Columns

The revolving door of life’s exits

Anthony GOMES

Wednesday, July 09, 2014    

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It is always severely distressing to read in the media about cases of suicide, assisted or otherwise, and euthanasia. These tragic experiences represent a departure from the "circle of life" for reasons too hard for the human heart to withstand.

It is such a waste of the precious gift of life when one learns that so far this year, 46 persons have jumped to their death off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. A number of hangings have also been reported with some victims being teenagers.

The termination of life most debated, is by euthanasia. Pain, humiliation and the longing to die with dignity are the main reasons that patients request this exit. Considerable advances have been made with life-prolonging treatments, but cancer is claiming an increasing number of victims. As a result, doctors in many countries are increasingly faced with decisions relating to the termination of life.

Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists of putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. According to the teachings of Christianity, it is morally unacceptable. This conviction was recently tested and upheld by the British courts relating to a female patient who had requested euthanasia.

The decision that an error of judgement, into which one can fall in good faith, does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded, according to Christian teaching.

However, in The Netherlands, "Dutch criminal law recognises grounds for exception from criminal liability. If a person is compelled by force majeure to commit a criminal act (ie the person acts in an emergency or under duress) the act in question is not regarded as unlawful and the person in question may be exempt from prosecution".

This applies to all offences. The Dutch courts acknowledge that a doctor who terminates the life of a patient may, under certain conditions, invoke force majeure and thus be exempt from sanctions. These remedies seek to answer speculation regarding wanton acts of murder for material gain under the guise of euthanasia.

The case for suicide is quite different and can be perpetrated in many ways, ie assisted with single lives or with multiple lives. Single suicides are usually straightforward, but multiples can be very difficult to resolve, as with the horrific experience with Jim Jones in Guyana in the early 1970s.

More than 900 persons were persuaded to drink the not-so-loving cup that contained cyanide which kills instantly. That such a large number of souls could be duped into self-destruction remains a mystery today.

"Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbour because it unjustly breaks the ties of national solidarity and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations."

Insurance coverage, for example, gets complicated when the victim dies by his/her own hand. Many suicides are impulsive, particularly when family is involved. In very few of these instances has any thought been given to the aftermath of the act. It is here that consideration must be given to the consequences, particularly to insurance that becomes very complex.

The choice of life is another difficult issue for the medical profession. The 1960s saw the widely debated Mother & Child quandary that raised the question of solitary survival. The issue at stake for Christian doctors was in the event of childbirth, if one would have to be saved for the other to survive, which should it be -- the mother or the as yet unborn Child.

The argument raged for many months and was referred to the higher authority of the Vatican for guidance. The answer provided was that the doctors must work equally to save both lives under God, a solution that would allow the doctors' consciences to be put to rest. It should be noted that whereas the doctors involved focused on death, the solution focused on life.

The other scenario which has arisen is the battlefield occurrence with a soldier lying fatally wounded in no-man's land. If he remains where he is, he will die from his wounds. On the other hand, if he gets up and runs for it, he will likely be shot by snipers. Which option should he choose? Both options could amount to suicide. The prescribed solution most likely to succeed is that he should get up and run for it, as that opportunity offers the very slim chance of success as there is a possibility that the sniper could miss his target.

Tradition, surprisingly enough, has been the creator of a suicide exit linked to maritime history that has run true for centuries, namely that the captain is expected to go down with his ship.

This was shown graphically in the motion picture Titanic, and was drawn into question with the investigation dealing with the ferry that sank off the South Korean shore, drowning hundreds of students on a pleasure trip.

The captain was seen leaving his ship well before all the passengers had departed. He proclaimed that he was being "rescued", not "abandoning" his ship! Pray tell, what is the difference? He will live to tell his story another day.

So it is when our time comes, we shall be able to hear "for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee" and will lead to eternal peace. Pax tecum.

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