Tuesday, December 18, 2012

slip slidin' away...

More blogposts cooked up during a semester's teaching...

Oh the complexities of physician-assisted suicide:  check out this from, of all places, the New York Times.  h/t Mirror of Justice blog

I'll have to admit, this is an excruciatingly difficult topic to tackle...but given medical advances I bet more and more of us will wind up confronting it.  My first real taste of how this issue can elicit strong emotions:  December 1990, Lawrence County, Missouri.  Nancy Cruzan's family had won court permission to have her feeding tubes removed.  Onto my little hometown, Mt. Vernon, Missouri, descended Operation Rescue.  In addition to some hyperbolic activism at the hospital steps (folks sobbing "I'm just trying to give a dying girl a drink of water" as they clutched paper Dixie cups in their hands), approximately 25 or so were arrested.  When brought to the county jail, they all gave their names as "Nancy Cruzan."  Home from college, I stood on the courthouse lawn across the street, watching in bewilderment as these self-appointed liberators played their act for the national media.  Those arrested blasted the Cruzan family and the Missouri locals, i.e., those of us who actually lived there, for our callous indifference to human life.  Talk about alienation.  The day after Christmas, Ms. Cruzan died and with her passing the media crush passed onto its next target/victim/recipient.

Not the first time nor the last when outsiders come to a small town, announce they're here to help, and then proceed to insult everyone.  When this happens in other parts of the world, it's called "colonialism."  When it happens in the Ozarks, it's called social progress. And they wonder where I got my cynicism from...

The ripple-effect of that event shaped my understanding of both euthanasia and the broader umbrella that is Catholic social teaching.  First, I admittedly confused Operation Rescue as representative of all Christian pro-life groups.  Now even OR distances itself from Randall Terry, one of the OR leaders who came to town in 1990.  Second, my thinking about abortion's legitimacy came about not through witnessing public activism but through reading--in this case some well reasoned arguments by, among others, Hadley Arkes at First Things.  That reading led me back to the Church's writings (I know, I know--I should've started there) and the reality of human life's intrinsic dignity.  Back in 1990 I supported both abortion and euthanasia.  Now, neither. I understand the pragmatic arguments given in support of both practices.  After all, I teach ethics classes to undergraduates, folks. However, the Church stresses that life questions are no place to fall back on the merely practical.  (If for no other reason, I stress to the students, this is where Kant had a good point: act in a way you'd allow to be universalized.  Permit violations of human dignity and eventually somebody will violate your dignity, i.e. KILL YOU.) 

In like fashion, the constant push--usually delivered in a morally superior tone that death-dealing practices like abortion and euthanasia are 'good for you'--for abortion and euthanasia appear as yet two more saccharine substitutes that offer only temporary satisfaction.  Following the death of somebody else (rarely do we fully consider the ramifications for our own lives) by abortion or euthanasia we tell ourselves we're all better off:  both the living and the dead.  (On this note, again, teaching undergraduates is quite revealing;  at least once a semester a wave of papers comes in stating, without a shred of irony or conscientiousness, that abortion is the best option "for both mother and child".)  Just like we don't like hear that "diet and exercise are good for you" but deep down we understand its truth, we also don't like hear--but deep down know the truth--that abortion and euthanasia end innocent, vulnerable lives and thus violate human dignity.  Those practices are like the fat-free chocolate cakes made popular in the mid-1990s;  we consumed even more than before because we wanted desperately to believe that we could gorge without consequence.

1 comment:

  1. I have such strong issues with physician assisted suicide. My sister in law was dying a year and a half ago, and I know that there was a doctor present who was ready to "help" her. This did not happen, but might it have if not for my presence? She did die a few weeks later, thankfully not with anyone's help but God's.