Monday, January 18, 2010

Screwtape on Physician Assisted Suicide

My dear Wormwood,

Our project is progressing nicely. The Michigan jury has spoken on physician-assisted suicide my dear nephew, and it is a particularly delicious stroke. I assure you your work is not unnoticed in low places. Yet there is much to be done, and no time for resting on laurels.

We must immediately raise objections to this new precedent of law; it is much too narrow for our purposes. While sterile, calculated deaths hold some pleasure, murders of passion and hate are much more satisfying, only bettered in our cause by random, senseless and remorseless mayhem. But I am ahead of the horse. Perhaps interest groups might object to physician exclusivity in the killing fields. While physicians are arguably most qualified to recognize death's glorious approach, there are but a few truly accomplished in the art. Many other professions are better qualified to bring about our purposes. Why exclude professional hunters? Assassins? Pyrotechnician-assisted suicide has a nice ring to it.

Raise the profit motive. Surely there is money in death, and human greed is legendary. Exploit it! Inspire entrepreneurs! I envision international corporations devoted to singularly spectacular exits. Fly them to the top of Everest or shoot the rich ones into what they perceive to be the heavens. The first human to Mars need not return. What about ultimate war games? The possibilities are boundless, so be creative.

Masterful is the only word to describe the way you have transformed a singularly odd, prematurely retired pathologist into a cultural icon. It serves to focus the vermin on death in the very act of avoiding its inevitable grip. To focus in any direction other than the moment of death is counterproductive. Dwelling on the time they have left might encourage them to treasure life, and this is to be avoided at all costs. They may even seek forgiveness one with another, and undo all our best work. Any focus beyond death is even more ominous, for too many have been snatched from our mouths even while the taste of them was on our tongues. Continue to encourage their skepticism about deathbed conversions and reconciliations. Bolster their revulsion for the act of death and anything smacking of less than glowingly vigorous health.

Wormwood, don't long allow them to hide the truth of their actions behind the guise of intractable physical pain (Is it not a sweet irony that while pain becomes more controllable ill-health is less tolerated?). Several of our good doctor's first "patients" were neither in much pain nor very near death, but suffered from psychological pain they simply would no longer bear. When they accept emotions as justification for suicide then we will have nearly all of them.
Allow physicians less control over the deathbed. There is far too much room for compassion and counseling for my tastes. Encourage them to capitulate all hard issues to the legislature and public opinion, arenas where we hold much sway. With proper laws in place we will make doctors feel more manipulated and controlled, and they will resent rather than revere their role at the deathbed. Perhaps they may even be coerced to resent the dying. Splendid!

My dear Wormwood, I see your career going only downward in glorious descent. Guard yourself from humility.

Your affectionate uncle,

With apologies to C. S. Lewis

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Professional Courtesy in the Bible

The following two contrasting biblical accounts of Jesus and the woman with a “flow of blood” seems to be the earliest example of profession courtesy that I have encountered in literature.

Mark. the Evangelist's version:

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

Luke, the Beloved Physician's version:

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

Thanks, Luke.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pat Robertson?

I wonder what part of Romans 2:1 is not clear to him?

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Or Paul's conclusion in Romans 3:9-10?

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one."

I am also reminded of Jesus rebuking those who thought people inside a tower that collapsed must have been particularly despicable. He made the point in Luke 13:4-5:

Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

If there is any response required of believers in a disaster beyond compassion and aid, it is personal repentance, recognizing that we are as deserving of catastrophe as anyone else on the planet. Our prayers: "Lord, how can I help?" and "Have mercy on me, a sinner."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Aliens and Strangers

1 Peter 2:11. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

1 Peter 3:15-16. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, [16] keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Imagine yourself in Paris, sitting in the arrival gate observing the arrival of an international flight to France. First off is a woman in a conservative business suit, looking a bit haggard after a long flight. No one is here to meet her. She removes a small booklet from her pocket, obviously a travel guide, and steps aside to study it. Looking around she makes her way to a counter, where in a broken dialect she attempts to ask for directions to a hotel. The man behind the counter smiles broadly, holds up a finger and answers in practiced English, welcoming her to Paris. Next off is a garrish man in a leisure suit, lime green, with a videocam hanging off one shoulder and a 35 millimeter off the other. He spends the first few minutes in the terminal snapping pictures of various people, without permission. He singles out some kids off to the side, dressed in black leather and wearing their multicolored hair contrary to gravity. “Can you believe how these people dress?” he says, a bit too loudly. After a few minutes of gawking he walks over to the same counter and declares he needs to get to the Hotel Americana. The man stares at him with a politely confused look. “Whazza matter, don’t you speak English?” says the man. “Parle vous Frances?” the clerk replies. “Of course I don’t speak French; I’m just here for a vacation. Now where can I find out how to get to the Vatican?”

We are called by Christ to be strangers in this world, not to be strange. To be aliens, not to alienate. To be within our culture while yet not controlled by it. It takes a critical appraisal of our behavior to make this distinction. We fall into habits and patterns that may be the norm in our religious culture but that are perceived as strange by those we are called to reach, and alienates them for culture, and not because of Christ.

We are strangers in this world, or at least we should be, says Peter. Aliens, passport in hand, just off the boat, not quite ‘at home.’ We should feel the discomfort of not quite fitting in, like the first day of a new job, or the first weeks in a new school. Yet while we are to be strangers, we are certainly not to be strange. Though aliens, we are not to alienate. Paul says the same things when he declares that he strives “to be all things to all men.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Legends of the Fall

There is a fascinating juxtaposition of verses from Genesis concerning the consequences of the fall of man. The curse for the man involved a cursing of the ground, so that he would have to toil for every scrap of food, working hard for the rest of his life simply to eat. This is confirmed by Lamech’s comments, the father of Noah:

28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. 29 He named him Noah and said, "He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed."

The actual curse from Genesis 3 is as follows:

17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."

After the flood, when Noah, son of Lamech, came out of the ark, God said in Genesis 8:

20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.

So then, is the curse of the fall toward the man lifted? It certainly seems so from the context. History would also confirm this, because most of us, though having to work for a living, have an overabundance of food, and the ground is incredibly productive, allowing few of us to be farmers, and all of us to fulfill God’s desire to “fill the earth” with people.

So what now of the curse to the woman? Pain in childbirth can certainly be lessened by modern medicine, though childbirth for most women in the world is still the most dangerous experience of their lives. What of the rest of the curse from Genesis 3?:

16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

One has to ask the question, ‘Of all the consequences in the human experience mentioned in the curses from the fall, is the curse of the husband ruling over his wife the only one not to be lifted from the shoulders of mankind?’ Clearly we are not referring to the consequence of sin that fell upon all mankind through the first Adam, and was lifted at the cost of the suffering of the second Adam. I conclude that any sense of a man or husband ruling over a woman or wife can only be seen to be a curse, and not God’s plan or desire. We are redeemed people, and we should live as such, co-heirs with Christ.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bed Bugs!

Bed Bugs--a Drabble (100 word story)

“Please! Check under the bed,” the little brat brawled.

I stopped, my hand on the door, and sighed. “There are no monsters under the bed.”

“I heard something scraping,” he whined, louder still.

“OK, I will look under the bed if it will make you happy,” I said evenly.

I knelt down, leaning under the bed. A cold, foul vapor crept over my face. Red eyes shifted back and forth in the darkness, and teeth ground.

“No, nothing there,” I said, rising toward the door.

“Good night,” I whispered, turning out the light. “And don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

Hounds of Hell


Delirium. Hydrophobia. Fang marks. Classic rabies. Pentagram tattoo behind the ear? No, no! The Hounds of Hell again.