By Rashid Samnakay, New Age Islam
25 June 2018
The news of the English born ecologist and botanist Dr David Goodall of Australia, who travelled to Switzerland for assisted euthanasia at the age of 104, is now a world renown news event.
He was highly resentful that at his age he had to travel from Australia to Switzerland, where medically assisted euthanasia is legal. He showed his disappointment by wearing T-shirt printed with “Ageing disgracefully” for his journey there.
He was not terminally ill and was of sound mind, but was recently suffering from old-age related ailments. He was a staunch advocate and activist for legalising assisted euthanasia for even “...rather less than my age... ” for people of sound mind.
It is well known that a few countries and States in the first world have legalised assisted euthanasia but only for 'terminally ill' people. That is to say that such people already have to be 'dying in pain (languishing) to be assisted to die'!
The debate on this emotive and complex subject, of person seeking legalised assisted suicide revolves round a few of these issues:
Human dignity of the person
Human Rights of the person
The wishes of a sound minded person with respect to time and place of dying
The society's norms, legality and implications of the wishes of the person
The Religious edicts and norms of the religion and beliefs of the person
The immediate Family, its responsibilities and expectations in carrying out the wish of the person dying
The medical knowledge of the times, particularly if the person is languishing in ill health
In many countries, one of the stumbling block for lawmakers, in legalising assisted suicide is the over reach of religious belief, that is – God gives life and God takes life – and its morality; which Dr Goodall had rejected.
Here, it is argued that in both cases, that is, God giving and taking life, it neglects the day to day practical interventions that mankind has always made in bringing life into the world, also to prolong and in ending it. The churches not only accept these interventions but find spiritual arguments to support it on the basis of compassion.
In the first case, of bringing life into the world to comply with - “go forth, be fruitful and multiply ...” - is the basis of all rituals of marriage so as to bring the man and the woman together within the accepted norms, morality and legality of society. Then if there are any impediments in the couple bringing in the world a child of the marriage-bed, naturally and in accordance with God's laws of combination of male sperm and female egg, the State and medical fraternity, with churches blessing spare no effort in intervening and assisting the couple in the process of “multiplying”.
During pregnancy if the mother's life is in danger, to save it it is accepted and the unborn child can be aborted. Yes, God gives life in accordance with this law when every thing is appropriate for the process to succeed. If not, mankind hugely intervenes in many ways to assist nature along. And that is not considered as 'playing God'.
In the second case, of taking life, that is killing; mankind intervenes in many ways too to stop the heart, lungs, brain and other body organs from functioning. For example in some countries, capital punishment for various crimes, calls for taking of Life. Life is taken away legally by killing the criminal by hanging, shooting, by guillotine, with sword, electrocuting or administering lethal medicine! The least is 'life imprisonment', depriving a person of 'living' but allowing breathing but languishing in confined space.
The most common legal and large scale 'killing field' is the State deploying its mostly young men and women in wars, to kill and get killed and then honour them nationally and also posthumously as heroes! Arguing it to be in the cause of “just war”, for the good of humanity; to comply with the religious institution. This too is not considered as playing God.
The Hypocrisy of It All Is Mind Boggling.
Australian Medical Association’s current president, echoing many a politicians' religiosity, said among other things on this subject that:-
“I have serious concerns about a community where we make arbitrary decisions about whose life is valuable enough to continue and whose should be ended under the law.” This suggests that the wishes of the mentally sound and sensitive person, conscious of his or hers self-worth, the “I” - to die in a dignified manner and Human Rights have no value. The president forgets that the demand is for legislation to legalise assisted euthanasia and “that is not arbitrary and also it is the person's considered decision to die”.
The politicians are abrogating their God given capacity to use their reasoning and law-making responsibility by sheltering behind the religious and some medical arguments, to allow competent adults of sound mind to die with dignity when they want to, which is their God given Right.
Was it Galileo Galilei who argued with the church that:
“I do not feel obliged that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use”?
The lawmakers and medical fraternity influenced by lopsided religious and moral arguments exercise their Right to make the person languish in physical and or mental pain. They argue for example that palliative medicine can take care of the suffering. A humanitarian act of kindness and compassion?
It may do so for the physical pain but not the mental anguish.
Palliative care too, it is understood is a form of slow killing in that increasing doses of morphine are administered which results in organs failure. A form of killing with kindness over prolonged period never-the-less!
Yet a few Doctors in the world are known to have admitted that they have exercised their Right to assist people wishing to depart in dignity. Compassion felt by the departing for the living had eventually won.
The fear expressed generally in this argument, is that the law could be misused to commit murders .This then speaks volumes of the incompetency of the lawmakers to frame the laws as watertight as possible. It is a fact that no law is ever watertight. Which law of the land is not manipulated by cleaver lawyers arguing in the courts of Law when defending their client? Here the clear difference is to be made between morality and legality. It is obvious that the use of craft based intelligence is accepted as a norm in justice system.
The gift of 'sense, reason and intellect' is what makes us human being, a person who is conscious of his/her worth in the society and sensitive to the issues of any burden they may impose on the institutions of State and life circumstances of family. Once they lose the ability to enjoy 'Life' independently and make contribution to the well being of the family, society and country; the pain is intensified many fold. With the realisation of one’s dependence on others and impositions on them, the sense of loss of dignity magnifies. This sense cannot be eliminated by modern social system and advances in medical technology.
“First do no harm” - the revised version of modern Hippocratic Oath though does not necessarily cover the entire ethical and moral spectrum; never-the-less shows that some thought is now given in its administration in many Medical schools. The given modification in its broadest sense should mean that no harm is done to the dignity and natural Rights of a person wishing to terminate his or her life and at any age, as Dr David Goodall said ; of course within the guidelines of compassionately enacted laws. This is the corner stone of any justice system of civilised society.
Unfortunately, even though death is accepted as part of “Life” and inevitable, in many religious communities this subject is a taboo, and not polite to discuss it openly. It should not be so for Muslims. For far too long archaic theological and primitive arguments has robbed the law makers the ability that God has endowed them with intelligence to legislate to -- “do good “for humanity.
It is time to change the religious mind-set of people to do just that, and obey the Creator's command that He has forbidden to take life except “Rightfully”. There cannot be a more compelling “Rightful” purpose than maintaining the dignity of “Life” at every stage of its journey in this world, for a sensitive person of sound mind and mature age. In dying there is a concern for others.
If David Goodall, a nonbeliever in the After-life, but a believer in Life-after was to lobby Muslims for his cause; he would have echoed 'Iqbal's' thoughts to them:
Maut May Bhee Zindagani Kee Tarap Mastoor Hai
Concealed in Death is also the Concern for Life.
Rest in Peace Dr Goodall!