The paradox of euthanasia

I often fail to pick up on things until much later. recently read a book on economics - my first since 1972 when I studied Economics 101 as part of my accounting degree. In fact, I nearly change to economics since I failed Accounting102, but for several reasons am glad I stayed with my second choice. (My first choice was pharmacy but on discovering I would have to study physics quickly dropped it.)

This book was written a year later - 1973. It was called by Time magazine "an eco-bible" and pointed out the world could not sustain the economic growth path it was on if that growth was to be shared moderately evenly. Nearly half a century later we're more openly worrying about issues such as salt water, fresh water, global warming, over-consumption (food and resources), the now massive gap between rich and poor, and so on.

One aspect of this book that intrigued me was a discussion of the paradox, where two logical truths conflict with each other. Computers have yet to master the paradox, so computer-built economic models are inevitably flawed. They can do vast maths quickly and efficiently - but they can't take into account people's behaviour. Marketers use computers very effectively to focus on one aspect of behaviour. They often know us better than we know ourselves.

Reading this crystallised some thoughts I'd been mulling over for a while. There is truth, despite what some people seem to think. For example, 1 = 1 is trite but always true. Of course, context is critical. If you're looking at the result of an experiment or formula, it might approximate one, but to make this case clear, we're simply talking whole numbers. On a bigger scale, killing people is bad. However, even that truth is being eroded.

I saw a documentary about some people plotting to kill Hitler. The plot failed, and one of the people (Bonhoeffer) was killed in prison just before the war ended. It's difficult from a human perspective to argue these people were doing wrong - they could see the incredible harm being done (apart from various atrocities recognised as crimes, sometimes on a massive scale). However, today we have all sorts of lesser justifications for killing people.

Abortion is the biggest and those who support it usually argue that the unborn aren't yet people. It's hard to see that as different from Hitler arguing the Jews weren't "real" people (i.e. Aryan).

We also have the issue of euthanasia. There will lead to inconvenient people being killed. Even today without the option of euthanasia, we have terminally ill patients being given increasing amounts of morphine, which can speed up their end, although it's use is to prevent their pain. (To be clear I'm not saying we shouldn't alleviate pain - we should do all we can for the sick.)

In both cases, people will point to what they see as genuine heart-breaking cases which warrant an exception to allow a person to be killed. Both my best friend and my mother died of cancer. Fortunately, both passed without too many obvious signs of distress. Near their ends, the amount of morphine was increased and their last days were spent largely comatose.

There are others whose pain cannot be masked so easily, but fear of dying is a far more widespread issue. I am perhaps fortunate to have twice believed I was going to die. One was a misunderstanding after my stroke and was cleared up some months later when my wife explained it was my kidneys that would die - not me. The other was my decision not to take dialysis when offered. I accidentally discovered the aches and pains I'd had for 10 months was caused by my kidneys deteriorating to the stage the could not process lactose. Avoiding lactose got rid of the aches and pains.

Melo-dramatic stories evoke sympathy, but those that involve continuous suffering, albeit at a lower level, are far more common. No doctors (stroke, heart, kidney and GP) could explain the cause of my suffering. I only found it by trying the new (at the time) lactose-free milk. I did that only because my milk was out of stock, and thought the new one might suit my wife who has been off dairy products for years.

When my first business collapsed leaving three of us owing hundreds of thousands of debt, I had (undiagnosed but clearly with the benefit of hindsight) depression. I had no hope - no expectation of things working out - everything was black. For six months I could see no light at the end of a tunnel.

After six months I was driving our children to the playground and switched the radio on. It was a little short-lived station broadcast from a church in Lower Hutt. I didn't know the guy they were playing - but am now a fan. Mark Lowry talked about watching a documentary about heart ops. He had me laughing for the first time in six months - really laughing. After five minutes or so, he said something reminded him of his favourite verse - "This too shall pass". As he talked (whether good or bad, whatever we were facing now would pass) I heard this truth - and saw a glimmer in the distance (and it wasn't a train heading for me). It was the beginning of the way out.

During my times in hospital, and also with people I have known, I've seen people suffering. Perhaps that's why one of my favourite stories is on this site.

Many people have incredible attitudes. I never met him but one younger guy was featured in the Dom Post. He'd lost at least one leg from diabetes complications and was sharing his story so that other young people might pay heed to messages about junk food (especially sugar) and not think (as he did) that they were invincible.

Death is such a permanent solution. Had I not taken dialysis I wouldn't be here now - all for such a trivial problem. The suffering was NOT trivial: although minor it wore me down. However the cause, in hindsight, was trivial.

Everyone is different. What I have experienced is relatively minor, both physically and mentally. I've seen worse with others. I understand how death can be seen as an escape from unbearable suffering. But we need to do all we can - physically, mentally, socially and spiritually - to help people want to live - not just while they're dying, but before they get to that stage.

 

 

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Last modified: 05 December 2020.