Some time ago, the BBC ran a soap on the antics of ordinary yachting folk. Howards’ Way was, of course, pure video morphine, intended to induce coma and death in innocent Sunday evening viewers; and, in that strange way that fiction morphs into fact, we now have a new real-world version of Howard’s Way, where ordinary doctoring folk inject real morphine into real patients to induce real coma and death.
Dr No refers, of course, to the antics of one Dr Howard Martin, executioner-in-chief to those patients of his whom he deemed had failed his private Dignity Test. Fired up with ‘Christian Compassion’, the real Doc Martin shafted his patients with industrial volumes of lethal drugs in his zeal to assist their ‘passing over’. The fact that some of them were not terminally ill, and that others had not even been invited to consent, was neither here nor there. The Angel of the Lord had his work to do, and that was sufficient unto Doc Martin.
Martin of course joins the other doctors who have of late swum in a sea of opiate induced death; but what marks Martin out from the others is his appeal to Christian values to support his actions. Now, Dr No is not a Christian; nor is he a theological scholar: but it does strike him as somewhat rich that a religious morality should be turned to underpin an activity that in other circumstances we might more naturally call murder.
And murder – for those who baulk at the use of the word – it most certainly is. Stripped to the bare facts, Martin, by his own admission, gave lethal injections to his patients to hasten their death. The killings were intentional, and intentional killing is the essence of murder. No amount of worthy waffle can alter that deadly fact. And yet Martin makes a remarkable – remarkable, because of its contrast to the normal pro-death humanistic position – appeal to Christian compassion, insisting that, far from playing God, he was merely limiting suffering.
Putting aside the awkward fact that killing people is about as close to playing God as mere mortals can get (and that playing God is – Dr No understands – somewhat frowned upon in ecclesiastical circles, not to mention by The Old Man himself), Martin’s argument, when subjected to proper scrutiny, is seen to be, like the sinking yacht in the TV series, holed below the waterline. It is, despite his protests, distinctly unChristian.
Despite somewhat erratic adherence over the centuries, there is no doubt that one of the central tenets of Christianity is the sanctity of human life. This tenet is not a bolt-on optional extra: it is a fundamental absolute of Christian belief. It simply does not allow – except in certain very prescribed circumstances, for example the ‘just war’ – one human being to kill another. And yet, this is exactly what Martin, by his own admission, did.
Dr No suspects he is not alone in finding the image of a doctor with a cross in one hand and a morphine filled syringe in the other both chilling and repellent. Any doctor turned executioner is a sinister perversion; but to execute in The Name of the Lord is diabolical.