An Iraq war veteran, paralyzed by a sniper's bullet, is preparing to take his own life rather than live sick.
“My life is coming to an end,” Tomas Young wrote in an open letter published on Truthdig.com this week. “I am living under hospice care.”
Young, an Army veteran, has decided he will stop taking food, water and medicine until finally death takes him, and he is giving a politically charged farewell before he goes.
The Iraq war began 10 years ago this month, and Young was one of its most famous lingering casualties. The maladies that keep him in his bed in Kansas City, Mo., started back in Iraq in Sadr City. Young's tour lasted five days in April 2004 before a sniper's bullet severed his spine. He was 24 years old.
Nine years later, Young, 33, is fading.
“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” a bed-ridden Young told the Kansas City Star's Matt Campbell.
Young, Campbell reports, “is mostly confined to his bed. His colon was removed in November and he doesn’t eat solid food. A pump that he controls provides anti-pain drugs through a tube into his chest. He gets nauseated and tires easily.”
Young was more mobile and in better shape after he recovered from his wound in 2004, although still confined to a wheelchair. He took to protesting. Young had joined the Army right after Sept. 11 to avenge the terrorist attacks, but he thought the decision to invade Iraq was bogus. Why was he in Sadr City? Why was anybody in Sadr City?
Young started inspiring famous musicians such as Eddie Vedder to write antiwar songs. He was featured in a documentary, “Body of War,” accelerating his rise as a self-described political irritant.
By 2008, in Austin, Texas, he'd gone from Missouri boy to antiwar mini-celebrity among those who opposed the ongoing occupation of Iraq. During his remarks at the South by Southwest festival, female audience members hollered when he said his erectile dysfunction problems were going away. After the Los Angeles Times profiled him at the festival, people surrounded him at parties.
But then he had an anoxic brain injury and a pulmonary embolism. His mobility declined, and so did his health.
Young's family supports his decision to stop taking nutrition and medicine, according to the Kansas City Star. His wife and caregiver, Claudia Cuellar, does too. Cuellar married him last year so she could be with him at the hospital when he died. Missouri law says they cannot help him die; he would have to do that on his own.
“I had been toying with the idea of suicide for a long time because I had become helpless,” Young told former New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges, who visited Young this month. “I couldn’t dress myself. People have to help me with the most rudimentary of things. I decided I did not want to go through life like that anymore.”
But, Young added, a quick suicide doesn’t sit well with him, which is why he wants to end food and medication at the hospice: “This way, instead of committing the conventional suicide and I am out of the picture, people have a way to stop by or call and say their goodbyes. I felt this was a fairer way to treat people than to just go out with a note.”
“You may evade justice, but in our eyes you are each guilty 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,” Young wrote in the open letter on Truthdig.com.
Tallying the losses from the war, Young doesn't hide his disdain. He calls Veterans Affairs inept. He calls the Iraq war a total failure and a diversion from the war on terrorism he’d signed up to fight after Sept. 11. He says he would have been just as miserable withering away from fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, he writes, “but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love.”
Young told Hedges he will go off his feeding tube on April 20.
That is his first anniversary with his wife.