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Saturday, 4 June 2016

Dignity and mercy

On 13 September 1994, my father died at 61 due to a brain tumor that unfortunately - and aggressively - returned after a successful removal several months earlier. I still remember that period and especially his loss of dignity. Mercy finally came, albeit quite late.

The above came to my mind following a Dexter episode (SE03 EP07) in which Dexter assisted in the death of a close friend who is dying of cancer anyway. At the end of that episode, Dexter finally understands the true meaning of "mercy". A word which had often been used by Dexter's string of victims. An act of mercy to let a human keep his/her dignity without unnecessary suffering.

This same week, the widow of a Dutch doctor won a court case on the validity of the suspension of her late husband. This doctor had been suspended because a co-worker had expressed doubts on the high doses of morphine that he had allegedly given to a terminally ill patient. After his suspension, the doctor committed suicide (eg, EURNL Times, Time for news). Dignity and mercy.

In case of animals, we often do not hesitate to visit a veterinary physician and to ask if the "vet" can end the suffering of our beloved pet. In case of humans, some people treat a similar act of mercy on a terminally ill patient suddenly as murder. That discrepancy does not make any sense.

We value life very differently between human and non-humans (eg, pets, insects). However, human life is also valued very differently between various human societies (eg, Sharia law, value of life in Africa). In Western societies, opinions on suicide and murder were - and still are - mostly governed by Christian religion and were subsequently codified in laws. There is however a discrepancy between such laws and the oath of Hippocrates which does not support needless suffering.

Excerpt of my 3 June 2015 blog: "The Hippocratic oath has been the cornerstone of Western healthcare for many centuries. The modern version even reflects a balanced consideration between treatment (repair) versus the value of adding life (e.g., over-treatment and therapeutic nihilism)".

The right of self-determination is a hard philosophical issue. In principle, no government should be able to force a human being to keep on living against his/her clear wishes. On the other hand, no government should be forced to assist a person in his/her clear wish for dying. Notwithstanding that, there is sometimes more dignity in dying than in living. In such cases, the explicit request for an act of mercy could be entirely appropriate.

Dexter's choice to help his close friend is a consequence of the absence of laws and regulations on euthanasia in most of the USA. Legally, his act of mercy is murder, Dexter's speciality. Medical assistance in euthanasia at the request of terminally ill patients is legal in The Netherlands, would fit their Hippocratic oath, but may still conflict with philosophical and/or religious values of doctors.

Personally, I am against the fictitious suicide pill as once proposed by Huib Drion, a former Dutch Supreme Court judge and professor of civil law. He argued that people aged 75 or over, living alone, should have the choice of ending their lives in a humane manner (Wiki). I would be afraid that such pills would ultimately end up in the hands of healthy young people who may just suffer from a temporary mood swing. The people who are left behind are also entitled to dignity and mercy.

Marvin Gaye - Mercy Mercy Me (1971) - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

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