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Episode · 1 year ago

Lecture 28 BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This lecture looks at arguments against euthanasia but also makes a case for it, in light of various insights taken from human psychology and biology.

Meditation, Time, Lecture, twenty eight between life and death. Most of us are averse to talking about our eventual death, not to mention our struggles and troubles along the way before that. Faithful to day life is a serious game that comes with this iron rule. You want to play, you have to pay, and the price is the obvious darkness that shadows the bright side of life inexorably, although we usually prefer to stay oblivious to it. Moreover, the question of death implies another that is also thorny and hard to handle, the question of what sort of death will befall us. Short and painless, or agonizingly drawn out, as in certain terminal illnesses that exclude an equality of life worth mention beyond the mindless road of a heartbeat? In the latter case, would we not likely fail to see the point of such hopeless misery as it defeats our ability to treasure the gift of days, which have morphed into a nightmarish burden? Perhaps some would find purpose in a grand stand display of misplaced heroism against the victor, namely the ailment that has laid their body to waste, save a faint ability to fight on in the most futile and pathetic way. Then again, some might choose to suffer stoically, while entrusting their life to God and praying for mercy, with nothing but an extended agony to show for their prayers. Be that as it may, euthanasia would necessarily cross the mind of anyone who is subjected to such a wretched plight as a poignantly relevant alternative. Euthanasia has a long history that begins in ancient Greece, where it was common practice, despite certain thinkers opposing it for religious or philosophical...

...reasons. It's intent was a good death, a peaceful and voluntary passing under controlled circumstances to end suffering, particularly during a terminal illness, thereby avoiding a prolonged state of extreme and irreversible affliction that was deemed pointless. With the appropriate poison, physicians were there to assist in this deliberate process, warranted by the belief in personal autonomy and freedom of choice versus the belief in God's ownership of human life, which dictates the way it is dealt with according to commandments imparted by so called divine and authoritative scriptures. Their role was not, however, to provide like assistance to people who were merely depressed because of a coping problem in times of hardship. In that case, the pursuit of wisdom was advised, in if normal cognitive abilities made it attainable. As for the famed hippocratic oath to promote health and abstain from causing harm, it included a discretionary option based on the physician's assessment of a given situation. Christianity changed all that by the twelve century. On religious grounds, it unconditionally condemns euthanasia as a violation of God's divine will, which allegedly upholds the absolute sanctity of life against any form of killing, including euthanasia, or any form of suicide for that matter. Yet life is not an absolute and neither should the rules that apply to it. The right of self defense in special instances of violent and potentially lethal aggression is an exemplary accommodation that sets an important precedent as regards the Christian church. However, it offers this soul and rather blurry compromise a distinction between ordinary...

...or proportionate and extraordinary or disproportionate means of care that are considered mandatory or not. Respectively, it is gaged in terms of cost benefit ratio that compares the amount of effort and distress to the relative merit of a therapy in improving someone's health. In the eighteen century, with the age of enlightenment, the Church's authority was challenged in the debate around euthanasia reopened case in point, as the discovery of analgesus like morphine and chloroform was changing medicine. Samuel Williams, a non physician, was advocating the use of these drugs for incurable and intolerable conditions, with the aim of alleviating this unnecessary torment and, more contentiously, expediting a patients death. Allowing to die, in causing death, are two variations on the same theme that prompt all manner of hair splitting nuances and mind bending dilemmas. Having said that, can anyone claim with conviction that a gravely debilitated and benumbed existence perfused with opiates is one that can be viewed as good and worth sustaining? Let's just say that, until today, the champions of euthanasia have been persistent and their movement is slowly gaining traction. With the public enough to influence policy, notwithstanding pockets of resistance among physicians, lawyers, politicians, social scientists, religious figures and philosophers. This is all the more welcome as modern medicine as rendered possible the extension of life absent the experience of wellbeing, sometimes for months, if not years, until death. This artificial extension is a socially created problem that calls for a social solution. After all, it...

...appears safe to say that it is not the duration of life, but its quality that matters most. While there is a solid argument in favor of euthanasia concerning unbearable and insuperable misery, any society that undertakes to legalize it within these bounds must also be mindful of the excesses that can follow as the prerequisites for euthanasia are gradually loosened. The Netherlands, where euthanasia is practiced widely, is confronted with such an unwelcome development. Numerous assisted deaths that are reported annually are questionable at best, if not downright scandalous. Consider the example of a divorced wife who is also a grieving mother, having lost her two sons. She was disconsolate and granted assistance by a psychiatrist to end her life. This example should make us pause and reflect. Another valuable occasion to ponder euthanasia critically is the encyclical letter by Pope John Paul, the second entitled of a Jelly Invite, one thousand nine hundred and ninety five. There the Christian perspective is clearly expounded. According to His Holiness, euthanasia goes against the will of God, as portrayed in the Bible and Biblical exegesies, and the natural for law. Again, as it is invariably done in the secular world, the authority of the Holy Book and other sacred text can be disputed, which is a way of numbering these documents, among other human narratives and expositions, open to debate. What about the natural law? Is Euthanasia truly and contradiction with it? A good place to start our inquiry is once more ancient Greece, particularly the pre socratic philosopher and pedicles. The latter speaks of two divine and antagonistic principles,...

...love a force of attraction and strife a force of repulsion. Together they drive the perpetual cycle of creation and destruction that underpins order and disorder in the universe. Some two thousand six hundred years ago, this dualistic outlook amazingly foreshadowed the current view of modern physics pertaining to thermodynamics. In this view, entropy and negative entropy, knee gentropy for short, are the two magnetic poles that pull the evolutionary Arrow like the needle of a compass, toward an increase of structural and functional complexity and ultimately toward life, or the reverse, chaos and death. A notable and illustrative phenomenon to help us picture knee gentropy, thanks to which things become more orderly and lively and pressage the advent of life, is the dissipate of structure, or, more specifically the eponymous ban oar cell from the French physicist on Reban are. His claim to fame was the study of thermal convection in viscous fluids, where the convective motion spontaneously form cellular patterns with great dissipate of properties, whereas closed systems are isolated from their environment and hence free to reach maximum entropy or a state of thermal equilibrium and disordered inertia. These fluids were open systems that remain dynamically ordered, far from thermal equilibrium, because of their exposure to a source of intense heat situated directly below. The molecules of the fluids closest to this source separated and scattered, which reduce their density and weight relative to the molecules above and produced a convective upward flow due to buoyancy. A troubling question springs to mind. If life can be...

...regarded as a sophisticated form of dissipative structure entailing an input and output of energy obtained from the environment, does it fall under the same implacable and dreadful logic as its homolog? The dissipated structure is a conditional and transitional occurrence designed to completely dissipate an unstabilizing inflow of heat and effectuate thermal equilibrityum in tandem with disordered inertia, as a token of maximum entropy, provided the initial source of heat disappears Ergo. Does the big picture reveal this forbidding fact? The ultimate purpose of knee gentropy order in life is entropy, disorder and death. Such a fact would lend credence to Freud's provocative contention. In beyond the pleasure principle, according to which the most universal endeavor of all living substance is to return to the quiescence of the inorganic world, Freud also talks of a nirvana principle, pointing to a tendency of organisms to resolve all tensions and bring them to zero, or what the stoics from antiquity called at Araxy. However, the Freudy and death instinct might be a conceptual overkill. Although life shares with the dissipated structure the same basic mode of being as a dynamic entity organized from within but fueled from without, it adds to that foundation another layer of determination. Some three point five billion years ago, life presumably arose from the adoption of this basic mode of being as an ad hoc solution to the problem of instability and an antagonistic environment which disrupted the equilibrium of its humble, nonliving origin. But also it committed this solution to Jenet of memory and thus guaranteed its reproduction indefinitely,...

...on condition that the environment remained conducive to viability. Furthermore, unlike the rest of the animal kingdom that is exclusively or predominantly driven by instincts genetically hard wired in the brain and proportionately rigid, with little to no margin of creative freedom. Humans have the benefit of brain plasticity, which implies the ability to learn. They largely conform to a set of acquired habits that can be modified at will in response to a change of circumstances or for the sake of variety. As a result, they are exceptionally adaptable, or capable of turning an unfavorable situation around. To put it otherwise, life infuses its nature as a dissipative structure, with a new purpose, which makes its survival through genetic mechanisms and strategic instincts or habits necessary for the preservation of life a goal in itself. And yet this survival is doomed to expire eventually, both from the viewpoint of the individual and from that of the species to which this individual belongs. In some life only postpones the inevitable. Meanwhile, however, it proclaims its attachment to the business of living and repels death in cohoots with the second law of thermodynamics. This law asserts the tendency of everything as a whole toward entropy, assuming that the universe is a closed system. But who knows, perhaps this assumption should be punctuated with a question mark, like all things human, open to doubt. Upon further review, one caveat stands out like a sore thumb. Life's attachment to the business of living depends on its relative success or failure in generating health and happiness. The more we experience sickness and suffering,...

...the more this attachment changes to detachment, and far from relishing the perspective of future days, we revel in the prospect of an early exit. So it seems fair to suggest that the expression death wish is more consistent with our human psyche than the Freudian alternative death instinct. Contrary to the latter, the former is conditional and relates to extremely negative values of clearly identified variables health and happiness. These values help us conceive of a critical threshold beyond which our love of life degenerates into the love of death. We can therefore conclude that, psychologically, euthanasia is a perfectly understandable choice in dire circumstances that offer no hope or recovery. But does euthanasia also make sense from a biological point of view? The process of cellular suicide called Apoptosis, supports a positive, albeit tentative answer. To be precise, apoptosis serves the vital purpose of the organism by causing cells to precipitate their own destruction, under the control of particular genes and by means of specific enzymes, when their continued growth would prove burdensome or harmful to this organism because of total superfluity or excessive morbidity. Could we regard as a logical extension of this biological process the deliberate termination of our multicellular existence through the requested agency of a medical assistant in possession of a select poison, if persisting through dire circumstances that offer no hope of recovery would be truly unbearable and arguably pointless? We can answer in the affirmative if we consider that life suitably resorts to a mere pruning of unwanted cells, when the organism is still, by...

...and large, capable of weathering about of adversity and flourishing, whereas an insufferable and irremediable state of physical decay is reminiscent of a potted flower that has become withered and lifeless and leaves no other sensible option than to remove it from the pot and let it complete the last stage of its decline until it turns to dust.

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