Fat Steve's Blatherings

Friday, April 01, 2005

Self-blinded by Ideology

      James Pinkerton, of Newsday, manages to say several sensible and insanely stupid things, all in the same column.

      He was writing on the Schiavo case, and started out by saying:
Whatever the legalisms of this case, it's hard to believe that anyone ever envisioned a situation in which an estranged husband could make the decision to kill off - oops, make that "dehydrate" to death - his unconscious wife, overriding the strenuous opposition of the woman's parents and siblings.

In light of this outcome, new laws and legal procedures will emerge. They will have to, because technology has raced dangerously ahead of law and custom.

      I agree.

      After reviewing the prospects for legal change, he says:
First, now that the case has received so much attention, decisions about "pulling the plug" or "removing the tube" - made by family members or doctors - are going to be subject to more scrutiny by more interested parties. That is, family members, religious figures, ethicists and lawyers are going to be increasingly drawn into "death with dignity" situations. More litigation, legislation and media sensation are inevitable as new medical scenarios are discovered and explored.

      I'm not nearly so sure on that score, but it is a reasonable position.

      And then, Pinkerton goes off the deep end.  He says:
Second, medical science will keep rushing ahead, creating new quandaries. The religious right, for example, insists on using a certain level of technology to preserve life, such as feeding tubes and antibiotics. But the religious right also insists, at the same time, that not too much technology be used. The most obvious example is stem-cell research.

What would happen, for instance, if scientists announced that they could grow a new brain from stem cells for Terri Schiavo? That is, the wizardry of medical technology would allow the unfortunate woman to regain her mental faculties. Such an announcement, admittedly hypothetical at present, would put the "right to life" supporters of Schiavo in an awkward position.

      If Pinkerton actually knew anything about medical technology, he'd know that there are embryonic stem cells, harvested from embryos by causing what the "religious right" regards as the death of a human being, and adult stem cells, harvested from living bodies without killing anyone.  Whether anyone will ever do anything useful with embryonic stem cells in human beings I can't say, but adult stem cells already are useful in medicine.  And unlike embryonic stem cells, there's no immune system problem.

      Just to make sure you know that Pinkerton doesn't like the religious, he ends his column:
That's why the Schiavo case, and other cases, will not be resolved gently. Two worldviews - one religious, one scientific - contend in the public square, and they perpetually rage against each other.

      Uh, Jimbo, I can think of all kinds of non-religious reasons for not allowing:
an estranged . . . [to] "dehydrate" to death - his unconscious wife, overriding the strenuous opposition of the woman's parents and siblings.

      Apparently you could too, when you kept your mind off the "religious right."  So could Nat Hentoff, who also opposed what was done to Terri.

      So, Jim, you are now in fourth place on my list of people saying stupid things about the case, behind the 'painless' people, but ahead of the 'no govt.' crowd.  Congratulations!


  • He should have used more examples. Science is going to prolong life indefinitely in the not too distant future. What about Artificial Intelligence? For instace, religion cannot accept the idea of a person without a ghost/soul hovering over it so AI is impossible. No religious leader will think about that issue until it actually happens.

    Your argument doesn't refute the possibility that embryonic stem cells could become a cure. So the question remains. What would you do if a few cells could cure you or a loved one of a disease and those frozen cells (or person depending on your perspective) would be discarded if you wouldn't accept them?

    Pinkerton is looking ahead at what will be possible without filtering those possibilities with religion.

    By Anonymous Kirk, at 8:38 PM  

  • Kirk:

          Maybe our lives will be indefinitely prolonged in the "not too distant" future, but when I recall the optomistic forecasts about how cancer would be cured, and an AIDS vaccine found, I'm not too optimistic.  As an old science fiction fan, I've grown very skeptical of predictions about the future.

          I know of no religous thinkers who claim Artificial Intelligence is impossible.  And given the lack of progress on that front, I don't see why religous leaders should worry about it now.

          I didn't make an argument about what embryonic stem cells could or couldn't do.  Neither did Pinkerton.  He just hypothesized that "stem cells," type unspecified, could work a miracle.  He doesn't appear to have any idea why the "right-to-life" crowd objects to embryonic stem cell research.

          What Pinkerton was doing, was displaying his contempt for those who don't think as he does.  Take away the attitude, and all that's left is wishful thinking and a belief in miracles to come.  The religous people Pinkerton sneers at seem intellectually superior to me: they at least know when they're taking things on faith!

    By Blogger Stephen M. St. Onge, at 4:32 AM  

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