Letters to the Editor: December 25, 2013

The right to choose 

The de­sire for choice seems to be in Amer­ica’s DNA. 

As a people, we de­mand a cor­nu­copia of choices in vir­tu­ally every as­pect of our lives. We de­mand everything from 31 fla­vors to 800 chan­nels. We go to The Cheese­cake Fact­ory to choose between 300 menu items, in a mall with 400 stores. 

Whole polit­ic­al and so­cial move­ments have been built on the found­a­tion of “choice.” Yet we have, for the most part, pass­ively ac­cep­ted the deni­al of any choice in the one area of life where it per­haps means the most. In most places in this coun­try, we can­not choose how we want our lives to end. Cur­rently 46 states, in­clud­ing my own state of Pennsylvania, have laws which force us to die in ways most of us would not choose. We are forced to en­dure un­bear­able pain that will nev­er im­prove un­til death. We are re­quired to die at a time ar­bit­rar­ily de­cided by fate when we might or might not be con­scious, or hooked up to tubes, or alone. It is lit­er­ally a crime, usu­ally a felony, for our re­l­at­ives to help us end our suf­fer­ing or en­able us to de­cide when to die. 

In fact, as I write this art­icle, the news­pa­pers are filled with the story of a wo­man fa­cing felony “At­temp­ted As­sisted Sui­cide” charges for giv­ing morphine to her 93 year old fath­er with the al­leged in­tent to end his un­dis­puted suf­fer­ing as he died from end-stage ren­al fail­ure. This wo­man not only lost her fath­er, but now has to face the pro­spect, as she mourns, of los­ing her free­dom.

I find the status quo to be un­bear­able. That is why I have in­tro­duced the Death with Dig­nity Act in Pennsylvania. My bill would provide an op­tion to those who have no qual­ity of life, but only in­tract­able misery to­ward death. Such people could, if they fol­low the pro­to­cols in the bill, leg­ally ac­quire medi­cine that will quickly and pain­lessly end their lives.

Some people are con­cerned that I am en­cour­aging sui­cide among those who are merely de­pressed. Let me be clear: if my bill be­comes law, the leth­al med­ic­a­tion would not be avail­able to someone who was hav­ing a bad day at work, or had just broken up with his girl­friend. Nor would it be avail­able even to those who are in severe pain if they are not clearly at the in­ev­it­able end of their lives.

The bill re­quires any per­son want­ing the med­ic­a­tion to fill out and sign a not­ar­ized form, in­dic­at­ing that they them­selves were mak­ing the re­quest. They would then need two sep­ar­ate doc­tors, a treat­ing phys­i­cian and a non-treat­ing in­de­pend­ent phys­i­cian, to at­test that the pa­tient has a ter­min­al dis­ease and has less than six months to live. Only then would the medi­cine be dis­bursed.

Ideally, the end of life is a time filled with sad­ness, but also sweet­ness, re­con­cili­ations and mean­ing­ful good­byes. It is an in­tensely per­son­al time that should be cho­reo­graphed and lived by the per­son and the fam­ily af­fected. 

The gov­ern­ment has a le­git­im­ate role in as­sur­ing that all de­cisions made are know­ing and vol­un­tary. But gov­ern­ment has no le­git­im­ate in­terest in ac­tu­ally mak­ing those de­cisions.

Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17

“Knock­out” is def­in­itely not a game

The Fri­day list­ing of movies cur­rently in theat­ers dis­plays warn­ings of ob­scen­ity, sex, pro­fan­ity, nud­ity, vi­ol­ence and drugs in most of the choices. Tele­vi­sion pro­grams and video games of­ten fea­ture the same be­ha­vi­ors, which view­ers in time come to see as nor­mal. 

Now groups of teen­agers in sev­er­al cit­ies are play­ing the ”knock­out game,” dar­ing each oth­er to suck­er punch a ran­dom passerby as hard as they can. 

So far three vic­tims have died. If the per­son struck falls un­con­scious, you are con­grat­u­lated by your friends. One per­son struck was a 78 year-old great-grand­moth­er. When oth­er teen­agers were asked about this “game” they laughed, and said the gang was just hav­ing fun. 

Much worse, uni­versity pro­fess­ors and TV journ­al­ists have claimed that the at­tack­ers were lead­ing dead-end lives and were vic­tims of neg­lect, thereby in a sense jus­ti­fy­ing, and con­don­ing the be­ha­vi­or. Some im­pres­sion­able teens, ob­serv­ers of these at­tacks which were brazenly pos­ted by the per­pet­rat­ors on You­Tube, be­come copycats. 

Wiki­pe­dia, the on­line en­cyc­lo­pe­dia, says, “Mon­key see, mon­key do is a say­ing that popped up in Amer­ic­an cul­ture in the early 1920s. One defin­i­tion im­plies the act of mim­icry, usu­ally with lim­ited know­ledge and/or con­cern of the con­sequences.” 

Are these the val­ues and be­ha­vi­ors we should want to  con­stantly por­tray and in­flu­ence oth­ers to emu­late? 

Mel Flit­ter

Fox Chase 

Budget pro­pos­al is hurt­ing people in PA

A small group of elec­ted of­fi­cials in Con­gress is cur­rently lead­ing the ef­fort to find com­mon ground on a budget pro­pos­al to avoid a re­peat of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment shut­down and pre­vent se­quest­ra­tion in the com­ing years.

Those are goals many Amer­ic­ans sup­port. But how we get there could have dev­ast­at­ing ef­fects right here in Pennsylvania.

Among the pro­pos­als un­der con­sid­er­a­tion is an ex­ten­sion of the three-year fed­er­al em­ploy­ee pay freeze and a cut in take-home pay for fed­er­al em­ploy­ees through an in­crease in fed­er­al re­tire­ment con­tri­bu­tions. If the com­mit­tee is un­able to agree on a path for­ward, then more fur­loughs of vi­tal fed­er­al work­ers are al­most sure to oc­cur.

Many people think that fed­er­al em­ploy­ees are con­cen­trated in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. area, but the truth of the mat­ter is that over 85 per­cent live and work out­side D.C. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is one of our state’s largest em­ploy­ers. So when you cut the paychecks of Pennsylvania’s middle-class fed­er­al em­ploy­ees, you’re also harm­ing our state’s eco­nomy and loc­al busi­nesses.

I urge Pennsylvania’s mem­bers of Con­gress to re­ject these pro­pos­als, which would take mil­lions of dol­lars away from our loc­al eco­nomy next year and weak­en our fed­er­al work­force for years to come.

Laura Dav­is


What does ‘We the People’ really mean?

What do the words “we the people” truly mean? Some think it means we the people that be­lieve what I be­lieve. 

If the con­sti­tu­tion means any­thing it means the fol­low­ing: All cit­izens have all the rights with­in the law of the land. 

If John and Joan are per­mit­ted to marry so are Tom and Henry or Mary and Sally. 

That is the defin­i­tion of  “We the people.” I have al­ways found that people that yell it vi­ol­ates tra­di­tion­al mar­riage com­pletely ig­nore the first words of our con­sti­tu­tion.           

Den­nis Camp­bell


Fire De­part­ment faces op­pos­i­tion

For some reas­on known only to him, May­or Nut­ter has de­clared war on the Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment. There is no oth­er ex­plan­a­tion for his be­ha­vi­or re­gard­ing them. He has fought against their con­tract, closed many fire­houses and can­celled the pro­mo­tions of 14 de­serving of­ficers.  

Why are you do­ing this May­or Nut­ter?  

Do you have some deep hatred for fire­men? 

Did you once want to be a fire­man and couldn’t pass muster? 

It’s time to end this ven­detta, good people are be­ing hurt for no ap­par­ent reas­on and the city is less safe for it. And don’t tell us there are reas­ons for all this that we don’t un­der­stand or the city doesn’t have enough money.

You man­aged to find the money to cre­ate a few use­less of­fices at great ex­pense to fill your own needs, It’s time to help the people of Phil­adelphia. We un­der­stand your be­ha­vi­or per­fectly.

Joe Oren­stein


Get real, Toomey

If only Sen. Pat Toomey were truly work­ing on bi­par­tis­an is­sues, his lofty com­ments in your art­icle ‘Talk­ing with Toomey’ (Nov. 27) might be be­liev­able.  

In­stead of seek­ing evid­ence to des­troy the Af­ford­able Care Act, I wish he would work with his fel­low sen­at­ors to im­prove and strengthen it, en­sur­ing the po­ten­tial gain for all cit­izens.  

In­stead of re­peal­ing a mea­ger 2.3-per­cent tax on med­ic­al devices, he should be cel­eb­rat­ing this ef­fect­ive way to sus­tain fund­ing of health care for all cit­izens.  

When the un­in­sured get costly free care from hos­pit­al emer­gency rooms, does he think that we aren’t pay­ing for that?  

Get real. Please.

Ina Ash­er


Tartagli­one: we need to in­crease min­im­um wage

Ebenez­er Scrooge is ashamed of Pennsylvania. He’s ashamed of this gov­ernor and some lead­ing Re­pub­lic­an law­makers who lack the Christ­mas spir­it and con­tin­ue to re­fuse to in­crease our min­im­um wage.

While many of us are plan­ning at least an av­er­age hol­i­day in terms of volume of gifts and size of fam­ily gath­er­ings and meals, Pennsylvania’s base hourly wage doesn’t even get min­im­um wage earners to the point of be­ing able to en­joy a be­low-av­er­age Christ­mas.

To go “over the river and through the woods” from here to Pitt­s­burgh, it costs al­most $34 if you don’t have E-Z Pass. A min­im­um wage work­er has to work al­most five hours to pay for that trip to grandma’s house.

An av­er­age Christ­mas din­ner — with tur­key and all of the av­er­age trim­mings — costs about $50. A min­im­um wage work­er has to work just about an en­tire day to be able to af­ford that meal.

One of the most pop­u­lar gifts this year is the Kindle Fire tab­let, which costs about $180. If a min­im­um wage work­er has a loved one who likes to read, he’ll have to con­tin­ue buy­ing used pa­per­backs be­cause buy­ing that tab­let as a gift will take 25 hours of toil for the poverty-level $7.25/hour.

Pres­id­ent Obama called for an in­crease in the min­im­um wage this month.  

Ten oth­er states, in­clud­ing Ohio, in­creased their min­im­um wage rates and tied them to in­fla­tion for 2013. They took out the polit­ics by agree­ing that base wage earners de­serve to at least be com­pensated when there is in­fla­tion.

And, five oth­er states, in­clud­ing New York and New Jer­sey, passed min­im­um wage in­creases ef­fect­ive in 2014. 

Pennsylvania’s min­im­um wage has been stag­nant since 2009, and our tipped min­im­um wage has not been raised for 15 years.  

I was suc­cess­ful in rais­ing the state’s min­im­um wage to $7.15/hour sev­en years ago. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment then pushed up that floor to $7.25/hour. It’s been far too long since the last in­crease.  

I have in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion, Sen­ate Bill 858, to in­crease the min­im­um wage in­cre­ment­ally to $9/hour by 2015. After 2015, my bill would tie min­im­um wage in­creases to the rate of in­fla­tion ac­cord­ing to the con­sumer price in­dex. Just like oth­er states have done or are plan­ning to do.

I have also in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion to raise the tipped min­im­um wage from its cur­rent $2.83/hour to 70 per­cent of the reg­u­lar min­im­um wage rate by 2015.    

I’m not the only state law­maker who is pro­pos­ing to in­crease the min­im­um wage, so there is more than enough evid­ence and shared opin­ion that this must hap­pen, and it must hap­pen soon.

When Charles Dick­ens wrote A Christ­mas Car­ol, he said: “Dark­ness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”

Dark­ness IS cheap. Our min­im­um wage work­ers DON’T like it. This le­gis­lature and this gov­ernor must de­part from the cur­rent course.

As Scrooge said: “If the courses be de­par­ted from, the ends will change.” ••

Sen. Christine M. Tartagli­one

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