Some of us had hoped that bioethics would have been an issue in the presidential election of 2016, but that was not to be. Now, less than three weeks into the Trump presidency, bioethics appears to have resurfaced in the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court.
Amidst all the media coverage of his appointment, The Washington Post, among others, made note of the fact that Judge Gorsuch has published a book arguing against euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia is temporarily out of stock on Amazon , but the Post writer offers a summary of the 2006 publication, calling it “exhaustive, but evenhanded, treating respectfully the positions of those who disagree with him.” The premise of Gorusch’s argument is that “. . . [A]ll human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”
During the nomination process, Judge Gorsuch will be asked all kinds of questions on any number of important legal issues. In light of the recent activity in the United States on physician-assisted suicide laws, I am hoping that at least one senator will ask him how his views on PAS and euthanasia may have changed in the past decade.
As I write this, Americans are within three days of “The Verdict,” whereby the United States Supreme Court will rule on the provisions of the contentious law variously called “The Affordable Care Act” and “Obamacare.” Whatever the outcome, it offers a stark reminder that issues of bioethical concern, including the way in which our society should best deliver health care to promote the general welfare of our people, exist not only in the rarified air of philosophical academia but in the muck and mire of public policy, legislative bodies and, indeed, the judiciary. Many who genuinely try to formulate health care policy based on Scriptural directives find themselves on opposite sides. Our politics are polarized. This is nothing new, really, but the polemical nature of our debate makes a few things clear to me. I recall J. Budziszewski’s “The Revenge of Conscience,” where he described how both political liberalism and conservatism seemed to suffer the same error that assumes people, whether in government or the private sector, are basically good. The former believe that government will make good choices and implement them fairly to citizens. The latter believe that self-directed individuals will make good choices. But competing political philosophies are populated by fallen human beings, all of whom can make terrible choices. I think that the simple way politics fails us today, frankly, is that we don’t effectively recognize sin. True, our own politics, that advance our righteous agenda (and I really don’t mean that entirely as a pejorative) may address the fashion in which policy will “fix” some societal sin, perhaps perpetrated by our political opponents. But do we, as Christians dedicated to the process of redemption in a fallen world, underestimate the pervasiveness of sin in ourselves? Do we genuinely believe that if “our solution” is chosen, sin will be subdued and goodness abound?
I remember my efforts, as a patient, student, and business owner who watches annual insurance premiums for my staff soar, to research the reasons behind our flawed system. Were health insurance companies greedy and insensitive? Yes. Was government inefficient and prone to fraud? Yes. Did some physicians game the system, perhaps to increase revenue from their own diagnostic facilities? Yes. Did patients, even those given control over how their own health care dollars were spent, often make rotten decisions? Yes. It was discouraging to find that we all, in some sense, play villains in this narrative. Human systems, even with the manifest blessings of common grace and the redemptive work of Christ, are stained by greed and corruption and hatred and pride. Whatever the Court decides on this law, one side will be elated and the other discouraged. No one believes that the health care system will be “fixed” and “done” regardless. I would submit that fertile ground for subsequent reforms should account for what sin has done and will do, however the law is formulated, and that Christians in the arena, in whatever role we play, will be most effective as we begin with genuine repentance.