Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ethics of Life and Death

The varied media have, again, raised awareness of the tragic situation in Austin, Tx of Emilio Gonzales – a 17 month old child hospitalized with Leigh’s disease (a rare genetic disorder for which there are no known cures). CNN, Fox, the major networks, and most daily newspapers have focused on the struggle between parent and care givers.

Emilio’s mother believes he still responds to stimuli and that all treatment should continue. “I love my kid so much, I have to fight for him…that’s your job – you fight for your son or your daughter. You don’t let nobody push you around or make decisions for you.”

Austin Children’s Hospital believes continued treatment “inflicts suffering.” “We are inflicting harm on this child. And it’s harm that is without a corresponding medical benefit.”

“Who should decide whether or not to treat?” appears to receive the most attention. One ethicist, Dr Lainie Ross from the University of Chicago, thinks Emilio’s mom should “decide if his life is worth living.” Another ethicist, Dr Art Caplan from the University of Pennsylvania, believes “there are occasions when family members just don’t get it right. No parent should have the right to cause suffering to a kid in a futile situation.”

To the extent that our attention stays focused on the tragicness of the situation we will continue to avoid the many issues raised in such circumstances.
Arguments as to who may or may not “play god” are very non-productive!
Were we playing “god” when we put the child on the respirator?
If “god” is determined to keep Emilio alive, then neither our treatment nor its lack will be determinative.
The issue of adequate insurance for medical care is very relevant. Emilio is on Medicaid – and that government program almost never pays so as to cover costs.
As a parent expressing my desire for my child, do I automatically have the power to obligate the larger community to significant expenses? Only expenses related to treatment of sickness? Might I, also, obligate society to other costs associated with raising a child (food, clothing, housing, schooling, etc.)?
What should we do to provide medical treatment/care for the millions in our nation who do not have health insurance? The children unable to receive basic, routine vaccinations? The children whose diabetes goes poorly treated, resulting in other health concerns?
Are we willing to treat only those with access to the media? The dying child? The mentally disturbed college student who kills 32 others?
The issue of intelligent allocation of resources is one we often wish to avoid.
The resources (staff, medicines, dollars) spent to provide care for Emilio are not available for other children with greater prospects for quality of life.
The resources (staff, medicines, dollars) spent to provide “treatments” for thousands of others who are terminally ill – rather than providing “care” for them – place tremendous strains on our professional personnel (doctors, nurses, technicians, etc) leaving them less prepared to care for society as a while.
The monies we direct towards discretionary concerns [ie. wrinkles, fat, cosmetic needs, etc.) means less money to eradicate those diseases which still cause death.
The reality that we live in an imperfect world and that dying and death are integral to that world. Not every dilemma is resolvable by labeling “good” versus “bad”. Emilio’s mother, from all news available to us, is a “good” mother. Emilio’s treatment team at Austins’ Children, from all accounts, is a “good” team. Casting them in antagonistic roles does them all a disservice. And, it allows us to ignore our own mortality!

This issue, coming in these weeks after Easter, would be an excellent topic for discussion in our parishes. Does the “resurrection” speak to issues of the care of the sick at all?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


NPR recently carried a discussion re: meanings and uses of the words “conservative” and “liberal”. While we have moved from a culture that comfortably separates people on the basis of their skin color, the labels of “conservative” or “Liberal” enjoy significant use.
Denominations, as well as parishes within denominations, are labeled as “conservative” or “liberal” – usually in a derogatory fashion!
One’s few on how humans live out their sexuality are labeled “conservative” or “liberal” irrespective of what modern scriptural textual criticism or science have offered.
Political ideas are affirmed or denied insofar as they can be labeled “conservative” or “liberal”.
One’s position re: the war in Iraq is labeled “conservative” or “liberal”, rather than seen as for peace or for achieving stability.
Around the globe nations struggle with the issue of abortion, unable to develop dialog beyond the labels of “conservative” or “liberal”!

It occurred to me during that NPR discussion there appeared to be a large assumption! It was assumed that listeners would automatically know how the words “conservative” or “liberal” were being defined. Further, that those definitions were so well known as to not make any additional qualifiers necessary.

Yet, that is not how it has worked in my life. The majority of individuals who know me assign the “liberal” title to my thoughts and positions. Yet-
o in the 1960s I was a strong supporter of Barry Goldwater for President
o my approach to budget management in the parishes I have served as interim is very conservative
o my approach to how we use the earth and creation affirms ‘conservation’ as the norm.

There are similar inconsistencies in folks generally labeled as “conservative”. Individuals who supported mission trips to Mexico, led programs that asked people to take funds from their I.R.A. to support their parish, and who strongly pursued the use of technology in worship.

Indeed, one might reasonably conclude that the terms “conservative” or “liberal” actually cloud issues that require full discussion if resolution is to be attained. A conclusion that is even supported by a review of how the Cambridge and American Heritage dictionaries define them.
Ø Conservative: favoring traditional views and values; tending not to like change; tending to conserve/preserve natural resources
Ø Liberal: respecting & allowing many different types of beliefs or behavior; not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views or dogmas; tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others

Most of us will discover ourselves defined by both words. I might “favor” a traditional view towards worship – and can respect a different approach. I can be “pro-choice”, affirm the choice of a gay or lesbian to seek a committed relationship, and be open to the religious creeds of non-Christians – AND – affirm that life does begin even before conception, affirm that the truths in ancient scriptural texts reflected cultural and knowledge levels of that day rather than being the norms for today, and continue to seek to follow the teachings of Jesus as appropriate for me [without the necessity of making them absolutes for all].

Let’s seek to have dialogue without resorting to inappropriate labels of “conservative” or “liberal”.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Do you love me?

Jesus' question of Peter is no less critical in 2007. What might that mean as we contemplate the 32 dead at Virginia Tech; the 200+ killed last week in Bagdad; the hundreds/thousands of Iraqi children killed since the war started?
Easy approach is to feign impotence. "They" have all the power. We know that becomes a self-fulfilling act!
Take 15 minutes a day to:
1. Identify the issue that most concerns you.
2. Identify the folks with whom you wish to share that concern.
3. Write them a one page letter about your concern, asking them to work with you.
4. Trust the power that comes when 2 or more come together in a mission.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Synergy - an asset

Webster gives two definitions for "synergy" -
1. An ancient theological doctrine holding that in regeneration there is cooperation of divine grace and human activity.
2. A cooperative action of discrete agencies such that the total effect is greater than the sum of the two or more effects taken independently.
It is my hope to create dialogues -
a. between trends and issues gleaned from avid readings
b. between colleagues [clergy & lay] involved in ministries.