03 November 2014

Technology Tangles: Ethics, Politics, Euthanasia and the Avoidance of the Real Questions at Stake (Part 2 of 2)

The technology has brought us to a point where we have to ask these difficult and sometimes impossible questions about how far do we dare to go? What is basic to humanity?

Do we use IVF because every woman should have the opportunity or even the 'right' to birth a child?

Just to clarify, if we speak in terms of 'rights' that would be in relation to other people, not before God. There are many who confuse this point. Before God we have no 'rights' but that doesn't mean that in our human to human relations or what we call 'society' that we can't expect some basic rights. Otherwise society would have no foundation upon which it can be built. Even an absolute monarchy is built on rights. It's just in that case the king claims the prerogative. He says he has the right to ownership and a higher standard of living. As far as your rights, they are given to you by him.

But what I'm meaning here is... if the technology is there, in terms of a social contract, is that a right? If the means is available should it be made universally available? Very few think so and yet how do we determine that? How do we determine who gets what treatment? What treatments (applications of technology) are universal?

Is IVF ethical to begin with?

If it's not, then why not? I would argue an affirmation of something like IVF opens up a Pandora's Box of options and obligations. I don't think anyone wants to go there.

If not, then what other biological functions which would be considered 'normal' in a healthy person should also be reckoned outside the scope of ethical medical treatment?

If IVF is wrong, then I have to question a larger set of principles that guide medical ethics and the technology which make it all possible.

Again, if it's okay to deny someone 'normal' physical functions and say, you don't 'need' that (natural childbirth) and society isn't obligated to make it available to all, then how do we apply that across the board? Aren't we saying that though your condition may grieve you, your quality of life is still sufficient that you can't place a moral and thus financial burden on others to make the technology available to you?

What about Cochlear Implants? Gene therapy? Hormone replacement?

Are all 'Quality of Life' issues invalid? Are some valid? How do we tell?

Forget the costs. What about the bare ethics of these procedures?

Does God open and close the womb or is that just a generalized natural law and like gravity we can legitimately find ways to overcome it?

IVF and cancer treatment are hard enough to consider, but these are the stark examples. There are many more but for most of us we're far too busy living our lives to even give them a second thought.

Returning to the young woman who wishes to die rather than suffer a prolonged and terrible death, if she's lost, I cannot really blame her. I wouldn't want that death either.

If she didn't want to die but had no health coverage, the same people who are now criticizing her would happily turn her away and deny her care. Is that not a death sentence? In many cases it is. It would seem other social factors at this point seemingly trump the commitment to being Pro-Life.

What if some simple inexpensive tests conducted every few years would likely prevent many people from developing the disease in the first place? Isn't denying them access in effect an indirect death sentence?

Why are we getting cancer? Why is it so prevalent? Does anyone doubt that its escalation is the result of our technological innovations and the resulting byproducts?   

Is it not in some sense a man-made disease and condition? I realize there were cancers before the industrial age but few dispute they've increased exponentially since the advent of industrialisation.

But why do the same people who are gravely concerned about a terminal woman using medical technology to end her life, then at the same time, don't seem to care about technology that creates poisons that seemingly lead to some of these very same fatal cancers? And they are most fatal among those who have no access to the preventative technology. How is this pro-life?

What's the technological ethic? What's the difference? Is it because she's knowingly and willingly taking her life?

If someone proves to you that the technology from a coal fired power plant is killing people, will these same pro-life people start picketing in order to save lives? 

Somehow I don't think they will.

And don't get hung up on this point if you disagree with me about coal. We can pick something else with ease. Even science is politicized and that's true on both sides of the spectrum. Or should I say that technology has a political element?

But assuming the coal power plant argument for a moment...

When you turn your lights on, or turn your furnace up, aren't you slowly killing yourself and others as well? Ah, but that's long term.

Does the tempo of suicide make a difference? What about the morbidly obese people in many Southern Baptist congregations? Aren't they killing themselves too? Does it have to be a deliberate act to make it wrong? Perhaps these obese people are not willingly committing suicide, but at the same time they 'willingly' refuse to change their lifestyles... which incidentally are a result of technological changes to society. Isn't their refusal to change their habits a sort of defiance akin to what this girl is expressing? Is she just being more honest and consistent? Aren't many of us 'taking control' of our lives too?

Our technology solves problems and creates them. It destroys life and gives it.

Due to technology, it would seem the whole nature of the discussion has changed.

If a person is going to die anyway, why do we consider it ethical to prolong their life... even though it is an act of futility?

But it's wrong to alleviate suffering?

Who decides at what point the suffering is sufficient to warrant medical intervention or the cessation of intervention... thus acknowledging death?

This young woman says that she and not the doctor or the state should decide.

Ah, that re-frames the whole question once again. In many ways this is the real issue here. But that's not something the Christian community wants to talk about. At this point, they are anything but 'Small Government'. She is indeed going to die. Who decides how much technology should intervene or how it should intervene?

It's interesting that most Christians in this case want the state and the doctor to wield the power over the individual.

But isn't that precisely the issue we faced over the passage of Health Care Reform?

The Utilitarian and Libertarian say why should I pay for someone else? Why should someone else intervene or prevent me from doing what I think best when I'm not harming anyone else? In many ways it comes down to freedom. If we want a free society, then we're going to have to let sinners sin. Forcing them to be hypocrites and behave like Christians won't save them and in the long run and doesn't help the Church or society either. I realize many won't agree with that last statement but history proves it. In the end there's simply a terrible backlash. We've been watching it happen for the past several hundred years.

But most of us would agree that we should pay for others who cannot pay for themselves... to help prolong their lives, right?

These are not easy questions. Don't think that they ever are. Those that are oversimplifying them are doing so because in the end they don't care about the actual issues.

Their motives are political and instead of trying to help you understand they are trying to market a political product to you. They of all people involved are the most insincere and least truthful.

We see this when in the context of the discussion regarding this young woman they start talking about Nazis and Euthanasia as social policy. That's a real danger that we must always guard against. Some might say that under a Capitalist medical system it's already been policy for some time.  

She's not a handicapped or disabled person being euthanized because of her lack of profitability for the larger society. That's not the issue here. Those who argue thus are insincere.

As far as the issue of doctors and oaths, that all went out the window when medicine became something motivated by profit. The ethic of 'Do no harm' can't function in a Capitalist context. This is only exacerbated by medical treatment in a technological age. To raise this point today is to simply flaunt one's own ignorance of the past century in terms of society, economics, technology and medicine. Those who raise it are also largely insincere.

Don't listen to them.

In the meantime we'll pray for this young woman, that she doesn't end her life prematurely and yet it would seem that regardless her time is at an end. If she's lost, that final sin won't really make much of a difference.

Suicide is indeed a sin but I wonder sometimes if we also err in how we use technology to keep people alive. I know of a cancer patient who was completely maddened by the pain and the suffering. He killed himself. He was a pastor in a Reformed denomination.

I have to say what he did was wrong but I won't say that it is a simple and always straightforward issue.

With regard to the young woman, rather than fight her politically we might do better to wield the Gospel. That might get the desired result... or perhaps not.

I am against assisted suicide, IVF and much else but I don't like how the issues are framed and I find most of the discussion to be unhelpful and failing to address the serious issues. Perhaps it's because there are no easy answers if any at all. This is often the reality of life in a fallen world. 

* I wrote this a couple of weeks before she committed suicide but didn't publish it. She's gone now, but the issues remain.