Old age, out!

by Armel Job

We all know Kafka’s Metamorphosis. One morning Gregor Samsa, a modest employee whose labor provides a living for his father, mother and sister, wakes up transformed into a huge cockroach. This metamorphosis poses a terrible problem, not only to Gregor, but to his family, who are suddenly confronted with a being they no longer recognize, unable to communicate and cloistered in a disgusting body.

One can think that Kafka took pleasure in composing a fantastic story, a little morbid but, in any case, thank God, without the slightest connection to reality. However, Frédérique Leichter-Flack [1] rightly pointed out that, under a nightmarish exterior, Kafka describes a situation which each of us can be confronted with overnight in the face of the radical transformation of a loved one. struck by an accident, an illness that suddenly makes him a stranger to what he had been until then.

A person stricken with an illness that profoundly alters his body or his mind inevitably becomes a subject of perplexity to those around him. Who is this person now? Is this still the one we loved? Hasn’t she become, like Gregor, some kind of cockroach? Do we really have to bear the appalling burden it places on us?

This is the question the Samsa family faces to the limit of their resistance. So the sister said, “We did everything humanly possible to take care of him. No one could blame us for that. But now we have to get rid of it. And the father to outbid that, if Gregor could understand, he himself would put an end to this situation out of pity for his family. [2]

What the family does not know is that Gregor continues to understand what is being said around him. After these terrible words, he retired to his room and let himself die in the early morning.

Thus Kafka posed well before the hour one of the crucial questions linked to euthanasia, both from the point of view of distraught relatives and that of the person grappling with the terrible feeling of having become not only an object of repulsion, but a sort of undeserved punishment for others.

A Dutch study last January showed that people over the age of fifty-five who wish to end their own life invoked, among other things, the feeling of being a burden on their loved ones. [3] Without doubt, one would suffice. little affection to take away this painful impression and give them back a taste for life. This is apparently not the solution of MEP Dijkstra who, on July 2, has just tabled a bill in the Dutch parliament authorizing assisted suicide for “fulfilled life” from the age of seventy-five. Do you feel unnecessary, embarrassing? Worried about taking the hospital bed of a younger patient with a certain virus? How we understand you! So pack up, a charitable soul will lend you a hand in all good, all honor.

On the same ground, Germany is no exception. On February 26, the Constitutional Court recognized the right of every individual, regardless of their state of health, to take their own life with the help of a professional association for suicide assistance. [4]

In Belgium, my country, euthanasia is only authorized to put an end to intolerable suffering – physical or psychological – noted by the authorized authorities. But who, if not the person himself, can measure the intolerability of suffering? Isn’t it unbearable to feel that you clutter up other people’s lives? From 2003 to 2019, the annual number of euthanasies increased from 235 to 2,655.

We can thus see that the individualist ideology which claims even the right to freely dispose of one’s own life, contrary not only to religious morality but also to Kant’s categorical imperative, will never cease but be ‘imposes as the last avatar of progress. Isn’t such freedom usually conditioned by social pressure? How many Gregors, in his future reign, will die off in the early morning with the bitter illusion of having chosen their fate?

[1]LEICHTER-FLACK Frédérique, Le laboratoire des cas de conscience, Alma, Paris, 2012
[2]KAFKA Franz, La métamorphose, Folio bilingue, pp.169-171
[3]Perspectieven op de doodwens van ouderen die niet ernstig ziek zijn, Den Haag, ZonMw, 2020
[4]Voir La Libre Belgique, éditions du 30 juin et du 2 septembre 2020

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