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Fair Enough

Via the London Times:

HELPING terminally ill and incurably disabled patients to commit suicide is set to be decriminalised in Britain under guidance to be issued this week.

Those who assist a friend or relative to end their lives on compassionate grounds will not be prosecuted, under guidelines to be announced by Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions.

However, it will still be a crime to act as “ringleader” or “organiser” of the death of a person who has been “vulnerable to manipulation”.

The guidelines are expected to make clear the difference between someone “assisting” and someone “encouraging” a suicide.



Miscellany, March 20

  • Pareidolia is “that phenomenon wherein people see things that aren’t there because human brains are wired for pattern recognition”. Children see animals in the clouds or letters in a pile of sticks; adults are likely to see images fraught with special meaning, especially (though not only) religious images such as the Virgin Mary, the cross or the face of Jesus. Via Orac comes an irresistible six-minute video of the highlights of Christian pareidolia stories for 2008.

    Orac hazards the view — though I’m not sure what the evidence is in either direction — that in societies with a different religious foundation or none at all, people would see something else in grilled cheese sandwiches, tree bark, cinnamon bun residues, dirty windows, and other objects presenting random visual patterns. (Compare the 2005 story in which Burger King redesigned the swirl on an ice cream lid after a Muslim man objected that it was too reminiscent of the Arabic inscription for Allah).
  • From the same blog, but on an entirely different subject, a study of medicine and religion finds that (to quote the blog, not the study) “Faith in a higher power can often lead to more aggressive treatment than is medically warranted”. In cases of incurable cancer, strong religious conviction on the part of patients is apparently more likely to correlate with the use of ventilators, death while in intensive care, and other heroic/invasive measures, as opposed to hospice. Orac (who is a medical doctor specializing in cancer) has an extended and interesting discussion.
  • Finally, a Missouri library has agreed to settle “Deborah Smith’s claim that she lost her job as a librarian assistant in Poplar Bluff, Mo., because she refused to attend a ‘Harry Potter Night’ promoting the publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ in July 2007.” Smith believed the Potter books dabble in the occult and was not mollified at the library director’s offer to let her participate behind the scenes where her fellow church members would not have to realize she was involved.

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This topic, which I mentioned in passing last week, is back in the news with the announcement of an executive order by President Bush extending and entrenching the asserted right of hospital, clinic and pharmacy employees to defy their supervisors and disrupt the operation of their workplaces by announcing that they will not dispense prescriptions or participate in medical procedures that violate their religious beliefs.  At NRO’s “Corner”, we are instructed by Tyranny of Reason author Yuval Levin that it’s totally illegitimate to use quote-marks around the word “conscience”, as if to suggest that the employees in question could have spared themselves a crisis of conscience by not accepting jobs that might present them with such duties in the first place. Levin also seems to find it illegitimate for the New York Times’s story to mention the Roman Catholic hierarchy in tones that suggest that the issue has anything to do with churches’ influence on public policy. Speaking of which, a post by Radley Balko at Reason “Hit and Run” reminds me just how broad the Vatican’s opposition to assisted reproductive technology is: I mentioned in vitro fertilization for unmarried women last time, but of course the Church prohibits the use of in vitro techniques for married couples as well.

The rules are likely to cause trouble — maybe even are intended to cause trouble — for clinics offering in vitro and other assisted reproductive services. And yet the Bush people would be unlikely to succeed in mustering the votes for an outright ban on such services, no matter how much encouragement they got from the Corner or Levin’s Ethics and Public Policy Center.

P.S. Some further thoughts from Rick Garnett at Prawfsblawg on the question — which seems in some ways the cutting edge of contention — of whether backers of the measure should be conceded the positively-charged word conscience without the distancing or irony of quotation marks. In part this is a battle over who gets to use language with favorable connotations, but it is also influenced by the sense that there’s a time and place for everything, even crises of conscience, and that the time to announce one’s conscientious objections to warmaking, if one doesn’t want people to start using air quotes about them, is before one is shipped to the battlefield.

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Miscellany, December 7

  • Ann Althouse on Bill O’Reilly and the Washington atheist sign:
    Atheist Christmas sign

    Atheist Christmas sign

    Another December, another battle in the “War on Christmas.” I think the sensible people don’t want to fight about religion, but there are always extremists — pro-religion and anti-religion — who seek glory in the fighting. Tolerance and peace is the better path. Please take it.

    Earlier discussion here and, generally, here.

  • Current laws in most states protect the Roman Catholic Church’s right to turn away abortion-seekers even as it accepts public funds to provide other ob/gyn services at its vast network of hospitals. Now the church hierarchy vows to behave like an Ayn Rand hero (hey, I meant that as a compliment) and close down (not sell) the hospitals, no matter how grave the consequences for patients, if the pending, Obama-endorsed Freedom of Choice Act winds up knocking out such laws. As one much interested in the law of religious accommodation, I’ll say that I’m strongly inclined to defend the current laws that excuse the Catholic hospitals from having to perform abortions. At the same time, I’m equally strongly opposed to newer Religious-Right-backed proposals for the law to create opt-out rights within organizations, thus enabling devout employees of secular clinics and hospitals to announce to their startled supervisors that they will no longer perform their job duties when that means facilitating abortions (or sterilization, contraception, in vitro fertilization for unmarried women, or whatever). It seems to me a relevant factor that nearly everywhere in the country the publicly funded patient can choose from among an ample variety of secular health care options, while likewise the committed opponent of contraception has a great many possible job options other than working behind a Walgreen’s pharmacy counter. But I suspect that many commenters will favor policies that are more absolutist in one direction or the other.
  • Aside to some of the usual suspects: I know you dearly love to feel that churches are being persecuted and driven into the catacombs over their social-conservative political activism, but when even big-league separationist Barry Lynn says the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches are in no danger of losing their tax exemption over their promotion of Prop 8, maybe it’s time to just admit that they’re in no danger of losing it. Kthxbai.

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The Leprechaun Cure

This is mildly interesting.

Researchers Stepping Up Study of Health And Religiosity
Small Field Devoted To Exploring Possible Link Is Expanding Despite Criticism,  Lack of Funding

To critics, the few dozen researchers who met this week for a Washington conference are part of an ideological crusade, a modern-day sham meant to infect science with religious belief.

To participants, they are studying what they say is becoming increasingly obvious: the link between a person’s religion or spirituality and their health.

I can’t see any a priori reason why there shouldn’t be a link between general health and religiosity. What on earth is religiosity, though? Responses on a belief questionnaire? Church attendance? Occasional experiences of Merging With the Cosmic All? Seems to me tough to measure in a general way, though I suppose you could start at the high end with monks and priests. And which way does the arrow of causation point? … etc., etc.

Good luck to the researchers, anyway. Alas, nobody on this site has much to hope for. If believing in preposterous fictions makes you healthier — and I say again, I see no a priori reason why it shouldn’t — then we are doomed to ill health.

And if the link does get dispositively proved, the smugness of the believers will be hard to take.



Feeling healthy?

Why, yes, fit as a fiddle, actually. Why do you ask?


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