Like others in class, I have also been thinking about the morality of killing the skels and stragglers, human beings who have been completely changed by a horrible and seemingly incurable disease. What bothers me most about them, and the idea of a “zombie” in general, is that they are human beings that need to be killed if anyone not infected wants a chance to live. There are many ways humans can try to justify their killing. In Zone One, we saw how Mark Spitz tries to justify their death by humanizing them, by trying to find people he knew in his life in them (Whitehead, 18-19). In this way, he sees killing them as an act of mercy, as a way to release them from their painful, meaningless lives. On the other hand, their killing can also be justified by seeing the zombies as anything but human. After all, the disease either makes them terrifying cannibalistic creatures or numb, mindless beings with no purpose. Neither of these sound very human to me. Even the words “zombie,” “skels,” and “stragglers” themselves are very dehumanizing. Toward the end of the novel, Mark Spitz changes his view on the stragglers, and instead of trying to see his family and friends in them, he calls them “vermin that needed to be put down” (Whitehead, 281). Perhaps for some people, it is easier to view the infected as anything but human so it is more comfortable for them to kill them. It seems that Mark Spitz is struggling with how best to justify killing the zombies.
I know I am not alone in this struggle to try and become comfortable with what Mark Spitz and the other sweepers are doing in Zone One. Taha’s post in particular about this subject really struck me with how this issue we are all grappling with can be applied to the society we live in today. Taha wrote at the beginning of his post, “Sometimes the best thing that we can do for people who are suffering, is to help take them out of their pain. This act can allow these continuously tortured individuals to hopefully gain some sort of peace and solace.” This immediately reminded me of something we have not talked about in class, but that I think is very relevant to our class as a whole: physician assisted death. According to this article, physician assisted death is the “practice where a physician provides a potentially lethal medication to a terminally ill, suffering patient at his request that he can take (or not) at a time of his own choosing to end his life.”
We have made some amazing feats in modern medicine. However, sometimes people contract diseases or are born with conditions that we are unable to cure. Those with these illnesses often fight for their lives, but sometimes they lose. And sometimes this process is long, arduous, and extremely painful. That raises the question: when humans are suffering with a disease that has no cure, why should they suffer longer than necessary? Although the sweepers primarily kill the zombies so they can re-colonize civilization, Mark Spitz views it as “performing an act of mercy” (Whitehead, 19). In the same way, physician assisted death can be seen as an act of mercy. Proponents of physician assisted death claim that patients should have the “right to control the own circumstances of [their] death.” Furthermore, if a doctor can no longer do anything to stop their patient from suffering, then they should do everything in their power to stop their patient’s pain, even if that means providing them with the means for their own death. On the other hand, opponents of physician assisted death claim that assisting the death of a patient is a direct violation of a doctor’s oath to never knowingly harm their patients. There is also a risk that a doctor will end a patient’s life against their own will, when alternative treatments are very expensive, or when the patient is very difficult to treat.
Clearly, the issue of consent is of crucial importance to this issue. It is terrifying to imagine a world in which doctors provide patients with the means to kill themselves because that would be easier than treating them. We have already seen in Medical Apartheid that doctors, the supposedly epitome of healing and care, have abused prisoners, African Americans, and other minority groups in their attempt to develop profitable drugs and even to develop biological weapons to use in wars. We read an article about doctors that sterilized Latina women without their consent. I want to believe that doctors would only assist a patient in their death in only the most severe circumstances, and with the full consent of the patient. Before this class, I definitely considered myself a proponent of physician assisted death, but now I am not so sure. I think that the risk of doctors to abuse this power is unfortunately very real, especially when treating minority groups. I am thankful for this class for opening up my mind on an issue I had previously been quite strong-willed about. I must admit that I experienced a bit of the back-fire effect when I started thinking about my stance on this issue, but the evidence we have seen throughout this course on how doctors have treated their “patients” have left me wary of legalizing physician assisted death in every state. While I want people who are suffering to have control over their own lives and to have dignity in their deaths, I think that this is a complicated, controversial issue that, like most things we have discussed in this class, has no easy answer.