EUTHANASIA: “THE GOOD DEATH”
“I will neither prescribe nor administer a lethal dose of medicine to any patient,
even if asked, nor counsel any such thing nor perform any act or omission
with direct intent deliberately to end a human life.”
So saith a translation of the Hippocratic Oath. Every doctor practicing in the Western World has taken a variation on this pledge, which modern version ends, variably, “…above all, I must not play at God.” But, 2400 years after Hippocratic medicine took hold – is it still right and proper that a so-called ‘respect for life’ should override the wish of those who are enduring terrible suffering to end their lives? Despite the well documented reports of persons who have had NDEs that what lies beyond is So Much Better Than This, our society advocates Life at Any Cost.
Both scientific theory and religious doctrine seem to support the Hippocratic tradition (though the oath was made to the ‘old pagan gods,’ Apollo, Asclepius and others) – a tenuous partnership indeed, for in so many areas science and religion are adversaries (and theology and paganism much more so). But what of the personal toll that dying a prolonged, agonizing death takes on its victims – those whom medicine has sworn to help? And what of the financial cost to a failing medical system? Medical budgets have been cut to the bone, hospital wards are overflowing, and those who are dying (the old and the young) often have neither adequate care nor hope for the relief of early demise. Yet, at the same time, hospice organizations, where end-of-life care can better be managed and can cost less than half of what a government hospital might cost, are going begging for government funding. And the ‘public’s purse’ often seems enticed to open only via warm-and-fuzzy-feelings engendered by the pomp and splendour of star-studded fundraisers – case in point: here in Vancouver, a children’s hospice enjoys the revenue from a $7+ million dollar per year charity benefit while an adult hospice relies on door-to-door sales of boxes of chocolates, the sale of used clothing, and the kindness of piecemeal donors in a desperate attempt to keep its doors open. Something is terribly wrong with this picture!
In a so-called humane and advanced society, how can religious and philosophical mores developed more than two millennia ago still inform our modern social systems? How far have we come, really, when our best opiates cannot bring an end to end-of-life suffering for many and our attitudes remain antiquated and unenlightened. And what of the spiritual needs of the dying? In a society that shuns death; that fears death, Government cutbacks have pushed spiritual comfort for the dying to the ‘back burner’. When faced with the horrors and loneliness of dying, is it inhumane that an incapacitated patient, once the able-bodied master of their own fate, is denied the discretion to ‘take the hemlock?’
Recent statistics show that nearly 30% of the government funds spent on any one individual in their lifetime is spent in the last year of life. In a medical system in which there are more and more demands upon a shrinking dollar – should we still be relying on a 2400-year-old principle that might well have passed its expiry date? Should the dying be assisted to die, so our medical dollars can be dedicated to the living? At what astronomical cost to the greater number of our society do we allocate funds to prolong the lives of those few who will soon ‘meet their maker?’ … and all because the ‘politics of God’ established in the year 325 CE (at Constantine I’s ecumenical Council of Nicaea) preclude the “Good Death” (i.e., euthanasia). ‘Thou shalt not kill’ has not stopped war (or the food industry) since the beginning of known history – yet our society clings to this ‘commandment’ as if it were a lifeline holding us back from the fiery pits of Dante’s hell. The existence of God has no more been proved than has the existence of the Devil (or, for that matter, the ‘other side” of NDE renown), yet somehow delusion about the existence of God and medical science’s devotion to the Hippocratic Oath have caused us to proclaim that ‘Life is Precious’. Is it?
Perhaps we the living are really – as some of the ancient Greeks (and some modern “New Agers”) believed – the dead ones?
About the Author:
Michael Ireland is a writer, editor and wellness practitioner.
She specializes in metaphysics, spirituality and self-development.
You can connect with her at:
or visit www.transitionsunlimited.ca