Originally created 02/03/03

Finding the 'why'



When tragedy comes to town, it usually makes its way up the steps of the local courthouse at some point. Courthouses have seen just about everything humanity has to throw at them.

But truth is, few courthouses have seen the kind of unbridled tragedy that was visited upon the Spalding County Courthouse in Griffin last week.

It was there that they had to call Carol Carr a criminal and put her in prison.

She left them no choice.

What else can you do with a mother who intentionally, and with forethought, shoots and kills her two grown sons, as she did last June 8?

She avoided murder charges by pleading to assisted suicide - and will likely only serve a total of 20 months. But she is a felon.

And the tragedy is now complete: two lives snuffed out, and a third - which had given birth to the others - has been encased in steel bars and forever scarred with heartache.

The 64-year-old no doubt felt she was doing them a favor. And they may have welcomed it. You see, Randy, 42, and Andy, 41, were suffering miserably from Huntington's disease, an inherited, and absolutely merciless, degenerative brain disease.

But assisted suicide, mercy killing - whatever you want to call it - is not only against the law, it's one of the most slippery slopes along modern medicine's jagged terrain.

Certainly a case can be made that medicine's growing penchant for keeping someone alive has far outpaced its ability to make that life livable. It has become one of the great bioethics dilemmas of our time.

Still, no answers worth hearing will be found at the end of a handgun.

There are much better answers to be found - in the solace of religion and faith, and in the wisdom of philosophers and sages.

Dr. Viktor Frankl, for instance, emerged from the horror of the Nazi death camps to proclaim in his Man's Search for Meaning that life has unconditional meaning - that meaning can be found in every life under any circumstance.

In his medical practice, Frankl once met a suicidal woman who had lost one son and whose surviving son was hopelessly disabled. She was prevented from committing suicide - and killing her disabled son - by the son himself, who wanted to live more than she.

When asked by Frankl in a therapy session to imagine herself at age 80, the woman surprised even herself with the image of a woman who had spent a difficult but meaningful life making the best life she could for her surviving son.

None of this is to judge Ms. Carr. The courts have seen to that.

Moreover, it is incumbent on medical science to make sure that whatever suffering modern medicine is helping prolong is abated as much as possible. We must ask: In trying to prolong life as much as possible, are we stretching the frontiers of bearable suffering?

Still, even as we struggle with such dilemmas, we need to keep in mind the importance of having meaning in life, which was captured most profoundly by Friedrich Nietzsche, who said that "he who has a why to live can endure any how."

Further, Frankl adds that facing up to unavoidable suffering, paradoxically, presents a rich opportunity to discover meaning in life, "because you then have an opportunity to bear witness of the human potential at its best - of the most human of all human capacities, which is to turn a tragedy into a personal triumph."

To do anything else, as we have seen, is to simply turn tragedy into another tragedy.