Sunday, 22 February 2015

Saving Lives, Responsibility and Euthanasia

Good Morning Reader,

I have always been rather fond of novels featuring castaways or similar scenarios where a person is stranded and must do whatever they can to survive. Recently I re-read Robinson Crusoe (for those who haven't read it I strongly recommend it) and was struck by an occurrence that seems unusual by today's standards and is also mentioned in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Both Dr. Frankenstein and Poor Mr Crusoe find themselves shipwrecked during their misadventures and are rescued by other people who furnish them with clothing, shelter, food and money to ensure their continued survival. This is at odd with what I would call the norm today where saving someone's life would generally mean they are in your debt instead of the other way round.

Having encountered similar themes in a few literary sources now I have been wondering about this change in the way people consider saving another persons life and the implications of doing so. In a situation of life and death most of us would not (or hope they would not) hesitate to save another person if you have the ability to do so. Whether this puts that person in your debt or you in theirs is something I would like to examine more closely.

So let's start at the beginning. Where does the idea of someone owing you if you save their life come from? On the surface it seems very obvious. You have done something for them so they should do something for you. It is in line with a basic understanding of fairness. Many tribal cultures had concepts of "life debts" or similar scenarios where saving someone's life means that they owe you that life and should spend it repaying you.
On the other hand figuring out how people started feeling responsibility for those they save is a bit harder to identify. In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein it is expressed as the kind of thing any "good Christian" would do for another, implying that at some point at least some groups of Christianity were encouraging such a practice and where one religion is doing it I imagine others must have also promoted such behaviour. It is also a hallmark of clearly defined "civility" to me in that it requires the average person to have the means to assist beyond just saving someone's life.

My personal feelings on the matter is that if you do save someone's life you are responsible for ensuring that person has the means to continue supporting their own life. In most circumstances of life-saving actions you do not have the opportunity to confirm that a person wants their life saved prior to saving their life and as such it is unfair to render a service to someone without prior confirmation of the price of that service and then expect them to pay for it. Following that logic if you save someone you should not expect any kind of reward for doing so (other than the warm feelings and gratitude you are likely to receive for doing such a good deed). Furthermore in saving a life you are actually taking something from a person; their free will and right to determine their own fate. If you want to take away someone's right to choose how their life concludes you have to be willing to accept responsibility for that which includes ensuring that person has the means to continue living in a dignified and comfortable manner. Which leads into a related topic which I feel needs to be mentioned due to it's importance; euthanasia.

Based on my previous statements in this article I'm sure most of you can tell that I believe euthanasia is a right everyone has. I am a supporter of free will and a person's right to make their own choices as long as they are not harming other people (although quite confusingly I do not believe free will exists). As such I think if a person is at a point where they no longer wish to continue their life (and have not agreed to support another person or dependant) it is their right to end their life or to have the end of their life assisted by another if they are not capable of doing so themselves. Of course this is a very controversial issue and I expect many people will disagree with me so I look forward to hearing any additional information that might convince me otherwise.

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