DID YOU KNOW

The Merciful Murderer

Euthanasia

I do not particularly like beginnings. I fancy myself a writer, and more than once, I have had a cursor blink at me untiringly from a blank page, like a man at the start of a race – only he does not take off for days. Amidst the indecision, it often escapes the remembrance of this racer that he need only put one foot in front of the other and watch his body chase after him, seeking resonance with his will to move. So I begin here with a childhood memory suddenly visited upon me – So you see, my son, there is a very fine line between love and nausea. But this is not a story about childhood or growing, nor beginnings or love. It is about lines, the very fines lines drawn and erased by us, between death and dignity, between mercy and murder.
Michael Wreen offers a six-part definition of euthanasia. Person A committed an act of euthanasia if and only if

  1. A killed B or let her die;
  2. A intended to kill B;
  3. The intention specified in (2) was at least partial cause of the action specified in (1);
  4. The causal journey from the intention specified in (2) to the action specified in (1) is more or less in accordance with A’s plan of action;
  5. A’s killing of B is a voluntary action;
  6. The motive for the action specified in (1), the motive standing behind the intention specified in (2), is the good of the person killed.

‘The good’ here usually means the cessation of pain or intractable suffering. Whether or not this constitutes the true good of the person killed is quite something else entirely. In the case for euthanasia, respect for autonomy and freedom of choice ring loud and clear. Basically, people should have the right to control their own body and life as long as they do not abuse the rights of others. I believe this is, at best, an oversimplification of the whirlpool of the principles surrounding euthanasia. Where does this freedom end? Society and laws often tend to constrict all of man’s faculties to the intellect, to a being without emotions or even if there are, to one who should act totally outside of them. Whatever heights of knowledge and cognition we may attain, inherent in us is a tremendous capacity to love – some might even say a desire to love; to feel and experience other movements of the heart; we are sentimental beings. That is why at the scene of a battle are often found pictures of loved ones, keepsakes lost by soldiers. It is why, I think, a woman would go through what has been described as one of the most agonizing pain that she may become a mother, that she may give life to another. What the proponents of euthanasia seem to be asking us to do is forego this love that we should have for everyone and do harm to ourselves; for when we set out to kill, whether to show what we perceive as mercy or out of malice, we disobey the natural law written in our hearts and lose a piece of ourselves.

Where does it stop? Today, it is about those who desire it, who freely consent to it. Perhaps tomorrow, the state decide that it cannot afford to cater for the terminally ill anymore and so decides who gets euthanized. Furthermore, we risk breeding doctors so far removed from compassion, killing becomes a routine administrative task, perhaps even a preferred form of ‘treatment’ to painstaking and tedious work. The International Code of Medical Ethics states that a doctor must always bear in mind the obligation of preserving life from conception. Quite simply, death should never be intended in patient care. It may very well be a side effect of even palliative care but it should never be sought as an end in itself. With so many advances made in medicine today, it is highly doubtful that even in cases of extreme pain, it can be asserted that nothing else but euthanasia can bring relief. Take palliative sedation for example. While it may be argued that since the dose of medication required to bring about this sedative effects is toxic, this route carries with it a risk of shortening life and is therefore in itself a sort of euthanasia. In the same vein, perhaps we could also adjudge chemotherapy unethical, what with its wide range of harmful side effects. It then follows that a treatment with harmful side effects can be considered ethical insofar as it was done in the best interests of the patient and the side effects were not intended. This has been described as the Principle of double effect.

There is not a lack of literature on euthanasia, and more than just another literary piece, this was meant to make a case against euthanasia and ask questions that some may find disturbing and uncomfortable. However feebly this has been is entirely a function of my limited capacity to bring to the fore what counts, and not at all because of an inherent weakness of the argument against the merciful murderer. We live in a society that is fast doing away with absolutes; morality and judgement are fast becoming awash with relativism. A whole added to another whole can only give two wholes. One may say he wishes it to be three, and another, four. But it can really only be two. The Truth has a life of its own. Fully and utterly independent of our belief or disbelief thereof, it quite simply, is.

Amaji Obinna Charles

Obinna is a third year medical student of the University of Ibadan. Obinna has always been fascinated with the machine that is the human body. He has put down to paper, some of his thoughts on life and his journey of the proverbial thousand steps through the halls of the College of Medicine, seeking to effect a lasting positive change in the hearts of men and in his society. He resides in Enugu, having spent the greater part of the first sixteen years of his life there. His nursery education he completed at Garden Angels Nursery and Primary School. He went on to University Primary School and University of Nigeria Secondary School, both at the Enugu Campus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to complete his primary and secondary schooling respectively.

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