Euthanasia: Still a Crime
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The case of Roswell Gilbert is closed. A Florida clemency board recently
refused to commute or otherwise mitigate his conviction and imprisonment for
the murder of his wife.
Although Mr. Gilbert has been celebrated in the media, the decision of the
clemency board was correct. It certainly seems harsh in this particular case
since it's obvious Gilbert loved his wife very much and just couldn't stand to
see her continue to disintegrate in his presence. The unique factors in this
case are, in many ways, compelling for Gilbert's view.
But unique factors are not what the law is made for. He was convicted by a
jury of his peers. The conviction stands.
Mercy killing--euthanasia--has long been a subject of great controversy. Our
sympathies tend to sway in the direction of less suffering for the affected
individual. Sometimes, our sympathetic emotions override our sense of moral
and ethical right.
This was the case for Mr. Gilbert. Right or wrong, in terms of conventional
wisdom, didn't affect his decision to kill his wife. He has the satisfaction
of knowing he did what he, in his particular situation, needed to do. Although
unhappy that his appeals couldn't change the world, Mr. Gilbert, if we can put
thoughts in his head, will not suffer the kind of guilt another would, if put
into his shoes. In a sense, the recent decision to uphold his conviction has
This case will no doubt become a keystone of future legislation on
euthanasia. For years to come, mercy killing will not be tolerated unless some
way is found to do it by committee. Think for a moment! There must be
thousands of people suffering the anguish and disorientation of Alzheimer's
disease, and other debilitating maladies which cause the affected persons to
lose complete touch with reality. Few of them are being mercy-killed. Many of
them are being held captive in institutions across the country.
Even a minor lessening of Mr. Gilbert's punishment might have opened the
floodgates, so to speak, for dozens--even hundreds--of similar killings by
family members or doctors of those who are terminally ill.
There's a good chance other cases of this kind will begin to appear in the
near future. Many people will have begun to think about Roswell Gilbert, and
will choose to follow his path. There will be many tests of the law, and, from
those future cases, there will gradually emerge a pattern and new legislation
to deal with such sad, and difficult, circumstances.
Certainly, it is no comfort for those of us growing older to suspect that
someday we may be arbitrarily put to death by well-meaning relatives.
Certainly, it is no comfort to those suffering agonizing pain, whether mental
or physical, to know that they will be left in pain to die on their own, for
society's inability to find a quick and fair solution to the problem of
But, wait! I'll confess here and now for many of us. I have ordered a mercy
killing on my own. And, I'll bet you--or YOU, over there in the corner--have
done the same. I still feel no guilt about it, and, furthermore, I would, and
probably shall, do it again.
Yes, I ordered the murder of my beagle, Poochie, one day many years ago. I
led Poochie into the chamber unknowing, comforting him all the way. I saw the
injection puncture his fur and I watched him die.
I felt bad for a week or so, but, with the help of family and friends was
able to rationalize my actions. "It was for his own good," they comforted.
"He was almost blind, couldn't control his bladder, could hardly walk," they
Any guilt I felt faded quickly. But. I still think about Poochie. I still
think about how he looked at me with those big, brown eyes as he lay on the
I, myself, have big, brown eyes.
I'll tell you right now: I don't ever want to be in a supine position,
unable to speak for myself--for any reason whatsoever--and watch someone, no
matter how well-meaning, put me to death.
I could stop here, but I have one other thing to tell you. Countless humans
throughout our long and bloody history have died horrible, lingering deaths,
sometimes only for the pleasure of another. We all die; it's one of the few
rights we have which is truly inalienable.
No matter how much a burden I may become to someone, I still believe I will
have enough human pride left to want--even though I may not be able to
communicate my desires--to exercise my right to die without outside assistance.
Whether my body or mind becomes corrupt; whether an enemy tortures me; whether,
or not, someone else wants me to die--I'll fight it to the very end, when the
lights of my soul go out.
Roswell Gilbert stands by his actions. His lawyers may continue to pursue
some remedy for his plight. His wife was undoubtedly failing fast.
The 'but' is the problem.