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Honoring Last Wishes

Published: October 6, 2020

These past few months we have lost some of our most renowned, celebrated heroes, Honorable Congressman John Lewis and Honorable Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Both were larger than life figures that exemplified what it means to live a life of service for our country and ALL of its people regardless of race, color, gender or creed. No doubt we have all marveled at the many ways in which they worked tirelessly, even when they were both stricken with the ravages of terminal illness they continued to fight for equal rights for all. They shared a common vision of what the promise of America could and should be for everyone and both conspired to make it happen through our legislative and judicial branches of government.

Both viewed voting rights as one of the key areas that would ensure that this shared vision would be the law of the land. Hon. John Lewis at the tender age of 21 was among the first Freedom Riders to march for voting rights in the south. We have all seen the pictures of him as he crossed the Edmond Pettus Bridge that fateful Bloody Sunday in Selma where he was bludgeoned, bloodied and jailed fighting for these rights. Both his and other civil rights leaders’ sacrifices during the American civil rights movement led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law by President Johnson. Sadly, that very same law almost fifty years later, found its way to the Supreme Court docket for a ruling when its oversight protections were being challenged by Shelby County, Alabama. It was on this occasion that the “Notorious RBG” (Hon. Ruth Ginsberg) stepped up to write the minority dissent and in an unprecedented action read her dissent from the bench highlighting why it was imperative that we sustain the Voting Rights law in its entirety to assure continued progress in fighting voter suppression tactics that are still at play today. These beloved icons’ bodies gave out, but their legacies and words stay with us as each found a way to make their dying wishes known. John Lewis in a poignant essay written by him and published in the NY Times upon his death implored us to get in “good trouble”.

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

RBG also from her death bed let her dying wishes be known in a handwritten note to her granddaughter. “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

Ginsburg knew intuitively that all of the work and struggles to secure an equitable Union through laws like the Voting Rights Act would be further eroded by an overzealous, conservative supreme court justice appointment if the people of the nation were not given an opportunity to properly vet the next candidate until after the election and inauguration of the next President.

Are we compelled to honor dying wishes?

To answer this question Philosopher W.D. Ross* (1877-1971) offers us some possible guidelines to our moral obligation to honor dying wishes. A duty that is binding (obligatory) with all other things being equal is one that, unless overridden or trumped by another duty or duties, should be honored. More specifically, "Unless stronger moral considerations override, one ought to keep a promise made.”

Five of his eight guidelines seem applicable here:

1. Fidelity. Duties of fidelity are duties to keep one’s promises and contracts and not to engage in deception. Surely, we as Americans have a contract with our Government to fully participate in our democracy with voting being one of our highest civic duties.

2. Gratitude. The duty of gratitude is a duty to be grateful for benefactions done to oneself and if possible to show it by benefactions in return. We are eternally grateful to these two icons for all they have done on our behalf and one way in which we can express that gratitude is seeing that their dying wishes are honored.

3. Non-injury. The duty of non-injury is the duty not to harm others physically or psychologically: to avoid harming their health, security, intelligence, character, or happiness. Non-injury instructs us generally to avoid intentionally, negligently, or ignorantly (when ignorance is avoidable) harming others. Would it not be harmful if we were not to honor their wishes if we consider all those who might be disenfranchised by further erosion of our civil liberties? Further, what could possibly be the harm in postponing the appointment of our next Supreme Court Justice until the next President is inaugurated?

4. Beneficence. The duty to do good to others: to foster their health, security, wisdom, moral goodness, or happiness. This duty, says Ross, "rests upon the fact that there are other beings in the world whose condition we can make better in respect of virtue, or of intelligence, or of pleasure." Clearly this is the “good trouble” of which Lewis spoke. How can we not continue to fight for the rights that he and RBG fought to win and sustain?

5. Justice. The duty of justice requires that one act in such a way that one distributes benefits and burdens fairly. Surely the Voting Rights Act and the other equal rights fought for the LGBQT community, women and immigrant children are the hallmarks of justice fought for and supported by these two heroes requires us to act to ensure they become the law of the land that we call America.

If we follow these guidelines it seems that Honorable Lewis & Ginsberg's dying wishes  
are certainly not too much to ask of us and at the very least of what we can do to honor them is to get out and VOTE. Vote early, Vote by ballot box or mail or Vote on Election Day, November 3, 2020.

Someday, if the good lord allows, we will all have an opportunity to put forth our dying wishes. Given that we have no way of knowing when that day will arrive, we encourage folks to get their houses in order and make sure the person you have appointed to carry out your final wishes knows what they are and that you have provided them with the necessary resources to carry them out. Take a moment to click here to see what you can do today in that regard. 

In the interim, here at J.F. Goode Funeral Home it is our ardent, living wish that you get out and VOTE!!!

* dead/dbbcvt7/

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