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By Michael Terheyden

1/16/2013 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

There is an alternative. It is Christian humanism

". . . so you didn't get enough painkillers and you did have to suffer a little bit. . . ," Mayor Bloomberg said in response to criticism of his initiative to limit the use of painkillers at public hospitals.What arrogance! I find it hard to imagine that Bloomberg knows more than doctors about when and how much pain medication is appropriate to prescribe to their patients.

Article Highlights

By Michael Terheyden

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

1/16/2013 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Bloomberg, New York City, Doctor, Public hospital, Pain medication, Obamacare, Humanism, Michael Terheyden


KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is embroiled in yet another controversy. This time it involves an initiative to override medical doctors by limiting the use of prescription painkillers at the emergency rooms of public hospitals. This latest controversy is about more than pain medication and the politics of one city; it is also about a dangerous and false humanism spreading throughout our nation.

Based on an article in the Politicker by Colin Campbell, Bloomberg made the following comments on his weekly radio show: "The city hospitals we control, so . . . we're going to do it. . . . [S]upposing it is really true [that there will not be enough painkillers for the poor], so [they] didn't get enough painkillers and [they] did have to suffer a little bit. . . ."

What arrogance! I find it hard to imagine that Bloomberg knows more than doctors about when and how much pain medication is appropriate to prescribe to their patients. Doctors have the education and expertise to administer medication; Bloomberg does not. The doctors actually meet with the patient and examine the patient; Bloomberg does not.

It is disturbing to hear an elected official talk like this about his constituents. They are people, not objects. Even more disturbing is that this kind of attitude appears to be in line with many other political leaders throughout the country, including President Obama.

During a forum at the White House on healthcare reform in the summer of 2009, Jane Sturm asked President Obama the following question: "Outside the medical criteria for prolonging life for somebody who is elderly, is there any consideration that can be given for a certain spirit, a certain joy of living, a quality of life, or is it just a medical cutoff at a certain age?"

She was referring to a situation that involved her elderly mother. Her mother needed a pacemaker, but the first doctor her mother saw did not want to do the surgery because of her mother's age. Jane's mother wanted the surgery, so she went to another doctor. Based on his examination of her, he agreed to do it. As of 2009, five years later, Jane's mother was still alive.

Obama's response to Jane's question was as follows: "I don't think that we can make judgments based on people's 'spirit.' . . .  I think we have to have rules . . . . Maybe you're better off, uh, not having the surgery, but, uh, taking the painkiller." With all due respect, Mr. President, as with the mayor, you are not in a position to make medical judgments. And the rules are not yours to make. That is above your pay grade.

Mayor Bloomberg's and President Obama's comments are significant on multiple levels, but I would like to explore just one: the kind of secularist humanism that lies beneath these comments and seems so popular today.

When we hear the word "humanism," we might think of concern for the needs and welfare of people or compassion for their suffering. However it is not that simple. Humanism means different things to different people, so does their understanding of compassion and suffering it seems.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union defines humanism as a "democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality."

This definition is incoherent and misleading. It is describing secular humanism, which is probably the most accurate description of humanism today. Secular humanism is concerned with more than the needs and welfare of people or their suffering: It is a world view based on postmodern beliefs, and it is highly political. Many of its adherents seek distributive justice and inclusiveness. They "presume[ ] an advocacy role for [h]umanists towards species governance, and this proactive stance is charged with a commensurate responsibility surpassing that of individual [h]umanism."

Some people might consider this to be a higher ethic, but I do not. As I understand this notion of humanism, which has been influenced by Marxism, it lowers the human person to the level of animals and environmental issues and raises social problems above individual persons. It turns people and their problems into abstractions, that is, academic problems to be solved by intellectuals, executed by politicians, and enforced by means of the state's police power.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen makes some interesting points related to this matter in his book, Life Is Worth Living. He begins with a quote from Karl Marx: "Persons of and by themselves have no value. An individual has a value only inasmuch as he is the representative of an economic category, 'the revolutionary class'; outside of that, man has no value" (56).

In response to Marx, the Archbishop says, "Man is then likened to lower forms of life in which an individual fly, an individual gnat, an individual ant is of no consequence; what is of importance is the species . . . . Once admitted, it follows that what happens to an individual person is of no concern . . ." (57).

He also says that communism is not good humanism because "Once you start with the principle that the person has no value . . . , then liquidation becomes inevitable." Consequently, Archbishop Sheen calls upon us to "recognize the evil of this communist philosophy and begin affirming, in the United States, the worth of a person as a creature of God" (57).

I am not saying that political leaders such as Bloomberg and Obama are like Russian communists. No doubt, they would denounce communism and its atrocities; yet their comments and their use of state power reflect a humanism which is similar to the communists in certain important respects.

Bloomberg put bans on the size of soft drinks, trans-fats and smoking outdoors. This past summer, he said "If government's purpose isn't to improve the health and longevity of its citizens, I don't know what its purpose is." He wants us to believe that he cares about people, yet he intends to restrict pain medication and allow people to suffer. Even the fifth-century B.C. pagan Hippocrates realized the importance of primum non nocere, "first do no harm." He included it in what we call the Hippocratic Oath, and it became a dictum for over 2400 years.

President Obama apparently believes the elderly should be denied certain medical treatments and given pain pills instead (I hope they don't live in New York City). Yet, even the 2006 Declaration of Geneva--which, among others, replaces the original Hippocratic oath and no longer forbids abortion and euthanasia--forbids age discrimination. It states, "I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient."

Even though Obama, Bloomberg, and others like them want to use the power of the state for what they believe is good, they are often harming people. Constantly regulating the law-abiding public rather than focusing on the crime and the criminal often does a kind of violence to people. It can also be an indication of hypocrisy and arrogance.

For instance, while Bloomberg's restrictions on pain medication may cause some people to suffer, he will not have to suffer. He will get all the pain medication he ever wants. It is the same with President Obama. While others may be denied certain medical treatment, he and his family will receive all the medical treatment they ever want. What's more, I understand that he and his family, among others, are exempt from his healthcare legislation.

When I think about the kind of humanism which seems so popular among our leaders these days, it reminds me of a quote by Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip: "I love mankind; it's people I can't stand." If that was all there was things would be pretty bleak, but there is an alternative. It is Christian humanism. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "In keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good, which in turn can be defined only in reference to the human person" (1905). In other words, the individual person and the group are not in conflict or opposition. Therefore, public policy must account for both. The popular notion of a higher ethic based on some abstract idea of humanity and systems over individual flesh and blood persons is false. Thus, "In the name of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person" (1907).

This kind of humanism has been part of the Catholic Church since its beginning. We read about it in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter four, verses 32 through 36. And we witness it throughout history. I have noted some examples below:

In his book, Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly tells us that when Jesus was alive, there were no hospitals. The sick would huddle along the side of the road and on the outskirts of town because they had been abandoned by family and friends who feared that they too would become sick. Kelly says, "The very essence of healthcare and caring for the sick emerged through the Church, through the religious orders, in direct response to the value and dignity that the Gospel assigns to each and every human life" (17).

Not surprisingly, the first medical facility in Europe, the School of Salerno, was founded by the Benedictines around the 10th century. They educated physicians for all Europe. Saint Vincent de Paul reportedly did far more for the sick and the poor in the 16 century than many cities and states of his time.

The Church also played a significant role in the abolition of slavery. And it appears that the Church saved more Jews from Hitler's clutches than anyone else, other than the allied armies. In our time, we have the extraordinary example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta known around the world.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Sirach 15:16: "There are set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand." I do not want to be subjected to secular humanism, therefore I choose Christian humanism for myself and for my neighbor. What do you choose? 
 
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Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.-----

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