Compassion in medicineCompassion has a moral quality; it is not just a fine bedside manner or a capacity to have a physiological empathy with the patient... Every human experience is unique, especially the experience of illness. No one can fully experience another person's experience of illness. Nevertheless, if we are to arrive at a medical decision that fits as closely as possible a patient's experience, we must penetrate that unique experience to some degree. That's what compassion means. To feel something of what it is to be ill: not in general, not in society, not in one's family, but in this person here and now. Compassion becomes a moral requirement because a truly healing action requires some comprehension of what this illness means to this person. Objectivity required by medical science is a stepping back, which is absolutely necessary for the technical decision. But with compassion we step back into the patients experience in order to make a good, morally defensible decision.
Edmund D. Pellegrino
Toward a Reconstruction of Medical Morality
Nov. 10, 2009, at 3:02pm
In the course of a previous TOB thread, a reader asked why John Paul II chose to elaborate a theology of the body instead of a theology of the person?
Let me try to answer this question from a philosophical point of view—in light of the developments in modern thought that so engaged the attention of Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II.
Karol Wojtyla, as both philosopher and priest, was keenly aware that the personalism so characteristic of the modern age, which contains many positive developments worth preserving and incorporating into the mind of the Church, is also seriously flawed because it is largely disembodied. Descartes, who can almost be said to have ushered in modernity by his famous turn to the subject (“I think, therefore I am”), perpetrated a so-called “dualistic” view of the relationship between body and soul. The self is a “thinking thing,” the body an “extended thing,” and the relation between them very extrinsic: the self is related to the body like a sailor to his ship, or a carpenter to his hammer. (This summary is not fully fair to Descartes, who explicitly denies these analogies. See footnote. But it is the view that perhaps follows most naturally from his premises, and the one, in any case, that followed historically.) Moreover, Descartes’ view of the body is excessively mechanistic. He thinks of it as an elaborate machine rather than as a living organism. Hence, Gilbert Ryle’s apt but unflattering description of Descartes’ position as the dogma of the “ghost in the machine.”
As a result, the deepening sense of the dignity of the person during the modern period has gone hand in hand with an increasing separation of the person from his body. The body is increasingly seen as a mere part of the biological order, devoid of any intrinsic meaning or morally relevant values. This is why many Catholic teachings, especially in areas such as bioethics and sexual morality, have become alien and incomprehensible to the modern world. That persons may never be used as mere means to an end is easily understood and granted. But what does that have to do with the body? Nothing, it seems, except that it must be put at the service of persons. As a Catholic feminist once put it, “God does not care what we do with each other’s bodies; He only cares whether we treat each other as persons.” If we can enhance the life of persons by manipulating the body in some way, this is not just okay, but morally good. Contraception, surrogate motherhood, in vitro fertilization, you name it: all of these things can be understood as a proper use of the body in the service the person.
What was needed to combat all this, KW/JP II judged, is a new way of showing that the body fully participates in the nature and dignity of the person. It is not just a machine or a tool, nor merely a biological organism, but an integral part of the human person, such that one cannot use the body as a mere means, without simultaneously using the person as a mere means. This, then, is why a theology specifically of the body is called for: to deepen and enrich the personalism already accepted by many, by showing how the body fits in.
Here is one instance, from his 6th meditation, in which Descartes explicitly repudiates the dualism so often ascribed to him: “Nature also teaches me, by these sensations of pain, hunger, thirst and so on, that I am not merely present in my body as a sailor is present in a ship, but that I am very closely joined and, as it were, intermingled with it, so that I and the body form a unit. If this were not so, I, who am nothing but a thinking thing, would not feel pain when the body was hurt, but would perceive the damage purely by the intellect, just as a sailor perceives by sight if anything in his ship is broken. Similarly, when the body needed food or drink, I should have an explicit understanding of the fact, instead of having confused sensations of hunger and thirst. For these sensations of hunger, thirst, pain and so on are nothing but confused modes of thinking which arise from the union and, as it were, intermingling of the mind with the body.”
Nov. 9, 2009, at 12:55pm
There are many others, but for me, these convey the spiritual reality most brilliantly and movingly.
Of these, White Nights is the easiest watching, and suitable for family viewing. East/West is devastating. Beautiful and brilliant and devastating. The Lives of Others (which—warning—contains some rather raw sexual images) is the newest, having been released to international acclaim in 2005, I believe.
Nov. 9, 2009, at 12:28pm
Today is the 20th anniversary of the dismantling of the Berlin wall. I remember the day. Jules and I (just married in July) were huddled with other IAP students around the TV in the Studentenheim in Liechtenstein, watching and hardly believing our eyes.
There was a natural outburst of rejoicing throughout Europe — more from ordinary people on both sides of the Iron Curtain than from their cautious governments. In its 70-plus years of power, Soviet communism had murdered tens of millions of people; penned millions more in slave camps; corrupted those beyond its raw power; ruled through terror, censorship and lies; launched World War II jointly with the Nazis, and concealed its criminal rule behind a Potemkin façade of social idealism and scientific advance.
Oct. 27, 2009, at 12:14pmThe 2nd part of the comment thread of the previous post can be found in the comment section below.
Oct. 27, 2009, at 11:14am
There will be more to say about this response to his critics, but for now let me only highlight some of it and urge everyone to read it in full.
The pivotal question as I see it is this: What does the grace of redemption offer us in this life with regard to our disordered sexual tendencies? From there, the questions multiply: Is it possible to overcome the pull of lust within us? If not, what are we to do with our disordered desires? If so, to what degree can we be liberated from lust and how can we enter into this grace? Furthermore, what does it actually look like to live a life of ever deepening sexual redemption?
It is abundantly clear from both Catholic teaching and human experience that, so long as we are on earth, we will always have to battle with concupiscence - that disordering of our passions caused by original sin (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 405, 978, 1264, 1426). In some of my earliest lectures and tapes, I confess that I did not emphasize this important point clearly enough. The battle with concupiscence is fierce. Even the holiest saints can still recognize the pull of concupiscence within them. Yet, as John Paul II insisted, we “cannot stop at casting the ‘heart’ into a state of continual and irreversible suspicion due to the manifestations of the concupiscence of the flesh… Redemption is a truth, a reality, in the name of which man must feel himself called, and ‘called with effectiveness’” (TOB 46:4).
Many people seem to doubt this “effectiveness” and thus conclude that the freedom I hold out is beyond the realm of man’s possibilities. From one perspective, these critics are correct. “But what are the ‘concrete possibilities of man’?” John Paul II asks. “And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ” (Veritatis Splendor 103)? For those dominated by lust, what I hold out is impossible. But those who enter the “effectiveness” of redemption discover “another vision of man’s possibilities” (TOB 46:6).
Oct. 27, 2009, at 11:03am
Interesting new study featured in today’s Wall Street Journal: Missing fathers cause brain and behavior changes in offspring.
German biologist Anna Katharina Braun and others are conducting research on animals that are typically raised by two parents, in the hopes of better understanding the impact on humans of being raised by a single parent. Dr. Braun’s work focuses on degus, small rodents related to guinea pigs and chinchillas, because mother and father degus naturally raise their babies together.
When deprived of their father, the degu pups exhibit both short- and long-term changes in nerve-cell growth in different regions of the brain. Dr. Braun, director of the Institute of Biology at Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg, and her colleagues are also looking at how these physical changes affect offspring behavior.
Their preliminary analysis indicates that fatherless degu pups exhibit more aggressive and impulsive behavior than pups raised by two parents.
More reason for distressing over the state of our culture. More reason for turning to God, our Father in heaven, for help and solace.
Oct. 27, 2009, at 1:14amThe 3rd part of the comment thread of the previous post can be found in the comment section below.
Oct. 26, 2009, at 11:37am
Ross Douthat, who I think means well—which is not nothing when it comes to the New York Times’ coverage of Catholic issues—pens a speculative piece about Pope Benedict’s “gambit” in establishing a canonical structure allowing Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church. He wonders out loud why the Pope would drop this “bombshell”? Why this “unusual effort at targeted proselytism” breaking with the recent ecumenical traditions of emphasizing unity and common ground over differences?
He wonders whether besides trying to increase Catholic numbers, the Pope may not have in mind a coming epic struggle with Islam.
Well maybe so. But if we’re trying to understand why the Pope did it, shouldn’t we begin by considering what he said about why he did it? Key from that point of view is the fact that this move on the part of the Pope came as a response to “the many requests that have been submitted to the Holy See from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world who wish to enter into full visible communion”.
A further key—key to all things touching the Church and touching human persons—is the spiritual question. In other words, the Pope (being a good Pope) is surely less concerned with political questions—questions of strategy and tactics and numbers and concentrations of power—than he is with the care of souls. If he has many souls and many congregations of souls who have been expressing a longing for full, visible communion with Rome, is not reaching toward them and working to ease their way in simply the fatherly and priestly thing to do?
Oct. 21, 2009, at 2:52pm
From the Psalmist:
“Sons are heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him…Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (A quiver holds 12 arrows.)
From the environmental writer at the New York Times, as reported in an article in Investors Business Daily:
“probably the single most concrete and substantive thing an American, young American, could do to lower our carbon footprint is not turning off the light or driving a Prius, it’s having fewer kids, having fewer children.”
“More children equal more carbon dioxide emissions,” Rivkin has blogged, wondering “whether this means we’ll soon see a market in baby-avoidance carbon credits similar to efforts to sell CO2 credits for avoiding deforestation.” Save the trees, not the children.
Rivkin’s views are unfortunately shared by people with power and influence. Jonathon Porritt, chairman of Britain’s Sustainable Development Commission, believes that “having more than two children is irresponsible” and that people should “connect up their own responsibility for their total environmental footprint.”
Earlier this year, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi defended federal contraceptive initiatives as an effort to “reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.” For Pelosi, mother of five, the fewer the merrier.
Oct. 19, 2009, at 2:07pm
Oct. 19, 2009, at 1:54pm
The news emerged this week that White House’s Director of Communications, Anita Dunn, announced to high schoolers just this June that “two of her favorite political philosophers”, two of the people she “turns to most” are Mother Teresa and Mao Tse Tung. (Listen to the audio here.)
The endorsement of the single greatest mass murderer in history is beginning to attract the infamy it deserves. Not noted in the commentary so far, though, is the outrage-in-itself of the comparison between these two moral personalities.
Ms. Dunn identified the common ground between them—the ground of her admiration—by using a quotation from each. In response to someone who pointed out that Chaing Kai Shek had the army behind him, Mao had said: “You fight your war and I’ll fight mine.” And Mother Teresa had replied to a socialite who wanted to come to India to help her, “Find your own Calcutta.” You see the moral point? Both these highly impactful people had stressed the importance of finding your own way, following your own dreams. That’s all Anita Dunn wanted to say.
She may as well have held up Maximilian Kolbe and Adolf Hitler as two great example of men who were totally committed—committed to the point of death—to their respective causes. Mother Teresa and Mao Tse Tung are no less at moral antipodes with each other.
Mother Teresa’s entire life was a witness of her commitment to the dignity and preciousness of each and every human life—even the weakest, poorest social outcast. Each was infinitely beloved, infinitely deserving of care, more than worth sacrificing for.
Mao Tse Tung was foremost among the moral monsters of the 20th century whose ambition entailed, as Karol Wojtyla put it “the pulverization of the individual.” Persons, in the communist view, have no value in themselves. They deserve no respect; they are expendable on a grand scale. In fact, if we examine the history of Mao’s China, it becomes clear that, as with Stalinism, the destruction of individuality was its prime goal.
Oct. 13, 2009, at 1:38pm
Apparently, the Disney company is going to update its retail stores. One new feature, inspired by Apple’s “Genius Bar,” will be called “WWTD: What Would Tinkerbell Do?” It is a place where you can ask all sorts of Disney related questions. This, for instance, is the question Macworld reporter, Scott McNulty, has been dying to ask:
That’s a question that never occurred to me. But now that it’s been pointed out, I find it rather interesting. It’s true: Goofy wears pants, Pluto doesn’t. Why the difference? Is Pluto a moral libertine? a nudist? Does Goofy have some sort of a hang-up about his own body? Not at all. It turns out, as Luis Alejandro, a Macworld reader, shows, that there is actually a personalist reason for it: “Pluto, as a character, is a dog. Goofy, as a character, is a person. Persons use clothes. Goofy uses pants.”
So, whoever at Disney came up with these two characters had a good intuition into the difference between persons and animals. Draw a dog with pants on, and it’s no longer just a dog. Perhaps we can make a new entry in the long list of lighthearted definitions for man:
• Man is the animal that dresses
The habit of wearing clothes is not as central or illuminating a characteristic of human persons as that of being rational or free. But it is revealing nevertheless, especially in light of the phenomenon of shame (as analyzed by Scheler or Wojtyla, for instance). It can be compared, in that respect, to other definitions such as:
• Man is a talking animal (C.S. Lewis makes much of this feature in the Chronicles of Narnia. Also Disney: i.e. Goofy can, whereas Pluto cannot, talk.)
• Man is a laughing animal
• Man is an animal laughed at (Cf. Bergson’s interesting essay on Laughter.)
• Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called
upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason (Oscar Wilde)
Are there any others that I am leaving out?
By the bye, during my extensive research into the Pluto - Goofy question I discovered that the question has been asked before. See this page for some other answers.
Oct. 13, 2009, at 11:34am
Former Bush speech writer, William McGurn, has aa WSJ op-ed today about the way scientific dogmatism threatens human well being. The whole thing is worth reading. Here is just one paragraph:
In 1997, for example, an International Academy of Humanism statement in defense of human cloning—whose signatories included scientists such as E.O. Wilson, Francis Crick and Richard Dawkins—went out of its way to attack the special dignity of human beings. “Humanity’s rich repertoire of thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and hopes seems to arise from electrochemical brain processes, not from an immaterial soul that operates in ways no instrument can discover.” They concluded “it would be a tragedy if ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning.”
Oct. 12, 2009, at 8:26pm
October 12th is a sort of feast day for the Personalist Project, since it is the birthday of Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889) and Edith Stein (1891). They studied philosophy (a few years apart) under phenomenologists Adolf Reinach and Edmund Husserl; both were profoundly influenced by Max Scheler. They were converts to Catholicism (DvH from nominal Protestantism; ES from Judaism). Both dedicated themselves to resisting the evil of Naziism, intellectually, morally, and religiously.
Lacking time to do their contributions anything like justice, let me at least offer, in honor of the day, a glimpse of why the Personalist Project looks to them as two of our leading lights.
These paragraphs are taken from the introduction to Jules’ anthology of DvH’s writing:
In his introduction to The New Tower of Babel, a collection of essays in which he examines various manifestations of modern man’s flight from God, von Hildebrand wrote that “[t]he dignity of the human person is written over this period as its objective theme, regardless of how few persons hold the right and valid notion of this dignity and its metaphysical basis. The present epoch is great because the struggle that centers around the human person is ultimately a fight engaged under the banner of Christ…”
This great struggle “centered around the human person” and engaged “under the banner of Christ” provides an interpretive key to the life and work of Dietrich von Hildebrand. Whether it was his heroic resistance to the evil of totalitarianism, or his critique of relativism, materialism, and all secularizing trends; his value ethics, his personalist metaphysics, his emphasis on the heart, the liturgy, beauty, marriage and love; whether in his religious writings or his philosophical writings, his teaching in the classroom or in the small gatherings of friends and disciples in his grand home in Munich or in his tiny New York apartment, his passion and the implicit mission of his life was to unfold, cherish, and defend the great mystery of what it means to be a human person—a being called to live his life in conscious, free, and full responsiveness to the world of values and above all to God, who created him, who redeemed him, and who offers him total transformation in Christ.
And here are a few points of particular interest for us taken from the Vatican website’s description of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein:
In 1913, Edith Stein transferred to Gottingen University, to study under the mentorship of Edmund Husserl. She became his pupil and teaching assistant, and he later tutored her for a doctorate. At the time, anyone who was interested in philosophy was fascinated by Husserl’s new view of reality, whereby the world as we perceive it does not merely exist in a Kantian way, in our subjective perception. His pupils saw his philosophy as a return to objects: “back to things”. Husserl’s phenomenology unwittingly led many of his pupils to the Christian faith. In Göttingen Edith Stein also met the philosopher Max Scheler, who directed her attention to Roman Catholicism…
Later, looking back on her life, she wrote: “My longing for truth was a single prayer”...
She worked enormously hard, translating the letters and diaries of Cardinal Newman from his pre-Catholic period as well as Thomas Aquinas’ Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate. The latter was a very free translation, for the sake of dialogue with modern philosophy….
In 1932 she accepted a lectureship position at the Roman Catholic division of the German Institute for Educational Studies at the University of Munster, where she developed her anthropology. She successfully combined scholarship and faith in her work and her teaching, seeking to be a “tool of the Lord” in everything she taught. “If anyone comes to me, I want to lead them to Him”....
When she made her eternal profession on 21 April 1938, she had the words of St. John of the Cross printed on her devotional picture: “Henceforth my only vocation is to love.”
Edith Stein died August 9, 1942, in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Dietrich von Hildebrand died January 26, 1977, in New Rochelle, NY.
Oct. 12, 2009, at 10:49am
A Wall Street Journal review of two pessimistic books meshes nicely with Podles’ point about anger denial.
“Bright-Sided” opens with Ms. Ehrenreich’s discovery that she has breast cancer. Immediately she finds herself drawn into the intensely feminine, beribboned world of the modern sufferer, with its cuddly stuffed bears, personal-testimony Web sites and insistence that the patient put on a happy face: “Positive thinking seems to be mandatory in the breast cancer world,” she realizes, “to the point that unhappiness requires a kind of apology.”
Americans disallow unhappiness; Christians disallow anger.
I’d say American Christians have a serious reality-deficit problem to contend with.
Oct. 9, 2009, at 9:20pm
A propos of more than one of our on-going discussions, friend Scott Johnston points me to this archived Touchstone article by Leon Podles, author of a more-than-sobering book about the clerical sex abuse scandal. Podles argues that common distortions of Catholic teachings have led to a general misunderstanding of anger and its right uses in the moral life—a problem that came to head in the scandal but extends well beyond it.
Mark Serrano confronted Bishop Frank Rodimer, asking why he had let his priest-friend Peter Osinski sleep with boys at Rodimer’s beach house while Rodimer was in the next bedroom: “Where is your moral indignation?”
Rodimer’s answer was, “Then I don’t get it. What do you want?” What Serrano wanted Rodimer to do was to behave like a man with a heart, a heart that is outraged by evil. But Rodimer couldn’t; his inability to feel outrage was a quality that had helped make him a bishop. He would never get into fights, never rock the boat, never “divide” but only “unify.” Rodimer could not understand why he should feel deep anger at evil, at the violation of the innocent, at the oppression of the weak.
Podles goes on to show that this anger deficit is at serious odds with the views of great Catholic theologians and moral philosophers:
Wrath is a necessary and positive part of human nature: “Wrath is the strength to attack the repugnant; the power of anger is actually the power of resistance in the soul,” wrote Josef Pieper. The lack of wrath against injustice, he continued, is a deficiency: “One who does good with passion is more praiseworthy than one who is ‘not entirely’ afire for the good, even to the forces of the sensual realm.”
Aquinas, too, says that “lack of the passion of anger is also a vice” because a man who truly and forcefully rejects evil will be angry at it. The lack of anger makes the movement of the will against evil “lacking or weak.” He quotes John Chrysostom: “He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but the good to do wrong.”
My sense and sympathies are generally with Podles here.
I think it’s undeniably true that we Christians are taught to feel guilty about our anger and to suppress it to a fault—to the serious detriment of ourselves and our communion. The idea that anger is bad and negative—a sign of moral weakness and lack of virtue—is so strong and widespread that many Christians feel justified in dismissing the claims and testimony of anyone who expresses anger on the grounds of that anger alone. Rather than attending to what the other is saying and asking the question whether it is true, we shake our heads in sorrow over his lamentable “anger issues”. I have seen it again and again, including from prominent Catholic leaders.
But I cannot go as far as Conrad Baars—the great Catholic psychologist also cited by Podles—when he claims that feelings are “outside the realm of morality and guilt” (cf. Born Only Once, p.97). It seems to me rather that a right integration of anger into the moral life will involve not just discernment about what to do with my feelings, but about whether or not those feelings are justified by and proportionate with the moral reality before me. If they are not justified and proportionate, they are blame-worthy—something to apologize for and correct.