Euthanasiast killing or mother's compassionate love?

This time the news comes from France : a “death with dignity” case. A moving story of how a mother who experienced the pain of childbirth two decades ago undergoes an infinitely greater pain as she takes her son’s life back.

Vincent Humbert, a young man in the prime of his life, had been rendered quadriplegic, deaf and dumb as a result of a traffic accident. There was no hope in the horizon for him, only a life of suffering and despair; not just for him but for those who loved him, those who, willingly or not, would partake of that same future.

Vincent’s mother, by adding a mortal dosage of barbiturates to her son’s serum lifeline, did two things: kept a promise and broke a law. The promise kept was probably more to herself than to her son; the law broken was a societal aftermath.

It takes episodes like this to bring to the forefront a subject that most of us feel ill at ease discussing: euthanasia or assisted suicide. Its possible legalization always brings a heated debate in most any locale, be it in an advanced or a developing nation. Such a debate challenges the most brilliant minds and compassionate hearts trying to do the right thing. Viewpoints from bioethics, ethics, genetics, law and religion, become arrows from the quiver of reason trying to hit a bulls eye. Copious research and scholarly papers, many using a multidisciplinary approach, have always fallen short. At the end of the day, the strong controversial nature still remains, keeping us from reaching a consensus.

Some laws permitting euthanasia have been enacted by geo-political groups, most of them ending up overturned or put in limbo by a higher jurisdictional mandate in the land, such as in the Northern Territory of Australia- overturned by a law passed by the Australian Federal Parliament; or the State of Oregon-put on hold by US Attorney General Ashcroft. For now, there are few places on this earth that have juridically accepted euthanasia, whether in a narrow or a wider form.

There are those who believe that human life is in itself a fundamental value. To them this constant challenge is what makes our species different, what defines us as human. These same people believe that our humanity gives us a great capacity to overcome the most difficult situations, and perform great acts of heroism. Perhaps that is the case, but my experience tells me that only a small group of mortals have transcended to that level, the rest of us are more spiritually-challenged, for good or for bad.

From the wide French media coverage I have heard, read or discussed, the court of public opinion seems to have already reached its own verdict, long before the case comes to be argued in the French courts. Little by little, as if coming out of the woodwork, people from all walks of life have found Madame Humbert guilty. Not just guilty of ending her son’s life, something which she confessed at the outset, but guilty of being a mother with unending love for her son; guilty of sharing with him the indescribable pain, the constant despair, the anguish of mind and heart that kept mother and son linked together to the very end. And they identify with that guilt, many wishing for themselves to have such a mother, such an angel of mercy.

The Humbert case is not likely to change any minds on this ongoing debate as to what represents the right to “death with dignity.” But it does emphasize one thing, and that is the existence of extreme and exceptional cases which need to be judged on their own merits.

The French citizenry have already determined that for a mother, identifying in heart and soul with her son, there was no dilemma. A law in the books may have been broken, but two souls were mended.