June 15, 2005
Life. . .Death. . .not quite life? Death?
Today the news is full of the autopsy reports of Terri Schaivo. The general scientific sense is that nothing more could have been done for Terri, her brain had atrophied to less than half normal size and some parts had simply been completely destroyed, in effect, GONE. I didn't agree with taking Terri off life support, but I didn't necessarily support keeping her on it either. It's a difficult case, and that's what I want to expound on today.
As a society, we've got real fundamental problems when it comes to discussing life, death, the creation of life and the brining of death. It amazes me day in and day out when I see the far right and far left square off on things like abortion, the death penalty, war and stem cell research. Further, these debates have at their centers, a core that touches the fundamental building blocks of religion, then builds from that a moral construct of how everyone should behave, interact, create, destroy and relate with regard to one another.
So lets put some things on the table.
Abortion -- I hate abortion, I think it should be a last resort. I've been involved in decisions about abortion, I've seen it as the only acceptable recourse in a situation and I've seen it as a horrible consequense of fear and misunderstandings. In short, I'm firmly Pro-Choice, but the concept itself makes my heart hurt. Does this make me a contradiction? Does it make me a hypocrit? Of course it does. In questions of morality, justice, fairness, economics, faith, life and death we are all hypocrits, those that claim they are not are either deluding themselves or big fat liars.
The Death Penalty -- Big supporter here. Gotta have it gotta use it, in fact, it should be expanded to include so-called lesser crimes such as rape, molestation and transmitting potentially fatal infections knowingly. There's a point in every situation that you have to simply give up and bite the hard bullet. The goal here is to protect the life, liberty and happiness of the population at large, and defend these same rights for the individual. However, when someone starts hacking people up with axes because they lost a poker hand. You gotta stand back and say to yourself, "Ok, that guy doesn't get to play anymore, EVER!"
People could say that we can accomplish the same with locking people up for 20 years, life or 20 consecutive life sentences, but does that really solve the problem of the axe-murdering loser??? Of course it doesn't. It does however create a person with nothing left to lose, who will live on in a state of semi-anarchy, fighting for life in a colony of similar dead-enders who form semi-fuedalistic fiefdoms based upon fear and violence preying on "lesser criminals" who we are supposedly "rehabilitating". You need to eventually cut your losses in the investment of societal capital in the aforementioned axe-murderer (or rapist). There are FAR BETTER uses of our finite resources. DO YOU REALIZE we spend more money (and resources) keeping a killer locked up than we do caring for an orphan placed in foster care? THAT'S A CRIME IN AND OF ITSELF. As a society, we've placed a greater value (determined by the use of resources) on a killer than we do the potential for a young human life to develop into a productive member of society.
War - There are times when people NEED to fight it out. Diplomacy is the big concept, and WAR is a subset of that concept. There are times when you truely NEED to kick the living shit out of a group of people. The NAZI's were a perfect example, perhaps THE perfect example, but there are plenty of other examples out there. Napoleon truely needed an ass kicking, Atila the Hun needed one too, we're just lucky he choked on a chicken or dog bone or something. Throughout history there have been groups of people that come together under a philosophy, religion, economic system or person that just wind up being a bad idea, at a bad time, in a bad place for bad reasons. Usually, this collection of "badness" creates a groupthink that leads to invasions, threats, attacks and passive aggressive behavior that seeks to impinge on those that hold a different perspective. It can be as simple as "Who own's that river?" or as complex as "My God's name is Allah, but you call him Jehova, you must DIE!!!"
The events leading to war are generally pretty similar, but vary in particulars. In a nutshell though, normally one group or collection of groups decides that their views are the only right, just and correct views to hold. This is followed by posturing, chest pounding, and thumping of clubs on the ground (this part is generally referred to as diplomacy). Eventually, someone's going to give ground. Normally the side that gives ground first is the one that holds the stronger deck of cards, it's usually the more tolerant and submissive side. It's also usually side that is happy with the way life is progressing (generally) and the side that wants everyone to get along and move forward together. The other side (now known as the aggressor) usually takes this backing down or inaction as a sign of weakness, which increases the agressors furvor as they misunderstand the appeasment as a victory for their cause, many times, the aggressor will use this opportunity to ATTACK. Then you get a WAR!
Sometimes, the aggressor is far stronger than the just party in the conflict, such as Germany and Poland. Other times, it's a ludicrous display and a last gasp or grasp for power that the aggressor hopes will lead to victory or worldwide revolution (think Yugoslavia).
Which brings us to today's war. Let's face facts and I'll make this quick because what I really want to get to is Stem Cells. The Western World has been giving ground to Muslims for some time. While the West (and in many cases, the East) is seeing great success in improving the quality of life of people, the Muslim world is doing everything it can to move in the opposite direction. The Western (and Eastern) world have effectively destroyed slavery in their midst over the last 300 years, the Muslim world still clings to it, even expanding it. Whilst the Western world (and to a lesser extent the Eastern one) is giving women equality with men, the Muslim world is moving in the opposite direction. As the Western and Eastern Worlds embrace science, medicine and technology for the betterment of mankinds, the Muslim world is rejecting many of the most basic scientific advances. The culture that gave us the ZERO and was once the most scientifically active on the planet, has, after the teachings of Mohammed took hold, effectively become an Iron Age culture that believes that God/Allah is turning little girls into dogs for throwing a book.
We gave ground to the Muslim extremists. We tried for years to accomodate them to the point of lunacy. We've thrown money, food, shelter, education and protection at them for the last 100 years and they still rage against the world. Our conversion is their only goal, with our deaths being the only other acceptable option. Anyone who doesn't realize this simple fact is an idiot. I'm sorry to be that harsh, but come on now. These people want us dead because we choose to recognize people have different views on who Allah/Jehova/Yahweh/Buddha/Bob is. They want us dead because we're not willing to submit all of our waking energy to the worship of an as yet unproven, unseen, unheardfrom and totally irrational construct of THEIR creation.
It's INSANITY in it's purest form. For this reason alone, it must be stopped, and that, unfortunately at this time and in this place, means WAR.
Which brings us to the final topic of this rant, but the one that hopefully ties it all together to demonstrate some very basic problems we have as a society. They are problems that we can overcome, but it requires some intellectual honesty and some decisions that will make both the anarchist atheist and the most devout Deist cry.
Stem Cell Research - This is a very tricky subject because it brings with it so many different possibilities for research avenues and promises to bring forth many advances that might be helpful or even life-saving to so many people. Personally, I support stem cell research, I support any scientific research avenues that can lead to a betterment of the human condition.
HOWEVER, and this is a BIG however, stem cell research is a HUGE pandoras box awaiting to devour us as a species. If we cannot answer very simple questions such as "when does life begin" and "when is it acceptable as a society to take life" WE HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS WHATSOEVER playing around with stem cell research and it's associated offshoots.
This issue is truely going to be one that will plague us for some time forward, and no one seems willing to tackle the questions necessary for this issue to move forward without causing major trainwrecks in the future.
Lets ponder for a minute where this is going to go. Suppose stem cells become the great savior for millions of people that the supporters fortell. We're going to have to get these cells from somewhere. Discarded embryos won't supply the demand if this works out. You may scoff, but someone, somewhere will capitalize on the demand for stem cells and travel down a road we don't want. That road involves, impregnation, then abortion and harvesting of the relevant cellular material. If that concept doesn't horrify you as a reader, I suggest you stop reading now and check yourself into a mental institution.
Proponents will say "that will never happen" we'll pass laws to prevent it. We will??? Yeah right. If we can't get a consensus on the fact that aborting a 7 month old fetus is wrong, I doubt we'll be able to put restrictions on someone aborting a pregnancy for profit. And who ever said this would happen here? Many rogue entities in various countries are already going forward with cloning humans, Italian scientists have already claimed that they've succeeded. If stem cells work, mark my words, within a few years of a standardized treatment protocol, we'll have news items describing wards in Russia or Africa or South America where women are repeatedly impregnated and then undergo abortions to collect the necessary material. It will happen, all it will take is ONE person to make the moral leap that it's "for the good of others" and BAM, we've got mommy-farms. If it's illegal, it'll become a black market, and what's illegal here won't be illegal someplace else if there's money to be made.
Beyond the mommy-farm nightmare scenario, we're opening up the cloning door more and more by travelling down this road. All of your science fiction horror stories about clones being grown and kept are going to come to life. Eventually, the populace will be so intoxicated with the possibility of "eternal life" that cloning will be accepted. But what property rights will become involved. Are we to become a society where for every human with means will have a few clones in storage for kidney transplant? What happens when some rogue nation decides to develop a clone army a la Star Wars? You may laugh, but don't you think that if the technology were available that Kim Jong Il would be running with it?
What value will we place on human life when we can create it in vast numbers from a gene bank, after we've refused to answer the hard moral and ethical questions about "what is life" "who owns their own genetic material" and "what are the rights of a life form created in mass quantities"?
At what point to we place the individual human rights we hold so dearly on an entity? Is it when a baby is born to a mother? Is it at conception? That won't fly once we're growing clones. But then again, if a clone baby has rights, but no parents and was created by a corporation, does that corporation have the same parental rights and responsibilities as a human set of parents? What if that particular clone was grown to provide a second heart or liver for a customer and the time comes to take that heart from the clone? Will that clone have a clone, ad infinitum?
But back to stem cells. As I said, I'm supportive of the research. I'm also VERY supportive of the current policy to NOT ALLOW government funding to finance such research. The proponents of Stem Cell research try to call this a "BAN" on Stem Cells. That's just political gamesmanship. There is NO BAN ON STEM CELL RESEARCH. There is a prohibition of federal funding for such reasearch, and I think that's for good reason. If the government were to suddenly find a treatment and be in need of massive quantities of stem cells to implement said treatment, we've have a severe dilemma on our hands. The government would be literally forced to create life on some level and then destroy it. Over and over and over and over again. Such an activity would rip the very fabric of our society apart as the bonds of family, education, responsibility, human rights and almost every interpersonal interaction would be tipped on it's ear.
The simple point that this all boils down to is this. We're reaching a point in our society that we MUST confront some of these questions about life and death that face us everyday but we play the ostrich by sticking our head in the political sand and avoiding it. We must sit down and have a respectful, calm and well examined discussion about the nature of life and our rights as they apply to it. We can't keep on playing a political game where large groups of people argue for abortion on demand with their left hand and then with their right, they decry the death penalty. Conversely we cannot keep playing the game where we call out for no abortion while supporting the death penalty.
These are the fundamental problems with both sides of our political spectrum. Sure there are more issues out there, but these are by far the most important when we think about life, rights, death and even taxes (Would a clone be required to pay taxes on the financial worth of their organs ready for harvest? Yeah, that's extreme, I know).
Most unfortunately, this is an issue that's very easy to ignore becuse it's so hard to deal with rationally, both sides of the debate have so much invested in their absurd rhetoric that they can't sit down and logically look at the real issues. Adding to this is the fact that in order to answer the questions and deal with the issues, BOTH SIDES WILL LOSE, on the up side, the winner will be humanity as a whole.
Thank you for taking the time to read this rant. It's a huge issue and I've skipped many facets of it. I've expounded on some elements in the extreme, and I've simplified others. It's not intended to be anything other than an encouragement for people to begin thinking about the issue of life, death and how human rights apply.
It's a debate that needs to happen, I only hope we can have it and come to a consensus before the questions themselves devour us and we become some science ficion nightmare of a society.
To recap -
Abortion - Hate it, understand it, Pro-Choice, but not happy about it.
Death Penalty - Gotta have it, gotta use it, it's a matter of what's best for society as a whole.
War - It's inevitable, try to avoid at all cost, when it comes, be brutal and quick and get it over with to move on.
Stem Cells - For it, but I realize that we're not ready for the consequences. We aren't really ready for the question, much less the answer.
Cloning - See above, but now the question is bigger and the answer is gargantuan.
Time for a real debate world. Not just political soundbites and appeals to heartstrings and cries of oppression.
Posted by JasonColeman at June 15, 2005 11:28 AM
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