Paul Catalanotto: Numb to our own cruelty

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A society which embraces the despatch of the dying has lost sight of what it is to be truly human. Photo: Shutterstock

There is a philosophical problem with offering death rather than our best help first

We human beings have a universal norm supported by our universal traditions that it is better to be living than dead. “Tradition” can mean many things, but here it means to pass on or hand down something from one generation to the next, and if this is the case then “tradition” as G.K. Chesterton once said, “means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.”

Yet, in recent years, legislation has passed by those who happen to be walking about that says it is better to be dead sooner than later, especially if you are over a certain age, terminally ill, and in pain and discomfort. Though there have been instances through time and cultures where death is chosen over life and is tolerated and celebrated, it does not disprove the point that in our global human tradition it is better for man to be alive than dead.

Politicians favouring death over life ignore the good traditions that the deceased have left us. They believe the living have a valid argument simply because they “happen to be walking about” while ignoring the input from the dead.

Is it true that it is better to be dead and free of pain than living and suffering? Some of the living seem to think the answer is the former, while the dead are suspiciously silent on the issue, leaving us only their legacy of thousands of years to guide us. A society that gets rid of the good and universal traditions in its culture is ill itself. When the ruling elite pass such laws, it is like Tom Sawyer getting his friends to paint the fence for him and convincing them they are having fun. In a word, any society severed from its good traditions is as dead as the dead it ignores.

No living person understands death outside of a theoretical perspective, and those who help a person die must wrestle with the questions: are they prematurely hastening a person to an afterlife, or are they ushering them into a void, a nothingness of non-existence that the human mind cannot comprehend because the human mind only knows and experiences what it means to exist?

Is it true that it is better to be dead and free of pain than living and suffering?

If it is the former, then the existence of an afterlife is no justification for killing another. If it is the latter, then it behoves us to help people get every last ounce of life out of their existence. We know some of the driving factors behind requests for voluntary assisted dying are fear of losing control, fear of losing self, and fear of pain and suffering.

Collectively, all of those fears are manageable with support by palliative care, from family, counsellors and social workers (if there is no family). Until those in the late stages of life receive the mental health and support they need to manage their fears, voluntary assisted dying should not be brought to the table for discussion and consideration.

Finally, the legislators who have proposed that death is preferable to life and have started the newest foolish tradition that non-existence is preferable to existence when certain conditions are met have not made humanity better; they have made it possible for humanity to be numb to its own cruelty.

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