Republican Candidates and Waterboarding

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Although as a traditional conservative I cannot vote for Mr. Obama, I also cannot vote for Mr. Cain or Ms. Bachmann. I am voting for Ron Paul, and would be open to voting for Mr. Huntsman if he got the Republican nomination. I can swallow hard and vote for neoconservative warmongers such as Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum, but I will not vote for a candidate who supports waterboarding. Mr. Can and Ms. Bachmann explicitly said that they would reinstate waterboarding, which is, despite their denials, a form of torture. Mr. Perry hinted that he could support waterboarding, and that adds another reason I could not vote for him. Torture is objectively morally evil, and for candidates to claim Christian identity while supporting a crass utilitarianism that would countenance torture reveals their hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of their “Christian” supporters who also support waterboarding and other forms of torture. I am not so naive so as to believe that the United States has not used torture in the past, but torture has not been a part of official U. S. policy–at least it wasn’t until the administration of George W. Bush. Even Mr. Obama has only added window dressing in limiting torture, letting other countries do the dirty work. To support torture or to deny that waterboarding constitutes torture reveals a major character flaw that is incompatible with a person being president of the United States. Even if we could obtain actionable intelligence from waterboarding, which is doubtful to the point of being practically impossible, this would not morally justify the practice. Mr. Cain and Ms. Bachmann (and perhaps Mr. Perry) find themselves supporting an evil practice that strips human beings of their dignity, a dignity presupposed in the Geneva Conventions. If an open supporter of torture receives the Republican nomination, I will vote for a third party candidate. Critics of Mr. Obama might say that any Republican would be better than him, but a Republican who states that he or she would reinstate waterboarding would not be better than Mr. Obama.

The problem is that both major parties have been purchased by warmongers, to the point that critics of war and or torture such as Mr. Paul, receive limited air time in a lengthy debate. Mr. Paul only received ninety seconds of air time in last night’s debate. That is a travesty that reflects the extent to which the military-industrial complex has captured the U. S. media. The fact that so-called Christians criticize Mr. Paul for opposing torture in all forms and for opposing unnecessary wars reveals the so-called “Christian right” to be neither Christian nor truly right wing. The traditional right would neither have supported torture no engaging in unnecessary wars. The Cold War was the beginning of the fall of the right into warmongering. Afraid of Communist world domination, which could not have happened given the inevitable inefficiency of Communism, the American right supported the major U. S. military buildup of the 1950s. Southerners, who should know better after the War between the States, strongly supported this warmongering policy, as did the leaders of the Christian right in the 1970s and 80s. When  the U.S. engaged in torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and with the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, these same groups supported the U.S. practice of torture. There are a few people on both the right and on the left who oppose torture. They should work together to change U. S. policy to the point that it cannot engage in torture anywhere and at any time. If they fail, the United States will pay by losing support in the world community–and by losing its soul.

Joe Paterno

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It is with regret that I must withdraw my earlier version of this post. I suggested that before all the facts came out, people should not prejudge Joe Paterno. Now the facts are coming out, and sadly, tragically the facts apparently reveal that Mr. Paterno’s actions allowed Mr. Sandusky to continue to abuse young boys for years after Mr. Paterno and the administration knew about the abuse.  Mr. Paterno did more than fail to report Mr. Sandusky to the police—that is a sin of omission. E-mails strongly suggest that the administration was going to contact Child Welfare until Mr. Paterno suggested otherwise. This is a sin of commission, requiring an active effort to circumvent the process that would have, had Mr. Paterno not intervened, stopped Mr. Sandusky in his tracks.  I do not know why Mr. Paterno would do such a thing. Was it friendship with Mr. Sandusky? Was it an attempt to protect the football program? Was it an attempt to protect his own reputation? If the latter, why would Mr. Paterno have so little common sense that he forgot the Bible verse, “Be sure, your sin will find you out.” I have my disagreements with Augustine, but he was correct, I think, in holding that evil is utterly irrational since it marks turning away from the highest good due to pride. It may be that Mr. Paterno’s pride in the football program and his accomplishments, along with his friendship with Mr. Sandusky, led him astray. Ultimately only God knows a man’s motives; we humans can make our best guesses. Mr. Paterno made a grievous error, and due to the horrific consequences of his error, the abuse of God knows how many young boys, his legacy is permanently tarnished if not destroyed. No one should be seduced by one’s achievements, by one’s job, by one’s legacy, or by loyalty to a friend, in a way that the preservation of such requires ignoring evil actions that harm the innocent.

Americans’ Failure to Grow Up

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A seventy-year-old man spouts off moral relativism like a college sophomore. A forty-year-old woman throws a temper tantrum at a store. Young people demand pay and benefits but are unwilling to do the job for which they were hired. Marriages break up under the strains of self-centeredness of one or both partners, a self-centeredness that is so extreme that it rivals that of a six-year-old. Teenagers demand, and permissive parents allow, them near total freedom to engage in destructive behavior such as alcohol and drug abuse as well as sexual promiscuity.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has produced multiple generations of spoiled, lazy children who grow up to become spoiled, lazy adults. One reason that it is unlikely that federal spending will not be controlled is adults’ lust for government handouts and benefits. The baby boomers and their successors are so self-centered that they do not care what happens to their children or grandchildren. All that matters is “me, me, me, now, now, now.” Is it any surprise when these selfish people reach old age that their children, reared in the image of their parents, cart their parents off to a nursing home and have little to do with them? Is it a surprise when schools cannot discipline unruly children because their parents threaten to sue the school if such discipline takes place? Even though there remain millions of people in the United States who have not bowed down their knees to the Ba’al of self-centeredness, enough people are self-centered that the country has been severely damaged, perhaps irreparably, by their irresponsiblity. The steel and auto industries, caring only about profits in the present, did not spend money to upgrade their facilities, and either went under or outsourced much of their work forces to other countries.

Probably the worst product of self-centeredness is moral relativism, a denial of any objective moral values above the individual self, or in the case of a less radical relativism, above the level of the culture. Moral relativism poisons a society, making it unable to make basic moral distinctions once taken for granted. A woman gets pregnant and murders her child through abortion–she wants the joy of sex (as does the man) without the responsibility. A man desires to have sex with a man; instead of making the effort to refocus his sexual desires on women, he fulfills his immediate desire and claims that it is normal and morally right. A couple want to spice up their sex lives and get involved in swinging, “threesomes,” and orgies. A Wall Street banker justifies misusing others money by his view that morality should suit him, not others. Egoism is the brother of relativism, especially subjectivism, for people who locate moral standards only in the individual self will only be concerned for their supposed self interest. I have seen how the poison of subjective moral relativism has reduced some students to blithering idiots in any discussion of morality–“well, this is just my opinion;” “there’s no real right or wrong answer here,” “morality depends on what you think it is, but somebody else might think something different, and that’s okay, too.” Such ignorance should be called out for what it is: spoiled children wanting to be promiscuous or get drunk or do other unethical activities without anyone “judging” them for their behavior. The problem with the United States is not only economic; it is moral and spiritual. Unless the main problems can be solved the economy will, in the long run, fail. Community will fail if people only follow their individual standards and seek only their own self-interest. The end state of the current course of American’s spoiled adults will be anarchy, Hobbes‘ state of nature, in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” A dictator may restore order, but without any transcendent vision above the will to power this will only be a short-term “solution” to the problem of people who believe themselves to be atomistic individuals. Once John Locke’s vision of government was secularized, the inevitable logic of his atomistic view of people led to mass relativism, mass egoism, and extended childhood. There is always hope that people will see the emptiness of a life based only on a child-like self-assertion and that people will return to a mature view in which they are responsible for themselves and for other people dependent on them,  and in which they base their values on something that transcends their own selfish desires. If that does not happen, then God help the United States of America.

The “Good Ole’ Days” Really Were the Good Ole’ Days

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This side of eternity, change is a constant in life. Some change is for the better–I think of the wonderful advance in medicine, advances that saved both my parents‘ lives. The computer on which I am typing has been a useful tool, speeding communication, research, and writing–I remember the days when I typed on a manual typewriter, then moved up to an electric–and stayed up all night two times in my undergrad days typing term papers. With a computer I might have gotten eight hours of sleep.

Change, however, can be for the worst. Despite recent drops in violent crime, the overall trend since the 1950s has been upward. Religion plays less and less a role in American society, and it seems that the U. S. is moving toward a European style secularism with a few New Age attempts to rescue some measure of spirituality from the maelstrom of materialism. The South used to be one of the few areas (outside Italian-American communities in cities) in which people lived together in extended families. The system was imperfect, but overall there was less loneliness and more social support in times of trouble–and the grandparents could babysit the children in case the parents had to work to make ends meet. When I was a child, the legalization of abortion, homosexual marriage, and (in three states) physician assisted suicide was in the future. A person was attacked for defending immoral practices, not attacked for criticizing them. Discipline was practiced, both in homes and in schools. Of course the world in which I was a child was imperfect–I was happily oblivious to the destruction of society from 1964-70, although I felt the effects in my teenaged years in the mid and late 1970s. I remember my childhood as a happy one–but I remember what happened in detail, I can discover some unhappy times–but I choose not to dwell on them. Overall I was blessed, and memories of a childhood that was filled with the joy of exploring new worlds every day outweigh memories of spankings and being picked on by other children. If those memories of the “good ole days” are unrealistic, I will live in their unreality to help give me a picture of Paradise–a world in which people live without the flaws that mar life today.

The “good ole’ days,” like all times in human history, were marred by sickness, death, and mourning–the universals of humanity before the eschaton. People sinned in the past just as they sin in the present, and usually in the same ways. There were murders, assaults, rapes, and robberies fifty years ago just as there are today. The difference is that Christianity was respected then and was part of the public square, and today it has been removed from the public square, as if Christians live in a two-tiered world, one totally secular and the other sacred, and never the twain shall meet. Basic Christian morality was respected–in 1960, both Jews and Christians understood that abortion is not the kind a thing a person should do. Abstinence until marriage was the standard position before the Pill changed everything in and after the early 1960s. If a child screamed, “Shut up!” to his parents (as I heard one scream in a store), the parents would remove the child from any place of business and discipline that child. Today bad behavior by children in public is tolerated by many parents, to the chagrin of other people who must put up with hearing unruly children.

It may be that the eighteenth century Enlightenment, with its radical secularism and denial of tradition, helped lead to the present poor state of society. While history reveals periods of chaos and moral turpitude in society, what is unique about the current age is the combination of such bad behavior with a denial of the transcendent. I do not believe that I am an “old fogey” in saying these things–in some significant ways, apart from technological advances, earlier times really are “the good ‘ole days.”

What can be done to restore society? A blind nostalgia will not do. Restoration of community begins not only with encouraging families to remain together, but with encouraging people to understand that there is transcendent meaning in life. When people render aid to others who are in need and establish a personal relationship with them, this draws them out of themselves to understand that their needs are not the only ones important in life. A relationship with the Transcendent also draws a person out of the self–and it is only in this way that the radical individualism of the last fifty years can be overcome and society can start to recover from its moral and religious lapses.

Two Sources of Warmongering in the United States

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It is almost impossible to halt any rush to war in the United States. One reason is the power of the military-industrial complex, but there are other key factors involved in warmongering. A major factor is the pragmatic alliance between the “mainstreams” of both the Left and the Right. Members of both these classes support a warfare state–sometimes for similar reasons, and at other times for different reasons. The result is the same–the United States gets involved in yet another war. Neoconservatives have taken over the Republican Party, with Ron Paul being a rare holdout. Neocons have an almost pathological desire to spread “democracy” throughout the world, by force if necessary. “Democracy” becomes a substitute religion that, like religion in the past, must be imposed on people for their own good. Those who disagree will feel the brunt of American missiles and bombs, especially if the country is an easy target. Iraq, for example, was weak, its economy and military capacity devastated by years of U. N. sanctions and bombing. Although American occupation has not been peaceful, with over 4000 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, Neocons believe that the price is “worth it” in order to produce a democratic Iraq out of a tribal culture that lacks a tradition of democracy. Supposedly a democratization of the Middle East and of Central Asia will help keep the region safe–but at times Neocons seem more concerned with keeping the region safe for Israel than with the national security of Israel than with the national security of the United States. But forced democratization in nations lacking a tradition of democracy will ultimately make the world more dangerous. The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood taking over the government of Egypt is real. Hamas won on the West Bank, although they are now working with the Palestinian Authority. Do we know that Libya post-Khadaffi would be better off than Libya Khadaffi? We do not–what if a Muslim Brotherhood-like group ended up ruling Libya? What if Libya became open to Al Qaida establishing a base of operations in Libya? Would promoting “democracy by force” really create a safer Middle East? Most likely, such an action creates a more dangerous Middle East and kills hundreds, if not thousands, of people. In the tribal culture found in many Middle Eastern countries, this can produce thousands of suicide bombers bent on revenge.

The worst warmongers are, all too often, Evangelical Christians who are part of the religious right. Many are premillenialists who allow their tainted theology to determine their reaction to Middle Eastern affairs. They strongly support Israel and long for war against the enemies of Israel. I have been called “dark” for my opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–by a priest. Almost every conservative Evangelical I’ve known was hell-bent on invading Iraq. They would have been disappointed if the United States had not moved in and fought these nations. Some of them are absolutely bloodthirsty, wanting to “nuke” any country that “gets in America’s way.” I do not believe that Jesus would support such attitudes–certainly not the eagerness to go to war. This “God and country” Christianity is dangerous, reminding me of the movements by German churches in the 1930s to accommodate Nazi ideology. Every decision of the nation-state to go to war is supported, even if there are no good grounds for war. These “Christians” should be ashamed of themselves.

The Left is just as guilty of warmongering. The missionary-like zeal of Wilsonianism has long infected the left with the desire to “spread democracy” and to “nation-build.” Mrs. Clinton is an example of that kind of liberal warmongering ideology. Pro war Democrats outnumber anti-war Democrats in both houses of Congress. The only real debate was over the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, not whether to fight them in the first place. Mr. Obama, sadly, has bought into the Wilsonian Democratic point of view–with the president and the majority of representatives and senators in both parties supporting the warfare state, the United States becomes more guilty of shedding blood and having the blood of its young people shed in war.

Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich have opposed warmongering, as has Walter Jones of Tennessee. Paul and Jones are men of the right; Kuchinich is part of the old antiwar left. It will take such a coalition to overcome the combined power of Neocons, the Religious Right, and the Wilsonian Leftists in their path to war. The debt crisis may slow the drive for wars since wars are expensive. If Conservatives would behave as true conservatives; if the antiwar Left works together with them; and if traditional Christians would really follow the “Prince of Peace,” Congress would have no desire to expand the United States’ role in any of the current wars raging in the world. Changing people is difficult. Sadly, so is killing people. This needs to change.

What is Vanderbilt University’s Problem with Traditional Christianity?

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Vanderbilt University has recently been “investigating” Christian groups on campus after an openly homosexual member of a Christian organization was expelled, not for being homosexual, but for openly stating that practicing homosexuality is morally acceptable. That belief violated the organization’s constitution. Such an attitude by Vanderbilt’s administration reflects a bias in academia as a whole, with the exception of those Christian schools who still remain traditional (and which are becoming fewer in number) against traditional Christianity. Many people in academia hate (and that word is not too strong) the moral views of traditional Christians: their opposition to abortion, to practicing homosexuality, to premarital sex, to a hedonistic lifestyle. The academics claim to be open minded and tolerant, but their open mindedness and tolerance ends at the door of traditional morality and religion.

I attended Vanderbilt from 1986-87 as a student in the Graduate Department of Religion. Conservative Christian students lived in fear of saying something that offended theologically  and morally liberal faculty members. I found the atmosphere far more stifling and intolerant than the very traditional Churches of Christ religion in which I was reared. If I talked to a traditional student about the bodily resurrection of Christ or about traditional sexual morality, the student would often look around, put his finger to his mouth, and say “Shhh…. you want to remain a student here, don’t you?” Even Professor James Barr, certainly no Fundamentalist or Evangelical, said in his parting article in The Spire, Vanderbilt Divinity School‘s newsletter, that there was closed-mindedness from the theological left at Vanderbilt. Although the philosophy department was a bit more open-minded, it was still hostile to traditional Christian moral positions on sexual ethics. It is no surprise, then, that the Vanderbilt administration shares such hostility and is willing to enforce it by discrimination against Christian groups’ rights to determine which members meet their standards.

If a student wanted to join a chess club but openly argued that a knight should move like a bishop and vice-versa, and then tried to use that rule in the games he played, any self-respecting chess club would expel that member for violating the standards of chess. In religion, however, both secular agnostic and atheistic university administrators as well as liberal administrators of all faiths, refuse to allow traditional Christian groups the same privilege. Would the administration be consistent and investigate Muslim or Orthodox Jewish groups who also accept traditional moral values? Or is it only traditional Christianity that is the target of administrative ire?

Concerned alumni who disagree with these administrative moves at Vanderbilt (and at other colleges and universities) need to speak up–and if the administration ignores them, to talk with their closed wallets. Legal measures are also an option, as well as communicating what is happening to other traditionalist of all religious stripes as well as to sympathetic secular people who recognize the academic totalitarianism in the attack on Christian organizations. A strong, concerted, and consistent response is essential to keep administrators in line with their supposed commitment to freedom of speech and religion.

Aspergers and Taking Responsibility: A Two-Way Street

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As I have mentioned in previous posts, about five years ago I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism. I think it is probably closer, at least in me, to a variation on normal, but there are certain personality traits that I have that characterize Aspergers–focusing on one or two interests to the exclusion of others, failure to understand small talk, failure to understand the nuances of human communication, saying exactly what one thinks regardless of the social propriety. The ultimate problem is a failure to understand adequately other minds. But the diagnosis should not be used as an excuse for social impropriety. There are times I have been rude, not realizing that I was rude, because of my habit of saying exactly what I think, and to my surprise, the party whom I addressed was offended. But I, like all human beings who are not prevented by drugs or certain illnesses, have free will–whether I have Aspergers or not, I, like all people, have a moral responsibility to be tactful and to avoid being rude–and the proper reaction when someone is hurt by my actions is to apologize for being rude. The reason I have been open about Aspergers is not to make excuses for the times I have behaved in a rude fashion, but to encourage those who have known me over the years or who remember me from the past to understand me better. Those of us who are Aspies also should learn enough social graces to get by in the world–we do have to find jobs, and hopefully get married and have families. Many of us teach, and that means learning how to interact with students, faculty, and staff.

There are some personality traits that I find practically impossible to change. I do not not like small talk, but I have learned the mechanical rules of small talk enough to get by in most settings–at least for a short period of time. And although I, like many other Aspies, enjoy certain intellectual pursuits, not all people enjoy those pursuits as much as we do, and they may not be as interested in hearing all about our particular interests. Even though we do not mean to come across as full of ourselves, we do.

I have never liked the term “neurotypical” as used by some advocates of Austistic and Aspergers people. I know those who originated the term are trying to avoid Aspergers being considered a disease rather than as a variation of normal. But some people think that we are trying to set ourselves apart from other people as a special class due special privileges, even though that may not be the case at all.

While those of us with Aspergers should not make excuses, this does not excuse those who make fun of our diagnosis or who are cruel. It is human nature to fear that which is different, and sometimes the toughest looking people are those who are the most afraid–at least in my experience. I attend many chess tournaments, and although most chess players are not Aspergers, I have seen several who are. I can understand why they might be off putting to someone who is “normal.” I am sympathetic to the child who constantly talks about Dungeons & Dragons figurines when he is not playing chess, or to the child who is so fascinated by astronomy that it is all he talks about. Sadly, there are people in the world, both children and adults, who are not sympathetic. They demand of people that they should meet their expectations of “proper” behavior about matters that should be matters of indifference. We do have feelings, and the lack of acceptance hurts. If we do our part to function better, to learn some small talk, some social graces, and some tact, others should do their part to realize that just because we are different does not mean that we are bad people, it does not mean we are frightening or threatening in any way. It just means that we are different on matters that, unlike morality, do not make much difference in the long run. We can be too serious, but most of us have a quirky sense of humor. Many of us are successful in our chosen fields. Some of us have a lonely existence. We can get by for a few minutes in a social setting, but we often feel more comfortable at a party, say, standing off to one side by ourselves. We probably should mix more with the crowd and make an attempt to talk, but it is quite difficult–I have difficulty even in academic settings, my own field–in a party of people from many professions it is extremely difficult to gather the courage to walk up to a group of people and talk.

Hopefully most people will strive to understand those Austistic and Aspergers people they encounter, and hopefully we Aspies can do our part to bridge the gap.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian: Sincerity Does not Negate Moral Evil

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My student often with identify sincerity with truth, especially on matters of morality and/or religion. I remind them that Lenin was no doubt sincere in murdering hundreds of thousands of his political opponents. And he was sincere–unlike his successor Josef Stalin, Lenin really did believe in Communism and that killing people may be best for a greater good. Surely his sincerity does not make his actions morally right.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian was a sincere man. I do not believe, despite his rather expressive paintings of gruesome death scenes, that he was a psychopath or sociopath. He was well read in ancient Greek and Roman classics and was well aware that until Christianity came along, the vast majority of Greeks and Romans supported euthanasia–the Hippocratic Oath, based on the Pythagoreans’ high view of life, was the exception rather than the rule. Kevorkian used their arguments about a person dying with honor and dignity, arguments that were later revived by David Hume (1711-1776), to defend physician assisted suicide. Unlike the current Oregon and Washington State laws, which allow a physician to dispense a prescription of a deadly dose of drugs to terminally ill people who gave prior permission, Kevorkian went further. He built his infamous “suicide machine” which the patient could start himself, but Dr. Kevorkian had the set up in terms of inserting IV lines and arranging the correct drugs in each IV bag. The first bag released normal saline; the second a sedative to relax the patient; the third a dose of a deadly drug. Technically a patient could stop the process at any time; whether this always was the case in practice is a disputed point.

Dr. Kevorkian was not insane, but he was really, truly, sincerely wrong. He believed that he was easing the pain of terminally ill patients (although one woman he “assisted” had fibromyalgia, which is not a terminal illness). Error often contains partial truth, and the partial truth in Dr. Kevorkian’s stance is that a doctor’s sole duty involves more than preserving life. Sometimes it is best for a physician to allow the disease process take its course and withhold or withdraw burdensome treatment such as a ventilator or artificial nutrition and hydration. But to go beyond that and allow physicians to actively help a patient kill himself by a deadly drug that is in no sense a treatment for illness violates the fundamental end of medicine to “first, do no harm.” Kevorkian and his defenders might say, “But we euthanize animals who are hurting.” That is true, but animals do not have the level of understanding of the pain they feel compared to human beings. Human beings can understand what is going on and realize why they are in pain–and they can take steps to get medical treatment to stop the pain. Many physicians are not aware that most pain can be controlled with the proper drugs.

My best friend, during the final month of her life, was in hospice, where she received drugs to control pain and nausea. While the drugs were not by any means perfect, she did feel better, and I and her other friends were able to spend precious time with her and say goodbye before she peacefully passed away. If all terminally ill patients in pain received better palliative care, most of the clamor for physician assisted suicide would most likely go away.

Dr. Kevorkian represents the contemporary view that severe pain is the ultimate evil that can happen to a human being. Don’t get me wrong–I hate pain and have a very low pain threshold. I could not imagine the agony of being in constant, severe pain. I would want the best treatment for pain available if I were in severe intractable pain. In an earlier world that began to dissolve in the fourteenth century, pain was not considered to be the worst evil. Dying without salvation was. Today society is secular, and even many Christians are Christians in name only–they never accepted the world view and view of human nature that comes with Christianity. So they go back to the old Stoic view that suicide can be acceptable in some circumstances. Yet even the Stoics believed it was normally best to suffer misfortune and pain; suicide was a last resort to protect one’s honor and dignity. The modern world does not understand fortitude through pain, using illness to draw closer to the transcendent, or using a long, drawn out dying process to adequately prepare for death, both in secular and in spiritual matters. Today people want a quick death–in their sleep, of a sudden stroke or heart attack. There are times I feel that way, too, but when I use my reason, I realize that knowing one is dying, even if it involves great pain, gives one time to prepare, to say goodbye, and to draw closer to God. None of that would have made sense to the atheist Dr. Kevorkian. Yet a secular case can be made against PAS as well.

Not only does PAS violate the fundamental end of medicine, which is to help a person in need, doing no harm, but wide scale legalization would take away the psychological barrier to including more classes of people as candidates for PAS. Professor Margaret Battin once said at a talk I attended that she believed that someone with intractable chronic depression that could not be treated with drugs is a legitimate candidate for PAS. Most of the audience of physicians and philosophers seemed to agree. What about the person with chronic back pain that is not helped by drugs? What about the woman with fibromyalgia? To how many groups of people will PAS be extended.

In the Netherlands, where PAS is legal, thousands of patients have been actively killed by their doctors–without giving prior permission and without a family or friend as proxy giving prior permission. The doctor makes a judgment about the patient’s quality of life–and if the patient’s quality of life does not measure up to the physician’s standards, the physician kills the patient. A recent attempt to formalize a quality of life standard, below which a physician could kill a patient, was defeated in the Netherlands. But with some physicians already crossing that barrier, it may be just a matter of time before the law reflects practice.

Doctors already have a great deal of power over the patient. The patient comes to the doctor for help, and the doctor has the knowledge and the power to diagnose and treat the patient. Given that amount of power, would someone really want to agree with Dr. Kevorkian to give the physician the authority to help a patient kill himself? Once power crosses one barrier, historically it has tended to cross others.

Dr. Kevorkian meant well. But history shows that some of the worst tyrants in history “meant well.” Pol Pot really believed that by killing the educated classes and moving the rest of the urbanized population of Cambodia he could create a classless society. Instead he murdered over a million people. Dr. Kevorkian only was involved in helping a few hundred people kill themselves. But multiply that by hundreds of other Dr. Kevorkian’s along with a racially individualistic society that affirms that a person “has the right to determine the time and manner of one’s death.” Such hubris feeds Dr. Kevorkians and feeds physician power over life and death–and this in turn feeds Death itself. God help us.

Airlines’ Treatment of Passengers

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The first of my flights left a half-hour late, but arrived in the connecting city only two minutes late. Great, it won’t be a problem reaching my gate for the next flight–so I thought. The plane remained on the tarmac for almost thirty minutes before a gate was available, and it took another ten minutes for the jetway to pull up and for the doors to open. Ten minutes remained to make it to the gate for the final flight. Of course I was at the far end of one terminal with two more terminals to go. I arrived two minutes after the flight time. The agent informed me that the flight had closed eight minutes early to make sure it took off on time. The next two flights were full. I was on standby for the next flight, and after seeing someone else in the chain of employees, a flight after that was guaranteed. Everyone showed up for the standby flight–how many times does that happen. So I waited for the 5:55. It was late, and didn’t leave until 8:20 p.m. I arrived at my destination city at 11 pm, got a cab to the hotel, and finally put my things in the room. By then I was so hyper I needed a drink at the bar. Then I still couldn’t get to sleep until after 2:30 a.m., in plenty of time to get up bright and early to attend an 8 am session at the conference–riggghhht….

Airlines have been involved in some well-publicized incidents recently in which planes stayed on the tarmac for two to three hours with no bathrooms available and with the plane getting hot inside. Obviously the passengers were hot and were suffering from other…discomforts. This has lead to a movement for passengers’ rights, since when these things happen the passenger is powerless and is at the mercy of the airline.

I have never cared for rights language; even the theory of natural rights is based on an overly individualistic view of human nature based on the myth of the autonomous, isolated individual. Natural law seems more reasonable to me. Yet the airlines are still behaving in a morally reprehensible way, not because of a violation of abstract “rights,” but because they are treating human persons as mere means to profit and not as people who should, by their very nature, be treated with respect. This may sound like a Kantian point, but the idea of human dignity is present in the old natural law tradition stemming from the Stoics, Augustine, and Aquinas. People are not mere cogs in the machine and should not be treated as mere means to profit. “They’ve paid their plane fare, so it doesn’t matter if they get too hot, have to go to the bathroom when there is no bathroom available, and miss their connecting flights. People who were supposed to make business presentations might miss their meeting time. Academics scheduled to give a paper might miss their session (this happened to me three years ago; thankfully I arrived this time at my destination two days before my presentation). Even worse, some people may miss a loved one’s funeral or the last breath of a loved one. When airline executives consider people in the abstract, they seem to have no feelings about the real people who are hurt by their policies.

What is the answer? More federal regulation? Generally such regulation does more harm than good, however well-meaning it may be. However, the large number of flights at the busiest airports does create a safety concern, and safety can be regulated by the FAA. My own thoughts on this matter is that from the very beginning of training of future business leaders, there should be an emphasis on character development. Obviously if someone has already lost his virtues, this will do no good. But in people who have a conscience, in-class exercises on empathy using real cases may educate students’ moral imagination so that they can put themselves into the shoes of other people. Businesses, including airlines, must be careful to ensure virtuous leadership. If they do not, then the airlines may accrue further federal reglulation whether or not airline executives want it.

The Ethics of Psychedelic Research on Human Subjects

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Stanislav Grof, psychologist and psychiatrist

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Is it morally right to do research using psychedelic drugs such as mescaline, LSD, or DMT using human subjects? Much laboratory research has been done using animals already, and someone may argue that there is no need to study these dangerous substances in human beings. I will argue otherwise.

All three of these drugs, as well as other psychedelics, are widely abused–and that is one of the dangers of research–the press will find out about the research, disseminate information about it, and some non-addicts will read about the research and say, “Now that drug seems interesting–I think I’ll try it.” Ergo, we have more addicts than ever. But I would argue that that danger is exaggerated. Knowledge of mescaline and LSD has been public for many years, and DMT has become increasingly known since the 1990s. Mushrooms have been used for centuries, and ketamine has been widely abused since the 1960s. I do not see how human trials could publicize these drugs any more than they already have been–and even if they do, dangerous side effects and bad trips will also be publicized, scaring many people away from trying them.

The main reason I support psychedelic research with select groups of human subjects is that some mental illness is intractable to current treatments. Some cases of schizophrenia, for example, are so severe that current therapy does little or no good. Some researchers, such as Stanislav Grof, have used LSD in the treatment of schizophrenics. Other conditions, such as depression, can be so severe that only electroconvulsive therapy does any good, and the good that is does is only temporary. Plus, ECT carries with it the risk of brain damage. If some psychedelics could be used to treat these intractable cases of schizophrenia and depression more effectively than current treatments, especially if such research is backed up by animal studies, why not try it using select subjects. Now for subjects able to give informed consent, they should be thoroughly warned about the risks of such studies. For subjects who are mentally incompetent, the family member or person with power of attorney should be given sufficient information to give or withhold informed consent based on his interpretation of the patient’s prior wishes. If risks are thoroughly explained, and the patient has not been helped by any other treatment, and informed consent is given, I see no ethical problem with attempting to determine whether a psychedelic drug can help the patient. A critic may reply, “What about the risk of harm, both physical and psychological? What about the risk of future addiction caused by the study?” If current treatments, such as ECT, can harm the patient and only give a temporary reprieve from the illness, a study using psychedlics most likely would not do more harm than prior treatments–and it may help. As far as the risk of addiction, that comes with the territory of any drug that helps a patient feel better. Should we stop research on painkillers because some patients become addicted to them?

The FDA has been very conservative in approving studies with psychedelics. Part of this caution is necessary to prevent harm to human subjects. And no one wants to go back to the days when the U. S. Army and CIA were secretly giving LSD to soldiers–one soldier committed suicide. The FDA has the right to leave no stone unturned–I would not want to be the FDA agent who helped pass a study that ended up harming research subjects. But sometimes regulatory agencies hear the word “psychedelic” and are afraid to support any research involving such drugs, even if they potential to treat intractable mental illness. Hopefully some balance can be found between the absolute necessity of protecting research subjects and the desire to find new drugs to help those who cannot be helped with current therapies.

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