Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Two cases of a freely chosen death


Today the 78-year-od historian and magazine editor Dominique Venner shot himself in front of the altar of the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. He was active in the struggle for l’Algérie française and was looked up by by the young students who would later become Nouvelle Droite (New Right) authors, Alain de Benoist and Pierre Vial. It seems he wanted to awaken the French to the need of countering their own slide downwards (of which the adoption of a Gay Marriage Act served as example) and their “replacement” by an ever-larger crowd of North- and West-Africans.

We will have to await further details of the reasons for his “Roman death”. It is not sure that he did it for a political reason. He had stated in an editorial of his Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire that he understood and admired previous writers who had taken their own lives. In those cases, the main reason was that they wanted to keep control of their lives, including the last phase. In the US, where many people carry guns, one frequently hears about old men who take their own lives simply because they still can, and don’t want to descend to the point where they are at someone else’s mercy. But then, he still seemed too alive for that.

At 95, Prof. Christian de Duve had more reason to feel he had had enough. This Belgian scientist, who lived in Nethen, just across the language frontier from my hometown, won the 1974 Nobel Prize of Medicine for his discoveries in cell biology. He had been raised in a prominent Catholic family but turned unbeliever. He expected that at death, nothing would be left of him. After retiring, he wrote some philosophical books and his just-published memoirs.

Not surprisingly, he was in favour of euthanasia. A widower, he gave an interview in early April in which he announced his going. His children were present; he had waited for his son to arrive from America. He was cheerful and when the doctor offered him a tranquillizer, he refused. Then he breathed his last.

Euthanasia is not yet legal in France, but it is legal in Belgium since 2002, and becoming quite common. Unlike abortion, which is controversial because you take someone else’s life, euthanasia is now accepted by the vast majority as an exercising of one’s autonomy. Only strict Catholics still oppose it because they think the power over life and death belongs exclusively to the Creator. And I’ve known even Catholics to opt for euthanasia when a loved one is suffering on his death bed.

My only personal link with this jewel in the Belgian crown is the following incident. Some 25 years ago, when I asked my university for a hall in which to let the Indian biologist and meditation teacher  Dr. Pukh Raj Sharma speak, the Vice-Chancellor’s secretary wasn’t sure. I only convinced her when I told her, truthfully, that the speaker was a friend of Christian de Duve.

1 comment:

Rita Narayanan said...

In the end all these questions are very intense and our rather superficial ideas of humanity(that seem progressive on the outside) are inadequate.

I have begun to look at Sati, Infanticide etc very differently specially in today's world where barbarism in the form of intense competition is such a trend.

Thanks for the post Mr Elst and please share your thoughts whenever time permits. Such a pleasure from the usual nonsense.