Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ms Varga on euthanasia

The author Ms Susan Varga said something striking in an address to The Sydney Institute, an edited extract from which (the address, that is) was published in The Sydney Morning Herald last Saturday. So as not to be accused of taking out of context the part in which I’m interested, I’ll provide other parts as background: Ms Varga says early in the piece that her

mother died almost seven years ago. She threw herself under a train. Grief stricken and depressed after the sudden loss of her husband, she lost all will to live. She began to seek death with the same determination as she had once sought life. After several unsuccessful attempts at more peaceful means, she connived to go in secret to the train station. Her last attempt got her what she most desperately desired - death.
Now Ms Varga does not say whether her late mother was “depressed” in the medical sense of the word. But apparently, for Ms Varga, neither would it necessarily matter:

My mother was a kind of heroine. In the war years in Hungary she fought like a tiger to protect her small daughters, then battled to survive on her own after her husband's death in a labour camp. Postwar she came to Australia with a new husband whose first wife and two little sons had perished in the Holocaust and together they forged a new life.

She was the last person anyone would have thought would commit suicide. Yet in the end she was defeated by the accumulated traumas of her life. She had never had time to grieve, never indulged in introspection, never came to terms with all her losses.

Was she within her rights to say, ''enough, I want to go''? There is such a thing as genuine overwhelming grief or sadness that need not be medicalised as depression. Surely psychic pain can be as legitimate a reason to want to die as physical pain. We can also have good reasons for not wanting to be a part of life.
[my emphasis]

So here we have a reminder that, far from the pro-life movement’s fear of legalised euthanasia endorsing suicides motivated by ‘existential angst’ or an overwhelming feeling that one’s life is not worth living being a red herring, this fear is in fact well-founded, being espoused not just by fanatics like the notorious Dr. Nietschke, but by mainstream advocates like Ms Varga. After all, it’s arbitrary to uphold a right to suicide for those in severe physical pain but to deny it to those in severe emotional distress.
Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Callistus I, Pope, Martyr, A.D. 2009

Ms Horin on abortion, plus some comments by me

Abortion supporters, on the other hand, can sound apologetic, as if abortion is a bit offensive, a sort of necessary evil. They can be more comfortable defending the abstract "right to choose" rather than abortion itself.
[my emphasis]
Unfortunately, by the time I got around to commenting at the on-line version of Ms Horin’s opinion piece the combox had closed; had it still been open, I would have submitted the following comment:


I was interested to see Ms Horin write that
"Abortion supporters, on the other hand, can sound apologetic, as if abortion is a bit offensive, a sort of necessary evil. They can be more comfortable defending the abstract "right to choose" rather than abortion itself."
Does that mean that we can dispense with the labels 'pro-choice' and 'anti-choice'? I have no problem identifying as anti-abortion; why are pro-abortion people so allergic to being called pro-abortion? The issue is abortion, so why can't we speak of 'pro-abortion' and 'anti-abortion', just as, if the issue were the death penalty, we would speak of 'pro-execution' and 'anti-execution'? There’s hardly an aspect of human life in which choice is not involved, so I don’t see why abortion gets to monopolise the term.
Reginaldvs Cantvar


Here are a couple of other comments, in rebuttal of what some of the pro-abortion commenters wrote there, which I would have liked to have submitted:


Katerina (October 10, 2009, 3:03PM), you wrote that
“A zygote, a fetus, is NOT a human being, biologically or legally, so an abortion is NOT murder!”
But if a zygote is not a human being, then which kind of being is he or she (‘he or she’ since sex is given at conception)? A D.N.A. analysis would surely confirm that he or she belongs to the human species, would it not? And clearly the zygote is not merely a part of another member of the human species, since if you make a clone from the zygote then you’ll produce a new, unique person, whereas if you make a clone from any other part of the mother you’ll produce a copy of the mother.
Nefertari (October 10, 2009, 3:58PM), you wrote that
“An early foetus is NOT equivalent to a living, breathing child which can sustain life outside of its mother. It's not conscious and in the early stages doesn't have a nervous system capable of perceiving pain.”
So you propose four criteria for a right to life: According to you, the subject of the right must be
1. Breathing: but that would disqualify anyone on life support.
2. Self-sustaining: but none of us is truly self-sustaining, since we all need air, food and a suitable environment in which to live.
3. Consciousness: but that would disqualify the sleeping and the comatose, some of whom (the comatose, that is) take longer to become conscious than a newly-conceived zygote takes.
4. Pain perception: but that is to espouse preference utilitarianism.
So your criteria are inappropriate. The only appropriate criterion is membership of the human species.


[N.B. The "Louise" to whom I address the first part of the following comment is not the Louise who comments at my blog.]
Louise (October 11, 2009, 12:10PM), you wrote that
“The presence of DNA doesn't make a human being. No consciousness, nerves or anything else viable in a blob of dividing cells.”
But viability is an arbitrary criterion, since no human’s life is viable outside a suitable environment. I can’t survive without adequate shelter, and neither can a foetus, but that’s no basis for denying a right to life.
Betty (October 11, 2009, 4:49PM), you wrote that
“If you chop off your finger and put it on the bench it dies.”
And if you leave it attached it, and the body to which it is attached, will eventually die anyway.
“It has human DNA in it, it has cells in it but if a person decides to just throw that finger away, chop it up into tiny bits, that's their choice. You might think it's "gross" or whatever but you aren't going to protest it's "right to life".”
I won’t protest its right to life because it’s only a part of a person, not a whole person, whereas a foetus is a whole human being at an early stage of development. (I will, however, protest against the finger self-amputee’s mutilation of his or her body.)
“This is just like a fetus in the womb. It contains living cells, it has human DNA, but it is not LIVING, it cannot sustain life by itself. It requires a mother to carry it, much like a host to a parasite, a body to a finger.”
Leaving aside your absurd notion that the foetus is “not LIVING”, the fact that he or she cannot sustain life by himself/herself is, as I said earlier, no reason to deny his or her right to life; you and I can’t sustain our respective lives by ourselves, either.

The last of the comments published at that web page provided a useful link to some information about the question of when human life begins:

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Callistus I, Pope, Martyr, A.D. 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How they ‘do liturgy’ in the Diocese of Wollongong

The Sydney Catholic Weekly of two Sundays ago (September 27, 2009) carried the regular “Cross Currents” section on activities in the Diocese of Wollongong. Of particular interest was an item at the top of page 33; the same story is available at the Diocese’s Catholic Education Office (C.E.O.) website:

Students, staff, parents, parishioners, principals, past religious staff, Catholic Education Office representatives, Parish Administrator and Bishop Peter Ingham joined together in celebration of St John Vianney Primary School’s 60th Anniversary at Mass on Thursday August 20.

At a prayerful morning liturgy in the Fairy Meadow Church the history of the school was related by Bishop Peter who praised the Sisters of the Good Samaritan for their pioneering establishment of the school. Current staff and students participated in the mass with readings, song and dance. A generous morning tea followed.
[my emphasis]
At the C.E.O. website there’s a picture, which also appeared in The Catholic Weekly, of four wee lasses, presumably the “students [who] participated in the mass with … dance”. Perhaps their plain white albs and plain green ribands are the Wollongong liturgical intelligentsia’s idea of ‘noble simplicity’. I suppose that I should just be grateful that they managed to find dancers who would wear something less immodest than the usual leotard-and-small-skirt liturgical dance outfit.

The school’s website’s “News and Events” section had the following to say:

The 60th Anniversary of St John Vianney`s.

What a lovely day we celebrated on Thursday 20th August for our 60th Anniversary. We had Mass with the Bishop followed by a morning tea with many of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan who had made a special return visit to SJV. Everyone was very impressed with the music in Mass and our special liturgical dancers. The School Hall was filled with memorabilia which was a great delight to everyone and brought back some wonderful memories.
[my emphasis,]
Apparently the Most August Sacrifice, one and the same Sacrifice as on Mount Calvary in every respect except manner of offering, renewed and represented on the altar (before which the “liturgical dancers” appear to have done their routine; at any rate it’s clearly quite near the sanctuary), just wasn’t “special” or ‘impressive’ enough for the congregation (or perhaps that should be ‘audience’). Sacrileges like this are nothing new in the Church of Wollongong (or in the other Australian Sees, I expect), but this one’s worth mentioning because of the involvement of the local Ordinary. If any of my readers happened to be present at this disgraceful ‘liturgy’ (it can hardly be so called, since the term ‘liturgy’ implies an order of sacred proceedings without arbitrary, erratic, undue variations, an order which ‘liturgical dance’ obviously violates) could you tell me: was Msgr. Ingham the celebrant, or the presider, or did he just assist in choro (ha), or did he merely attend and “relate” his “history of the school”, or some other form of participation altogether?

(And note well: I certainly don’t mean to impute guilt for this disgrace to the children involved, nor necessarily even to the teachers who conceived of and choreographed the routine, since these teachers presumably know no other way to ‘do liturgy’ than according to the prevailing fashions. Blame lies with the liturgical vandals (and their fellow-travellers) to whom it first occurred to desecrate Holy Mass with this kind of frivolity. And blame lies especially with those fellow-travellers in Holy Orders (particularly those who have the fullness of Orders) and whose formative years occurred before the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ was in full swing.)

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Bridget of Sweden, A.D. 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mr. Hitchens on morality

The famous journalist, author and neo-atheist Mr. Christopher Hitchens said the following, among other things, when he spoke to The Sydney Morning Herald for a story in today’s issue:

''Most [believers] believe that without religion their children, and even they, would not know right from wrong. I have two arguments to which no answer has yet been received. One: Name me a moral kindness or action that they can do because of their belief but that I can't. Two: Can you think of one evil action done by a religion person? You can, and you can think of another, and another.''
[square-bracketed interpolation in the original]
There are three things to say about this. The first is in regard to his point one: it misses the mark, because there is no question that the unregenerate can (albeit usually with difficulty) perform acts of “moral kindness”, as Mr. Hitchens calls it. See, for instance, St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, writing in his magnificent Treatise on Civil Government:

… But this justification from sin is said to be a certain liberty, for he who is in sin cannot, until he is freed by grace, will that good which is ordained for eternal life; he has, indeed, free will, since he can choose one evil from among many, and he can even choose moral good, but he cannot choose salutary good unless he at least begins to be freed by the ... grace of God, since he is held captive by the Devil according to his will, as it is written. [Tim. II.]
So infidels can choose moral good—that is, they can choose to perform acts which suit human nature—but this choice avails them nothing towards salvation, which one can only merit in union with Our Lord’s Passion.

The second thing to say is that Mr. Hitchens’s second point is also ill-conceived, because the contention which Mr. Hitchens is supposed to be refuting is that the irreligious cannot behave morally; whether or not the religious will necessarily behave morally is another matter. Furthermore, abuse does not detract from use: that religious folk do evil in defiance of the tenets of their respective religions does nothing to detract from the fact that the ‘ought’ of moral obligation can issue only from the will of a superior, usually enacted in law.

And that brings us to the third thing, and the most important thing, which needs to be said here. Now Mr. Hitchens says that

''Most [believers] believe that without religion their children, and even they, would not know right from wrong.
Perhaps he is right, and most believers think that without religion (however Mr. Hitchens defines that term) one is incapable of telling right from wrong, though I haven’t seen any data to support this contention. What matters, though, is not whether believers subjectively think that one cannot know right from wrong without religion, but whether, objectively, one can know right from wrong without religion. And one can indeed know right from wrong without being religious; one knows it by an intellectual consideration of the respective natures and ends of things. But the problem for Mr. Hitchens is not knowing what good is but, rather, knowing whether one ought to do good. And, as they say, one cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is'. An ‘is’ imposes itself by the force of reason, but the ‘ought’ of unconditional obligation can only be imposed by the will of a superior. (I say “unconditional” because one can impose on oneself a conditional obligation—if I want to be good then I should do such-and-such—but a purely self-imposed obligation is not a true and proper obligation, and can be revoked at will.) An obligation obviously cannot be imposed by an inferior, and nor can it be imposed by oneself or one equal in authority to oneself, for reasons just mentioned. Without some being with authority over man who (the authority-figure) can impose upon him (man) the obligation to do good and avoid evil, we just have people following their tastes and preferences—those who have a taste for good do good, those who have a taste for evil do evil, and the two sides can only agree to disagree. (Now an atheist might retort: so only a superior can impose true and proper obligations. Well and good. But why would the superior necessarily impose an obligation to do good? If his authority is absolute, then is he not free to bind his subordinates to do evil if he so wills? The answer to this objection is: not if the superior is good by nature and all-perfect, in which case he would never abuse his freedom and authority by obliging his subjects to do evil.)

The Herald article was in connection with the so-called Festival of Dangerous Ideas, which begins tomorrow and whose opening address will be given by Mr. Hitchens. It will be interesting to see what he has to say. I would be fascinated to see how he elaborates on his moral philosophy.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of The Holy Guardian Angels, A.D. 2009