Punchinello’s Chronicles

August 10, 2009

Bioethics, Communitarianism and The Collective

Filed under: Butterfly Wings — Punchinello @ 10:53 pm
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Back when science came up with the atom bomb, many people suddenly realized that science alone has no particular philosophy. It’s not designed to have philosophic questions, it’s designed to ask questions about physical reality. All of a sudden, the question of whether or not we should “unleash” nuclear weapons on the planet became very important.

Then came the first successful clone. Once again, science was at the center of a moral debate. Should we clone a human being? What about God? That combined not only morality but also religion. And again, science has no business being involved in philosophy. Unfortunately, modern philosophers have all but abdicated any responsibility to their field.

Philosophy is basically the way we put a context around facts. Science finds out those facts, and philosophers examine the meaning of what science finds out. The opposite is also true; philosophers wonder why certain things seem to be related, and come up with speculations. Scientists then devise experiments to see whether or not the speculations have any merit. But with philosophers out of the picture, who puts the context around powerful new knowledge?

Bioethics has come into being as a way to philosophically examine the context of modern medical technology. For example, we know how to keep a body alive using only machines. The question is whether or not the “person” is also alive? What is a “person?” What do we mean when we talk about “alive?” Another question is whether or not it’s morally right or wrong to terminate someone’s life when they’re in unbearable pain, or they’re in a coma, or they’re incapable of functioning at some level of competency.

Who makes the decision as to what’s competent? What’s a “normal” human life? If someone isn’t “normal,” what should happen to them?

All of this was bubbling under for a long time, but has now come to a head because of public (government) money used for health care. If I have a child in a coma, and I (and my family) am paying ALL medical expenses, then nobody else really has a right to tell me when or if to end life support. Right? What about murder? If I decide to suspend any further IV feeding, starving that child to death, is that murder? What’s the definition of murder?

Meanwhile, suppose I have no money at all, and my child is being kept alive with technology funded by public tax dollars? How much decision-making authority do I have, should I have, or may I have? It’s my child, but the technology is being funded by the community.

A large group of people living together, forming a government, building a military, having a culture and so forth, is a society. Within that society, smaller groups form social groups. We can call a social group a community, but more to the point, when a small group of people live in a local geographical area, then they’re a community.

In today’s world, the most important question we’re all facing is about rights. Who has the higher authority; the community? Or the individuals within that community?

Across the board, we’re now having to examine what provides authority. What provides rights? Does the money used to pay for something automatically confer rights? If so, then when do those rights transfer from a lender to a borrower?

Bioethics has become critical in the current health-care debate because of insurance. Everyone seems to think that “insurance” means paying nothing, having the insurance company paying for all medical expenses totally. In fact, we only take out insurance as a safety measure against something improbable taking place! Getting a cold, breaking a bone, or catching the flu are ordinary! They’re not improbable!

With everyone using someone else’s money to pay for medical care, we can’t possibly have enough money. Therefore, we either change the premise, or we start culling the herd. Either we only use insurance money for non-ordinary, emergency conditions, or we pay for everything, no matter what. If we pay for everything, where does the money come from?

Since nobody wants to examine in any way the idea of personal responsibility, we’re left with an impossible situation. Everyone wants free medical care, and nobody’s going to pay for it. That means someone has to die, and other people have to be told they can’t have any medical care. Who lives and who dies?

Who makes the decisions about who lives or dies? On what basis do they make those decisions?

The modern answer, so far, is in social justice and placing the “rights” (totally undefined) of the community higher than the lives of the individuals. It’s “for the good of the community,” or “for the common good.” And who determines the nature and meaning of “common good?” We don’t even have a definition of “good!” Nor do most people even believe there’s any such thing as a real meaning to the word “good!”

Our political leaders, headed up by the current administration, find themselves in an absolutely life-and-death moral dilemma. There’s no possible way to pay for medical care for everyone, when that includes every possible medical condition. A quadruple bypass, liver transplant, or premature live birth is expensive. We could set aside the money by not paying for things like flu shots, drug prescriptions or broken arms, but nobody wants that either.

Therefore, with only a finite amount of money available, some people must die. We know that young people have “their whole lives ahead of them,” and old people “have led a good life.” Logically, as science examines things, old people should be the first to die. Is that a satisfying answer?

Well, what if we just let sick old people die? How long will it be before we also decide to help them along? Or worse, what’s the definition of “old?” Only 100 years ago, “old” meant around 45 years old, with a typical common lifespan being around 50-something.

The key to this entire concept is philosophy. And philosophy has become one of those old-fashioned, pointless areas of useless conversation. People think philosophy means wondering how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. When anyone encounters a complex moral dilemma, they throw it away and say, “Oh, that’s just wasting time on stupid philosophy.”

And so, here we are. Who will live, and who will die? Who will receive medication and who will not? Whose surgery will be authorized, and whose withheld? Will your child, spouse or parent be deemed “useless”, having lived a good life? Or will they be considered unable to have a quality life? Who will define the word “quality?”

Never mind, it’s just some stupid old philosophy junk, and nobody gives a crap about that stuff. Right?

In all likelihood, your neighborhood will have a neighborhood watch committee. They will know everyone in the community directly. They’ll be the “organizers” of that community, and will be able to make objective, impersonal decisions about whether or not people in that community are useful or not. If they’re on welfare, they’re not useful. If they’re sick, disabled, or otherwise not “up to par” then they’re useless.

The neighborhood community organizers will be wonderful people. They’ll be compassionate, caring, wise, all-knowing, and all-seeing. And they’ll have the power of life and death. Their only judgment will be based on whether or not someone fits into the community. People who obstruct, argue, fight, complain, disagree, all will be useless. People who go along, get along, rarely comment, and mostly just shut up and do what they’re told; those will be the useful people.

The community has rights, after all. There’s only one problem with that: point to “the community?” Show me the person who is “the community?” There’s no such thing! There only are individuals who CHOOSE to live within a community. And if that community CHOOSES to spend all its money on subsidies, welfare, medical care, and every other entitlement, then EVERY individual in the community is responsible.

When we put “the community” ahead of individuals, you can abso-damn-tootely know for a fact!…that a few individuals will be designated the leaders of that community. They will speak for the community, they will decide for the community, and their individual lives will be far, far more important than anyone else’s lives! After all, they’re the “voice of the community.”

You’re in your 40s, doing important work, making good money! You’re useful, but health “insurance” is just so gosh-awful expensive! So what if old people don’t get end-of-life care? So what if they have to go a bit early, to make room for the “rest of us?” So what? They’re costing too much.

Then you’re in your 70s, feeling pretty much the same say you did when you were 40. It’s just that a few parts need some cleaning and replacement. To bad! You’re an old person, and you’re not working anymore. You’ve got too damn much money in the bank, and the community needs that money! There’s not enough money to go around, and you’ve already spent your fair share. Off to the trash with you!

Oh! You voted in favor of national health care? Well, that was nice of you. Thanks. But, unfortunately, you’re old and useless now, so take care and don’t forget to write from the afterlife.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Bioethics, Communitarianism and The Collective […]

    Pingback by Website Directory - Society and Culture — August 10, 2009 @ 11:02 pm | Reply


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