Friday, August 4, 2017

Was Charlie Gard Euthanized? A Seriously Unhelpful Claim Emerges Among Catholic "Pro-Lifers"

Earlier this week, I posted some testimony about what is happening in a Catholic family I know rather well. My testimony focuses on how the family has divided over questions about how to deal with end-of-life issues in the case of a beloved elderly family member who is nearing death. One wing of this Catholic family adheres to a rigid more-Catholic-than-Catholic interpretation of Catholic moral teaching about the permissibility of withholding extraordinary interventions as dying family members move to the end of their lives.

In the view of this more-Catholic-than-Catholic faction of this particular Catholic family, to withhold all extraordinary interventions as a dying family member moves to the end of his/her life is euthanasia — though Catholic moral theology has long made a clear, important distinction between the act of actively taking the life of another human being, which is morally impermissible (though Catholic moral theology has long accepted capital punishment and killing in "just" wars), and passively permitting a dying person to die naturally, without artificial intervention that prolongs the dying process rather than sustains life. In the view of the more-Catholic-than-Catholic faction of this Catholic family, anyone, including other family members, priests, bishops, or religious, who suggests that it is morally permissible to withhold extraordinary interventions in the case of their dying family member is flatly wrong, is betraying Catholic moral teaching. Is advocating euthanasia . . . .

As my testimony indicated, the discussion of these issues in this particular Catholic family (and my posting suggests it is in some respects typical of many Catholic families in the U.S. now, so that this story has, I'm proposing, a parabolic resonance) has become bitterly entwined with political tensions and tensions about issues of sexual morality that are, on the face of it, not related to the discussion of end-of-life issues at all. The more-Catholic-than-Catholic members of this family taunt their Catholic relatives who did not vote for Donald Trump by hurling the label "euthanasia Democrat" at them.

They live within a world of heightened sensitivity to the issue of euthanasia in which many bogus and outrageous claims have been made, especially during the Obama presidency, about the intent of "the Democrats" to euthanize sick people, babies, elderly folks, and so on. The fact that none of these claims has the slightest foundation in fact — the fact that none of this has happened, is happening, was, as these more-Catholic-than Catholic folks claim, what Obamacare would effect — does not deter them in the least.

They know the truth. No one else does. The truth comes to them through a tightly controlled network of contacts that has, for years now, beamed pure disinformation — scientific and moral disinformation — into their embattled, countercultural, rigidly purist more-Catholic-than-Catholic family network. And so another aspect of the testimony I am providing here, in addition to testimony about how dealing with end-of-life issues in the context of the polarization of Catholicism in the U.S. today creates and reflects serious political divisions, is the aspect of "false news," of bogus, pseudo-scientific information about all sorts of matters, but especially end-of-life and beginning-of-life issues.

I pointed to what happened in the Terri Schiavo case to illustrate this point. Though one medical expert after another confirmed that, as Terri Schiavo was being kept "alive" by artificial means, she was in a persistently brain-dead state, the kind of disinformation networks to which these more-Catholic-than-Catholic folks are hooked up disseminated all sorts of fabulous claims about how Terri Schiavo had moments of consciousness, communicated with family members, laughed. 

But the autopsy done following her death confirmed what medical experts had found all along — that her brain was in a seriously degenerated state, and she could not have been conscious, have been communicating and laughing. The Terri Schiavo case suggests that right-wing Christians in the U.S. are highly susceptible to faux news, to disinformation, about scientific findings in end-of-life cases and about the issue of euthanasia, in particular. The issue of euthanasia has become a shibboleth issue by which they distinguish themselves as "real" Catholics from other Catholics who continue holding to traditional Catholic moral teaching about end-of-life issues. 

As the more-Catholic-than-Catholic faction of this particular Catholic family hurls the epithet "euthanasia Democrat" at their family members who did not vote for Donald Trump and do not support him, they claim that a "real" Catholic, a "pro-life" one, would have voted for and would support Donald Trump. Because he's pro-life. And the Democrats are "euthanasia Democrats."

Never mind that he and his political party have wanted to rip healthcare coverage from millions of needy citizens. This is not an issue that these more-Catholic-than-Catholic "pro-life" voters intend to engage. They do not intend to talk about the fact that removing healthcare coverage from people assaults their lives and often results in their deaths. They prefer to rely on disinformation, on faux news, accessible to them through their gnostic information networks, which informs them that the Obamacare program is a euthansia program designed to give the federal government the right to put to death the elderly, babies, incurably ill folks, mentally challenged folks, and so on.

My posting several days ago added one other wrinkle to this discussion now occurring within a Catholic family in the U.S., in which some family members consider themselves more Catholic than other family members, and are willing to exclude and attack their own Catholic family members insofar as they do not live up to the standards of the more-Catholic-than-Catholic faction: this is a family that, like all large families, has some LGBTQ family members. 

The more-Catholic-than-Catholic faction in this family has joined "pro-life" rhetoric to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, as if the two form a seamless garment for "real" Catholics who intend to be faithful to Catholic teaching while other "false" Catholic family members abandon it. It is a moral imperative for them not only to attack their non-Trump-supporting family members as "euthanasia Democrats," but also to attack and exclude their family members who are LGBTQ, treating them as non-family, as unworthy of being approached with respect and included in family decisions and family events.

This reiteration of points I made in a previous posting is by way of background today. Today, I want to ask a question about an essay that Catholic theologian Charles Camosy published yesterday, in which he maintains that "Charlie Gard was euthanized." 

What I want to ask is this: Is this helpful language to apply to the Charlie Gard case? Is this helpful language to apply to a tragic case in which an infant was diagnosed by medical experts as terminally ill, and removed from life support because his condition was incurable — and, according to expert medical findings, it was his dying process that was being extended by life-support technology and not his life?

One of the key legs on which Camosy rests the stool of this argument leading to the conclusion that "Charlie Gard was euthanized" is the claim that "physicians regularly make serious mistakes." And that "[p]olling shows that Americans trust members of the medical sciences to act in the public interest more than they trust religious leaders, elected officials, or business leaders."

It would be fatuous to maintain that physicians always make correct medical decisions, or that they and their conclusions should not always be critically engaged — especially when the life of a beloved family member is at stake. But in my view, none of this is really germane to this particular argument: as I hear Camosy's argument and place it against the backdrop of the horrendous, ugly noise within a segment of American Catholicism right now about "euthanasia Democrats" and Terri Schiavo and Obamacare, I hear, instead, an argument that leans dangerously in the direction of legititmating scentific gobbledygook and political conclusions that are toxic to the pro-life movement.

I would propose that many Catholics who are unwilling to move to Camosy's conclusion that "Charlie Gard was euthanized" are unwilling to reach that conclusion not because we imagine all expert medical opinion is infallible, but because we are sick to death of the kind of faux news members of the so-called pro-life movement keep disseminating about these cases — to serve noxious political ends that are anything but pro-life, such as the goal of removing healthcare coverage from millions of citizens. It's not medical experts that we've learned to be suspicious of: it's "pro-life" Christians hurling epithets about "euthansia Democrats" and claiming that a brain-dead woman is laughing and communicating, while these "pro-life" Christians also hate and exclude LGBTQ family members as if this behavior is a necessary extension of a "pro-life" ethic.

Any thoughts about this, readers? (Thank you, by the way, for your many good comments that I have been reading with great interest all week, but have not yet had a chance to acknowledge, in most cases. I am very happy you feel free to talk with each other in the discussion spaces here, and impressed by the high quality of the conversation, from which I am learning much.)

The headscratcher illustration is from The Evening Ledger (Philadelphia, May 4, 1916), and was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Johnny Automatic of Open Clip Art Library.

No comments: