Human Exceptionalism

“Death by Indifference”

This story is a warning: Six developmentally disabled people have died in the UK, apparently, due to medical neglect, according to “Death by Indifference,” a report published by MENCAP, a Mental Disability Charity. From the Telegraph story: Dr Roger Banks, the vice-president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who is supporting Mencap, welcomed the Health Department’s response [agreeing to an investigation]. “People with disabilities are not valued in society and its systems,” he said. Most health professionals were not malevolent, he added, but in a cash-strapped, time-scarce NHS, where there was a move away from treating people as individuals and towards treating them as groups, people with learning disabilities were regarded as second class citizens. He also highlighted problems around the issue of consent. Today’s report says doctors and nurses sometimes wrongly believe someone is refusing treatment if they recoil from an injection or pull out tubes because they are frightened.

Let us ponder: It is easy to view the matter as a problem with socialized medicine. But I think it goes far deeper. It seems to me that this kind of horror results from the constant chipping away at the intrinsic value of human life by the utilitarian view that some of us have greater worth than others of us. And it is the acceptance of this concept that threatens the lives and well being of the weakest among us.

This is the context in which we are told that assisted suicide should be a “choice,” while at the same time patients who make the “wrong” decision–to live–can be overruled by doctors and ethics committee refusing wanted life-sustaining treatment under Futile Care Theory. This is the milieu in which we are looking for ways to dramatically increase the pool of transplantable organs and even, ease the standards under which we engage in human subject medical research. This is the environment in which human cloners seek a bounteous supply of human eggs for their research, as some among our intelligentsia seek to normalize eugenic infanticide.

The warning signs are everywhere that we are in danger of going badly akilter. If health care, the most altruistic of professions, succumbs to the utilitarian impulse, imagine what will happen in the rest of society. Either all of us matter, or in the end, none of us do.

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