skull and cross-bones
To the Better End

Thinking about Death

How hard should we fight death?

Fred Hansen
Winter '07
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backlink arrow (up and to the right) Physpics
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three religious symbols: crescent, cross, and star

As the "final mystery," Death has inspired almost as much literature as Love. The selections below consider the morality and reality of allowing or causing someone to die.

"Thou shalt not kill"

Religion is ambiguous on causing death. The Bible declares, "Thou shalt not kill," in several places: Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17, Matthew 5:21, Romans 13:9. And yet Dueteronomy 22:22 says:

If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.

The New Testament shortens the ten commandments to "Love thy neighbor as thyself." And yet some Christians encourage killing abortion providers and other are eager to see the death penalty for various transgressions.

The Qur'an is seemingly ambivalent. For instance it is difficult to understand passages like

And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden, except by right. And whoever is killed unjustly - We have given his heir authority, but let him not exceed limits in [the matter of] taking life. Indeed, he has been supported [by the law]. Sahih International 17:33

Some Islamists interpret Shariah law very strictly to require death for certain offenses such as adultery. (Though only the death of the female.)

Fred on Mount Fuji

To me, it seems wrong to both fight abortion and embrace the death penalty. Nor to be against either and support war.

And yet, I think one can support abortion rights as the prerogative of the mother and still resonably be for or against either the death penalty or war.


Angel Raich

flying heart with marijuana leaves

Medical marijuana has been legal in California and illegal in the country. Angel Raich's doctors testified that without the marijuana they prescribed she would die. And yet the court of Appeals found that the national goverment could deprive her of that substance.  Her web site noted to the left tells her side of the story.

In August 2013 the Justice Department stated that it will no longer pursue users of legal marijuana.

As of Jan 2014, Angel Raich is still alive, though her condition is worsening.

Killing Pets

Taking the Lead logo

Pet owners must sometimes decide to have pets put down. This is the humane choice for a pet in constant pain near the end of natural life. For instance, Taking The Lead says,
The decision to end a life is never easy. It is a personal, loving decision to euthanase a pet for which the quality of life has deteriorated. says, "The act of euthanasia can become a final gift of comfort to an animal in a great deal of pain."


"FOOD" surmounted by the international symbol for "no"

DNR (do not resuscitate) orders may include the stipulation of no feeding tube. If the point arrives where feeding is otherwise impossible. The patient will starve. Curiously there is controversy over whether this process is painful. Considerable ink was devoted to the question when Terry Schiavo was removed from life support and did, in fact, starve. The link at left leads to one of the less judgmental reviews.

Apparently patients undergoing starvation are given pain killers. In a total dose that would itself kill them if administered all at once.

The discussion seems to contrast life support vs. starvation. The argument being that starvation is so horrific that life support must not be removed. It seems to me the choice is between life support and death. Only after choosing death should one discuss the manner of death.
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