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SEC says no to assisted suicide: The Church of England Newspaper, June 20, 2014 June 26, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Scottish Episcopal Church.
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The Faith and Order Board of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church has voiced its opposition to the Assisted Suicide Bill pending before the Scottish Parliament. In a submission dated 6 June 2014, the board stated that while there were a range of views about assisted suicide held by its members, the Scottish Episcopal Church upheld “the sanctity of human life, and this, alongside compassion, are our primary considerations when thinking about Assisted Suicide.” The SEC had “sympathy” with arguments that “compassion is in some circumstances a higher good than the preservation of life.” However, the church was concerned with the application of the law as well as issues of compassion, dignity and the spiritual and moral issues these entailed had so far not been addressed by the bill’s supporters.  From a medical perspective the “art of dying” dealt with “pain relief”. But the “art of dying is a spiritual art, learned emotionally and communally, and found in all religions and traditions. … We want to explore compassion beyond the giving of drugs and legality of choosing death” the board said.

Schiavo Redux: Get Religion, January 21, 2014 January 30, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion.
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A French court has ordered a Reims hospital to provide nutrition and hydration to 38-year old quadriplegic Vincent Lambert, who has been in a state of minimal consciousness (en état de conscience minimale) for five years following a motorcycle accident.

Last Thursday a tribunal administratif overruled the wishes of the hospital, Lambert’s wife and some of his siblings who wanted to cut off intravenous feeding. The court sided with his parents and his other siblings, who as observant Catholics, objected to euthanizing him. Le Monde reports the Lambert case will reopen the contentious debate about euthanasia, the value of life and human dignity in France.

Have we not heard this before?

The Lambert case has a number of parallels with Terri Schiavo saga in America: a spouse ready to move on vs. Catholic parents not ready to let go; no clear statement of the patient’s wishes, conflicting medical terminology of persistent vegetative state v. minimal consciousness; political intervention by Congress and partisan debates in the French parliament; and a high profile role played by Catholic bishops. While it is early days yet, the most striking difference is the different decisions reached by the courts.

In Florida the courts came down on the side of death, even though the presumption of the law is in favor of life, while in France they have chosen life, even though euthanasia is legal.

The hospital authorities can now appeal against the decision before France’s Constitutional Council. The French press reports the Lambert case comes amidst a growing social and political debate over legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia. President Francois Hollande this week entered into the fray, saying he favored the legalization of euthanasia, but covered his bases by saying it was appropriate only under strict government scrutiny.

A 2005 law permits passive euthanasia, where a person causes death by withholding or withdrawing treatment necessary to maintain life. According to Aujourd’hui en France the court ruled against death as Lambert’s condition was not terminal.

Le tribunal a notamment «jugé que la poursuite du traitement n’était ni inutile, ni disproportionnée et n’avait pas pour objectif le seul maintien artificiel de la vie et a donc suspendu la décision d’interrompre le traitement». La juridiction a par ailleurs estimé que «c’est à tort que le CHU de Reims avait considéré que M. Lambert pouvait être regardé comme ayant manifesté sa volonté d’interrompre ce traitement».

The court’s ruling “held that continuing treatment was neither unnecessary nor disproportionate and was not intended only for the artificial preservation of life and accordingly suspended the decision to stop treatment.” The court further held that “it is wrong for [the hospital] to have decided that Mr. Lambert could have been regarded as having expressed a desire to discontinue treatment.”

Le Figaro explained the court in Chalons-en-Champagne ruled against ending Lambert’s life as he was neither “sick nor at the end of life … “, « ni malade ni en fin de vie ».

The French newspapers I have seen have done an excellent job is covering this story. The Aujourd’hui en France story quotes doctors and family members on both sides of the debate, a spokesman for the French Episcopal Conference, and the politician who introduced the 2005 euthanasia law to parliament.

Le Figaro and Le Monde are equally even handed in the sourcing of their stories and in the description of Lambert’s condition and the court ruling.

How different the French reporting on Vincent Lambert has been so far compared to the job the American press did with the Terri Schiavo case. It will be fascinating to see if the New York Times and other outlets on this side of the Atlantic pick up the story, and whether they use the phrase “brain dead” — a legal not medical term the French press have so far avoided.

First printed in Get Religion.

Missing Catholic voices in Belgium’s euthanasia debate: Get Religion, November 5, 2013 November 5, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Let me commend to you an excellent article on a horrible subject.

The Associated Press story “Belgium considering unprecedented law to grant euthanasia for children, dementia patients” reports on moves by the ruling Socialist Party to permit doctors to euthanize children as well as adults with dementia. This report — long at 1000 words from a wire service — offers a balanced account on the move to extend the right to die to children.

It is thorough, balanced, provides context and expert analysis to allow a reader to make up his own mind. Yet, are some voices missing? The article opens with a question:

Should children have the right to ask for their own deaths?

It lays out the issue:

In Belgium, where euthanasia is now legal for people over the age of 18, the government is considering extending it to children — something that no other country has done. The same bill would offer the right to die to adults with early dementia.

Advocates argue that euthanasia for children, with the consent of their parents, is necessary to give families an option in a desperately painful situation. But opponents have questioned whether children can reasonably decide to end their own lives. …

Provides context:

Belgium is already a euthanasia pioneer; it legalized the practice for adults in 2002. In the last decade, the number of reported cases per year has risen from 235 deaths in 2003 to 1,432 in 2012, the last year for which statistics are available. Doctors typically give patients a powerful sedative before injecting another drug to stop their heart. …

And offers opinion from a Catholic archbishop and medical ethicists.

“It is strange that minors are considered legally incompetent in key areas, such as getting married, but might (be able) to decide to die,” Catholic Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard testified. Charles Foster, who teaches medical law and ethics at Oxford University, believes children couldn’t possibly have the capacity to make an informed decision about euthanasia since even adults struggle with the concept.

“It often happens that when people get into the circumstances they had so feared earlier, they manage to cling on all the more,” he said. “Children, like everyone else, may not be able to anticipate how much they will value their lives if they were not killed.”

There are others, though, who argue that because Belgium has already approved euthanasia for adults, it is unjust to deny it to children. “The principle of euthanasia for children sounds shocking at first, but it’s motivated by compassion and protection,” said John Harris, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester. “It’s unfair to provide euthanasia differentially to some citizens and not to others (children) if the need is equal.” …

The AP’s sentiments are with those opposed to euthanizing children — closing with comments by an anti-euthanasia voice that lands a solid hit on those who call for death-choice. But it nevertheless offers both sides to the story and refrains from demonizing those with whom it disagrees. For a template on how to write a story about a contested moral issue, I would offer this piece.

Yet an American reader might question the use of the expert quotes. The commentary begins with a soft quote from the Catholic archbishop and then moves into a more rigorous back and forth on the topic between medical ethicists and physicians. Why do we not hear moral arguments from religious leaders? Where are the Catholic voices? (This is Belgium. after all.)

Selecting experts to respond to an issue is one way of shading a story — setting a dope against an expert, or a zealot against a rational voice is one way a newspaper can push the story in the direction it fancies. Should we then say the AP is unconcerned with the religious element to this story? Getting the soundbite out of the way from the archbishop before bringing in the important voices? Or, was there no faith voice comparable in stature to the ethicists and physicians available to speak?

There may be some of that present, but my sense is that the use of ethicists to discuss the issue rather than moral theologians reflects the state of the debate in a post-Christian society like Belgium. European anti-clericalism, the growing power of secularism coupled with the abuse scandals has driven the Catholic Church out of the public square in some parts of Europe.

A well-rounded Anglo-American or even French newspaper account of the debate on this issue would include faith voices. Not so in Belgium, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries or Germany where faith voices are heard less and less in the public square.The intellectual and political culture of those countries holds to the privatization of religion that does not welcome its insights into debates on public morality.

By including faith voices in moral debates in the Anglo-American press, are we privileging religion? Or are we giving it is fair place in the debate? Is the expected faith voice a political or intellectual choice? By that I mean do we hear from the Catholic churchman, Rabbi, or Protestant theologian because of the position accorded them by society — or because of the strength of their arguments?

As a journalistic issue, should we expect to hear religious voices opine on moral topics in irreligious societies?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. First published at Get Religion.

Removing religious voices from ‘right to die’ debate: Get Religion, August 5, 2013 August 5, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Church of England, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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The Court of Appeal for England and Wales has upheld the blanket ban on euthanasia and assisted suicide, holding there is no “right to die” under British and European Community law. The court in Nicklinson & Anor, R (on the application of) v A Primary Care Trust [2013] EWCA Civ 961 held there was no legal, moral or social need to rethink Parliament’s prohibition on euthanasia.

However, if you turned to The Independent to find out what happened you might well be excused for thinking this was an exercise in unthinking, hard-hearted judicial tyranny. The article “Barbaric and inhumane: Paralysed man Paul Lamb hits back after judges dismiss his right-to-die appeal” is unbalanced and ill-informed. It may well be that The Independent wanted a news story to accompany an op-ed piece entitled “Comment: Case for assisted dying is overwhelming”, but I am hard pressed to tell which is news story and which is the special pleading of one of the parties.

The story opens with:

Britain’s right-to die laws are “barbaric and inhumane” a paralysed man said after three of the country’s most senior judges today rejected his appeal to be allowed assistance to help him end his own life.

Paul Lamb, 57, has spent the past 23 years receiving round-the-clock care following a car crash which left him with only a tiny degree of movement in his right arm. He said politicians were “scared to death” to bring the UK in line with other countries where assisted suicide was legal.

Having framed the story in terms of the feelings of one of the appellants the article states:

Mr Lamb said he had no plans to take his life at present. But he said: “I am doing this for myself as and when I need it. I’m doing it for thousands of other people living what can only be described as a hell. Many of them have been in touch with me begging me to continue this fight. The more it goes on the stronger I am getting,” he said.

This case tells us a great deal about the opinions of Paul Lamb and the British Humanist Association. It is not until the very last paragraph of the story that we hear the voice of someone who believes the court decidedly wisely. And we hear almost nothing as to what the court said and why it said it.

It was not as if the opinion lacked pull quotes. Paragraph 155 of the decision addresses the issues of judicial activism:

Parliament represents the conscience of the nation. Judges, however eminent, do not: our responsibility is to discover the relevant legal principles, and apply the law as we find it. We cannot suspend or dispense with primary legislation. In our constitutional arrangements such powers do not exist.

While paragraph 156 notes:

The legislation criminalising assisting suicide was recent and unequivocal; and even if it were constitutionally permissible (which it was not) for judges to intervene on the basis that Parliament had failed to address a desperately urgent social need, Parliament had not in fact done so in this particular case.

Facts and sober analysis are of secondary interest to the human interest story of Paul Lamb.  There is no balance, no nuance, no research, no context, no curiosity in this article. Nor is there any reference to the wider intellectual and theological debate taking place in Britain and across Europe on this issue.

I am not surprised, however, at this omission by The Independent. In an editorial printed last week on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s campaign to end predatory lending, the newspaper argued religion has no place in the public square.

The question is neither Archbishop Welby’s motivations nor his capabilities; as a former oil executive and a member of the mettlesome Commission on Banking Standards, he has both the background and the acuity to make an informed contribution. The question is whether he should do so.

For The Independent, even when we agree with him, the answer must be no. For all his fine qualities – many of which were on display in yesterday’s gracious, candid response to the Wonga embarrassment – Archbishop Welby is still the unelected leader of a minority institution which enjoys disproportionate influence on the basis of history alone. His efforts to reclaim the initiative and make the Church relevant again are understandable. But they are also erroneous.

This is no swipe at religion, but such matters are a private affair, and spiritual leaders – for all the authority they may have among their own – have no business in mainstream politics. That bishops still sit in the House of Lords is an anachronism that makes a mockery of British democracy. If Archbishop Welby wishes the Church of England to support credit unions, it is his prerogative to act accordingly, but there his legitimacy ends.

As an aside, the poor old CoE can’t seem to catch a break from the press.  When it questioned the policies of Margaret Thatcher conservative newspapers mouthed the same “religion is a private affair and has no place in politics” line. Now it is the left’s turn to take up the mantra.

The Independent has adopted an editorial line and carried it forward in its reporting that religion has no standing in the public square — that it is irrelevant to the life of the mind, to politics, to law and the social contract. Yet should not a newspaper report the whole of an issue, not merely those arguments and issues it finds congenial?

The result for journalism of this closed mind worldview can be seen in this article.

First printed in Get Religion.

Child euthanasia in the European press: Get Religion, June 13, 2013 June 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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A front page story in the Monday edition of the Brussels’s daily De Morgen on a Belgian Senate committee’s deliberations on whether the country’s laws should be extended to permit the euthanasia of children and dementia patients has created a buzz on pro-life and political websites.

American commentators picked up the story after the Presseurop website ran an English language summary of the story entitled: “Another step towards euthanasia for children”.

Writing in National Review Online Wesley J. Smith captured the outrage common amongst these stories. He observed:

Child euthanasia: It’s all over but the final voting in Belgium as the Parliament agrees across party lines that doctors should be able to euthanize children. From the Presseurop story:

“In the wake of several months of testimony from doctors and experts in medical ethics, a Belgian Senate committee will on June 12 examine the possible extension of the country’s euthanasia law to include children. “On both sides of the linguistic border, liberals and socialists appear to agree on the fact that age should not be regarded as a decisive criteria in the event of a request for euthanasia,”De Morgen. They want doctors to decide on a minor’s capacity for discernment on a case by case basis.”

Treating a child like a sick horse is what passes for “compassion” these days.

I have received several emails from GR readers alerting me to these posts. This is a powerful story — but is it a GetReligion story? I would say no — this is a political story with an ethical question serving as the MacGuffin.

What is a MacGuffin you ask? It is a plot device in fiction and film — the object of passion, desire or motivation for the action, but of little real consequence to the film. Wikipedia notes that Alfred Hitchcock explained the term “MacGuffin” in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: “[We] have a name in the studio, and we call it the ‘MacGuffin’. It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers”.

Why is euthanasia a MacGuffin in this story? Is it not an ethical question whose coverage would fall under ambit of GR? Perhaps. But in this case what we are seeing from the commentators is reaction to a single story from a left-wing Dutch language newspaper that was summarized by a website for an English-speaking audience. And the title served as a great hook too.

If you move outside of the De Morgen story what you find is the euthanasia argument is part of a the larger story of the dysfunction of the coalition government in Belgium. The Liberals and Socialists want to relax the law to allow under 18s to have the right to kill themselves — they still will not be able to drink, vote or smoke but would be able under law to be adjudged competent as to whether they want to live. The other coalition parties — the Christian Democrats and centrist parties object to the change, arguing this was not part of the manifesto that formed the coalition. The left is soliciting support from the Flemish nationalists and the Greens — currently in opposition — to supplant the center right coalition partners — and they want to do this before the next general election so the issue does not dominate the political debates.

The French language Brussels daily, Le Soir explains that:

(The center-right coalition party) CDH is slamming on the brakes, and (a second cener-right party) CD&V does not appreciate seeing their government allies take off without them, leaving them high and dry. This was the case in 1990 regarding another ethical matter, abortion. There also, the Christian family of parties was isolated since the socialists and liberals could count on the nationalist and ecologist votes. This cobbled-together majority left a bad taste.

“The work undertaken in the senate needs to continue in order to pull together a consensus in the government majority”, confides Benoît Lutgen. The CDH president emphasizes that in addition, this ethical matter does not appear in the general government policy declaration. “Having each party go off with its own partisan shopping list is out of the question. We don’t each vote for whatever strikes our fancy. I am requesting in regard to this text a consensus among party presidents.” And if not? “We have not yet gotten to that point”, adds Lutgen.

Wouter Beke adopted the same position: “No patchwork majority in this ethical matter.” What if, due to lack of consensus, it had to be done? At this point in the discussions in committee, this is the most likely scenario. “It would cause problems within the majority”, admits the MR.

Taken as a whole, the press coverage in Belgium gives a well rounded account of the political and faith issues at play. However, you will not find all points expressed in a single article. Liberal papers do a great job presenting the pro-Euthanasia perspective, while conservative and Catholic papers present to the pro-life arguments and issues. They are fulfilling their responsibilities under the European advocacy model of journalism — where there is no pretense of balance or impartiality. This would be a GetReligion story if an Anglo-American newspaper — committed to the classical liberal school of journalism — wrote the sort of story we find in De Morgen or Le Soir where one perspective is offered or if a particular point of view is privileged.

This is also a cautionary tale about the advocacy press. You can trust what you read, but remember you are not getting the full story.

First printed at Get Religion

New South Wales rejects euthanasia bill while Vermont authorises physician assisted suicide: The Church of England Newspaper, June 2, 2013 p 6. June 6, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Vermont.
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The New South Wales Parliament has rejected a private members bill calling for the legalization of euthanasia. On 23 May the upper house of Parliament, the Legislative Council, voted 23 to 13 to reject the bill backed by the Green Party.

However in the United States, Vermont became the fourth state to legalize euthanasia after Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law the “End of Life Choices” Act which permits physicians to administer a fatal overdose to terminally ill patients who wish to commit suicide.

“This bill does not compel anyone to do anything that they don’t choose in sound mind to do. All it does is give those who are facing terminal illness, are facing excruciating pain, a choice in a very carefully regulated way,” the governor said on 20 May 2013 after he signed the bill.

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston said this was “a tragic moment for Vermont. It is also a sign of an alarming trend nationwide. In the three states where physician-assisted suicide is now legal, doctors are called upon to destroy life, rather than to save life and provide much-needed comfort in times of pain and distress.”

The Episcopal Church as part of the Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society had opposed the bill the Rt. Rev, Thomas Ely, Bishop of Vermont told The Church of England Newspaper.

In a statement released in December 2011 as the bill was being debated by the legislature, the Council stated their members “seriously doubt, and some reject categorically, that assisted death, whether in suicide, in euthanasia or in capital punishment is an ethically responsible action.”

A 2000 white paper prepared for the Episcopal Church’s 73rd General Convention stated: “The Episcopal Church should continue to oppose physician-assisted suicide near the end-of-life because suicide is never just a private, self-regarding act.”

“It is an act that affects those with whom we are in relation within the community, denying them the sense of meaning and purpose to be derived from caring for us as we die. Moreover, it threatens to erode our trust in physicians, who are pledged to an ethic of healing. Finally, it denies our relationship of love and trust in God and sets us up as gods in the place of God.”

Normalizing nihilism – Euthanasia and the Daily Mirror: Get Religion, June 3, 2013 June 3, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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A story in Thursday’s Daily Mirror about the first English patient suffering from dementia to have traveled to the Dignitas clinic in Zurich to kill himself by physician assisted suicide has prompted several “me too” stories in the British press.

On Friday the TelegraphIndependentBBCDaily Mail and Times  followed the Daily Mirror’s lead and reported that an 83 year old man with early dementia had killed himself at Dignitas seven weeks ago.

The Sunday Times first reported this story in March, however the Daily Mirror splashed the story on their front page last week after it secured an exclusive interview with Michael Irwin, the head of the pro-euthanasia group Society for Old Age Rational Suicide (SOARS).

Irwin told the Mirror he had referred the man to a psychiatrist to provide him with a medical certificate stating he was of sound mind, and hence competent to kill himself. The 83 year old man was his first dementia patient he passed on to Dignitas, but he admits to having sent 24 others to their voluntary deaths in Switzerland.

From the point of view of journalism I find this story problematic — morally this is abhorrent. The article’s lede states:

A British man has become the first dementia sufferer to die at a controversial suicide clinic. The 83-year-old man ended his life at Dignitas in Switzerland because he could not face the agony of the progressive, incurable disease. He also wanted to spare those closest to him from any burden and strain his illness might put on them.

After reporting the facts of the death the Mirror presents its angle.

And last night one campaigner told how the pensioner was “so grateful at the end.” Retired GP Michael Irwin, 81, had arranged for him to see a psychiatrist to produce a report saying he was mentally competent.

Irwin is then offered his moment in the spotlight and he presents his ethical arguments in favor of physician assisted suicide. Prominent supporters of euthanasia give their say (Melvyn Bragg, Terry Pratchett, Lord Falconer) — though it is unclear whether these are comments in response to this incident or general statements about physician assisted suicide.

A contrary view is also offered:

 

But critics fear that if euthanasia was legalised there would be pressure to widen the category of people to be included. A spokesman for Care Not Killing said: “It’s hugely alarming and shows the real agenda of those seeking a change in the law.  What they are looking for is assisted suicide or euthanasia almost on demand. We’ve been warning about an incremental approach, as once you change the law you get more and more cases like this, which is why we are so worried. We know that people who are vulnerable, disabled and terminally ill will be most under pressure.”

The article ends with an editorial statement from the Mirror in favor of physician assisted suicide, but with safeguards.

Assisted suicide is a deeply emotional and ethical issue which understandably creates strong feelings. Our report on an 83-year-old with dementia who ended his life at the Swiss Dignitas clinic adds another dimension to the debate. This paper believes both sides of the argument should be heard and respected.

Some campaigners will fear this case could lead to a relaxation of the rules and place pressure on the vulnerable who feel they are a burden on their family and loved ones. Others will argue the laws should be changed so those who are dying and feel they have no quality of life do not have to travel to Switzerland to end their life in dignity. Nor will they think it is right that those who assist in such deaths, out of compassion, should be liable to prosecution.

Lord Falconer, a former lord chancellor, is seeking to change the law to make assisted dying legal for the terminally ill. Any such legislation must be sensitively crafted and we should consider carefully before extending such rights to people with long-term conditions such as dementia. There is much debate to be had but it would be wrong to ignore the wishes of those who, in very rare cases, want to kill themselves.

The story would have been better served by presenting contrary voices — there are a number of prominent Britons from the medical establishment, the churches and academia to whom the Mirror could have turned to balance the story. It did run a second day story noting that the General Medical  Council — England’s licensing board for doctors — may discipline the psychiatrist.

But the General Medical Council’s guidelines state psychiatrists could be struck off the register if they “knew their actions would encourage or assist suicide”.  It also says they risk censure if they are “writing reports knowing they will be used to enable a person to obtain encouragement or assistance in suicide”.

Why, you might ask would they strike off the psychiatrist and not the “Retired GP Michael Irwin, 81″? Most likely because he has already been struck off for misconduct. In 2005 the BBC reported:

Right-to-die campaigner Dr Michael Irwin, from Surrey, admitted obtaining sleeping pills to help his friend die, but denied the misconduct charge. The 74-year-old has already received a police caution for his actions. A GMC panel said his actions were irresponsible, and found him guilty of serious professional misconduct. Dr Irwin, a former UN medical director and head of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, had said he is too old to practise medicine, but was fighting the case to highlight his call for a change in the law.

Irwin is campaigning to change the euthanasia laws in Britain and the Mirror has given him a soapbox on which to stand to proclaim his agenda. This is a manufactured story. It was covered by the press when the news broke seven weeks ago. What is new is Irwin’s justification and self-promotion. The Mirror did not press Irwin to defend his views or give adequate space to contrary opinions. What we have here is a rewritten press release to which the Mirror has appended its editorial in support of euthanasia. This is not journalism, it’s advertising.

That’s the journalistic issue I have with the story — [and you can stop reading at this point] but I also have moral qualms about what is being reported. In a 2011 piece I wrote a piece for GetReligion on the Dutch euthanasia laws. I argued:

By allowing the killing of people who are not considered fit to live, we are adopting a view of humanity that reduces existence to the balancing of pain and pleasure. Life is worth living when pleasure is greater than pain. This view of life makes irrelevant many of the traits and characteristics of our humanity.  Virtue, duty, courage, honor and even love play no part in this animalistic calculus. It is moral nihilism.

Britain has taken one more step towards the “Brave New World” envisioned by Aldous Huxley. Yet the Michael Irwins and the Mirror editorial board see Huxley’s dystopia as paradise.

Michel Houellebecq in his 2001 novel “The Elementary Particles”  summarizes the world in which we now live:

When Bruno arrived at about nine o’clock, he had already had a couple of drinks and was eager to talk philosophy. “I’ve always been struck by how accurate Huxley was inBrave New World,” he began before he’d even sat down. “It’s phenomenal when you think he wrote it in 1932. Everything that’s happened since simply brings Western society closer to the social model he described. Control of reproduction is more precise and eventually will be completely disassociated from sex altogether, and procreation will take place in tightly guarded laboratories where perfect genetic conditions are ensured. Once that happens, any sense of family, of father-son bonds, will disappear. Pharmaceutical companies will break down the distinction between youth and age. In Huxley’s world, a sixty-year-old man is as healthy as a man of twenty, looks as young and has the same desires. When we get to the point that life can’t be prolonged any further, we’ll be killed off by voluntary euthanasia; quick, discreet, emotionless. The society Huxley describes in Brave New World is happy; tragedy and extremes of human emotion have disappeared. Sexual liberation is total—nothing stands in the way of instant gratification. Oh, there are little moments of depression, of sadness or doubt, but they’re easily dealt with using advances in antidepressants and tranquilizers. ‘One cubic centimeter cures ten gloomy sentiments.’ This is exactly the sort of world we’re trying to create, the world we want to live in

“Oh, I know, I know,” Bruno went on, waving his hand as if to dismiss an objection Michel had not voiced. “Everyone says Brave New World is supposed to be a totalitarian nightmare, a vicious indictment of society, but that’s hypocritical bullshit. Brave New World is our idea of heaven: genetic manipulation, sexual liberation, the war against aging, the leisure society. This is precisely the world that we have tried—and so far failed—to create.”

The Elementary Particles”  pp 136-7 (Alfred A. Knopf edition, 2001)

A personal word might be in order at this point. I have been fortunate to have been able to pursue two vocations — journalism and ministry. I spent five years working as a hospice chaplain specializing in the care of dementia patients — and much of my ministry has been among the poor, disabled and elderly. Hence I approach this subject with two minds — I want to see justice done to the story and justice and compassion shown to those with dementia. This story failed on both counts.

First printed in GetReligion.

Just say “no” to euthanasia: Anglican Ink, May 22, 2013 May 22, 2013

Posted by geoconger in 73rd General Convention, Anglican Ink, The Episcopal Church, Vermont.
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Vermont has become the fourth American state to legalize euthanasia after Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law the “End of Life Choices” Act which permits physicians to administer a fatal overdose to terminally ill patients who wish to commit suicide.

On 20 May 2013 Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill into law after it was approved by the state legislature: 75 to 65 in the House and 17 to 13 in the Senate.

“This bill does not compel anyone to do anything that they don’t choose in sound mind to do. All it does is give those who are facing terminal illness, are facing excruciating pain, a choice in a very carefully regulated way,” the governor said after he signed the bill.

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said this was “a tragic moment for Vermont. It is also a sign of an alarming trend nationwide. In the three states where physician-assisted suicide is now legal, doctors are called upon to destroy life, rather than to save life and provide much-needed comfort in times of pain and distress.”

He urged “all people of good will to fight the future passage of such laws.”

The Episcopal Bishop of Vermont the Rt. Rev. Thomas Ely told Anglican Ink the Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society hosted a series of forums on physician-assisted suicide. It issued a statement in 2003 when the issue was first brought to the legislature and again in 2011, giving a “clean statement of our position.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Sydney churches lobby parliament to defeat euthanasia bill: The Church of England Newspaper, May 19, 2013 p 6. May 22, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper.
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Church leaders in New South Wales called for the rejection of a private members bill that would legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide, urging parliament to support palliative care.

“This is a dangerous bill. If enacted, the bill will redefine the value of the lives of some people as not worth living. Our challenge as a society is to transform the experience of people who are disabled or dying, not to intervene to end their lives,” the President of the NSW Council of Churches, Dr Ross Clifford, said on 8 May 2013.

Greens Party MLC Cate Faehrmann on 2 May 2013 presented “The Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill” to the NSW Legislative Council for debate. Supporters stated the bill would ensure that a patient who has a terminal illness and who is experiencing unacceptable pain or suffering can lawfully receive assistance to end their life if that is their wish.

The bill states that to receive assistance to kill themselves a patient must be: at least 18 years old, be suffering from a terminal illness that is causing severe pain or distress unacceptable to the patient, be fully mentally capable and able to make informed decisions, be a resident of NSW, and have received counseling on other options, including palliative care.

NSW President of Dying with Dignity, Richard Mills said “This legislation provides for people who are suffering terribly and with no prospects for recovery the choice to determine when their life should end,” he said, adding the bill reflected “community attitudes” toward euthanasia.

“Advances in palliative care make assisted death unnecessary. Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on reviews of every death by euthanasia, the NSW Government should improve resources for palliative care so that terminally ill patients in our community receive the care and comfort they deserve at the end of life to minimize suffering,” Dr. Clifford countered.

In his 2010 Synod address the Archbishop of Sydney Dr. Peter Jensen said: “My fundamental problem with [euthanasia] is that we are sinners and we do not have the moral capacity to administer it. It is the myth of so-called voluntary euthanasia. At a moment in time of adversity and suffering we ask people to make up their minds about termination of a life. We cannot – we can never – know what is going through the mind of the sufferer or of those whose lives will be changed by the death of the patient.”

Dr Jensen said the assertion that autonomy was the paramount moral value was a”boldly sectarian and secularist assertion. It is based on the denial of original sin and it leads to a denial of the full humanity of others, since it asks us to be self-centred.”

“It really says that no matter how many cultures there are in modern Australia, the only culture which can be trusted to provide moral guidance is the culture of unbelief. And this is the horrifying culture of individualism, the culture, the cult rather, which is bleeding our society dry of compassion and friendship.” Dr Jensen said.

Mission and Public Affairs Council rejects call to legalize euthanasia: The Church of England Newspaper, November 26, 2012 November 26, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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The Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council has urged Parliament to reject a draft bill that would legalize euthanasia.

In a response published in 15 Nov 2012, the council said proposals put forward by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Choice at the End of Life would harm the social and moral fabric of England.

The proposals offered in APPG’s Safeguarding Choice: A Draft Assisted Dying Bill for Consultation, would “permit people actively to participate in bringing about the deaths of other individuals, something that, apart from cases of self defence, has not formed part of the legal landscape of the United Kingdom since the abolition of capital punishment,” the council said.

The APPG released its draft assisted dying bill on 3 July 2012 and was based upon the recommendations of the Commission on Assisted Dying chaired by the former Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Falconer QC.

On 30 June 2012 Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, the pro-euthanasia group which helped produce the draft bill, said: “The time has come to change the law and allow people the choice of an assisted death if they are competent and nearing the end of a terminal illness. A clear and present problem combined with overwhelming public support means that change is inevitable.”

The council did not agree, saying that legalizing “assisted suicide” undermined the value of human life and created a hierarchy of values that would determine whether a life was worth living based upon “age, illness, disability or economic or social status.”

Allowing people to participate in the deaths of others “would have far-reaching and damaging effects on the nature of our society; a price too great to pay for whatever perceived benefits they might arguably bring to a few.”

The council said that those seeking to end their lives “may be seen as being vulnerable, their position needs to be considered alongside the obvious vulnerability of more than 300,000 elderly people who suffer abuse each year in England and Wales, very many of them at the hands of their own family members, often for pecuniary reasons.”

The question must be asked, the council said was “might a change in the law place more vulnerable people at increased risk of neglect, marginalisation or abuse?  Unless the answer can be a demonstrable and convincing ‘no’ it would be negligent in the extreme to contemplate such a change.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church of England says no to “mercy killing”: Anglican Ink, November 16, 2012 November 16, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Church of England.
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The Church of England has urged Parliament to reject calls to legalize euthanasia.

In a 15 Nov 2012 response to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Choice at the End of Life’s Safeguarding Choice: A Draft Assisted Dying Bill for Consultation, the Church of England Mission and Public Affairs Council said proposals to allow the state to permit some people to kill other people was immoral and unethical.

It would “permit people actively to participate in bringing about the deaths of other individuals, something that, apart from cases of self defence, has not formed part of the legal landscape of the United Kingdom since the abolition of capital punishment,” the council said.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Normalizing nihilism – Euthanasia in Holland: Get Religion, December 9, 2011. December 10, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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It has been almost ten years since the Dutch parliament voted to legalize euthanasia.  While the Netherlands became the first country to grant state sanction to a mercy killing, doctors the world over have long quietly colluded in the “good death” of the terminally ill or those in extreme suffering.  The BBC reported that the 1 April 2002 — April Fool’s Day — law set the following parameters for Dutch mercy killings:

Patients must face a future of unbearable, interminable suffering

Request to die must be voluntary and well-considered

Doctor and patient must be convinced there is no other solution

A second medical opinion must be obtained and life must be ended in a medically appropriate way

The patient facing incapacitation may leave a written agreement to their death

However, the march of progress has not stopped here.  Last month the Daily Caller reported that the Dutch Medical Association sought to “expand the definition of who may qualify for assisted suicide — including for the first time such nonmedical factors as loneliness and financial struggles.”  The article entitled “Netherlands looks to expand euthanasia grounds to include lonely, poor” printed by Washington-based news website stated:

“Many older people have various afflictions that are not actually life-threatening but do make them vulnerable,” wrote the KNMG in a ten-year study report published in October.

“Vulnerability stems not only from health problems and the ensuing limitations, but also the measure in which people have social skills, financial resources and a social network. Vulnerability has an impact on quality of life and on prospects for recovery, and can lead to unbearable and lasting suffering.”

Prior to publishing the study results, the KNMG polled its members online. More than 68 percent agreed with the statement that doctors should be “permitted to factor in vulnerability, loss of function, confinement to bed, loneliness, humiliation and loss of dignity” when determining whether a patient is a good candidate for euthanasia.

This was followed by an article in the 7 Dec 2011 issue of the Telegraph that reported the Dutch government was considering allowing doctors to kill patients in their homes. The article entitled “Mobile euthanasia teams being considered by Dutch government” reported:

In a written answer to questions from Christian Union MPs [Health Minister Edith Schippers] said that mobile units “for patients who meet the criteria for euthanasia but whose doctors are unwilling to carry it out” was worthy of consideration.

“If the patient thinks it desirable, the doctor can refer him or her to a mobile team or clinic,” the minister wrote.

In her written answer Ms Schippers suggested that “extra expertise” could be summoned in complicated cases involving mental health problems or an inability to consent to euthanasia because of dementia.

In the space given to the story, the Telegraph’s reporter does a nice job in raising the moral issues, providing comments from anti-euthanasia activists as well as a government promise that euthanasia will not be abused. It is disquieting though to read:

Dutch medics have been accused of practising euthanasia on demand.

A total of 21 people diagnosed as having early-stage dementia died at the hands of their doctors last year, according to the 2010 annual report on euthanasia.

The figures from last year also showed another year-on-year rise in cases with about 2,700 people choosing death by injection compared to 2,636 the year before.

This is extraordinary. A patient at home whose doctor will not kill him, will be sent another doctor by the government to put them down — and if the patient has dementia and therefore is incapable of meeting the second Dutch death criteria, the request to die must be voluntary and well-considered — an expert will decide. Added to this the Dutch doctors demand that they be allowed to kill those who are unhappy, poor or lonely — I’m very tempted to play the Nazi card.

One of the unofficial rules I have picked up over the years is that whoever plays the Nazi or Hitler card looses the argument. They are no longer making a reasonable argument but making an appeal to sentiment and horror. And when the topic is euthanasia, the murders by Nazi doctors of 75,000 people including 5000 children deemed racially, mentally or physically unfit, is apt to arise. However, I think playing the Nazi card is wrong in this case too, as it detracts from the moral issue at hand — the problem of euthanasia is not that it might be abused, but that it will be used.

By allowing the killing of people who are not considered fit to live, we are adopting a view of humanity that reduces existence to the balancing of pain and pleasure. Life is worth living when pleasure is greater than pain. This view of life makes irrelevant many of the traits and characteristics of our humanity.  Virtue, duty, courage, honor and even love play no part in this animalistic calculus. It is moral nihilism.

What struck me as I read the Daily Caller and Telegraph articles was that although the story arc and tone of the pieces evidenced a dislike of the Dutch way of death — there was little attempt at raising moral or faith objections. It was as if these issues were irrelevant to the story. I am loathe to fault these two stories for this gap in their coverage as I believe Western society is fast reaching the point where moral nihilism is the norm.

These two pieces bring to mind P.D. James 1991 novel The Children of Men — which describes a world where no children have been born for 25 years because men have become infertile. It brings home the terrible implications of this world where mankind has no future.  Violence increases as life grows meaningless. “Freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from boredom,” these are the goals of life. Euthanasia is achieved through a paid incentive program and to the sound of violins, the aged and infirm board ferries that sink in the sea.

How did mankind come to such a place? The protagonist, Theo Faron, writes in his journal:

Much of this I can trace to the early 1990s: the search for alternative medicine, the perfumed oils, the massage, the stroking and anointing, the crystal-holding, the non-penetrative sex. Pornography and sexual violence on film, on television, in books, in life, had increased and became more explicit but less and less in the West we made love and bred children. It seemed at the time a welcome development in a world grossly polluted by over-population. As a historian I see it as the beginning of the end.

And what does  religion say to this sterile world? Faron writes:

During the mid-1990s the recognized churches, particularly the Church of England, moved from the theology of sin and redemption to a less uncompromising doctrine: corporate social responsibility coupled with a sentimental humanism. [The Churches] virtually abolished the Second Person of the Trinity together with His cross, substituting a golden orb of the sun in glory .. Even to unbelievers like myself, the cross, stigma of the barbarism of officialdom and of man’s ineluctable cruelty, has never been a comfortable symbol.

No, I am not asking for a treatment of the problem of pain from the Telegraph. I am bemoaning the state of our culture such that the world painted in James’ dystopian novel appears to be quite like our own — and that the killing of the aged, unfit and infirm by the state has become regrettable, but unremarkable.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

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