Monday, September 04, 2006

What I'm Thinking About

I’m thinking about education, and health care, and drinking water, and what in this country we consider a “right” and what we consider a commodity or privilege. Perhaps it doesn’t show, but I received an excellent education. In my younger days I always believed I deserved this education because I was smarter than the average bear, and in our “system” smart people got the best education. Of course now that I look back on it, that’s at best half the truth. The rest is that my parents valued education highly enough to make enormous financial commitment to it, often at great sacrifice. Some of my classmates were not so smart, but their parents were very wealthy and tuition was a drop in the bucket. I never really knew all this as a kid.

Some education, Americans have decided, is a “right”—but only up to a certain point. Similarly, we consider very basic health care a right. Well, maybe we do. You can’t just “enroll” in basic health care the way you can take your six-year-old down to school with her birth certificate and sign her up, no questions asked. At best, if you want free health care, you’re going to fill out a mountain of paperwork, much of it incomprehensible and embarrassing. You’ll likely need a social worker to walk you through it. And certainly any health care the quality equivalent of a American public high-school education is not going to come freely. Our capitalism extends deeply into our health care consciousness; we all hope to be rich, and we all expect that, once we are, we’ll be allowed to buy the world’s best health care for ourselves and our families (the others be damned).

But then there’s drinking water. For some reason, we decided long ago that safe drinking water—tasty drinking water, even—is more or less an equal right of each resident of every city (which is most of us, now). So far as I know, the water in the loftiest upper-east-side Manhattan penthouse is the same as that piped into the most cramped public housing on Avenue D. Sure, you can pay more for spring water shipped from Fiji (don’t get me started on that) but there’s not much evidence that it’s any better for you.

Non-sequitur, but I’ve also been thinking about suicide. No, sorry to scare you-- not thinking of doing it, just thinking about it. This is normal for shrinks, remember. In particular I’ve been considering people who think that suicide is a sin, and how that alters their perceptions of it, and their likelihood ever to attempt it. I suppose I fall into an unusual sector of the sin Venn-diagram: I believe some things are sinful, but I don’t much believe in any kind of afterlife. So to my mind, if there’s a punishment for a sin, it’s simply having to live with the knowledge that you’ve committed it. By definition, you don’t live with the knowledge that you’ve killed yourself. So I’m not sure where I come out on that. Then again, maybe attempted suicide is also a sin? If so, how earnestly do you have to attempt, in order to cross the sin threshold? I’ll have to run this by some of my theologically-minded friends.


Blogger Katinka said...

Interesting topics...lots to chew on. :)

I've actually been thinking about euthanasia (and the associated issue of suicide) lately myself.

Although I'm still trying to determine what I believe about euthanasia, I suspect that suicide may be wrong because it implies lack of confidence in God's ability to bring something positive out of a dark experience...that while we are still living, we have a purpose to fulfil. The other factor is the impact on those connected to the that might influence their choices or set up a precedent for suicide. Or in the case of a parent, their suicide may have profound long term financial, emotional and practical implications for their children or spouse.

But this is definitely a grey area...for example, is it suicide if someone chooses to be removed from life support?

Interestingly, I couldn't find any scripture that directly discusses the moral implications of suicide. It gives a few examples of people who have taken their own lives, but makes no overt judgement about it:

-King Saul who fell on his sword after being wounded in battle; 1 Samuel 31:45

- Judas who hung himself after realising what he had done betraying an innocent man; Matthew 27

-or the case of Samson who asked God to strengthen him so that he could take action against the Philistines and in so doing deliberately killed himself in the process; Judges 16; 28-30

From a Christian perspective, the tragedy is that if someone takes their life before accepting the offer of salvation (being reconciled to God), as far as we know they never have that opportunity again.

For a Christian to take their own life, there is a kind of different concern. The great sorrow there is that they lost the opportunity to discover how God can care for and sustain them through whatever pain they are experiencing. If there is a sin, it is lack of confidence in God's goodness and the extent of His love for them.

Although I can find no scriptures that address this directly, I doubt that if someone has once formed a relationship with God, that they are cut off from Him as a result of their momentary weakness. I believe that Christs sacrifice covers that too. There are many scriptures that speak of how He understands our frailty/ limitations, and how He has compassion for that.

Sorry for the long ramble...these are my first thoughts. I'll have to think about this a bit more...:)

9/4/06, 4:21 PM  
Anonymous Johanna said...

In my distant past when I had things like the catechism funneled through my fontanel, I vaguely remember being indoctrinated with it's a sin to kill a human being, humans are just the stewards not the owners of their mortal bodies, thus we are killing if we self-kill and ergo sin. I also remember it being a particularly bad way to go cause hey, you couldn't trundle off to confession and say, sorry, I goofed, I feel bad and all that.

So, accepting that logic as a 10 year old, I always wondered: so if *I* don't even have the right to make decisions of life and death over *my* body, how is it not a big bad and awful sin to mete out the death penalty? if god supersedes my own command of my body, does a judge and jury supersed god? and that still confuses me.

but then, what do I know, I live in a state that still pays a bit more than lip service to universal health care and primarily merit-based access to the good universities. And besides, my once upon a time catechism teachers would write me off as a godless heathen anyway.

9/5/06, 7:16 PM  
Blogger Katinka said...

According to Mosaic law, murder (ie. wrongfully taking someone else’s life) is a serious offence that requires death...and to administer justice in this way is to be answerable to God, who made that provision available. (Exodus 21;12-29)

As a tool of justice, any courts that wrongly send someone to their death will most certainly be held responsible and judged accordingly. (Which is why helping to send Jesus to the cross was such a terrible burden of guilt to Judas, so much so that he ended up killing himself)

I was talking with a friend about the issue of suicide last night, and she raised a really good point: she suggested that the moral responsibility of suicide probably hinges on the contextual motivation involved.

Is it an act of vengeance to hurt or get back at someone? Or is it done to protect others? (eg. World War II spies who took a 'death pill' when tortured to prevent them from revealing information that would put others at risk) Is it the result of a psychological impairment, as in schizophrenia?

From a sociological perspective, there may be other considerations motivating the current judiciary view of suicide. If suicide were ever made legal the result could well be an overall de-valuing of human life, becoming the tipping point to permissiveness about practices such as genocide, enforced euthanasia, etc.

I think the key factor is that suicide doesn't impact on only the individual themselves.

We are each part of a network or a body, a greater community of people that we are accountable to...we each have both an autonomous and a public self. So in a sense, for X to take his/her life is to make a choice that really isn't entirely his/hers to make. Perhaps this is also one of the reasons why we sense that suicide is wrong...

9/9/06, 3:00 PM  

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