Friday, February 14, 2014

Choosing Life

As regular readers will know, I lamented the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman last week. He was marvelous in so many roles and his loss was huge on so many levels, including as a parent. I didn't say what I was thinking at the time, that I found it unsettling that he died of a heroin overdose at the time he was to be meeting those children in a nearby park. Had he intended to be with them under the influence of drugs?

Enter journalist Margaret Wente, a Globe and Mail newspaper writer who makes a living from being a contrarian. While she too was saddened by the news, her husband exclaimed "sphincter!" Actually he used another, cruder compound word, but you get the picture.

Wente goes on to describe Hoffman's drug problem as a habit rather than an addiction, and to explore whether we essentially let these folk in our society off the hook when it comes to responsibility for their actions. We have decided that they have diseases, although we know that addictions are not like pancreatic cancer or heart disease. In her words:

Treatment programs are important, and we need more. But stigma has its uses, too. It helps to curb behaviours that are destructive to families and society. We’re happy to stigmatize littering, smoking and failure to recycle. And it works. We expect cigarette smokers to kick their disgusting, unhealthy, anti-social habit, and think less of them if they don’t. So why are we so forgiving when it comes to heroin, which, according to some experts is no more addictive than tobacco?

Mr. Hoffman’s death was no freak accident. He worked hard to kill himself. By the end, he was ingesting stunning quantities of drugs. Yet he was an unusually privileged addict, with resources, people who loved him and access to the best help money could buy. But he decided he needed the drugs more than he needed to save himself. And sometimes no intervention and no amount of tolerance and understanding can save someone like that.

Predictably the responses to her column were in the hundreds and most I read criticized her for a lack of compassion and living in another much darker era. I hasten to say that her approach does seem cruel and ultimately helpful to me. At the same time I have always wondered what to do and say as I have walked with those living with addictions of varying kinds. Has the pendulum swung too far in the other direction from the punitive, shunning attitudes of another day, often driven by judgmental religious types? The old approach sure didn't seem to produce positive outcomes, but honestly, the disease model can seem like a hiding place rather than a solution. How do we encourage people into taking active responsibility for their lives?

One of the readings for this week is from Deuteronomy, chapter 30: "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. t I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live..."       Deuteronomy 30

I have been so impressed through the years by those who have chosen the way of life despite seemingly insurmountable odds, and by the grace of God.

I am thinking out loud on this one, not offering an opinion or alternative. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.


Judy Mcknight said...

Choosing life is obviously the better option - sometimes we need someone to come alongside and take that walk away from addictions with us - to provide a healthy alternative ... we need to be ready to do that for others, if we can ... not easy, but Christ-like, I think. And the addict still may opt for the addiction, in the end, as did this celebrity (and, I am sure, dozens of others)But we owe it to them to try to help, if we can ("I will, God being my Helper...")

Laurie said...

Addictions are so hard to fight against. I guess all we can do is be there for them if they want us. I really think bringing in religious ideas does not help at all. I have worked with many people in jails over the years, many of them are there because of their addictions. Some of them broke the cycle, some not. best advice, be there for them what ever the issue. They are your brothers/sisters.