We live in sceptical times my friends, there no denying it. If there isn’t proof for something the general public won’t believe it, fact rules for the masses. It is widely thought that the concept of faith and belief is all but dead outside of religious or spiritual circles. This doesn’t pose a problem in day to day life, living by fact alone you can lead a reasonable life knowing exactly what to expect and when to expect it, pretty safe way to live wouldn’t you agree? Pretty boring as well. But death poses a different problem. There are no facts about what happens after you die. It poses different questions that have us all up in arms; what happens after you die? Is death important? Is life important, or are we just making up the rules as we go along? If it’s the end, meaning if there is not heaven/afterlife/reincarnation, then death is important, it’s all that there is. If it isn’t then death surely should be a celebration, a right of passage on to the next stage?
So why then do so many religious groups appose the act of assisted suicide/euthanasia? Considering that all the major religions believe in moving on to something better after death surely it would be perceived as a good thing? Scripture tells me not. The term euthanasia is an ancient Greek word which literally means ‘good death’. In a modern context this relates to assisted suicide. We are here talking about extreme circumstances, such as incurable disease and people living in absolute pain and helplessness. The Church makes a habit of making its opinion known wherever such a story hits the media’s headlines, as it is illegal to assist someone killing themselves then stories such as this come into the public eye from time to time. The Catholic Church has spoken out against ‘the culture of death’ our society has taken on and deems the act of killing in any instance ‘morally wrong’, the church of England holds a very similar stance on the situation. But what do we care about what the church has to say? We live by a fact and rationality don’t we? Well it seems to me that the deep rooted religious tradition which made our country what it is today is certainly still with us and doesn’t seem to be going away. There is a reason why religious elders are in the news dishing out opinions, because we still listen, sure we may be disagreeing and up in arms a lot of the time but we still listen to what they say. I’m going to hazard criticism by suggesting we find ourselves agreeing, through fear or simply that as holy men they must be right and good, mustn’t they?
In December there was a televised case of euthanasia. Craig Ewert, 59, was diagnosed with MND (motor neurones disease) in April 2006, he was told he has only five years to live but within five months he was wheel chair bound, being fed through a tube and totally dependant no his wife. The documentary was shown in the 9pm broadcast slot mid week on Sky 1. This isn’t particularly late for a programme which is going to literally be ‘watching someone die’, many people complained about this saying that it shouldn’t have been on television at all, but I think it was really important that it was shown. The documentary was shown as a person’s story at the end of his life. The political agenda is not obvious or militant it is simply a truth of what this man and his wife had to go through to ensure a death on his own terms. His story offers an alternative to life support machines and ‘living in a tomb’ as Craig described it, he would have been in hell unable to communicate just living in pain. It offers us a reality behind the euthanasia debate. Each situation is different, is it really fair to place a law on such circumstances? Is it indeed fair to make a dying man travel to another country to be allowed to die when a fit and healthy person could jump of the nearest tall building? If we have the right to life then surely we have the right to die also? I want to see a documentary showing the other side of this argument, that will move the viewer as deeply – but I’m not sure that this would happen. I’m not sure people would be moved by someone being forced to live a life which left a person to suffer in pain with no way of relieving it, I’m finding it difficult to see the other side of the argument.
After a particularly heavy lecture on Euthanasia and religion at university a few friends of mine where having a drink and chatting about suicide (breaking the taboos of pub conversation, as you do). A lot of people think it’s a selfish act and how unfair it is to the family left behind as they are left to deal with the loss. Euthanasia in extreme circumstances is different though, it’s not suicide in its normal form. How would you feel if somebody you loved was living day to day in immense agony unable to find comfort or relief from the pain? A friend in the group told us that her and her husband had made a deal. A deal to, if it came to it, end the others life should there be no quality of life or hope of recovery. At first I felt shocked; the partner left behind would surely face the possibility of prosecution which could be up to 14 years in jail and have to live with the fact that they killed the person they love. But then I thought about it and found it to be one of the most romantic things I’ve ever heard. To love someone so much that you would risk everything to put them out of pain. To know how much you will miss them and put their comfort and wishes before your own in such a dramatic way. The boundaries of right and wrong are blurred in cases like this, your instinct would be to do anything you could to help the person you love, I think that’s really brave.
The particulars of the act of legalised euthanasia pose a lot of problems with regards to who actually kills the patient and the morality behind that. Somebody has to be the ‘hang man’. With the legalisation of euthanasia come a whole bunch of other burning questions also, but is it a possibility? After the considerable press attention the television documentary, Gordon Brown was asked if the government would be looking into any changes in the law, to which he answered he is ‘totally against’ a change. Well I suppose that’s that then isn’t it? Well, I very much doubt it. Cases such as Craig will be happening all the time and I believe it’s only a matter of time before judicial powers are forced to seriously consider legislation surrounding assisted suicide. As a traditionally Christian country we are following the old morals of believing we should not take away life which God created, but with advances in modern science should we really sustain something that nature/God would have already taken away? How many of us should be dead right now if it hadn’t been for doctors who saved us? Do we really need to consider these old values?
A different case of suicide was filmed yesterday by passers by on there mobile phones. This was a case of the young man who jumped off the top of a shopping centre in Darby. He was a student who is told to have broken up with his boyfriend and stressed about his exams, it was reported that he felt like he had no way out. A group of people gathered on the ground jeering and shouting for him to jump. In the end he did, whilst onlookers filmed it on their mobile phones. Youtube however does not have any videos of this online, whether or not the website has taken them off or not I am unsure. It makes me question then where the videos went that were on the phones of the angry mob waiting below, normally this is the source of such sick entertainment as you can almost upload anything on there. Youtube does however feel free to broadcast Sadam Hussein’s execution, if the person who is being killed is an evil villain it’s ok to watch their death, is it? As a collective we don’t have a problem talking about these cases of death or even filming or watching them. Yes it isn’t the norm and it can hardly be called popular entertainment but my point is we are talking about it aren’t we? Different opinions are flying around about these two instances both of death; we are questioning morality, virtue, right and wrong but with euthanasia, another instance of death, the debate has been brought to a halt. It is merely whispers for those who are not directly affected by it.
Euthanasia is something that has been going on since the beginning of time and the concept will touch most of our lives at some point. So why not start talking about it?