The legal right to murder

During a psychology course I attended some decades ago, the lecturer asked us to answer -anonymously- the following question: Would you be able to kill someone if you knew for sure you weren’t going to be found responsible or suspect, nor otherwise penalized in any way? A not negligible part of the students (me among them, if you care to know) answered ‘yes’.

Along our lives, a whole lot of people eventually get to wish someone else’s death, and many of them would besides be ready to personally cause that death were they sure they wouldn’t be discovered guilty.

Wishing to get rid of John or Jane Doe is something quite natural. Eventually, we always come across someone who causes us severe or tough to bear affliction or pain, physical or emotional: that loud insufferable neighbour, the embittering boss, some humiliating and aggresive bully, the intimidating borough gantster, the extorting mobster, our nation’s cruel and vile opressor, that terrorist who slaughtered our father, the swine who’s raped our wife… The casuistry is infinite, and one can’t be blamed for wishing our tormentors’ death, or even for feeling the impulse of personally killing them. But the criminal code is there, heavily punishing homicide to dissuade us from commiting it; and, some way or other, we all understand that it’s how it should be, even though this abiding by the law forces us to curb our protection, justice or vengeance instincts. It seems sort of unnice to go around slaying people who get in our way.

However, among the uncountable number of instances in which we might like to get rid of another human being, there is a special case, one only exception on which -without us fully understanding why- most societies seem to agree. I mean those situations in which this other human being, though yet not guilty of anything, will mean -we anticipate- such a colossal hindrance in our life, such an obstacle to our projects and expectations, that we’ll be forced to drastically modify them or to wholly give them up. In such cases, and if a particular circumstance is met, the law allows us to terminate a given fellow being. This circumstance lies in carrying inside our to-be enemy. I’m of course talking about abortion. I’m thinking of the ethical revolution involved in stating the right (not decriminalising, but establishing the full right!) to murder someone for the sole reason that he/she is going to thwart our aspirations and to make our existence a lot more complicated.

I say murder instead of just kill and I mean it, because it fits better the definition when the victim is a newborn.

“Oh!, but the woman who calls off her pregnancy is not killing a newborn -someone will promptly object- but just getting rid of a foetus still unborn”. True; but it turns out that, these days, the question of extending the abortion right to delivery day is already being debated in the US; and I can’t see any essential difference between one day before or one day after, as the litle one who’s dying is exactly the same. Argueing that, as long as the foetus is inside the womb (or still connected to it via umbilical cord), it lacks any “autonomous life” and can’t live by itself seems quite unconvincing, given the fact that, in reality, a newborn also can’t. Likewise, it doesn’t sound acceptable to me that proposition according to which a newborn is not yet a full person, since ethics are not about persons, but about human beings. Not to talk about the outlandish thesis stating that the foetus belongs to the mother’s as much as her liver or her ears do, and is therefore subjected to her real whim. Any pregnant who’s not brainless or a fanatic knows quite well that what grows inside her is a living thing quite distinct from herself. That vague and generic “right to choose” so frequently invoked nowadays regarding a variety of topics is, oftentimes, but a nice-looking mask (the word right has a positive connotation) for hiding some unlawful or unethical real claim. In the case of abortion until delivery date, let’s be honest, right to choose actually means right to murder.

No, no, no. None of these “reasons” convinces me. Alongside with so many other people, I’ve many times questioned myself what’s my own take on abortion; and I still do, because this million dollar question keeps lacking an objective and determining answer: When do the embryo or the foetus stop being a negligible fisftul of dividing cells or an organic scrap we can finish off on a clean conscience? Every criteria I’ve heard so far (heartbeats, movement, full human shape, etc.) seem to me arbitrary and insufficient to some degree or other, perhaps because none of them takes into consideration the prior question, yet more philosophical and unresolved, of what is actually a human being?

Maybe I won’t ever find a satisfactory answer to both issues, but something I believe for sure: the day our civilization begins accepting the legal right to day-before murder, humankind will have taken a trascendental leap towards a novel ethics of unforeseeable results, because from there to an absolute relativization of the right to life there is only one more step.

Close encounters of the second kind

I liked him at first sight. He was a tall and somewhat ungraceful man of crude and unusual features–as if his face had been left unfinished by the sculptor–suggestive of a sound yet silent character. We had met at a restaurant; actually he was the cook; and though sparing in words, we had stroken up a slow yet heartfelt conversation out of don’t remember what. To judge for the short time we had the chance to talk, I gathered he was, above all, a decent human being, such a rare specimen.
He mustn’t have had much work at that time, because, once I finished my meal and paid the check, he told me to go out for a moment and continue our chat while he had a smoke. Right on the doorsteps to the street, for a brief moment I thought I’d lost sight of hime, as if he’d vanished into thin air; but no: a second later there he was, barely minding his cigarette, staring at the street’s damp grey cobblestones, wet by the recent rain, or looking at the unmistakable indigo of the northern sky above the neighbouring houses’ low roofs. Though we hardly spoke anything, I felt his as a close and pleasurable company; a company I could’ve enjoyed more had it not been for that noise, that fastidious and demanding noise that seemed to gush from within my head with growing strength…
It was the alarm clock. I opened my eyes to an unfamiliar hotel room, Continue reading “Close encounters of the second kind”

The ‘Time passed away’ carol

villancicosWhen passing by the function room at the Orthodox Institute, the man hears a choir of child-like voices, and –curious– peeps through the laces of the glass doors. He sees a group of children rehearsing Christmas carols, conducted by a young teacher. Not that young, actually, but for the last few years almost everyone seems young to him, and this -he says to himself- can only mean one thing…
Ditching with a shrug such untimely trend of thought, he quietly opens the door and steals into the large room, takes a seat on one of the rear chairs and, unnoticed, listens to the rehearsal. The atmosphere is warm, absorbing, snug like a womb must be. Outdoors, behind the windows, some feeble snowflakes fall softly against the dark background, putting on the night a white Christmas touch.
After a few carols have been sung, and when the pure and innocent mouths of the children (they are indeed young!) intone the melancholy notes of Silent Night, two lonely tears roll down the man’s cheeks. But it’s not this carol’s particular sadness, by itself, what made those tears well up, Continue reading “The ‘Time passed away’ carol”

The cosmic connection

Dedicated to Andrada

It was years before my natural curiosity and my studies took me to tread the paths of science; before I had any interest in knowledge; it was in my early adolescence, when everything is yet to be discovered and the world, like an outdated conjurer, winks to us from behind its old tricks, that can only fool the children.
It happened to me only twice; just two times; but though four decades have elapsed, how could I forget?
It was the summer; one of those summers of my boyhood, so long they saw us grow, so full of events they became epochs. We used to go for three months to my grandparents’ village, a place where time, light and space took on new, different dimensions. The monotony of our classes, its didactic clock setting the hours and days in the city; or the geometry of desks, classrooms, streets and buildings squaring the scenes with their linear proyections, became suspended in the village, giving way to a changing and heterogenous space, where our spirit spread out in the limitless freedom the countryside and our holidays granted to us. Continue reading “The cosmic connection”

Christmas Eve among bums

It’s Christmas Eve. A big full moon, very round and white, shines on the pure black of a Polish night. I drag my Christmas loneliness, on an empty stomach, along the cold and deserted streets of Bialystok. What am I doing here? Nothing exactly. It’s just that — I’d like to have supper by the warmth of people, like everyone does.
But all shops and restaurants are closed. Not even the Turks open their kebab kiosks today, so I’ll have to return to my hotel room without dinner — and most of all without company.
Suddenly, the sound of some distant music comes to my ears, and thither I turn my steps. Three musicians are playing their instruments under a small marquee, and alongside them, warm food and hot tea is being handed out by a group of volunteers. Lots of bums gather around, filling up their bellies, then having seconds, and then again ask for one extra portion, so they can take it away to their slum dens.
I come closer and look over the counter to the nice-smelling food. I have some qualms, though, to profit from the destitute’s food, which is not meant for me. But upon turning my back for going away, a smiling lady welcomes me: ‘¡zapraszamy, zapraszamy! Jest barszcz, prosze pan‘. A bit ashamed of myself, I take the cup she hands me, full of hot borsh, and there I finish off the tasteful broth among the beggars. Suddenly I feel I’m one of them; they’re my kindred; for, what’s the difference between us? Sure, I could pay this food and they can’t; but the fact is, here we are, all together in the same place, homeless people sharing an unexpected Christmas Eve that the Church has brought to us: merry music and good traditional Polish homemade food: borszcz, pierogi, bigos, herbata
Indeed, this charitable little event is organized by the Catholic Church. Not by the social powers, nor by the always-complaining mobs, nor by the so-called ‘solidary’ groups or parties — leave aside by the anti-Christian trendy movement; no. Those, all of them, are now actually celebrating Christmas Eve with their families. Only the Church cares for us and sets up this munificent counter; the much criticized and opposed Church.
I talk to the lady in charge. I’d like to give them a few bucks I have in my wallet, to contribute, to reward at least the warm food, the hot tea, the music and the nice atmosphere; but she wouldn’t dream of taking my money: this is for free–she says–; but if you feel grateful you can thank the Lord. Ah, madam!, that’s exactly what I can’t…
Eventually, I walk back to my hotel. Sauntering along the cold and deserted streets of Bialystok, under this bright full moon, I’m just another vagabond returning to his den; a vagabond who has just spent Christmas Eve among his kindred.