Friday, October 9, 2009

On Figs, Baloney, Consistency and Post-Modernism.

In a post on the 6th at FirstThings, Wesley J. Smith gets riled by the case in Connecticut, brought by two doctors, that challenges the constitutionality of assisted suicide. It's a post about definitions.

He calls inconsistent the efforts by advocates to, by court or by legislation, legalize assisted suicide. (See my little bit earlier today about majority rule and minority rights.) Then he gets damn wacky with talk of euphemisms, gobbledygook, and post-modernism.

By conflating suicide and assisted suicide (and claiming that depression is the cause and hospice is the answer, see other posts), Smith fails to address the real cause behind the movement to legalize aid in dying: personal choice. Who owns suffering? Not the patient, according to Smith, because personal suffering is, well, just narrative.

(Incidentally, Smith is all for condemning democratic vote when it doesn't serve his purposes.)

The assisted suicide movement doesn’t give a fig about consistency. If people attack legalized suicide, they pound the podium and assert that we must respect state’s rights. But when states refuse to legalize assisted suicide–as in Montana–they file lawsuits hoping an activist judge will find a heretofore unheard of “right” to assisted suicide.

It’s really not hard: Suicide is knowingly taking action to kill yourself, in this case, taking an overdose of drugs with the intent to die. Assisted suicide is providing the means or otherwise assisting that action, in this case, prescribing sufficient drugs to kill the patient in the knowledge that suicide is the patient’s intent. It isn’t prescribing drugs for a legitimate medical purpose, such as treating pain.

“Aid in dying” is just a gobbledygook euphemistic advocacy term that pretends terminally ill people can’t commit suicide. In other words, it is postmodernism run amok in that it would disregard facts and sacrifice accurate definitions on the altar of personal narrative. So, if I give someone dying of cancer a gun, load it, cock it, and help them point it at their head knowing they will pull the trigger, I have only aided in their dying? That’s nuts. People like Tucker will say, but that’s violent, so it is suicide. Baloney. The principle doesn’t change if a doctor is prescribing a poisonous overdose or I am helping someone shoot themselves.

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Assisted Suicide in New Mother Jones Article.

Liliana Segura asks today at Mother Jones, "Do You Want the Right to Kill Yourself?" In the article she covers the controversy surrounding the world's new "Dr. Death," Dr. Philip Nitschke.

She does a fine job of summarizing the basic outline of the issue of assisted suicide in the US (though she does not include Montana as the third state where death with dignity is legal or mention the new lawsuit in Connecticut) and how it overlaps with hospice, religion, and suicide. An excerpt:

That present question, more than 15 years later, is as relevant as ever. Yet, as we have seen all too clearly in the past several weeks, in the United States, even the most superficial changes in our for-profit health care system have proved polarizing beyond reason; a meaningful attempt to address the fraught topic of end-of-life care seems nearly impossible.

With another round of controversy over the "right to die" on the horizon, hysteria over so-called death panels must be abandoned in favor of a less distorted, more empathetic discussion over the right to health care—in all its forms.

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Kerrie Wooltorton's Living Will.

Before she ingested poisons or called an ambulance, Kerri Wooltorton, a depressed, 26 year old, pinned the following living will to her shirt. She wanted to die. She had tried to kill herself 9 times before. On the heels of a revision of the laws governing assisted suicide, British doctors at the hospital where Wooltorton was taken did not treat her. Her death is now causing a stir in Britain; Health Secretary Andy Burnham said the case made him uncomfortable. The laws on living wills may now be reviewed.

14/09/2007 To whom this may concern

If I come into hospital regarding an overdose or any attempt of my life, I would like for NO life saving treatment to be given. I would appreciate it if you could continue to give medicines to help relieve my discomfort, painkillers, oxygen etc. I would hope these wishes would be carried out without loads of questioning.

Please be assured that I am 100% aware of the consequences of this and the probable outcome of drinking antifreeze, eg death in 95-99% of cases and if I survive then kidney failure, I understand and accept them and will take 100% responsibility for this decision.

I am aware that you may think that because I called the ambulance I therefore want treatment, THIS IS NOT THE CASE! I do however want to be comfortable as nobody wants to die alone and scared and without going into details there are loads of reasons I do not want to die at home which I realise you will not understand and I apologise for this.

Please understand that I definitely don’t want any form of ventilation, resuscitation or dialysis. These are my wishes please respect and carry them out.

Yours sincerely

Kerrie Wooltorton

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Big Pharma Invested in Prolonging Death.

From ThinkingPharma, a British site by former pharmaceutical marketers, a great image (left) and a little funny stuff on how pharmaceutical companies are invested in keeping us all costs.

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Richard Hughes and the Kingdom of God.

Richard Hughes, author of Christian America and the Kingdom of God, talks about the Anabaptists, nationalism, Jim Wallis, health care reform, and the Texas Board of Education in a new interview at TheChurchofJesusChrist:

No nation, including the United States, can ever become the kingdom of God, simply because, as Reinhold Niebuhr taught us many years ago (MORAL MAN AND IMMORAL SOCIETY), all institutions, including all nations, are inevitably driven by self-interest. At the same time, I would hope that our people and our leaders could allow the biblical vision of the kingdom of God to inform both domestic and foreign policy. In other words, my dream for the United States is for a country that nurtures peace and pursues justice, especially for the least of these. But in order to achieve that dream, we have a very on long way to go.


Reader Response: What Anti-Choice Means.

This just in from Liz Wheeler who takes offense at my use of the term anti-choice in a post on this site from October 6, Anti-Choice: Coming after the Rights of Other Minority Groups Now:

Upon reading your article “Anti-Choice: Coming After the Rights of Other Minority Groups Now,” I wanted to bring a particular point to your attention.

Your use of the term “anti-choice” is very misleading, and shows a significant misunderstanding of the term.

The term anti-choice by definition means “one who opposes ALL choices”, no matter what the topic of choice be. The opposition to abortion does not stem from the opposition of choices in general (as the term anti-choice would lead one to believe). Those who oppose abortion are against feticide and embryocide, thus making them anti-feticide, anti-embryocide, or anti-abortion. Just as someone who opposes the choice of a man to hit his wife is not anti-choice, but anti-domestic-violence, the correct label for a person who opposes abortion would be anti-abortion (or anti-feticide, anti-embryocide, etc.)

I would invite you to visit the website to review and read more information on this subject and on the use of the term anti-choice.

Thank you,

Liz Wheeler

Um, thank you Liz. Obviously I use the term to indicate "pro-life" groups who work to eliminate the practices on their platform: abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research and cloning. My purpose is to equate anti-choice, anti-abortion activists with anti-choice, anti-aid in dying activists. Same platform, same agenda, different minority group they wish to keep from making their own choices. (What that has to do with domestic violence, I'm not sure.)

The link doesn't say much more than Liz's email does; both work to remove the right-reviled moniker "anti-choice" from the abortion issue, probably because more and more women (and men) understand the need for choice in their reproductive health options. In other words, Liz, your agenda is showing.

By the way: Could this be you?

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Fearing the Anti-Christ: Christian Objections to US Public Schools.

In a recent article at HuffingtonPost, Frank Schaeffer, son of evangelical pioneer Francis Schaeffer, notes that much of the credit for the rise of the 9/12 marchers, tea-baggers and like-minded subversives can be credited to the increase of Christian schools and the home schooling movement. Schaeffer explains:

A big part of the answer to understanding the heightened climate of outright hate and fear of the "other" is the home school and Christian school movement. It is a modern incarnation of the anti-federal government ideology of earlier firebrands such as John Calhoun who was the 7th Vice President and a Southern politician in the 19th century. Calhoun embraced slavery, states' rights, limited government, and said that Americans should secede from the union if it went against their wishes. (See: "Calhoun Conservatism Raises Its Ugly Head" by Mike Lux in the Huffington Post Sept 11/09.)

In the early 1970s the evangelicals like my late father and James Dobson decided that the our society had fallen so far "away from God" and so far from "America's Christian history" that it was time to metaphorically decamp to not just another country but to another planet:. In other words virtually unnoticed by the media and mainstream political operatives, a big chunk of American society seceded from the union in all but name.

What they did is turn the white race-based in "Christian school" movement of the 1950s into a countercultural phenomena. As tens of thousands of new Christian schools opened, it was no longer just about "protecting" white kids from minorities and African-Americans. It was about protecting your children from Satan in other words the United States government's long reach through the public school system.

To protect your children from Satan -- in other words mainstream, open patriotic and pluralistic America -- you either kept them at home where mom and dad could teach the children right from wrong or sent them to a cloistered private evangelical/fundamentalist school. At home or in school you used curriculum prepared by the likes of James--beat-your-child-and-dare-to-discipline-Dobson, RJ-slavery-was-a-good-thing-Rushdoony, or many and other right-wing anti-American activists. That curriculum presented "secular America" as downright evil. Hating the USA became next to godliness.

Yesterday's post by Carl Sterling Parnell at TheRealityCheck clearly demonstrates Schaeffer's point that education is dividing the country. Titled "The Real Reason for the Meltdown of America's Schools," Parnell's article sums up what is wrong with our public education system and why Christians fear their child's education by the government (aka the National Education Association):

The solution [to fixing our public school system] lies within the realm of a spiritual renewal in America as a society, another Great Awakening. Then, ultimately, public schools would return back to godly principles and ideals in the halls of academia. But, at present, public schools have become a breeding ground for subcultural groups to join mainstream America. As a result, true academics have been placed on the back burner. Therefore, the time needed to prepare students for the educational challenges of the 21st century is already included in the daily public school schedule. The problem is that the time is being misused to promote the agendas of different ideological and subcultural groups, some of which promote un-American and ungodly ideals and principles.

What exactly are these un-American and ungodly ideals? Explains Parnell, secular humanism, "a subtle yet extremely injurious cancer eating away at the moral health of society," and the New Age Movement, "an occult socio-political movement that is attempting to bring about the Biblically-predicted world order ruled by Satan."

The secular humanists are evil because they are trying to undermine capitalism, save the planet, promote peace, usher in equality and do other Satan-motivated stuff:

Politically, the New Age humanists have four goals. Their ultimate goal is to create a one-world government. Secondly, they want to stop the rapid population growth in the world in order to avoid the depletion of our natural resources. Thirdly, they want to cut military spending, to stop the production of all nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and to redistribute the wealth of the world more equally. Fourthly, humanists want to free mankind from all superstitions and restrictions. Ultimately, man will never achieve peace of mind until he stops believing in a God. Man’s peace will come only when he accepts that it is his own abilities that generate happiness in his life.

How do such seemingly positive objectives translate into damaging our children and our country?

Spiritually, the New Age agenda requires the desecration of the Ten Commandments. According to New Age beliefs, the elimination of God’s laws would be necessary in order to promote world peace and human progress. Humanists blame Christian values for the divisiveness of people around the world. However, they desire to replace the Ten Commandments with perverted sex, abortion, birth control, suicide, euthanasia and divorce. Ultimately, a new utopian society would bring tolerance and peace to the global community. Occultism would become the one-world religion. Satan would become the god of the universe. (1) The anti-Christ of the Book of Revelation could be ready to establish his kingdom. If New Age disciples and secular humanists rid the universe of the God of Heaven, there would be nothing left except Satan’s representative on the earth-THE ANTICHRIST.

The entire article smacks of racism, xenophobia, hyper-nationalism, intolerance, greed, and most of all, fear.

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Defeat from Within: Jim Wallis and Health Care Reform.

Adele Stan reports at AlterNet on Rev. Jim Wallis' attempts to undermine health care reform from his position in the President's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships:

Today, Wallis, in his sanctimonious style, offers "A Faith Declaration for Health-Care Reform" that declares this:

Life and liberty must both be protected. The health care system should protect the sanctity and dignity of life in accordance with existing law and the current rules; and the prohibition on federal funding of abortions should be consistently and diligently applied to any legislation. Strong "conscience" protections should be enacted for health care workers to ensure they have the liberty to exercise their moral and religious beliefs in their profession. Evidence suggests that supporting low-income and pregnant women with adequate health care increases the number of women who chose to carry their child to term, so if we do reform right, we can reduce abortion in America. While religious people don't all agree on all the issues of abortion, we should agree that it must not be allowed to derail the crucial need for comprehensive health care reform.

Depite his talk about not allowing abortion issues to "derail" health reform, that seems to be exactly what Wallis is up to. As Frances Kissling reported in Salon, after winning a major point when Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., amended the House bill with a conscience clause exempting anti-choice health-care providers from having to cover or perform abortions, as well as an explicit prohibition on the use of federal funds to pay for abortions in accordance with the Hyde amendment and a prohibition on the use of federal subsidy dollars by private plans in the coverag of abortion, Wallis continued his crusade:

This, it now seems, is not enough for Wallis and company. They now want to be sure that if an anti-choice person chooses a plan that does cover abortion, the minuscule part of his premium that is allocated to abortion coverage for all subscribers is not used for abortion.

Get it? It's a chip-away strategy, a nuisance plan on Wallis' part to gum up the health-care works.

Blick v Connecticut

A new case in Connecticut has been filed by doctors Gary Blick and Ron Levine, "asking a Connecticut court to rule that the state assisted suicide statute does not reach their conduct in providing aid in dying."

Get all the news on the case, view the press conference, and watch for updates at Compassion & Choices.

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Majority Rule and Gay Rights in the US

On the same day
the House approves a measure to include anti-gay violence as a hate crime, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life announces the results of their recent survey on gay marriage. A clear majority of Americans (57%) support civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, yet:

Over the past year, support for civil unions has grown significantly among those who oppose same-sex marriage (24% in August 2008 to 30% in 2009) while remaining stable among those who favor same-sex marriage. At the same time, opponents of same-sex marriage continue to outnumber supporters overall. An August 2009 Pew Research Center survey finds that 53% oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, compared with 39% who support same-sex marriage, numbers that are virtually unchanged over the past year. [Emphasis mine.]

The study finds that age, sex, education, race, religion, and region all contribute to public views on gay marriage.

Which leads me to the following comment on majority rule and the rights of minorities:

But majority rule, by itself, is not automatically democratic. No one, for example, would call a system fair or just that permitted 51 percent of the population to oppress the remaining 49 percent in the name of the majority.

In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities and dissenters — whether ethnic, religious, or simply the losers in political debate. The rights of minorities do not depend upon the good will of the majority and cannot be eliminated by majority vote. The rights of minorities are protected because democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens.

Minorities need to trust the government to protect their rights and safety. Once this is accomplished, such groups can participate in, and contribute to their country’s democratic institutions. The principle of majority rule and minority rights characterizes all modern democracies, no matter how varied in history, culture, population, and economy.

From “Democracy in Brief,” by the Bureau of International Information Programs,
U.S. Department of State,

Many on the right continue to tout the constitution and majority opinion when they argue against rights of minorities, including those of women, gays, and the elderly, albeit inconsistently. When public opinion reached a majority approval for abortion, opponents skirted majority opinion discussions, citing activist judges and a "culture of death."

Yet, history has shown that democracies, particularly antiquated ones like our own, neglect the rights of minorities. When public opinion fails to protect minority rights, our courts are left to correct the injustice. The success of Proposition 8 in California in November 2008 proved that minority groups will continue to be suppressed, violated, and subjugated if public opinion is relied on for their protection.

The other lesson of Proposition 8 is that fear and out-of-state monies can be used to influence public opinion against minorities.

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The Contested Hospice.

When told that her kidney cancer had spread to her liver, Dorothy Eisele and her husband, Owen, a retired doctor, decided to forgo other treatments and signed on with hospice. The Messenger, the newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, has a story on the couple who have been married for nearly 70 years.

The article, written by and for a Catholic publication, clearly supports personal choice in treatment and Dorothy's decision. But it is written to recommend hospice as an answer to asssisted suicide or euthanasia. "Any thoughts of euthanasia, the hastening or causing a death, never entered their minds," the article states.

Father Dennis Voss, a local pastor, is quoted:

Dying can be “a very holy experience,” Father Voss said. When family and friends gather with the dying person, good-byes can be said, and love is palpable in the room.”

The problem, Father Voss said, is “most people don’t want to talk about death; they do everything possible to avoid death. We are in a death denying culture.”

Some people might say we are also afraid of the pain of death. That could lead some people to consider euthanasia or assisted suicide. Hospice assists in managing pain so that pain does not become a focal point of the dying process.
The Church speaks forcefully against both euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“As Catholic leaders and moral teachers, we believe that life is the most basic gift of a loving God — a gift over which we have stewardship but not absolute dominion. Our tradition, declaring a moral obligation to care for our own life and health and to seek such care from others, recognizes that we are not morally obligated to use all available medical procedures in every set of circumstances. But that tradition clearly and strongly affirms that as a responsible steward of life one must never directly intend to cause one’s own death, or the death of an innocent victim, by action or omission.” (Administrative Committee National Conference of Catholic Bishops Sept. 12, 1991) Hospice of Southern Illinois does not believe in either euthanasia or assisted suicide.

The modern hospice movement was founded by the Anglican nurse, writer and physician Cicely Saunders. A student of the Christian writer C.S. Lewis, Saunders established the first hospice in Britain in 1967 as a “powerful force for undercutting the movement for active euthanasia.”

She fell in love with a string of terminally ill Poles, experienced a religious conversion after the deaths of family and lovers, and spent 11 years planning St. Christopher's, the hospice she ultimately founded. She was a pioneer of palliative medicine, the treatment of pain in the ill and dying.

Saunders claimed that after 11 years of thinking about the project, she had drawn up a comprehensive blueprint and sought finance after reading Psalm 37: "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass."

Saunder's work has been rightly commended over the last half century and the subsequent emphasis on hospice and palliative care is, however slow to proliferate, revolutionary to end of life care.

While hospice and palliative care can alleviate pain among approximately 9 out of 10 dying patients, it does not moot the demands for death with dignity, seen as a right by aid in dying advocates.

Yet, "pro-life" organizations still look at hospice as a service which disregards God's jurisdiction over death. SouthernIllinoisCatholic harshly criticizes the article in the Messenger as promoting a service that was proven ineffective in saving the life of Terri Schiavo:

I relate this to Terri Schiavo case because she was placed in a hospice facility, but she wasnt' dying, just not recovering--in part, arguably because she wasn't receiving therapies that could ameliorate her condition.

I have suspicions toward hospice as a result of the Schiavo case. That hospice organization sounded like it was tilted toward hastening death, or letting people wither and die. Some euthanasia advocates were affiliated with that hospice group, I recall.

Those staunchly opposed to hospice, despite it's strongly-stated anti-assisted suicide founding and stance, and opposed to end of life planning, advance directives and other services and tools that help the terminally ill, disabled, aged and suffering claim an absolutist position. (To clarify, Schiavo's autopsy shows that she would never recover but recent studies show that some persistent vegetative patients can perhaps be taught to eat and drink on their own.)

"But death comes in God's time, not ours," they say, "All our planning can be turned on its head with God's timing and plans."

Regarding hospice, they are in part correct. Recent studies show that continuous deep sedation (CDS) is commonly practiced in the world's hospitals and hospice facilities. The practice of sedating a suffering patient until they die in order to relieve their pain is not prosecutable under what is called the "double effect" because death is only a double or secondary result.

I suspect that Saunder's concept of hospice care did not include CDS, but I have yet to confirm that. (She died at St. Christopher's in 2005.) However, the institution of which she is considered the founder has learned that the use of modern medicine, sedating drugs, eases the suffering of the terminally ill into death.

Those who advocate for Death with Dignity only wish to provide the terminally ill with another choice.

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Illegal Assisted Suicide.

From Lincoln, Nebraska comes a tragic story of two roommates: one is Ryan Johnson, 22, depressed and suicidal. The other, Dallas Huston, 28, now faces charges of helping Johnson commit suicide.

In September, Johnson was found dead in their apartment. Autopsy reports show he consumed sleeping pills then flaced a plastic bag around his head. Huston now faces felony charges for helping his roommate to commit suicide.

According to KETV, Huston could face up to 5 years in jail and $10,000 in fines if convicted of assisting Johnson to kill himself.

Reporting on this case shows the conflation of definitions in one term: assisted suicide. As is legal in three states, assisted suicide or death with dignity, simply protects from prosecution a doctor who prescribes a lethal dose of drugs to a terminal patient (less than 6 months to live) of sound mind who then may or may not self-administers the drugs.

In the past few months the term assisted suicide has been applied to the killing of patients in a hospital in New Orleans during Katrina, and to the death of Michael Jackson. None of these cases have much in common with the legalization of death with dignity as proposed by advocates.

This conflation of definitions allows opponents of death with dignity to argue that all those who wish to kill themselves do so because of depression, an often treatable affliction. Yet death with dignity allows that depression is a symptom, not a cause for the desire to end one's life; insufferable pain and impending death are the cause.

Assisting suicide, as Huston is accused of doing, should be prosecuted. As long as assisted suicide is used to indicate both death with dignity and Johnson's charge, depression will be used as an argument against death with dignity for the terminally ill.

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Toobin on O'Connor and the Supreme Court.

The Brown Daily Herald reports on a speech given by Jeffrey Toobin, author of 2007 book The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court.

On issues ranging from the death penalty to gay rights to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the Court in the first part of the decade narrowly sided with the liberals, due in part to O’Connor’s new voting patterns, Toobin said.

O’Connor was alienated by many of the policies instituted by President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft, Toobin said, but one case had a particular impact on her: Terri Schiavo.

O’Connor was unhappy in 2003 when Congress suddenly became involved in the issue of who determined the rights regarding the woman, who was in a persistent vegetative state. O’Connor thought Congress’ move challenged judicial independence, and was also affected personally because her husband was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Toobin said.

In 2005, O’Connor retired because of her husband’s failing health and Chief Justice William Rehnquist died, leaving two seats for Bush to fill with justices “in the mold of” Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — Roberts and Alito.

This week, O'Connor publicly commented that some of the decisions made by the court while she was on the bench "are now being dismantled." Liberals found this as proof that even the conservative O'Connor disapproved of the direction the court was heading in. Yet her quote was less than an indictment: "What would you feel? I'd be a little bit disappointed. If you think you've been helpful, and then it's dismantled, you think, 'Oh, dear.' But life goes on. It's not always positive."

Other's have said this elsewhere: If she were so concerned about the conservative direction of the Supreme Court, she wouldn't have retired in 2005 during George Bush's term.

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