It’s Tuesday, August 1, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’re going to look at the lessons we dare not miss from the tragedy of little Charlie Gard. We’re going to look at the function of language, language employed as a weapon, especially with words like hate and love, and we’re going to ask the question as to why a group has put up a billboard of a cow in rural Indiana.
Who has the authority to speak for children? Lessons from the life and death of Charlie Gard
Over the course of the last several weeks, no story has been as important as the tragedy of a little baby in the United Kingdom, a little boy named Charlie Gard. The story first came to world attention when the parents of that trial, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, made a public appeal bringing to the knowledge of the people of the United Kingdom and all around the world of the fact that they were no longer able to make decisions on behalf of their infant son and his health treatments. Charlie, it was discovered about a month after he was born, has inherited a rare disease known as mitochondrial disease, MDD S. It is a disease that at present has defied all kinds of medical treatments, and it is considered terminal. But Charlie Gard’s parents understood that there were experimental treatments, and they raised money on their own to try to make those treatments available for their infant son whom they clearly and dearly love.
On the third of March 2013, Great Ormond Street Hospital asked a judge to rule that life support treatment should stop for the baby. The judge was told that Charlie could only breathe through a ventilator and was fed through a tube. Now at that point here’s what we came to understand, the British government was intervening to take over the custody of making medical decisions for little Charlie Gard and cutting out his parents, even refusing the parents who had raised the money on their own to have the right to take Charlie to the United States for potential treatments. And at that point a doctor in the United States had agreed to take his case and to try experimental treatments in the hope that they might bring some recovery and relief to the infant to extend and enhance little Charlie’s life.Show Full Transcript
But the officials at the Great Ormond Street Hospital intervened and went to the courts there in Great Britain to gain what amounts to medical custody of the child, and they steadfastly refused to allow Charlie to be taken to the United States for these treatments. They insisted from the very beginning that the disease was terminal and that Charlie should simply be removed from life support and allowed to die. Between May and June of this year, Charlie’s parents went to various courts, not only in the United Kingdom but also the European Court of Human Rights, but even after all their appeals to these courts had failed, they then very publicly went to the court of public opinion gaining the attention of Pope Francis and President Donald Trump in the United States and very clearly drawing to the attention, hopefully, of parents in America of the fact that there is a radical distinction between the way parents in the United Kingdom and parents in the United States are understood to be the authorities in making decisions concerning the medical treatment of their children.
Now by the time we come to the end of July, it is very clear that the courts are determined that Charlie Gard should die. On the 24th of July, Charlie’s parents announced that they were ending all efforts to try to appeal. There was nowhere else they could go. And at that point further medical examination had indicated that Charlie’s position had deteriorated such that the American doctor believed that the treatments could not even if he were moved go forward. As one writer at the Federalist rightly observed, the British government merely “ran out the clock” in order to make certain that little Charlie Gard died. It’s almost assuredly the case that the medical condition of one infant has never received this much attention in terms of the worldwide media.
There’s a good reason why Charlie Gard became such a focus of this conversation and concern. Charles Krauthammer writing in the Washington Post, by the way Krauthammer a very prominent columnist is both an attorney and a medical doctor by training, he says this,
“There is only one real question. What’s best for Charlie? But because he can’t speak for himself, we resort to a second question: Who is to speak for him?”
Krauthammer put his finger exactly on the issue. Who is to speak on behalf of the child? In the United States there is a very clear legal and cultural understanding that it is parents who have a nearly undisputed right to speak on behalf of their children, certainly in seeking medical treatment for them. The only cases in which American courts tend to intervene between parent and child in these medical decision-making situations is when parents in this country refuse a medical treatment for their child that is viewed to be in the child’s best interest. But that’s very rare. What becomes so clear in terms of the Charlie Gard tragedy is that this isn’t rare in the United Kingdom. There is in that country a legal authority to divide parents and their children in terms of medical decision-making. And furthermore, these medical decisions in that country are often settled by those who are medical professionals with the power of the courts behind them. In this case it is the Great Ormond Street Hospital and its medical staff that has ultimately taken the responsibility for ordering the death of this infant.
The issues behind the tragedy of Charlie Gard come down to of course the sanctity of human life, and in coming days we’ll be talking more about that in terms of related issues. But what’s most important to understand is the issue of parental rights and parental responsibility and parental authority. This is where parents in the United States must recognize that this is not just an issue of rights and responsibility. It is an issue of the very understanding we have of what it means to be parents and to have responsibility for our children.
But there’s another issue here that is very ominous and should certainly have our attention as well. This is what happens. This is inevitable when medical decision-making is concentrated at least first and foremost because of a centralized health system in this case what’s known as socialized medicine, the National Health Service in Great Britain. When you have this kind of single authority, that authority operates with the same efficiency and the same cruel coldness as the rest of any bureaucracy in government. Eventually it makes decisions based upon its own worldview and eventually the bureaucracy makes decisions in order to achieve efficiencies. And make no mistake, that’s a big part of what’s behind the story.
Charles Krauthammer had it exactly right, and I’ll go on to say there is almost no more important question that is answered by a society or by a political system. Who is recognized to have the authority to speak on behalf of children? If it is not parents, then we are in big trouble. Whether or not the medical treatments sought by Charlie Gard’s parents months ago would or could have had any effect, well we will now never know the answer to that question. Indeed, the British government “ran out the clock.” In this case the British government and the British medical establishment bear the responsibility for a death sentence handed down to an infant.
Language and cultural warfare: Scurrilous charge of ‘hate group’ made against Alliance Defending Freedom
Next in the United States we are in a situation in which virtually anything can be turned into cultural warfare, and language is at the very top of that list. And thus we have to be very careful in watching language, watching what happens to language, watching our own language and watching the kind of language that is directed against us. An important article appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal by a former Attorney General of the United States. Honorable Ed Meese was the United States Attorney General from 1985 to 1988 in the administration of Ronald Reagan. He wrote this article recently about the fact that the word hate or hate group is now being applied against those who actually just hold to historic Christianity or even to a conservative understanding of the United States Constitution. Attorney General Meese wrote this,
“The headlines were both inflammatory and untrue: ‘Attorney General Jeff Sessions Criticized for Speaking to ‘Hate Group,’’ reported NBC. Reports from ABC and other major news outlets used similar language. Readers might be surprised to learn that the group in question is the Alliance Defending Freedom, a respected civil-rights law firm.”
He then goes on to say,
“So where did this scurrilous charge originate? With the Southern Poverty Law Center, which labels the ADF a “hate group.” The designation had nothing to do with the law firm’s policies or behavior. It’s just that the SPLC,” that’s the Southern Poverty Law Center, “objects to its traditional views on the Constitution, the First Amendment and the meaning of marriage. No responsible media outlet should parrot the SPLC’s hate list without seeking to understand not only its motives but also the consequences of spreading false charges.”
The former Attorney General then said,
“I have personally known the ADF’s founder, Alan Sears, and its president, Mike Farris, for decades. Each has committed his life to fighting for justice, the rule of law, and a better future for all Americans. When I was attorney general in the 1980s, Alan worked for the Commission on Pornography, fighting for stronger laws against obscenity while protecting the First Amendment.”
He goes on to give other evidence of the good work of the ADF, and by the way the ADF is a civil-rights organizations, it exists to preserve and to protect the civil rights of Americans most particularly religious liberty. Now I’m not disinterested in this. I’m talking here about an article by the former Attorney General of the United States, Edwin Meese, about the Alliance Defending Freedom. I actually am very proud to have received the Edwin Meese award for regionalism and religious liberty from the Alliance Defending Freedom. And I have known just as the Attorney General said the ADF to be a group that is fighting for what is right and for the rights of Americans, particularly in terms of religious liberty.
But that’s exactly why we have to watch the language because for some time now groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, and it’s at the very top of the list, have been putting out a list of the bad guys in the United States in order to scare away the media or at least in order to tar and feather any organization that doesn’t by wholeheartedly into the moral revolution. So when you look at this, you need to recognize that the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as hate groups groups that should be listed as hate groups, groups that are driven by racial and ethnic animosity, who indeed should be identified as hate groups by any sane society. But you’ll also note the real agenda here is then to go on and list with those groups mainstream, very responsible institutions and organizations, who just will not agree with celebrating and joining the moral revolution.
In particular here we have to recognize that NBC and ABC news picked up on this language. That’s why it’s significant. It wouldn’t be significant if the Southern Poverty Law Center just put out this list and no one paid any attention to it. But the headlines and the content of the articles and the coverage at NBC and ABC used the expression hate speech, indicating that the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, had actually spoken to a hate group. As if the Attorney General should be embarrassed and the hate group should be exposed. That’s the power of language, the kind of language that is associated with the word hate.
The Christian worldview understands the very key importance of the word love. That’s why Christians have a great deal invested in understanding what is lost when the word love is misapplied and overused. Christians have been concerned about that for a very, very long time, rightfully so. But even as love is a word that has to be protected, our stewardship of that word is very important, so also the word hate, and the word hate needs to be clearly understood and defined for what it actually means. And that comes down to animus. And animus is exactly what the Southern Poverty Law Center has accused groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom or for that matter you could say groups by extension, any traditional Christian organization or traditional conservative organization, they suggest that they are driven by animus. But that’s of course not the case. That means that anyone who holds to biblical Christianity is merely driven by animus. That any faithful church is merely faithful because it’s driven by animus. That’s ridiculous on its face, but that’s why we need to understand what’s going on.
Oh and we also need to understand something else. That’s the selectivity in a group like this. Because if the Southern Poverty Law Center actually has the courage as it would define itself to out those organizations that hold to such views and should be listed as hate groups, there is no logical consistency in including the alliance defending freedom and leaving off, for example, the Roman Catholic Church that officially teaches exactly what the Southern Poverty Law Group says is hatred driven only by animus. But the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t appear on their list. Why? It’s because the Southern Poverty Law Center isn’t really driven by moral courage but a political agenda, and now it’s very clear we know what that is.
PETA to honor cows killed, not for eating, but in traffic accident
Finally when talking about influential organizations in America, one of the more well-known is PETA. That’s People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It appeared in a recent headline in USA Today. The headline caught my attention,
“PETA to honor cows killed in crash”
Seth Slabaugh is the reporter in the article. He says from Muncie, Indiana,
“MUNCIE, Ind. — PETA says it will rent a billboard to pay tribute to the cattle that were killed and injured when a semi tractor-trailer overturned on an exit ramp of Interstate 69 at Ind. 332.The intent of the billboard — displaying the image of a cow next to the words ‘I’m ME, Not MEAT. See the Individual. Go Vegan’ — is to point out that ‘we can all prevent further animal suffering and death by choosing only cruelty-free food.’”
This from a press release released by PETA. The PETA spokesperson Amber Cavanan told the Star Press of Muncie,
“If anyone is horrified by these crashes, the billboard will let them know there is something they can do about it. They can change their lifestyle so they’re not supporting this cruelty … Every vegan saves 100 land animals a year.”
Now I’m less interested at this point even in arguing the vegan versus non-vegan issue. I’m more interested in what it tells us that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is putting up a billboard to honor cows who were killed, not in terms of eating, but rather in terms of a traffic accident. By the way spokesperson Cavanan went on to say that the image of an individual cow on the billboard will appear because,
“people might not see them as living, feeling, intelligent beings. They see them as meat. We are trying to change that by reminding everyone that they feel pain, they have families,” and on she went.
And of course we are talking about sentient beings here. We’re talking about cows that have a certain level of cow intelligence, and this raises huge issues in terms of worldview. But the most important of these worldview issues comes down to the fact that human beings are not merely sentient but also conscious in a way that cows are not. There’s a reason why human beings put cows in the truck and cows do not put human beings in the truck. I have great respect for cows. I love seeing cattle grazing. I’m very thankful that God gave us cattle and even individual cows. But the cow did not say I am me; rather it’s human beings putting up a billboard in which a cow supposedly says I am me, understanding that difference, it turns out, is really crucially important.