pending blindness that were their reasons for petitioning to be euthanized. 

You read that correctly: their deafness and blindness -- pending blindness, that is -- was the basis for their argument in favor of euthanasia for both of them.  Apparently the twins were so close, growing up together and living together in their adult life, that felt they had no other option since they were so emotionally distraught about their deteriorating situation.  As Belgium is one of just three countries that allow for euthanasia on non-terminal cases -- Switzerland and the Netherlands are the other two -- the twin brothers looked for a hospital that would honor their request.  Initially turned down, their request was finally accepted, following a two-year search.  Once they received confirmation, family noted that they were relieved their suffering would end soon.

Marc and Eddy Verbessem were euthanized on December 14, 2012.

The usual understanding of euthanasia is the peaceful ending of someone's life who is suffering from a terminal illness or whose quality of life is irreversibly affected in a negative manner.  It is also known as mercy killing.  In the case of the Verbessem brothers, I'm wondering about the illness that reports say they had.  I haven't seen what the illness was, so I am assuming it had something to do with their loss of hearing, their loss of sight, or both.  I'm also wondering about their quality of life.  They would have to become dependent due to the loss of those two senses, something they did not want. 

What appears from the reporting on this story as the real tipping point for the brothers was the knowledge that they would not only be unable to hear each other, but would also be unable to see each other.  That thought was their ultimate unbearable weight.  That thought was the catalyst for their decision to end their lives.

I neither presume to know the depth of emotional distress the brothers experienced, nor do I feel it is appropriate for me to condemn their decision.  It is also important to remember here the special bond that twins have for each other and how that must have played a part in this.  All I can offer here is simply my agreement or disagreement with their decision, while acknowledging my lack of access to inside their brains.

I do believe the loss of any of our five senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing) is never an easy thing with which to deal, let alone live with it.  To lose more than one sense is hardly easily dismissed, so I know they did not have an easy burden.  Nonetheless, I would offer my disagreement with their decision.  My disagreement is not, and cannot be, based in knowing better than they do.

My disagreement is with their basis for requesting euthanasia.  While I am certain that they were extremely distraught, I feel ill at ease with their being unable to bear not being able to see each other as a reason for ending their lives.  I can understand about their having to become dependent, as I care for my legally blind mother who is dependent on me, but at forty-five years of age, they could have been able to learn to have some sort of a functional life.

I also disagree with Belgium, as well as Switzerland and the Netherlands, making euthanasia available to non-terminal cases.  It would seem to require that any non-terminal individuals requesting for euthanasia should be put under an even stricter scrutiny, although I believe that if it is legal and offered, then it really should be reserved for solely terminal cases.

I am not arguing pro or con regarding euthanasia, but I feel that something which is no small consideration -- clearly a life-changing decision -- was not applicable to their situation.  My fear is that anyone who is extremely distraught for whatever their situation is, or issues are, will see this as an open door to change the nature of euthanasia.  It is called mercy killing because it is intended to show a suffering individual mercy at the end of their life.

Marc and Eddy Verbessem's decision is their decision; no one can take that away from them.  My concern is that this will change the nature of euthanasia, where mercy killing is transformed into convenience killing.  


Friday, February 1, 2013

Word of the Day: FINALE

Recently -- two weeks ago today, to be exact -- a weekly television program of which I was a huge fan ended its run after five years.  It seemed likely that the show would only last two seasons, but a huge fan campaign gained the show a third season.  Getting a fourth season seemed far more unlikely, but the fans from Twitter went into super-tweet mode and, voila, season four was given a green light.  As hard as getting a fourth season was, it was felt by many that a fifth season was just about impossible.  Elongated negotiations made it seem we were right.  

In addition to viewer input, it was likely that the show only had thirteen more episodes to reach 100 episodes total -- the magic number to get a show syndicated.  Syndication is sustained revenue for the networks long after a series' final episode has aired.  It was announced in the Spring of last year, late in its fourth season, that a thirteen-episode fifth and final season was green lighted.  And so, what began as a new series in the Fall of 2008 wrapped up five years two weeks ago.

The show to which I am referring is Fox Television's 'Fringe'.

The show was a science fiction series.  Here's a description from the show's website:
Set in Boston, the FBI's Fringe Division started when Special Agent Olivia Dunham enlisted institutionalized "fringe" scientist Walter Bishop and his globe-trotting, jack-of-all-trades son, Peter, to help in an investigation of an airline disaster that defied human logic.  After the defining case was solved and furthermore revealed to be one of a series of unusual incidents linked together, the unlikely trio -- supervised by Special Agent Phillip Broyles and assisted by FBI Junior Agent Astrid Farnsworth -- was formed.

The main cast, mentioned in order of the above description, was:
Anna Torv as Special Agent Olivia Dunham
John Noble as Dr. Walter Bishop
Joshua Jackson as Peter Bishop
Lance Reddick as Special Agent Phillip Broyles

Jasika Nicole as Junior Agent Astrid Farnsworth

Other actors in significant recurring roles were:
Kirk Acevedo as Special Agent Charlie Francis
Seth Gabel as Agent Lincoln Lee
Blair Brown as Nina Sharp
Leonard Nimoy -- yes, THAT Leonard Nimoy -- as William Bell

There has been much talk, particularly among the show's fans, but also among some television critics, about John Noble getting an Emmy Award for his work on the show, which has not happened.  I would agree wholeheartedly.  His work has been particularly stand-out, not only for his pure acting chops, but also redefining, I believe, the archetype of the mad scientist.  It is probably likely that he won't because of the show being of the science fiction genre, which is not a huge favorite of television (or motion picture) award voters.  If he has any chance at receiving the gold statuette, it may be this Fall, when the awards honoring this past season (2012-2013) are handed out, since the show has now ended its run.  Award shows tend to give awards to series or actors at their end or their beginning, as a kind of "Welcome to the neighborhood" or "Thanks for the memories" gesture.

To be fair, however, everyone mentioned above gave anywhere from a fine job to an outstanding job in his or her own right week after week.  Everyone did such a great job with their roles, including playing anywhere from two to five versions of their character -- and even one character playing another character (taken over by that other character) -- that it truly falls into two categories: a solid ensemble cast and a cast that you cannot imagine anyone else playing those roles.

Although I have had my gripes about the writing on the show leaving a number of unfilled holes and some rather unusually sloppy writing in the last season -- a criticism I am not alone on -- the writing overall, looking at the entire five years, was intelligent and, at times, flat-out witty.  The boundaries were stretched for creative purposes, but the fore-fronted science element had some sort of truth to it.  That gave the show a sense of authenticity, even it was far-fetched authenticity at times to both the casual and regular viewer alike. 

I'm not here hawking a television show that I am just crazy over, especially now that it is finished (which would be silly), and I just think everyone should watch it.  I am not that kind of television viewer.  Perhaps it's due to my age -- I am a couple of years outside the "desirable demographic" for television advertisers -- but I don't get all silly and head over heels for a program.  To be frank, I used to when I was much younger.  That is not a commentary on younger viewers -- as if to say they "just need to grow up" -- not at all.  That does, however, lead me to my larger point.

I do not find television, as a whole, very entertaining, and I haven't for many, many years.  Not just "reality TV" programs, which, for the most part, are a particular waste of time, but programming in general seems to have gone from being a field of creativity and skill to a wasteland that is, for the most part, void of any creativity and skill.  People in front of the camera being famous for being famous and people behind the camera collecting paychecks.  Television twenty, thirty, forty years ago, and even further back, was far better that it is now.  I can remember television before cable, when we had only seven or eight stations (using "rabbit ears" to get the signal) and programming was far superior then than it is now.  That is probably why I was silly and head over heels for programs back then.

Most of what I watch now on a regular basis, now that 'Fringe' has finished its run, are news, a few documentaries, and political pundit shows --  I find politics both fascinating and entertaining -- and although my comments on reality TV earlier , I do have to admit to liking one show of that genre, 'Ghost Hunters', which airs on the SyFy cable network.  Most of my television viewing has followed that pattern for years (except for 'Ghost Hunters', which I didn't start watching until last year).  Why?  The lack of creativity, in my view, in television programming.  

The means that, unlike my former self of twenty, thirty, and forty years ago, I haven't followed any television series (and I mean scripted, serialized series) for a long time...because none have been worth my time.  The last show prior to 'Fringe' that really caught my attention was a short-lived drama called 'The Nine', which ran for only thirteen episodes during the 2006-2007 season.  It centered on nine individuals who were held hostage during a bank robbery, and each episode showed bits and pieces of what happened during the stand-off as well as the memories each individual had of the experience.  It was slow-moving, but interesting enough for me to come back each week.  The show was, as I mentioned, short-lived.  That was two seasons before the debut of 'Fringe'.

The show which ran for more than one season and which I followed religiously week after week was one that aired from 1990-1991, one-and-a-half seasons -- a mid-season replacement for the 1989-1990 season, and a full season for the 1990-1991 year -- and to which I gladly called myself a "Peaks Freak" as a fan.  The show was 'Twin Peaks'.  It was one of those shows that was so bizarre in its own right, maybe even more bizarre than 'Fringe' in many ways, that it appealed to mostly just die-hard fans.  

I don't really count 'The Nine', even though I watched most of the episodes, as the last show of any substance (more than one season) that I really followed like a fan.  So, between the end of 'Twin Peaks' and the beginning of 'Fringe', there's a period of seventeen years.  Seventeen years of not following any show that adamantly for more than, well, less than one season.  Then, the Fall of 2008 came along, 'Fringe' debuted, I was instantly hooked, and I have been a five-year, full-term fan.

Hooked to the point of being a fan of the show, whereby I have seen every single episode of the 100 produced, have purchased boxed sets of previous seasons (I have 1-4 and waiting for 5), wrote a blog about the show, and even appeared as a co-host of a podcast about it ('Following the Pattern').  I am a true fan of the show.

The ultimate point to all of this is that those who put together, produced, and presented 'Fringe' are collectively responsible for this one individual finding something extremely special to watch.  It not only held my attention consistently (even when I hated season four overall), but it showed that creativity, real creativity, can be had on television.  It showed that the combination of talent, ability, skill, creativity, and imagination can come together and make something wonderful to watch week in and week out.  

Not only that, but it also provided, via social media, a viewership family (what is referred to as the "Fringe universe") that connected people from around the world as fans of the show.  I have personally been in contact with people from Britain, Germany, and Mexico, in addition to many other parts of the United States.  It has been an amazing experience, both in front of the television and in front of the computer!

In addition to the actors I listed early on, I want to give credit to the main production crew of the show as well:
J.J. Abrams, Executive Producer (and co-creator)
Alex Kurtzman, Executive Producer (and co-creator)
Roberto Orci, Executive Producer (and co-creator)

J.H. Wyman, Executive Producer
Jeff Pinker, Executive Producer (seasons 1-4)
Joe Chappelle, Executive Producer
Michael Giacchino, Musical Composer (season 1-3)
Chris Tilton, Musical Composer (seasons 2-5)

Chad Seiter, Musical Composer (season 1)

And the production companies:
Bad Robot Productions
Warner Bros. Television

And, of course, Fox Television.  And many thanks to its executives to allow the show to end on its own creative extreme rarity in television!

While I cannot say this show will spill over into my watching more and more series, I can say with heartfelt sincerity a huge thank you to all involved with 'Fringe'.  You all made television, at least with your one show, worthwhile, and that meant a lot to me!  I am sorry to see the show end.

(And yes, I, too, would like to see a 'Fringe' movie as soon as possible.)