I think that the death of my first born child is an important precursor to my introductory statements on Euthanasia and the license for Doctors decisions on whether or not to “keep people alive for as long as possible through extra-ordinary means” . The Doctor decided that my 10 week baby had had enough and that he should not be resuscitated after an operation whose kept me hoping but proved too much for his frail body. I love you Vusizwe and long live your spirit my son.
Now on the issue of euthanasia- Initially, there is the question of religion and then that of law, particularly the right to life.
In religion for instance, there seems to be no mention of the issue of assisted dying. The scriptures will cite those that would have been told to fix their affairs prior to dying and the lesson is that when death is presented, the victim should reach out to God for help and healing (see the story of Ezekiel, who requested more time on earth after citing how he had lived in honor of and in the service of God).
The second teaching of Paul the Apostle on his teaching that there will be ultimate victory over death by citing his experience having fought wild animals or dangerous people in Ephesus, the lesson is that the fight to attain unto immortality is important and adds significance to earthly life; the reward is eternal life in the world beyond.
Then there is Job whose wife encouraged him to curse God and die and he refused to give up and day but hoped in redemption and in the hope that there would be a better day. Job is said to have survived his encounter with death and the dehumanization of disease and attendant suffering.
The last story I can recall is the resurrection of Lazarus by God. The lesson in the above is that God can be relied on to listen compassionately and answer prayers for resurrection, and extension of human-earth life. The cited stories say that there is little or no texts that would support euthanasia.
The bible is presumably against euthanasia in my layman’s understanding, but the debate is a little bit more complicated than my understand or my ability to recount scriptures that would oppose euthanasia, there is also the question of the quality of life.
I am not sure if my boy would have had a normal life or not- I am not sure that I would have loved to see him suffer and not be able to lead an independent and fulfilling life- I respect those parents who raise kids that suffer many difficult medical conditions but I would not prefer and would be powerless to observe my prince and hero suffer.
As I see it the right to life in South African law, is even protected against the person owning that right, the collaborators in the assisted suicide are culpable for the crime of murder. Even though the argument of the right to human dignity can be juxtaposed to the right to life to invoke the right and sovereignty of the individual or sober minded adults in the relatives to decide on euthanasia considering that the dignity of an individual is corroded at the site of unbearable pain or loss of independence.
The above does not mean that such a constitutional proviso is necessarily exploited in South Africa. Beyond the constitution and bible the right to life or to euthanasia is also variably defined in the liberal and Marxist tradition, when a continuum is drawn the right to life in Marxist life tradition, and the Liberal right traditions are unique from the Christian tradition and for those purposes we would place the Christians in the middle and the Marxist to the left while the right is liberal views.
In the Marxist tradition, the focus on alienation and the importance of communitarian usefulness of an action is strong, I could therefore deduce that there will be an initial reluctance on adopting euthanasia as it would be an alienation from life and the right to access life sustaining material. In addition, the communitarian aspect is one that would insist that there should be community acquiescence with regards the assisted suicide, but alienation and the family choosing to have one be the subject of mercy killing is probably contrary to the individual sovereignty and the right not to be exploited.
The last point is actually saying that the individual has been exploited for so long by capitalism that the option to be taken off life support and be assisted in suicide would render he individual alienated.
In the liberal tradition, the focus is on the individual and the right of that individual to make choices related to life as a sovereign choice. The individual should be over the age of parental care and in the case of a minor the parents have that sovereign choice. The choice of life or death would however be regulated in accordance to the a social contract or constitution, the constitution would avert arbitrary use of power against the individual.
The Bishop Tutu mentioned the frailty of the late erstwhile first democratic president Nelson Mandela, and how he did not die a dignified death for having been kept alive at time when he was not being himself. This is significant because a cleric has supported euthanasia, which necessitates the need to debate this topic holistically.
Whatever the outcomes and direction of the debate, I only have one image in my head, that is holding the lifeless, cold and increasingly stiffening body of my son after the doctor decided its enough. I am having to accept that he has died owing to complications after fighting four lapses to death and an operation in the head. I hold him against my body and his cadaver remains deafeningly silent even when I scream and cry out his name. The young man has been incredibly brave having fought so much to live and I ask myself- are the lessons of the bible inadequate when a parent feels that the learned doctor should have given him another chance? I will never know. But I guess as in the Bishop Tutu’s argument over Tata Mandela, some cases are easier than others.
In honor of my first born son- Vusizwe Tumelo Lekhumo- I will always remember you and you will always be my son. I love you so!