Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cheney's New Heart: Who Decides?

Walter Payton, a former running back for the Chicago Bears, did not receive the liver he needed to survive his liver disease in 1999. Sadly, in November of that year he died. On the other hand, Dick Cheney, former vice president of the United States, waited twenty months for a compatible heart in order to undergo a transplant and is now living as a result.

As opposed to 1999 when Payton died, today some people are asking if it was fair that Dick Cheney, 71 years of age, was eligible for a heart transplant. For instance, on Monday’s NBC’s Today show, Matt Lauer and co-host Ann Curry said that some are questioning whether someone that old should be getting a donor’s heart. NBC's medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman went on to confirm the narrative that "...this has raised a lot of ethical questions, moral questions, about whether the Vice President, in fact, should have received his heart against – ahead of other people. And, raises the question, how old is too old to receive such a precious transplant?"

NBC’s Today show is a familiar morning forum for many Americans. Most would not suspect that evil lurks there. However, on Monday, March 26th, Matt Lauer and Ann Curry advanced a narrative that is eerily similar to that of Germany’s culture of death. But it was done in the name of fairness. Their commentary and questions about Dick Cheney’s heart transplant is symptomatic of a larger societal issue.

No longer are the legitimate and legal exchanges of goods in the private sector between a supplier and a consumer respected. To be sure, the domain of the private sector and the privacy of the home are no longer deemed to be sacred and inviolable by many in society. Proponents of secular-liberalism such as Matt Lauer and Ann Curry, and politicians like them, are showing themselves to be incapable of respecting boundaries and moral principles. When conception and natural death no longer determines who lives and who dies, then the chosen criteria to replace it will be arbitrary and subject to personal preferences. In the larger scheme of things, when a secular-liberal ideology replaces Christian morality, compassion for the needy can justify the worst of evils.

Malcom Muggerridge, a journalist who was once every bit as liberal as Lauer and Curry, had observed that humanitarian motives and good intentions can unleash human misery reminiscent of the holocaust. But this is only made possible when such motives and intentions are not guided by the laws of God. After he converted to Catholicism, he wrote in his 1979 piece, The Great Liberal Death Wish, the following about Germany prior to the Nazi’s assuming power in 1933:

“I came to realize how, in the name of progress and compassion, the most terrible things were going to be done, preparing the way for the great humane holocaust, about which I have spoken…What happened in Germany was that long before the Nazis got into power, a great propaganda was undertaken to sterilize people who were considered to be useless or a liability to society, and after that to introduce what they called ‘mercy killing.’ This happened long before the Nazis set up their extermination camps at Auschwitz and elsewhere, and was based upon the highest humanitarian considerations. You see what I'm getting at? On a basis of liberal-humanism, there is no creature in the universe greater than man, and the future of the human race rests only with human beings themselves, which leads infallibly to some sort of suicidal situation.”

As we consider the comments by Matt Lauer and Ann Curry, we have to remind ourselves that no one has a right to someone else’s heart, kidney, or liver when one’s organ fails him. Such a donation is an act of gratuity on the part of the donor. When matters that concern charity are confused with justice, then the State is invoked to guarantee "fairness." But the problem is- fairness or equality is hardly ever the result.

This is at the very heart of Socialism and Communism. It promises fairness but in seeking to enforce fairness, it must take that which rightfully belongs to others. In Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor, 1891) Pope Leo XIII notes that giving the surplus of one’s wealth is a “duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity—a duty not enforced by human law.” Again, when the giving of wealth and even the donation of an organ is deemed to be a matter of justice, then two factors must enter the picture:

First, as already alluded to, a radical version of equality will be enforced by the State. After all, the scales of justice are used to measure inequalities. Not only will government regulations be used to create equal opportunities but political bureaucrats will claim to guarantee equal outcomes as well. But such measures will be in vain. In fact, the natural result of such an attempt is to make every person equally miserable. As Leo XIII warned,

“[I]t is impossible to reduce civil society to one dead level. Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain…No matter what changes may occur in forms of government, there will ever be differences and inequalities of condition in the State. Society cannot exist or be conceived of without them.”

Secondly, the criteria to determine equality will be arbitrary influenced by biases. To the extent that the State intervenes to guarentee equal outcomes, such interventions will undoubtedly be politicized. For instance, are we really supposed to believe that if former President, Bill Clinton, or former Vice President, Al Gore, were to receive a heart transplant that NBC’s Matt Lauer, Ann Curry and Nancy Snyderman would raise the same “ethical” questions about them? They wouldn't dare!

The questions we have to ask is: Were there younger patients who could have used the heart that Dick Cheney is now benefiting from? Certainly! But did Dick Cheney abide by all the legal and medical procedures to obtain that heart? Yes he did. Finally, we have to ask that if a third party (i.e. the State) were to deny the 71 year old Cheney a heart so that a younger patient would live longer, would our world be better off? The answer is: Absolutely not!

Whenever evil is done to bring about some perceived good, then everyone loses. Robbing Peter to pay Paul in the name of compassion and equality is to set a precedent whereby every citizen is vulnerable to robbery. Justice itself would be subverted. What the Today show on March 26th demonstrated is just how vulnerable we are to death panels through healthcare rationing.

Keep in mind this one historical truth that Muggeridge alluded to: The people will lay the groundwork by triggering sin and vice, but the State will finish the job by perfecting it! This is the culture of death in a nutshell. And this is the reason why the New Evangelization must infuse our public institutions with Christian morality. After all, justice presupposes the recognition of moral absolutes, i.e. that which is inherently right and that which is inherently wrong. Without this recognition we will have the likes of Matt Lauer and Ann Curry deciding who lives and who dies. God help us if we are not liberal.