Archive for the 'life!' Category

Orthodoxy and Biomedical Ethics

To access the entire interview with Father Nikolaos,

an Orthodox Christian Monastic:

ORTHODOXY AND MODERN LIFE

An interview with a Greek Orthodox Monk on a range of subjects, including Orthodox Spirituality, Orthodox Worship, Orthodoxy and Nationalism, Orthodoxy and Modern Cosmology, Orthodoxy and the Environment, and the section posted below, which contributes to our focus here:

Orthodoxy and Biomedical Ethics

N.K. Let me now touch a topic which concerns your knowledge and experience as a natural scientist.  I would like your views on Orthodoxy and contemporary scientific and technological developments in the biomedical world.  I think these developments are staggering and generate a host of very important ethical and social problems as well as high expectations.  Has Orthodoxy anything to say about these things?

Fr. N.H. Each subject of bioethics constitutes in itself a separate topic for discussion.  It would be a mistake for me to touch on this subject, sice the Orthodox Church has not yet expressed an official point of view.  And I will not do so.  However, I will say a few general things, first on the subject of reproductive technologies and secondly on euthanasia, which has already been legalized in countries such as Australia and the Netherlands.sAccording to Orthodoxy, biological life is a great gift from God, but not the greatest.  The greatest gift is spiritual life.  Whether a man lives 50 years or 70 years, it does not make any difference; he is a big nothing in history and a zero through the centuries.  Since the center of life is God, biological life being a gift from God is indeed valuable, but true life is the spiritual one.  Some Christians, by emphasizing man and present time, make life on this earth disproportionately significant.  According to the Orthodox point of view, the center is God and the future, the eternal future.  We are more what we will become, gods by grace, than what we now are, human beings; what we have been called to become, saints, than what we are now involved in, sins; what constitutes our life in the Kingdom of God, the eternal future, than what determines our passing through this world, the transient present.  Thus, biological life acquires a priceless value due to the existence of spiritual life; and the present becomes equally important due to the future.

In our days, strange things are happening in regards to the subject of life. While we extensively talk about the value of life, we systematically pre­vent births in our “civilized” world.  While we agonizingly spend a lot of money on health and prolongation of our life span, we legalize euthanasia.  Thus, a conflict is created in the field of reproductive technologies.  One group of technologies says “no,” where nature says “yes,” such as abortion, contraceptive technologies, sterili­zation.  And another group says “yes,” where nature says “no,” i.e. I.V.F, artificial insemination, etc.  It seems the struggle of science is not a struggle for life, but a struggle against nature.  How can we keep silent and not demand the establishment of certain criteria which will determine the degree of human interference in the beginning of life, in the birth of the soul?

A similar contradiction exists in the subject of the end of life, such as euthanasia, where pain fights against time; pain, which is ours, a consequence of our original sin, against time, which is a gift from God to us.  Time is a divine blessing, a lot more than pain is our enemy.

Death as an event, marking the beginning of eternity, is much more important than the way it occurs in this life.  The state of the soul in eternity is what finally counts in death, and not the state of our body during the last moments in this transient life.  This can generate patience, tolerance and love for the people around us, care and trust in God’s will, respect and humility in the acceptance of our trials as His gifts.  That is why, euthanasia is the worst spiritual death according to the Orthodox Church.

Of course, there is an opposite side to this.  Do these supportive respiratory technologies prolong life or prevent death?  And do we have the right to prevent death when it is on its way, and let someone live an ambiguous life?  These are matters that need to be discussed.

As you are aware, the Church has a different logic on these subjects; the logic of the salvation of the soul, the logic of God.  Hence, the salvation of a sterile couple can emerge from the trial of their sterility.  Natural sterility can lead to spiritual fertility.  Couples who do not conceive children can con­ceive God.  The Church accepts medical intervention within the spirit of the expectation of God’s will, rather than of having a child to whom we will offer the inheritance of our selfish love.  Usually, we want a child, and not “chil­dren,” for ourselves in this world and not for God in eternity.  The heart of the matter is not that a couple wants to have children, but it is why they want to have them.  The Church sees children as spiritual extensions of God and not as our own physical products.  The beginning of life brings the beginning of the soul.  Every single soul is a breath of God.  The beginning of life is as sacred as the form of life itself.

And this brings me to the topic of genetic engineering. Today, genetic engineering extensively discusses, but also plays games, with the beginning as well as the form of life.  The creation of new forms of life occupies a central position among its interests.  The subject of the human genome project as well as of gene therapy have been widely publicized.  Scientists hoped that, by 1995, a complete mapping of the human genome would have been accom­plished, that is the specific determination of the genes’ position inside DNA, as well as the therapy and prevention of diseases through the replace­ment of the problematic genes.  However, things are not so easy.

Suppose, science manages to achieve its goals in the field of genetic engineering.  Why should man change the form of life?  What is the point of predetermining the color of our child’s hair, when we haven’t experienced God at all?  As I have already said, our life is more what we will become than what we now are.  So, we will have spent all our life in this world without the perspective of eternity.  The Church does not agree with this, as she believes in the respect of life as a gift from God, not as the source of good.  The utmost good is the manifestation of God in our life.

N.K. If technology and science allow a couple to diagnose a life-long handicap at the embryonic stage, what do you think would be best for the couple to do?  To prevent that child from being born or proceed to treatment if possible?

Fr. N.H. The possibility of treatment is a good solution, as it would assist the quality of life along with its production.  But as you very well know, in all cases of prenatal examination, the question is whether to prevent birth or not, whether to allow a handicapped child to be born or not.  Why can’t our “civilized” society bear to bring up a handicapped child?  To take care of it, to support the parents and spiritually edify the family and friends?

I know a family with a tetraplegic young boy.  He is now ten years old and has become very heavy to carry and move around.  When you see him, you cannot but feel sorry for him.  However, this child has awaken in the hearts of his parents feelings, not only of pain, but of humility, love, unselfishness, self-sacrifice; feelings related to their spiritual growth.  The parents do not even want to think that their little boy might soon die.  Even if they suffer, they adore him.  This is a common experience.  I don’t know if there are any parents who wish their handicapped child would rather die.  However, if these parents knew of their child’s defect through a prenatal examination, most probably they would have prevented this birth, and thus make our world even poorer in love and richer in selfishness.  We would have one angel less to remind us that we live in a fallen world anticipating the everlasting and divine world to come.

Death, whether we want it or not, will exist.  The only definite inher­itance we all carry and pass on to our children is the stigma of death.  Which illness or impairment can be worse than death?  The Church suggests another kind of prenatal examination.  The one that makes couples realize that they do not give birth to a life in this world, but to a soul in the world of eternity.  In this sense, a child is a soul, a little angel, a breath of God, which although carries the stigma of sin, yet it generates humility, not despair.  We will not prevent a pregnancy, because the abortion of an embryo from its mother’s womb, is the abortion of its soul from God’s embrace and of our own soul from His will.

N.K. I discern in what you say that Orthodoxy does not hold an anti-scientific position and is not set against research in these fields, but research must know its limits?

Fr. N.H. Who would say the opposite?  These limits must be well de­fined and not negotiable.  For instance, the Church cannot accept the fact that in order for a child to be born, we must kill a dozen other fertilized eggs, which are embryos.  And it is not only the Orthodox Church that is set against this, but also anyone who believes in any god cannot accept it either.

N.K. But even a completely secular view on these issues, which is not based on any metaphysical considerations, faces severe ethical dilemmas in this area?

Fr. N.H. Certainly.  And for this reason most of the existing centers for bioethics are not religious, but academic, secular.  People are afraid of these delicate issues.  Unfortunately, we realize the consequences of our actions, only when we reach the result.  We can neither prevent, nor predict.  And we play games.  What do we need these games for?

N.K. Is this a progress according to the Orthodox tradition?

Fr. N.H. What, playing games with life?

N.K. Research is always dangerous since the result is unknown as you yourself know.

Fr. N.H. The problem is not research.  The problem is the application of research on man and life.  I read in a newspaper clipping that a sperm donor has more than 200 living children and God knows how many dead ones.  He gave his sperm through which thousands of eggs were fertilized.  This man now has 200 children with various women and thousands of dead embryos.  What is the use of all this?  To get paid for giving out his sperm?  To play with nature and life?  The sperm is sacred.  It has another purpose, which we should respect.  There’s a lot to be said on this subject.

N.K. First, I would like to ask you if the Orthodox Church has any solutions to suggest?  And secondly, you, as an Orhtodox monk, as a priest who has knowledge on the subject, can you detect the ethical consequences of the recent biomedical achievements?

Fr. N.H. The Orthodox Church and tradition do not aim at giving preset solutions to problems, but rather at creating a certain mind-set, a way of think­ing out of which the solutions will clearly emerge.  On the contrary, the West­ern world codifies its ethics.  The Orthodox tradition is not preocuppied with what we will do, but with how and what we will become, with our inner change.  Our specific ethical actions do not necessarily lead to our inner spir­itual transformation, but rather they result from it.

Moreover, there is a growing interest on the side of the Church on these matters.  The national committees always invite reperesentatives of the Church who are involved in the subject of bioethics.  Here in this outpost of Mount Athos, we have established the first center for Biomedical Ethics in Greece.  Its intention is to collect related bibliography and create the grounds for academic discussions and understanding of these subjects; hence, an Orthodox point of view may gradually emerge leading the Church to specific positions, if necessary, and assisting society to proceed to relevant legislative regulations.  This indicates a particular respect for the seriousness of the existing problems, but also the tremendous possibility for the dogmatic theological truths to be expressed through the channel of this contemporary questioning and language.

Certainly, these are the channels through which we can say a few things; speak about the respect for life, about the soul and life as a breath of God; present ethics as a result of spiritual freedom and not as a recipee.  By analyzing the beginning of life, we have a better understanding of its end!  There has never been such a conscientious and detailed preoccupation with the phenomenon of life and death so far.  Our era gives us the opportunity to spread the everlasting message of God by using a new dialect.  After a few years, we can repeat the same message through a different dialect.  So, God can pass through the variety of channels we spoke earlier.

You Tube: Cystic fibrosis activist dies aged 21

‘Death with dignity’ Collapses under Scrutiny

John Kelly’s letter to the editor of the Berkshire Eagle, written in response to an editorial in support of, and the advocacy of certain senators in the Massachusetts legislature, which was published in that publication: Case for ‘death with dignity’ Collapses under Scrutiny

John Kelly is the director of Second Thoughts: Massachusetts: Disability Rights Activists Against Assisted Suicide

But supporters of assisted suicide continue to push for Massachusetts to pass a law legalizing it.

MA Resurrects Assisted Suicide Bill

See also:

Foes of Massachusetts assisted-suicide bill warn of ramifications

BioEdge: American Medical Association sticks to a policy of opposing assisted suicide

Disability Rights Toolkit for Advocacy Against Legalization of Assisted Suicide

The Message Given to the Parents of Alfie Evans & Charlie Gard, and to all British Citizens (and perhaps, in Time, to us as well) : The GOVERNMENT DECIDES When to Pull the Plug and to Stop the Food and Water, NOT YOU (And don’t even think about pursuing alternate treatments).

April 23, 2018 – Respirator Removed, Nutrition Withheld. Pope Francis’ offers an alternative in line with Catholic values; English courts reject and prohibit this option; Alfie holds on . . . The Daily Caller: Alfie Evans Is Breathing On His Own But Government Officials Are Starving Him To Death. WHY?  

April 28, 2018 – LifeNews: Alfie Evans has died.

November 1, 2012, 6 years earlier, the Guardian reports that 85% of England’s National Health Service Trusts have adopted the Liverpool care pathway (LCP) – The Guardian: NHS trusts adopt end-of-life regime which can involve withholding food

1986: Paul Brophy, disabled by a brain injury,  dies eight days after the Massachusetts Supreme Court authorizes hospital personnel to halt his G-Tube Feedings – Catholic Culture: When Food and Water are Withheld . . . 

Alfie Evans and his parents are not the first such victims of Britain’s National Health Service; in 2017 it was Charlie Gard: Alliance for Freedom: Charlie Gard and the Death of Dignity See Also – The Witherspoon Institute: Parental and Governmental Authority in Medical Decisions: The Tragic Case of Charlie Gard

From the Bloomberg Review, April 26, 2018:

It really is this simple. The British state has decided that it is the baby’s best interest to die, and it is trying to ensure that he dies expeditiously. It is overriding parental rights in the process.

A Call for legal reform The Spectator: The agony of Alfie Evans’ parents was made worse by bad law

The law never envisaged the situations we are now seeing, where the NHS wishes to terminate care and the law is used to stop the parents from seeking other solutions – usually from overseas.

An indictment, with scholarly analysis: Church Life Journal: Aiming at the Death of Disabled Children

Another case, Ashya King. His parents took him from England to Europe (Prague) for treatment. The parents spent three days in jail for this. But the proton-beam treatment was successful; Ashya is cured! Though England’s National Health Service refuses to treat Ashya King’s cancer, he is cured when his parents have him treated in another country

The British National Health Service responds by refusing therapy anywhere in the country to Ashya; the parents have to take him to Spain for that. The NHS Retaliates by refusing Ashya King Therapy

Meanwhile, in the State Capital of New York: LifeNews: Proposed New York State Bill Allows Starving Patients to Death Without their Consent But thanks be to God, https://rocklandrtl.org/2015/05/06/great-news-from-albany-denial-of-treatment-bills-withdrawn/  There are people in power that will continue to push for this!

In Texas, a Hospital Ethics Panel – Not the Patient or Family – Decides Whether to End Care

The Worthwhile Lives of Persons with a Disability (disabilities)

The website:

a

Live On!

This is a disability website celebrating life. Even with all the challenges people with disabilities face. A happy, fulfilling, . . . . incredible life. 

No matter what some narrow-minded people in our society think.

The creators of this web page, who are disabled themselves, are up front about the more difficult challenges: the bullying of young people, the institutionalization of adults. Their goal is to reach those who are discouraged, despondent, even despairing, and those with suicidal thoughts through a series of short, powerful videos in which persons with a disabilities overcome their obstacles and establish a meaningful life. Valuable resources are also provided toward this goal.

A photographer of note:

River Bend Galleries

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Pertinent posts from the Not Dead Yet website: 
Disabililty Rights Organizations Issue Statement Opposing Assisted Suicide Laws and Supporting Health Care
Statement of Solidarity in Observance of Suicide Prevention Month
Disability Rights Toolkit for Advocacy Against the Legalization of Assisted Suicide

Disability Resources: Articles and Books

There are lots of articles but not so many books. Many of the books listed address people with disabilities as a side topic, and I’ve included some non-Orthodox Christian books that contain Orthodox Christian elements. But the ones that spring from family johnlahutskyrelationships and friendships are inspiring and instructive.

In To Read – Books: 

The Boy from Baby House 10 & Catherine’s Pascha In God’s Hands: A mother’s journey through her infant’s critical illness & Getting My First Hug

The articles are on two different pages, one for individual articles and the other for webpages that contain numerous articles concerning persons with disability:

To read (online articles) & To read (online article collections)

From the article collections, I would recommend beginning with The Orthodox Church of America’s Parish Ministry Resources, especially Parish Development

The individual online articles cover a wide variety of situations and perspectives in regard to disability and the Orthodox Church, as well as the situations and issues Orthodox Christians with disabilities face in this world: their opportunities, dilemmas, and struggles. Look over the list and read a couple of articles which catch your eye. And then feel free to read some more!

 

a commentary on the widespread disinformation concerning Terri Schiavo, ten years after her death

Stephen Drake

From the weblog Not Dead Yet: Fifth Anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s Death: A History Lesson

 Both political parties are indicted for revising history toward political ends at the expense of persons with disabilities. Evidence is presented.

NDY’s Terri Schiavo articles page: All NDY articles on Terri Schiavo 

NDY’s articles on “the vegetative state”/consciousness: http://www.notdeadyet.org/docs/articles.html#pvs 

Also: Fifth Anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s Death – A History Lesson 

Not Dead Yet does not approach these issues from a religious viewpoint at all. They are simply fighting for lives of value, against powerful interests who would deny the value of the lives of severely disabled people.

Picture from Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (March 18, 2009)http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.com/ 


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