Good news: The case that sought to force a nursing home to starve an Alzheimer’s patient to death–even though she willingly took nourishment–has been dismissed. From the Advocate Daily story:
The British Columbia Court of Appeal has dismissed a request from the family of an 83-year-old woman that their mother no longer be given nourishment or liquids by staff members at the nursing home where she resides, says Toronto health and human rights lawyer Hugh Scher…
Justice Mary Newbury agreed with a lower court judge, ruling that the woman, who has advanced Alzheimer’s disease, is exercising her consent when she opens her mouth to accept food and water, despite her family’s position that it was her wish while she was mentally capable that she not be fed in her current condition...
“I recognize the terribly difficult situation in which Mrs. Bentley’s family find themselves and I appreciate the disappointment they must feel in being unable to comply with what they believe to have been her wishes and what they believe still to be her wishes,” writes Newbury. “It is a grave thing, however, to ask or instruct caregivers to stand by and watch a patient starve to death.
In contrast to tube feeding, oral nutrition is humane care, not medical treatment. As such, it cannot be ordered removed.
I am very relieved. But this only marks the beginning of the debate about forced starvation in nursing homes, not the end. The bioethics movement already treats the issue as respectable–with pro-starvation articles appearing in some of the most notable professional journals.
Of course, all of this is aimed at legalizing lethal injections of the demented–as is permitted in the Netherlands. With Canada’s Supreme Court forcing euthanasia into nation-wide legalization, look for this to be a trending issue in bioethical debates and among the killing-is-an-acceptable-answer-to-human-suffering crowd.
Every once in a while, when the world is too much with me, I turn to transhumanist advocacy for a little entertainment.
The would-be immoralist crowd’s latest craze concerns whether artificial intelligent computers–those supposedly able to “think” independently–might be the subject of religious conversion. From, “When Superintelligent AI Arrives, Will Religions Try to Convert It,” by Zoltan Istvan (who is running for president on the Transhumanist Party ticket):
The world’s major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all believe in the soul, which is what many major religious texts say is the thing that separates us from other life on the Earth, including other mammals.
Because the Abrahamic religions comprise the faiths of roughly two-thirds the world’s population, the question of “soul” is quintessential in the coming transhumanist age of machine intelligence.
Getting even deeper into this theoretical debate is the question of whether strong AI would even accept our religion. “It’s only fair to let AI have access to the teachings of all the world’s religions. Then they can choose what they want to believe,” said Prisco. “But I think it’s highly unlikely that superhuman AI would choose to believe in the petty, provincial aspects of traditional religions. At the same time, I think they would be interested in enlightened spirituality and religious cosmology, or eschatology, and develop their own versions.”
Please. First, the concept of “soul”–whatever one might believe in that regard–isn’t the only distinction that would separate human beings from AI contraptions.
We are alive. They would just be machines.
We are moral beings. They would just be the product of our programming, and any that we enabled them to do independent of human input. In other words, they would be amoral contraptions.
I wrote about this a few years ago regarding AI robots.
Human behavior arises from a complex interaction of rationality, emotions, abstract thought, experience, education, etc.. That would never be true of robots.
More to the point, we are moral beings by nature. Robots wouldn’t have a “nature” and any morality they “exhibited” would be programmed morality. We have free will, robots wouldn’t in the same sense. If a robot could program itself into greater and greater data processing capacities, that doesn’t make it truly sentient, just sophisticated.
Transhumanists like to deny human exceptionalism. Transhumanists’ AI swooning is part of that enterprise.
(Wouldn’t it be folly to create machines that could act independently of our control?)
That point aside, what other creature in the known universe could even contemplate creating a machine so sophisticated that it would appear to be intelligent. We are exceptional!
The herd media always present assisted suicide as compassionate and caring. To the contrary, it is ultimately abandoning and promotes invidious discrimination against the sick and disabled, seen broadly as unworthy of protecting from suicide.
Over the years, people struggling with devastating illnesses and disabilities have repeatedly told me how assisted suicide advocacy impedes their ability to struggle and undermines their morale.
As my hospice friend Robert Salamanca, who died peacefully from Lou Gehrig’s disease, told me, “They are trying to drive me off the well lit boulevard and into the dark alleyway.” Indeed, every time he saw ALS waved as the bloody flag promoting assisted suicide it pushed him into a depression.
Now, in the wake of the Brittany Maynard! media frenzy, Maggie Karner, struggling with brain cancer, writes how suicide promotion makes her struggle harder too. From, “Assisted Suicide Law Would Undermine my Cancer Battle:”
I can tell you from personal experience that it [assisted suicide advocacy] is nearly as troubling as the cancer itself. You see, I get strength and comfort from the knowledge that nobody is going to give up on me — medically, psychologically or holistically.
Right now, I have the firm support of the state and my fellow citizens in my desire to live — no matter the cost or burden. If that were to change, the tiny knowledge that I might be straining my family, friends, doctors or community resources unnecessarily would be a heavy burden. The constant “option” for suicide would wear at my resolve and I fear, become an unspoken “duty” for me and others.
Karner’s fight is tough enough without suicide promotion. She wants help living, and asks for her fellows’ support:
I encourage the caring voters of Connecticut to once again contact their state legislators and insist that assisted suicide has no place in our state of independent thinkers. Slogans of “right to die” are just words to people like me who need your constant and continued support to avoid a “duty to die.”
Think about this: People will never put Karner on their cover like they did Maynard. Karner won’t be named one of the most intriguing people of the year as Maynard was. Karner won’t be surrounded by fawning media acolytes.
Why? Both have (had) brain cancer. Both are female. Both are young. Both cases are tragic.
Maynard was made into a hero because she killed herself. Karner wants protection against the gravitational pull of nihilism, and so most people will never know her name.
And that tells a huge and disturbing tale about what kind of society we have become.
I know my headline is a bit provocative, but there is a point.
A bill has been filed in Vermont for presumed consent to organ donation, and it would grant an explicit ownership interest in the organs of all dead Vermonters to the organ transplant system. From, H 57:
All Vermont residents 18 years of age or older shall be presumed to consent to making an anatomical gift of some or all of their organs, eyes, tissues, or a combination thereof upon their death for the purpose of transplantation, therapy, research, or education.
If someone doesn’t want to be an organ “donor”–they have to take affirmative action to say no, rather than–as is the law now in every U.S. state–opt in by saying yes:
(a) A Vermont resident may refuse to make an anatomical gift of the 10 individual’s body part or parts by: (1) including a specific refusal in an advance directive…
(2) creating a written record indicating that the individual is unwilling to 15 make an anatomical gift…(3) including a specific provision in the individual’s will..
(4) completion of an anatomical gift refusal form…or, (5) any form of communication made by the individual during the 4 individual’s terminal illness or injury addressed to at least two adults, at least 5 one of whom is a disinterested witness. .
That isn’t “donation.” It is conscription.
Presumed consent apparently works well in Spain and some other more communitarian-oriented countries, but it would be a disaster here:
1. Presumed consent would sow greater distrust in the already profoundly distrusted health care system. If you think people are worried about death panels now, wait until people perceive that their deaths could be considered to have greater value than their lives if profoundly disabled or terminally ill.
2 Presumed consent could impact how medical professionals viewed the moral value of the most seriously ill or disabled patients. Such a system would amplify the already existing moral crisis in medicine caused by the ”quality of life”ethic and utilitarianism.
3. Imagine the impact of coupling presumed consent with futile care theory, in which doctors/hospital bioethics committees are empowered to withdraw wanted life-extended care based on “quality of life” and financial considerations
4. Presumed consent would lead to contentious litigation by grieving (or greedy) family members.
5. Presumed consent would couple assisted suicide and organ harvesting without consent. Vermont has legal assisted suicide. Would such dead people then be subject to organ harvesting? Belgium and Netherlands already harvest bodies made dead by euthanasia (with consent). This bill would allow a coupling of killing and harvesting without consent.
The government and/or medical bureaucracies should have no ownership claims to our remains. Presumed consent is the wrong prescription for the organ shortage, and indeed, could push people to opt-out of the organ donation program who might otherwise have opted-in.
Facebook has decided to try and prevent suicides. From the San Francisco Chronicle story:
When people write about harming themselves on Facebook, their friends can ask Facebook to review the post because it’s “hurtful, threatening or suicidal.”
A team of Facebook employees from America, Dublin or India will take a look at the flagged post to determine whether it is troubling, and then essentially lock the user out from their account until they review options related to suicide prevention.
Those include suicide prevention materials, links to contact Facebook friends or a suicide-prevention hotline.
I can see it now: “But I have cancer!,” the suicidal person responds.
“Oh, never mind,” Facebook replies, having received training from
the Hemlock Society Compassion and Choices. “Carry on.”
The morality of the 21st century will depend on how we respond to this simple but profound question: Does every human life have equal moral value simply and merely because it is human?
Answer yes to that question and it is the end of racism, sexism, ableism, and the insidious and subversive meme that some humans are “non-persons” because such invidious ways of thinking flow naturally from measuring human value subjectively.
Or to turn it around, universal human rights and equality depend on the objective judging of human life.
I was thinking about this as I read an article over at Real Clear Science discussing whether we are a single species–or whether back in pre-history, Homo sapiens mated with other Homo species, since extinct, such as Neanderthals.
Under human exceptionalism, who cares? A human, is a human, is a human.
But for those who want to compare and measure humans, it could unleash destructive forces, as historian Yuval Harari describes. From, “What if Other Human Species Had Survived?”
A lot hinges on this debate. From an evolutionary perspective, 70,000 years is a relatively short interval. If the Replacement Theory is correct, all living humans have roughly the same genetic baggage, and racial distinctions among them are negligible.
But if the Interbreeding Theory is right, there might well be genetic differences between Africans, Europeans and Asians that go back hundreds of thousands of years. This is political dynamite, which could provide material for explosive racial theories.
Nothing should hinge on the debate.
And it wouldn’t have if we simply embraced human exceptionalism’s moral understanding that a human, is a human, is a human. It’s not hard: We are all equal. Vive la différence!!
But rather than making that important point, Harari instead gives the back of his hand to human exceptionalism:
Homo sapiens has grown so accustomed to being the only human species that it’s hard for us to conceive of any other possibility. Our lack of brothers and sisters makes it easier to imagine that we are the epitome of creation, and that a chasm separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Sigh. So typical of how many of today’s most noted public intellectuals miss the forest for the trees.
We live in a topsy-turvy world. On one hand, advocates of abortion and assisted suicide have shattered the Hippocratic Oath so that doctors can be free to take human life and still be considered professionals.
At the same time that they support medicalized killing in these contexts, they want to prevent doctors from any cooperation with the death penalty for vicious murderers, a matter about which the Oath is silent.
Now, death penalty opponents–many of whom support euthanasia and abortion–want to force drug companies to adopt a Hippocratic “do no harm” approach to the death penalty by
coercing persuading them not to let their drugs to be used in executions. This approach has been pioneered by Amnesty International’s Reprieve Project. From an article over at The Conscience Project:
Reprieve has been especially successful in convincing pharmaceutical companies to prevent the use of their products in executions. A number of them have signed Reprieve’s Pharmaceutical Hippocratic Oath:
We dedicate our work to developing and distributing pharmaceuticals to the service of humanity; we will practice our profession with conscience and dignity; the right to health of the patient will be our first consideration; we condemn the use of any of our pharmaceuticals in the execution of human beings.
Reprieve describes the traditional Hippocratic Oath as the “bedrock of western medicine” that should apply to drug manufacturers as well as physicians. Maya Foa, a Reprieve specialist in lethal injection, told Time that Reprieve is not attempting to stop capital punishment in the United States, but to convince pharmaceutical companies to abide by the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.”
What a load of sewage. Drug companies are not medical doctors, and different standards apply.
That point aside, if these companies are expected to prevent their drugs from being used in executions, they should also prevent their products from being death agent that kills cancer patients in euthanasia or fetuses in drug-induced abortions.
Can you imagine Amnesty International types creating demands over procedures actually covered in the Hippocratic Oath? Neither can I.
On the positive side, these anti DP activities have led to a shortage of assisted suicide drugs, since the same drugs are used to kill in both actions. Cruel and unusual death with dignity.
HT: Alfonso Tabaoda Port from a Twitter conversation.
A pediatrician in Michigan refused to take a baby as a patient because the child’s parents are a married lesbian couple. From the USAToday story:
But as Jami and Krista Contreras sat in the exam room, waiting to be seen for their newborn’s first checkup, another pediatrician entered the room and delivered a major blow: The doctor they were hoping for had a change of heart. After “much prayer,” she decided that she couldn’t treat their baby because they are lesbians.
This is apparently legal in MI, but since the doctor had initially agreed to take the patient, I think it is unethical.
But Wesley, you support protecting medical conscience!
Indeed, I do. But this isn’t an example of the kind of case in which conscience protections should apply.
Why? Medical conscience should protect doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others from performing or being complicit in procedures they find morally or religiously unacceptable. Hence, as I just wrote in “The Coming of Medical Martyrdom,” no professional should be ever required to take human life, as in abortion or euthanasia.
Alas, that storm cloud is already on the horizon, and indeed, is hailing on Hippocratic physicians in Australia and Canada, among other jurisdictions.
But the Michigan doctor objected to the patient–or more precisely, the relationship between the patient’s parents. That’s not the same.
Back in 2009, I proposed a formula for analyzing these cases. Here are a few of those points:
- Except in rare and compelling circumstances in which a patient’s life is at stake, no medical professional should be compelled to perform or participate in procedures or treatments that take human life.
- The rights of conscience should apply most strongly in elective procedures , that is, medical treatments not required to extend the life of, or prevent serious harm to, the patient.
- It should be the procedure that is objectionable, not the patient. In this way, for example, physicians could not refuse to treat a lung-cancer patient because the patient smoked or to maintain the life of a patient in a vegetative state because the physician believed that people with profound impairments do not have a life worth living.
- No medical professional should ever be forced to participate in a medical procedure intended primarily to facilitate the patient’s lifestyle preferences or desires (in contrast to maintaining life or treating a disease or injury).
But doesn’t the last point apply to the pediatrician’s refusal? No. The patient is the baby, not the parents.
But this brings up another issue: We are now a morally polyglot society and are told that tolerance is the answer to conflicts that arise.
Fine. Legality and ethical obligations aside, if we are truly going to get along, tolerance has to be a two-way street. In some cases, that means shrugging off slights, real and perceived, and simply moving on.
In this situation, why the couple would want a doctor to care for their daughter–particularly with other physicians readily available–who profoundly disagrees with the moral propriety of their marriage, is beyond me.
Brilliant! The same Canadian doctors who are apparently very poorly trained in palliative care, have been given a license to kill by the recent radical ruing of the country’s Supreme Court.
This medical and potentially humanitarian mess is sorted through in a good column in the Toronto Star by Harvey Max Chochinov. From, “Canada Failing on Palliative Care:”
Despite the impressive strides that palliative care has taken — in areas such as pain and symptom management, and sensitivities to the psychosocial, existential and spiritual challenges facing dying patients and their families — at their time of licensure, physicians have been taught less about pain management than those graduating from veterinary medicine.
Once in practice, most physicians have knowledge deficiencies that can significantly impair their ability to manage cancer pain.
Doctors are also not generally well-trained to engage in end-of-life conversations, meaning that goals of care often remain unclear; and patients may not receive the care they want or the opportunity to live out their final days in the place they would want to die…
For 70 to 80 per cent of Canadians, palliative care is not available and hence, not a real choice.
Yikes! And remember, the Supreme Court case legalized both assisted suicide and euthanasia to the dying, disabled, and mentally ill!
This means that doctors who can’t adequately care, will be allowed to kill–assuming they don’t botch it, which can definitely happen:
In the future, how might this kind of scenario play itself out in the many Canadian settings that do not have adequate palliative care? There, the choices will come down to settling for sub-optimal care; dislocating from friends and family to seek out better care elsewhere; or, if one is so inclined, considering medically hastened death.
We are about to become a country that extends patients the right to a hastened death, but offers no legislative guarantees or assurances that they will be well looked after until they die.
Some “choice.” Some “compassion.”
Ah, who cares, Wesley? Brittany Maynard!
I am always amused when secularists present advances in contemporary morality as somehow due to SCIENCE.
Michael Shermer’s column in Reason exemplifies the presumption. He notes that IQ scores have been rising and correlates this with a higher morality–as if one leads necessarily to the other.
Shermer categorizes human thinking as either “concrete,” which he sees as regressive and the cause of brutality, or the more supposedly progressive, “abstract,” which he claims to be “scientific.” From, “Are We Becoming Morally Smarter?”
“What do dogs and rabbits have in common?” If you answer, “Both are mammals,” says [social scientist James] Flynn, you are thinking like a scientist in classifying organisms by type-an abstraction. If you said, “You use dogs to hunt rabbits,” you are thinking concretely, imagining a tangible use for a dog.
Wait: Science isn’t only about learning truths of the natural world (abstract), but applying this information to the betterment of humankind (concrete). But I digress.
Shermer then credits our contemporary, supposedly, improved morality to general increases in “abstract reasoning,” among which he includes that great scientific equation, the “Golden Rule:”
Abstract reasoning and scientific thinking are the crucial cognitive skills at the foundation of all morality. Consider the mental rotation required to implement the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
This requires you to change positions-to become the other person-and then to extrapolate what action X would feel like as the receiver instead of the doer (or as the victim instead of the perpetrator).
Please. The Golden Rule began as an explicitly Jewish religious formulation, based on what God, who loves humankind, was believed to want of us. Or, does Shermer see belief in God as “scientific?”
Ditto, St. Paul’s assertion that all, man and woman, Greek and Jew, master and slave, are all one and equal in Christ Jesus.
Talk about a radical concept for the time! But these and other Judeo/Christian religious maxims shattered then existing cruel moral templates, setting us (the West) walking (too slowly) down the road that led to today’s concepts of universal human equality, human rights–and embracing human exceptionalism, the key to achieving those ends.
Not only that, but the early Christians practiced what they preached, e.g., caring for the destitute and rescuing babies exposed on hills. In other words, these distinctly religious thinkers opposed the barbaric practice of infanticide–which many contemporary scientific thinkers have brought back into fashion by claiming that babies are not “persons” because they lack certain cognitive abilities.
Contrast that to the “scientific” ideology of eugenics–abstractly conceived from Darwinistic principles and the monk Mendel’s gene experiments–that advocating culling the human herd between the so-called “fit” and “unfit.”
Social Darwinism, that odious cruelty, was similarly conceived as a great moral advance based on scientific premises that the weak among us were dangerous lead weights pulling us under the waves, and worse, that the answer to their and society’s misery was to let–or make–them die.
Note: These two forms of authoritarianism were overwhelmingly supported by political progressives and materialistic “free thinkers,” who have always claimed they represent the scientific worldview.
Shermer than describes what he thinks makes our age morally superior:
Since the Enlightenment, humans have demonstrated dramatic moral progress. Almost everyone in the Western world today enjoys rights to life, liberty, property, marriage, reproduction, voting, speech, worship, assembly, protest, autonomy, and the pursuit of happiness.
Liberal democracies are now the dominant form of governance, systematically replacing the autocracies and theocracies of centuries past. Slavery and torture are outlawed everywhere in the world (even if occasionally still practiced).
The death penalty is on death row and will likely go extinct sometime in the 2020s. Violence and crime are at historic lows, and we have expanded the moral sphere to include more people as members of the human community deserving of rights and respect.
Even some animals are now being considered as sentient beings worthy of moral consideration.
Animals have always been seen as deserving of some moral consideration, yes, all the way back to Genesis. Moreover, the ancient Jainism faith accords us, animals, insects, and grass, moral equality. I am sorry, but it is really “abstract” to think of grass and people as having equal ultimate value.
Yet, Shermer gives all credit to moral advances on scientific thinking!
Thinking like a scientist means employing all our faculties to overcome our emotional, subjective, and instinctual brains to better understand the true nature of not only the physical and biological worlds, but the social world (politics and economics) and the moral world (abstracting how other people should be treated) as well.
But empathy isn’t rational, it is emotional. Viewing all humans as morally equal certainly isn’t a scientific premise. It can’t be proved objectively by measuring capacities, abilities, strength, and the like–too often done in scientific circles.
Science is a powerful and empirical method of learning. It can only tell us what is–and fashion hypotheses about what may be. But it can’t tell us what is morally better or worse, right or wrong, enlightened or regressive. That is the subjective job of religion, philosophy, and morality.
Besides, tens of millions of unborn babies have been aborted in this supposedly superior moral age–and yet, the Schermers of the world think of it as a great moral advance despite the unquestionable biological humanity of abortion’s victims.
Yes, science tells us that embryos and fetuses are human beings. But it can’t tell us whether abortion is morally correct. Ditto euthanasia.
Do you also notice how Shermer declares what he believes to be morally superior? We all do that. But morally “smarter” due to abstract and scientific human thinking?
That’s part of it. to be sure. But what we in the West generally see as great moral advancements were caused by dynamic human processes–objective and subjective, religious and secular, scientific and philosophical–working together to design Western Civilization.
Materialists like Shermer are determined to give science false credit for moral advancements, as they exclude other distinctly human disciplines and smugly look down their noses at unscientific thinking. That is not only unadulterated scientism, but it is morally myopic.