Burbank, California; November 10, 2001; Joan Marques, MBA
This paper is an attempt to illustrate the hypocrisy in modern thinking by comparing the legal attitude towards the much disputed issues of the death penalty and euthanasia in a society that labels itself as free: the U.S. society. The view of the researcher was enhanced by Daniel Quinn’s inspirational book “Ishmael” and the movie “Instinct”, based on Quinn’s book.
Ishmael presents the story of a gorilla that taught a man to look at “modern civilization” from an outsider’s point of view. One soon discovers that the dominating theme in society seems to be control: controlling one’s behavior, position, status, and property. It seems that everything around us is based on this phenomenon; we are controlled by the need to control! Laws increasingly show that there is something immensely wrong with society’s perception of freedom.
One of the ways modern society controls the fate of its members is through the application of the death penalty. On June 11 Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber whose act killed 168 people and wounded hundreds more, was executed. He had committed an unforgivable crime, and the legal controllers decided to take his life. On the other hand, however, the U.S. society has a problem with one’s desire to end one’s own life if one feels that death is inevitable. Euthanasia is still taboo in the majority of the United States, even for the terminally ill. The euthanasia dilemma is another excellent example of the control that modern “free” society demands upon its members.
The movie Instinct, like the book Ishmael, also emphasizes the issue of control. Humanity seems to have become the stereotype of insanity. Humans consider themselves the gods of the world: thereby exterminating everything that does not bow or bend.
To get a thorough understanding of the way our society is constructed, and what the issues are that need serious attention in order to prevent our culture from crashing, one should read “Ishmael”, the story of modern civilization, from an outsider’s point of view, presented by Daniel Quinn.
Ishmael, a gorilla, challenges his human pupil to deeply examine himself and his kind, and to figure out what “mother culture (Quinn, 1992, p.37)” has taught our society. Using the expression “Take it or leave it” as a basis, Ishmael divides mankind in two categories: the Takers, and the Leavers (Quinn, 1992, p.38). The Takers are those who have been indoctrinated by the churches and prophets (Quinn, 1992, p.86), to believe that the world belongs to Man (Quinn, 1992, p.239), that man is the center of the universe, and that everything should serve man. The Takers were also taught that there is only one right way of living (Quinn, 1992, p.205), and were thereby forced to adapt to life-styles that often did not even fit their geographical and physical circumstances. Taker culture has become the culture of expansion, one of neglecting the laws of nature, one of “caring for the poor”, an act that, even though fundamentally noble, has erupted into the current population explosion due to the poor way in which it is performed (Quinn, 1992, p. 136-137). Taker culture has also become one of destroying everything that crosses its path (Quinn, 1992, p. 130). It has evolved into a culture to save, to store, and especially to not rely on the gods but solely on oneself, because Takers want to take matters in their own hand: they want to be in control. The Taker culture is what we now know as modern civilization.
The Leavers, according to Ishmael, are the peoples that have always been hunted down by the Takers. They live by the rule: Man belongs to the world (Quinn, 1992, p.239). Their culture develops as a result of the circumstances under which they are living. Leavers realize that there is no one right way to live (Quinn, 1992, p.248).
Ishmael explains that there are 3 hard lessons the Taker society must learn from the gods.
Takers therefore have to realize as soon as possible that their culture does not “fly”, but is heading for a fatal crash (Quinn, 1992, p.109), unless they restart obeying the rules of the game. Lesson 3 will be the hardest to accept by the Takers. It will require an awakening and a renewed respect for natural laws, thereby putting mother culture - the foundation of the Takers’ perception of uniqueness and superiority - to sleep forever (Quinn, 1992, p.144). Ishmael is analyzing how things came to be the way they are by explaining that the Taker- and Leaver cultures were initially the same. However, at a certain point in time, somewhere in the fertile land between the Euphrates and the Tigris, Adam (Semite for “man”) (Quinn, 1992, p.178), ate from the forbidden tree of “knowledge of good and evil”, and was tempted by Eve (Semite for “life”) (Quinn, 1992, p.179). From then on man thought he was God. He concluded that he was the ruler of the world, having the power to decide who should live and who should die. The story of Adam should not be seen as the start of mankind, but as the start of Taker-culture…or agricultural revolution (Quinn, 1992, p.152).
Referring to the Biblical book “Genesis”, Ishmael asserts that this should be seen as a parable, in which Cain is the symbol of man in Taker-culture, and Abel is the symbol of man in Leaver culture (Quinn, 1992, p.173). Abel, exclaims Ishmael, is still very much alive, though hunted down wherever Cain can find him (Quinn, 1992, p.216). Abel is nowadays represented by the hunter-gatherers, which are called “primitive” by the Takers, because they don’t save and store for tomorrow, but they remained unsuspecting and naive enough through time to continue living in the hands of the gods (Quinn, 1992, p.299). Leavers still live with the trust that the world will regularly provide food. And if that does not happen they die, because dying is no shame to them. They are therefore never confronted with the problem of overpopulation, yet they survive! Cain, on the other hand, is represented by the agrarian culture of storing, killing off everything that disrupts his plans (Quinn, 1992, p.132), and hence, bringing the whole system out of balance. Cain is “us”.
Ishmael emphasizes that if we don’t start realizing that our story is an unfortunate one, and that our culture is the destructive and enslaving kind, we will crash, just like others before us. Realizing that man is an end product might become a devastating truth. If every story is enacted, then what we do is working on the realization of the fact that man is an end product while all other creatures are still evolving. Seeing ourselves as an end product might mean: making ourselves an end product. Our self-destruction will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy (based on Quinn, 1992, p.238-239).
The case of Timothy McVeigh’s execution is used in this paper as an example of the perception that modern society has on its power as the almighty ruler of its members. McVeigh’s story proves that individuals can be victimized by their own culture by picking up signals, interpreting them within their own acuity, and sending them back into society with devastating results. This case also demonstrates how modern society creates its own monsters, and hence, encourages its own destruction.
On June 13, 1997, jurors in the Oklahoma City bombing trial decided the fate of Timothy McVeigh. The jury unanimously sentenced McVeigh to death (CBS-Channel2, 1997). On August 14, 1997, Timothy McVeigh was formally sentenced to death for the Oklahoma City bombing after he quoted a Supreme Court justice who said the government “teaches the people by its example”. (CBS-Channel2, 1997)
In United States v. McVeigh No. 97-1287 United States Court Of Appeals For The Tenth Circuit, Timothy McVeigh's conviction and sentence were affirmed after reviewing the initial sentence. Within the document is stated, “The jury deliberated for two days before returning special findings recommending that McVeigh be sentenced to death. After denying McVeigh's motion for a new trial, the district court accepted the jury recommendation on August 14, 1997, sentencing McVeigh to death on all eleven counts (1999, par.16)”.
Timothy McVeigh, infamous for blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, thereby killing 168 people and wounding hundreds more (CNN.com, 2001, par.4), was, according to Russakoff & Kovaleski (1995), a prototype of his generation. His parents divorced when he was ten years old, and he grew up without a real challenge. Uninterested as he was in college, he hit the job market in the mid-1980s as it ran out of room for young men with blue-collar skills. Aware of affirmative action for women and minorities, he began to feel shortchanged as a white male (Russakoff & Kovaleski, 1995, par.1). Russakoff & Kovaleski (1995) exclaim that McVeigh then joined the army, but bailed out as the military downsized with the fall of communism. A December 1991 Army evaluation rated Sergeant McVeigh "among the best" in leadership potential and an "inspiration to young soldiers." However, like millions in his generation, he ended up back home as an adult, a man sleeping in a boy's room, headed exactly where he'd feared: nowhere (par.2). Russakoff & Kovaleski (1995) state further that it was a shock to the American society to find out that the prime suspects in the Oklahoma City bombing were not foreign terrorists but men from the nation's heartland (par.5). Russakoff & Kovaleski (1995) exclaim that the plot was not hatched in Beirut or Baghdad but possibly in the backwoods of northeast Michigan by a paramilitary cell that investigators allege McVeigh formed with accused conspirator Terry Lynn Nichols and Nichols's brother James. Both Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols are products of Middle America, and their lives raise troubling questions about the strength of the social fabric there (par.5).
The concerning facts about - what Ishmael calls- mother culture’s disastrous influence on the Taker society, are expressed in the following statement by Russakoff & Kovaleski (1995)
Psychologists have warned for years that young people like McVeigh born in the late 1960s, whose families fractured in record numbers, whose economic frustrations far exceed those of their parents, are unusually alienated and vulnerable to fringe movements. In this view, the social and economic upheavals of the last 20 years have planted a virus in American society with still unrealized capacity for damage (par.10).
McVeigh may, in his own way, have been aware of the signs that modern culture is on its way to a crash. He wrote in 1992, “Just as communism failed, democracy "seems to be headed down the same road. No one is seeing the big' picture . . . AMERICA IS IN DECLINE"(Russakoff & Kovaleski, 1995, par.81). McVeigh continued: "Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn't come to that! But it might"(Russakoff & Kovaleski, 1995, par.82).
[McVeigh] told the authors of "American Terrorist" that he bombed the [Alfred P. Murrah Federal] building to avenge the 1992 government siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, when federal agents killed the wife and son of separatist Randy Weaver, and the 1993 federal raid on a religious cult near Waco, Texas, where 80 people were killed, including 22 children (Romano, 2001, par.38).
In United States v. McVeigh No. 97-1287 United States Court Of Appeals For The Tenth Circuit is stated
1.  Timothy McVeigh believed that the ATF and FBI were responsible for the deaths of everyone who lost their lives at Mt. Carmel, near Waco Texas, between February 28 and April 19, 1993.
2.  Timothy McVeigh believed that the increasing use of military- style force tactics by federal law enforcement agencies against American citizens threatened an approaching police state. [**141]
3.  Timothy McVeigh's belief that federal law enforcement agencies failed to take responsibilities for their actions at Ruby Ridge and Waco, and failed to punish those persons responsible, added to his growing concerns regarding the existence of a police state and a loss of constitutional liberties (1999).
McVeigh’s act of bombing a federal building and thereby killing 168 souls was, to him, an act of war. He did not kill innocent people out of lust to murder, but rather to make a statement to the Federal Government. His deed is one that may not be understood, nor defended. However, it emphasizes more than anything the destruction that can be caused by an embittered member of society.
As McVeigh stated himself in his essay, published in the June 1998 issue of Media Bypass Magazine, as well as on-line by The Associated Press,
When considering the use of weapons of mass destruction against Iraq as a means to an end, it would be wise to reflect on the words of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. His words are as true in the context of Olmstead as they are when they stand alone: "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example." (McVeigh, 1998, par. 11)
Six years, one month and 23 days after a truck bomb shattered the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, federal prison authorities placed a needle in Timothy McVeigh's right leg and pumped a deadly stream of drugs into his veins (CNN.com, 2001). Executing McVeigh by lethal injection will neither satisfy [the] desire [of the relatives of the bombing-victims], nor can it mask the stark reality that when the federal government, acting on behalf of all the citizens of the United States, kills McVeigh, we will have become killers too (Sarat, 2001).
Aside from the fact that one may wonder whether McVeigh was not better off by being executed instead of being confronted with his horrible deed for the rest of his life, remains the question whether any Government has the right to take a life, even if that life is responsible for the loss of many other lives. The controlling basis of the U.S. legal system is mercilessly displayed by this affair. If the government decides that one has done something wrong, one’s life can be taken from him or her. Is the life of the individuals, then, the property of the government? And how are we supposed to see that in the light of freedom?
As mentioned in the introduction (p.3), the U.S. laws generally do not approve of one’s desire to end one’s own life if one feels that death is inevitable. Euthanasia is still taboo in the majority of the United States, even for the terminally ill. The legal attitude towards euthanasia will be examined more closely in this paper as an illustration of the controlling mind-set of modern culture.
On the website of the organization for Religious Tolerance (http://www.religioustolerance.org/euthanas.htm), it is asserted that “the word euthanasia originated from the Greek language: eu means "good" and thanatos means "death". The meaning of the word is "the intentional termination of life by another at the explicit request of the person who dies (2001, par.2)." Religious Tolerance continues that the term euthanasia normally implies that the act must be initiated by the person who wishes to commit suicide. However, some people define euthanasia to include both voluntary and involuntary termination of life. Like so many moral/ethical/religious terms, "euthanasia" has many meanings. The result is mass confusion (2001, par.2). In this paper euthanasia will be interpreted as stated above: a request by a terminally ill patient to be assisted, actively or passively, in dying peacefully.
The facts reported below are intended to give an impression of the ambivalence that has been going on within the U.S. in the last 10-15 years on this topic. In 1996, two Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal struck down laws prohibiting assisted suicide. The appeals on these rulings were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court January 8, 1997. The court unanimously overturned both Circuit Court rulings on June 26, 1997 (UB Center for Clinical Ethics and Humanities in Health Care, 2000). The underlying cases were “Vacco v. Quill, 117 S. Ct. 2293, and Washington v. Glucksberg, 117 S. Ct. 2258” (Benson, 1999, p. 263). The UB Center further exclaims that on November 8, 1994, Oregon voters approved Measure 16, the "Death with Dignity Act" (2000).
There are proponents and opponents of euthanasia at every level of the legal system. One of the proponents, according to Uhlman (1996), is judge Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit of Appeals [who] concludes that denying a terminally ill patient the right to assisted suicide may work an even greater injustice than "forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term." (par.14). Uhlman, who seems to oppose euthanasia, asserts that the March 6, 1996 opinion of the Ninth Court of Appeals in “Compassion in Dying v. State of Washington” turned precisely on the point that abortion and assisted suicide share a common rationale (1996, par.2).
That rationale will be found, the court said, in the liberty guarantee of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment ("No State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law"). Citing abundant Supreme Court precedent, the court pointed out that liberty is an evolving concept whose content cannot be limited by historical understanding, customary usage, or, for that matter, the words of the Constitution itself. Although the specific content of one's "liberty" at any given time may be difficult to assess, we know at least this much: choices central to personal autonomy are also central to liberty under the Fourteenth Amendment. A right of autonomy broad enough to cover a woman's right to kill her offspring, declares the Ninth Circuit, is broad enough to cover (at the very least) a terminally ill person's right to determine the time and manner of death (Uhlman, 1996, par.2).
In reality, the basic question posed by euthanasia/assisted suicide is:
· Should a person:
o Who is terminally ill, and
o Who feels that their life is not worth living because of intractable pain, and/or loss of dignity, and/or loss of capability and
o Who repeatedly and actively asks for help in committing suicide and
o Who is of sound mind and not suffering from depression
be given assistance in dying? (Religious Tolerance, 2001, par.20)
Religious Tolerance states that ultimately, euthanasia is a question of choice: empowering people to have control over their own bodies. As of 1999-MAR, unless a person lives in Columbia, Japan, the Netherlands or the state of Oregon, the only lawful option is to remain alive, sometimes in intractable pain, until their body finally collapses (2001).
A perfect way of capturing the necessity of legalizing euthanasia is the quotation “Whose life is it, anyway?” a plea by the late Sue Rodrigues, a high-profile, terminally-ill resident of British Columbia, Canada, who suffered from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). She was helped to commit suicide by a physician in violation of Canadian law (Religious Tolerance, 2001).
Frankford (2000) states that in the United States, the arguments from absolutes have been legally foreclosed by the Supreme Court, which ruled that there is no absolute right, constitutionally enshrined, to control the time, place, and manner of one's death, a ruling which also implicitly allows, if not invites, the creation of variegated experience in the laboratory of the states (p.377-378).
Battin (2000) exclaims that “euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide” form a “debate that has been developing over the past ten years or so in medical, academic, and public circles” (p.415). Battin (2000) explains that there are five arguments in general that lead to opinions for or against physician-assisted suicide.
· Principal arguments for physician-assisted suicide
o The argument from autonomy (If a person has the right to determine as much as possible the course of his or her own life, should that person not be able to determine his or her own dying?)
o The argument from relief of pain and suffering (Should anybody have to endure pointless terminal suffering?)
· Principal arguments against physician-assisted suicide
o The argument from the wrongness of killing (Taking a human life is simply wrong: this is evident in the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”)
o The argument from the integrity of the physician (Doctors should not kill. This is prohibited by the Hippocratic Oath. The physician is bound to save life, not take it)
o The slippery slope argument (Permitting physicians to assist in suicide, even in sympathetic cases, may lead to situations where patients are killed against their will) (Table 2, p. 415-430).
The main opposition toward euthanasia comes from some:
· Conservative religious groups. They are often the same organizations that oppose access to abortion.
· Medical associations whose members are dedicated to saving and extending life, and feel uncomfortable helping people end their lives.
· Groups concerned with disabilities, which fear that euthanasia is the first step towards a society that will kill disabled people against their will (Religious Tolerance, 2001).
Euthanasia is a subject that is being discussed in legal, medical and religious arenas. It is a highly charged emotional subject on which the majority of the American society still seems to have a definite opinion. These opinions are usually based upon an individual's personal experiences and religion; the experiences of friends, acquaintances, or co-workers; and the views and comments heard, seen and read through the media. Seshen (2000) states, in the web article “The Right to Die,” that it seems such a simple right, to choose to die with dignity rather than continue a life of needless suffering. So, why are we so uneasy about even talking about it? (par.1). Seshen (2000) continues with the following statement
One problem is our society's denial of the reality of death itself. Our mainstream religious influences define the end of the life cycle as an aberration to be saved from rather than a natural course of events. Physical death is an enemy and beyond our control, being instead "in God's hands." The individual who willingly chooses to terminate their life is considered a hapless victim of ungodly influences, or an extremely selfish individual with no concern for the feelings of family and friends. It seems the mission of some folk to "save" the terminally ill from their own folly, as if the desire to not exist in debilitating pain was a deviant way of thinking (par.2).
Seshen (2000) further states that man considers himself above the animals, but we are unique in our "moral obligation" to prolong the suffering of others. Pets are mercifully put to sleep, but our fellow human being has not even a say in the matter. Death with dignity has been relegated to the courts, rather than the individual where it belongs (par.4). Seshen (2000) finally warns that our rights as free people to follow our own conscience are being taken away more each day, and we must open our eyes (par.5). Benson (1999) does not particularly encourage us when he states that with the graying of the Baby Boom generation, end-of-life issues are likely to remain on the public stage for many years to come (par.4).
According to an article by USA Today (1998-JUL-6) physician assisted suicide is:
· Permitted in Oregon under very tightly controlled conditions.
· Not specifically mentioned in the laws of North Carolina, Utah and Wyoming.
· Criminalized in the remaining states (Religious Tolerance, 2001).
Fortunately, there are some encouraging developments that shine a somewhat positive light on the chances of euthanasia finally being excepted as a right for every human being. One of these hopeful signs, according to Okwu, is, that, as the battle over assisted suicide gains momentum, advocates are finding support in unusual places -- federal courts (1996). There are now 12 states that let doctors legally help patients die (Okwu, 1996). Okwu continues, New York law already lets doctors remove patients from life support systems, if the patient or a guardian has given prior consent (1996)”.
Another proof of the maturing perception on euthanasia is the statement made by Benson (1999) that in two cross-national studies conducted in 1981 and 1990, more Americans express negative judgments about suicide than about euthanasia (questions 21-22). During the trend's decade, the proportion that saw euthanasia as "never" justified (points 1-2 on a 10-point scale) dropped from 47 percent to 36 percent, although few felt the practice was "always" justified (points 9-10) (par.19).
Every now and then an attempt is made to alert modern society about the destructive course it has taken. Like Ishmael, the movie Instinct can be seen as a wake up call that can either be ignored or noticed.
Instinct, based on Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael, shows the story of a brilliant primatologist, Dr. Ethan Powell, who finds his truth in the jungles of Rwanda. The reviewing website on this movie exclaims that Powell's truth was derived from years of studying mountain gorillas -- to the point where he was living among them in the wild, and accepted as one of their own (Movieweb.com, 1999). Powell adapts to the free way of living that these gorillas teach him. His most eye-opening experience is the newly gained perception that the world he was raised in is a “Taker world”, where the only thing that matters is power and control. When a search- troop attacks the gorillas, Powell turns against humanity and kills many of the attackers before he is captured. Held captive in a prison for the criminally insane, Powell, who has not spoken in years, is visited for treatment by psychiatrist Theo Caulder. The young Dr. Caulder's ambition drives him to risk everything and put his career on the line in order to understand the actions of this headline-gripping madman. The movie shows the touching metamorphoses in the ambitious psychiatrist, while he succeeds in persuading Powell to talk to him. Powell starts to share his memories of Rwanda and teaches Caulder about the "Takers" and "Leavers" and a kind of revisionist history of mankind, how we went wrong and how we got to the place we are. As Caulder begins the task of trying to understand Powell, he becomes overwhelmed by his story and the tables turn so that instead of psychiatrist and prisoner, it becomes student and teacher (Movieweb.com, 1999).
The stunning realization that the freedom in our society decreases as the order increases; will most likely become apparent to everyone who reads the book “Ishmael”, or views the movie “Instinct”. These two sources emphasize the necessity to regain our awareness on the importance of natural laws, and provide the reader/viewer insight in the fact that the rules and regulations of our society have become wedged to a ridiculous point. The Taker-culture, created by religious believes that “man is the ruler of the world” has led to a gruesome point where mankind behaves as if there is no God. The most interesting part of it all is, that we defend our acts by teaching our fellow humans that this is what God wants!
The legal decision that a man should be killed because he did something wrong, as discussed in this paper, provides the proof needed for the abovementioned assumptions. McVeigh’s act was gruesome, but so were the bombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, and Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed by a government that exclaimed, “They cannot be held responsible if children die (McVeigh, 1998, par.7)”. One wonders if the freedom that is provided in purchasing guns, combined with the example set by the government when penalizing countries that don’t obey the wishes of the U.S., does not create the perfect climate for a large number of McVeigh’s to come!
The fact that the will of a terminally ill person to end his life with dignity is ignored illustrates a painful lack of – and disrespect toward – the basic freedom of humanity. One wonders what is wrong with the Dutch liberal perception on euthanasia, whereby the right to choose for death with dignity is permitted when 1) the patient makes a voluntary request, 2) the request must be well considered, 3) the wish for death is durable, 4) the patient is in unacceptable suffering, and 5) the physician has consulted a colleague who agrees the proposed course of action (Docker, 1996, par.5).
Our Taker culture is in trouble, but may be saved if we can reach the point of maturity in our thinking by realizing that many of our boundaries are inherited by beliefs that date back to a time in which our knowledge about our place in the universe was far more limited – and maybe therefore more arrogant – than it is, or should be, now.
Fortunately, there are hopeful trends. Polls show that an increasing number of people on a global scale think that euthanasia should be legalized. An increasing number of people on the same scale think that the death penalty is “barbaric.” Therefore, if what we call “barbaric” is assumed to be the “Leaver-culture,” we would be better off by starting to adapt some of their life-styles, in which the most precious gift is still valued: freedom. We could start by realizing that “freedom is just on the other side of the fences we create for ourselves” (Instinct).
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