Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Life under the Microscope: Life v. The New Fates of "Having a Life"

SOME OF THE OPPONENTS OF THE SANCTITY OF LIFE distinguish between life (which they equate generally with merely biological process) and "having a life." (e.g., James Rachels in his book End of Life, quoted by Oderberg, 159.). This effort at measuring the concept of "having a life" is the consequentialist effort at objectifying the determination of when life is no longer worth living from the perspective of the potential victim. Once again, we have here a notion of life which is instrumental--life as a backpack, not as the hub of a wheel.*

"Having a life" to these folks means the panoply of "biographical" aspects of a person, the "plans, projects, aspirations, memories, desires, preferences, making choices, fulfilling ambitions, and so on" that humans all enjoy and value. Oderberg, 159. It is the latter only that we value, say these folks, and not the biological life which is their carrier or their host; hence, they argue, biological life has no real moral import. It is what we value that is morally important. Those who merely subsist in biological life--the comatose, the ancephalic, or those whose suffering prevents, in any real sense the "biographical" aspects from developing--perhaps even the deaf, the dumb, the blind, those with severe physical or mental handicaps, the bedridden, the senile, the list could go on and on depending on who's doing the defining--do not really "have a life" in any moral sense.

Those persons that make this distinction seize on, and take advantage of, the psychological horror that can accompany suffering of those of our less fortunate brothers and sisters. Who, after all, would prefer (if he had a choice) a life of constant pain, or life in a coma, to a life of ordinary flourishing? Who would ever want the life of St. Lydwine of Schiedam? (And yet look what she did with it.) But that preference and that question are entirely different from the question of whether the life of the unfortunate person who suffers from these disadvantages is to be regarded as of less value to the point where he can be considered dispensable. The question of flourishing or the question of tragedy in life is a different question from the question of life, but the opponents of the sanctity of life doctrine would have us confuse the two, and then capitalize on the confusion. One could almost speak here of a "consequentialist fallacy," a fallacy in logic which jumps from flourishing or lack of flourishing to living and not living.

The extra moral theory that critics [of the sanctity of life doctrine] almost unanimously add to their judgments about a "life worth living" is one or other version of consequentialism, the theory that what matters is, purely and simply, the maximization of good effects, the greatest possible balance of good effects over bad. Since the test of maximization is an objective one it is, the critics believe, a natural ally in the devising of an objective test of whether a life is not "worth living."

Oderberg, 160-61. The problems that the advocates of such "objective" calculus face, are, of course, the same which any consequentialist theoretician faces. And they are insurmountable. What facts to we include in our universe of consequentialist calculus? What are our time boundaries? How do we measure the subjective components of the person whose life we, like some sort of modern version of the three Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, spin into a thread, measure its length, and then cut it with "th'abhorred shears," to slit "the thin spun life"? (John Milton, Lycidas, l. 75)

The Modern Consequentialists: Would-be Clothos, Lachesises, and Atroposes?

We might scoff: Who died and made the consequentialists judge? The consequentialists' assumption of the office of the Fates, the Moirae, is hubristic, if nothing else, though it may also be be objected to as entirely arbitrary because their measurements are of impossible complexity.
Exactly what factors, in what degrees . . . and in what combinations? No answers to these crucial questions are forthcoming. . . . Consequentialism promises to come to the rescue, since it professes to offer a single, precise formula for reducing the various factors to a "common currency" that can be weighed and calculated . . . [b]ut there is . . . no agreement as to what that common currency is . . . .
Oderberg, 161.

Judge not lest you be judged, Oh ye consequentialists who would assume the role of masters of our fate! For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Cf. Matt. 7:1-2.) Perhaps we ought to consider that it is not those who suffer who do not "have a life." Perhaps it is those who would assume the mantle of the Fates, who would don the role of a measurer and cutter of life's thread, who do not "have a life," for they seem to have exploited it, commercialized it, cheapened it. In exchange for their filthy lucre--thirty pieces of their common consequentialist currency--they have sold life away, including their own, in a Faustian bargain, a vicious trade not unlike the one Judas made twenty centuries ago. Where is the Potter's Field that this blood money will buy and upon which the modern Vernichtungslagern and Todeslagern, the new consequentialist death camps, shall be built? This is not hyperbole. There are some already built as far away as Holland, and some are being planned in places as close as the State of Oregon. There are some who say that these are found in semine and in appropriately washed form in the two thousand or so pages of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law that ushered in Obamacare and which will ration care against the interests of the terminally ill in favor of the young and robust. There is a frightening inhumaneness in the notion that government bureaucrats will be making consequentialist calculations on health care using using consequentialist-driven concepts such as those of the Quality-Adjusted Remaining Years (QARY) system. Under QARY, health care decision-makers seek to “amortize” the cost of treatment for a patient--say $120,000 for a hip replacement for an overweight 80 year old suffering from diabetes--over the remaining “quality years of life” likely for that patient--suppose three years for our example. Under our consequentialist-driven QARY calculation, the $40,000/year calculation suggests the treatment is contraindicated. Is this really how we want to be making these decisions?

Quomodo cecidisti de caelo, consequentialitarius? How art thou fallen from heaven, consequentialist? (Cf. Isaiah 14:12.)

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