“Earlier, euthanasia was rare….”

I couldn’t fit the whole delicious statement in the “title” section, and the delicious part comes, of course, at the end:

“Earlier, euthanasia was rare. People who were competent would simply commit suicide, while those who were incompetent were simply unable to live.”

I’m not sure of the context of these words of wisdom. I did have an argument assignment ‘Way Back When that dealt with two brothers, one of whom shot the other supposedly on his request: as the result of an accident, the latter had become paralyzed from the neck down and saw no hope of recovery. Some students made the argument that Mark, the shooter, was assisting his brother’s suicide, not killing him; others, possibly including the writer here, claimed that the shooting was justified euthanasia. (A few did call Mark a murderer.)

But the context is not crucial to a discussion of the quotation per se.

First we begin with an authoritative-sounding generalization about the Olden Days, a time more completely obscured than students realize by the mists of time and lack of information. How my student can know about the frequency of euthanasia, which in all likelihood would not have been recorded if practiced, I cannot say; nor does he reveal how much “earlier” he’s talking about.

But murky as the past may be, he goes on to explain the behavior in those days anyway… and his explanation opens the door to confusion.

What does “competent” mean? —sound of mind? skilled? generally able?

Here we are (as yesterday) with another two-sides-of-the-coin statement hinging on the “in-” prefix: The competent kill themselves; the incompetent presumably just die…because they are “unable to live.”

Oh, so does “competent” mean “able to live”? If the writer is defining one word in terms of the other, we should certainly ask for a base definition. After all, I know lots of people, including me, who are incompetent at something or other—will we simply find ourselves unable to live?

And what’s so “simple” about either alternative?

I do love this passage. The writer sounds so sure throughout. He has fallen victim to a writing pattern cherished by freshmen especially, the pattern that underlies the freshman Ur-thesis statement: “X [fill in the blank with the subject of your choice] has its advantages and disadvantages.” On the one hand…, and on the other hand….

Competent, incompetent….

Well, put that way, it does sound simple, maybe. At any rate, the difference is clear!

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

2 responses to ““Earlier, euthanasia was rare….”

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