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February 28, 2005

Euthanasia is No Defense (Updated)

So, what level of misery is it where we decide that a person's life is no longer worth living, that killing them is doing them a favor?

Everyone is living under a death sentence: my own end could come today or tomorrow or sixty years from now. One thing is sure, though, and that is that death will come. Everyone lives through times where there doesn't seem to be an end to the pain, either physical or mental; and, sometimes, mired in that pain, it's hard to imagine that life could ever possibly be better.

Certainly, for some people, a quicker end is almost assured. A seventy-year old man with lung cancer will probably pass on before I do, as would a ten-year old with Hunter Syndrome. But the date of our deaths is rarely certain, and a degenerative illness is never a free pass for murder.

A father who admitted smothering his terminally ill son told police it was a "mercy killing", a court has heard.

Andrew Wragg denies murdering Jacob, 10, who had the degenerative condition Hunter Syndrome, on 24 July last year at their home in Worthing, West Sussex.

It's a horrible thing to watch someone you love suffer. It's even more horrible when it is a heavy burden of responsibility on your own shoulders, as with a parent and child. Worse, though, is to murder your own son and call it mercy.

Read the story.

Update: Here's a follow up story from the Beeb.

Update 2: Since my trackbacks feature seems to be working in a way that would best be described as not, note that Andy has kindly linked up the post. Darned trackbacks.

Posted by zombyboy at February 28, 2005 11:49 AM

Yes, and all while drunk. We all know that the best decisions we make are made while filled with the power of inebriates. This murder was about Mr. Wragg, and alleviating his pain and responsibilities, not about his son who was dependent on his father to provide for his expected short life to be comfortable and enjoyable.

This makes me want to vomit.

Posted by: Rae at February 28, 2005 12:01 PM

This is why I am against euthenasia/the death penalty/assisted suicide/etc. in general.* As soon as we decide that certain lives are less valuable than others we risk sliding down a slippery slope down which I am unwilling to descend.

* I am, of course, leaving myself wiggle room here. There are certain situations in which I am willing to make exceptions, but these situations are exceptions to the rule, and not rules themselves.

Posted by: Jerry at February 28, 2005 01:27 PM

Stuff like this makes my heart hurt.

Ditto what Rae *and* Jerry said.

Posted by: Margi at February 28, 2005 02:50 PM

There is no doubt to me that the "mercy" the father wished to have was a life without his son. Sick, pure sickness.

Posted by: Rightwingsparkle at February 28, 2005 03:50 PM

I'm not going to be that quick to judge the man. It's too easy.

None of us are in his situation, to my knowledge. None of us have to watch our child effectively disintergrate before our eyes, their already-limited mind fading away, their behavior growing more and more aggressive, their hearing going away, their joints locking up... it's too easy to judge from my vantage point as a father of a healthy child, not having to watch my beautiful Fiona suffer.

Maybe it was to simplify his life. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was to end the suffering of his child. Maybe it wasn't Until any of his walk in his shoes, and especially as we sit outside of the courtroom, to say we know his motives is to tell a lie.

Posted by: andy at February 28, 2005 08:18 PM

If that were true, then we could never judge anyone, ever, because no one could ever truly know what someone's situation was like and what they were feeling.
Now, I'm not so concerned with his motivations, personally. But I think that choosing to "kill out of love" is cowardly. Maybe there would have been a miracle cure...or maybe the son could have brought joy with his bravery or inspired people with courage in the face of his afflictions. Maybe there were lessons to still be learned in the few brief days or even hours of life left to the son...but we'll never know, because the father decided to kill him.

While we don't know *why*, necessarily, we do have his assertion it was a "mercy" killing. We know he did it while drunk. We know it takes courage to face seeing your child disintegrate before your eyes, as you put it. We can assume he lacked that courage. Maybe he can't be blamed for it, but it is in exploring these situations that we rehearse our hearts and our will for a time where we might face this situation.

For me, where there is life, there is hope. Where there is breath, there is love. I could not act to shorten the lives of my loved ones by even seconds, and I castigate and condemn this man for his choice.

Posted by: Nathan at February 28, 2005 09:10 PM

Andy, none of us are judging how the guy felt -- we're judging what he did.

The secret of life is to always keep a barrier between what you want to do and what you actually DO.

We're always going to have temptations to do things we shouldn't -- life on this mudball will do that to angels, let alone men -- but giving in to those temptations is what animals do, not men.

Posted by: McGehee at March 1, 2005 05:41 AM

Then I guess I'm an animal, because I can imagine situations where one would voluntarily act to end the suffering of a loved one.

P.S. I'm pretty sure most animals aren't mentally complex enough to be faced with this dilemma. :)

Posted by: andy at March 1, 2005 06:24 AM

So, if I love someone sufficiently, judge their life to be too much of a burden to themselves, can't imagine that their life will get any better, and decide to murder them, I've acted in an acceptable manner?

Whatever you do, Andy, I hope you never love me enough to murder me.

Posted by: zombyboy at March 1, 2005 07:39 AM

I'm with Z.

Jerry, Nathan, MeGehee, Z- beautifully said.

Posted by: Rae at March 1, 2005 09:24 AM

Is it murder? Most definitions invoke that the killing must be unlawful, and the act of simply killing another human being is not, by definition, unlawful: circumstances and motives do, indeed, matter.

Now, you're welcome to say his killing of his child was "unethical," but that gets us nowhere because that's the crux of the debate, really.

I can appreciate that their might be a level of suffering at which a parent may want the best for their child, and that their view of what is best is to end the suffering.

I had a hard enough time coping when my daughter went into a catatonic state from a high fever (no, I didn't think of killing her), but I am capable (via the magic of human imagination) of crossing my intense love for my child with how it might feel to watch them suffer endlessly, knowing their natural death will not be a pleasant one.

I'm not saying he should walk or swing from a gallows; I'm saying that those in the rush to judgment based on their gut reaction are wrong for doing so.

Posted by: andy at March 1, 2005 11:46 AM

It was the pre-meditated killing of a person who was incapable of showing any kind of threat to the killer. The killer had previously stated, while sober, that he would kill his son under specific circumstances and he would do it by smothering him to death. The killer is willing to plead guilty to manslaughter but not to murder due to diminished capacity.

I don't think I'm jumping to conclusions when I call this murder. I use the term very specifically and fully well realizing that I think that some killings are well justified.

As to wanting what's best for his child, doesn't his kid have a say in the matter? Again, if I think that it would be best to kill you because I think that your life is miserable and will never get better, I still don't have the right to kill you. Just because he believed it was best for his son doesn't mean he had the right to take his son's life. That's not from an ethical standpoint, that's from a legal standpoint.

Otherwise my much earlier joke (in very bad taste) about post-partum abortion wouldn't be much of a joke at all.

Posted by: zombyboy at March 1, 2005 12:18 PM

PS- The "mile in his shoes" argument holds absolutely no weight with me. Even though I may understand why a person may act in a certain way, and even though I may act the same way in the same situation, I can still hold that there are some acts which are wrong (either legally or ethically) no matter my level of understanding.

So, I could walk a mile in his shoes, do precisely what he did, and be just as wrong as he was.

Posted by: zombyboy at March 1, 2005 12:21 PM

"That's not from an ethical standpoint, that's from a legal standpoint."

That remains to be seen, dependent on the outcome of the child, which is why I'm not so concerned about that aspect of it at the moment. In a discussion of this sort, the ethical imperative is more meaningful than the legal one (except to the man on trial).

The argument that you don't have the right to kill me doesn't really apply here; a parent, according to current societal ethics, has more rights to do more things to their child than to another adult, or than another adult has to do to their child.

I'm not allowed to spank you against your will (no matter how much you might like it), but I can spank my daughter if so inclined. Note: I'm not comparing spanking to killing, just the thought of rights underlying both.

A parent has a right (obligation, even) to act in what they perceive as the best interest of their child; we may differ on what that means, but it remains, does it not?

I can see we're not going to agree on the matter, but the discussion is enjoyable. Now buy a round of shots.

Posted by: andy at March 1, 2005 12:30 PM

No shots 'til tomorrow. And maybe not then--it depends on how late we stay out. Remind me to tell you about our scheduling issues, too. Knowing me, I'll forget.

A parent never has the right to kill their child unless their child is threatening them (and that's a situation that crosses that parent/non-parent boundary that you're talking about--a parent has no special right to kill their children in self-defense). The parent has an obligation to act in the child's best interest within certain boundaries, yes, but one of those absolute boundaries is the one of murder.

If I'm wrong about that last sentence, I would love to see a trial where a parent was found not guilty after killing their child under similar circumstances. I don't believe there is such a case with that result, and so I feel comfortable stating that the law would be on my side of this argument (although, admittedly, I'm even less familiar with British incidences than I am with American).

The only situation where a parent has the right to kill their child is before birth--and, in that case, it's only the mother that has the right to make a choice. I'm not sure how you could see the right to spank (something that is also regulated inasmuch as the severity of the spanking can define the difference between abuse and acceptable punishment) and killing. I know you aren't comparing the two, but you're using that as an example that's supposed to lead me from one place and to the other--and I can't really see a way to get from one to the other.

As for the legal/ethical argument: what I was doing was explaining why I felt that the legal term of murder was a good term to describe what he did from what facts of the case are in evidence. Obviously there's nothing I can do to prove or disprove his guilt on this blog, but I can explain why I think that certain terms apply.

Posted by: zombyboy at March 1, 2005 12:45 PM

The child was probably going to live until his early 20s, too. And was 'happy and lively' the day he was killed. That doesn't sound all that "terminal" or "in suffering", to me.

Posted by: Nathan at March 1, 2005 01:53 PM

Rae and Nathan make a point of Wragg's being drunk at the time of the killing. I think you may be mixing cause and effect. I know I'd need several bracers before smothering my son.

It's likely that he made the decision sober, then spent the day fortifying himself for the act.

Which might make it worse, depending on how you view these things.

Posted by: Craig at March 3, 2005 01:39 PM
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