May 11, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Anna Zufman


Are we ready for homicide for the sake of mercy?

Early reports about a bill, legitimizing euthanasia in the Russian Federation, sounded as an April Fools Day joke. However, the issue was raised quite seriously. A lot of popular media picked up the agenda, initiating a vivid public discussion: to introduce self-authorized homicide, or not, and urging top politicians and clergymen to express their view.

The issue, rather uncommon for Russian legislation and essentially alien to the Russian tradition, was raised by Valentina Petrenko, chair of the Federation Council's Social Policy Committee. She explains today that no particular bill was prepared: the Committee just proposed to canvass the possibility of euthanasia in Russia, in terms of a "general discussion", and distributed a number of requests to medical authorities. Mrs. Petrenko believes the problem to be "of high priority" for Russia.

It is noteworthy that the debate was introduced not in a "general", theoretical framework – after all, is primarily a subject of philosophic and religious polemic Ц but as a merely practical problem. Valentina Petrenko did not expect the national audience to make judgments on the matter as such, just flatly inquiring: "Is Russia prepared for euthanasia"? Viewing euthanasia as an act of goodness, she was only interested to know whether the nation is "ripe" enough to introduce the method, or not Ц implying: whether Russians are sufficiently "advanced" or not to justify mortification of one human by another for the sake of mercy.

Mrs. Petrenko does not bother to explain why the audience is supposed to perceive euthanasia as an achievement of "progress". Theoretically, it is not obvious at all, as new achievements of pharmaceutical science and practice enable if not to cure a patient but to relieve his suffering. Therefore, the issue is losing urgency – but the MP is of a different opinion.

Recognizing euthanasia as a "high priority problem" for Russia, politicians actually admit a low level of quality of medical services and poor efficiency of relevant government policies. Moreover, those flaws are now not supposed to be addressed. Instead, one could just go and die.

Why was this issue raised today? It is too obvious that even in case such a bill is introduced, it has no opportunity to be passed by the Russian Parliament. The list of opponents is too long, including the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church and even the universally flexible United Russia Party – as UR's State Duma MP Vladimir Katrenko assured journalists on the first day of the media debate. Mrs. Petrenko's initiative has aroused too much clamor to push a relevant bill subtly. Endorsing legitimization of euthanasia, any politician Ц shortly before federal elections Ц is facing a risk of an instantaneous loss of his potential electoral base.

This prospect could hardly be underscored by the proponents of euthanasia's legitimization. Most probably, no draft law is really being prepared at all. The intention, according to Mrs. Petrenko's own confession, was just to force Russians into a "general discussion" of the subject.

The eagerness to canvass the "advanced" method, displayed by all the state-owned electronic media, confirms this explanation. TV channels addressed VIPs, known and unknown specialists, as well as anonymous fatally ill patients, and launched talk shows on the subject unexpectedly emerging as one of "high priority".

Though in most cases, the net result of TV discussions was not in favor of euthanasia, the organizers of the debate reached their objective: the population is now aware that euthanasia, as a method of determining a human fate by a human, is an acceptable subject for a lively TV chat.

Who needed this speculation on life and death? The most superficial suggestion is that someone just wished to distract the Russian audience from a really important legislation which was thus screened. It is also possible that on the background of the gruesome debate, a different unpopular draft law might seem acceptable for the population. Or, maybe, Russians are going to encounter a "milder" version of the same agenda which could be originally rejected, but after the present debate, appear a real deliverance.

The motives behind the proposal to legalize euthanasia in Russia remain unclear. Still, in any case, political speculation on moral issues is disgusting by definition.

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