Is Compassion Really a Crime?
Imagine standing in a hospital room watching a man suffer in agonizing pain day after day and not being able to do anything about it. This is the situation that Barbara Huttmann faces in her essay "A Crime of Compassion." Huttmann, a nurse, is forced to watch Mac live in agonizing pain without legally being able to let him die. The message that she displays in her essay is suffering people should be permitted to die if they aspire to do so. Using various rhetorical devices, Huttmann portrays her message by first introducing Mac to the reader, then illustrating his suffering and finally letting him die.
Huttmann opens her essay by introducing Mac, a young police officer who is diagnosed with lung cancer. She uses imagery to recall the day that Mac first "walked into the hospital with 32 pounds of attack equipment, looking as if he could singlehandedly protect the whole city, if not the whole state" (420).
This image allows the reader to visualize and characterize Mac prior to his cancer. Contrastingly, Huttman later illustrates the Mac's condition six months after he is diagnosed. At this point Mac has lost "his youth, his wit, his macho, his hair, his bowel and bladder control, his sense of taste and smell and his ability to do even the slightest thing for himself" (420). Huttmann creates contrasting images to show the horrific changes Mac has gone through due to his diagnosis. In the first image, Mac is depicted as a super heroic figure who is indestructible. As he enters the hospital, he carries with him a fearless attitude that enables people to look to him as a figure of protection. However, in the second image, his health has disintegrated and he has wasted away to nothingness.