In the last few years readers have been assaulted with intense emotional manipulation on the topic of mercy killing. Characters are harassed and abused until they are left with no apparent alternative but to kill the sufferer.
Katniss kills Cato who is mauled by mutant beasts at the end of Hunger Games book 1. Pressia kills her own mother who is injured by a bomb in the otherwise recommendable dystopian novel Pure. In the frightening YA bestseller Code Name Verity, Maddie shoots her best friend Verity when she’s captured by the enemy who intends to use prisoners for medical experimentation in WWII.
These are extreme cases which may or may not lend weight to the ‘killing is better than curing’ argument. But they’re not the only instances. The 2012 Newberry winner Dead End in Norvelt brings humour and charm to a story that essentially wants oldies to ‘move on’ and stop taking up space. The young protagonist asks his mother,
“How can dying be good for you?” I asked.
“When living is worse,” she replied matter-of-factly.
Verity, too, prepared us for the shock of her sudden death by recounting the story of a compassionate woman who shoots her husband because he was diagnosed with cancer.
In Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, quadriplegic Will Traynor decides that in six months he will seek euthanasia in the Swiss clinic Dignitas. Not only does his carer/love interest not manage to convince him to want to live, but upon his death she benefits both professionally and financially and seems to imply that everyone is happier this way.
Emotions are powerful forces, and when authors manipulate them to feel that something wrong is actually right, they’re cutting dangerously close to the core of our moral integrity. This damages our emotional intelligence and makes it that much harder to know and live according to our true human dignity.
So, I have a favour to ask. Would some talented writer please consider turning Robert Spitzer’s magnificent Ten Universal Principles into a novel for teens? We desperately need it.