Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Belgium's Big Business: Organ Harvesting

Belgium is plagued by a culture of death and has been for many decades. By a vote of 50 to 17, the Belgian Senate approved euthanasia for children in December 2013. In a case that attracted world attention, Belgian doctors killed 45-year-old deaf identical twins who were going blind in 2013. Since before 2011, Belgium doctors have been harvesting the organs of euthanised patients. It is a big business there.

In the latest news from Belgium, a 24-year-old woman who is suffering from depression but is otherwise healthy will be euthanised.

She qualifies for "the right to die" under the Belgian law, even though she does not have a terminal or life-threatening illness.

The 24-year-old woman, known simply as Laura, has been given the go-ahead by health professionals in Belgium to receive a lethal injection after spending both her childhood and adult life suffering from "suicidal thoughts", she told local Belgian media.

Laura has been a patient of a psychiatric institution since the age of 21 and says she has previously tried to kill herself on several occasions. She told journalists: "Death feels to me not as a choice. If I had a choice, I would choose a bearable life, but I have done everything and that was unsuccessful." The date of Laura's death is yet to be decided.

Read more here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Peter Singer "Disinvited" Again

From BioEdge

Peter Singer is in hot water in Germany again over his controversial views.

The Australian utilitarian philosopher began his royal progress through Europe well. In late May he added another two honorary doctorates -- from the Universities of Athens and of Bucharest -- to his extensive collection of awards and distinctions. From there he went to Berlin to receive the inaugural “Peter Singer Prize for Strategies to Reduce the Suffering of Animals”. He was introduced in glowing terms by Maneka Gandhi, Indian Minister of Women and Child Development, who is president of People for Animals in her own country. A German politician explained why he was so popular: “Peter Singer's ideas are logical, free from religion and easy to understand”.

However, these encomiums were lost on a gathering outside where about 250 people had assembled to protest the invitation. Their message was that Singer believes in killing babies.

The protest may have unnerved the organisers of an eight-day (only in Germany!) philosophy festival in Cologne called phil.Cologne. Singer’s invitation to speak on May 31 was cancelled -- a bit odd, considering that he had been described in the conference programme as “one of the world’s most influential philosophers”. "How can you call yourself a philosophy festival, if you are too afraid to discuss issues that bother some people?" an exasperated Singer told the K├Âlner Stadt-Anzeiger afterwards. "Hasn’t that always been the role of philosophers since the days of Socrates?"

What happened?

While the organisers were aware of Singer’s stark views on infanticide and euthanasia, they must have hoped that the public would focus on his role as the foremost theorist of animal liberation. The title of his session was to have been “Will vegans save the world?”

Unfortunately, on May 26 a Swiss newspaper published an interview with Singer in which, under aggressive questioning, he expressed his views with characteristic frankness. Whatever else may be said about Peter Singer, he is no equivocating trimmer. Here are some selections. (Thanks to a reader of the Leiter Reports blog for the translation.)

Neue Zuricher Zeitung: You do not consider an infant to be more worthy of protection than an embryo. On the other hand, you do not necessarily ascribe a higher status to humans than to animals.

Peter Singer: Belonging to the human species is not what makes it morally wrong to kill a living being. Why should all members of the species homo sapiens have a right to life, whereas other species do not? This idea is merely a remnant of our religious legacy. For centuries, we have been told that man was created in the image of God, that God granted us dominion over the animals and that we have an immortal soul.

NZZ: If you were standing in front of a burning house with 200 pigs and one child inside, and you could choose to save either the animals or the child, what would you do?

PS: At a certain point, the animals' suffering becomes so great that one should choose to save the animals over the child. Whether this point occurs at 200 or two million animals, I don't know. But one cannot let an infinite number of animals burn to save the life of one child…

NZZ: How about yourself: are you useful enough?
PS: Considering the influence I've had, my choice of profession is justified. I have motivated people to think about reducing animal suffering and helping people who live in extreme poverty…

NZZ: Would you go as far as to torture a baby if this were to bring about permanent happiness for the whole of mankind?

PS: This question is from Dostoevsky's "The brothers Karamazov"; Ivan poses it to his brother Alyosha. I may not be capable of doing it, as it is in my evolutionarily developed nature to protect children from harm. But it would be the right thing to do. Because if I didn't, thousands of children would be tortured in the future.

This is not the first time that Singer has been “disinvited” in Germany. Back in 1989, 1990 and 1991 engagements in Germany, Switzerland and Austria were cancelled after vehement protests from disability groups. 

Read the comments here.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Quote of the Week - Edward Bouverie Pusey

The revival of High Church catholicity in the Church of England was expressed in the Oxford Movement, and its acknowledged leader was Edward Bouverie Pusey, who said, "We must bend our minds and conform them to the teaching of Holy Scripture, or men will end in bending Holy Scripture to their own minds, and when it will not bend, will part with it."

In 1833 Pusey joined John Keble and John Henry Newman in producing the Tracts for the Times, which gave the Oxford Movement its popular name of Tractarianism.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Controlling the Muslim Population in Myanmar

Rohingya Muslim girls in Myanmar's strife-torn Rakhine state

It is hard to imagine a more inhumane policy than China's one-child policy. But there is one: the two-child policy imposed on Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims. In 2013, the Myanmar government reaffirmed a 2005 policy which punishes Rohingya women who bear more than two children with hefty fines and loss of legal rights for the children.

Here is more on this attempt to control ethnic minorities.

Burma (or Myanmar) has recently passed a law that seeks to control the country's population. According to this report from Deutsche Welle:

“The president of Myanmar has signed a controversial population control bill into law, state media reported on Saturday. The law requires mothers to have their children three years apart. It was passed over the objections of rights activists, who say that it not only represses women, but also religious and ethnic minorities.”

Now, currently Burma's population is about 60 million, but its current total fertility rate is at only 2.23 children per woman, not too far above the replacement rate of 2.1. So where is the crisis of burgeoning population growth to justify such a measure? Well, apparently the Act (The Population Control Health Care Act) was drafted under some pressure “from hard-line Buddhists with anti-Muslim sentiment in mind” according to Burmese media. It is the belief of some that the Muslim proportion of the population (around 10 percent of the whole) has such a high birth rate that it could end up becoming the majority in the future. The head of Human Rights Watch's Asia office, Brad Adams, certainly thinks that this is what is driving the measure and is not afraid of pulling any punches in saying so:

"Activists with a racist, anti-Muslim agenda pressed for this population law, so there is every reason to expect it to be implemented in a discriminatory way"

The power has been given to local authorities to implement the three-year birth spacing requirement in areas with rapid population growth, but as the statute doesn't describe any punitive measures for non-compliance, I presume it will be up to the local authorities to tailor their own penalties.

Once again we can see a government seeking to regulate the most intimate decisions that families can make. Presumably if the new Act is to have any effect on people’s decisions the authorities will have to come up with some way of enforcing it and placing people in impossible situations of bending to the law or facing the consequences. Presumably this Act will fall on the poorest most heavily (particularly if the penalty is pecuniary) and presumably will further exacerbate feelings between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority. Whether it will have a deleterious effect on Burma’s fertility rate remains to be seen.

From here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Quote of the Week - Rt. Rev Patricia Storey

“I believe that civil partnerships give gay people clear civil rights and recognition as people committed to one another, and I fully endorse this. However, I do not think that this requires the redefinition of marriage to uphold it, and I do not believe that marriage should be redefined.”-- Rt. Rev Patricia Storey, in a letter to the clergy in the United Diocese of Meath and Kildare

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Death for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The death penalty as punishment for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings of April 2013 was always on the cards for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev once his case was put in the hands of a federal court. Massachusetts, the state where Tsarnaev and his older brother made their fatal attack on the famous marathon run, does not allow the death penalty. But federal law does – and 60 percent of Americans, according to a CBS poll, support this fate for the young murderer.

Is the federal jury’s decision the most just and reasonable response to a horrendous crime? Or have they missed an opportunity to deal a decisive blow to a kind of justice that Americans are increasingly rejecting as inhumane and unnecessary? After all, if the crime of a would-be mass murderer could be adequately punished in another way, there would no reason to execute anyone else.

There is no question that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev planned lethal harm to many people and executed their plan in cold blood, killing three people and injuring more than 260 at the event. They also shot a policeman, and another policeman died during the pursuit of the bombers, as did Tamerlan himself. Theirs was a terrible crime and deserves a heavy punishment – something that America’s toughest jails are, from all accounts, well able to provide.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Private Ownership vs Public Access

Karl D. Stephan

Let me present a contrast between an ownership lifestyle and an access lifestyle.

Exhibit A for the ownership lifestyle is my late father-in-law Ben. Following his marriage in 1946, he built not one, but three different small houses with his own hands, selling each one and building another while holding down surveying and drafting jobs. Once he found steady employment with the Texas Highway Department, he bought a new contractor-built house in a growing subdivision and a new 1955 Oldsmobile, which he still owned when he died earlier this year.

From that point on, he lived the American dream of ownership. Anything he needed and could afford, he bought: TVs, lawnmowers, appliances, and (much later in life) computers for his wife to pursue her genealogy hobby with.

Contrast that lifestyle with that of a hypothetical 30-something single living in Austin—call him Brad. He rents a stylish apartment near the Metro rail that he rides to work, so he doesn't own a car. He calls vehicle-for-hire services like Uber when he needs to go anywhere that he can't get to in the city with public transportation.

His biggest single expenditure this year was for a three-week European tour with some friends. His most expensive single possession is a mechanical watch. Brad spends most of his discretionary income on experiences and services rather than things. He pays for access, not for stuff.

Brad is part of the reason that rates of new-vehicle ownership, home ownership, and even possession of a driver license are all declining in the age group of U. S. citizens centered around 30, according to an article by James Poulos in a recent issue of The New Atlantis, “Losing Liberty in an Age of Access”. Poulos is concerned that the decline of ownership among young people will lead to a corresponding decline in freedom. Will it?

Before exploring that question, we should admit that technology has played a major role in the rise of the access economy. Technically, software is leased, not owned. "Buying" software (already a fading trend in contrast to ongoing service contracts favored by many software firms) really just gives you the privilege of using it. The planned obsolescence of many products, whose useful life is measured in months rather than years, is enabled by rapid advances in digital technology and manufacturing techniques, even when hardware is involved.

The services so favored by Brad and his friends are usually intermediated by the internet, and would be much harder or impossible to offer without it. So if we are looking for guilty parties in the case of the movement from ownership to access, technology is a prime suspect.

Who is more free?

To the question of whether Brad, the access guy, is more free than Ben, the ownership guy, one might respond, free to what? And here we step into some deep philosophical waters.

Superficially, Brad looks a lot more free—no burdensome car or house payments or other long-term obligations (unless you count student loans), free to up and run off to Antigua or Bermuda or you name it for a vacation—the ideal young-urban-professional life. Only, if everybody in the country acts like Brad, with no wife or kids and no plans for same in the future, the country would die out in a generation. Something like this is already happening in Japan, whose population declined by 268,000 (0.2%) in 2014.

Even people Brad's age seem to have a sense that they are missing something that an earlier generation had, without knowing exactly what it is. I've been invited to the upcoming wedding of a Brad-generation couple who have erected an elaborate wedding website, complete with a list of things to do for out-of-town guests coming to Dallas. One of the items is a visit to a museum about the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, and the prospective couple attached this curious comment to it: "As many of y'all know we were born in the wrong era." What does it mean when a whole generation thinks it was born in the wrong era?

To answer the question of human freedom, you must have some idea of what human beings are for. There are varying opinions on the purpose of human life. In 1992, as part of its decision in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, the US Supreme Court regarded the core of liberty as the right to "define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” That idea would be fine with Brad, whose concept of existence may change from year to year, or even month to month, as he ponders his next appealing experience.

But there are others who regard human beings as marked with the divine image. I came across a fine word the other day in a book by the English professor and translator of Dante, Anthony Esolen, Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching. The word is "theomorphic," meaning "formed in the image of deity." Esolen says that "the right of private property is grounded, not in practical economics, but in the theomorphic nature of man." Because man is made in the image of God, anything that is a product of man's labor is owned, and ownership is something only humans can lay claim to.

And only people can choose whether to use their ownership of the fruits of their labor to live lives of superficial pleasure, spending their income on transient experiences and then ultimately passing out of existence, like Windows 98; or to found a family—either literally or by playing the role of father or mother to the younger generation—and serving those who come after us, passing the torch of human life and its best meanings to those who come after us.

Doing the latter requires a longer-term vision than the next expensive vacation. Those who work simply to enjoy the access to services provided by giant concentrations of ownership, are ultimately slaves to the owners of those service providers, whether it feels like slavery or not.

The classic image of this type of slavery is Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel Brave New World. But those who work not just for themselves, but to provide for others, using ownership as a means of providing for a real or metaphorical family—they are those who, while appearing to lose their lives in service to others, can actually save them.

Karl D. Stephan is a professor of electrical engineering at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. This article has been republished, with permission, from his blog, Engineering Ethics, which is a MercatorNet partner site.