Monday, April 30, 2018
Monday, Apr. 30, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, April 30, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
British toddler Alfie Evans dies five days after being removed from life support against parents’ wishes
Absolutely heart breaking, though not shocking news out of Great Britain early Saturday morning. At 2:30 AM Liverpool time, little Alfie Evans died. He died days after being taken off of life support. He died over against the best efforts of his parents and others including world leaders. One of those leaders, Pope Francis, who offered to bring the baby at his own expense to the Gesu Bambino Hospital associated with the Vatican, for further treatment. The Italian government went so far as to give the toddler Italian citizenship but all this was for naught. In the British system it is not the parents who have the ultimate decision making authority but others including the medical establishment and the courts.
Yesterday's edition of the New York Times included an article from London by Yonette Joseph. She said, "Alfie Evans, the terminally ill British toddler who was at the center of a bitter legal battle, died on Saturday morning, five days after he was taken off life support. His mother, Kate James, posted on a Facebook page dedicated to his case, Alfie’s Army: 'Our baby boy grew his wings tonight at 2:30 AM. We are heartbroken.' The boy's father, Thomas Evans, also posted on Facebook, 'My gladiator lay down his shield and gained his wings at 2:30 AM absolutely heartbroken. I love you my guy.'"
Joseph reports and I quote, "Alfie, 23 months old, had a rare degenerative brain condition that his doctors said was incurable. He had been in a semi-vegetative state for more than a year. Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, England, where he had been getting treatment, concluded it would be futile to treat him further."
His parents have steadfastly opposed taking the toddler off of life support but as Joseph reports the parents lost in the high court, the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights. On Wednesday, she reports, the British court of appeal upheld a ruling that approved the withdrawal of care and sustenance. It also prohibited Alfie's parents from seeing treatment elsewhere. Now that's what's most important in this story, the New York Times summarizes the case accurately. In the British legal and medical system it is not parents or family members who have the final say in such treatments or even the removal of care and sustenance, it is eventually the medical establishment and often with the intervention of the British courts.
The Times also rightly linked the controversy concerning Alfie Evans with what had developed just months before and that was the case of another baby, in this case Charlie Gard, who also died over against the best efforts of his parents for the child to receive further medical care. In both cases the medical condition of the young patients was decided by medical authorities as being irreversible and without hope. Some of the most chilling language in the New York Times report goes back to the middle of last week when that British court of appeal, "Upheld a ruling that approved the withdrawal of care and sustenance."
Now note the inclusion of both of those words. Of care and sustenance. Last Thursday's edition of The Briefing included a rather substantial consideration of the case concerning Alfie Evans and I also published a major commentary at my website albertmohler.com. The commentary was published on Friday. Hard cases such as both Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans are not limited to one side of the Atlantic. They are found wherever we have modern medical technology and people making decisions about the use and continued use of that kind of technology. But what does indicate a very significant difference between the British system and the American system is that the American system is prejudiced towards the understanding that family members, in the case of a child parents will be the ultimate decision makers. Now sometimes if parents abuse that authority the courts can intervene but the courts are very reluctant to do that.
In the case of the British system, family members and parents do not have the same kind of of presumed or actual authority. That becomes a key issue and as I argued in the essay published on Friday, once we deny human dignity and the sanctity of every human life, once we deny parental rights as natural rights, disaster will ensue. Now the original medical situation of both Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans as we have said, could have happened on either side of the Atlantic but the decision making process when it comes to medical care, the continuation of life support and sustenance, the decision making process would be very, very different.
A case like this naturally involves controversy and after my discussion of the Alfie Evans case on Thursday's edition of The Briefing, I received criticism for stating that responsibility would fall to the British government. Some from Britain protested that it is not the government that was taking such action but rather the British courts. That also reflects something of a distinction between the United States and Great Britain. It's not so much that in one case the courts are political and in another case they are not. In both the American and the British systems the courts have some degree of independence from the political majority or from the legislative process. But when we use the word government in the United States, we generally refer to all state actors. And that would include the courts. In Great Britain the government often refers to the parliamentary majority and to the administrative government it puts in place.
In any event, the most important issue from world view analysis is the fact that the courts are part of the state and in the American system that would mean we would rightly say that the courts are part of the government. They are also part of the government in Britain but not in the technical sense that Britain often used the term.
The deadly consequences of displacing the family as the centerpiece of society
But an even more fundamental issue was addressed in yesterday's edition of the New York Times by columnist Ross Douthat. The title of his article, Alfie Evans and the Experts, looking at the cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans he also turns to similar kinds of developments in the United States and he points to this fundamental shift away from the authority of the family. He writes of, "This tendency to arrogate power away from the family." He says, "It's not just an issue for extreme medical cases, it applies to many other situations in our post-modern culture as well."
Later he puts a nomenclature on this, a new vocabulary, he calls it post-familialism. I think that is exactly the right term. He says, speaking of our current confusion, "Such a system is custom-built for the coming world of post-familialism, the world bequeathed to us by sexual individualism and thinning family trees."
We need to ponder that for just a moment. This means a shift away from the family as the most basic unit of civilization. The bonds that are created between parents and children and family members is brothers and sisters with extended kinship. It means this shift away from the family to something else. The problem is of course, nothing else can substitute for the family. No other ties. No other responsible agent can adequately or naturally stand in for the family. But we also need to note that is so many of these cases it is not so much that the child does not have parents but that the rights of the parents are simply not respected.
Meanwhile in the United States the political aspects of this were made clear in an article that ran at the Washington Post by Ben Zdencanovic, he says that Alfie Evans has now become, "the latest weapon in the Conservative attack on universal healthcare." Well, let's just understand that what Zdencanovic is arguing is that Conservatives have opportunistically seized upon the case of either Charlie Gard or Alfie Evans or both cases in order to argue against an American equivalent of Britain's national health service. A form of government run healthcare that he said, "has been dubbed to the UK's national religion."
I will leave arguments about the efficacy of the national health service in the United Kingdom to another discussion. But in the United States there is no doubt that just about everything eventually becomes fodder for some kind of political controversy. And yet what we're looking at here is a severe warning. A warning of what happens when someone other than parents and other than family members begins to have the ultimate authority. And in the United States all we have to do is think about the oxymoronic compound of government efficiency or government care to understand just how problematic such a national run healthcare service would be. It's not to say that all the individuals in it would be either incompetent or uncaring, it is to say that there are very sound grounds both politically and morally for understanding that once you give government this kind of authority it begins to think exactly like a government.
But all that aside, the most important consideration when we are thinking about either the case of Charlie Gard or Alfie Evans or any similar case wherever it might be found, is the reality that when parental rights are not recognized as natural rights, the most fundamental and important rights, then disaster will surely ensue. And then to return to Ross Douthat's argument, if we are indeed entering an age of post-familialism, then what we now see in these headlines will become the norm.
One final issue on this story, the hospital, the center of the controversy about Alfie Evans, is the Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool. But a simple news search with the name of that Children's Hospital will call up articles going back to 2001 such as an article in the Guardian, a very liberal British newspaper. The headline is this, "Living children's glands given to drug firms." The report in the Guardian begins with these words, "The hospital at the center of a scandal over the stockpiling of baby's organs today faced fresh criticism after admitting that it gave a pharmaceutical company body parts from living children in return for financial donations." Now again, that's not 2018, that was 2001. Another very chilling reminder that the brave new world is already very much upon us.
Many questions remain after North Korea changes the game before US meeting
Next on the world scene, there can be no doubt that the biggest headlines have to do with Korea. On Friday there was an historic meeting the leaders of North and South Korea. The first time that one of the dictators of North Korea has crossed the border and entered physically into South Korea. Now the expectations about that meeting of the Korean leaders were extraordinarily high and the expectations if anything are even higher as are the stakes in a now unplanned but intended meeting between Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator and US president, Donald Trump. It is of course good news that over the course of the last several months we have shifted from the kind of bellicose language exchanged between the US and North Korea and the respective leaders.
It's a good thing that the current conversation around the world is focused upon just how much is to be learned from and taken seriously from that meeting that took place in South Korea on Friday. That's good news. We're not talking about open threats on North Korea to lob nuclear weapons that US territories, American allies or even the mainland of the United States. That's good news. But the huge question overhanging everything, the meeting that took place last Friday and the meeting that has been announced as an intention between the Korean dictator and the American president, the big question is whether or not this will lead to a period of peace or if it is just another exercise of strange stagecraft coming from North Korea.
If you go back over the last several decades, North Korea has played this passive aggressive role. It has been very aggressive and then it has demanded something like the kinds of meetings that Kim Jong Un has received just in the last several weeks. The leader of China after basically giving Kim the cold shoulder from the beginning of his term power, North Korea, went ahead and met with him. And so also did the leader of South Korea in this unprecedented summit. But there have been agreements between North and South Korea and between North Korea and other entities including the United States of America that evaporated almost as quickly as they were announced.
What has become abundantly clear over the last several weeks is that Kim Jong Un is more skilled in international diplomacy than had been recognized. He appears to know exactly what he is doing and he's the only one who know what he's doing. Nicholas Kristof writing in this column yesterday indicated that the very words expert on North Korea don't make any legitimate sense. There are no real experts on North Korea. North Korea is itself is a giant enigma. Western leaders have been basically agreed on what they see as North Korea's long term strategy and that was over decades to become a nuclear power over against all kinds of threats and all kinds of promises that they had made because once they become a nuclear power, the nuclear weapons become something of a defacto life insurance policy for the dictatorial regime.
That one fact makes it very unlikely that the North Korean regime with actually follow through with its promise to denuclearize. In fact, many of the closer neighbors of North Korea fear that the United States will enter into some kind of agreement that would protect the continental United States from any long range nuclear weapons but leave nations such as South Korea and Japan vulnerable. The very idea of nuclear weapons as a political life insurance policy was made clear years ago by a North Korean political leader who pointed to the fact that Muammar Gaddafi, the former dictator of Libya had been on the process of developing nuclear weapons. He then gave up his quest for nuclear weapons and not long after that he was toppled from power, eventually dying at the hands of his own people.
According to this North Korean source, the lesson for North Korea was clear. There is not substitute for owning, possessing and threatening nuclear weapons. There is no specific plan even when it comes down to date and place and time for an actual meeting between the American president and the North Korean dictator but both sides have indicated that it is likely to happen. And likely soon.
Mark Landler, writing a front page article also for yesterday's edition of the New York Times wrote, "There is little question, senior officials and analysts said, that the American-led sanctions, combined with Mr. Trump’s bellicose vows to rain 'fire and fury' on North Korea if it threatened the American homeland, helped bring Mr. Kim to the table." It also appears that President Trump sees this as his opportunity to bring about a major change for peace on the world stage. But the stakes are very high. And when it comes to North Korea no one actually knows what even the North Korean leader has told his own officials that he is thinking.
But the Times article brought up one very interesting angle that has appeared just in recent days and not just in the Times but in other major media around the world as well. And that's this, what if the ultimate strategy of Kim Jong Un is actually to establish something of a more warm and workable relationship with the United States of America? That relationship would come at the expense of which nations? Geopolitically, there are two nations which would lose demonstrably if that relationship between North Korea and the United States were to warm. Those nations, China and South Korea. A long term North Korean strategy has been to separate the United States and South Korea. That would at least indicate a weakening of the relationship.
But the most interesting aspect of this is China. Maybe China really isn't at this point, considered by the North Korean regime to be a useful ally. There are signs that North Korean resentment against China may at this point have become a political development that would make the United States look preferable in this sense to China. A Chinese authority on North Korea told the Times, "Many Chinese people are very optimistic now." But he warned that that optimism might be false. He said, "It does not seem that simple. If North Korea holds a nuclear weapon, it will not hit South Korea. Will it hit Japan? It does not dare. It also will not dare to fight the United States." He then said, "If you look at history, North Korea is not sure about China and has a mind of revenge toward China."
But as we think about what's at stake we need to remember that the North Korean dictatorial regime is built upon a political philosophy, an ideology that deifies the member of the Kim family in power. It's hard to imagine anything more dangerous than a deified leader with nuclear weapons.
Why human civilization cannot be sustained with artificial jobs, artificial wages, or artificial workers
Meanwhile back in the United States work has become something of a political controversy. Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator who ran for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, as a self-declared democratic socialist, put work right into political controversy when he announced just a few days ago that he wanted every American to have not only a job but a good job. He called for a federal jobs program that would guarantee every American adult citizen or for that matter not just citizens, every adult in the United States, given some kind of residential status, guaranteed jobs at $15 an hour plus benefits.
Now it's interesting that the Vermont senator did not give any kind of accounting for funding of this program but as the Washington Post Megan McArdle pointed out, at $15 an hour plus two weeks of paid vacation, every worker would make about $31,000 a year. As she goes onto to say, "that would make for a one trillion to $2 trillion annual program which at current rates rivals or exceeds our total expenditure as the United States government on Social Security, with maybe Medicaid thrown in for good measure."
I appreciate Megan McArdle's careful unpacking of senator Sander's proposal if indeed it ranks as a serious proposal but there could no question that Sanders means the proposal seriously. He means that it should the policy the federal government to provide every America adult, every adult in America with a job that would pay at least $31,000 a year plus other benefits. Now when you look at this you come to understand as McArdle pointed out, that would at this point exceed the entire federal expenditure for Social Security, perhaps Social Security plus Medicaid. There is no way that this is either politically or economically possible, but that kind of plausibility has not been necessary for senator Sander's proposals in the past.
What's most noteworthy from a Christian world view perspective is that there's so many people in America who say they think this is a good idea. Now as McArdle points out, the federal government would effectively become the employer of additional millions, tens of millions of Americans. She also points out that the federal government does not have jobs for such people. But then to her credit, McArdle points out that if such a program with the promise of such income as a federal employee were to appear, it would wipe out small businesses with real jobs throughout much of America. She writes, "In those areas, at the very least, the Sanders plan would gut local businesses, forcing even more workers into the guaranteed job program and depriving communities of the services they provide." She continued, "Though at least the owners of those businesses," that would be the businesses put out of business, "would have the comfort of knowing that a $15-an-hour job awaited them, too."
One of the most interesting paragraphs in her report is this, "Guaranteed jobs reverse the normal logic of the labor market: start with something we want done, then find workers capable of doing it." Instead, she writes this new philosophy means, "You have to start with whatever number and kind of workers show up, wherever they happen to be living, and then figure out something they can usefully do. Then you must," she said, "find the money to buy complementary assets, paint, filing cabinets, daycare space. so they can do it."
The point from the Christian world view is this, human beings were made to make a contribution. We were made for work. For fabrication and for work. This would include of course the work of raising children. It includes the work of building cities. It includes the work of making work happen. But what's most interesting is to note is that if that work becomes artificial, the entire ethic of the culture begins to break down. It's not just that a system like this would not be workable economically, it wouldn't be workable morally either. The Christian world view recognizes that there are no good jobs and bad jobs if they are real jobs. Making a real contribution. Fulfilling a real need. And the biblical world view says the worker is worthy of his hire and that means her hire as well.
But human civilization cannot be sustained with artificial jobs, with artificial workers earning artificial wages. But then quickly we have to turn to another article on a related theme, this one appeared in the New York Times on April the 24th by Peter S. Goodman. Here's the headline, "Finland has second thoughts about giving free money to jobless people." Finland it turns out had given itself to the proposal of the so called Universal Basic Wage or Universal Basic Income. It was giving income to people who weren't working even though they weren't working. This of course disincentivized work and as Goodman points out, Finland's experiment, "with so called Universal Basic Income" seems to have come to an end. He writes, "Finland has actually reversed course on that front this year, adopting rules that threaten to cut benefits for jobless people unless they actively look for work or engage in job training."
Many Americans arguing for the expansion of the welfare state point to countries such as Finland and others of its neighbors in Scandinavia, those very extensive welfare states, and say that they are the examples. But in this case you have Finland reporting that its experiment in Universal Basic Income didn't work. It turns out it doesn't work to disincentivize people from working. That's an insight with extremely strong biblical support but we should be willing to learn from any contemporary example including in this case Finland.