In 1973, a 25 year old unmarried man was on site for his real estate job. When he started his car, it ignited natural gas that had been leaking from a buried pipeline. Donald (Dax) Cowart received second and third degree burns on over two thirds of his body, one eye was destroyed, the other could have vision restored, his limbs were horribly disfigured, but he was still alive.

His recovery would take 14 months, and they would be incredibly painful. Dax would have to be dipped in antiseptic to guard against infection. After this would be the dressing and bandaging of his wounds, basically his entire body. All of this was extremely painful to Dax, even under high doses of pain medication. However, all of this was to ensure his survival. Without this treatment Dax would die.

Dax asked on numerous occasions that the doctors end the treatment prematurely and allow Dax to die. He wished this for a few reasons.

  • The pain was quite intense and he wished it to end.
  • His legs were disfigured barring him from the althetics he once enjoyed.
  • His only 'healthy' eye only had a chance of recovering sight, and he didn't want to live blind.
  • He figured that his life, his right.

    The first three reasons are easy to challenge. Dax was in a lot of pain. So are cancer patients, people in homes for the elderly. We don't go around routinely killing off cancer patients or old people because they desire death. Why should Dax be different? Go to any hospital and you will invariably find people in pain, but are we willing to let them die because they want the easy way out?

    Dax's life after treatment would be that of a blind cripple. He wanted to die because he didn't want that life. My cousin didn't want to become a paraplegic, but now he is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He got by, and loves his life. Doctors didn't let him die. How many blind people are there in the world? I don't have any stats, but I'm willing to be there are quite a few. My point is that there are many people who live with blindness and wheelchairs their entire life. Dax put himself on a higher platform thinking he would rather be dead than be a blind cripple.

    The issue of his rights is a ethical debate. Dax could not take his own life. In fact, he attempted this three times with no success. For him to die he needed the assistance of his doctors. The doctors have a responsibility to see to it that patients get better. Death is seen as a failure, not as a justifiable end. Therefore, the doctors would not willingly stop treatment and allow Dax to die.

    There was a big debate over whether Dax was thinking clearly. Here was a man in a great deal of pain, after being severly burned, in mental shock, and wanted an escape from his pain. It was argued that Dax was nothing thinking rationally and therefore not of sound mind to render judgement. I would argue the same. Dax was under a lot of pain which affected his judgement. He obviously didn't want the pain, and death seemed a welcome alternative.

    As for an ethical debate, Kantianism removes the right to die. This would violate the categorical imperative of promoting life. Utilitarianism would have a problem. How would the doctors and Dax's family feel with the loss of Dax? Also, applying the priciple of utility to Dax, would his death be happier than the happiness of the rest of his life? After his treatment would be over, Dax could live a very happy life. Dying would have less pleasure than the end result of finishing the treatment. As it stands, Kantians and Utilitarians would both condemn the right to die.

    The end result was that the doctors forced Dax to undergo treatment. Partial vision was restored in his one remaining eye. At present, Dax loves his life. However, he is on a speaking circuit telling people that while he loves his life, he still thinks he should have been allowed to die in 1973.