In 2010, Chris Rhyss undertook a yearlong sabbatical from corporate life to commence a research project designed to answer a REALLY BIG QUESTION: do we ever have a good reason to kill?
Over a five-year timespan he researched and interviewed over 200 people on controversial topics spanning euthanasia, abortion, child soldiers, infanticide, state execution, terrorism and honor killings, before writing Good Reasons to Kill, the first book of its kind, sharing the stories of people who by choice or circumstance have had to confront the biggest morality dilemma possible.
Around 500,000 people die on this planet every year from acts of intentional violence and homicide such as war, terrorism, domestic violence, infanticide, gang violence, honour killings and state executions.
I began my search back in 2010 when I spoke with the world’s leading euthanasia campaigner, Dr Philip Nitschke, to better understand the emerging debate around people having the legal right to die with dignity. I then spent the next five years seeking out other people who had by choice or circumstance taken another human life.
Five years on and I’ve researched and spoken with countless people who have breached the tenet Thou Shall Not Kill. Animal rights activists and suicide bombers, child soldiers and vigilantes, witch doctors and cannibals, protective parents and those who’ve committed spousal homicide, the people and their stories have been many and varied.
This is what I’ve learned…
I’ve learned that parents will kill to protect their children, and children will help their parents die with dignity if asked. I’ve learned that soldiers kill for the very same reasons that terrorists do, and that men of faith will kill in support of their beliefs as readily as mad men will kill children.
I’ve learned that whilst we openly rage about terrorists killing innocent people, we give far too little attention to the countless baby girls who die in China and India, and the brothers and fathers who kill their sisters and daughters over matters of honour.
I’ve learned the world we live in is far more gray than black and white.
We live in a world where those who would choose to do the worst things for the best reasons – say, help a parent die with dignity or take lives in service of country – exist in the very same world as a (thankfully) smaller percentage who are fundamentalist, selfish and cruel.
Above all else, after speaking with soldiers and doctors, preachers, parents and vigilantes, one thing has become abundantly clear: like it or not, when it all comes down to it, we all have a good reason to kill…
There are five questions that typically arise when I mention this project to anyone, so I thought I’d share my typical responses…
Why would you ever want to write a book like this?
It’s really simple. I started writing this book because I couldn’t – and still can’t – believe that we are still such a fundamentally brutal species after 150,000 years of civilisation and technological and moral evolution. Even as a former soldier I still needed to understand why we kill, why people support the death penalty, why a husband could kill a wife he professes to love, and how parents could let their child die simply because she is a baby girl. I understand more than I did when I started this project five years ago, but I’m still a long way away from accepting a lot of what I now know.
What is the one story that has really changed the way you think?
Without a doubt it’s the first interview I did with Dr Philip Nitschke way back in early 2010. At the time I viewed euthanasia as a cheat’s way out, much like how I viewed suicide at the time, basically an act of selfish cowardice. But after he talked me through the first man he was legally able to euthanasia, explaining in graphic detail just how much this man was suffering and the impact on his family, my mind was forever changed.
What really hit home for me was when I was thinking about this man’s story on my way home from the interview. I started thinking about his frustration and suffering, and then I thought about my grandfather after he had a stroke and was relegated to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life, barely able to communicate. He was a gregarious, witty and eloquent conversationalist, so I couldn’t help but think what if my grandfather had asked me to help him die with dignity, would I have helped him?
What’s the oddest, weirdest story you came across?
It’s researching witch doctors and ritual killings in Africa; so many odd things surfaced in the research. For example, since 2000, 72 Tanzanian albinos have been murdered for their body parts because witch doctors believe they possess magical powers. That’s odd enough in and of itself, but the reason this happens is that there is still a significant percentage of wealthy Africans who actually believe in the power of witch doctors and human sacrifice. I know it’s my Western life view that finds this shocking, but this defies belief in our globally hyper connected world.
What is the one story that got to you the most?
Easy, interviewing Dr Jim Garrow about infanticide / gendercide in China, this had me in tears after we spoke. There are an estimated 100,000,000 baby girls missing in China as the result of its One Child Policy, which is basically this horribly outdated notion that women are of lesser value than men simply because property and estate cannot be passed on to a woman.
As such, parents are either forced to terminate pregnancies of female foetuses, have their baby girl and then either hide her or find her a new family, or undertake the most horrific act possible – send their baby girl away to a monastery or ‘hospital’ where they are left to die. That’s why Dr Garrow’s story in Good Reasons to Kill is an extract from his book, his words convey the horror of this harsh reality better than I ever could.
Have you ever killed anyone?
No. I’ve been fired upon but never killed anyone.
Life and death are odd topics for me. I grew up in a household where my alcoholic father routinely physically assaulted my mother and I, we were battered and bruised by the time my mother left him, but we survived. During this project I’ve learned just how widespread the issue of domestic violence is, and I count myself lucky that we made it out in one piece, because so many – too many – do not.
Then there’s the times during my time in uniform where we’d be first on the scene at accidents and it was too late, so you end up standing there feeling this frustration that you can’t do a thing to help. You have this almost overwhelming sense of what a waste of life.
Add to this the handful of friends who have taken their own lives over the years for a range of reasons. This really gets inside your head because they’re either the kind of people who were the life of the party, or the ones you saw as the strongest. This can make you doubt yourself if you let it. That’s why I’m truly glad I’ve never been placed in a situation where I have the power to end another life, I’m not sure how I would wear that burden.
In 2015, Chris delivered a TEDx talk entitled The Uncomfortable Truth Between Right & Wrong.