In browsing the news yesterday, two pieces jumped out at me.
Deaf Belgian twins choose death over blindness
NBC News and The National Post, among others, carried a story about two 45-year old twins in Belgium who have been deaf since birth. Facing blindness, they took advantage of Belgium’s euthanasia laws and claimed they would face suffering due to the loss of their sight. And so, last month, they received lethal injections at a hospital. By all reports, they were quite rational about.
Ice cubes can detect how drunk you are
I found this story on The Next Web about an MIT researcher who invented ice cubes that could track his level of drinking. After a black-out night of drinking, rather than vowing to never drink again he went all The Big Bang Theory and invented something. These ice cubes change color the more he has to drink, tracked by the motion of his glass. Should he have too much, the ice cubes can send a signal to his cell phone to text his friend.
What do these mean for writers?
Euthanasia is no stranger to science fiction and horror. Logan’s Run and Soylent Green spring to mind. But these are due to autocratic structures controlling population size.
Here, two men couldn’t contemplate living without sight while never having had their hearing. While it is being labelled as euthanasia, it strikes me more as suicide. While relieving the suffering of others is noble, and through lethal means may sometimes be necessary, state-assisted suicide to alleviate suffering before-the-fact could open up some scary doors. (I don’t mean to judge these men. I am troubled, but am not saying it is right or wrong. That’s not for me to say. What it suggests and could lead to, though, is troubling.)
Could a bullied teenager claim euthanasia to end her suffering at the hands of her tormentors? An obese person wants out rather than deal with the looks and comments of others, to say nothing of not literally fitting into a world designed for thin people? If someone is genuinely suffering and chooses to end their life, I fall on the side of listening to their wishes. A trouble, though, is people who are suicidal may not be in their right minds and making rationale decisions. (Personal note: Suicide has touched my life, so I have some experience/bias here. But that’s all I’m going to say.) So there may be times someone wants to die because they are suffering, and we shouldn’t listen to them. Suffering is relative, after all, but do we get to judge what is and isn’t suffering because it is relative?
For the ice cubes, they open up some others interesting doors. Assuming they are affordable, could they become a requirement of bars to identify intoxicated patrons? Could a (future) DNA test in the ice cubes sample DNA to attempt to detect under-age drinkers? Perhaps the ice cubes could also detect drugs in the liquid. Might hacking these ice cubes to control the information flow become the new fake ID market? In the Information Age, what information is being gathered right in your glass?
I think, as writers, these ideas beg to be explored and considered through the context that fiction can bring. When is is morally wrong for the state to help someone end their life, despite claims of suffering? How much information can we gather from recreational drinking and how should it be used?
They are challenging, complicated topics. Right up the alley of bright and talented science fiction and horror writers. Get to it!
[Editorial Note: I invite your comments, but anything about when it is right and wrong to commit suicide or euthanasia will not be approved. This post is not about that, but what issues it raises.]