Monday, February 28, 2011

Taking Lives

Having been floating around the media for the last year or so, the debate regarding euthanasia is one that is both sensitive and polarising. While politicians rant about this on the floor of parliament, it has stirred some emotions in the general public also - my mother once told me that killing yourself is selfish because you leave so much pain behind.

The question is - would you still be so certain when faced with the decision yourself?

Inevitably, there will be people who befall tragedy - car crashes, accidents at work and even old age can take away measures of mobility and freedom in a person. It may come in the form of mental illness, comas, paralysis, and yet they can all have a huge impact on a person's quality of life. When they realise what's happened, sometimes they can spiral into the depths of depression - especially if they've become wheelchair-bound and realise that many of the things they're used to doing they can no longer do independently or at all. Then, there's the psychologists and support groups who attempt to embrace them and get them off on their new path with head held high and a new lust for life.

For some groups such as the elderly, this isn't so much an option. The prospect of losing a loved one that they've had side by side with them for decades is haunting, hanging over them like dark clouds before a thunderstorm. Life without their loved one can often feel worse than the threat of death regarding their own lives. Likewise with cancer patients; while there are times where it seems that there is a chance of them besting cancer, all too often the end result is an end to their life - and sometimes it can be an almightily painful one at that.

Envision for a moment then, that your loved one was suffering terminal cancer. They may only have one month to live, or maybe a year. Regardless though, you know that they will die soon, too soon. You know that all attempts to defeat the cancer have failed, and you know that their final months will be marked with great pain.

The question I ask is - if they asked you to help them die, would you?

For many people, they would say no without thinking twice. Others could find themselves with an internal battle over it, with their love for the other person weighing against the person's desires. We all know what it is like to lose a loved one (whether it be through death or a broken relationship) - the seeming loss of light, the almost wrenching pain as the brain tries to wean itself off the loved person that seems to enhance each and every thing we do.

In the end, we may decide to help that person, or we may decide to have no part in it. In some cases, we may decide to get other people to intervene, whether it be to merely preserve life or to 'knock some sense into the fool' as one person I know called it when broached with the topic. In any case, the decision is one that will inevitably weigh heavily on a person's conscience, without any situation seemingly being a positive one.

How may people then, truly act on the person's wishes? How many have the fortitude to see past their own instincts and desires and do what is truly in the best interest of the person? In many countries around the world euthanasia is still considered illegal (and it some cases, tantamount to murder), while suicide itself no longer is. The irony in this is delicious - euthanasia itself refers to suicide to relieve pain and suffering. How can you possibly draw a line between taking your life to relieve suffering and doing so because of mental illness? At some point, the line becomes blurred - and yet lawmakers don't seem to realise exactly how indistinct those lines actually are. Are they actually arguing against suicide? If so, you can't have it both ways - either legalise suicide or don't. Are they arguing against physician-assisted suicide? If so, they need to debate on that.

Life is something I hold in very high regard - one of the strongest motivators behind my life philosophy. And yet, I've been scoffed at for also being in favor of abortion, in favor of euthanasia and also in favor of assisted suicide if the need be. While life is precious, quality of life is also. This is something that is a very complex issue, and with many avenues conflicts of personal ethics and philosophies the further you dig deep. One such area was in regard of personal freedoms. Originally, I considered it hypocritical that Western countries in particular all too often toot their horns about how democracy is right and about how freedom is held above all else, and yet they still hold on to seemingly selfish laws about issues such as giving a person the freedom to die. And yet, that comesinto my own conflict about my own philosophy regarding abortion. I completely believe that if a parent or parents don't feel that they are capable of appropriately raising a child in this world, then they should abort it. Yet in saying this, I'm disregarding a child's freedom to challenge the world they've been brought up in and create their own excellent quality of life, even if they aren't able to make a decision regarding ending their own life yet. This is only one dilemma that carries with it such a web of ethical and philosophical conflicts, and as a people if we are to move forward regarding this we need to better understand the reasons behind these issues in the first place.

The key is self-awareness; to understand the conflicts and unravel them we must first understand why we think what we think and do what we do. I don't believe there are enough people who do that in the world sadly.

However, why should we forbid something that we ourselves cannot give reason to forbid it in the first place?

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