Thursday, May 13, 2010

Are We Sliding from "Right to Life" to "Duty to Die?"

A while back, at least 10 years ago, I think, a friend of mine was telling me about his father being diagnosed with a serious condition, one that would take his life if untreated. As I listened sympathetically, he told me how the treatment would be tough on him, but there was a decent chance he could gain several years, or possibly make a full recovery. And then he hit me with a brick:
"I told him he shouldn't get treated. Why go through that? It'll take at least 3 months to recover. He's 70 for chrissake. He's lived a good life. It's time to let it go."
Caught completely off guard, and never really having come so face-to-face with that kind of thinking, I didn't argue the point directly very hard; mostly noting that his condition was not that uncommon, success was likely, and his father was going to go forward with treatment anyway. Sadly, this display of a "life is not worth fighting for" (or at least worth paying for) attitude in the face of routine (yet serious) treatment is not isolated.

Thomas Sowell points out, in the context of an example from his childhood, that not only is this kind of attitude not rare, but, in certain circles, it is downright fashionable to the point that it is viewed as an obligation for the elderly to sacrifice themselves in this way. Yes, there is the pragmatic truth that suspending the spending for life-saving treatments is a sure-fire method of addressing the cost containment problem of modern medicine in a mixed economy; one of the precious few that the government actually could enforce should it finally enter into the control of medical care. (You don't have to like terms like "rationing," or "death panels," to admit honestly that that is effectively what mechanisms are in place already in our "model" states for "universal healthcare.")

Mr. Sowell puts the cause for such fashionableness at the foot of academe:
Much of what is taught in our schools and colleges today seeks to break down traditional values, and replace them with more fancy and fashionable notions, of which "a duty to die" is just one.

These efforts at changing values used to be called "values clarification," though the name has had to be changed repeatedly over the years, as more and more parents caught on to what was going on and objected. The values that supposedly needed "clarification" had been clear enough to last for generations and nobody asked the schools and colleges for this "clarification."
Go back to the case of my friend. Was this notion planted by some teacher in high school, or college? Perhaps, but I think there is more to it. His response wasn't trying to rationalize by appealing to some greater societal good, nor was it a plea for his father to avoid suffering; some form of suffering was inevitable either way.

*** Sidebar
I wonder how much suffering there was in learning his son's thinking that, despite a reasonable prognosis, he'd lived long enough already.
*** End sidebar

No, it was the bother of it all. The thing is that the pursuit of convenience and affluence is not limited to elites, nor does it require the academy for its propagation. Pop culture, for example, works just fine, thank you.

In my observation, once someone walks away from one of the Ten Commandments, he finds that they like to travel together and ends up with just a few of them still hanging around with him. Here I agree with Mr. Sowell. Take these tradition-derived values and include others such as the three named explicitly in our nation's founding document. The current process of replacing them with fashionable notions hasn't been born of hardship, hasn't been clamored for by the masses, and hasn't made us better people.

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