Making the Ethical Choice: It’s a Matter of Human Dignity
It does not matter how many people choose moral duty over the rationality of self-preservation — what does matter is that some did.
Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust
Bauman is writing of Jews and Gentiles alike who made the choice to resist the German genocide some refer to as the Holocaust, I prefer the Shoah. But Bauman’s ethics here goes beyond hiding a few Jews from the Nazis or taking up arms to resist. His message is far more ecumenical than that. It is a message that resounds with the courage to resist any and all attempts to substitute morals or ethics with the unrelenting rationality of the modern bureaucratic desire to make any idea one in which efficiency and cost are considered prior to human interaction. Trading proximity for distance is a model for the objectification of the other leading to total separation from that which is social. It defines the other as outside and thereby creates what Georgio Agamben calls the “state of exception.”
When faced with a difficult decision, one must always choose; decisions are not always easily made. When faced with one’s own mortality, as I am, clearly the choices available are not always clear. Treatment options are presented, research is done, decisions are made. For me, the decisions are made after considering both the ethical and practical aspects of treatment. The first ethical question I ask is will the treatment option help preserve life. Closely thereafter, assuming a positive response from the first question, come questions about the quality of life one can expect from any treatment option available. These are, of course, questions concerning the preservation of life where that life has a quality that is worth sustaining.
There are, of course, other ethical questions to consider. For example, decisions made have an impact on others around me. If I am making the ethical choice I must always consider how that choice will impact those around me. Will I be a burden on those with whom I share a common gene pool or a connection built on love, trust and friendship? Making certain that others are both consulted and kept informed is, for me, a critical consideration as I face my cancer head on.
As of this very moment, I made the choice to undergo the surgical removal of my prostate. During this surgical procedure other organs such as surrounding lymph nodes will also be removed and biopsied to assure that no metastasis has taken place. I rejected options such as proton beam therapy because the overall potential for a cure simply wasn’t there. The surgical option provides me with the best change of long-term survival and so I made it.
Assuming the outcome of surgery is the best possible outcome, I will be available for presenting myself to others with what Hillary Putnam calls Levinas’ Fundamental Ethical Obligation, presenting oneself to the other in order to be of service for the other. Whether the other is family or friend, or simply another human being I do not know, a stranger, my obligation is to present myself without reservation to perhaps be of some help. This ethical obligation comes with some degree of patience. The other has absolutely no obligation to receive help from me and I cannot force the other to accept that help; reciprocation is up to the other. Here I Am…That is my obligation; where are you?