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Week of: April 22, 2001

Be Prepared to Prove Your Personhood

by F.R. Duplantier

"For most bioethicists, basic human rights are not inalienable, but must be earned by criteria they have created."

"Unbeknownst to most Americans, a small but influential group of philosophers and health care policy makers are working energetically to transform our nation's medical practice and health care laws," reports author Wesley Smith in his new book, Culture of Death. "They are turning away from the 'do no harm' model established by Hippocrates more than two thousand years ago, and toward a stark utilitarian system that would legitimize medical discrimination against -- and even, in some cases, the killing of -- the weakest and most defenseless people among us. "

Smith attributes this new utilitarian approach to medicine in part to "the culture of the times, in which objective truths are passé and the very concept of right and wrong is under assault. But the problem involves more than societal drift or some slow-motion cultural evolution. The challenges to medical ethics," he asserts, "are purposefully promoted by a cadre of 'experts': moral philosophers, academics, lawyers, physicians, and other members of an emerging medical intelligentsia, known generally as 'bioethicists.'"

Smith charges that the leaders of the bioethics movement "generally reject what until now has been the core value of Western civilization: that all human beings possess equal moral worth. That denial leads bioethicists -- and, through them, us -- into very dark and dangerous places," he warns. "Our culture is fast devolving into one in which killing is beneficent, suicide is rational, natural death is undignified, and caring properly and compassionately for people who are elderly, prematurely born, disabled, despairing, or dying is a burden that wastes emotional and financial resources."

Leading bioethicists see "nothing special per se in being human," Smith observes. Individuals with "sufficient cognitive qualifications to achieve membership in the moral community are often called 'persons,' who have moral rights. Those who fail this test," Smith remarks, "are denigrated as nonpersons, who have little or no moral worth."

Smith emphasizes that "the mainstream bioethics movement embraces dehumanizing ideas and health policies" such as the following: "intentional dehydration of cognitively disabled people as a matter of medical routine, Futile Care Theory protocols empowering physicians to refuse wanted end-of-life medical treatment; medical neglect based on age or state of health and disability, promoted in the name of an alleged need for health care rationing; euthanasia and assisted suicide redefined from crimes into 'medical treatment'; the elevation of some animals above some people in moral worth; attempts to redefine death to allow living human beings to be exploited as organ sources; using incapacitated people as subjects in nontherapeutic medical experimentation in violation of the Nuremberg Code; people stripped of their human right to life because they fail to 'earn' the status of personhood."

Smith argues that "mainstream bioethics is moving us by policy creep toward an ethical abyss." He calls for "heightened media scrutiny and public awareness of what bioethics is, what it generally stands for, why it is important, and the societal and individual consequences that will befall us if [this] 'new medicine' represents our future."


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