Jump to content


- - - - -

On being a burden to others


  • Please log in to reply
9 replies to this topic

#1 Rusty Shackleford

Rusty Shackleford

    Guiduccian

  • Members
  • 599 posts

Posted 18 August 2006 - 03:13 AM

One reason often given for wanting to end one's life is that the person doesn't want to be a burden to others.  There was an interesting argument against this view in today's London Times.

Quote

"I’ll-die-when-I-want-to isn’t just about being spared terminal pain. It is also about being independent, “autonomous”, “liberated”, free from ever being a “burden” on anyone else: it is about being in control of one’s destiny at all times and in all ways.

Dear me. How pitiful to have lived for over half a century on this planet and not to have observed that the very core of being human is admitting of dependence upon others. There is such a thing as society, and we are all part of it. Our interdependence is part of our humanity, and indeed, our civilisation. Only an automaton is autonomous. We are all burdens upon each other at various cycles of our lives; but we grow in bearing one another’s burdens and draw enlightenment and wisdom from the experience.

To see a man who was once big and strong and bestrode his world like a colossus now reduced to the frailty of extreme old age; or to see a woman who once ruled her domestic dominion like an empress now sweetly accepting of a second childhood — this is to understand that it is vulnerability that makes human beings heroic, not strength and dominance and power. The poignant heart of humanity is vulnerability: if we don’t understand that, we are indeed as the brute beasts of the fields, with whom the euthanasia lobby so often likes to draw a parellel, calling to be put down like their own domestic animals. "
Saying "I don't want to be a burdern on my family, friends, society, etc." may seem like a selfless thing to say, but is the author above correct?  Is our dependence on others part of our humanity?  Does having to bear the burdens of others help us to grow?  Should I have the responsibility of decided whether I am a burden others or should I come to accept that I inevitably will be (and probably already am, in many ways) dependent on others?

#2 Thomas

Thomas

    Sagredan

  • Members
  • 374 posts

Posted 18 August 2006 - 07:17 AM

Rusty Shackleford said:

Saying "I don't want to be a burdern on my family, friends, society, etc." may seem like a selfless thing to say, but is the author above correct?  Is our dependence on others part of our humanity?  Does having to bear the burdens of others help us to grow?  Should I have the responsibility of decided whether I am a burden others or should I come to accept that I inevitably will be (and probably already am, in many ways) dependent on others?
Hello Rusty:

I think we're living in an increasingly atomised society where the ties of kinship and the constraints of mutuality are being weakened all the time.

Saying "I don't want to be a burden on my family" etc., can be interpreted as meaning that one is conscious of the reluctance (nowadays) of many people to assume the responsibility of caring for others in their hours of need. It's an expression of fatalism.

Irresponsibility is encouraged when the state is expected to carry many social burdens that were formerly supported by a duty of care. That trend is established now and seems likely to continue.

I don't want to make a facile and censorious judgement here - but doesn't the very suggestion that accepting life's burdens has become almost a matter of controversy, indicate that we're living in an age of crass materialism and reckless hedonism?

Thomas.

#3 Hugo Holbling

Hugo Holbling

    Corruptio optimi pessima

  • Administrators
  • 3,877 posts
  • LocationUK
  • Real name:Paul

Posted 18 August 2006 - 07:26 AM

This issue is explored in beautiful and heartbreaking fashion in Amenabar's movie Mar adentro (or "The sea inside"), based on the true story of Ramón Sampedro, a quadriplegic who eventually ended his own life (with considerable help from others) after a long struggle for his right to do so (one that ultimately failed in the Spanish courts). I think this film does a nice job on disentangling the threads that the Times critic overlooks: on the one hand, of course it's been known (at least since Donne gave the sentiment its most famous expression) that no man is an island; but on the other the burden experienced by the sufferer is not just one of inconvenience but one of loss of dignity.

This means that i might say to my family that i don't want to burden them and they might respond that they don't mind (just as Sampedro's did), but feeling that the life i lead in the meantime is one stripped of meaning and dignity might mean that from my perspective the sacrifice they make is too much to ask of anyone. Sampedro didn't want to be autonomous or liberated from pain; instead, he wrote in his poetry that "i always awaken and i always wish for death". A person can be unwilling to allow anyone else to share in this without being selfish.
"In everything that he'd ever thought about the world and about his life in it he'd been wrong." - Cities of the Plain

#4 Big Blooming Blighter

Big Blooming Blighter

    Galilean

  • Members
  • 1,989 posts
  • LocationUK
  • Real name:Rob

Posted 18 August 2006 - 12:17 PM

May I just say at this point that the Times critic ought perhaps distinguish between social interdependence and individual dependence?

Off-topic:

I realise, as well, that I haven't really contributed anything substantial to the forums as of late, so I'll try to get something worthwhile posted up. At the moment, I'm working on a certain other project (creative writing) and looking for something to do for a year before attempting to get on an MA course (if I can get on one).
All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.

#5 AllBlue

AllBlue

    temporary configuration

  • Members
  • 669 posts

Posted 18 August 2006 - 09:51 PM

Rusty wrote:

Quote

Is our dependence on others part of our humanity? Does having to bear the burdens of others help us to grow? Should I have the responsibility of decided whether I am a burden others or should I come to accept that I inevitably will be (and probably already am, in many ways) dependent on others?
If I may give a personal point of view, I have helped my parents and an aunt through the last stage of their lives as they went through treatments and then succumbed to various forms of cancer. While it was very difficult to see each of them suffer so much, taking care of them was an experience I wouldn't trade. Being able to see exactly what a catastrophic illness can do to the human body has taken away a good part of the fear I once had of death. In my family many people die from cancer. Having had the "burden" of caring for each of these beloved family members, I can truly say that I do accept the inevitability of pain and disease and am not afraid. Even with the loss of personality that a brain tumor causes (my mother died from a glioma) I think her life was valuable to the end. It was to me and my siblings anyway. And watching my father go through his treatments and all the discomfort of bone cancer in his quiet steadfast way, like he lived his life, was both a comfort and an honor to see.
I know that not everyone will have people who will be able to take care of them through something like this, so I can't presume to talk for others. Maybe the courageous thing sometimes is to commit suicide, but for myself I can see that living through whatever life hands you until your body is done is a noble end and I hope to be able to live up to the examples set by those in my family.

I bring up this personal story because it explains how I came to my current thinking about this.

AllBlue

#6 Parody of Language

Parody of Language

    Analyst

  • Moderators
  • 2,728 posts
  • LocationOhio, USA
  • Real name:Kevin

Posted 19 August 2006 - 03:50 AM

This is an interesting discussion and, now that I have a few minutes, I'd like to reply to it quickly.  I agree with everything that has been said and I think part of what's been said, though in different words, is that there is a difference between being a burden to someone else and being dependent on someone else.  The concept burden implies dependency, but not vice versa.  It's a matter of interpretation and I think Hugo is correct when he says it's more about dignity than dependency.  Someone who becomes wealthy by inheritance and doesn't contribute anything to society is more dependent on society than society is dependent on him, yet this is rarely interpreted as a burden.  (I've had some discussions with my mom about welfare that picks up on a similar theme: according to her people on welfare don't contribute to society yet wealthy people, by virtue of their wealth alone, do.  But I won't get into it.)  I work for a quadrapalegic and he's never mentioned being a burden to anyone and that's probably why he is in good spirits most of the time.

As to suicide, I think what is important is that a person be capable of suicide, because that signifies that a person has chosen to live.  Fear of death needs to be overcome--it's a lousy reason to live.  Christianity has, in affect, taken that choice away from people, making suicide the only unforgivable sin.  Every Christian sees fire in the void.  From the perspective of atheism, there is no final judgement, nothing that needs forgiven, making life and the choice to live truly meaningful.  Life requires fortitude and perseverence: and it's ultimately up to the individual as to whether it is truly worth it.  If all it takes is a few unfavorable circumstances for a person to commit suicide, maybe that person shouldn't continue to live.  That is the sort of dignity I'd like to see assigned to life.  Not life at any cost, but the test that occurs in this life.  Those who have persevered through the greatest hardships deserve the greatest dignity.  Anyone who fails at some point are automatically forgiven.

#7 AllBlue

AllBlue

    temporary configuration

  • Members
  • 669 posts

Posted 19 August 2006 - 07:12 AM

PoL said:

Quote

there is a difference between being a burden to someone else and being dependent on someone else

It seems that being a burden is subjective, a matter of feeling, and being dependent a matter of fact.  A person could feel they are a burden to someone else but others may not feel that way about them. A baby is dependent on others to remain alive.  This is a fact.  Those who care for the baby may or may not feel the fact of its dependence on their care a burden.  Also, people looking on from outside a particular situation might think that one person was a burden to another, but if the parties actually involved in the situation do not think so, there would be no burden in the case.  So the idea of being or not being a burden seems subjective.

And if it is subjective, should a person take their own life because they think they are burdening someone else?  We’re not talking about people with depression whose illness makes them feel that they can’t go on, but rather people who need a level of care from others that could be considered burdensome.  If they are going to base their decision as to whether or not they will continue to live on the belief they are a burden to someone, they’d better be certain that is true for the person they feel they have burdened.  

Dignity is also subjective. Some would have said that my aunt, who suffered from colon cancer, lost her dignity since she could not control her bowel function. And sometimes it was a terribly frustrating thing for her. But looking at how she handled the situation, she did maintain a sense of personal dignity to the end. If she had thought her dignity depended on the failure of her body, then she would have felt that she had lost her dignity. But I don't believe she felt that way about it. So she maintained her dignity throughout.

AllBlue

#8 Thomas

Thomas

    Sagredan

  • Members
  • 374 posts

Posted 19 August 2006 - 08:08 AM

The day might come when I can no longer take care of myself, and the preservation of even a minimum quality of life might depend on the love or good will of others. At a point where, without hope of recovery, I lost control of my natural functions and was unable to satisfy my basic physical needs without the assistance of a nurse, I should feel that my struggle to survive had become a burden - both to myself and to others. I don't think reassurances to the contrary would make any difference to my feelings in extremis.

While still in compos mentis, I should like to exercise the option of an assisted death and not linger in this world as a mere shadow of my former self.

If it would be of any use, I'd make a living will to record my wishes on this matter.

Thomas.

#9 AllBlue

AllBlue

    temporary configuration

  • Members
  • 669 posts

Posted 19 August 2006 - 09:50 AM

I wrote:

Quote

they’d better be certain that is true for the person they feel they have burdened.

Thomas wrote:

Quote

I don't think reassurances to the contrary would make any difference to my feelings in extremis.

Thomas neatly pointed out the problem with my thinking here.  It isn't possible to be certain how anyone else feels.  And even if it were possible, we should make decisions based on what we think or feel is true or best.  I suppose I could get around this by saying that sometimes there are people in our lives whose opinions we value very much and perhaps their influence could help us see things in a different way.  But even so, whether or not we continue to live, given dire circumstances, is the ultimate personal decision and we ought not give that decision away.

AllBlue

#10 Parody of Language

Parody of Language

    Analyst

  • Moderators
  • 2,728 posts
  • LocationOhio, USA
  • Real name:Kevin

Posted 02 September 2006 - 06:47 AM

Honestly, I think it all depends on how you're treated.  If people treat you as if you're a burden, then you'll begin to feel like a burden.  Thankfully, in the US we have instituted laws and protections that insure that the disabled can get the help they need and this help is expressed as something that they are entitled to.   And the great majority of the people I work for feel that way.  This is a natural consequence of the liberal-humanist ideology.




0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users