Tomas Young Explains Decision To End His Life: 'I Was No Longer Going To Watch Myself Deteriorate'

Dying Veteran Explains Decision To End His Life

Just over nine years ago, a sniper's bullet turned Tomas Young's life upside down .

It was 2004, and Young, who had enlisted in the Army after Sept. 11 out of a sense of duty, was serving on a tour in Iraq. He wasn't sure why his service had brought him there and not to Afghanistan, where the Sept. 11 plotters had been harbored. But his skepticism made little difference when his convoy came under attack, ultimately leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

His recovery, chronicled in the documentary "Body of War" and by Chris Hedges in a recent Truth Dig article, has since been marked by a series of ups and downs. But lately, Young, now 33, says it's been mostly downs. The pain and decline of his health and bodily function have led Young to decide that he'll stop receiving treatment later this year, a move that will eventually allow him to, as he put it in February according to the Ridgefield Press, "one day go away."

In an interview with KCUR's Frank Morris broadcast on NPR over the weekend, Young and his family spoke more about his deliberations.

"I decided that I was no longer going to watch myself deteriorate," Young told Morris.

While Young made some progress toward recovery in the years after the incident -- some of which was documented in 2009's "Body of War" -- in 2008 he suffered a pulmonary embolism and an anoxic brain injury that impaired his speech and left him with limited use of his arms. He's since undergone numerous painful surgeries and treatments to deal with emerging medical problems.

Young's mother, Cathy Smith, told NPR that the setbacks have been both emotionally and physically crushing to her son.

"To be a paraplegic, deal with that, and then wake up and you're a quadriplegic and you can't use your voice, which is what you were learning to use," she says. "So many people wanted him to speak, and he couldn't speak anymore."

Young had emerged as one of the more outspoken anti-war activists throughout his recovery, and his story and words have served as a powerful reminder of the human costs of the war in Iraq.

For the 10th anniversary of the war, Young penned a scathing open letter to former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, accusing them of "egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans -- my fellow veterans -- whose future you stole." The letter quickly went viral, and he eventually read the letter live on Democracy Now! alongside his wife, Claudia Cuellar, where they gave insight into their activism and struggle.

Young has said publicly that he'll stop talking to the press on April 20, the anniversary of his marriage, and shortly thereafter, will remove his feeding tube and stop receiving the daily regimen of medical treatment that keeps him alive. His announcement has sparked a debate about whether Young should be allowed to intentionally end his life. NPR followed up with Sandra Silva, vice president of education at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, who said Young's decision was acceptable under both legal and medical laws.

Before You Go

Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)

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