Paralyzed Iraq war veteran Tomas Young explains his choice to die

He hopes to draw attention to other vets

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Tomas Young spends his days lately sitting in the dark playing videogames, watching movies, and calling his friends to say goodbye. He plans to end his life by summer.

Young is an Iraq war veteran. He was wounded by a sniper in Sadr City less than a week after arriving in the country. The sniper's bullet left him paralyzed from the chest down.

The Kansas City native became a well-known advocate against the war after being featured in the documentary Body of War. Now he's back in the spotlight after an even more controversial decision: He has chosen to remove the tube that feeds him later this spring, hoping to die.

"I decided that I was tired of seeing my body deteriorate and was just ready to eventually go away," Young said, explaining his thinking. Increasing medical problems have plagued him since 2007. A blood clot slurred his speech and weakened his arms. After years of gastrointestinal problems, his colon was removed, but the pain continued. Now it's getting worse. Pain drugs helped but slowed his thinking and affected his memory

Rather than continue to suffer and slowly die, Young reasoned, he would choose a quicker end to his suffering by refusing nourishment, beginning some time after celebrating his wedding anniversary later this month. Announcing his plans publicly and delaying their start gave him time to say goodbye to friends and loved ones, and is kinder to them than choosing a quicker method and leaving only a note, Young said.

Young and his wife Claudia Cuellar said they hope his public declaration that he has chosen to end his life on his own terms will bring new attention to the plight of injured war veterans, especially to those who fought in Iraq – a war Young has long called unjust and driven by American greed. They also hope to highlight right-to-die issues.

Young said he doesn't consider what he's doing to be suicide, and his wife and family members have largely supported his decision.

"We want to be home and pain free, and we want to be with our loved ones, in a loving, supportive, peaceful environment," Cuellar said. "That's all we want."

Young agreed, saying that those who tried to convince him not to go through with his plan didn't understand the depths of his pain and his frustration.

An atheist, Young said he is "not at all" afraid of death, and whatever might come next.

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