Living and Dying
I have a very strong opinion on euthanasia. I believe that if a person in a state of mental competency has indicated that they do not wish to have extraordinary means taken to prolong their life, then those wishes should be honored. And if a person has not indicated such a wish or has declared specifically that this is not their wish, then we must presume that their intention is to live or prolong life by whatever means available.
I get riled when I hear all these breast-beaters declaring that Terri Schiavo was starved and dehydrated to death. Her mental capacity did not permit her to feel hunger or thirst. Her brain did not function on that level any more. To ensure that she did not suffer, she was administered morphine throughout her ordeal. People who cry that it surely was murder base their beliefs on the fact that THEY would not want to die under such circumstances and so assumed that Terri Schiavo would not either. They contorted their beliefs into a mistrust of Michael Schiavo’s motives. But it was not his testimony alone as to Terri’s wishes. A half dozen of her friends also testified that she had made her wishes known to them. 28 state and federal courts -- TWENTY‑EIGHT -- reviewed the law, the testimony and the legality – and every single one of the 28 courts ruled that Terri Schiavo did not wish to live in a persistent vegetative state and did not want medical intervention to prolong her life in such state. She would have died long ago were it not for the extraordinary measures of the feeding tube. She decided how she wanted to live and under what conditions. Her husband was simply left to ensure her wishes were followed. As will mine if the time comes that such a decision need be made. And I won't be Terry Schiavo or a Christopher Reeves.
And, as every news station ad nauseum has told us, the Pope is dead. I am certain that had the Pope asked to be taken to the hospital, and had it been his wish, they could have kept him alive by artificial means for a very long time. Instead, he chose to die at the time the Lord decreed and without extraordinary life-sustaining measures. The Pope decided under what conditions he wanted to live and under what conditions he wanted to die. And his wishes were honored.
As for Karim Hassan, he was a suspected Iraqi terrorist shot and gravely wounded in a gun battle with Army soldiers in May 2004. The medic on the scene, upon seeing the horrific and probably fatal wounds, declared to his commanding officer Captain Maynulet, “There’s nothing I can do.” Believing in his heart that the Iraqi was suffering and about to endure a painful death, Capt. Maynulet drew his weapon and shot Karim Hassan in the head, killing him. The captain was court-martialed last week and found guilty of assault with the intent to commit voluntary manslaughter. Capt. Maynulet was given a dishonorable discharge (dismissal) but will not serve prison time. There are two automatic appeals in such cases and there is still a chance that the conviction or the sentence may be reversed.
I have seen many defend the captain’s actions saying that we should support our military and the decisions they make on the battlefield. I whole-heartedly concur -- when the soldier is in the right, when the soldier believes he/she is in imminent danger, when his/her life is threatened, when it is a decision made in the heat of the battle. And while I know that this fine career soldier truly believed this “mercy killing” was justified, in my opinion, he was wrong. I’m not sure that the punishment isn’t too severe, but I believe what he did was indefensible. He not only doesn’t get to decide who lives or dies in such a circumstance, but he was prohibited from doing so.
When the captain shot the prisoner, he was not in imminent danger and was not under fire or threat from this combatant. At the time of the incident, Capt. Maynulet was in command of his unit and was charged with the safety of enemy prisoners of war (EPW) which Karim Hassan clearly was. Enemy combatant? Yes, absolutely, right up until the time he was wounded and came into the custody of US troops. Then the Rules of Engagement (ROE) and the Geneva Convention are clear:
THE LAW OF LAND WARFARE, Chapter 4, Section II (Wounded and Sick), 215. Protection and Care states, in pertinent part:
“Members of the armed forces and other persons mentioned in the following Article, who are wounded or sick, shall be respected and protected in all circumstances. They shall be treated humanely and cared for by the Party to the conflict in whose power they may be, without any adverse distinction founded on sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinions, or any other similar criteria. Any attempts upon their lives, or violence to their persons, shall be strictly prohibited; in particular, they shall not be murdered or exterminated, subjected to torture or to biological experiments; they shall not willfully be left without medical assistance and care…”
All soldiers carry a ROE card that states what they are allowed to do with regard to the use of force. Soldiers are also briefed and schooled on the ROE and are expected to know them. This was not a newbie private. This was a captain in the United States Army… well-trained, well-schooled with more than 10 years of experience in the Army.
Capt. Maynulet believes his decision was moral, if not legal. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to make that distinction. The captain admitted during his court martial that he had “projected himself” into the situation of the Iraqi and knew that he (the captain) would not want to live with such grievous injuries, so he ended the Iraqi’s suffering by ending his life. Unlike the Schiavo case, the prisoner did not ask to have his life or his suffering ended. That the prisoner would likely have died anyway is of no consequence in the argument. Capt. Maynulet could not have known that with any degree of medical certainty, and the medic on the scene while trained to treat battlefield injuries, was not trained to make such evaluations. Capt. Maynulet did not order the medic to treat the injured combatant; did not call for an evacuation; did not call a superior officer or medical superior for guidance. All the things his training required him to do. He did the one thing he was prohibited from doing.