Using technology to promote life not death

by Dr. Carla Cornelius , Christian Examiner Contributor |

In our increasingly technological age, a moral challenge demands our attention. Will we use it to promote and enhance life or death? There is some news which is not in the public interest to be disseminated, simply because it has the potential to sway the vulnerable into desperate acts they would not otherwise have undertaken. But this begs the question, who comes under the definition of vulnerable? Furthermore, doesn't all news carry this potential?

The recent revelation of the invention of the "suicide pod" by "Dr. Death" triggered concerns for the future vulnerable, and memories of the dystopian film, "Soylent Green." This 1973 film projects what might happen in the future, and is set in 2022. Whether our suffering is existential, for example due to the physical fallout of aging, or ecological, due to environmental pollution, in the future each of us may have to wrestle with this haunting question–"to be or not to be?"–or more soberingly–how we will exit this world. In the year it was released, it won the Saturn award for best science fiction film, but science fiction is rapidly becoming science fact.

By the end of the film, when the highly sympathetic character, Sol Roth, resolves to take himself to the government clinic for voluntary euthanasia, we are struck by the gentleness of the care workers who accompany him into a room where he is shown video footage of the world as it used to be with clean oceans, thriving creation and rich, vibrant colors–a far cry from the glum, depressing surroundings of the inner city with its squalor and deprivation.

In much the same way, Dr. Death is portraying the "pod" as a dignified and elegant way to die in which you are in full control. Although it is well known that we have limited control over our lives, many fear dying so much that they want to control it. Not being able to control our bodily functions may seem the most frightening outcome, yet in many ways, it's not being able to control the slide of society into moral depravity which is most frightening. For example, not knowing when and where a terrorist will next strike, wondering if our children will be safe at school, nursery or daycare centers. Yet, this is the reality of life on earth – so much is outside of our control, no less so dying at the end stages of earthly life.

There are as many ways to live by our own choosing as there are to die by our own hands. The ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases, 10th edition) is more concerned with statistics on the means people employ to kill themselves, such as firearms or overdose, than why they choose to die by their own hands. Perhaps suicidologists and researchers should be more concerned with what motivates people to live rather than kill themselves. Most people would agree that a greater than average amount of will and determination is needed to kill oneself deliberately. Yet, on the flip side, most people are too willing to let life casually happen to them, not realizing that choosing to live, not just exist, also requires will and determination.

There's no doubt life can be difficult, if not traumatic, at times. Friends can betray you, love disappoint, and your lack of confidence may leave you feeling powerless to change your situation such as with bullying at school, rejection, overwhelming debt, or an addiction you can't seem to break. There will always be unpleasant circumstances human beings have to deal with, but why is it that one person will endure and overcome, whilst another, faced with similar circumstances, will lose heart and long for death? It is not the availability of means which determines whether people kill themselves, but rather the strength of will to self-destruct. One way of asking whether something is good or acceptable, is to ask yourself this question–what would happen if everyone behaved this way? If everyone decided to self-destruct when the going got tough, the following would occur:

  • Societies would stop developing. There would be no point in starting any big undertakings to improve society.
  • People would be grief-stricken because loved ones would be constantly trying to recover from the non-stop loss of those they loved who did not see fit to share their inner pain and therefore allow them a chance to intervene.
  • There would be a perpetual cloud of gloom and doom hovering over societies.
  • The sale of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication would go through the roof, as people would take them as preventative measures, and insist that their loved ones do the same.
  • We would become afraid of our own emotions, and so in an effort to avoid difficult emotions, we would avoid situations which might engender them. People would therefore avoid risk and challenge, and would become emotional zombies.

Ultimately, life is short and for most of us, the time flies by too soon. The down-hearted and despairing, as well as those who are sick and in pain, must be given all the love, care and medical attention they need to motivate them to keep living. The ultimate prospect is of an afterlife with no more pain and tears (Revelation 21:4, NKJV).

But, in the meantime, the question remains–how can we make the mental adjustment to press on with living when our hopes have been dashed, we are grieving the death of a loved one or the loss of our own physical or mental capacity?

In "Soylent Green," Roth grieved a world he once knew but knew he would never see again. What solidified his resolve to die was the discovery of the extreme evil in the world. Yet, he could have carried on for the sake of his friend, Frank Thorn, who rushed to the clinic to try to convince him to live. There is always a reason to live.

– Dr. Carla Cornelius gained her Ph.D. from Trinity School of the Bible and Theological Seminary. The focus of her doctoral dissertation was the proposal of a Biblical model for counseling the suicidal based on the book of Ecclesiastes. No Way Out is her latest literary effort to extract practical wisdom and insight from her studies and observations, to speak directly to the hearts of those who are suicidal. Her blog–culturedetox.net–features all her latest articles.