Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Compassionate Killing: Reflections on Recent News and Malcolm Muggeridge's "The Humane Holocaust"

The culture of death marches on, and the late "enfant terrible" remains relevant as a social prophet. Malcolm Muggeridge, the famed British journalist, convert, and champion of Mother Teresa, wrote the essay "The Humane Holocaust" in 1980, decrying the use of subjective and selfish standards spewed with a spin of compassion in justifying the destruction of life. Muggeridge asked:

Which vision are we for? On the one hand, as the pattern of our collective existence, the broiler house or factory-farm, in which the concern is solely for the physical well-being of the livestock and the financial well-being of the enterprise; on the other, mankind as a family, all of whose members, whatever physical or mental qualities or deficiencies they may have, are equally deserving of consideration in the eyes of their creator, and whose existence has validity, not just in itself, nor just in relation to history, but in relation to a destiny reaching beyond time and into eternity. Or, in simple terms, on the one hand, the quality of life; on the other, the sanctity of life.

The supposed "quality of life" argument gives a pretty facade to the ugly reality that some people find other people's lives inconvenient and costly, so much so that they would opt to destroy such lives. The option becomes much easier if you can drop the killing conotation, and can be twisted into a moral good if you have a feel-good utilitarian motive for it.

Such notions are being found on both ends of life in the battles over abortion and euthanasia.

Recently,The New York Times celebrates the heroic Dr. Susan Wicklund, a woman who became a compassionate abortionist after having an unpleasant experience while receiving a legal abortion in her early twenties.

Wicklund reveals a prick of conscience in her heart before offering opposition to regulations on abortions:

Dr. Wicklund describes her horror when she aborted the pregnancy of a woman who had been raped, only to discover, by examining the removed tissue, that the pregnancy was further along than she or the woman had thought — and that she had destroyed an embryo the woman and her husband had conceived together.

While that couple's tragedy is never mentioned again, Dr. Wicklund's story ends on a high note:

One question Dr. Wicklund hears “all the time,” she said, is how she can focus on abortion rather than on something more rewarding, like delivering babies.

“In fact, the women are so grateful,” Dr. Wicklund said in the interview. “Women are so grateful to know they can get through this safely, that they can still get pregnant again.

“It is one of the few areas of medicine where you are not working with a sick person, you are doing something for them that gives them back their life, their control,” she added. “It’s a very rewarding thing to be part of that.”

Muggeridge discussed a similar dose of poisoned compassion:

To quiten any qualms Christians might have about it, an Anglican bishop has devised an appropriate prayer for use on the occasion of an abortion which received the approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It runs, "Into thy hands we commit in trust the developing life we have cut short," though whether with the idea of God's continuing the interrupted development elsewhere, or of extinguishing in Heaven the life that was never born on earth, is not clear. In the case of euthanasia, a hymn more in keeping with the occasion - "The life Thou gavest, Lord, we've ended. . . ."

Muggeridge and most of the pro-life advocates a generation ago saw abortion and euthanasia intimately linked. The issues could not be separated from the root of selfishness and power. The unborn child and the elderly cost money to maintain, and they are weak. As abortion became more prevalent, euthanasia became a greater likelihood. Muggeridge played the social prophet against the Culture of Death:

Euthanasia, it is true, has not yet been legalized except in some American states, but notoriously it is becoming practiced on an ever-increasing scale. Already among old people, there is reluctance to go into government institutions for fear of being done away with. As for governments - hard-pressed financially as they all now are, and unable to economize defense expenditure for fear of laying themselves open to the charge of jeopardizing national security, or on welfare expenditure for fear of losing votes - will they not look ever more longingly at the possibility of making substantial savings by the simple expedient of mercy-killing off the inmates of institutions for the incurably sick, the senile old, the mentally deranged, and other such? With abortions and family-planning ensuring a zero population growth rate, and euthanasia disposing of useless mouths against the debilitated old, besides mopping up intervening freaks, the pursuit of happiness should be assured of at any rate financial viability.

Yesterday,The New York Times article "In Hospice Care, Longer Lives Means Money Lost" reported, "Over the last eight years, the refusal of patients to die according to actuarial schedules has led the federal government to demand that hospices exceeding reimbursement limits repay hundreds of millions of dollars to Medicare." While the piece does not mention any advocates of euthanizing the patients, the poorer quality of thir care in light of the Medicare penalties is noted:

A number of hospice providers said ethical and legal constraints would prevent them from discharging patients who outlived their profit potential. But some said they sometimes delayed admission for those patients with illnesses that might result in longer stays.

Viewing the elderly as inconvenient is not limited to governemnt and health care bureaucrats. Consider these quotes from Lillian Rubin's piece on how advances in geriatric care are cutting into inheritances:

“I always expected to inherit some money because my parents have been reasonably well off for most of my life. Not rich, but comfortable and careful with money,” explains a sixty-two-year-old college professor. “But now, I doubt it. My father had Alzheimer’s and spent his last years, nine of them, in a nursing home. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been through it really understands how terrible that is. I don’t mean just the financial burden, which, by the way, was over three-quarters of a million, but the human cost. Seeing someone you love turn into a thing, not a person, and there’s no way out, it’s just terrible, one of the worst experiences in life.”

He stops talking, visibly moved, struggles to contain his emotions, then brightens. “My mother, bless her, is eighty-two and doing great. She moved into one of those assisted-living places a year or so ago, and before she was there a month, she was already practically running the place. It’s great; it keeps her busy. But it’s very expensive. Even with the money she got from selling their house, if she lives another eight to ten years, which right now seems likely, she’ll use up her money, and my sister and I will have to find a way to pay the bills.
“That’s a big twist, isn’t it? You go from knowing you’ll inherit money from your parents to wondering how you’re going to support them. I don’t begrudge her, don’t misunderstand me.” He hesitates, smiles, then in a voice that mimics an Old West cowboy twang, “Ah’m just tellin’ you the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”

and another:

“I love my parents, they’re good people, but you can’t help wondering: How long will they live? My mom’s only seventy-two and Dad’s seventy-six, which isn’t very old these days. If I have to take care of them, and I will, what happens to me and my family? What about my retirement? Who’s going to take care of that?”

There are many active ways people dehumanize one another daily - it happens everytime we sin against one another. However, consciences are clearer in the assertation of self when you deny the full personhood of another person, especially the least of these with whom Jesus so readily identified himself. Granted, the people in Rubin's article are not lobbying for euthanasia, but we can easily anticipate society taking the selfish slouch towards the slippery slope. Likewise, we can anticipate the crowd that calls good evil and evil good shouting down any objections to their shaky life ethic as inhumane and lacking compassion.

The only antidote is active participation in a culture of life.

Muggeridge uses Mother Teresa as our guidepost:

In Christian terms, of course, all this is quite indefensible. Our Lord healed the sick, raised Lazarus from the dead, gave back sanity to the deranged, but never did He practice or envisage killing as part of the mercy that held possession of His heart. His true followers cannot but follow His guidance here. For instance, Mother Teresa, who, in Calcutta, goes to great trouble to have brought into her Home for Dying Derelicts, castaways left to die in the streets. They may survive for no more than a quarter of an hour, instead of feeling themselves rejected and abandoned, they meet with Christian love and care. From a purely humanitarian point of view, the effort involved in this ministry of love could be put to some more useful purpose, and the derelicts left to die in the streets, or even helped to die by the requisite injection. Such calculations do not come into Mother Teresa's way of looking at things; her love and compassion reach out to the afflicted without any other consideration than their immediate need, just as our Lord doeswhen He tells us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked. She gives all she has to give at once, and then finds she has more to give. As between Mother Teresa's holocaust of love and the humane holocaust, I am for hers.

The choice is still between those two holocausts, the holocaust of love and the humane holocaust. Love never fails. Movements will fail. Politics will co-opt our sanctity for selfishness if we are not on guard. We too will march to the drums of the culture of death, unless we dig in our heels now and insist on loving God and our neighbor, without any utilitarian considerations.

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