Questionable Motives

September 28, 2011

What ever happened to Baby Joseph, ‘saved’ by the Priests for Life stormtroopers from the evil clutches of Canadian health care?

Back on March 22 of this year, I posted about why Priests for Life are theological thugs, fanatical religious stormtroopers who prey on the hopes of others to aid and abet and revel in the unnecessary suffering of others in the name of  honouring their god. Their latest victim was Baby Joseph Maracchli who, in October of 2010 at 10 months of age developed a brain fever and became vegetative just like another previous child of the Maracchlis. The family wanted a tracheotomy performed so that they could take the baby home to die but the hospital disagreed on compassionate medical grounds:

Eight physicians at LSHC were unanimously of the opinion that Joseph had no hope of recovery, and there was no possible treatment that could reverse his condition. They quite rightly pointed out what was obvious that he would never get out of bed nor interact meaningfully with his environment. As responsible and caring medical professionals, the doctors sought a second opinion from colleagues in Toronto. The director of the critical care unit for Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto (a world class facility and recognized leader for pediatric medical care) there agreed that further treatment was futile. Joseph’s doctors therefore proposed removing the tube that was assisting his breathing. If he could breathe unaided, he would go home to be cared for by his parents. If not, he would be given medication to ensure that he did not suffer, and allowed to die. A Canadian Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Canadian hospital, ordering the life support removed.

This is when the Priest for Life entered and through their efforts helped make this sad story into a fundraising campaign, where they spent a considerable amount of donated money to fly the baby to St. Louis and have the tracheotomy. From their warped point of view, the priests were ‘saviors’ of the baby, vilifying the baby’s Canadian health care team in the process. The baby was released at the end of April and went home to Windsor Ontario.

Today, the Windsor Star reports:

Br. Paul O’Donnell, Major Superior at Franciscan Brothers of Peace, posted a message posted early Wednesday reported Baby Joseph had died.

“It is with great sadness that I report to you the passing of our dear Baby Joseph Maraachli. He passed away peacefully at home with his parents and family at his side. Praise God he had seven precious months with his family to be surrounded by love and was not put to death at the hands of doctors. May Joseph rest in the loving arms of his Heavenly Father surrounded by all the angels.”

Back in March, I pointed out that:

What is not reported very widely is that the couple’s first child who suffered from the same condition did receive a tracheotomy, at the parents insistence, and died a horrific death at home. That child suffered from infection, followed by pneumonia and eventually choked to death… it just took six months of additional suffering for this to happen. The physicians were rightly concerned on behalf of the quality of life of their patient to do as the family asked.

This time it took only five additional months for the baby to die after our priestly heroes intervened. They’re slipping as they get older, I guess, but any additional unnecessary suffering is a real feather in their theological caps.

March 22, 2011

Why are Priests for Life theological thugs?

First, who is Baby Joesph Maracchli and second, what’s the big deal about his medical care?

Joseph Maracchli, the son of Lebanese immigrants, was born on January 22, 2010, and his parents say they noticed he couldn’t eat or breathe properly and wouldn’t open his eyes or cry. The family, who lives in Windsor, Ontario on the Canada – United States border near Michigan, took him to a Michigan hospital in June 2010, where he was diagnosed with a metabolic brain disease, which the doctor said would make him developmentally delayed. Maracchli was treated and returned to normal after a month. However, in October 2010 he developed a fever and was breathing rapidly and was rushed to the emergency room and later transferred to the London Health Sciences Centre in London (LHSC), Ontario. The hospital said he was in a persistent vegetative state from which he would never recover. Maracchli’s family wanted the staff there to do a tracheotomy so that they could take him home and he could die in the care of his family instead of a hospital. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?

What is not reported very widely is that the couple’s first child who suffered from the same condition did receive a tracheotomy, at the parents insistence, and died a horrific death at home. That child suffered from infection, followed by pneumonia and eventually choked to death… it just took six months of additional suffering for this to happen. The physicians were rightly concerned on behalf of the quality of life of their patient to do as the family asked.

Eight physicians at LSHC were unanimously of the opinion that Joseph had no hope of recovery, and there was no possible treatment that could reverse his condition. They quite rightly pointed out what was obvious that he would never get out of bed nor interact meaningfully with his environment. As responsible and caring medical professionals, the doctors sought a second opinion from colleagues in Toronto. The director of the critical care unit for Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto (a world class facility and recognized leader for pediatric medical care) there agreed that further treatment was futile. Joseph’s doctors therefore proposed removing the tube that was assisting his breathing. If he could breathe unaided, he would go home to be cared for by his parents. If not, he would be given medication to ensure that he did not suffer, and allowed to die. A Canadian Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Canadian hospital, ordering the life support removed.

Enter our heroes, the Priests for Life, those celibate men of the cloth who (incredibly and without shame) think their religious beliefs equip them with the kind of god-soaked moral knowledge necessary to determine proper medical treatment over and above a team of highly trained and specialized medical professionals who actually care for children as their daily job. Let us keep in mind that there has never been a suffering life these meddling priests have not tried to prolong. The Terri Schiavo debacle immediately comes to mind.

Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University picks up the story:

Little Joseph Maraachli is a new poster boy for the “pro-life” movement. But what has happened to him should instead teach us what to do – and what not to do – if we are really serious about saving human lives. The 13-month-old from Canada, who has been having medical treatment for most of his short life, suffers from a severe neurodegenerative disease. He has difficulty breathing on his own. His head is small for his age and has not grown for three months. He has seizures. His pupils do not respond to light or follow a moving object. His movements are not purposeful.

Then Priests for Life, a Catholic -abortion and anti-euthanasia organization stepped in, chartering an air ambulance to fly Joseph from Canada to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, a Catholic hospital, in St. Louis, which will perform the operation the parents requested.

“We Rescued Baby Joseph!” says a page on the Priests for Life website. The organization’s director, the Rev. Frank Pavone, says he has been told that it could cost as much as $150,000 for Joseph’s stay in the pediatric intensive care unit. That doesn’t include the cost of the aircraft, which would have added thousands more to the bill. Priests for Life is, of course, asking its supporters to donate to pay these costs.

Here’s the irony. According to the most rigorous charity evaluation agency in the country, GiveWell.org, you can save a child’s life for about $1,000. All you have to do is give the money to their top-rated charity, Village Reach, which delivers vaccines and other urgently needed medical supplies to rural areas in developing countries.

If Priests for Life were really serious about saving lives, instead of “rescuing” Joseph so he can live another few months lying in bed, unable to experience the normal joys of childhood, let alone become an adult, they could have used the money they have raised to save 150 lives – most of them children who would have gone on to live healthy, happy lives for 50 years or more.

We’ve seen such things happen before. In 2005 the anti-abortion movement put a huge effort, and large sums of money, into “saving” Terri Schiavo. In the end, after Congress had been recalled specifically to enable a federal court to hear the case, she was allowed to die. An autopsy showed her brain had been severely and irreversibly damaged.

We can obsess over Joseph and Terri – or we can make an honest effort to save the lives of countless children whose names we may never know. It is our choice.

But the Priests for Life don’t want to save lives in the sense of protecting the dignity of those who are already alive yet suffering; they want to prolong the biological functioning of a body regardless of the suffering… the younger the better and a fetus especially, even if it kills women to do so. Since becoming involved in the medical treatment of Baby Joseph, the Priests for Life have mobilized support from the likes of the Hope Network and the legions of catholics and christians who think these groups do god’s work. Now the medical staff at LSHC have been the recipients of the kind of faith-based love the anti-abortion crowd – championed as they are by Priests for Life – sends out to those who disagree with their beliefs: hate mail and death threats.

Oh, I can hear the faithful claiming loudly that those extremists don’t represent the mainstream religious.

But they do.

You see, Priests for Life and the anti-choice crowd are no different than the mainstream believers in that they don’t give a rat’s ass respecting your life;  they care only for life, which according to their beliefs belongs not to you but their god. And they will continue to act accordingly not to respect your rights and freedoms as an autonomous individual where dignity of personhood must reside, if the term ‘personal dignity’ is to have any personal meaning, but as god’s Stormtroopers out to protect what belongs to him. That’s why they’re theological thugs and are empowered by those who respect their beliefs about what god owns over and above respecting your personal dignity.

March 13, 2011

Why is suffering a fatal flaw for belief in a benevolent creator?

Most of us know of Epicurus’ succinct summation evil causes belief in a benevolent god:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

The slippery term in this paradox for believers is ‘evil’. I think we can reveal the same fatal paradox without the metaphysical baggage that accompanies such a term by replacing it with the word ‘suffering’. I am certainly not the first to do so and I think it tears away the comforting veil of ignorance that infuses belief in a benevolent god when we look at how the world actually and factually operates.

Life and death on this planet has come about as we know it by the process of evolution, a system Lord Tennyson accurately describes as “red in tooth and claw.” Suffering by sentient beings is simply part and parcel of this mindless, unguided, undirected, indifferent biological mechanism. This is a problem for those who would prefer to believe in a benevolent creator. As blogger and ex Anglican priest, Eric MacDonald so eloquently describes the problem evolution creates for the believer this way:

If this is a consciously designed process (evolution by design as held by many notable people such as Francis Collins and those allied to the same notion endorsed by the rc church and many other denominations), as Christians must maintain — for, from the Christian point of view, god’s first priority is the creation of human beings and their redemption — then all the suffering is an intentional part of god’s purposes. And this is simply intolerable. It cannot stand a moment’s moral reflection, and certainly the doctrine of double effect won’t change the mind of a reasonable person on this matter, for you cannot not intend suffering if you create by means of natural selection.

From an academically and scientifically honest standpoint, evolution is fact that is fatal to the argument that a creator god is benevolent.

So what’s a believer in a benevolent creator to do? In England, an imam with the audacity to suggest evolution is compatible with islam if the Koran is interpreted just so, one must apologize and retract such a statement if one wishes to avoid being killed as an apostate. In the US, one must contend with repeated attempts by the religiously misguided to keep creationism from being inserted into the science classroom, spending untold millions  of taxpayer dollars to continue this separation intact. The latest attack against science is in Tennessee. The one is Kentucky has just died… for this session. The one is Texas is still going strong as it works its way towards approved legislation. Florida tries every year and this one is no different. Louisiana has already passed it’s anti-evolution bill as if this will magically improve the state’s dismal showing in student science knowledge. And so on, and so on, and so on, even after creationism has been soundly defeated in every federal court case brought against its insertion into the public school science curriculum. (The latest was in Dover in 2005.) Religious beliefs about a creator – no matter under what recent title it tries on for public acceptance – have no scientific credibility nor validity. This is not a preference or belief by people who would prefer this not to be so: it’s a fact… and a fact that far too many religious people seem unable and unwilling to grasp. When such facts are contrary to what is believed to be true by those who respect faith-based beliefs, then obviously the facts must be wrong! There’s nothing like a legislative act to set the facts on the path to redemption.

Good grief.

The world, however – and  no matter where we look at it – continues to offer up the brutal fact that creationism is not only a fairytale but that its supposed benevolence is identical in all meaningful ways to that of a delusion. For example, the latest and devastating earthquakes in New Zealand and China and  Japan is accompanied by undeniable indiscriminate death and much human suffering.  Tsunamis add their additional effects. Plate tectonics and the accompanying geological and hydrological effects are just as mindless, unguided, undirected, and indifferent a physical mechanism as biological evolution is and the resulting human suffering just as obvious. The physical evidence for mindless cause and effect of these mechanisms is overwhelming. Where is the evidence for benevolence versus the suffering these mechanisms cause?

No where.

Let us now turn to the pious who feel some level of compassion and empathy for the suffering of their fellow creatures in the wake of these disasters. A.C. Grayling offers us this glimpse into the reasoning that is avoided by those who decide to offer up their prayers to some benevolent creator for these distant folk suffering from calamity. Following the same reasoning of Epicurus’s paradox, he wonders about why anyone would show fealty to such an obvious metaphysical monster some think of as a benevolent creator:

For if he is not competent to stop an earthquake or save its victims, he is definitely not competent to create a world. And if he is powerful enough to do both, but created a dangerous world that inflicts violent and agonizing sufferings arbitrarily on sentient creatures, then he is vile. Either way, what are people thinking who believe in such a being, and who go to church to praise and worship it? How, in the face of events which human kindness and concern registers as tragic and in need of help – help which human beings proceed to give to their fellows: no angels appear from the sky to do it – can they believe such an incoherent fiction as the idea of a deity? This is a perennial puzzle.

Indeed it is.

This desire by the pious to believe in a literal Santa Claus-ian benevolent creator is not just foolishly childish and comforting as only a delusion can be; it is a faith-based belief that incessantly gives god-sanctioned motivation to those who directly attack both evidence-based fact as apostasy and intellectually honest reason as some kind of evil plot to undermine god. That some continue to insist that we can accommodate religion and science – allow respect for what some believe is true as well for what IS true – is foolhardy as well as intentionally dishonest. It is foolhardy because it interferes with folk who think there is a legitimate choice to be made between accepting what is factually true and faith-based beliefs as some kind of equivalent source for knowledge in spite of no evidence for this to be the case (and much evidence in stark contrast to this case), and dishonest because for these same folk it reduces  what is true to be conditional on some collection of faith-based beliefs they have chosen to accept as true first. Yet faith-based beliefs add nothing honest to our understanding of the world nor any true appreciation for the dependent role we suffer for our lives on it and much disinformation and misrepresentation of how the world actually is and how it actually works and how we actually cause effects in it.

January 20, 2010

Where does compassion originate?

Filed under: Altruism,Biology,Compassion,Evolution — tildeb @ 3:15 pm

According to evolutionary theory, if compassion is truly vital to human survival, it would manifest itself through nonverbal signals. Such signals would serve many adaptive functions. Most importantly, a distinct signal of compassion would soothe others in distress, allow people to identify the good-natured individuals with whom they’d want long-term relationships, and help forge bonds between strangers and friends.

The biological basis of compassion

First consider the recent study of the biological basis of compassion. If such a basis exists, we should be wired up, so to speak, to respond to others in need. Recent evidence supports this point convincingly. University of Wisconsin psychologist Jack Nitschke found in an experiment that when mothers looked at pictures of their babies, they not only reported feeling more compassionate love than when they saw other babies; they also demonstrated unique activity in a region of their brains associated with the positive emotions. Nitschke’s finding suggests that this region of the brain is attuned to the first objects of our compassion—our offspring.

But this compassionate instinct isn’t limited to parents’ brains. In a different set of studies, Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen of Princeton University found that when subjects contemplated harm being done to others, a similar network of regions in their brains lit up. Our children and victims of violence—two very different subjects, yet united by the similar neurological reactions they provoke. This consistency strongly suggests that compassion isn”t simply a fickle or irrational emotion, but rather an innate human response embedded into the folds of our brains.

In other research by Emory University neuroscientists James Rilling and Gregory Berns, participants were given the chance to help someone else while their brain activity was recorded. Helping others triggered activity in the caudate nucleus and anterior cingulate, portions of the brain that turn on when people receive rewards or experience pleasure. This is a rather remarkable finding: helping others brings the same pleasure we get from the gratification of personal desire.

The brain, then, seems wired up to respond to others’ suffering—indeed, it makes us feel good when we can alleviate that suffering. But do other parts of the body also suggest a biological basis for compassion?

Keep reading about remarkable new research findings of the built in biological signs and symptoms of compassion and altruism by Dacher Keltner here.

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