Earle Birney

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What is the theme of Earle Birney's "David"?

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The theme of “David” by Earle Birney is whether or not euthanasia is consistent with our long-standing notions of human autonomy.

The eponymous character has had a serious rock-climbing accident which has left him paralyzed. Unable to contemplate spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, he asks his close friend and climbing companion Bob to push him over the cliff to his death.

Here we are presented with something of a paradox. Although David is undoubtedly exercising his autonomy by requesting that Bob push him over the cliff, such an act of what we may call euthanasia, or mercy killing, also represents an attack on his autonomy.

Even though the request for this mercy killing has come from David himself, if Bob were to oblige him he would be guilty of unlawful killing, which according to both law and common standards of morality would be regarded as the ultimate violation of human autonomy.

David tries to convince Bob by telling him that he, David, would do the same if he were in Bob's position, but that doesn't deal with the underlying issue of human autonomy. The exact same moral questions would arise were David to push Bob off the cliff at Bob's request.

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