The Leap from the Bridge – Debate with Dr. Gustavo Quintana (Part II)

A man decides to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge to his death. He did not do it alone, but also took his two children with him to death.

The discussion between Colombian euthanasist Dr. Gustavo Quintana and our editor-in-chief Thomas Matterne moved our readers, too. Our reader Karin Ludwig wrote: “If one’s own life appears only grey, one sees only rubble and ashes, it may be a long and unbearable snapshot in time. Inexcusable and mercilessly selfish is it to realize suicide with one’s own children”. She thus established the line of criticism of Dr. Gustavo Quintana’s statements, for almost all our readers were shocked by his attitude, as regarding the father in “The Jump from the Bridge”, who took his two children to his death. Our author Monika Detering even spoke of child murder in her commentary, and said that she “saw in the father’s action a great ill egoism, attitude: the children belong to me”.

With our reader Beate the suicide itself met criticism, she pointed out that suicide was no solution. “The suicide gets rid of his problems, but these remain for families and friends.” But she also emphasized that someone who is sick and in pain must have the right to decide for himself when he wants to leave. In a similar manner also Elizabeth J. Zemdegs expressed herself, the Canadian praised the handling of the issue in countries such as the Netherlands, and raised the question of why people can make so many decisions in life, but not the one, to die with dignity.

Dr. Quintana himself also resumed the discussion and wrote the following letter to our editor-in-chief:

My dear Thomas,
I would like to reply your profuse letter addressed to me and rebuttal those jolts I have received, in response to the simplicity of comments I made, concerning the suicide of a father who dragged his two children with him on top of the elevations of that bridge, causing such unfortunate incident.

The simplicity of my remarks was based on the fact, that I am not capable of making an argument of values and perceptions regarding what I truly feel for that incident. Let me tell you, that I have tried to read your sentences slowly and I will give you my arguments to show that your appreciations more than once do not coincide with mine and very possibly with those of people who are not led by the pain of others.

I am a little surprised that with the same speed you pretend to disregard God’s presence as master of life you go on and sit at the right hand of God the Father to constitute yourself as a judge.

You constitute yourself as such an omnipotent judge that according to your criteria you claim to have come to such position by compassion. I, on the other hand, have come to my opinion not out of compassion but out of solidarity.

Maybe you should’ve had asked me, before you singlehandedly decided that compassion must be the expectation I should be moved by, to analyze that event.

You see, I do not make a hole into the water, and I do not close my eyes before pain, because such pain affects only the one who is suffering it. I have faced my pain and suffering, and I am overcoming them by surpassing myself. The pain of my patients is something they assume themselves. During Euthanasia I do not exercise compassion, I only apply affection and solidarity. My patients don’t need compassion. This is our greatest difference in concepts. You feel deeply affected by my position before the death of two innocent children. Believe me, I want to tell you that neither god nor your will or mine could return facts, bringing them back to life. And since it doesn’t depend on me, it doesn’t affect me. These are irreversible facts.

Now, notice that you insist on every right to judge the suicidal father. I don’t do that. No conviction would do him any justice, or do you think you can replicate any conviction? I don’t try it, neither could the state, even if it were Hitler’s Government. I wouldn’t try it now either.

I also think that if there were someone who could eventually be judged, it would probably be the widow of this suicidal man. But you think that you could call her and set up a trial in which she would testify that her husband not only took his own life but the lives of their two children? I think we have no arguments even to judge the only surviving person. Whom could we possibly put on trial? We couldn’t judge the widow, because she wasn’t the one pushing them into the abyss.

Or do you think that we could suddenly judge the social conditions, that gave rise to this couple’s displeasure and make a judgment on it? I don’t see it possible either.

Then who would the defendants be in this trial on what bench would you sit them?

So, let me comment on this circumstance be basically silent.

Since the facts have been inevitable, it is there where I insist that neither you nor I can reverse what happened. For the living, only outrageous conduct can be condemned, and there is no indignity in accepting that the three died and it is impossible for us to reverse it.

Of course, your theory of childcare is correct, but what do we do with those who do not interpret it like that? Can you give penalties to those who do not comply with properly educating their own children and allow them to live? Neither you nor I am in the position to do that. It is normal to reject the attitude of someone who attempts against life and especially against the life of their own children.

And logically Laws must establish condemnations for those who do not take care of their children’s lives.

It is not for me to be the Redeemer of the laws of the State. My Functions are more of a respectful spectator who does not impose conditions.

Finally, I must tell you, that I am not the one looking for my patients, it is my patients who end up looking for me.

And in the making of their decisions in front of euthanasia, I only take their will into account. My own will does not intervene absolutely for nothing in the making of this decision.

I respect the fact that they must dispose of their own life because I consider the right to life as a none-voidable right. What does it mean none-voidable? It is a right that is not to be yielded to either the doctors or the family or the state. The right over one’s own life and its end must then be a none-voidable right.

Furthermore, I respect that a patient who disposes of his own life is not telling me how I should dispose of mine

It`s logical having to admit that in the process of euthanasia my will enters to second the will of my patient. But it is not my will that matters. The value of the matter here consists in following the will of a person, who decides over that one and the only life he has.

About euthanasia, it is the patient himself who, expressing his will, decides to end his own life.

Besides, just because I am active in the euthanasia process, does not mean that it is my will that has something to do with the will of the morituri.

In the second part of your writing, you claim considerations about that we cannot suffer and that the sick are having even less strength of endurance, especially the elderly, who often won’t get used to seeing suffering. I would say that pain also corresponds to each patient and the way to bear it. And in the way to endure it, they must look for themselves for how far and how much they want and can take that pain and that suffering. When you are suffering, and especially when you are terminally ill, you should not only have the consideration of others regarding your suffering but very distinctly your own regarding towards that suffering. Possibly consider the indignity to which you are subjected because there will be more and more loss of capacity to exercise autonomy. All this is something that is supremely important in solving the problem of the elderly. We must give them the freedom of choice searching for palliative care, corresponding to reduce their pain, but we have to respect their will to accept or not their palliative care. So that in the last case they have the possibility of taking euthanasia as a solution, which does merely not reject palliative care as such, but allow’s them to freely exercise their will and what they want to do with their own life.

Furthermore, Thomas, I am convinced, that if you believe that all human beings are entitled to impose on our elders having the right to endure the intimacy of their old age and their lost capacity, because they lose all autonomy, I do not consider myself to such entitlement imposing that criterion. However, I believe that here the most important thing is to absolutely respect the individual freedom of an aging person or of any person who has a terminal illness from which he or she will not recover.

Finally, I want to tell you that the physical incapacities with which a human being can be born and that disability for example of blindness or deafness will allow those people to handle their physical deficits thru exercises were given by life. They have all the freedom to do it, and they will count on a society that will offer them all the help so that they have a dignified life within their disabilities. But this does not mean that because we help them to have a decent living, we could not at some moment think that this is the same situation as a terminally ill person. It is not, it is different. Human beings with disabilities will deal with their disabilities having all the encouragement that their own life provides. It is therefore wholly different, forcing an elderly person or forcing a terminally ill person to face their own disability and face what invites them to have the right to dispose of how they want to have to end their own life, because that we can’t impose on anyone. We can’t even tax the law. The laws are made so that we don’t kill each other. Because we have different ways of thinking. So, we must understand that what is essential is tolerance. Tolerance is much more important than imposing. We must allow ourselves to embrace each other despite thinking differently and not kill each other for thinking differently.

Of course, PonderingTime’s editor-in-chief countered this detailed response with an answer:

Dear Dr. Quintana,
thank you very much for your detailed reply. I would like to focus with my answer on two aspects. On the one hand, the question of to what extent others are entitled to judge this act and, on the other hand, your own view of what you yourself are doing.

My view of how to take the father who took his children to his death – or, to put it clearly, killed them – can of course be considered a judgment. But judgments can only be made when a law has been broken. It does not matter whether it is a state law or a generally accepted human practice. There was a time when in many countries there was bizarre and absurd legislation in which suicide and attempted suicide were punishable. I think we agree that this law is nonsense. A commited suicide can’t be punished by nobody, and a person who has attempted suicide needs everything else more urgently than to be punished for it. In this case, however, another question arises, namely that of the two children. You are right to say that you cannot judge the father’s individual situation. I cannot do that either. Probably no one can, except the people affected themselves. But the question is, is it even necessary to assess the individual situation? If we formulate Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative in a simplified way, then we can say: Everyone should act in such a way that his action can become a generally valid course of action. And can it be a generally valid course of action to end one’s own life and to take children with one to death who are indeed most closely connected to this life but still have their own lives? Can the acting father, sick of his own life, ignore his children’s right to self-determination of their own lives? Can there be a reason for this? Do you really have an answer that could start with anything else than with “no”?

And I’d go even further. If the father had only taken his own life, Kant’s categorical imperative would also have forbidden him to do so. Or can it become a generally valid course of action to burden his family and friends with the suffering caused in them by suicide? It may sound old-fashioned in a society in which the individual has become the primary objective and in which one’s own egoism as a trait of character should no longer have a negative connotation, but I am firmly convinced that the individual not only bears responsibility for himself, but also for those people who are connected to him. If this is no longer the case, we can close the file on the topic “community” and proceed happily into a world in which everybody is for themselves.

Anyone who, like this father, commits suicide flees from their responsibility. By dragging his two sons to their deaths, he commits a double murder. A murder for which no judge can punish him. You may be completely right about that. And yet it is necessary to proscribe this act as a society. We may no longer be able to pronounce a final judgment, but we as a society must make it clear that this course of action is wrong. If we do not brand it, if we overlook it with a shrug of the shoulders, or if we say – as you do – that nothing can be done anyway, then this can mean for other people in similar situations that it is not wrong to drag others along to their deaths. A few years ago, a co-pilot decided to take his own life. When the pilot left the cockpit, he locked it and crashed the plane into the mountains. He took an entire school class with him to his death. The cries are supposedly to be heard on the records recovered later, the desperate beating of the pilot against the door. Close your eyes. Listen to these cries! Take an inward turn – and then stick to your opinion!

That was a mean trick of mine? No, I only changed the setting and the number of murdered children. But not the deed.

But of course I understand that because of what you are doing, you have to go into another world of thought. You describe it quite clearly when you write, when it comes to whose will determines when you provide euthanasia. It shall be the will of the person himself. But what is this more than a cheap trick of their conscience not to take responsibility for their own actions? People come to you, yes, that is right. But what people come to you? People who, for whatever reason, want to end their lives. They may really want to, but if they could, they wouldn’t have to come to you. They come to Dr. Gustavo Quintana because they cannot commit suicide themselves. Be it because they are physically unable to do so, be it because they cannot overcome the human will to live that is still present even in them. It is you who make this possible. You make the decision about life or death by willfully deciding to make the patient’s will your own. Even if you might want to phrase it differently, of course. It is your decision to whom you will and will not provide euthanasia.

You may refer to the suffering of man. Suffering that cannot be denied, but what are you more than a hangman who in earlier times broke the neck of the condemned at the stake before the flames were lit? Even that was also an act of grace which saved the condemned from the agonizing death of the flames. It is your act of grace that seeks to end the patient’s suffering.

You’re talking about dignity. The first sentence of the German constitution is one of the most wonderful sentences people have ever formulated: “Human dignity is inviolable”. Not I decide when a person’s life is unworthy. Not you decide when a person’s life is unworthy. Yes, not even man himself can decide when his life is unworthy. Our endeavour must be to respect and promote this dignity and to restore it where it is disregarded. If this dignity is disregarded, and this is what it becomes all too often in the situation of many old and sick people, our aim must be to restore it. That is our responsibility to these people, not to eliminate them.