By: Thomas E. Brewton
Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s recent release from prison prompts a couple of thoughts.
Dr. Kervorkian became known as “Dr. Death” by assisting suicides of more than 100 people. In all such cases, we are given to understand, the suicides were at the request of the people committing suicide, people who may have been in pain from incurable cancer and similar maladies.
Nonetheless, under the law of the state of Michigan, Dr. Kevorkian was convicted and imprisoned in 1999 on the charge of second-degree murder for the crime of assisting suicide.
The first and most obvious aspect of Dr. Kevorkian’s case is its contrast with the so-called Constitutional “right” to abortion (found by the Supreme Court in the shadows of the penumbras of the Constitution, which is to say, in the personal ideas of the Supreme Court majority about what the law ought to be).
Both Dr. Kevorkian and abortion doctors assist in killing human beings. The only significant difference is that Dr. Kevorkian’s patients were consenting adults who asked him to assist in their homicides. Babies are unable to express an opinion and are therefore murdered against their wills, nature’s primary biological urge being self-preservation.
A similarity between Dr. Kevorkian’s assisted suicides and doctors performing abortions is that neither is subject to any due process of law, as would be the case of a jury trial for murder. Both Dr. Kevorkian and abortion doctors, as well as the mothers having abortions, arbitrarily kill their victims without any sort of judicial review to determine whether sufficient legal grounds exist for the action.
Apart from the issue of legal due process, there is the fundamental moral question: are murder (abortion) or suicide permissible? Are they harmful to society by eroding civilized standards of conduct?
Once the line is crossed, once the political state and the mores of society decide that arbitrary manipulation of human life is both permissible and desirable, we are entering George Orwell’s world of Big Brother.
Dr. Kevorkian’s patients may all have been possessed of alert minds and therefore able consciously to choose death. However, there is the possibility that unscrupulous persons might contrive, for personal gain, to convince a doctor that a comatose patient wanted suicide. Or, in the extreme case, we have Hitler’s doctors working with the Holocaust.
The Bible does not directly prohibit suicide. But both the Jewish and Christian religions uphold the sanctity of life as a primary moral guideline.
St. Augustine is arguably Christianity’s most influential early theologian. His Civitas Dei (The City of God), completed around 420 AD, directly condemns suicide in almost all situations. In Book I, chapter 17, he states:
“For if it is not lawful to take the law into our own hands, and slay even a guilty person, whose death no public sentence has warranted, then certainly he who kills himself is a homicide…”
Book I, chapter 20 is titled “That Christians have no authority for committing suicide in any circumstances whatever.”
Civilized abhorrence of suicide is of ancient provenance. Plato, for example, in his dialog “The Laws,” (written sometime after 367 BC) in Book Nine, writes:
“But what about the killer of the person who is, above all, his ‘nearest and dearest’, as the expression is? What penalty ought he to undergo? I am talking about the man who kills himself… (a) People who perish in this way must be buried individually, with no one to share their grave. (b) They must be buried in disgrace on the boundaries of the twelve territorial divisions, in deserted places that have no name. (c) The graves must not be identifiable, either by headstone or title.”
In the “Phaedo”, Plato writes:
“Cebes asks why suicide is thought not to be right, if death is to be accounted a good? Well, (1) according to one explanation, because man is a prisoner, who must not open the door of his prison and run away–this is the truth in a ‘mystery.’ Or (2) rather, because he is not his own property, but a possession of the gods, and has no right to make away with that which does not belong to him.”
Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. His weblog is THE VIEW FROM 1776 http://www.thomasbrewton.com/
Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.