Euthanasia – The Argument


With all the talk of Terry Pratchett’s BBC program in which he travels to, Euthanasia clinic, Dignitas  in Switzerland, I thought I’d discuss the ethical argument surrounding the controversial subject.

Pratchett is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, where not only do you begin losing short and long-term memory but eventually you lose the capability of your bodily functions. Your body forgets how to live. Alzheimer’s is a terminal illness that has symptoms of severe depression (quite understandably considering the prognosis), so euthanasia or  assisted suicide is an option that some may consider in order to escape before they lose themselves completely. Illegal in this country, euthanasia can be carried out in the Dignitas clinic Pratchett visited in Switzerland, but should there be this option? Is it an acceptable solution?

The Religious Argument

According to the devout Christians among us, it is against God’s plan to commit suicide. Despite his granting of freewill to us, they don’t want it used as it denies God’s right to our lives. Some even believe that the suffering process is good as it allows a Christian to better understand the sacrifice Jesus made;  Pope John Paul II wrote that “It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls.” But Jesus didn’t have a terminal illness that caused suffering and degradation over a period of years, did he?

The Medical Argument

Some worry that if euthanasia is legalized it may become a more commonly used procedure on the elderly and sick to save on expensive medical bills. It is widely believed that if Palliative care is working to its purpose than euthanasia is unnecessary as pain should be relieved in more “ethical” ways. How true this is, I cannot say. Does it undermine a doctor and nurses duty to care? Well in my opinion no, if it is truly what a patient – who is still in sound mind – wants then it is  within their right to end their suffering that way, and doctors and nurses will have a duty to oblige to the patients needs.

The “Slippery Slope” Argument

Aktion T-4 was the name of the Nazis’ program that authorised the mass killing of the disabled and mentally ill, starting with children that were seen as “life unworthy of life”. Seen as a drain on the economy and an obstacle to Nazi ideology regarding the superiority of the Aryan race, the Nazis were ruthless enough to order their deaths without their consent. It is this disregard for life, that is argued by many to have led to policies such as. ‘The Final Solution’; the genocide of 6 million Jews. It is this sort of escalation that many are afraid of, at first it would be euthanasia of the consenting patient, but before long the patient may have no say in the decision process what so ever.

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I personally believe that euthanasia is acceptable if the patient is still deemed able of making his/her own decisions. It should not however be down to relatives who could have ulterior motives such as an earlier inheritance; disgusting as it may sound, there are people like that out there. When the choice is taken away from the patient and made by someone else it is no longer euthanasia that is a sanctioning of murder by an outside party. Understandably it must be difficult for a spouse, sibling, parent, child to sit and allow their loved ones to suffer, however they ultimately cannot decide when their loved one can die; the law would be simply too difficult to police. The medical and slippery-slope argument have merit, and these are certainly dangers regarding the legalisation of the euthanasia process, however if sufficient regulations are installed and it is strictly a decision by the patient then I can see little room for escalation in a 21st century liberalised world; relatively fresh from the horrors of the Nazis’ genocidal policies.

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Wounds Still Healing


Remembering the Rwandan and Bosnian Genocides

Two of the major flashpoints in the history of UN sponsored humanitarian intervention, occurred within a year of each other. The Rwandan genocide which began in 1994, lasted 100 days and saw an estimated 500,000 – 1,000,000 people die, or approximately 20% of the population massacred mercilessly on an unprecedented scale. This was a targeted campaign against ethnic Tutsi’s and moderate Hutu’s, which involved the most abhorrent violence, sexual abuse, and torture.  The Bosnian genocide of 1995 saw Bosnian-Serbs undertake a campaign of ethnic cleansing, in the attempt to eradicate the Bosnian-Muslim population. Most famously was the massacre at Srebrenica; despite being declared a safe enclave by the UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) the peace-keepers were unable to sufficiently protect the town, leading to the towns capture and then the targeted killings.

On the 26th May 2011, somewhat paralleling the closeness of the aforementioned events, two of the leaders responsible for these genocides were captured. Ratko Mladic, former leader of the Bosnian-Serb army and Bernard Munyagishari, a militia leader, accused of inciting and masterminding the massacre. The latter did not receive as much media attention as Mladic who has long been viewed as the most wanted man in Europe and will now potentially face a trial for war crimes at the Hague; providing his health does not deteriorate too badly. As far as closure, or comfort, is concerned the two leaders will hopefully be brought to justice 16 years after their crimes.

The wounds and scars left by the events of 1994/5 are certainly still in the process of healing. Many Serbs don’t consider Mladic a war criminal; the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13564139)  make note of one Serbian resident who claimed, ‘”I feel sorry for Mladic, he was a real Serb.”‘ On the surface, the capture of Mladic anaethsetises the pain, but the underlying wound is still very much felt when people are unwilling to accept the man as a modern-day monster. The ethnic and racial tensions appear very much present in modern day Serbia, if that resident’s statement is anything to go by.

In terms of Rwanda, the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13566368), again claims that one of the suspects equal, in terms of their involvement, to Munyagishari, is thought to be in Kenya, protected by their government. The effects of the 1994 massacre are huge; proliferation of HIV, children of the rape victims having to grow up in broken families, even other African nations have been affected by fleeing perpetrators, most noticably the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Economist presented a startling statistic for the DRC itself, that every minute, 48 women/girls are raped; hiding Rwandan war criminals do not help the vulnerable state, already plagued by its own problems. Even though Munyagishari has been captured many still havn’t been brought to justice, leaving Rwandan memories still somewhat vivid.

Is enough being done? One cannot be sure. If the operation to find these criminals and bring them to justice mirror the efficiency to which the UN dealt with the war crimes, then sadly no. The Bosnian and Rwandan genocide will always be remembered more for what the UN didn’t do, rather than what they did. They reduced numbers of peacekeepers in Rwanda days prior to the massacre despite the planning of it being almost common knowledge and were essentialy held at ransom by Russian and Chinese veto over what to in Bosnia; it was only after NATO acted independently that anything was done. It is both important and great news that these murderous criminals have been caught, but it does serve to provide a poignant reminder of past mistakes and oversights in the UN, and problems and tensions that are in many ways still present now within Serbia and Rwanda, as well as all the surrounding countries that have been affected.

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