The legacy of Dr. Death

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a.k.a. “Dr. Death,” died the other day, of natural causes and not by his own hand.  Dr. Kevorkian was a practitioner of “physician-assisted suicide” and a hero to the euthanasia movement.  Ross Douthat has  brilliant op-ed piece in the New York Times, no less, that questions his legacy.  A sample:

We are all dying, day by day: do the terminally ill really occupy a completely different moral category from the rest? A cancer patient’s suffering isn’t necessarily more unbearable than the more indefinite agony of someone living with multiple sclerosis or quadriplegia or manic depression. And not every unbearable agony is medical: if a man losing a battle with Parkinson’s disease can claim the relief of physician-assisted suicide, then why not a devastated widower, or a parent who has lost her only child?

This isn’t a hypothetical slippery slope. Jack Kevorkian spent his career putting this dark, expansive logic into practice. He didn’t just provide death to the dying; he helped anyone whose suffering seemed sufficient to warrant his deadly assistance. When The Detroit Free Press investigated his “practice” in 1997, it found that 60 percent of those he assisted weren’t actually terminally ill. In several cases, autopsies revealed “no anatomical evidence of disease.”

This record was ignored or glossed over by his admirers. (So were the roots of his interest in euthanasia: Kevorkian was obsessed with human experimentation, and pined for a day when both assisted suicides and executions could be accompanied by vivisection.) After his release from prison in 2007, he was treated like a civil rights revolutionary rather than a killer — with fawning interviews on “60 Minutes,” $50,000 speaking engagements, and a hagiographic HBO biopic starring Al Pacino.

Fortunately, the revolution Kevorkian envisioned hasn’t yet succeeded. Despite decades of agitation, only three states allow some form of physician-assisted suicide. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous 1997 decision, declined to invent a constitutional right to die. There is no American equivalent of the kind of suicide clinics that have sprung up in Switzerland, providing painless poisons to a steady flow of people from around the globe.

Writing in The Atlantic three years ago, Bruce Falconer profiled one such clinic: Dignitas, founded by a former journalist named Ludwig Minelli, which charges around $6,000 for its ministrations. Like Kevorkian, Minelli sees himself as a crusader for what he calls “the last human right.” And like Kevorkian, he sees no reason why this right — “a marvelous possibility given to a human being,” as he describes it — should be confined to the dying. (A study in The Journal of Medical Ethics suggested that 21 percent of the people whom Dignitas helps to commit suicide are not terminally ill.)

But unlike Kevorkian, Minelli has been free to help kill the suicidal without fear of prosecution. In the last 15 years, more than 1,000 people have made their final exit under his supervision, eased into eternity by a glass of sodium pentobarbital.

Were Minelli operating in the United States, he might well have as many apologists and admirers as the late Dr. Death. But it should make us proud of our country that he would likely find himself in prison, where murderers belong.

via Dr. Kevorkian’s Victims – NYTimes.com.

HT:  Gabriel Torretta

Updating myself at Redeemed Reader

J. B. Cheaney writes for World and for children.  With fellow children’s lit author Emily Whitten, she has a blog entitled  Redeemed Reader | Kids books. Culture. Christ.  They discuss kiddy-lit, yes, but also lots of other things, from homeschooling to our current cultural condition.  Anyway, they did an interview with me, which they are posting in two parts.  In addition to discussing classical education and vocation,  I take the occasion to update some of what I wrote in my books Reading Between the Lines and Postmodern Times.

Mollie Hemingway on her faith

The Washington Examiner has a series in which they interview people about their faith.  (They did that to me once, which I blogged about.)  Journalist Mollie Hemingway didn’t mince any words.  Read the whole interview.  Here is an excerpt in which Mollie explains vocation:

It seems in some ways that reporting on religion could lead to doubts about one’s own faith, or at least to confusion or pluralism. How has your journalism shaped or affected your own faith? Has it made you any more or less of an orthodox Lutheran?

That hasn’t been my experience at all. For one thing, my job as a reporter isn’t to advocate for one belief system over another. Rather, I aim to break news or explain trends, and allow individuals to tell their own story.

Lutherans study not just what we believe but what we don’t believe. So I already knew we held different doctrines as well as why. Nevertheless, I have found that learning more about other faiths has generally strengthened my own. I have seen new religious ceremonies and structures and met wonderful atheists, pagans, Druze, Jains, Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Evangelicals and Catholics. Some of my conversations with them have challenged me, but in general I’ve found that it makes me appreciate Lutheran teachings much more. The best example of this is that I used to be attracted to unbelief. While I still enjoy reporting on atheists and have many non-believing friends, learning more about atheism and its history has cured me of any attraction to it.

Many people consider a vocation to be an occupation — or maybe an occupation that’s especially satisfying. How does the Lutheran understanding of vocation extend beyond our careers?

Lutherans have a special understanding of vocation. It’s not limited to one’s job but every single relationship I have, including parent, child, friend, neighbor, parishioner and citizen. It’s any position in which I am the instrument through which God works in the world.

So, for instance, God heals us by giving us doctors and nurses. He feeds us by giving us farmers and bakers. He gives us earthly order through our governors and legislators, and he gives us life through our parents. God is providing all these gifts — but we receive them from our neighbors.

Luther wrote that fathers should not complain when they have to rock a baby, change his diaper, or care for the baby’s mother, but instead should view each act as a holy blessing. Everything we do in service to others is a holy blessing.

At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?

I believe, with the Apostles, that Jesus Christ is the God-man who died to redeem the world from sin, rose bodily from the dead, and will raise me in the body on the last day.

via Credo: Mollie Hemingway | Leah Fabel | People | Washington Examiner.

Entitlement behavior

Ruth Marcus has a column on entitlement behavior:

By entitlement behavior, I mean the apparent belief of too many political figures — make that too many male political figures — that the ordinary rules of acceptable conduct do not apply to them. Exhibits A, B and C are former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Nevada Sen. John Ensign.

Their alleged or admitted actions differ, but these episodes are linked by more than improper sexual activity. These men seem to have thought they could get away with this behavior — not despite their celebrity and power but, at least in part, because of it.

via Bigshots behaving badly – The Washington Post.

The entitlement mindset does not have to manifest itself in sexual scandals like these, but it’s a real danger among leaders of every kind, from pastors to business executives.   Wanting “perks,” expecting kow-towing, concern for one’s status–these can interfere with loving and serving those you are leading, and, hence, the vocation of leadership.

Starbucks and vocation

Blogger Matt Perman wrote a good post entitled “Starbucks, Vocation, and The Meaning of the Mundane.”  He even included a shoutout to my book about vocation, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life !

The other day I came across an excerpt from the new book by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul. I don’t know if he’s a believer or not, but right at the start he does a fantastic job of articulating, in shadow form, a core concept of the biblical doctrine of vocation. Here’s what he says:

“Only weeks earlier, I’d sat in my Seattle office holding back-to-back meetings about how to quickly fix myriad problems that were beginning to surface inside the company. One team had to figure out how we could, in short order, retrain 135,000 baristas to pour the perfect shot of espresso.

Pouring espresso is an art, one that requires the barista to care about the quality of the beverage. If the barista only goes through the motions, if he or she does not care and produces an inferior espresso that is too weak or too bitter, then Starbucks has lost the essence of what we set out to do 40 years ago: inspire the human spirit.”

I realize this is a lofty mission for a cup of coffee, but this is what merchants do. We take the ordinary—a shoe, a knife—and give it new life, believing that what we create has the potential to touch others’ lives because it touched ours.

Here’s the point: the ordinary is not ordinary. Rather, it is in the ordinary that we are able to build people up and, yes, inspire the human spirit.

When you clean house for your family, or pour a cup of coffee, or take your car to the wash, you aren’t just doing small, mundane things. You are building building people up. You are making things better, and making a statement that people matter. Or, that’s how you ought to see it.

And the doctrine of vocation takes us further than this. For it means that, when we serve others in the everyday, it is actually God himself who is serving people through us. God is hidden in the everyday. This is true if we are believers; and God is also working through unbelievers, even if they don’t know it (Gene Veith makes this point very well in God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life when he discusses why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “give us this day our daily bread” when we actually get it from the grocery store, who got it from the bread company, who got the ingredients from various other spots, and so forth).

In fact, the doctrine of vocation even takes us one more step. When we, as followers of Christ, serve others for his sake, we aren’t just serving them. We are actually serving the Lord himself.

via Starbucks, Vocation, and The Meaning of the Mundane : What’s Best Next.

HT:  Brady Russell

The vocation of the warrior

Paul McCain quotes Martin Luther’s treatise Can Soldiers Too Be Saved?:

…In the same way, when I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love. But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish…

…The office of the sword is in itself right and is a divine and useful ordinance, which God does not want us to despise, but to fear, honor, and obey, under penalty of punishment, as St. Paul says in Romans 13 [:1-5]…

…Self-defense is a proper ground for fighting and therefore all laws agree that self-defense shall go unpunished; and he who kills another in self-defense is innocent in the eyes of all men…

…When the battle begins…they [soldiers] should simply commend themselves to God’s grace and adopt a Christian attitude…everyone should also say this exhortation in his heart or with his lips, “Heavenly Father, here I am, according to your divine will, in the external work and service of my lord, which I owe you first and then to my lord for your sake. I thank your grace and mercy that you have put me into a work which I am sure is not sin, but right and pleasing obedience to your will. But because I know and have learned from your gracious word that none of our good works can help us and that no one is saved as a soldier but only as a Christian, therefore, I will not in any way rely on my obedience and work, but place myself freely at the service of your will. I believe with all my heart that only the innocent blood of your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, redeems and saves me, which he shed for me in obedience to your holy will. In this faith I will live and die, fight, and do everything else. Dear Lord God the Father, preserve and strengthen this faith in me by your Spirit. Amen.” (American Edition, Vol. 46)

via The Death of Osama Bin Laden: A Teaching Moment on the Doctrine of Vocation and the Two Kingdoms | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

 


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