The Good Death – or Not?

Lehrer reported tonight on the Supreme Court decision on assisted death. I believe most of us have conflicted feelings about end-of-life questions. This may have been the best choice – but the remark by an opponent that suicides are often victims of depression was answered a little too glibly by his opposite, who quickly contended that none euthanized had suffered from depression.

Generally we might assume that any juxtaposition of this law with the serial murders (on what must surely be an unprecedented scale) of Harold Shipman would have no relation to this discussion. However, David Wilson, in “Shipman’s Grim Legacy,” argues with an approach likely to irritate us. (Shipman was found out because he forged a large bequest to himself from one of his victims. The wealthiest age group in our country is the elderly.) His simplistic Marxist rhetoric just doesn’t work, but he does have a point: the lonely, the depressed, the elderly are vulnerable. And it is depression more often than pain that makes life seem not worth living. Counting a depressed suicidal wish as “real” is to assume reality is totally subjective. Watching mimes play tennis without a ball may be art, but in the real world assuming that such a wish to die should be honored is depraved. Wilson argues:

So, sadly, here we have Shipman revealing a hitherto hidden reality about the place of the elderly, and the inadequacy of the social protections for that group. Serial killers prey on the vulnerable – those groups who cannot compete within the structural conditions of patriarchal capitalism; those people who do not feel able to answer back to those whom this structure adorns with power – often the power of life and death. Two years on, Shipman’s murders should have been contributing to a debate about the place of the elderly. The fact that this has not happened means it is all the more likely that he will not be this country’s last serial killer.

Well, Shipman did it and he has tricked the country out of his pension & benefits by killing himself. So appropriate. So clever. But, manipulating the quite modern retirement system is not a sign that Shipman’s evil arose from patriarchal capitalism; this is an evil as old as man himself. And that the weak are vulnerable without the protection of law is equally obvious. We might keep in mind the vulnerability of his victims, the vulnerability of those left to die in the nursing home during Katrina.

So, we take another perspective than Wilson’s – a deeper (& truer) one. But, in the end, we, too, see tragedy even if our solutions would differ.

1 thought on “The Good Death – or Not?”

  1. I find the relatively cavalier attitude towards safeguards evinced by many proponents of euthanasia disturbing. Considering that we are talking about the intentionally causing the death of human being, the degree of oversight on the process envisioned by proponents is minimal at best. They blithely assume that it will all work out in the end and that there will be no unintended consequences.

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