A new poll in Germany reveals that over half of Germans would rather commit suicide than be dependent on nursing care.
The head of the organization that commissioned the poll, Deutsche Hospiz Stiftung, a foundation for the terminally ill, blames this on a failure of German nursing care policy. I’m not so sure that’s exactly the reason. Recall that here in American, a similar poll found that 52% of Americans would rather be dead than disabled.
The West, especially, has become an incredibly independent, individualistic society. The thought of having to be cared for by someone else goes against the cultural narrative of radical self-autonomy. It’s just so…undignified.
But, as my friend Mark Pickup has said, autonomy is diametrically opposed to community. Dignity is not achieved by withholding food and water or injecting poison into one’s bloodstream. That is profound abandonment — of others and of oneself.
Wesley Smith put it quite rightly:
Caring for others is a noble and loving part of the human condition. But it needs people willing to be graciously cared for.
The independence of the individual, Mark says, must only exist within the interdependence of the community.
“No man is an island entire unto itself. Every man is a part of the continent, a part of the main. … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” -John Donne
The flip side of this, of course, is the fact that, besides not wanting to ‘burden’ others with their sufferings, by and large most people do not want to be burdened with the suffering of others, themselves. This is why upwards of 90% of children with disabilities are killed in the womb.
If the West is going to survive, we must, as Mark noted, to recall our sense of community and our duty, not to take people out of their suffering — which is often not in our power — but to “be with” the other in their suffering, so that they do not have to suffer alone. That is real compassion and the true meaning of consolation.