Wednesday, February 20, 2013

EUTHANASIA - some thoughts

Our body, the identity that is us, is involved in an intricate web of relationships – family, friends, colleagues and even peripheral associations with the medical fraternity. So, in a sense this body that we call ‘ours’ belonging solely to us as sovereign subjects is not as autonomous as we might think, for we are called forth during our life time not only to be responsible for ourselves but also to others. I think this is part of the reason why the issue of Euthanasia is so wrought with problems for those who are so racked with psychological or physical pain through disease or injury and who no longer wish to be a burden to themselves or others, and who wish to end their lives, feel that their bodies are not their own to do with what they wish. Indeed our bodies are so regulated and regimented through laws and convention that determine that we should not smoke, drink alcohol or sugar laden soft drinks, we must exercise, eat the right foods, reduce fats and maintain a healthy body and mind. Must! Because this life, this body that we thought was ours, is NOT. Keep it in optimum condition so that when you die you can donate your organs to others. Of course, the alternative in a biotechnological society is to keep individuals alive at whatever cost - wired up to life-sustaining machinery; alone and unaware in a hospital intensive care unit. I am reminded always when I think of the way frail life is maintained of the hundred year old wireheads in Bruce Sterling’s novel Schismatrix (1985) - decayed but perfumed, feeble but propped up, filled with antibiotics, wired to systems that cleaned their blood and enabled them to breath, whole ecosystems unto themselves they were no longer human as we imagine the human – they were the dead, undead. Is this what we want? To be kept alive even though life for us is no longer worth living? Why do we compel people to continue a life lead only through and by medical technology? Why must end life be medicalised?
Euthanasia is defined as the act of putting to death painlessly or allowing a person to die by withholding medical assistance, it is also defined as physician assistant suicide, or the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or who is in an irreversible coma. Euthanasia is also suicide, if a person decides that they want a painless death without moderation or intervention by the medical fraternity. Euthanasia is considered to be a good death, meaning I suppose that there is no prolonging of unnecessary pain and suffering, no degeneration of our mental state, in other words, Euthanasia allows people to die with dignity. I am almost positive that most of us hold dearly to our self-respect and it is an esteem not only associated with our physical appearance (such an emphasis in many cultures) but a regard for our mental acumen, all important to us because pain and anguish changes personality and the ‘we’ that is ourselves and the ‘we’ that others know deteriorates when we are not in good health and we would all like to be, at the end of our lives, as close as possible to what we might regard as our true selves.
If our bodies were ours to do what we wish with them, disconnected from that great web in which we are inculcated, and to a greater extent they are, for people decide everyday to surgically modify body parts through invasive surgery, take mood altering or necessary pharmaceuticals, reduce their food intake and exercise so that they can be slim, indeed, they take this body, their body as one of the only sites over which they feel they have some control. Sometimes, perhaps in most cases, they consider the impact of their self-governing behavior on the lives of others. Euthanasia maybe an action that is carried out with informed consent or it may be at the discretion of the attending doctor – yes, it may be illegal but the medical profession has ways around this for the doctor can prescribe large doses of morphine to help with pain, knowing full well that the dosage will kill the person. Some may say that we learn invaluable things from our own suffering or that of others, but what can be gained for those who have nothing more to learn from this suffering? Some suffer and still cling desperately to life, never wanting to let go and others refuse to suffer because whether they suffer or not they know that the end game is death, but isn’t this true for us all?
But what of those people who have grown very old or who are incapacitated and feel compelled to end their own lives with no means of doing so? In order to have a ‘good’ death they must ensure that whatever means they use must be final. Nothing worse than attempting suicide and discovering afterwards that you are still alive and have created greater physical and mental problems for yourself and others! There is that word 'others' again - our bodies are not our own! Apparently a lethal dose of Nembutal (Pentobarbital) is the drug of choice, but is illegal and most difficult to acquire, which is why many older people commit suicide by hanging themselves.  Whilst suicide in Victoria, Australia has been decriminalized, it is still illegal to assist someone in suicide, hence why assisted Euthanasia is such a controversial issue.

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