My partner at work likes to read. His tastes are pretty eclectic but for the most part he goes for the stuff that is too deep to appeal to the average joe. So he has these magazines lying around in the staff room that I get to take advantage of. An article in Harpers caught my eye the other day. It appeared, I suppose, in a timely sort of way, with all the discussions on the right to die/live. The article is complex as is the issue but I appreciated hearing from someone who has spent some time thinking on the issue rather than someone who wants to get in a politically timely word.
The article deals mainly with the case of Dr Thompson but the relevance of it extends to a wide range of cases, some of which can be fairly close to home. I can’t say that I agree with all of his opinions but it seems to me that he has thought a lot on this issue. Here are some quotes but I would encourage you to read the whole article.
” You will notice, for example, how the fear of playing God operates exclusively on one side of the medical playground. Thus to help a patient end his or her life “prematurely” is playing God, while extending it in ways and under conditions that no God lacking horns and a cloven hoof could ever have intended is the mandate of “our Judeo-Christian heritage” and the Hippocratic oath. Let someone like Dr. Thompson step out of bounds to honor the spirit of his patient’s advance directives, and we will be told that he is eroding respect for the medical profession. But in cases involving a medical professional who blatantly ignores such directives, we are reminded that doctors don’t always have time to review patient files while making difficult decisions. They’re not God, after all. “
“… The right talks about protecting life and tradition, but on some level—the level, let’s say, where someone like Dr. Thompson is held up for derision—it is mostly interested in protecting pain. For two reasons.
The first is theological: the belief that pain holds the meaning of life. Supposedly, and demonstrably, this is a Christian idea, though if Jesus himself had believed it, he would have told the lepers to find meaning in their sores…”
“… The second reason, which can always be counted on to exploit the first, is political: the belief that pain is fundamental to justice, which makes perfect sense if justice is conceived as nothing more than a system of punishments and rewards. The essence of punishment is pain. Whoever owns pain owns power. “
“… It would be a gross distortion to claim that opposition to physician-assisted suicide is all religious, all from the right, or entirely motivated by some twisted need to see people pay their dues in full. But nearly all the organized opposition to PAS, and especially that of groups like National Right to Life, the Family Forum, The Center for American Cultural Renewal, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy, finds common cause in the need to halt a perceived drift toward nihilism and a disrespect for life.
Like the religious right, I believe in moral absolutes. At the very least, I believe in two that were articulated some years ago by the theologian Paul Tillich, those being “the absolute concreteness of every situation in which a moral decision is required” and “the command not to treat a person as a thing.”
I would challenge you to read the article. Even if you do not agree with much of what he says, I don’t think it can be dismissed as coming from one with no understanding of faith in God.
And Becky points us towards another article by the same author in The Revealer, The Reverent and the Rude. Also good reading.