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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Teaching doctors to kill?

One of the implications of euthanasia is that it involves teaching doctors to take life. Margaret Somerville argues that:

We also need to consider how the legalisation of euthanasia could affect the profession of medicine and its practitioners. Euthanasia takes both beyond their fundamental roles of caring, healing and curing whenever possible. It involves them, no matter how compassionate their motives, in the infliction of death on those for whom they provide care and treatment. ...
Can we imagine teaching medical students how to administer euthanasia - how to kill their patients? A fundamental attitude we reinforce in medical students, interns and residents is a repugnance toward the idea of killing patients. If physicians were authorised to administer euthanasia, it would no longer be possible to instil that repugnance. Maintaining this repugnance and, arguably, the intuitive recognition of a need for it, are demonstrated in the outraged reactions against physicians carrying out capital punishment when laws provide for them to do so. We do not consider their involvement acceptable - not even for those physicians who personally are in favour of capital punishment. What would we lose by legalising euthanasia?

Is this a problem though? The following discussion of the study of the experience of killing in war by Stanley Hauerwas is to say the least thought provoking.


I think it is a mistake to focus - as we most often do - only on the sacrifice of life that war requires. War also requires that we sacrifice our normal unwillingness to kill. It may seem odd to call the sacrifice of our unwillingness to kill "a sacrifice," but this sacrifice often renders the lives of those who make it unintelligible. The sacrifice of our unwillingness to kill is but the dark side of the willingness in war to be killed. I am not suggesting that every person who has killed in war suffers from having killed. But I do believe that those who have killed without the killing troubling their lives should not have been in the business of killing in the first place.
In On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Lt Col Dave Grossman reports on General S.L.A. Marshall's study of men in battle in World War II. Marshall discovered that of every hundred men along a line of fire during a battle, only 15 to 20 would take part by firing their weapons. This led Marshall to conclude that the average or healthy individual, that is, the person who could endure combat, "still has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance toward killing a fellow man that he will not of his own volition take life if it is possible to turn away from that responsibility." Lt Col Grossman observes that to study killing in combat is very much like the study of sex: "Killing is a private, intimate occurrence of tremendous intensity, in which the destructive act becomes psychologically very much like the procreative act." Telling the truth about the sacrifice of war
Essentially what euthanasia requires is that doctors will be asked to undertake the sacrifice of overcoming societal norms and undertake the task of taking human life. If we wish to take the step of legalising the taking of life we need to be clear about the human implications of what we are doing and who will bear the burden of this. 

Monday, 15 April 2013

Protecting People not Borders, or Vica Versa?


I had the opportunity recently to see the documentary “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” http://deepblueseafilm.com on its recent National Tour. I found viewing it a confronting experience, with its interviews with asylum seekers in Indonesia, because I had to watch the faces and listen to the voices of real people, whose fate I was to learn at the end of the documentary. At the end of the documentary I wandered out into the sunshine, wiping the moisture from my eyes reflecting on the meaning and moral significance of the term “border protection” in current political debate. Why aren’t we concerned with protecting people rather than borders? Why do “borders” need “protecting” anyway?

There is I know a verbal ambiguity in the phrase “border protection”. In current political rhetoric it carries the connotation that borders protect us, the citizens of Australia, though exactly what we are being protected from is never made explicit. The phrasing suggests that if borders are crossed by people without our prior permission, the border is therefore violated, and we as Australian citizens are vulnerable to some unspecified threat. What damage is done, or threatened by the crossing of the border is never clearly explained, merely hinted at.

This ambiguity in the usage of the term “border protection” has a whiff of the sacred surrounding the phrase. The “border” offers “protection” and at the same time must not be violated and therefore stands in need of protection. The ambiguity is consistent with the attachment of a sacral character. You can’t define the sacred or it will no longer be sacred and lose its power. How are then to ‘protect’ the “border’, and at the same time ourselves?

Lo we have solved the problem, and protected the sacredness of the border from profanation by redefining what counts as the border of Australia for certain categories of persons, specifically those seeking asylum. It has been decreed by the passing of a law that the borders for certain purposes cannot be crossed by asylum seekers, because the map has been drawn to exclude Australia from having a border that asylum seekers could cross, while at the same time the border for all other purposes remains in existence, and is therefore “protected”. Ye verily this is as great a magic as ever has been exercised by the wizards, the defenders of the sacred character of the state, known as lawyers. The border is protected and its sacred character is saved from profanation by those who might seek to cross it in search of asylum from persecution.

Borders are clearly of human invention, though attracting the character of the sacred in political rhetoric, and media commentary. They are without feelings, passions and bodies. Asylum seekers on the other hand are of flesh and blood, capable of being killed, tortured, starved, made to feel fear and pressed to act against conscience with respect to matters of political belief, faith commitment and practice.

Why do we wish to “protect” borders, or be protected by borders, which are when stripped of their sacral character simply legal creations set up to assist human flourishing and well being at the expense of causing suffering to actual human beings by not welcoming those in search of freedom from persecution?

Christians and church communities need to answer this question with reference to the life and teaching of Jesus if they wish to give substance to their identification as his followers.

Who or what would Jesus “protect”? A reading of the Gospels with an eye for this theme makes it abundantly clear that Jesus did not have much time for ‘borders’ whether they were of geographical, legal, or religious character where they were inimical to human well being and healing. Jesus had much to say, of a critical character about the privileging of laws at the expense of human beings under the cover of religion. The Sabbath he observed was made for humanity not humanity for the Sabbath. He commented pungently on the use of legal definitions by the well off to enable them to reinforce that privilege and he regularly transgressed the borders that that were used to keep society “safe” from “dangerous” and “different” people.

For Christians to take a stand on this issue will probably result in our coming put into conflict with a majority of Australians for whom the sacredness of borders overrides other moral claims that arise for Christians from their commitment to following Jesus. The call to discipleship means that we cannot get out of difficult situations by ignoring his teaching.

There is another consideration here that reinforces the point I am trying to make that can be expressed in terms of the primary identity for Christians that arises from their baptism. Baptism inducts us into a community broader than the nation state. The borders of the community into which we enter through baptism are not coterminous with those however legally defined and manipulated of the Australian state. Immigration and refugees admit of no policy package that will solve the problem. The issues are structural and rooted deeply in the dynamics of global capitalism and the exercise of neo-imperial power by a range of nations.

The Christian church has little choice, I would argue, as to what its priority should be if it is to take its transnational character and the expansion of its borders through baptism seriously. People need protection not borders. Baptism, properly understood is a subversion of the borders of the nation state. Christians should be prepared to live out that subversion in refusing to acknowledge the claim to the sacredness of borders at the cost of the lives and wellbeing of flesh and blood people. People need protection, not borders.

Doug Hynd

PS. My thanks to Jessie Taylor, those responsible for the documentary particularly the asylum seekers who shared their stories and to Michael Budde for his collection of essays reflecting theologically on the Christian Church and globalisation, The Borders of Baptism: Identities, Allegiance and the Church (Cascade Books, 2011).

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Some great references to public liturgy and preaching on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Going to see if I can record the links here for my own benefit.

Peace procession Melbourne
Report on Melbourne event

Results for #HolyInnocents

Tweets Top / All / People you follow

Heavenly Father, comfort all the children lost to . Bring them right up to your throne!
"Feast of the - a day that we remember an act of civil disobedience, a refugee family, & a massacre of baby boys"
It seems to me that the only time there is an outcry from America is when takes place in "inappropriate" places.
168 children have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan... but where is the outcry for THESE children?

I wonder if there were people who said, "I'm tired of people politicizing Herod's massacre of the "?

"But he is with a million displaced people On the long road of weariness and want." Malcolm Guite

RT : Remember the lives of your little ones Lord, and break the sword of the oppressor.
Preached from the fire in my gut at the Eucharist this morning
On Day we pray for victims of such violence today & those (like the Holy Family) whom it makes refugees:
Today of all days I recommend you follow as this great new organisation gets running. Please RT.
Is this how we wage 'war on terror'? Drone Strikes Are Causing Child Casualties -- 178 So Far | Alternet
A reminder of what results from the legislation of wicked rulers. "Can wicked rulers be allied…

Rendering to Caesar

The misunderstanding of the significance of Jesus' saying "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and the things that are God's is rampant.

Jesus could not have been suggesting that there is a realm of religion, separate from the realm of politics.  No distinction existed in his time between the "religious" and the "political". Caesar's claim to rule rested on his divinity. As a good Jew Jesus was expressing the understanding embedded in the law and the teaching of the prophets, that God's call on us to live lives of justice and compassion have priority over conflicting claims by any other authority, Caesar included.

Jesus was not a "spiritual" teacher distant from the politics of his time. He preached and practised a radical political option that was subversive of the economic injustice and oppression of his time. That was why he was crucified, a punishment handed out to those that Rome saw as challenging its claims to empire.

If you give priority to God's claims to seek justice and love mercy, thus rendering to God what is God's, then what is left for Caesar? Not too much I would reckon.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Doing evil to achieve good?Reflections on the moral calculus of the Australian Government’s policy on asylum seekers, or should the Government get into the business of taking hostages?



Christians seeking to find their moral compass in a time of fear created by both major political parties in their race to the bottom as to who can devise the “toughest”, translation “cruellest” policy, need to return to the teaching of Jesus to get oriented. Reflection on the Parable of the Good Samaritan will provide a bracing and challenging point of departure to guide us in our approach to current debates over the treatment of asylum seekers. If we wish to dismiss it on the grounds that it is not “practical” then we should reconsider our decision to describe ourselves as followers of Jesus. In the longer term it may be the most “practical” approach there is. But that’s an argument for another time.

The recent announcements by the Australian Government on the treatment of asylum seekers http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/cb/2012/cb191883.htm and http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/cb/2012/cb191155.htm has been accompanied by much hand wringing over the moral difficulty of needing to be “tough” to save lives and prevent people from risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys and to send a “signal” to people arranging the boat travel, a group otherwise referred to, as “people smugglers”.

The Government policy seems to be directed almost exclusively at the “people smugglers” if you listened to the exchanges on a recent episode of Q &A. If the “people smugglers” would only go away the suggestion is that the “problem” would be solved. And perhaps as viewed by the political parties it would. The continued arrival of refugees is a reminder that there is a world out there that we in Australia are part of. Indeed they remind us, should anyone care to think about it, that Australia is deeply implicated through its involvement in warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan as an ally of the United States in the creation of the circumstances that is the source of much of the flow of refugees. 

Out of sight, out of mind seems to be our motto, and so we can continue the path of denial of responsibility as long as those pesky refugees don’t keep turning up to disturb our bubble of comfort. As Jack Waterford from the Canberra Times observed: What shames me most, I guess, is that a good many of these refugees have fled to places such as Australia only because of the miseries we Australians have heaped upon their countries in the name of liberating them from tyranny. http://www.canberratimes.com.au/opinion/leaders-wallow-in-gutter-20121124-2a0qy.html

Leaving aside the reality that policy debate has focussed on a symptom, “people smuggling” rather than the central issue of the humane and effective handling of asylum seekers throughout South-East Asia, the moral assessments of the policy changes need more analysis than they have so far received.

Let me see if I can unpack the government’s logic of deterrence: 400 people seeking refugee status are held on Nauru in detention, that is by coercion, not because they have done anything wrong, but to try and influence the behaviour of people unknown, to try prevent them undertaking an activity that is grounded in international la, seeking asylum. Holding people under duress to try and influence the behaviour of other actors normally falls within the category of an activity that we would normally label hostage taking.

What the Government is saying in its policy of deterrence is that we are going to cause cruelty to people, to try and save the lives of others. So what are the harms that the Government will cause by this policy, and what are the evils that they wish to prevent?

The evil they wish to prevent are the deaths of some unknown proportion of people who take a risky and dangerous voyage to Australia to seek asylum from persecution.

So on the one side of the ledger we have if the policy is successful, a reduced number of deaths in transit. But notice something interesting here; the choice taken by people who risk their lives is their choice, presumably taken with some knowledge of the risks. The Government without knowledge of their specific circumstances is seeking to substitute its judgement as to the balance between the risks of loss of their lives and the risks that they face if they do not take the boat journey. The government is essentially saying, we know better than you how much risk you should take. The government policy is based on a presumption that nothing bad will happen to them if they do not take the risk of the sea voyage. The judgement from an air-conditioned office in Canberra as to what that calculation looks like may be very different from the point of view of a refugee.

On the other side of the ledger we have some information based on experience in recent years as to the harms that will be done by the Government’s policy. We can expect a number of suicides, attempted suicides and mental health problems for those detained on Nauru and Manus Island, that will affect many individuals and their families for the rest of their lives. The inability to work for those on the Australian mainland while waiting for the granting of protection will have similar affects on self esteem and self confidence as well as creating an alienated economically deprived group within Australia over the longer term.

To knowingly cause mental health problems that may lead to suicide and self harm, and to actively prevent by force of law people from exercising their human vocation to work and to contribute to family livelihood and to the community welfare as well as to actively maintain people in abject poverty are all outcomes which are evil. The Government and opposition are both committed to these outcomes as a matter of policy. How do these weigh in the balance against the objective of saving people’s lives? What we are saying to asylum seekers who come is that you must pay the price in your bodies and family lives to try and prevent other people making a choice that might result in the loss of their life.

On its own terms, that is a somewhat doubtful moral position, in that we are putting in the balance certain harm to some people against an uncertain number of deaths that are prevented if the policy is successful in its goals. But what if the policy does not succeed in preventing people from taking the risk? In that case we will have succeeded in being cruel for no possible, even vaguely arguable moral gain. We will not have stopped the deaths of those in transit, and the admitted cruelty to those refugees will have been undertaken without any arguable moral benefit.

What is the evidence to suggest that the policy will be successful? The only study that I can find was undertaken back in 2009 suggested that push factors tended to override pull factors in driving people seeking asylum by boat. The Pacific solution did not stop the boats from coming. The author explains that … it diddled the stats by redefinition. Boats still made the attempt to enter Australia – which is a point worth noting as many of the proponents of Pull Factors cite reducing the risk of death from reducing the number of people attempting the voyage by boat, as one of their key rationales. Yet we know that SIEV(s) 5,7,11 and 12 in 2002 attempted to make the journey and were returned to Indonesia while SIEV(s) 4,6 and 10 actually sank. That was in very late 2001 through late 2002. In 2003 we know that boats were still attempting to make the voyage such as SIEV 14, but were again towed back from whence they came.
The UNHCR estimates that 1600 people were diverted throughout the time of the Pacific Solution, but hard numbers are difficult to come by.http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/2009/10/19/push-vs-pull-asylum-seeker-numbers-and-statistics/

In summary, the policy is an attempt to use a form of hostage taking and causing a range of cruelty and harms to people with the intention of trying to discourage people from making a choice that involves the risk of death in pursuit of asylum. If the policy works we have a situation in which the most vulnerable have borne the burden of the Government’s achievement of its policy goals. If the policy doesn’t work and the odds are against it, then the Government will have caused substantial harm to a vulnerable group of people for no outcome at all. Evil will have been done for no good at all. On any moral calculus you like that is a big risk to take.

In the meantime the implications for Christians of the Parable of the Good Samaritan are pretty clear. We need to get involved in those community groups that will do what they can to act as neigbours to the vulnerable strangers in our midst. We can also begin to conduct a guerrilla warfare of polite, respectful correspondence with our local members and political leaders on the moral and policy incoherence of the policy.