Saturday, March 26, 2005

Promises, promises

"The protocols of the elders of science" With Terri Schaivo and an aged and ill Pontiff dominating the news this Easter, yours truly is feeling a mite humble. Here are some links to stories that I think are appropriate this weekend. From the pages of The New Yorker, an examination of the concept of "brain death":
After the presentation ended, I spoke to Ronald Cranford, a professor of neurology and bioethics at the University of Minnesota, who is one of Shewmon's critics. He argued that Matthew's case was only an unusually prolonged example of the normal course brain death takes. "Any patient you keep alive, or dead, longer than a few days will develop spinal-cord reflexes," he said, recalling a case in which the doctor said, "Yes, she's been getting better ever since she died." In a question-and-answer session with Shewmon the next day, after an address in which he drew parallels between the brain dead and people who are conscious but have been paralyzed by injuries to the upper spinal cord, no one really took issue with his science. At the same time, none of the physicians would accept what Shewmon was really saying: that the brain dead are not dead. "The main philosophical question is, Is this a body or is this a person?" said Calixto Machado, the Cuban neurologist who organized the symposium. Fred Plum, the chairman emeritus of the Department of Neurology at Cornell University's Weill Medical College, had positioned himself directly in front of the podium for the talk, and shot his hand in the air as soon as Shewmon was finished. "This is anti-Darwinism," Plum said. "The brain is the person, the evolved person, not the machine person. Consciousness is the ultimate. We are not one living cell. We are the evolution of a very large group of systems into the awareness of self and the environment, and that is the production of the civilization in which any of us lives." Shewmon had laid a trap for his audience, he later told me. He had hoped to break down the pretense that anyone subscribed to the whole-brain rationale. He wanted to show that the higher-brain rationale, which holds that living without consciousness is not really living—and which the President's commission rejected because it raised questions about quality of life which science can never settle—was the sub-rosa justification for deciding to call a brain-dead person dead. He wanted to make it clear that these doctors were not making a straightforward medical judgment but, rather, a moral judgment that people like Matthew were so devastated that they had lost their claim on existence. And, at least in his own view, the comments he'd provoked meant that he had succeeded.
Interesting reading. It brings me to this op-ed on the Schaivo case, which gets I think gets the issue right:
Those who argue that Terri Schiavo should die note that her doctors say her prognosis is hopeless. Doctors are always right, correct? There is the argument that the courts have adjudicated on this and sided with the husband. That's why the Schindlers and Republicans compare Schiavo to death-row defendants. The courts keep finding them guilty, and their lawyers keep filing appeals, because there should be no doubt as to the defendant's guilt and access to a fair trial. If the law is going to give the benefit of the doubt to convicted killers, it makes sense to extend it to a woman whose only crime is that she is disabled.
Mark Steyn wades into the life / choice as well. He links it to The Big Lie of western life, that life need not be a struggle. That's a bit like telling a swimmer that he doesn't need to swim, isn't it?:
Since 1945, a multiplicity of government interventions - state pensions, subsidised higher education, higher taxes to pay for everything - has so ruptured traditional patterns of inter-generational solidarity that in Europe a child is now an optional lifestyle accessory. By 2050, Estonia's population will have fallen by 52 per cent, Bulgaria's by 36 per cent, Italy's by 22 per cent. The hyper-rationalism of post-Christian Europe turns out to be wholly irrational: what's the point of creating a secular utopia if it's only for one generation? ... Ah, the protocols of the elders of science. Odd the way scientists have such little regard for scientific progress. It's highly likely that many birth defects - not just the bilateral cleft lips - will be treatable and correctible in the next decade or two. But once you start weighing the relative values of individual lives, there's no end to it. Much of that derives from the way abortion has redefined life - as a "choice", an option. In practice, a culture that thinks Terri Schiavo's life in Florida or the cleft-lipped baby's in Herefordshire has no value winds up ascribing no value to life in general. Hence, the shrivelled fertility rates in Europe and in blue-state America: John Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest birth rates; George W Bush took 25 of the 26 states with the highest. The 19th-century Shaker communities were forbidden from breeding and could increase their number only by conversion. The Euro-Canadian-Democratic Party welfare secularists seem to have chosen the same predicament voluntarily, and are likely to meet the same fate. The martyrdom culture of radical Islam is a literal dead end. But so is the slyer death culture of post-Christian radical narcissism. This is the political issue that will determine all the others: it's the demography, stupid.
Steyn adroitly makes the link between The Big Lie and our demographics. When having kids is too hard, things have a way of getting harder, as this look at the U.S. debate over social security shows:
This is exactly what is happening here in the USA with the Social Security shortfall. We don't have enough young workers contributing into the trust fund to support the retirees. When FDR introduced the bill and it was adopted the ratio was 43 workers to 1 retiree. Now its 4 : 1. Here is the simple math: 1.5 million abortions for the last 40 years = 60 million potential workers. If they mature with an average income of $30 thousand/yr that equals $1800 trillion, and @ 15% combined SS tax (employer and employee) equals $27 trillion of Social Security taxes that we don't have. That is the Human Life Value of the aborted workers for SS.
That makes a story like this one all the more tragic and puzzling, doesn't it? Micheal Coren's very Easter-appropriate subject of suffering offers us some hope:
Goodness has been under siege since it first came into the world. In past times the critics were often brilliant and learned, whereas today they are novelists and publicity hounds. It is so much better to be a mere Christian than a mere cynic. But I say again that the pain is as significant as the joy. We live in an age when television, the government, the culture tell us that life without suffering might be possible if we behave and believe in a certain way. It's a cumbersome, glutinous lie. Bad things happen. We all die, and many in acute discomfort. Jesus died not in discomfort but in absolute agony. Then rose again in absolute perfection. The same is offered us, and we commemorate Him and His sacrifice this weekend. As a direct consequence of this, those of us who are believers are asked why bad things happen to good people, as if this is some threatening dent in the Christian faith. Our reply should be to ask why bad things would not happen to good people? Christ didn't promise a good life but a perfect eternity. Indeed, in some ways The Bible predicts earthly suffering more than it does earthly triumph. Which is one of the reasons alleged Christians who promise constant success and healing are not to be believed.
The world is indeed a hard and confusing place, made all the more confusing by the fact that we live with many who deny that is confusing at all. Merton reminds us not to take it all too seriously:
A Christian is essentially an exile in this world in which he has no lasting city. The very presence of the Holy Spirit in his heart makes him discontent with worldly and material values. He cannot place his trust in the things of this life. His treasure is somewhere else, and where his treasure is, his heart is also.
It's essential to keep this in mind when the politicians, the ad-men and the unions come calling with their promises and their manipulated "science."

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