Sunday, February 10, 2008

Whose life is it anyway?

My friend, CLL sufferer and poet, Alan Sullivan has posted a poem on his blog which poses a question for every sick person.


A brief reprieve—I could have bought a yacht
for what it cost—a Hallberg-Rassy ketch—
not new but prime—her heading mine to plot,
her mizzen set while I kept midnight watch.

I read a legend once—a Sitkine clan
canoed downstream after the fish-run failed.
A glacier blocked their way; the river ran
a cold blue slot. The strongest paddlers quailed.

Their eldest volunteered to shoot the length:
“What use am I? My legs are giving way.”
What use am I?—no tribe to save—no strength
to seek epiphany, only to say

like Scott’s companion, Oates, his beard all rime,
“I am just going outside, and may be some time.”

In response his friend, Tim Murphy, posted this poem by Derek Mahon on the same theme:


‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’
The others nod, pretending not to know.
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

He leaves them reading and begins to climb,
Goading his ghost into the howling snow;
He is just going outside and may be some time.

The tent recedes beneath its crust of rime
And frostbite is replaced by vertigo:
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

Need we consider it some sort of crime,
This numb self-sacrifice of the weakest? No,
He is just going outside and may be some time—

In fact, forever. Solitary enzyme,
Though the night yield no glimmer there will glow
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

He takes leave of the earthly pantomime
Quietly, knowing it is time to go.
‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

As it happens in my musings on the gospel of Mark I had just come to the death of Jesus and the question of why Jesus died so quickly on the cross. Those who saw "The Passion of the Christ" will, perhaps, conclude that Jesus died not from hanging on the cross, but from the damage inflicted by the flagellation. Indeed many years ago I wrote a piece for World Medicine which suggested just that. (I will post it in the next few days for comparison)

However, I have since learnt to interpret Scripture with Scripture, and John 10:17-18 has Jesus saying, "I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord."

In other words, it sounds as though Jesus, perhaps by some act of will, ended his own life; if not an act of suicide, an act of surrender. Hence the connection with Captain Laurence Oates whose words are referred to in both poems.

So, is suicide justified? I remember a classic movie called Soylent Green. Set in 2022 it is in the format of a thriller in which Charlton Heston plays a cop investigating the murder of the Chairman of the Soylent company that manufactures food concentrates in an overcrowded world. The concentrates, supposedly made from plankton, come in various colors, but Soylent green is tastier and more nutritious and is only distributed on Tuesdays. There are riots when there is not enough for everybody.

Because of the shortages there is much subtle pressure on the old to opt for euthanasia and Heston's friend, Roth, (played by Edward G Robinson) eventually acquiesces to this. Heston subsequently discovers that Soylent green is made from the recycled cadavers from the euthanasia factories.

This is the ultimate in Utilitarianism. But why should Christians object when their own leader seems to have surrendered his life deliberately when His task was completed? Again the answer comes from John's gospel. John 10:18 continues, "I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."

Today many might claim the authority (and the power as it is in the KJV) to lay down their lives, but no-one seems to have the authority (or power) to take it up again.

Scripture certainly tells us that "Greater love hath no man than this that he lays down his life for his friends." but I am sure that does not mean committing suicide so as not to be a financial burden on the young and virile. You might dare to hold the bridge while your comrades escape or throw yourself on a grenade in the trenches or even take the hit of a wayward truck on a street to save your baby, but deliberately depriving your brothers and sisters of the opportunity to care for you is not in the same league.

Captain Laurence Oates lived not far from me at Selborne, in Hampshire, coincidentally in the same house as Gilbert White, the famous naturalist. One room of the Gilbert White museum is given over as a memorial to Oates.

Whether he really was the heroic figure that history has made him is questionable. Five years ago an article in the Guardian suggested that he had fathered a child on an 11 year old girl. He apparently despised Scott whom he thought a glory hunter. It has been suggested that his suicide had nothing altruistic about it, but merely an exit from intolerable pain. He died on his thirty-second birthday.


Anonymous said...

Democrat Colorado governor Gov. Richard D. Lamm proposed a few years ago that the 'elderly have a duty to die.' He fells that suicide should be free and easy, and we see that opinion now in The Netherlands, the state of Oregon in the US and elsewhere.

(It's funny that the news accounts I found doesn't mention Gov. Lamm's party affiliation. I wonder why???)

Terry Hamblin said...

Richard Douglas "Dick" Lamm is an American politician and lawyer. He served three terms as Governor of Colorado as a Democrat (1975–1987) and ran for the Reform Party's nomination for President of the United States in 1996.