October 27, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, October 27, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
By failing to address America's astronomical national debt, we are stealing from the next generation
There are great, even monumental moral issues at the forefront of our current cultural conversation. At times, however, Christians need to ask the question, what other issues are not there but should be there? Writing in the New York Times, Paul A. Volcker and Peter G. Peterson remind us of one of those issues. It is the question of theft, but it comes in the explicit issue of,
“Ignoring the Debt Problem.”Show Full Transcript
That’s the headline in their story. Volcker and Peterson write,
“Together, the two of us have 179 years of life experience and 13 grandchildren. We have served presidents of both parties. We have seen more campaign seasons than we care to count — but none as strange as this one.”
They go on to say,
“Insults, invective and pandering have been poor substitutes for serious debate about the direction in which this country is going — or should be going. And a sound and sustainable fiscal structure is a key ingredient of any viable economic policy.”
Yet, they write,
“This country can handle the nearly $600 billion federal deficit estimated for 2016. But the deficit has grown sharply this year, and will keep the national debt at about 75 percent of the gross domestic product, a ratio not seen since 1950, after the budget ballooned during World War II.”
Now what these two authors are demonstrating—and by the way, they have a great deal of economic credibility behind them, Paul Volcker is chairman of the Volcker Alliance. He’s a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. Peter G. Peterson is the founder and chairman of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. He is himself a former United States Secretary of Commerce. From a Christian perspective, what makes this article interesting is not just the issue that’s missing from the national conversation right now. Volcker and Peterson get to that pretty quickly. But what’s missing is the use of the moral vocabulary about the problem they are describing. They describe the problem as the national debt, and that is a huge issue. In the third presidential debate, both candidates were asked about the national debt and the impact of the economic proposals, but none of them actually took responsibility for what inevitably will happen if either of their sets of proposals are undertaken. In either case, it will lead to a radical expansion of the national debt.
Volcker and Peterson point out that at present the American economy can “handle the nearly $600 billion federal deficit estimated” just for this year.
But they warn that this adds to the national debt, which is now amounting, as they remind us, to about 75% of the total economic activity of this country, otherwise known as the Gross Domestic Product. Now remember, however, how they began the article. They describe their economic experience saying the two of them have a 179 years of life experience, but they also identify in the first sentence that they have together 13 grandchildren. Now in the entire article, what you have here is an exposition and moral argument about the missing nature of the national debt from our national conversation, and they point out it is a pressing, indeed a very pressing, moral issue.
In their argument, they present a bipartisan concern that,
“Whoever wins, the new president will eventually face fiscal realities that force him or her to develop strategies for decreasing the national debt as a share of the economy over the long term.”
There’s no sign, however, that either of these candidates, that is the two major party nominees, actually has a great deal of concern about the national debt at all. This is where we need to face the fiscal reality. The economic reality is the fact that we have a federal budget deficit that is entirely unsustainable and that that deficit amounts to a continual buildup of national debt. One of the reasons for this is what’s called unfunded pension promises. Pensions have been promised to many people, especially government employees, that will—to state the matter clearly—bankrupt either the state or the national or the local government, or all of them together. And then furthermore, there’s an entitlement crisis. Entitlements are the funds that are sent by the federal government, channeled through the states to individual citizens. These include everything from Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid to many other federal programs, and state programs are to be added to it. Now, the reality is we aren’t paying for those. Instead, we are borrowing against the future, and that’s the case with Social Security in the long-term as well.
I mentioned that the word debt is at the center of this moral conversation as undertaken by former chairman Volcker and former secretary Peterson, and they refer to the fact that this will have an impact on their grandchildren. Remember in this very first sentence, they say that together they have 13 grandchildren. They warn that,
“Our current debt may be manageable at a time of unprecedentedly low interest rates. But if we let our debt grow, and interest rates normalize, the interest burden alone would choke our budget and squeeze out other essential spending. There would be no room for the infrastructure programs and the defense rebuilding that today have wide support.”
They conclude, however, on an even higher moral plane writing,
“At our age, neither of us will personally suffer from a failure to act. It is those with long lives ahead — grandchildren and great-grandchildren — who deserve the benefit of prospering in a nation with sound finances.”
The last sentence is this:
“Take some advice from two observers who have been around for a while: The long term gets here before you know it.”
Now as a Christian, I have great sympathy for the argument that Chairman Volcker and Secretary Peterson are making. The national debt is a moral issue. And of course the biblical worldview warns us about debt in any form, but the biblical worldview reminds us that debt is a problem that can often be actualized into a risk that turns out to be a genuine calamity.
I said earlier that these two very important people in America’s economic policy have indicated the moral problem that’s missing from our national conversation, and that is debt. But I also pointed out that there is a missing moral vocabulary even in their article, and that is the word theft. Because when you look at the buildup of debt like this, it is actually the present generation stealing from future generations. What Volcker and Peterson understand is that their children, their grandchildren, and even their great-grandchildren are the ones who are going to pay the national debt that we are spending right now by spending more than we actually have, by spending that which is unfunded and unpaid for. That is a form of intergenerational theft, and that’s a big issue. The Bible makes very clear, “Thou shalt not steal.” And it’s still stealing, even if you don’t call it stealing, if you are paying for things now at the expense of generations who are not making the decisions and are not responsible and are not yet even born. It doesn’t have to be called first-degree larceny for us to recognize it for what it is—simple theft.
From the terminally ill to the mentally ill: Europe's ever-expanding euthansia laws
Next, we’ve been watching how the assisted suicide movement has been gaining strength. And with the issue coming before so many voters in the coming election, it’s one of those frontline issues that deserves to be on the front page, and by a Christian perspective must stay there, given what’s at stake. There are a couple of articles that come to our attention. For one, Charles Lane writing in the Washington Post reports on what we have already discussed previously on The Briefing, and that is that Europe is now euthanizing the mentally ill. Lane writes,
“Once prohibited — indeed, unthinkable — the euthanasia of people with mental illnesses or cognitive disorders, including dementia, is now a common occurrence in Belgium and the Netherlands.”
What’s important is that this article has appeared in the Washington Post. Lane went on to write,
“This profoundly troubling fact of modern European life is confirmed by the latest biennial report from Belgium’s Federal Commission on the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia, presented to Parliament on Oct. 7.”
So this is new. We had talked about the report that was released the previous year. Now we’re being told in this report that was released in Belgium on October 7 that the pattern is not only continuing, it is expanding. Now given the fact that so much of the mainstream media, operating from a very liberal and secular perspective, has been cheerleading for assisted suicide, it’s significant that this article with striking moral clarity appears in the pages of the Washington Post. Lane reminds us that even as euthanasia was legalized in Belgium, at first only in terms of adults suffering from an identifiable terminal condition and what was identified as unbearable suffering. In 2002, it expanded assisted suicide and euthanasia to patients “suffering ‘unbearably’ from any “untreatable” medical condition, terminal or non-terminal, including psychiatric ones.”
A couple of big issues of moral pattern emerge here. The first is the fact that when you have assisted suicide and euthanasia, it is sold to the public on the grounds that it will be limited to adults who consensually are choosing death because of an identifiable terminal condition and what’s identified as unbearable physical suffering. But it doesn’t stay there, and it doesn’t stay there in at least three ways. It doesn’t stay there in terms of the age factor. We now know that assisted suicide and euthanasia are being extended in some European countries, including Belgium, to teenagers and even children. Secondly, it doesn’t stay there in terms of the necessary diagnosis. The grounds for allowable euthanasia and assisted suicide began with a definite diagnosis of a terminal physical condition. That has given way to even a non-terminal condition, which is identified as suffering, which is now not only medical, not to say terminal, but in some cases merely psychiatric. Thirdly, this is sold to the public as being entirely consensual and voluntary. But we see the slide from what’s called voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia, and if it’s not being done by physical coercion, then it’s is being done by moral and economic coercion.
We also need to note that these laws are often adopted, whether by referendum or by legislative action, with the explanation that there will be adequate and sustainable medical review. But what we’ve also seen is that this comes far too late, too late to prevent what should never have been allowed in the first place. And also, in terms of these review committees, it is virtually rare, if not unprecedented, for these committees to decide that any incident of euthanasia, assisted suicide, was not legitimate.
In this article is one ray of hope, at least for the present in the United States, but it is only a ray of hope. We are told that the influential American Psychiatric Association is currently preparing a policy for American Psychiatrists,
“…which may include a declaration that it is unethical for any psychiatrist to participate in the euthanasia of a non-terminal patient.”
But that ray of hope turns out to be very thin. First of all, it simply may happen. The other thing we need to note is that this will only be a declaration that it is unethical for a psychiatrist to participate in the euthanasia of a non-terminal patient, meaning, conceivably, that it would be ethical for a psychiatrist to be involved in the termination of someone who is said to have an identifiable terminal physical condition. And the thing we need to note is that that never holds. It simply doesn’t last.
Lane’s article also makes clear that in Europe we are now seeing the euthanasia of people with depression, schizophrenia, and dementia, and even autism.
Lane concludes that this represents “a global moral crisis for psychiatry, and all of medicine, that can no longer be ignored.”
But this demonstrates that the great worldview divide in modern Western cultures is also a divide within the professions and even within specifically the profession of psychiatry. Because it’s abundantly evident that in Belgium there are psychiatrists that are quite happy to perform euthanasia and assisted suicide when there is not a terminal physical condition. We should be encouraged that perhaps—and we can only hope—the American Psychiatric Association would adopt a policy that would make that rendered unethical for American psychiatrists. But as hopeful as that might be, even in these very strange times, it might not hold even for a matter of a very short time. At least, that’s the evidence from Belgium. One assurance is made this year, and an assurance is made one after the other. But in very short order those assurances disappear in the redefinition of medical ethics and, of course, the devaluation of human life.
Canadian doctor helps 94-yr-old commit suicide who wasn't terminally ill but feared he was a burden
Similarly an article recently came just in the last few days from the National Post. That’s a major Canadian newspaper. The article is by Brian Hutchinson. The headline is this,
“The right to die on one’s own terms: At 94, sick, tired and living alone, ‘Dad got the death he wanted’”
This is, to be honest, one of most haunting articles I’ve read in major media in a very long time. Hutchinson says that,
“In July, around the time of his 94th birthday,” Richard Brown “told his eldest son he ‘wasn’t planning on adding another digit’ to his age.”
We’re then told that Richard Brown wanted to die. An elderly widower, he lived by himself in Vancouver, British Columbia. He wasn’t terminally ill. He wasn’t immobile. He had coronary heart disease, and he’d endured painful episodes of gout. He had been in the hospital frequently. We’re then told that this man again confided to his eldest child that he intended to end his life, and that eldest son became complicit in helping his father to commit an assisted suicide. The son, however, was troubled at the father’s so-called “amateur plan.” He had simply hoarded some drugs from his late wife’s medical condition and intended to administer them without a prescription. The son did not want this amateur plan. He wanted to call in a professional, and he found one.
According to the National Post, he found a doctor, a Vancouver-based doctor, with nearly four decades of experience in family medicine, and this doctor is also one of Canada’s leading advocates for medically assisted death. Now the complication for this is that once again it was made clear this man did not have a terminal medical condition. This was not a matter of interminable physical suffering. This was a matter of the fact that at age 94, suffering from things including gout, he simply didn’t want to live any longer. His son became complicit in helping him to accomplish an assisted suicide.
Acknowledged in this article is something that was included in coverage of Canada’s passage of the legislation that legalizes assisted suicide that was prompted, by the way, by a decision forced by the Canadian Supreme Court. But that legislation has used language that is very controversial because it is equally unclear. The Canadian legislation says that persons must have what’s defined as a grievous and irremediable medical condition. Notice that does not mean terminal. It’s left open to a very subjective interpretation. We’re also told that the natural death that’s defined here must be reasonably foreseeable. What in the world does that mean? In one sense, the moment someone is born their death is reasonably foreseeable. But what this means is that the Canadian legislature officially adopted a policy that is very unclear, leaving all kinds of room for ambiguity, and not only that, further devaluing the sanctity and dignity of human life.
The litigation director, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, acknowledged that there are problems with the new laws.
“Doctors are struggling with the term ‘reasonably foreseeable.’” It could mean “soon,” or it could mean something else, says Pastine. “It’s a major flaw in the legislation.”
Now remember we’re talking about life and death. We’re talking about the legal authorization of a physician to be involved in assisted suicide, and included in this is language about reasonably foreseeable—reasonably, this is the kind of language that the culture of death finds most convenient.
This elderly gentleman had recently been a patient in a Catholic hospital in Canada, and that Catholic hospital refuses to participate in assisted suicide. A spokesman for the institution said,
“We have a long-standing moral tradition of compassionate care that neither prolongs dying nor hastens death of patients, placing great emphasis on palliative, hospice and end-of-life care.”
And we are told that the hospital staff held a family meeting with this patient and his son.
“According to a dictated note from a St. Paul’s palliative care doctor, Brown indicated at the meeting “that he wished to pursue medical assistance in dying in the community … (but) based on the current criteria, Mr. (Brown) does not qualify as he, in our opinion, does not have an illness that will cause death in the foreseeable future.”
So what we have here is a man who got turned down in a Catholic hospital for assisted suicide. A man who did not, according to the Canadian law, face what doctors believed was a foreseeable death. So instead, what we see is yet another pattern, and that is now people shopping for doctors and shopping for hospitals that will participate in assisted suicide and euthanasia. In Europe, this is now called euthanasia or assisted suicide travel. It’s a kind of new, very macabre, very horrifying tourism. One of the saddest parts of this article is the son’s statement that was in the headline,
“Dad got the death he wanted.”
We’ve been noticing how this claim of personal autonomy is now being extended all the way to demanding death on our own terms. But we need to note something else. It simply is not fitting for any human being to define the death that we want. That’s a fundamentally un-biblical notion. Demanding the death that we want should make biblically no more sense than demanding the birth that we want.
Denying coverage for terminal illness, insurance offers California mother suicide pills—for $1.20
Next, we’ve been watching how this pattern of the progress of the culture of death leads from what’s called a voluntary euthanasia, that requires the consent of the one who will die, to an involuntary euthanasia. And as I said, this doesn’t always require physical coercion. There are forms of moral, psychological, and financial coercion that also very much apply, horrifyingly so. Just in the last few days, the Washington Times ran an article by Bradford Richardson entitled,
“Insurer offers suicide pills over chemotherapy.”
This is not headlined Belgium. This is rather datelined from California. Richardson writes,
“A terminally ill California woman says her insurance company denied her coverage for chemotherapy treatment but offered to pay for her to kill herself.”
This happened shortly after California passed a law permitting physician-assisted suicide. This patient has a name,
“Stephanie Packer, a wife and mother of four who was diagnosed with a terminal form of scleroderma, said her insurance company initially indicated it would pay for her to switch to a different chemotherapy drug at the recommendation of her doctors. For a while, five months or so, we’ve been trying to get me on a different chemotherapy drug for the infusions, because my doctor felt that it would be less toxic than some of the other drugs that we were going to be using.”
And she said,
“And I was going back and forth, and finally I had heard back from them, and they said, ‘Yes, we’re going to get it covered, we just have to fix a couple of things.”
But then Richardson writes,
“Shortly after California’s End of Life Option Act, which authorizes physicians to diagnose a life-ending dose of medication to patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live, went into effect, Ms. Packer’s insurance company had a change of heart. And when the law was passed, it was a week later I received a letter in the mail saying they were going to deny coverage for the chemotherapy that we were asking for …. She said she called her insurance company to find out why her coverage had been denied. On the call, she also asked whether suicide pills were covered under her plan. And she says, ‘Yes, we do provide that to our patients, and you would only have to pay $1.20 for the medication.’”
This is the kind of moral and economic coercion that we’re going to see over and over again. Note this conversation came virtually one week after California had legally legislated assisted suicide by physicians. And notice the financial incentive. Here you have an insurance company who turns down a doctor recommended regimen of chemotherapy for a woman, a young mother of four, for whom this just might be a last chance at recovery and extension of life. Instead, when the patient raises the issue, the insurance company is quick to respond, “Oh yes, we’ll pay for assisted suicide. Oh and by the way, it will cost only $1.20.” The first part we could excuse as simply an answer to a question, but the second part points to the coercion, the coercion that comes when now you have an insurance carrier saying, “You’re going to cost your family an awful lot of money. Who knows? You might actually bankrupt your family financially. Remember those four children? But for just a $1.20, you can remove that economic problem by exiting the picture, by committing suicide, indeed, by a legal physician assisted suicide.” Just imagine the emotional coercion towards a mother suffering from this kind of terminal disease when she is told that she can simply get off the hands of her family for a $1.20.
This young mother also told the Washington Times that she had recently noted “a change in tone at her support groups for terminally ill patients.”
She said that,
“While the meetings were formerly positive and encouraging, she said the specter of suicide now hangs above them like a dark cloud.”
In this mother’s words,
“And people, once they became depressed, it became negative, and it started consuming people. And then they said, ‘You know what? I wish I could just end it.’”
This mom said,
“Her children motivate her to fight her illness. ‘I want to live for my kids. I want them to see that dying is a part of life. Your end of life can be that opportunity to appreciate things that you didn’t appreciate before, to say things that you didn’t say before.’”
This is a young mother who wants to fight to extend her life for her children, but she’s now on the receiving end of the argument that for the sake of her children, maybe she just needs to get out of the way. Oh and all it’s going to cost is just $1.20.
We started out today on The Briefing talking about the national debt that’s not being discussed in this presidential campaign season. It’s not on the ballot explicitly, but it is a huge moral issue. And we need to understand it for what it is. It’s a question of theft, the theft from this generation of following generations. But the issue assisted suicide in some jurisdictions in the U.S. is indeed on the ballot. It’s being considered by three states and by the City Council in the District of Columbia. But we need to note that there is right now a very important national conversation about assisted suicide, and we need to make certain that the truth is told. We need to make certain that we are witnesses to the sanctity and dignity of every single human life. We need to do so pointing to what has happened in nations like Belgium, when arguments were made for the adoption of euthanasia and those arguments have clearly given way to the cultural pressure of the culture of death. We need to do it haunted by that figure of $1.20, what this young mother was told was all that would be required to get herself out of the way, no longer a problem, no longer a burden to her family and her children, no longer a burden to the society, a society that’s ready to quantify the cost and value of human life at a $1.20.