Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ramblings: Charles Snelling and the question of Euthanasia

I was perusing the New York Times online today (thanks to my lovely friend Meg I now have a subscription!) and came across THIS article about a man named Charles D. Snelling, who, after 61 years of marriage to his wife Adrienne, killed her and then himself. He had previously written a Life Report for David Brook’s column (read it HERE), in which he explains how his wife taught him unconditional love and nurtured him during their life together, and how, it was his turn to look after this wife as her struggle with Alzheimer’s got tougher and tougher. For anyone who has either cared for, or been close to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the decline of the sufferer is terrible and heartbreaking. To me, this was a wonderful story of love, one that lasted over many decades. That Charles chose to kill his wife and then himself was a choice he made, and I can’t really condemn him for it, not based on facts portrayed in both his essay and in the article linked above.

Then I read the reader comments and was quite surprised at how many people were completely outraged by his act, which got me thinking about all sorts of different points and arguments. Technically, Charles committed murder and then suicide, and we have no idea if his wife had any say in the matter, or if it was a common wish that they die together when it got too tough. To me it sounds like it was an act of love, and based on the portrayal of their life together, they had probably discussed and agreed to something like this. But I suppose there will always be a lingering doubt, did she really want this? How far gone was she when this happened? Was there no one who could have helped them both? If a husband of 35 killed his wife of 34 and then himself I think I would be disgusted and would consider it some type of crime of passion, but for Charles and Adrienne I just feel compassion. Such blurry lines…

I think this is really a question of personal opinion and everyone is entitled to theirs. If one day I am sick with a degenerative disease then I will consider euthanasia as an option of escape. Not because I don’t want to live my life, but because I don’t want to be a burden on my family. But I also wouldn’t want anyone to go to prison for helping me to die in as much a humane way as possible, and in most countries euthanasia is still illegal and will probably never be legalised. For good cause really, because there are so many fine lines that can be crossed, and so many different opinions to watch out for and to listen to. What kind of criteria do you use to determine when you want to die and how? I’m assuming that all sorts of documentation will need to be put together while you are still conscious and able. What if you change your mind at the last minute and can’t communicate this to whoever is helping you to die? If I decided to end my life today it would be considered suicide, but if I asked someone to assist me in dying because I was physically incapable of doing it alone that would be considered murder. I’m not religious, but I believe in choice, as long as my choices don’t hurt another human being.

For those who believe in religion, I assume that the idea of killing another, be it because it was requested (euthanasia), an act of love (see above), or because of more despicable means (hatred, envy etc), is always going to be condemned. The fifth Commandment in the Bible states that “Thy shalt not kill”, meaning murder is murder, whatever the reason behind it. Every single question I ask myself in this regards is followed by another question and another question and yet another one. I don’t think there is a real answer as to what is right or wrong on this subject; it’s just a case of opinion based on a separate case at a time.

In any case, in my opinion, Charles Snelling showed love and courage in his final act, and I would like to imagine the couple together somewhere, holding hands and looking down on their children and grandchildren, wherever they may be. I feel like I am going to be thinking about this for the rest of the weekend and I am not going to be able to come to any conclusion about it being right or wrong, good or bad, black or white. I actually don't think there are any real answers or conclusions to this entire topic to be honest. Everyone is going to be right because everyone has the right to their own opinion...

Information on Euthanasia

Jack Kevorkian information (famous for helping many of his patients die in peace, and convicted for this).

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