(c) 1993 First Things 49 (January 1995): 2-7
- Roman Numerals & Orthodoxies
- Onward Christian Soldiers?
- Right and Left on Cuba
- Was Jesus Anti-Semitic?
- A Plea for Tolerance
- Fight for Christian Rights
- The Great Fear Revisited
- Lay Off the Jesuits
- Racing Down the Slope
I have just received the October 1994 issue of First Things.
As usual it was filled with much food for thought and serious consideration.
Until I came to the article by Peter L. Berger, "Toward a Disease-Free
The degree of malice shown in this oh-so-clever little piece of fiction
is frightening. It is certainly not the usual tone of the articles in your
journal. I am of course aware that the political expression of your beliefs
is most logically found in the Republican Party. This is well and good.
Where I do not agree, I can normally see where you are coming from and
why. But this is not a reasoned argument about facts to be weighed and
considered. This comes over as an expression of bias and meanness. . .
With all of the areas of valid criticism and discussion, why would you
feel called upon to indulge in such divisive and mean-spirited nonsense?
Los Angeles, CA
My first vote was cast in a fourth-grade straw poll: Hoover against
Roosevelt. To this day I have never voted for a Democrat. I deplore food
faddists and other hypochondriacs, intrusive government, and freedom- hating
liberals. We do seem to have been spared Big Brother only to be smothered
by Mighty Mother.
Nevertheless I find Peter L. Berger's diatribe in very bad taste. Even
"Doonesbury" rarely descends to that level. One expects more
finesse in First Things.
Robert C. Tompkins
Jeffrey Burke Satinover ("Jungians and Gnostics," October
1994) got tripped up in his Roman numerals: The apt quotation heading his
article comes from Pope St. Pius X, not Pius VI, as printed. That latter
sad figure had his own problems to deal with, in the form of revolutionary
Yet although the figures are a century apart, one is struck by a connection:
The outright denial or (what amounts to the same thing) the radical immanentizing
of the supernatural is one pestiferous fruit of the Enlightenment; it also
happens to be a quite serviceable definition of Modernism. The two Pius
gardeners condemned that noxious growth root and branch.
Then again, perhaps the explanation for the misprint is simpler: It's
just First Things living up to its name. Where else can one see
a Jungian psychiatrist make a Freudian slip?
P. M. Aliazzi
Hunting Valley, OH
While I had few difficulties with Jeffrey Burke Satinover's discussion
of Jung and Freud, and only somewhat more with his incomplete characterization
of the Gnostics, I found his larger discussion of historical issues since
the Renaissance, indeed since the founding of Christianity, troublesome.
Those issues, which he describes as monotheism versus paganism, cannot
be reduced to such a simplistic polarity; they are both more subtle and
infinitely more complex. Contrary to the view presented, there is no "single
historical line" of the sort Satinover argues, i.e., from "the
pagan religions of the ancient Near East . . . to the modern reduction
of spirit to psyche and/or soma. . . ."
We need to remember, for example, that the early Church and the early
Church Fathers (Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, et al.) adapted to Christianity
a great deal from pagan antiquity that was not perceived to be alien to
the beliefs of this not yet altogether formed religious movement. Significant
aspects of pagan antiquity were powerful and formative forces in the early
Church. Stoicism, Mithraism, and the philosophy of Plato serve as examples.
This process (a form of syncretism?) was to be an identifiable dimension
of what historians describe as the medieval Christian synthesis.
We also need to remember that there is much to be cherished in what
Dr. Satinover regards as the "resurgence of paganism" since the
Renaissance. At least until the Reformation (and perhaps not much even
then), the Church hardly deserves accolades for fostering the spirit of
tolerance, for the emergence of the principles of critical scholarship,
for democratic government and the idea of popular sovereignty, for the
ideals of social justice, or for the affirmation of cultural diversity.
One assumes these are of value, both to secular humanists and to biblical
literalists. Progress may be a myth, but modernity is to be credited with
more than simply the wonders of science and technology; and it has more
to it than the secular focus of much of modern thought.
The essential narrowness of medieval Christian orthodoxy, and of more
recent biblical literalism, I believe, is no more to be admired than the
shallowness and eventual emptiness of contemporary secularism. If modernist,
reductionist, secular thought has contributed to the horrors of this past
century, which it has, let us not forget that the bigotry and exclusivity
in monotheistic religious movements-from medieval times to the present-have
contributed their share as well. I find strident and insistent orthodoxies,
whether Christian or secular, frightening and dangerous. At the least,
and whatever the mask, they are characterized by an insufferable self-righteousness.
Are we really faced with the either/or of someone's traditionalist orthodoxy
or someone else's secular/materialist orthodoxy? . . .
Robert W. Heywood
James Nuechterlein declares himself a soldier in a cultural war ("Life
at the Intellectual Barricades," October 1994). Many people have taken
it on themselves to go to war on behalf of the Prince of Peace and I'll
assume that Mr. Nuechterlein does not intend to rehearse that ancient confusion.
But then the question remains: for whom is he fighting?
He could not be fighting for Christ, armed, as he says he is, with an
ideology. In the context of faith all ideologies, no matter how noble or
necessary they may seem, are idolatrous; the cross confounds them all.
Why was the Son of God crucified if we could be redeemed through an ideology?
In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither feminist nor antifeminist,
neither gay nor straight.
Mr. Nuechterlein confirms this when he says that God does not take sides
in "the wars of the earthly city." He acknowledges that God is
"unambiguously" immaterial to the reasoning involved in the intellectual
passion that animates First Things. I am accordingly left without
any sense of why First Things would describe itself as a religious
journal. Mr. Nuechterlein is welcome to publish a journal about neoconservative
ideology and public life. But to conflate this enterprise with religion
is to suggest that the cross of Christ is of no effect and that God's love
is somehow abridged.
As for me, I pray for the strength to be a conscientious objector in
this cultural war. I pray for the courage to create compassion where there
is fear, and love where there is anger. And I have faith that Christ Jesus
will be found with the despised and the excluded wherever they may be.
One has a good deal of sympathy for James Nuechterlein as he explains
both the need for engaging in polemics and the ensuing sense of aloneness
that can accompany this. But the heart sinks when he goes on to claim that
he has an ideology, his friends have an ideology, his opponents have an
ideology, we all perforce must have an ideology.
Once one abandons the notion that there is a truth that the mind can
know, that it is external to the self rather than shaped by the self, and
that one can pursue this truth passionately but disinterestedly-then he
has abandoned the very positions he believes himself to be defending. The
illusion that "we" can be "flexible and self-critical"
about our "necessary frameworks" underlies a large part of our
contemporary intellectual malaise.
If all we have are competing ideologies, then there is no truth; and
polemics are little more than assertion. Reassertion of intellectual error
is of small help in resisting the evils of this world.
The October 1994 issue of First Things seemed to reflect extraordinary
concern (both censure and defense) about the kind of aggressive moral,
theological, and social critique often demonstrated in the journal. . .
I hope you never blunt the wit and humor with which First Things
confronts the pseudosophisticated presumption of infallible cleverness
that infests so much of modern society. I'm amazed at the prevalence of
a severe speech impediment among the pundits of modernity- their inability
to pronounce common words like piety, morality, reverence, medieval,
or Puritan without curling the upper lip. The Church need not retaliate
in the same spirit of contempt, but it is high time we identify the insecurities
of extended adolescence that have made irreverence trendy among chronological
adults in our society. Rebelling against established moral and religious
values in the late twentieth century is merely fashionable. It's a little
like rebelling against our parents, but it takes less courage-and no intelligence.
. . .
Norman E. Dunkle
I am continually astounded at the simplemindedness of Americans such
as Thomas C. Oden ("Fidel and the Faithful," October 1994) who
visit Cuba once and, Jimmy Carter-like, deem their visit of such profundity
as to allow them to pontificate.
So Cuba reminds Mr. Oden of 1930s Oklahoma? Well, try as I might, this
Cuban recalls nowhere in the history of that state where Sooners risked
death by taking to the seas in journeys on rickety rafts where two out
of three perished. Nor do I recall any Governor of Oklahoma installing
himself in office without benefit of election and over the bodies of thousands
killed by firing squad and over 200,000 penned up in a Gulag for refusing
Mr. Oden's Methodist conscience may be soothed by what the Vichy religious
collaborators in Cuba-Catholic and Protestant alike-tell him. They have
been coopted by the government for the past thirty-five years, in much
the same way as the Church was coopted in every Communist country (save
proud Poland from whence, not coincidentally, came our Pope). . . .
Where has Mr. Oden been since 1959? Only recently has the Castro regime
relaxed its grip on religious freedom-as did Stalin when it suited him:
when the Germans were invading and he needed the Church to help him rally
the faithful to defend his regime (er, Mother Russia). Castro is likewise
cynically willing to allow anything that will preserve his political control.
The coopted pastors fit the bill perfectly. You'll never hear them saying
anything that goes against the party line. Never. Not for nothing did Mr.
Oden's fellow Ecumenical Seminarians get the three meals a day he describes.
. . .
The reference by Thomas Oden to Cuba's "desperate poverty created
by socialism" is shocking. Has this professor never taken Economics
101? The poverty in Cuba has stemmed in large part from the economic policies
of the United States toward Cuba since the Revolution of 1959, especially
the embargo on sugar imports, which had been one of the major dollar-revenue
sources for the Cuban economy.
In a visit to Cuba during the Carter Administration when travel to Cuba
by American citizens was legalized, I saw the Cuban economy surviving fairly
well with the aid of Soviet subsidies. Now that they are ended, the goal
of American foreign policy will be achieved, which is to bring not democracy
but corporate capitalism back into Cuba. The gross inequity of income distribution
under Batista will follow, and Oden and his lot will be able to sing their
praises to the Lord filled with angel cake and rum. The biblical religions
will then, once again, thrive as the "opium of the masses," as
Marx described it.
Thomas C. Oden replies:
These two letters from the right (Joseph Rumbaut) and left (Robert Lyon)
epitomize just how difficult it is to engage in civil discourse on Cuba.
They remind us of how hazardous it is to offer a description of the Cuban
religious situation without being immediately enveloped in overheated political
rhetoric. They show just how adversarial the arena becomes when anything
but the usual arguments (on either side) are put forward. In this instance,
vast assumptions wholly alien to my thinking are attributed to me by opposing
The obsolete and thwarted left (Lyon) assumes I idealize capitalism
and Batista, while the enraged and dated right (Rumbaut) assumes I am an
apologist for socialism and Castro, when I am neither. Both are tendentious
responses to an account that neither celebrates American foreign policy
nor romanticizes Vichy-like collaborators who have long ago been cast out
of the Protestant leadership. Thus what might have been a dialogue on the
religious possibility in Cuba deteriorates once again into a political
diatribe that fails to recognize the actual spiritual reversal occurring
in Cuba-which was the main object of my report.
Commenting on the Pontifical Biblical Commission document Interpreting
the Bible in the Church in the context of fighting anti-Semitism, Jon
D. Levenson states ("Interpreting the Bible: Three Views," August/September
1994): "There is no substitute for the cauterization through historical
criticism of the virulent anti-Semitic statements that have been put in
the mouth of Jesus. Without this, the Church's denunciations of anti-Semitism
If I understand correctly, Mr. Levenson's judgment (and, on the basis
of his previous writings in First Things, he seems to be a judicious
and reasonable man) is that the gospels are "virulently" anti-
Semitic, and he wants the Church to say that they bear no relation to the
teachings of Jesus. Mr. Levenson wants the Church to say, in the interest
of curbing anti-Semitism, that the sacred writers put the wrong words in
the mouth of our Lord in the service of their local quarrels. But what
the Church proclaims is the exact opposite of what Mr. Levenson pretends.
What the Church proclaims is that the statements he calls anti-Semitic
were not only spoken by God the Son, but also that they were set down by
the sacred writers under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit "for
And in this vein, wouldn't the Old Testament also be called anti-Semitic
(e.g., the Prophets and especially Jeremiah)? Given the condition of our
fallen nature, if the Scriptures had developed in, say, the U.S., wouldn't
they be called anti-American? I believe they would; I believe they would
be making the same statements on the deficiencies of the American character
as we find in the Bible in reference to the Jewish character. . . .
I am afraid the solution suggested by Mr. Levenson is the classic case
of "kicking against the goad" and bears no hope for the end of
anti- Semitism, or at least for anti-Semitism as defined by Mr. Levenson.
L. F. Caso
Jon D. Levenson replies:
Mr. Caso's disagreement is not, in the first place, with me, but with
the pontifical Biblical Commission, which pronounced historical criticism
of the Bible indispensable and opposed fundamentalism unequivocally. Its
position necessarily entails assessing the authenticity of every statement
ascribed to Jesus or anyone else. To the extent that the Commission's document
reflects the teaching of the Catholic Church, that Church thus proclaims
something very different from what Mr. Caso thinks.
I never claimed that New Testament anti-Semitism is unparalleled, but
I do think that the parallels fail to provide the exculpation that Mr.
Caso finds in them. Reading that anti-Semitism with an awareness of its
very particular, original context does not necessarily deprive the Church
of any of its Scripture, but it does help to overcome the tenacious legacy
of defamation, hate, and violence that critical scholars find difficult
to reconcile with the authentic teachings of Jesus.
Free Inquiry recently quoted Richard John Neuhaus as telling
secular humanists, "Your rights are secured by our understanding of
the truth, even if ours are not by yours."
As a secular humanist, I am truly sorry that we have given religious
believers so much cause for concern. I want to assure you that not all
secular humanists are hostile to individual rights and freedom of conscience.
As a reporter, editor, and editorial columnist on various Southern newspapers,
I have always urged my fellow secular humanists toward tolerance and respect
for the rights of all.
I grant you that secular humanism's past does not give religious believers
much confidence. Our hatred of Muslims led us to kill many of them in the
Crusades. Our hatred of dissenters led us to burn millions at the stake
and devastate much of Europe in the Thirty Years and Huguenot wars. Our
hatred of Jews was the cause of those horrible pogroms, ending in that
nightmare when European secular humanists slaughtered millions of Jews
in the Holocaust. Secular humanists' hatred of women led us to burn as
many as two million at the stake, after falsely convicting them in kangaroo
courts of being witches.
We have not been friends to freedom either. That great skeptic the Emperor
Justinian banned all religious materials and freedom of conscience, warning
Christians, "It is more than enough [for them] that we allow them
to live." I'm aware the Alexandrian freethinker Cyril sent a band
of atheists to drag the devoutly Christian St. Hypatia into his Secular
Humanist center and torture her to death for daring to speak out against
skepticism. We are guilty too of burning the great libraries of the ancient
world, not to mention when we torched the Mayan libraries- the collected
literature and history of an entire people. Secular humanists certainly
committed genocide against the Mayans, as well as American Indians generally,
for desiring to worship gods of which we disapproved.
Skeptics can never make amends for those atrocities; we can only pledge
to do our best to ensure they don't happen again. I certainly don't approve
of those deeds, and I can't recall any contemporary secular humanist speaking
in favor of them. I think we are developing morally. Yet, I realize that
our history makes it difficult for you to trust us. I'm aware that, for
instance, in 1572, when the French Huguenots made a truce with the secular
humanist government, my philosophical ancestors soon violated the peace
by trying to murder all the Huguenots on St. Bartholomew's Day. That shameful
incident, however, is part of the past.
That's why I say that Chief Atheist George Bush was not speaking
for me when he declared that "Christians cannot be good citizens."
Nor did the agnostic Pat Buchanan represent my views when he called upon
his fellow secular humanists to launch a jihad against Christians. I've
even read that one secular humanist thinker has argued that Christians
cannot be good citizens because they cannot give a compelling moral account
of the regime of which they are a part.
I assure you, the bigoted hubris of these people is not representative
of most secular humanists. I acknowledge those claims are false: Christians
can be good citizens. Secular humanists may have denied this for
a long time, but Christians civilized us in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.
In fact, many major Judeo-Christian thinkers-Ptahhotep, Socrates, Plato,
Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersoll,
John Dewey, Paul Kurtz, and Sidney Hook-have clearly argued the need for
people to be conscientious citizens of their nations. . . .
Just because secular humanists have not always lived up to their ideals-
such as when we persecuted the anti-Chalcedonians of the Middle East in
the seventh century, thereby generating unnecessary conflicts which allowed
Islam to take over-does not mean that all secular humanists are
such despicable bigots. That peculiar arrogance by which secular humanists
in centuries past believed they had sole access to the truth about the
universe, thereby claiming the right to kill anyone who dissented-such
as St. Giordano Bruno-and attack anyone who challenged our views-such as
St. Copernicus or St. Darwin-is seen in just a minority of modern skeptics.
David Koresh and Jim Jones are not representative of modern secular
humanist thinking. . . .
In summary, give us the benefit of the doubt. We know we've been bad,
but that's changed. If we regain complete control of the U.S., as we've
been trying to do since the Enlightenment, your rights will be safe. We
won't burn witches, as we did at Salem; or persecute Quakers, as Virginia
atheists did in the eighteenth century when the dissenters refused to pay
the state-mandated Secular Humanist Centers tax. We would allow Christians
to testify in court, even though nineteenth-century secular humanist judges
sometimes banned religious believers from being heard. All that is history.
I think I speak for most secular humanists when I say we're civilized.
Please don't be paranoid. Our past does not predict our future. I just
hope the past does not predict Christianity's future.
William Sierichs, Jr.
Baton Rouge, LA
Richard John Neuhaus replies:
All right, but we're keeping an eye on you.
I was surprised by Richard John Neuhaus' apparent approval of prayer
in public classrooms, in answering Rabbi Forman's letter (October 1994).
I am a lifelong practicing Christian, but I have long been dismayed
by the advocacy among religious people of the inclusion of prayer in the
curriculum of public schools. To me such a request is abject grovelling
for crumbs from the public table spread by tax monies. We should, instead,
demand our fair share of the taxes we pay for education. We have to accept
the kind of curricula dictated by public school boards, however abominable
to us, or else pay a second time for a private school. American parents
should not supinely accept the provably unconstitutional deprivation of
their right to "procure their children instruction which they consider
important," a right proclaimed by the U.S. Supreme Court (Farrington
v. Tokishige, 1927). . . .
Richard John Neuhaus' screed against Joseph Sobran ("Jews, Christians,
and 'The Great Fear,'" Public Square, October 1994) answers the question
"what happened to Joe Sobran." In short, he has been pariahtized
for "his flirtation with anti-Semitic language and sentiment."
Sobran's fate has made his case.
It is indeed strange that, in the heyday of liberal thought, one cannot
rationally discuss the phenomenon of Jewish leverage in American society.
I suspect that this very thought, once penned, dooms me to Sobran's fate.
Nevertheless, these impure thoughts will not go away. There are festering
questions in the minds of many that, unspoken and unresolved, tend to produce
"anti-Semitic sentiments." It seems to me, then, imperative that
in order to prevent a resurgence of real anti-Semitism that the Jewish
community and the intellectual community at large address these questions.
Apart from the influence of the Israeli lobby on public policy, there
are nagging questions about the ACLU and the entertainment media. Many
believe that these two entities, which are perceived to be dominated by
Jews, are largely responsible for the moral collapse of society that has
brought us such suffering. Neuhaus alludes to these concerns but his treatment
comes across largely as apologetic toadying. . . .
Gerard V. Metzger
Haddon Heights, NJ
As a fan of both Joseph Sobran and Richard John Neuhaus, it was distressing
to me to read the latter upbraiding the former, allegedly for writing about
the "sinister influence of Jews" (Neuhaus' phrase). It was doubly
distressing to see the usually razor-sharp Neuhaus using innuendo and strained
interpretations in an attempt to make this very serious charge credible.
. . .
The essay becomes particularly confused toward the end, where Neuhaus
implies there is no taboo on this subject because Sobran himself is writing
about it. But Neuhaus goes on to say, "Those who criticize Israel
and U.S. policy toward Israel must give believable evidence that they really
care about the security of Israel. . . . There is a taboo. . . . [T]he
imperative to guard against the possible destruction of three million more
Jews is not an open question." This is breathtakingly tendentious!
The reference to mass extinction implicitly paints Arabs as bloodthirsty
barbarians who would not just defeat the Israeli army if they could, but
slaughter every man, woman, and child. What if this concern for Israeli
security earns the U.S. many dangerous enemies or, as it has in the past,
pulls us onto a collision course with another nuclear power? Does the U.S.
have similar undebatable obligations to stop large-scale killing in Cambodia,
China, Rwanda, Bosnia? If a writer criticizes Turkey or Argentina or Afghanistan
or Indonesia does he also have to evince evidence that he cares about their
security? If Vatican City were threatened would its defense be unquestionably
in the U.S. interest? Why exactly is Israeli security, above that of all
other nations, so much an American obligation that "writers who seem
not to care . . . are viewed as beyond the pale, and rightly so"?
The whole article is a tissue of innuendo, uncharitable interpretation,
and unexamined assumptions, and goes a long way toward proving Sobran's
point. I honestly do not know what it is about the subject that so clouds
clear minds. But I do know that both Sobran and Neuhaus are valuable contributors
to the cultural conversation, that both regularly have insights on a variety
of subjects that I find nowhere else, and that somewhere there is an injunction
against criticizing the mote in your brother's eye.
Michael J. Behe
I am puzzled by the lengthy criticism in Father Neuhaus' column of a
minor conservative figure, Mr. Joseph Sobran. Mr. Sobran has been attacked,
whether directly or by implication, as an anti-Semite by William F. Buckley
and now by Father Neuhaus. The principal basis of the charge seems to be
Mr. Sobran's call for greater caution in our support of Israel.
It should be pointed out that both in his writings and his talks Mr.
Sobran has repeatedly and consistently criticized the ease with which the
United States resorts to military force. In his view our government goes
to war even when there is no immediate threat to the nation. Various Administrations,
in pursuit of their war policies, whether in Vietnam or Iraq, circumvent
or ignore the Constitution, which was carefully designed to make it difficult
for the United States to go to war. The tragedies of the rest of the world
are heartrending, whether the disaster be the Holocaust or the civil-war-induced
famine in Somalia. But the President of the United States is not an earthly
Providence, and should use the utmost caution in sending young Americans
The bitter fruit of anti-Semitism in the destruction of European Jewry,
and the conflict between Jew and Arab in the Middle East, are matters for
prayer, but are not sufficient justification for the United States to enter
into entangling alliances that may get many young Americans killed. I believe
that this is a fair summary of Mr. Sobran's position. It puts into context
his fear that the pro-Israeli lobby among Americans Jews may get us involved
in a war, and his suspicion, which Father Neuhaus' odd criticism can only
feed, that neoconservatives are trying to win a hearing for their social
agenda among secularized Jews by demonstrating a willingness to support
Israel even at the cost of American lives.
Leon J. Podles
It is with dismay that I read the comments in the May and June/July
1994 issues of First Things regarding the Society of Jesus.
The tone was aggressive and snide. To have pursued comments made about
preliminary discussions for the 1995 General Congregation of the
Society of Jesus, and to have deemed them worthy of critical comment in
print, seems to be going out of one's way to pick a fight. Perhaps it would
be prudent to allow the meeting, and the collective process of prayerful
discernment involved therein, to actually occur before providing editorial
space for negative comment about an organization whose members have manifested
a level of moral commitment that has been, and continues to be, at times
Richard J. Rodeheffer, M.D.
Re: Richard John Neuhaus, "To Step Gingerly Over the Cliff"
(Public Square, October 1994): What you have overlooked in your discussion
of euthanasia is that direct killing is merely the tip of the iceberg:
the most common form of euthanasia in the Netherlands is covert physician
The data from the Remmelink Commission indeed show that 1,000 people
a year die from "medical decisions to end life without an explicit
request." But a closer examination shows that 25 percent of all Dutch
deaths come prematurely because the physician-not the family or the patient-decided
to end life, and used indirect means. This includes neglect, nontreatment
decisions such as withholding antibiotics from nursing home patients, or
slow but deliberate overdose of narcotic- sedatives in much higher doses
than are needed for pain control.
Few discussions of euthanasia have examined the societal implications
of this, perhaps because few are aware of the extent of the problem. Indeed,
the cover-up of the Remmelink report by certain medical journals is one
of the major untold stories in journalism.
There may be several reasons why covert means are used to end lives
even though "medical decisions to end life" are rarely prosecuted
under the law in the Netherlands. First, since it is quite easy for a physician
or other health care provider to end life indirectly and covertly, why
bother with all that paperwork and hassle? Second, the Lancet article
on the Remmelink Commission report notes that emotional distress is common
in Dutch physicians performing euthanasia. Indirect and covert killing
is easier for the conscience, since it is easier to deny to oneself that
one is actually killing: the deed can easily be viewed as merely a variation
of normal medical treatment.
In some medical centers in this country the modern ethical trends have
already loosened the taboo against taking life, and as a result there are
areas where physicians already use such indirect means to end lives.
This may be why Derek Humphry, who apparently feels that if he can persuade
physicians that since everyone dies anyway it must be okay, recently wrote
a letter to American Medical News (August 15, 1994) claiming that
we should not condemn the Netherlands since physician-induced death is
just as common in this country as in the Netherlands.
Of course, one suspects the veracity of Humphry, but it does bring up
an interesting question. In the Netherlands there is little peer review
of medical practice, and most euthanasia deaths are done at the home by
the family doctor. In America, however, most people die in hospitals, where
deaths are reviewed by insurance/medicare bureaucrats, peer review, ambulance-chasing
lawyers, greedy relatives, headline-hungry district attorneys, and aggressive
If Humphry thinks widespread euthanasia occurs despite all of these,
why do he and others promoting a pro-euthanasia agenda insist that the
sick will be protected by further regulation?
Indeed, one marvels at the obliviousness of some ethicists who blithely
dismiss worries about the slippery slope. Apparently they see the public
as the faceless masses who will blindly go along with whatever is done
by those in authority, because it is being done for their own good.
Maybe so. But I shudder to think what might happen when rumors start
that white doctors are killing black patients at Detroit General.
N. K. O'Connor, M.D.
Nanty Glo, PA