Love, Meaning and Euthanasia

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

During these past few months, Għ.S.T. along with other organisations, have been putting together a position paper regarding euthanasia and palliative care. Debate on the issue had been slowly gaining momentum – both on a university as well as a national level – and we felt that we could offer a valid contribution by participating and engaging in dialogue.

It so happened that during the same period that I was working on this project, a friend of mine handed me a copy of Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” During the same period, I also suffered the unexpected loss of a close family member. Both events, though separate and unrelated, deeply affected my perspective on the whole debate.

I have come to believe that the question of euthanasia and palliative care is essentially a question of meaning – more specifically – the lack of it.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Maybe a difference should be made at this point between ‘pain’ and ‘suffering.’ While pain is of a strictly physical nature and, in many cases, can be numbed or subdued, suffering is of a more emotional, psychological and spiritual nature – and almost no medicine can address it.

I tread lightly here, for it is sacred ground.

The experience of suffering is fundamentally an existential experience. It makes us ask – individually as well as collectively – deep questions about our purpose and aim in life. In a society wherein we always live for the ‘next thing’, from one success or project to another, being faced with an inability to look forward to something is paralysing. In this situation, it’s almost natural to then ask ‘what’s the point of living?’

Yet what if we had to live for the present rather than the future? What if – similar to Frankl – we find meaning not in some distant object to be attained, but in an act carried out in the present? Some would say that meaning is found in our ability to choose. But, to choose what exactly, since choice is merely a faculty and, thus, can never be an end in itself?

The answer lay in the eyes of my dying relative, and in her final, quiet, and concerned words. It was love.

Man’s meaning, as Frankl realised in the muddy, damp hell of Auschwitz and Dachau, lies in his ability to love, at any moment, in any situation – to love against all odds. Maybe the greatest service, the best medicine, so to speak, we can give to whoever is suffering and terminally ill isn’t to end his life but rather to let him love and be loved – an act wholly present and at the same time eternal.

“Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

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