The Briefing 03-14-16
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, March 14, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
License to kill: Physician-assisted suicide law to go in effect June 9 in California
The growing gap between the Christian biblical worldview and the operational worldview of the secular world around us was made graphically clear in a headline article that appeared in Saturday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times. Patrick McGreevy, reporting for the Times gives us the headline:
“Aid-in-dying law to take effect June 9 in California.”
The headline news is this: The California General Assembly adopted legislation last year that would reverse that state’s laws against physician-assisted suicide and would change the law now for it. That law was signed into effect last year by California Governor Jerry Brown, but it wasn’t until the General Assembly adopted a date just last week that the date when the law would go into effect was announced, and that date is June 9. And that’s why the headline article appeared in Saturday’s edition of the newspaper. McGreevy writes,
“California's terminally ill patients should begin talking to physicians now if they want to end their lives, advocates said Thursday after a legislative vote triggered a June 9 start date for the End of Life Option Act.”
Now let’s just stand back for a moment and consider that opening line. Here you have a reporter reporting quite straightforwardly that the California General Assembly has now set the date of June 9, 2016 for when this assisted suicide law known as the End of Life Option Act is to take effect. But note the language that was used. It is some of the most frightening language to be seen in a national newspaper in recent days. It says,
“California's terminally ill patients should begin talking to physicians now if they want to end their lives.”
I say this is some the most chilling language to be found in recent days because it seems that almost every week brings a story of this kind. But the casual language used in this opening to this article sends a particularly chilling signal. Here you have a reporter saying that advocates for assisted suicide are telling patients right now that if they want their physicians to end their life as of June 9th, they better start the conversations now. Because as the article says, it can take up to about 45 days to work through the red tape. McGreevy goes on to say,
“Gov. Jerry Brown signed the measure last year, but it wasn't until the Legislature adjourned a special session in Sacramento on Thursday that June 9 was set for when it becomes legal for physicians to write lethal doses without fear of criminal prosecution.”
There is a massive moral shift behind this article. It wasn’t until last year that the California General Assembly passed into law assisted suicide. It wasn’t until last year that Governor Jerry Brown was even known to take a position on the issue. He eventually signed the bill into law. Last year at the beginning of the year, the California Medical Association—that is the professional group that represents most physicians in the state—it had stated that physician-assisted suicide was wrong, unethical, and should not be allowed. That was at the beginning of last year. But then as the California General Assembly was considering the legislation, the California Medical Association changed its position. It didn’t exactly reverse its position to being officially for physician-assisted suicide, instead it claimed to take a neutral position. But as is always the case, a position of claimed neutrality never is. We’ll see more about that in just a moment.
In the article McGreevy cites a source known as Toni Broaddus, identified as campaign director for the group Compassion & Choices—that’s a pro-assisted suicide, pro-euthanasia organization. Broaddus is quoted as saying,
“We are telling people to start talking to their doctor now.”
And Broaddus went on to say that it’s bureaucratic red tape that could tie up such requests, and that’s why physicians should be asked now. The article also cites Senator Bill Manning, a Democrat of Carmel identified as co-author of the legislation, who,
“…predicted discussions will begin before June 9 as patients make sure their doctors are up to speed on the law and physicians explain all options, including those not involving the Act, such as hospice care.”
The legislator said,
“I certainly expect it's going to provoke conversations within families and between terminally ill patients and physicians.”
This is a stunning article. It’s not only stunning in terms of the actual moral effect, but it’s also stunning in terms of the language used, how casual the language turns out to be. Here you have the lead paragraph in an article on the front page of the California section of the Los Angeles Times that simply announces that if patients want their physicians to help them to commit suicide, they will have to do so now if they want that to happen when the law takes effect on June 9.
The moral revolution that is represented in this article points to at least two big issues. The first is most fundamental. Why would physician-assisted suicide become not only legal, but why would it become a desired option by so many people in our society? It can only be explained by the fact that the Christian worldview is in recession, that it is in eclipse and in decline, because the Christian biblical worldview is absolutely incompatible with either euthanasia or with assisted suicide. The biblical worldview defines human life as God’s good gift, a gift to be received with joy and a gift to be stewarded with care in a life to be lived out in faithfulness to the Creator. It is only the eclipse of the Christian worldview that can devalue human life to such an extent that something like assisted suicide can become not only a cultural option, not only a proposed idea, but now in the state of California following some neighboring states, a matter of law and in effect as of June 9 of this year. The devaluation of human life in this is absolutely massive. It’s actually beyond moral calculation. We’re talking about human life being so devalued that now you have open messaging in a newspaper like the Los Angeles Times saying if you want to be able to commit assisted suicide by June 9, if you want your physician to write you a lethal prescription of drugs, then you’re going to have to talk to them right now because inevitably there will be bureaucratic red tape that may delay the process later on.
Now just consider that. Now you have bureaucratic red tape blamed for a delay in the legal requirement for a physician to be involved in the suicide of a living human being. There’s a second massive shift that is involved here, and this has to do with the medical profession. As McGreevy writes,
“The California Medical Assn. published guidelines on the law in January that spell out the requirements for terminally ill patients diagnosed with less than six months to live. The patients must make two verbal requests at least 15 days apart and one written request that is signed, dated and witnessed by two adults. Patients must also fill out forms that were included in the legislation.”
The article goes on,
“The process can be further delayed if the physician suspects mental illness requiring an evaluation by a mental health professional.”
What’s so absolutely astounding about that paragraph is the fact that the word used here is “can.” The process “can” be further delayed if the physician suspects mental illness requiring an evaluation. In other words, even the suspicion of that mental illness doesn’t require a delay. Just consider what that means. Furthermore, keep in mind the recent report we talked about on The Briefing coming from Europe in which it is now documented that many of the cases there that did clearly involve mental illness did not slow down euthanasia or assisted suicide in those cases whatsoever. The article goes on in the Los Angeles Times to tell us that,
“The California Medical Assn., which was neutral on the law, does not have a recommendation on whether patients and doctors should begin discussions now, according to spokeswoman Molly Weedn. ‘It’s up to those doctors and their patients and the individual situations’ to determine what is best for their course of care, she said.”
Now note again the moral reality of what we’re dealing with here. The California Medical Association at the beginning of last year said that it would be unethical medical practice for physicians in the state of California to participate in assisted suicide. Then as the legislation was being considered, the California Medical Association said it was taking no position. Now in this article it has claimed that the California Medical Association is neutral on the law. Well, it’s not exactly neutral on the law. That shift from a negative position to a supposedly neutral position gave political cover for the California General Assembly and for Governor Jerry Brown to support and eventually pass the legislation. And furthermore, in this very article, we are told that the California Medical Association in the aftermath of the passage of this legislation,
“…published guidelines on the law this past January that spell out the requirements for terminally ill patients diagnosed with less than six months to live.”
In other words, this California Medical Association has now bureaucratically facilitated this moral revolution and merely says to physicians and to their patients,
“‘It’s up to those doctors and their patients and the individual situations’ to determine what is best for their course of care.”
Now just keep in mind that in this article the entire point of the article is to propose that that so-called “course of care” can end in physician assisted suicide. That is the culture we are becoming, a culture in which a “course of care” can be redefined as physician-assisted suicide; a culture in which physicians having been committed to heal are now authorized by law to kill; a society that packages this in such a way that the announcement can simply be made on the front page of the California section of the Los Angeles Times that if you want your physician to assist you in committing suicide on June 9—the first date it becomes legal in California—you better talk to that physician right now. This is an entire moral universe turned upside down and made graphically clear in the opening words in a single news story in a single edition of the Los Angeles Times.
Trump's campaign behavior creates dilemma for parents
Next, over the weekend, the New York Times ran an article with an interesting headline:
“The Parent-Child Discussion That So Many Dread.”
Immediately looking at the headline, you’re probably thinking of a very different talk than the one that is contemplated in this news article. The subtext makes it very clear, the subhead in the article:
“Making sense of Donald Trump’s behavior in terms a 10-year-old can grasp.”
We see a moral revolution, we see a vast cultural shift take place in many different forms, and one thing American Christians must note in the year 2016 is that in this country that moral revolution is also becoming very clear in the way this presidential race is unfolding—and in particular on the Republican side. As we have discussed, many liberals are now looking at conservatives, or at least at Republicans, wondering if we meant what we said when we talked about the danger of liberals using crude language, putting highly sexualized and graphic products out in terms of entertainment and, in general, leading to a coarsening of the culture. Now when it comes to the 2016 presidential race, it’s largely on the Republican side that that coarsening is taking full effect, and that responsibility has to be laid first of all at the feet of candidate Donald Trump. Other candidates have joined with them, at least in part, but it is still Donald Trump who is leading the pack and who has changed the electoral culture, the political culture in this country in terms of a candidate running for president.
We’ll turn back to that New York Times article in just a moment, but we also need to note that over the weekend, the violence that has taken place at some of the rallies for Donald Trump in places ranging from Louisville, Kentucky to Chicago, Illinois has actually led to the cancellation over the weekend of a rally in Chicago. Meanwhile, Trump is simultaneously blaming other campaigns for the violence and refusing to ask his own followers to refrain from violence and crude language and other forms of action against protesters. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Sunday in a headline:
“Trump dismisses demands to tame tone at his events.”
The Associated Press says,
“One day after well-organized protesters led Donald Trump to cancel a campaign rally before it even started, the Republican presidential front-runner coldly rejected calls on Saturday to temper the tone of his events. He called such protesters a ‘disgrace’ and blamed them for fueling violent confrontations at his rallies.”
But as many other Republicans have also noted, it is Donald Trump himself who keeps fueling the language and raising the intensity, and that intensity is now breaking out in violence, the kind of violence that has not been seen in an American presidential campaign in modern history. This is where that article in the New York Times by Sarah Lyall becomes so important. The headline again,
“The Parent-Child Discussion That So Many Dread.”
The reporter writes,
“It was mortifying enough when the Republican debate last week introduced the question of whether it was appropriate for one presidential candidate to accuse another of wetting his pants.”
But the final straw for one set of parents in Sacramento came when their 10-year-old son heard the presidential candidate Donald Trump use a sexual innuendo. The wife looked to the husband and the husband said to the son, “Tommy, you’ve got to leave, you’ve got to get out of here,” And Tommy, the boy identified in the article, according to the reporter, actually got up and ran out of the room. Lyall then writes,
“Many unforeseeable things have happened so far in the raucous Republican presidential race. But the 2016 election — with its rudeness, crudeness, bluster and bullying — has also presented adults with an unexpected, unpleasant quandary: How on earth do they explain Donald Trump to children?”
One parent said,
“Quite frankly, it’s been quite embarrassing when I have an 11-year-old who is better behaved and more polite than some people who are the potential next leaders of our country.
“This name-calling and making fun of people is basically the opposite of what he’s been taught at home and at school.”
Repeatedly on The Briefing I pointed to the responsibility of parents to watch political events, including presidential debates with their children—especially older children and teenagers—in order to interpret these events and to help the entire family to think from a Christian biblical worldview. But the concern in this election was made clear by Kathy Maher, a sixth-grade teacher in Newton, Massachusetts, who herself said that,
“Election years usually presented an excellent opportunity for students to observe the virtues of the American democratic process. But this year, she said, she worries about the school’s mock-debate season, when someone will have to play Mr. Trump — a candidate who, if he were a student, would be sent straight to the principal’s office.”
Now this teacher points to the fact that what Donald Trump now does routinely on the course of the presidential campaign is what would get any middle school student immediately sent to the office and potentially expelled or suspended because of the use of language, because of the bullying, because of the crudeness and coarseness, the interruption, the impoliteness. What we’re looking at here is a redefinition of American politics that reveals a fundamental moral shift, not only in the presidential race, but more fundamentally in the electorate. Because as has been made clear, there is a sizable percentage of the American electorate that seems to enjoy this. Later in the article, the reporter writes,
“As much as they might want to, parents and educators cannot keep their children insulated from news about Mr. Trump.”
A kindergarten teacher in Hawaii said,
“He’s omnipresent. It’s going to come up, so you better be prepared.”
This article deserves more attention than most simply because it not only deals with a phenomenon of the moral change reflected in the 2016 presidential race in the candidates in particular, but also what is taking place in the larger culture; and in particular how this effects and is revealed by parenting. Just consider this section of the story,
“Parents who support Mr. Trump disagree, of course. They say that his authenticity and his refusal to pander to his critics are more important than the words he uses. And they ask why America’s children are so sensitive that they cannot be exposed to robust views, forcefully expressed.”
One parent, identified as father Jeremy Diamond, a marketing executive who lives in Manhattan—he’s got a 12-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter—spoke of Trump saying,
“This is not about him being rude to people randomly. He shows passion and aggression, and that he’s going to fight for his point of view.”
This father said he was,
“Confident in the integrity and behavior and values” of his children [again aged 12 and 15], both of whom have been impressed by Mr. Trump’s take-no-prisoners approach, which Mr. Diamond called ‘strategic aggression.’”
His 12-year-old son said,
“Daddy, he just wants to show that he is stronger than the other candidates and that he’s not going to get pushed around.”
Now just for a moment, let’s do our very best to try to imagine that this isn’t taking place in a politicized or even in a political context. Let’s try to imagine that we really don’t know we’re talking here about a major candidate for the United States presidency. Let’s just imagine we’re talking about some other development with some other authority or person of interest in the national news, someone else our children might be observing. In what moral universe does it make any sense for a father to try to explain that when someone is behaving in this way, they’re not being rude randomly but only strategically? Again, just to quote this father, he spoke of Trump saying,
“This is not about him being rude to people randomly.”
In other words, this man appears—no he not only appears, he is straightforwardly saying—that he is glad for his 12-year-old son and his 15-year-old daughter to learn from a cultural authority who isn’t rude randomly, but is quite rude strategically. How in the world do you translate that into the lives—the very real lives—of a 12-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter? How do you train them in order to be not randomly rude, but nonetheless strategically rude in order to show, let’s use the father’s words, “passion and aggression,” and in order to make clear that that child is going to fight for the child’s point of view? I have to give credit to the editor of the New York Times for coming up with the headline,
“The parent-child discussion that so many dread.”
The cleverness in this is that the editor understands what most parents are going to think that article is going to be about only to find out it’s not about that talk at all. It’s about discussing the 2016 United States presidential race. When you consider how our culture is changing right before our eyes, just keep in mind that we are watching a revolution in America’s political life taking place right before our eyes in the span of just one presidential election. What would have been unthinkable and unacceptable just four years ago is now becoming not only allowable, but there is no question that it is now supported by a sizable number of millions of Americans who think this is the way politics should be done. This is the way elections should be won. Someday we can only assume they will have to have a conversation with their children. If their political will is what takes place, they’re going to have to explain to their children how the entire culture became so morally coarse and why they as parents thought that was a good idea.
Unforeseen side-effect of the tech revolution: walking while texting can be deadly
Finally, an article that reminds us just how much technology is changing our lives and intersecting with everyday life in every way: Marissa Horn, writing for USA Today, tells us that one of the new dangers being recognized in mortality statistics is walking while texting. Horn writes,
“Everyone knows cell phones in cars can be deadly. And now, a new study suggests that mobile devices are killing more pedestrians, too.”
She tells us that in just the first six months of the year 2015, there was a 10 percent spike in pedestrian fatalities, which may well be fueled by, as she says, “America's increasing distraction with mobile devices.”
There’s more than a hunch here, there is actually research behind the study that indicates that a 10 percent spike in pedestrian fatalities in the first half of 2015 may well be due to the fact that an increased number of people now take as normal and normative that they walk along while looking at their mobile devices. The USA Today article cites one authority, who said,
“Looking at cell phone data and how much is used — it's explosive; it's beyond an incremental increase and those could be factors that come into play.”
The article acknowledges that other things could come into play, including walking unsafely after dark and also walking while drinking—that is, under the influence of alcohol. But there’s no doubt that something is happening when it comes to Americans being distracted not only now dangerously when driving, but perhaps even fatally when walking in terms of our digital devices.
We’re getting to the point that as a species we don’t know how to get through virtually any moment of the day without those digital devices: access to social media, email, texting, and all that goes with it. This is certainly redefining our relationships. It is redefining our conversations. As a matter of fact, what we’re seeing is a decrease in actual face-to-face conversation in the digital age. That’s a concern in itself. Now we are told, however, that it’s becoming even more dangerous just to walk, given the fact that there are so many people distracted even in their walking by their digital devices: a 10 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities in just six months in 2015. Coming at the very same time, there was a massive jump in cell phone usage and data expenditure. This report certainly tells us something, but one thing we should note is that nowhere in it was the suggestion that people might actually put down their smart phones or not use them even when they walk. Given the technological revolution we have experienced, that’s probably even more unbelievable than the statistics cited in this article.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
I’m speaking to you from Los Angeles, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.