Euthanasia: a Modest Proposal

Euthanasia: a Modest Proposal

by Rev. Frank Julian Gelli


It is in the air. Eu and Thanatos. Two Greek words, meaning a ‘good death’.

Sir Terry Pratchett, science fiction novelist and Alzheimer sufferer, made a documentary about ‘assisted dying’. The aim: to make euthanasia legal in Britain. Sir Terry’s wife is not in favour, apparently, but he is. Golly! Verily, the Book of Proverbs is right, ‘a good wife is worth more than rubies’. I confess: If I had a wife, I would like her to be like Mrs Pratchett.

Euthanasia-talk is topical indeed. Elderly people in British care homes are victims of spending cuts. The quality of their care is deteriorating. Privatisation has resulted in falling standards. The financial crisis bites. State support is short. It can’t go on like this. And so on.

Good death fans of course swear up and down that it is voluntary euthanasia they are proposing. No one would be forced to top himself. Fair enough, conceptually. Still, when I was a parish priest I have dealt long enough in funerals and bereavements to be perhaps a wee bit sceptical of the happy concept. Where there is will, there is a way. Geddit?

That, however, you can argue, is carping. We must take the bull by the horns. Tackle the problem at the roots. Enough of pussyfooting. Time has time to be truly radical.

In 1729 the Irish writer Jonathan Swift published his pamphlet, A Modest Proposal for Preventing Children of Poor People in Ireland from being a Burden to the People or Parents…’etcetera. Simply put, Swift suggested that the large, excess child population of Ireland should be eaten. A one year old’s flesh was most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, the great man averred.

It was a brilliant, stupendous idea. Because it bypassed the matter of the child’s voluntary submission to his lot. At the age of one, children are not capable of consent, so the matter of their agreeing to being eaten could not arise. It was ideal, moral, socially useful cannibalism.  Swift was a genius.

So am I. A genius-like priest.  Immodestly, I propose something similar. Let us eat the old folks. It not fair they should feel useless cast-offs. Their dignity demands they should have a use. As food. Let us eat them.

Of course, babies are one thing. With the old, our geriatrics, it seems a different matter. Practicalities first. The flesh of old birds is not quite as tender as that of babies. Pretty tough, in fact. No one like leathery, indigestible meat. What is to be done, then?

The solution is gestured to in the insightful 1973 sci-fi movie Soylent Green. Directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charlton Heston, it portrays the Earth in 2022. Overpopulation, pollution, riots, food scarcity: our planet is in a mess. (Does it sound familiar?) Only an artificially produced biscuit, Soylent Green, keep the people physically going. Alongside that, a gentle, civilised form of Dignitas, the euthanasia practice plugged by the sci-fi likes of Sir Terry, is legal and accepted. Vegetating alone and demented in smelly, squalid care homes is a matter of the past, thank God. Now you can go into a something like a squeaky clean, shiny Swiss-like, friendly office, have an injection and…hey, presto! You are an encumbrance to yourself and your loved ones no more. Nor a burden on society’s limited resources. Wonderful, no?

There is, alas, a catch. Unbeknownst to the people, the bodies of the dead are recycled into food. Soylent Green. Cheap, tasty, edible. But it comes from corpses. Nobody must know…

Nearly 40 years on science and technology have hugely advanced. What looked like sci-fi in 1973 today must be perfectly possible, surely. I say: let us turn the euthanatized geriatrics into wholesome nosh. No need to keep it a secret. The moral sense of our race has grown more sophisticated. Cannibalism is an emotive, old-fashioned, outdated word. It smacks of cultural ethnocentricity, of prejudice, even of racism. Let us be rational. Food is food. Society needs it. The elderly people’s pain is that they feel useless, without purpose. But, as food, they dignity, their self-respect are restored. They get eaten, they get back the meaning of which old aged had deprived them, they are happy – well, at least they can feel happy in death, knowing they at last mean something.

All right. But we are still tinkering with this. Because, as you will have noticed, we are still talking about voluntary euthanasia, more or less. We have not been radical enough. Some oldies will be reluctant, stubborn, irrational. They might refuse and resist all pressures, from family, society and state alike. Not all oldies are like Sir Terry, some are like his wife, objecting to a ‘good death’. Geriatrics are like that. We must be bold. As Jean Jacques Rousseau, the father and forerunner of all left wing intellectuals, cried out before the French revolution, ‘the people must be forced to be free.’ Likewise, I say, the useless must be forced to be useful!

Yes, voluntary euthanasia is not enough. A good death should be compelled. How could anyone sensibly resist the idea of something good? Only the brain dead could. And the oldies by definition are a bit confused. They are not always the right judges of what is best for them. They need to be nudged, nay, pushed towards the good. If euthanasia is good, they must be compelled. It is rational, useful, necessary for the public good. We are, after all, in an age of austerity. The old must submit.

The Queen and Prince Philip perhaps could set an example. What a splendid example of service, of leadership they would provide…I must write to Buckingham Palace tomorrow.

Of course, there is an obstacle. Religion would say no. The Pope would condemn it. God is the author of life, man has no right to destroy himself….it is a sin. All nonsense, surely. Man has come of age. Religion is superstition. Enemy to the public good. God doesn’t exist, anyway. And the Pope is an oldie, too. Shocking! Vested interest. Ridiculous. Reactionary. Old fogey. Spoilsport…no, let us be resolute. Go ahead. Let us kill and eat. Good death’s time has come.


FATHER FRANK’S RANTS - Rant Number 444   -  June 17, 2011
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