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The Pain Capable Infant Protection Act – Valuing Life

March 23rd, 2015 No comments

What is a “Life Not Worth Living”?

by G. Steven Suits, MD

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Last week, a subcommittee of the SC Senate Committee on Medical Affairs held a hearing on the Pain Capable Infant Protection Act (H.3114), a bill that passed the SC House by a vote of 80-27 on February 11. The law, if passed, would limit abortions in South Carolina to fewer than 20 weeks gestation, the point at which many researchers have determined the unborn child can feel the pain of being aborted. When the subcommittee meets again, a key question will be whether to amend the bill to allow abortions 20 weeks or after in cases of “fetal abnormalities.” In light of that looming hearing, Palmetto Family asked our former Chairman and President, Dr. Steve Suits to tell his family’s story. As a medical doctor, an ethicist, and the father of Kres, Dr. Suits is in a unique position to advise the subcommittee. –OPS

 An Encounter

“Doctor, there’s a reporter on the phone from the Herald – Journal,” my receptionist said, continuing “and I know you don’t like talking with reporters, but she’s doing a story on the crisis pregnancy center.”  I took the call, knowing that the AP Stylebook didn’t allow for neutral reporting on abortion.  But the center was a cherished ministry and I couldn’t refuse the chance to promote its work.

“Doctor, I’m doing a report on the crisis pregnancy center and when I was over there yesterday one of the staff said something that struck me as incredible,” the reporter began.  “And I wanted to talk with you about it because she said that you were the source of the statement.”

Family with Kres“What is it?” I asked.

“She said that there was no such thing as a life not worth living.”

“Well, I have said that, but it is not original to me,” was my reply.

“I’m not sure that I agree with that,” she opined, uncharacteristically for a news reporter.

“What do you mean?” I probed.

“You know.  Some people are so bad off that their lives are nothing more than a burden – on themselves and on others.”

I asked her to explain to me such a person (careful to put a mild, but unmistakable, emphasis on person).  She responded with commonly used terms such as “brain dead,” “on a ventilator,” and “in a coma.”  It was when she used the expression “vegetable” that I responded.

“I don’t normally refer to those with whom I work as vegetables, but let me describe a typical patient that I as a pediatric surgeon would encounter.  Then you can tell me if that is the kind of life you would consider not worth living.”

“Okay,” she said with a hesitancy revealing her concern that she was not directing this dialogue in a manner comfortable to her.

“An eight-year-old boy born with hydranencephaly – that means he didn’t have any higher brain function – requires constant care, and always will.  He is in diapers, spends his time between his waterbed and a custom-molded chair.  His only response is to cry.  When his diaper is wet, he cries.  When he his mother moves him to change it, he cries.  Because his limbs are held in constant flexion and pulled inwardly, his legs are hard to spread.  This necessitated surgery just a year ago to release his hips.

“When he has been in his chair too long, his wailing adds to the noise of his siblings at play.  But unstrap him and lay him down and he shrieks as if being tortured.  When he’s hungry, he gives the same notification as always.  And you can imagine how he reacts as the feeding tube is inserted through his nose into his stomach in order to pour the liquid nutrition into him.  On top of all of this, he cannot even recognize those who care for him.  Is it mother, father, sister, brother, or baby-sitter?  He has no clue.  Never will.”

I hesitated, trying to sense if she needed more detail to the picture I was painting upon the canvas of her mind.  But this was enough.  She rejoined, “That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”

“I just described to you my eight-year-old son,” I answered, I’m sure with obvious pain from her insinuation that he was worthless.  During the silence that followed I felt that pain, but also an almost nefarious pleasure at having led her into such an abrupt confrontation with her own value system.  I waited, hoping she would see the implications of her position and satisfied that they were now obvious.

“I don’t think I’d want to live that way,” she finally retorted.

That was it?  “I don’t think I’d want to live that way”?

“Come on, lady, none of us would want to live that way!” I thought, almost out loud.  Should I speak to her of Bentham and Mill and utilitarianism?  Did I dare mention human life as the image of God?  How could I bring her back to a discussion of worth from her focus on desire?  I settled my thoughts on continuing an existential approach.

“To my wife and me, Kres (yes, he even has a name I was saying to her) is son.  To our seven other children he is brother:  ‘Kressy-poo’ usually.  His life is worthy not because of what he can do but because he is.  You see,” I concluded, “we live daily – hourly – knowing that as life cannot get ‘worse’ than Kres’s, there is really no such thing as a life not worth living.”

“I can see why you might see that, Doctor.  But I don’t think most people I know would agree with you.”  With this she thanked me for talking with her, admitting that it had not been the interview she had expected.

The following Sunday, the article appeared in the paper.  In it were descriptions of the work at the crisis pregnancy center with the insinuation that somehow free pregnancy tests lured unsuspecting women in to be propagandized with videos, pamphlets and “anti-abortion counseling.”  But there was not one word about life not worth living, Kres, or the doctor on the board of directors of the center who had some “incredible” things to say.



Also recommended:  
A Broken Heart, A Child’s Life

 



Different Approaches to Ethical Thinking

How could there be such polarity to the conclusions reached about the same circumstances?  This encounter illustrates the importance of understanding the system or world view in which one is thinking.  Rather than seeing someone’s arguments as merely invalid, it is necessary to consider the foundational principles upon which the arguments build.  For the reporter, the fundamental principles were utilitarian as opposed to my absolutist position derived from biblical principles.  What are the components of utilitarianism and what are its strengths and weaknesses?

Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is a teleological or goal-oriented theory of ethics.  Its single supposedly simple principle was described by John Stuart Mill as the “principle of utility” which he explained:  “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”[i]  To the utilitarianist, right and wrong are determined on the basis of the results, outcomes or consequences.  This theory is also referred to as “consequentialism,” and is a classic example of “the ends justify the means.”

To Mill, the principle is stated in terms of happiness.  More commonly, it is given in terms of pleasure and pain.  This is the classic formulation of Jeremy Bentham.  He identifies happiness with pleasure – any pleasure.  Mill agreed that happiness could be identified with pleasure, but insisted that there was a hierarchy of pleasures, some being “higher” than others.[ii]  “It is better to be an unhappy human being than a happy pig.”  “It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”  For this reason, Mill’s utilitarianism is sometimes called “qualitative.”[iii]

In another model statement of utilitarianism, its telos is the “greatest good (or pleasure) for the greatest number of people.”  In a well-known rendition, the “hedonistic calculus”[iv] is applied:  computing the pleasure pain ratio.  The utilitarian strives for the greatest amount of pleasure while trying to minimize suffering.

A final differentiation within utilitarian theory is between act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism.  Bentham was the father of the former and proposed that utility was determined  for each act which was “morally right and obligatory if it would produce the most utility (the best consequences) under the prevailing conditions.”[v]  Rule utilitarianism determines that “an act is right if it would be more beneficial to have a code of moral rules permitting that act than one which excluded it.”  It “looks for rules that as a whole produce the greatest utility, and it prescribes them.”[vi]

Utilitarianism applies one simple, objective goal for ethical action:  pleasure.  Ethics consists in finding that goal.  As such, utilitarianism is result-oriented and seeks practical means of achieving its goals.

But utilitarianism suffers from unclarity.[vii]  What is the greatest good?  Would one not have to be omniscient to be sure that a certain act is greater than all other possible acts?  Is the most important utility individual or social utility?  What is the basis for seeking the good of society, and for which “society” does one seek the good?  Is intensity of pleasure or quality of pleasure more important, more utilitarian?

Utilitarianism also is criticized for being prescriptive (and arbitrarily so) in establishing pleasure as the highest good.  Do all humans seek pleasure above all else?  For Nietszche, it was power.  For Frankl, it was meaning.

Finally, application of the hedonistic calculus could result in justifying acts of harm against minorities as long as the pleasure of the majority was so augmented that a net utility resulted from the prejudiced action.

From the reporter’s utilitarian perspective, Kres did not have the requisite amount of pleasure to offset his suffering and thus deem his life worth living.  For her, only a positive hedonistic calculation could provide his life with value.  Had she really thought through the consequences of living in a culture where everyone assigned value to the lives of others by such calculations?

________________________________________

[i] Mill, John Stuart.  Utilitarianism:  With Critical Essays.  Edited by Samuel Gorovitz.  Indianapolis:  Bobbs-Merril, 1971.  As quoted in Munson, Ronald.  Intervention and Reflection:  Basic Issues in Medical Ethics.  Fifth edition.  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1996, p 3.

[ii] Munson, Ronald.  Intervention and Reflection:  Basic Issues in Medical Ethics.  Fifth edition.  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1996, p 4.

[iii] Brown, Harold O. J.  Lecture notes for Theology 603, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte.  Fall, 1998.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Feinberg, John S. and Feinberg, Paul D.  Ethics for a Brave New World.  Wheaton, IL:  Crossway Books, 1993, p. 28.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Brown.

The Freedom of Conscience Act and the Huh? Caucus

April 15th, 2011 No comments

Americans United for Life analyzes state laws related to Life every year. AUL even goes so far as to rank the states in the strength of their laws on abortion, protection of the unborn (in contexts outside of abortion), bioethics, the end-of-life, and health care freedom of conscience.

South Carolina is currently ranked 19th of the 50 states. 19th. We can do better.

But in order to be rated among the Top Ten pro-life states in the country, we must close two serious gaps: Born Alive Infant Protection and Conscience Protection. We discussed Born Alive in our last message to you.

When it comes to Conscience, though South Carolina law is very strong on the right to object to taking part in abortion, there is no protection for health care professionals or institutions in other ethically questionable areas such as stem cell research or euthanasia.

So, we were glad to see H.3408, the South Carolina Healthcare Freedom of Conscience Act, which came up on the House floor for an extended debate last Tuesday.

If you read the online voting score sheet on H. 3408 posted on the statehouse website, you will see that 69 members voted in favor of final passage of the bill, 41 voted against, 5 were excused, and eight 8 just didn’t bother to vote.

We win. Sounds good. But what does it really mean?

To get a clear picture of the real position of each individual legislator on the larger issue of Life, we must consider all votes cast on Born Alive and Conscience last Tuesday. So, Palmetto Family took all 9 roll calls and analyzed them in a huge spreadsheet (1,107 cells for those of you who appreciate such things).

When tallied, the nine roll call votes reveal three distinct groups of legislators as pie charted above:

  • 60% voted pro-life every single time. This Consistently Pro-Life group of 74 voted pro-life right down to procedural motions like tabling and “carrying over,” as well as amendments and final passage.
  • 20% were equally as consistent on the other side. These 25 or so Consistently Pro-“Choice” members of the General Assembly voted wrong every single time, whether it be procedural or passage.
  • 20% could be called The Huh? Caucus (24). These state representatives did everything they could to water down the bill by voting for amendments that would have weakened it. Or, they voted to kill the bill procedurally. But, with 60% of the House sticking with the pro-life position every single time the voting bell rang, these folks eventually reversed course and voted for final passage. That way they could say they voted for the bill while actually trying to eviscerate it. This group voted Aye only when the outcome was inevitable. Of the 24, seven (7) members in particular were all over the map. They voted for some weakening amendments and not others, and some didn’t vote for final passage after voting against some of the weakening amendments.

Palmetto Family Alliance will continue to monitor the voting records of the members of the South Carolina House and Senate in preparation for our 2011-2012 Legislative Scorecard. The Scorecard will include The Huh? Caucus. To review the Scorecard from the last legislative session, please visit this page.

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South Carolina Pro-Life Agenda 2011-2012

February 17th, 2011 No comments

We are pleased to announce our agenda for the promotion of a Culture of Life for the new legislative session.

Born Alive Infant Protection Act

Twenty-four 24 states have born alive protections

  • The federal law was passed on a voice vote in US House of Representatives on March 12, 2002 and in US Senate by 98-0 on June 19, 2002 and signed by President Bush on August 5, 2002.
  • The bill passed due in great measure to the testimony of nurse Jill Stanek about babies who survived abortions and were born alive being left to die alone.
  • Federal law applies in only limited circumstances (federal hospitals, federally-funded hospitals, etc), so state laws can provide additional protection.
  • This issue is even more important in the light of Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s “House of Horrors” Philadelphia abortion clinic where seven infants were born alive and stabbed to death with scissors. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “one premature infant wiggled around on a counter for 20 minutes before an untrained worker slit his neck after first playing with him.”

Federal Abortion Mandate Opt Out Bill

Already opted out since March 23: Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri

  • The new federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPAC) of 2010 requires states to operate health insurance exchanges.
  • These exchanges are eligible for federal subsidies.
  • Specific language in PPAC allows states to opt out of allowing abortion coverage to be offered for plans in their states; an “invitation” to opt out.
  • President Obama’s March 24, 2010 abortion executive order doesn’t prevent federal subsidies from going to plans that cover abortion.
  • More women have abortions when covered by insurance.
  • A state’s failure to cover abortion is not an “undue burden” [Rust v. Sullivan].
  • States can provide unequal subsidies of abortion vs. other medical procedures [Rust v. Sullivan et al.].

Freedom of Conscience Act

  • South Carolina’s conscience law on abortion is among the best in the country.
  • But, the statute does not include other areas where conscience is an issue, like cloning, euthanasia, artificial insemination, dispensing of drugs, etc.
  • There are numerous examples around the country where medical professionals are being coerced into violating their consciences, to choose between their values and their livelihood.
  • This bill would bring other procedures where conscience is an issue into the state statute as a new article.

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Graphing the Mandate

November 4th, 2010 No comments

In providing analysis on Tuesday night of state and national elections, I found The New York Times website to be invaluable. One tool in its politics section was particularly useful for assessing the magnitude of the earthquake.

If you click here, the US Congress page, you will find a sliding toggle on the far left of the screen labeled “year.” If you watch the map while you slide the toggle from left to right, you can see the change in the partisan alignment of the lower house from 2000-2010. It is very interesting in particular to watch the South and Midwest.

Election night saw a number of pro-life candidates defeat pro-choice ones. Eleven (11) of the twelve (12) pro-life candidates targeted for help by our friends at Americans United for Life Action in their Life Counts campaign were elected (92%). (Click here for the full story.)

Included in this AUL-A list is the victory of our own Mick Mulvaney over John Spratt. You may have heard our ads on the radio in this race, which were produced in cooperation with Citizenlink (formerly Focus on the Family Action). It was Mick who came by the Palmetto Family office in the spring of 2006 with the idea for the ultrasound bill that is now law. It is great to see him move up the ladder.

South Carolina’s other freshmen congressmen are Tim Scott (founding board member of Palmetto Family in 1994), Jeff Duncan (93% on Palmetto Family Alliance Scorecard for 2009-2010), and Trey Gowdy, a personal friend and long time supporter of our work. Each of these men have a strong commitment to Palmetto Family values and are uniquely gifted for shaking up Washington.

It will be fun to watch Mick, Tim, Jeff and Trey. We expect great things. How exciting it would be for these four freshmen to join returning Congressman Joe Wilson as winners of the True Blue Award for scoring 100% on the FRC Scorecard.

Here is another cool graphic showing the shift 2008-2010 only. Don’t miss this one.

Stand Up for Life: Pro-Life March and Rally

January 12th, 2010 No comments


An event you won’t want to miss!

Palmetto Family encourages you to attend this important rally at the State House.

Spread the word to help ensure a good turnout!

Stand Up for Life: Pro-Life March and Rally

Featuring: Damon Owen, New Jersey Director for the National Organization for Marriage and spokesman for L.E.A.R.N., the independent network of African-American Pro-Life organizations.

Stop the Abortion Agenda

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Columbia, SC

Master of Ceremonies, Dr. Tony Beam

Host of “Christian World View Today” on WLFJ Radio

Music by “Joyful Sound”

11:00 am – Line up for the march, USC Russell House, Greene Street

11:30 am – Knights of Columbus lead marchers to SC State House

Noon – Rally begins at the State House, Gervais Street side

For more information, contact SC Citizens for Life, 803-252-5433 (sccl@sclife.org)

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Hope and Hype on Stem Cells

October 4th, 2009 No comments

Stem Cells: Hope, Hype and Holding Back
by G. Steven Suits, MD

Bob, a 70 year-old resident of Atlanta, Georgia, had been through two open heart operations because of heart problems. His condition deteriorated again, but his doctors told him he could not have a third procedure. Rather than give in to the “there is nothing that can be done” mentality, he sought help outside the United States and received stem cell injections into his heart tissue. Now, he can go for 30-minute walks, and has vacationed in Florida and Antigua. The stem cell injections generated new blood vessels and heart muscle in his heart. Stories such as this one are becoming more common, and centers in the United States, such as the well-renown Texas Heart Institute, are using stem cell technology to offer hope in previously little hope situations.

Read more…

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24 Hour Bill Advances

February 4th, 2009 No comments

Thanks to the strong leadership of Rep. Greg Delleney (Chester) the bill changing South Carolina’s abortion reflection period from ONE HOUR to TWENTY-FOUR HOURS cleared an important hurdle yesterday.

After an hour or so of debate, the SC House Judiciary Committee passed H.3245 on a voice vote without amendment.

The debate was not without fireworks, as freshman pro-life Rep. Wendy Nanney (Greenville) stood tall for the bill in the face of cross-examination by pro-abortion Rep. Todd Rutherford (Richland).

The legislation now moves to the House floor, where it will be up for a vote soon.

Please watch for instructions from Palmetto Family Alliance on how you can help with that key roll call.

If you made a call or sent an email, thank you! If you didn’t, we will need you on the next vote.

Note: At ONE HOUR, South Carolina’s reflection period is the shortest in the country among states with waiting periods. TWENTY-FOUR hours is the national standard.

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