It’s occurred to me lately that our society might not have an appropriate view of death.
It’s a strange thing that we tend to view all death in such a negative light. It’s a problem that has affected some parts of a person’s natural course of life in an unacceptable way. I’m not entirely sure where it could stem from; self-centric thinking, fear of loss, perhaps even emotional immaturity. We take great lengths to prolong life, to protect it, to push away the inevitable touch of death in ways that can sometimes be irrational or irresponsible. I think, then, that a paradigm shift is in order.
So what do I mean, you ask? The idea is simple, yet very powerful. It all stems, in fact, from watching an incredibly bloody movie.
Battle Royale is a movie directed by Kinji Fukasaku, based on a book written by Koushun Takami. Within it, the Japanese government forces a class of high schoolers onto an island and gives each of them an ultimatum: kill every other students within three days, or die. The reactions of the students are varied. Some commit suicide, some try to create safe havens free of fighting, and some aim to complete the objective originally set out for them. Shortly after watching the movie in a religious studies course, my professor asked the class to judge the morality of each of these actions. It led me to an interesting conclusion:
A person should have a right to die on their own terms, provided it does not infringe on others’ rights, including this one.
I immediately realized the power that this conclusion holds. The suiciders were moral in their actions because they died the way they wished to die. The people who fought against those who were also playing the game were moral; but this is slightly harder to explain. Their decision to fight meant that there was a chance they’d die, and the same goes for their opponents. By killing each other, both parties are not imposing a death on the other that they did not accept as reasonable or acceptable. It might be hard to fully understand my view on that point, but perhaps it will become a little more apparent as I continue. But lastly, those who killed their classmates that did not wish to fight were not acting morally; they were denying those people the right to die on their own terms. If a player was trying to establish a safe zone, it is clearly not their intention or desire to die at the hands of a classmate.
A week later, I watched Ikiru, which revolved around a man discovering he has stomach cancer, and what happens to him in the time leading up to his death. After coming to a revelation concerning the way he’d been living his life, he resigns himself to putting his remaining energy building a park in what was once a stagnant pool that was causing health problems to nearby residents. He died shortly after its completion, while sitting within the park he helped build. His death was something he could be satisfied with, after helping to improve the lives of the locals. If he had believed what the doctors told him; that he only had a minor stomach ulcer; then he would have died after living a life he regretted. The doctors who lied to him were then not acting morally, since his death would have been unexpected, and he would have not had a chance to come to terms with his situation.
So I suppose those are two not-very-well explained examples of what I’m talking about. But maybe the power of this viewpoint can be seen better in the context of some real-world concerns.
Doctor-assisted suicides are something that have been hotly debated throughout recent history. To deny someone the ability to not have to die at the hands of an illness is not a moral decision, when applying this line of reasoning. Instead, it should be respected that this person wishes to die on his own terms, rather than the terms of his illness.
Keeping people alive in a vegetable state is slightly more ambiguous, but is a place where this thought process is already applied. If the person has expressed an unwillingness to stay alive in such a state, we respect their decision for the most part. Why we respect this, yet deny the terminally ill the right to end their life is beyond me.
There are plenty of other interpretations of this that I could produce, but I think I’ve illustrated my point. Perhaps not terribly well, but in such a way that you can garner what I’m getting at.
As a bit of a post-script, abortion is a grey area as far as this is concerned. It all depends when you consider someone a person. but in that regard, it’s an issue shared by any debate around the act.