Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Vatican's Take On Brittany Maynard's Decision: "Absurd and Reprehensible" - NOT!

Brittany Maynard's date with death
The Vatican's pseudo-moralistic fossils have again weighed in on a personal decision they have no business sticking their noses into: Brittany Maynard's decision last Saturday to take a lethal dose of meds to end her suffering from brain cancer. Evidently, the Vatican's relics would rather she had been reduced to a drooling vegetable, with no bowel or bladder control, and not even cognizant of those around her. But this is typical of the Vatican's scornful approach to morality.

Lest anyone forget, let us recall how back in 2010, the Catholic Church  excommunicated  an American nun  in Arizona  for saving a 27 year old mother’s life at the expense of her fetus’. Her moral choice was either to let the birth occur and see both mother and infant die, or prevent the birth (because of the mother’s blood pressure complications) and save the mother.

The Vatican's distorted ethics based on antiquated perceptions (the same ones that forbid artificial contraception as "mutual masturbation") would have preferred both mother and infant perish rather than allow the lesser of the beings (the fetus, not yet a fully formed person) die to save the more advanced being.

But as I noted in previous blog posts over the years, this is the sort of ridiculous crap you get when clerics think they have access to absolute insight when in fact the human brain's tri-partite architecture (neocortex, mesocortex, paleocortex) imposes limits on the level of discerning knowledge and perfect insight. Hence,  absolute moral discrimination for all actions is simply not available, given the brain's inherent defects and limitations.

In effect, because of our brains' inadequacies, moral absolutism - the claim that one knows from an ideation what is right or wrong - emerges as a mind virus. This virus was perhaps best articulated by Jacob Bronowski when he visited Auschwitz and pointed to its remnant gas chambers, in the BBC documentary The Ascent of Man and observed(cf. book by the same name, p.235):

"This was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe they have absolute knowledge with no test in reality, this is how they behave."

 Got that? Done by dogma, not by gas! When people as in the Vatican actually believe they have absolute knowledge this is what you are bound to get.  Acknowledging the implicit brain limits, Bronowski then (ibid.) advocates a “principle of tolerance":

"The Principle of Uncertainty or, in my phrase the Principle of Tolerance, fixed once and for all the realization that all knowledge is limited."

Note this isn't "tolerance" in the normal philosophical or social sense but rather the engineer's definition: i.e. a mechanical part (gear shaft) is not perfectly rigid or fixed in its motions but may move 1mm backward or forward, say. Those allowances mean the machine's precision is not exact though it still functions within expected parameters.

In similar fashion, one must concede that humans – with limited knowledge- lack the wherewithal to issue absolute, fixed moral laws. Note this is not an absolute statement in itself, merely a statement of limitation, biological and theoretical, based on facts. If brains are limited in size and capacity they simply can't know everything, hence, can't render absolutist propositions about any positive actions. (This also follows from the Godel Incompletness Theorems).

The Vatican itself is even more hoist on its own absolutist petard in terms of moral declarations as theologian Hans Kung observes in his marvelous book, 'Infallible?' (p. 143):

" No one, neither Vatican I, nor Vatican II, nor the textbook theologians, has shown that the Church - its leadership or its theology - is able to put forward propositions which inherently cannot be erroneous."

This means the Vatican has no right to butt in on any issue such as Brittany Maynard's decision to end her own life rather than suffer.

So what is the alternative, rational approach to morality?  It is “moral provisionalism” or provisional ethics, as described by Michael Shermer ('The Science of Good and Evil'). According to Shermer:

"Provisional ethics provides a reasonable middle ground between absolute and moral relative systems. Provisional moral principles are applicable to most people, for most circumstances, for most of the time - yet flexible enough to account for the wide diversity of human behavior"

To fix ideas, in the case of the excommunicated nun, in provisional morality the greater relative good is always chosen over the lesser one. In this case, two deaths with two life saving efforts represents the lesser good, while one death with one life saving effort represents the greater one. 

The error of the Bishop that excommunicated the nun was in upholding an absolute right to life ethic for both when in practical terms (that exercise of practical intelligence again) both could not survive. But this is the very danger of moral absolutism. It prefers all involved in a case to perish to preserve an abstract principle, rather than allowing any to survive- but keeping the abstract principle intact.

A similar error is made now by the Vatican in calling Brittany Maynard's decision to end her life "reprehensible" and "absurd". NO  - to the moral provisionalist what is absurd is allowing a sentient being to descend into a totally vegetative state lacking any life quality - with excruciating pain to go with it. Hence, Brittany's choice to end her life is a greater good over merely existing in a debased vegetative condition based on the specious presumption of "sanctity of life" demanded indiscriminately for any and all conditions.

Hence, the greater good here is ending the suffering and degradation of life quality rather than allowing it to progress to the stage one can make no authentic choice.

Something the Vatican needs to think about the next time they want to butt in on issues that do not concern them! See alo:

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