and the Threat of a New
It may be a mistake to quickly assume the charitable point of view that most everyone believes it wrong to kill innocent human beings. Obviously this is not the attitude of one member of the influential medical profession who voiced some revolutionary ideas recently in California Medicine, the official journal of the California Medical Association. I will attempt a brief paraphrase and summary of this article entitled "A New Ethic for Medicine and Society." 1
(1) There is an old ethic, based in the Judeo-Christian heritage, which has prevailed in the West and has been the keystone of Western medicine, namely reverence for each human being, equally, with no regard to the person's quality of life (i.e., relative health, intelligence,
age, social productivity, and rehabilitableness).
(2) This ethic, which is still dominant, must be replaced by a new one because of emerging demographic, ecological, and social realities such as:
(a) The geometric rate of population expansion
(b) Dwindling resources
(c) The growing social importance of quality of life.
(3) In the meantime, as long as the old ethic prevails, it is necessary to engage in semantic exercises and schizophrenic subterfuges to give the impression, false though it be, that abortion does not take the life of a living human being.
(4) The new ethic, which is certain to prevail, would place relative rather than absolute values on human lives, on the use of scarce resources and on what actually constitutes quality-of-life living, so that practices like abortion could be justified even if they involved the killing of innocent human lives.
(5) The criteria for these relative values would depend upon whatever concept about the quality of life prevails at any given time in society.
(6) Those with the responsibility of establishing such criteria are people such as physicians, who, by the roles they are playing in abortion, are already shaping the attitudes of people in the direction that they should be shaped.
(7) Even further extension of these roles in the matter of death selection and death control may be expected.
(8) No other profession is better equipped than the medical (because of its superior knowledge of human nature, behaviors, health, disease, and physical and mental well-being) to examine, recognize, prepare, and apply this new ethic.
Some brief evaluative comments on this California Medicine editorials are called for.
As evidenced by the editorial, there are two ideas basic to Judeo-Christian thought that are under severe attack in our society today: (1) the idea of absolute moral values and (2) the idea of unconditional love.
Absolute Moral Value
Judeo-Christian thought always has maintained that there is a God who created this world, who has established an order (natural and moral laws) for this world, and who therefore is the One who by revelations is in the appropriate position to show man how to order his existence. God has done this, for example, in the Ten Commandments, which are absolute, unchanging moral principles for man's life. Human community (a harmonious fellowship of love and mutual service) becomes possible because men can, by looking beyond themselves, agree about what is right and wrong. Loving God above all and obeying His will makes it possible for men to love their neighbors as themselves.
But when each man decides to become his own god, he becomes his own final court of appeal in the matter of truth and morality. Man begins to quarrel and fight with his fellowman because each man has different notions of what is right and wrong. Unable to handle the god-role adequately, individual man relegates his god-role to society. This society is either a monarchy or an oligarchy or a democracy or a technocracy or an dictatorial regime. Then societies, because they operate with different value systems, begin to disagree, and there is war. And there is war. And there is war. And one begins to wonder when man will ever learn that he cannot, individually or societally, bear the burden of truth and morality alone, apart from God.
A German philosopher by the name of Hegel (1770-1831) attacked the idea of absolute moral value with the notion that men with competing views of morality (thesis vs. antithesis) can by rational processes arrive at synthesis, an agreement based on utility or usefulness. As life goes on and situations and the needs of people change, yesterday's synthesis becomes the thesis to another antithesis out of
which comes forth a new synthesis, or agreement. Hegel's basic idea is that the center of morality's circle in not fixed; it keeps moving as situations keep changing. Yesterday's wrong becomes today's right. New ethics replace old ethics. Killing innocent human beings was wrong yesterday, but today it is no longer socially abhorrent. "Rational utility" makes it palpable to the moral sensitivities of people. The question is not any longer: "May we kill innocent human beings?" but rather, "Under what conditions should we kill human beings so as to insure a desirable quality of life?"
In the New England Journal Medicine, Dr. Leo Alexander wrote an article entitled "Medical Science Under Dictatorship." I quote two sections from his essay that are relevant to this present discussion:
Irrespective of other ideologic trappings, the guiding philosophic principle of recent dictatorships, including that of the Nazis, has been Hegelian in that what has been considered "rational utility," and corresponding doctrine and planning has replaced moral ethical and religious values....
Under all forms of dictatorship the dictating bodies or individuals claim that all that is done is being done for the best of people as a whole, and for that reason they look at health merely in terms of utility, efficiency and productivity. It is natural in such a setting that eventually Hegel's principle that "what is useful is good" wins out completely. The killing center is the reduction ad absurdum of all health planning based only on rational principles and economy and not on humane compassion and divine law. To be sure, American physicians are still far from the point of thinking of killing centers, but they have arrived at a danger point in thinking, at which likelihood of full rehabilitation is considered a factor that should determine the amount of time, effort and cost to be devoted to a particular type of patient on the part of the social body upon which this decision rests. At
this point Americans should remember that the enormity of a euthanasia movement is present in their own midst. 2
A dictatorship is possible anywhere, even in a democracy. America is not really a democracy anyway; it is a technocracy run by an elite, a very small group of experts (like medical doctors and Supreme Court justices) to whom we have given more and more authority over vast areas of life involving significant moral decisions. We have done this because we have bought the lie that technical competence and professional expertise qualify one to be an expert on human nature and the total well-being of man, as though man were merely some physical-biological automation!
In The Making of a Counter Culture Theodore Roszak spoke to this problem:
In the technocracy, nothing is any longer small or simple or readily apparent to the nontechnical man. Instead, the scale and intricacy of all human activities political, economic, cultural transcends the competence of the amateurish citizens and inexorably demands the attention of specially trained experts . Further, around this central core of experts who deal with large-scale public necessities, there grows up a circle of subsidiary experts who, battening on the general social prestige of technical skill in the technocracy, assume authoritative influence over even the most seemingly personal aspects of life: sexual behavior, child-rearing, mental health, recreation, etc. In the technocracy everything aspires to become purely technical, the subjects of professional attention. The technocracy is therefore the regime of experts or of those who can employ the experts. 3
The second idea, basic to Judeo-Christian thought and which is under attack in the California Medicine editorial and in the general culture today, is the idea of unconditional love.
Like the concept about moral absolute, this belief traces back to the conviction that there is a God out there who has freely created everything. When God made man, He preferred him above all other living beings and brought man into direct spiritual fellowship with Himself so that man might be capacitated to reflect God's character. God's character is love; He is no respecter of persons.
He sent the prophets to warn against a self-righteous, cold religiosity, which kept up its ceremonial rites but neglected the weightier matters of righteousness: caring for the widows, the orphaned, and the homeless. He sent Jesus to show His love for the least of all brothers (the leprous outcasts, the poor, the mentally ill, the social outcasts like tax collectors, prostitutes, and thieves, and the little children).
And out of this context of a caring example, God's call to unconditional love came:
Beloved, let us love another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.... We love, because he first loved us. If any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also (1 John 4:7-8, 19-21).
People love people in many different ways and with many different kinds of love. Two of those loves are called eros and agape.
Eros is a Greek word describing the natural love of desire; it is a discriminatory love that takes the chosen object of its desire to itself. The basis upon which it makes its
choices is quality of life. Eros discerns value in a certain object, and if the value is fitting, sufficient, and pleasing enough, eros then seeks after and tries to appropriate the object of value. Eros seeks for self-gratification through its object. Basically eros is selfish, though not necessarily inappropriately so. Eros says: "Show me a man or woman, and if he or she is beautiful by my standards, I will love him or her, and by loving him or her will appropriate the value that he or she embodies to myself for my enjoyment."
Agape is a Greek word describing the love of God that can be exercised derivatively by man when he consciously offers himself in fellowship to God and his fellow man in a community of caring persons. Agape is a love of self-giving; it is nondiscriminatory, directed to all people. Unlike eros, which is dependent upon quality of life, agape seeks to build value into its object, and is in this way creative. Agape is unselfish, directing its energies toward other-gratification, knowing that in the end (as a by-product, not a goal) its self will be fulfilled. The self is most fulfilled, agape believes, at the precise moment that the self is given away. Agape says: "Show me a person (male or female, black or white, rich or poor, genius or mongoloid, infant or adult, born or unborn, wanted or unwanted) and, quite regardless of his value, beauty, desirability, or usefulness, I will with God's help love him and esteem him as myself, as a person of highest value and beauty, uniquely precious and inviolable because he is there.
Eros is conditional; agape is unconditional; both are legitimate and necessary kinds of love. The one elects qualified man to public office. The other secures each man one vote. The one presents scholarships to promising scholars; the other provides workshops for the mentally retarded. The one promotes the successful to a higher position; the other upholds the weak and defeated who have no position. The one conducts cautious interviews for important jobs; the other employs people who come with no recommendations. The one builds stadiums for the healthy to compete; the other builds hospitals for the sick
to recover. The one nurtures the wanted child; the other adopts the unwanted child.
Both loves are good and necessary for the continuance of human community. But neither love must devour the other. In our day eros has we-nigh gobbled up agape, and people are choking from the tyranny of an eros consciousness. Qualities of mercy, faithfulness, honor, compassion, and self-denial cease to be positive values in a quality-of-life culture that has come to be disdainfully impatient with the difficult demands of unconditional love.
The divorce problem today is a case in point. It is one good thing for two people to "fall in love," get married, and enjoy the fine qualities and beauties of one another as long as they both shall live; it is quite another good thing for two married people to forgive wrong, to overlook weakness, to accept responsibility, and to commit themselves to the vulnerability of selfless service without escape clauses or a terminal point making them just another divorce statistic.
In his sobering book, Brave New World, Aldous Huxley looks ahead a few generations, and he sees the future as a time in which sexual promiscuity becomes the order of the day, and such "oddities" as fathers and mothers and wives and husbands become obsolete. The importance of the individual as a being who is responsible to God, to himself, and to others (which would include his mate and children) is lost as the individual becomes a mere social functionary lost in a giant social organism. As a social functionary, each person becomes free to have any man or woman who is sufficiently desirable. In fact, in this brave new world, relationships that last more than two or three months are discouraged because they create the risk of cultivating too much personal concern for one another. Only the society is important, not the person. The importance of the person lies exclusively in his ability to function for the good of the social organism. Such is a quality-of-life culture where unconditional love has disappeared.
In many ways Huxley's vision is fantastic, but hardly
impossible. He himself points out in the foreword to his book:
There are already certain American cities in which the number of divorces is equal to the number of marriages. In a few years, no doubt, marriage licenses will be sold like dog licenses, good for a period of twelve months, with no law against changing dogs or keeping more than one animal at a time. As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase. 4
The ethic of F. Nietzsche was one of the major influences contributing to the tyranny of an eros consciousness in Germany shortly before Hitler's rise to power. Nietzsche's ethic, a form of naturalism, elevated nature's method, her modus operandi, to a position of moral status: as the way for man to achieve his ends and justify his means. Thus for Nietzsche, the locus of moral value became power (might is right); the highest good became the rule of the strong (self-assertion, pride, and determination) resulting in the advent of a better race; the chief evil became any protection slowed down the process of nature whereby the weak inevitably met their natural fate.
Later, in 1935, the Nazi Director of Public Health, Dr. Arthur Guett, wrote (predictably) in his book entitled The Structure of Public Health in the Third Reich:
The ill-conceived "love of neighbor" has to disappear, especially in relation to inferior or asocial creatures. It is the supreme duty of a national state to grant life and livelihood only to the healthy... in order to secure the maintenance of a hereditarily sound and racially pure fold for all eternity. The life of an individual has meaning only in the light of his meaning to his family and to his national state. 5
Remember the ideas in the California Medicine editorial, "A New Ethic for Medicine and Society"? Are these ideas much different from those expressed above? And will the results be the same? Have the lessons of history really been learned?
In 1945, after the German universities had been reopened, Dr. Helmut Thielicke delivered a series of lectures (now gathered in the book called Nihilism) at the ancient University of Tübingen and then again at the Free University in West Berlin. Students, desperately hungry to have their intellectual and spiritual needs satisfied after the debacle of the Third Reich, packed the lecture halls. And Dr. Thielicke said to them:
Once a man ceases to recognize the infinite value of the human soul and this he cannot do once the relationship to God is extinguished and thus man's character indelebilis, which God stamped with eternity, is smashed then all he can recognize is that man is something to be used. But then he will also have to go further and recognize that some men can no longer be utilized and he arrives at the concept that there are some lives that have no value at all. Nobody can be preserved from this ultimate conclusion by a peaceable character or because he can't stand to see blood. 6
How many students from university medical schools, departments of law and political science departments would jam their lecture halls to hear such sentiments expressed today? Do men have to see the blood of their aged, their unborn, their retarded, and their racially impure flow in the streets again to be shocked into some kind of moral sensibility? May God spare the people of this land a "new" ethic for medicine and society, and grant us instead a fresh outpouring of His unconditional, creative love.
Chapter 3 || Table of Contents
1. An editorial reprint taken from California Medicine 113, no. 3, pp. 67-68. Copies are available from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, Inc., 4804 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55409.
2. Leo Alexander, "Medical Science Under Dictatorship," The New England Journal of Medicine, 14 July 1949.
3. Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., Anchor Books, 1969), pp. 6-7.
4. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, Bantam Books, 1966), p. xiii.
5. Arthur Guett, The Structure of Public Health in the Third Reich. Taken from materials on abortion by Robert L. Sassone and used by permission of L.I.F.E.
6. Helmut Thielicke, Nihilism (New York: Harper & Row, Schocken Books, 1969), p. 84.
Chapter 3 || Table of Contents