Sunday, May 28, 2006

Losing Our Soul

Sunday’s Boston Globe featured a story in the Globe West section about medical attitudes toward Downs Syndrome. The story features a family from Franklin who has a 7-year-old son with Downs, and the huge evolution of their experience since they refused the advice of their physicians to abort their child who is now an accepted and thriving member of their family. The story centered on a study of how physicians communicate with expectant parents whose unborn child has Downs. The study found [emphasis mine]:

Brian Skotko, a joint-degree student at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and Medical School, last year published two research papers that concluded physicians often relay the news in an overwhelmingly negative way, focusing on the limitations and hardships a child with Down syndrome may face…“We have to decide as a society what forms of life are valuable,” Skotko said. “Do we as a society believe people should be able to terminate a pregnancy solely because the child will have Down syndrome, or any other undesired trait? Where do you draw the line?”

Ironically the National Holocaust Museum currently has an exhibit about the Nazi public health programs, including a feature on their murder of the disabled:

The Nazi persecution of persons with disabilities in Germany was one component of radical public health policies aimed at excluding hereditarily "unfit" Germans from the national community. These strategies began with forced sterilization and escalated toward mass murder. The most extreme measure, the Euthanasia Program, was in itself a rehearsal for Nazi Germany's broader genocidal policies. It is estimated that 275,000 adults and children were murdered because of their disabilities.

The Harvard study indicates that most certainly the prescriptions (and also the attitudes, I believe) of today’s medical community toward the disabled overlap that of the Nazis. One could argue that our era has now far surpassed them, since from a global perspective the most common genetic condition causing an unborn child to be aborted today is that they are female. Yet this state of affairs seems to trouble only ‘the religious right’ in America (I would argue that 30+ years of our abortion debate in America have spawned of the religious right). Those on the political left, with the exception of a few advocates for the disabled, maintain that the right of individual choice overrides all others. Thus the Democratic Party adopts the position of pro-choice extremists by fighting tooth and nail against any legislative restrictions on even late-term abortions. The left, because of its radical skepticism towards our western and Judeo-Christian tradition is unwilling to generalize broadly about what behaviors or attitudes constitute civic virtue.

No group today tilts more uniformly to the left than tenured college faculties. This brings me to a 2nd piece in the Sunday Globe, which is a review of former Harvard dean Harry Lewis’ new book entitled ‘Excellence without a Soul’:

The Harvard Lewis shows us in ‘Excellence Without a Soul’ is tone-deaf to the American Republic, whose liberties it relies on yet whose virtues it no longer nurtures. It has forsaken such pedagogical heavy lifting for market come-ons and a falsely compensatory moralism about sexism, racism, and ‘jock culture’ – “proxies for misgivings about deeper values.” The college no longer turns freshmen into adults who can recognize and take responsibility for hard moral choices: “The Enlightenment ideal of human liberty and the philosophy embodied in American democracy barely exist in the current Harvard curriculum.”… Harvard's assumption that “students are free agents and should study what they wish” drains its “long-term commitment to the welfare of students and the society they actually serve,” he writes…It would be better to impose serious core curricular requirements on students than to offer “what they myopically claim to want,” Lewis writes, admitting that more teaching takes time from scholarship, but the faculty needs to “develop a shared sense of educational responsibility for its undergraduates.”

The root cause identified by Lewis -- “misgivings about deeper values” -- is the same as the reason for our medicine’s adoption of Nazi-like practices with respect to the unborn disabled. One cannot have the confidence to practice, teach, or demand certain values unless one also has confidence in the absolute worth of some value systems as opposed to others. The religious and ethical skepticism of today’s left completely immobilizes them in this regard. They have drifted from respect for diversity to dogmatic indifferentism. Their opponents and much of the electorate recognize this. The Republican coalition of religionists, traditionalists, and libertarians, though unwieldy contains far more ideological common ground than today’s Democrats can find among themselves. This situation is to our collective misfortune.

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