The DNR chronicles

Bankers make jokes about bankruptcies, footballers about own-goals, doctors about grisly deaths. The world is a merry place, and there is a funny side to everything. That the humour, however dry, is in bad taste, goes without saying. Several the sages who have averred that humour always is.

Recently, perusing an anthology of “classic” Japanese death poems, I began to giggle. Involuntarily, I assure gentle reader. I had perused too many, and they were beginning to read like a samurai version of the “Darwin awards.” (There are few tasks as thankless as that of a translator.)

But I am unable to see the fun in the present vogue for “Do Not Resuscitate” orders. Most, as I learnt from my late nurse-warden mother, are decided unofficially. Those who practice medicine know that they are not necessarily made by the patient himself. The safety of staff has sometimes come into it, during events like pandemics. Should the Hindoos turn out to have been right about metempsychosis, I hope not to be reborn as a bio-ethicist.

The vogue, or “viral trend,” almost certainly began in Red China, where for ideological reasons, “pro-life” attitudes are actively discouraged; but like the real virus, it spread to Italy quickly.

For reasons I have sometimes given, I tend to avoid arguing over statistics, but in this case it may be justified. We are told the death rate, which is fairly high, but also how the numbers are gathered. Anyone who dies after being tested positive counts as a coronavirus victim. So if you just flunked the test, and then get hit by a car, you will make it into the coronavirus statistics. We are also told that not most, but almost all who die with the virus in a hospital bed had “other conditions,” often more than one. The great majority are octogenarian or better, and so the cause of death could be plausibly reassigned in those cases.

That does not make the patient any less dead, however; or in cases I can imagine, the deaths less horrible. Fear of contagion, from hospital staff, may have sped the death sentence. Had a “negative” experienced heart failure, for instance, they would have swung into action. This is how the world works, and will be working in New York, once the danger is accentuated by a bed shortage. Other hospital equipment already runs short, so that sadistic intentions need not be alleged.

My question will be a characteristically unpopular one. What happens when what is done under extreme pressure during an emergency is formulated as a policy by bureaucrats? What, when given our generally mindless modern conception of the “rational,” when something that had been defended as a “necessary evil” is officially imposed?

This has been our experience from legal abortion forward; or more precisely before that, in “birth control.” I don’t approve either under any circumstances at all — there are moral lines we should refuse to cross — yet know perfectly well that they are crossed by individuals, and have always been crossed. Too, I know about winking.

“Euthanasia,” to use the time-honoured euphemism, is now policy in many realms, and as predicted, it has spread to many forms. Legislated, compulsory euthanasia would inevitably follow. It might be interesting to predict what follows after that.

Not “merely” human lives, but a whole civilization is finally desacralized in this movement. The human being, whether unborn or dying, and ultimately everyone in between, becomes interchangeable with farm animals, to be put down when sick or otherwise unwanted. Should he become a medical threat to others, he is put down “on principle,” once our principles have been reversed — and they have been.

One could make a joke about painful ways of dying, though by social convention we do not make it too soon. But now we are “progressing” into Holodomor or Holocaust territory, where innocent people may be killed on what are presented as ethical grounds. One is a tragedy, but a million is a statistic, as Stalin (supposedly) said.