Reflections on euthanasia: Western and African Ntomba perspectives on the death of a chief

Biembe Bikopo, Deogratias
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Death and dying have preoccupied humanity since civilization began. While euthanasia is a multidimensional and multicultural ethical issue, the tendency has been for all countries to adopt Western definitions, terms and conditions which now include many legal prescriptions. My research report involves its practice by the Ntomba tribe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In this practice, the hereditary Chief, upon installation, agrees to the belief that not only natural death takes chief’s individual life but his bwanga (energy, vital force) from which the whole community’s well-being including animal, vegetal and non-vegetal holds. Given importance of community over individual, he accepts to be euthanatized by his batwa (pygmies) when his energy has waned. I describe this as “autonomy” even if this may be considered “murder” by those who do not understand the cultural context. I will argue that in fact, it represents a different perspective and reflect on the possible commonalities concerning euthanasia in Ntomba traditional thought and Western philosophy.
MSc (Med), Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand
euthanasia, African perspectives, Western perspectives