Even as Americans are coming to terms with the complexity of end-of-life issues and the challenges of medical technologies, the lack of a worldview consensus on these basic questions reveals a dangerous confusion at every level of our national life. Doctors, lawyers, philosophers, and the public at large are divided over the most basic questions of human dignity, human life, and how to make decisions of right and wrong when these are essentially questions of life and death.
In the January 2006 edition of Commentary, bioethicists Eric Cohen and Leon R. Kass offer a compelling essay on the challenge represented by millions of the aged among us. In “Cast Me Not Off in Old Age,” they warn that we are now witnessing the development of a “mass geriatric society” which will present this country with massive economic, social, medical, political, and ethical challenges.
“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength fails.” This is the prayer of the Psalmist in Psalm 71:9. Like so many before and after him, the Psalmist fears being forsaken when he is old. In our own times, this concern takes on an entirely new magnitude, as the ranks of the elderly and aged grow at an unprecedented rate.
The question of torture arises once again in the context of the War on Terror and has been brought to public controversy with the amendment to the current Defense Authorization Bill sponsored by Senator John McCain. The measure, which would render illegal all “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatments of prisoners under U.S. control, passed by a vote of 90-9 in the full Senate. President George W. Bush had threatened to veto the legislation, if it were to be passed by the House of Representatives. On December 15, the White House announced that it would back the McCain amendment.
“Modern medicine is one of those extraordinary works of reason: an elaborate system of specialized knowledge, technical procedures, and rules of behavior,” explains Paul Starr. “By no means are these all purely rational: Our conception of disease and responses to it unquestionably show the imprint of our particular culture, especially its individualist and activist therapeutic mentality. Yet, whatever its biases and probably because of them, modern science has succeeded in liberating humanity from much of the burden of disease.”
Should human beings accept certain limitations in terms of cognitive ability and physical strength? These questions take on a whole new urgency in the face of recent developments in the fields of psychostimulants and other pharmaceutical innovations. Moreover, as if these developments do not represent enough of a challenge, the development of computer-enhanced human intelligence may be just around the corner.
The newspaper headlines certainly command attention when a record Powerball jackpot of at least $350-million is at stake. As a matter of fact, the gambling interests are counting on lots of attention — and hoping for even greater sales. You can count on a banner headline when the winner is announced, and a new record jackpot is probably right around the corner. Nevertheless, Christians must remember the moral issues at stake. In the end, the lottery makes us all losers.
Peter Singer has seen the future, and it does not include the sanctity of life. To be more specific, Singer presents his argument about the future in a forum published in the September/October 2005 edition of Foreign Policy. The magazine asked a number of leading intellectuals to suggest what ideas, institutions, and features of contemporary life will be left behind as human beings rush into a bold new future. As Peter Singer sees it, confidence in the sanctity of human life must be abandoned in order for humanity to be redefined in the new millennium.
Questions of human reproduction inevitably define what it means to be human, and the moral issues which arise in connection with sex and reproduction are among the most divisive controversies of our time. The development of “test tube baby” technologies presents us with moral issues which demand answers, and require our most careful thought and reflection.
Every thoughtful person must deal with the problem of evil. Evil acts and tragic events come to us all in this vale of tears known as human life. Yesterday, evil showed its face again as Hurricane Katrina came ashore on the Gulf Coast. The problem of evil and suffering is undoubtedly the greatest theological challenge we face.
Steve Salerno is a reporter with wide experience. As a freelance feature writer, Salerno has written for magazines including Harper’s, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and many others. He has contributed articles to the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal. Many of his articles have focused upon “money stories,” that deal with financial scandals and controversies in the business world. Now, he is ready to report on the biggest scandal he has ever encountered–America’s self-help movement.
A culture, like an individual, reaps what it sows. The seed of honor produces a harvest of honorable acts. The seed of anger eventually yields violence. The law of the harvest is part of the divine design for human society, and it allows no exceptions. A society which sows reverence for life will reap a culture of kindness and a legacy of respect. A people shorn of this seed will eventually produce a harvest of unspeakable horror, anguish, and inhumanity.
As “partial-birth abortion” emerged into America’s consciousness, an Oregon woman named Jenny Westberg made a series of simple pen-and-ink drawings of the procedure. Those pictures–striking in their simplicity and devastating in their clarity–would change the trajectory of America’s abortion debate. Evil flourishes in the darkness, and Westberg’s drawings brought the murderous abortion procedure to light.
Americans who care deeply about the protection of human life must face one monumental question: How can the American conscience be so apparently untroubled by the reality of abortion? That is the central question raised in an important article published in the November 2004 edition of Harper’s Magazine. In “Gambling With Abortion,” author Cynthia Gorney looks closely at the controversy over the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 and its aftermath, and her article is a wrenching and insightful look at the current status of the abortion issue.
Modernity, with its focus on autonomous individualism and liberation from traditional structures, represents a threatening environment for the family unit. The sexual revolution has severed the link between sexual fidelity and marital integrity. Modern contraceptives have allowed unlimited sex without procreative consequences, and the family has been dethroned from its exalted status and stripped of its functions.
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