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Goodbye to Josè Saramago, genius, novelist and (sometimes) a bioethicist


The very sad news of the day is the death
of Portuguese writer José Saramago. Saramago was a true genius and one of my
favourite authors ever, so I thought it could be a good idea  to show how this great man was able not
only to write books where every single sentence is so beautiful to take the breathe away
, but also to stimulate interesting  thoughts about moral 

Novels and bioethics don’t usually mingle
but when I first read “Death with interruptions”

(published in 2005) I couldn’t help but think about the debate about

Death with interruption”, as many of Saramago’s novels, begins with a surreal situation
that the author suggests in order to show the consequences that would follow.
In this case the surreal situation is that Death stops to work in an unknown
Country: after the midnight of a 31st of December no one dies
anymore. At the beginning the population is quite excited and feels blessed,
but after a few days, practical problems start. One of the main problems is
given by those people, usually old and agonizing, who wanted to die because the
quality of their lives was really low and suddenly find themselves trapped in a
situation that is really painful to them. 
The health system starts to collapse because it has become too expensive
to take care of those who wouldn’t have survived under normal circumstances.
The Catholic Church is especially worried because without death there will
never be resurrection, and the perspective of no resurrection would completely
mess up their approach to life and death (Saramago was an atheist and quite
often was disputing with the Catholic Church).

What I found stimulating reading the book,
from a bioethical perspective, is something I believe to be a parallelism
between the Death’s “strike” and new technologies we use to keep “alive”
individuals  in a persistent
vegetative state or persons whose life is painful because of untreatable
diseases so that  they ask to be
helped to die.  Human life-span is
quite rapidly increasing and I do believe this is a very good thing, but as the
novel “Death with interruption”
shows, trying to
keep alive individuals that are biographically dead or whose lives consist in
nothing but pain won’t bring any benefit either to them or to society. As
humans we tend to be scared of death, but the point is that (and Saramago
showed it very well)  
sometimes life is even worse than death. In the case of individuals in a
persistent vegetative state life cannot be painful because they cannot feel
anything anymore.  But why should
we use resources of the public health system (we could use to cure people who
can be cured)  in order to indefinitely
prolong a life that is just a merely biological existence?

In the case of people affected by serious
diseases at a terminal stage, we have to wonder why we should let room to
vitalism, to the idea that medicine has the duty to keep people alive, no
matters if they like it or not?

In “death with interruption”  people start to take
their beloved ones out of the country (where Death still works) because they
don’t want them to suffer anymore. Isn’t it very similar to the stories of
people that have to take their dear ones to countries where euthanasia is

Moreover I find interesting that in the
novel a criminal  organization
called “maphia”
starts to take control of the
situation so that people end up paying “maphious” people in order to be allowed
to take their relatives out of the country. It wouldn’t be surprising to me to
find out that illegal euthanasia procedures  are practiced everyday in countries where euthanasia is not

We will sooner or later be in the
privileged position to extend our lives much beyond the actual span, but at the
same time we have to take seriously the issue of the quality of life. The fact
that it will be possible to extend life-span shouldn’t turn into an obligation
to live in pain or to keep our bodies breathing much long after we ourselves
have ceased to exist.




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