“I rather live my life, doing what I love, than not live at all. If that means dying prematurely, then so be it.”
This is the motto through which my uncle lives, or should I say lived, his life; a motto that all daredevils and adrenaline junkies would agree with; a motto that John Stuart Mill would think is completely acceptable as long as the daredevil does not harm others in the process.
But what if the individual’s actions start to hurt their loved ones? Then does it become their right to intervene? I will leave that answer up to you as I go through the miraculous story of my uncle Michael.
The year was 1990. My uncle was 25 years old. It was a typical Saturday morning, in which my uncle would take on somewhere between 5-10 jumps depending on the day. Nothing out of the ordinary considering he had already completed more than 800 successful sky-dive jumps. However, this day would turn out very differently. The weather wasn’t great for skydiving as there was a decent amount of wind, but that didn’t deter my uncle from making that last, and almost fatal, jump. Everything was fine until around 100-150 feet above the ground,when his parachute suddenly malfunctioned due to a strong gust of wind, plummeting him to the Earth with nothing to save him.
My uncle was in the hospital for over 100 days. He shattered almost his entire lower body and had to learn how to walk again. The only thing that saved his life was the fact that he did not hit his head. By some miracle, he eventually recovered and has been able to live a full life, even though he has never skydived since.
As all adrenaline junkies know, there is no way to eliminate the urge to do something that gives them the adrenaline rush. It is no different than a gambling addict who has the urge to risk money, or a drug addict who needs the feeling of being high. My uncle was no different.
Fast-forward 23 years to December 2013. My uncle was on a snowmobile trip with a few of his friends in the UP of Michigan. As a thrill-seeker he found the need to go around 90mph on the sled. While trying to pass one of his buddies, he hit a ditch, catapulting himself 150 feet in the air. Just like his first accident, this one was life-threatening and even more severe. He suffered a lacerated liver, a shattered sacrum and hip, and a severe concussion among other injuries. Once again he should not have survived, but just like a cat with 9 lives he miraculously pulled through after 3 months in the hospital. He is still recovering a year later, but he vows not to snowmobile again.
After reading chapters 3 and 4 of On Liberty, we know that English philosopher John Stuart Mill was a liberal who advocated individuality and freedom. Specifically in chapter 4 of his work, he writes, “But neither one person, nor any number of persons, is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it. He is the person most interested in his own well-being…” In other words, an individual should be allowed to do whatever he/she desires as long as he does not harm anyone else. However, in his piece, Mill fails to acknowledge indirect harm on others as a result of an individual’s actions, such as in the case of a debilitating accident.
In the case of my uncle, both accidents alike did not cause any physical harm to anyone else, but it definitely caused emotional and financial damage to his family. As a parent, there is nothing worse than seeing your son fight for his life, let alone experience it twice. During his first accident, my grandparents left work early every day for 100 days to spend time with my uncle in the hospital. Even though I was not alive for his first accident, I witnessed the true stress and burden his second accident caused on the entire family. Except this time around it wasn’t just his parents and sister; he now has a wife and three kids to support. The weeks waiting to see if he would pull through were emotionally unbearable and even after he was released from the hospital, no one knew if he would make a full recovery. My aunt had to run the entire house as my uncle was recovering, a huge challenge for her as she had three kids and a job to juggle as well.
After everything that has happened, my uncle is extremely lucky to be alive and still have a quality of life. However, others who have gone through similar accidents have not been as lucky. Lets say my uncle would have suffered permanent brain damage or even died; what would be the ramifications on the family? The question now shifts to will he ever take part in risky activities just for his enjoyment again. In On Liberty Mill argues that people should be allowed to point out faults in others’ behavior, but that they do not have the right to criticize the individual’s practices or put them in an uncomfortable situation.
For example, in the case of Clif Bar no longer sponsoring free-solo climbers or wing-suit jumpers, it is the company’s right to end its ties with the athletes, but they do not have the power to tell the athletes to quit doing what they’re doing. However, in my uncle’s circumstance, I believe that my family has the right to go against what Mill says and tell my uncle he can no longer partake in risky activities as his accidents have caused harm to both him and his loved ones. It is understandable for him to have continued after his first accident considering he was a single man in his twenties, but as a 50 year-old man with responsibilities, it would be selfish of him to continue doing what he loves, just for his self-gain.
I guess playing golf and cards will have to do.