Human Exceptionalism

“To be a Burden is to be Truly Human”

This column from the London Times by columnist Mary Kenny is both wise and humble. In responding to the brittle assertion by a BBC host that she (the host) supports assisted suicide, in part because she doesn’t wish to be burdened by her aging parents (which I blogged about here), Kenny has a profound and truly compassionate response. After warning about the insidious message that assisted suicide advocacy can (mostly unintentionally) send to the young and impressionable, she writes:

“I’ll-die-when-I-want-to isn’t just about being spared terminal pain. It is also about being independent, ‘autonomous’, ‘liberated’, free from ever being a ‘burden’ on anyone else: it is about being in control of one’s destiny at all times and in all ways.

“Dear me. How pitiful to have lived for over half a century on this planet and not to have observed that the very core of being human is admitting of dependence upon others. There is such a thing as society, and we are all part of it. Our interdependence is part of our humanity, and indeed, our civilisation. Only an automaton is autonomous. We are all burdens upon each other at various cycles of our lives; but we grow in bearing one another’s burdens and draw enlightenment and wisdom from the experience.

“To see a man who was once big and strong and bestrode his world like a colossus now reduced to the frailty of extreme old age; or to see a woman who once ruled her domestic dominion like an empress now sweetly accepting of a second childhood–this is to understand that it is vulnerability that makes human beings heroic, not strength and dominance and power. The poignant heart of humanity is vulnerability: if we don’t understand that, we are indeed as the brute beasts of the fields, with whom the euthanasia lobby so often likes to draw a parallel, calling to be put down like their own domestic animals.”

Wow. What a powerful expression of true compassion, the root meaning of which means to “suffer with.” Read the entire column. Regardless of one’s position about assisted suicide, Mary Kenny provides much for us to ponder.

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