Thursday, September 29, 2005

Question:

A while back my friend Zhubin asked a terrific question. He wanted to know if people would rather be the ruler of an ancient empire, with no modern comforts, or live in modern times with little influence and power. I'm not going to ask that question, because, well, I dare not tread where genius has wrung its sweaty gym towel.

But, in a similar mold, I have decided that on occasion I will stoop from Philosofickle's usual high-falutin' discourse, to ask those deep and ponderous hypotheticals which torture the soul of humanity. So, without further adieu, I give you the first Question:

If you could give up your current urinary bathroom patterns in exchange for a once-a-day half hour pee, would you? What if instead it was a weekly 4 hour-long whiz-fest? Keep in mind that this only applies to peeing.

I, for one, would take the half-hour a day. I don't like how frequently I need to interrupt what I'm doing because I need to go to the bathroom. Plus I so rarely get to see all of a movie. Darn small bladder. And besides, if you had a half hour you could just set up and read a book or something. It sounds good to me.

Also, I'd like to thank Mark Danielson for this question. I've manipulated it slightly, but this is more or less his brain child. Needless to say, I'm jealous that his brain has birthed such beautiful babies while mine just sputters aimlessly.

So, there you have it. There's the question. Let's have some answers:

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do

Monday, September 26, 2005

Left to Die

In my bioethics class we have been discussing death, terminating medical treatment, and physician assisted suicide. Most of my classmates have been soundly in support of a so-called "right to die", though they usually recognize some of the tensions present in the existence of such a right.

I'm still working through the issues - part of the reason for this post - I don't completely have my mind made up, but I'm leaning strongly against the idea that there could ever be a "right to die". For the purposes of this post, I am thinking mostly of physician assisted suicide, though perhaps the same questions and responses apply to termination of treatment.
First, I see an overriding importance of life. Life, quite simply, has value. Even if the human is in a persistent vegetative state their life must have value. We believe that nature - animals, plants, the Earth itself - has value, how much more so then the value of the human! There is value in the life, and that is important.

But more than the reasons against a "right to die", I have been considering the reasons in favor. Most people can see the appeal of these arguments, and they can be difficult to refute. I have been considering the roots beneath the arguments. I am becoming convinced that the "right to die" is premised on faulty assumptions, and that when pressed, these assumptions unravel quickly.

In my experience there are three basic reasons given to support a "right to die". The first is the idea that it allows a person to die with dignity. But this is incongruous. When we think of those who have died with dignity the first people who come to mind are usually those who have suffered boldly. I thought of John Paul II. Laura mentioned martyrs. I can see no connection between opting out of life via suicide (physician assisted or otherwise) and dignity. In fact, even if a person has the most noble reasons for opting out of life (i.e. to mitigate the suffering of others), it seems that they are de facto choosing a route that denies the dignity in persisting through suffering and overcoming hardship. If dignity is truly a concern then suicide is far from the obvious choice; and I would contend that most frequently suicide is fraught with tones of cowardice, an element diametrically opposed to dignity.

The second reason in support of a "right to die" is that allowing physician assisted suicide gives people a chance to alleviate pain and suffering. But are pain and suffering actually bad things in themselves? Aren't there times when it is good to feel pain? When it is good to suffer? Aren't these things actually neutral? Even if unpleasant, isn't it better for us to live through pain than to seek an artificial - and permanent - escape from it? What troubles us more - the pain we feel when a loved one dies, or not feeling sad when a loved one dies? I would certainly find the later more troubling. Can we say with any certainty then that dissolution of pain is good? No. But we can say that anyone seeking a life without pain has taken a troubling course.

Finally, the "right to die" is supported by an argument from autonomy. This says that we cannot know what it is like to be in the shoes of the person making the decision, and we must respect their choice because they are a rational being. Despite studies showing that 95% of suicidal persons suffer from depression, we'll assume that the individual making this choice is completely healthy. The argument is really a quality of life argument. It says that the individual making the choice knows best what their quality of life is, and if they deem it low enough, then they can terminate their life. Ultimately, the claim is that we cannot assess quality of life from the outside.

But if this is the case, couldn't a healthy, happy person simply decide that their quality of life was personally too low? Even if they were eminently comfortable, typically happy, with terrific friends and family, meaningful employment, etc. - they are in the best position to decide whether their life is worth living. How can we allow physician assisted suicide for the terminally ill and at the same time condemn suicide generally? The two are facially inconsistent. One says we cannot assess another's quality of life, while the other assess another's quality of life.

Moreover, the autonomy of the suicidee should not be the paramount value. Especially given that two people with exactly the same symptoms/quality of life may come to different determinations about the appropriateness of suicide. If we respect the autonomy of one, we respect the statement they make by their suicide - that life is not worth living at a particular level of quality. For all those who chose to live at that same quality, this statement is a condemnation of their autonomous decision. We cannot respect the autonomy of some while disrespecting it for others.

Finally, we must consider the fact that if physician assisted suicide is allowed and accepted, there will be greater external pressure for the terminally ill to choose this option. In fact, their autonomy will likely be coerced in this direction.

I certainly still have questions, and any comments on any of these issues is more than welcome (actually invited). As I see it now, the importance of life easily trumps the "right to die", especially when we consider the problems underlying the "right's" corresponding justifications. A "right to die" is a figment constructed on unfit assumptions.

If you think you've had too much of this life
Well hang on

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Health Food for Thought

I really truly believe that we should institute a single payer health care system in the US.

Today in my health law class I volunteered to debate in favor of universal health care. And I found out a lot in the process. There are lots of ways to make sure everyone has health coverage, but I'm convinced more and more that a single payer system is the way to go. Basically, that would consist of the government taxing employers (so, instead of paying private health insurance costs, that money goes to the government) and probably taking a little income tax, and in effect, pooling that money like an insurance company would, and then paying out when people need it. Pretty much, it's just government insurance, and we establish it so that they're the only health insurance in the country.

Did you know that this would probably be more efficient? Seriously - this is one area where the government would create less paperwork and be more efficient than traditional business.

Did you know that every other industrialized nation uses some form of universal health coverage, and most are on a single payer system?

Did you know that there are more than 40 million Americans without health insurance? And many more on sub-par insurance?

I really feel this is practically a wise option. But even more important, I feel universal health care is a moral/social obligation.

And I would distinguish this claim from saying that health care is an individual right - I don't think that people actually have a right to coverage. But I do think that we should provide it all the same. We have a duty to care for our fellow humans. This is a duty placed on us by God, by our common condition as fellow humans, and by life itself.

If we truly value others, if we understand our place in the universe and see our interconnectedness, we can come to realize the value of protecting others. There is security and stability in universal health care that no person should be without. And everyone should have an equal chance at survival - it shouldn't turn on your ability to buy an insurance policy. This is a justice issue. There are people, who through no fault of their own, have no ability to secure medical treatment. Society cannot ostracize and ignore these unfortunate few. Because these unfortunate few are part of who we are.

And sure, there are problems with universal health care. But there are problems with the current system. Much more serious problems. Moral problems. So we need to take a long hard look at what we believe. Because if we believe that justice, equality, security, and life are important values, then our conscience calls us to work towards universal health care.

Is this the prize for having learned how not to cry

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Darkness

Tonight Laura and I brushed our teeth by candlelight. It was so romantic.

Actually, we just lost power in our bathroom and bedroom. We still aren't exactly sure why, and we'll be looking into it tomorrow if it isn't on by the time we get up. But going to the bathroom in the dark reminded me of a story from my glory days in highschool, and so I thought I'd share that here. Travel with me now, back to the 20th century. Back, to 1997.

We had just finished our theater department's production of some play - I don't know, Winnie the Pooh's Christmas maybe? - and to celebrate we had a cast party. At these cast parties we almost invariably played a game known as Sardines (essentially, reverse hide and seek), and this cast party was no different. Just before we were to start the game, Nick Brozek and I hurried to the bathroom to take care of some essential business. Nick finished quickly at the urinal, and was waiting politely for me as I was involved in the more time consuming process known as "Number 2". Nick was a very interesting fellow - tremendous fun, incredibly creative, and one those guys who carries more miscellaneous junk in his pockets than you can even imagine - and his "polite waiting" this time took the form of conversation and headstands.

And thus the scene is set. There we were in the theater department bathroom: talking, shitting, and standing our heads.

When all of the sudden the lights went out. You see, light is not conducive to the game of Sardines, and so to facilitate gameplay, the lights were turned off. Which, thanks to a stroke of genius on the part of the architect of the Coon Rapids High School Auditorium, required cutting power to an entire wing of the school. And so, this being a windowless bathroom in the middle of an unlit wing of the school, late at night on a Saturday, we found ourselves in absolute darkness: talking, shitting, and standing on our heads.

And of course, at precisely the moment the lights went out, gravity got the better of Nick's pockets and all of his belongings came tumbling out. The crash was loud, and when the echo off the bare tile walls subsided, I could still hear coins and who-knows what else rolling around the bathroom floor. A quarter even travelled all the way across the room and into my stall.

"Nick?"
"Yeah?"
"What was that?"
"Everything in my pockets."
"Oh. Shit."

Followed, of course, by uncontrolled fits of laughter.

Eventually Nick found most of his belongings, - his pocket watch never worked again, though that didn't stop him from carrying it around for the rest of highschool - and I found the toilet paper. I think I managed to get it into the toilet, but that was never quite confirmed. It took us a little while, but we were able to work our way to the sinks, wash our hands, and follow the wall out of the bathroom, with perhaps the funniest story to ever happen at a Coon Rapids High School theater department strike party.

The end.


We indulged in all the extra-curricular activities
We weren't particularly cool

Monday, September 19, 2005

Nifty Idea

I had a really neat-o idea for a short story the other day. Unfortunately I'm pretty busy for a little while here, but I hope to keep plugging away at it. But I'm excited by it. And I'll probably post it once it's finished. For now I just want to share the - for right now at least - first paragraph. I'm not going to give away the plot, but just thought I'd share a little of my more creative side - since that hasn't been appearing on this blog as much lately. Also, biology/anatomy people (coughGinacough), can you let me know if my description is anatomically correct? Thanks. Ok, here it is:

Do you ever get the feeling that you don't exist? That you're being ignored? Worse still, that you can't even be heard? That your voice box has been unplugged? That if they could send a tiny camera in through your mouth, back, past where that warm pink teardrop, that little grape - the uvula - hangs, and down, maneuvering carefully to avoid the esophagus, down, into your larynx, and finally stopping to examine those little green-grey cords in the middle of your throat, they'd find that somehow they'd come disconnected? Sliced clean, as if a mistaken gardner had quickly snipped a couple of stems to be placed in a vase, a clean 45-degree angle, to increase the stem's exposure and allow the blossom above to pull more water to its bright petals, except that by mistake it's turned your volume to mute.


Ok, nothing much. But I hope you enjoyed it.
Oh yeah, and triple points to anyone who can get this song quote without typing it into an internet search.

They say that absence makes the heart grown fungus

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Open Question

So I was wondering...

Say for the sake of argument that there is a Constitutionally guaranteed right to an abortion. Who has this right? Women? Men? Both? I doubt most people would say both, and I don't think anyone would say men exclusively. Basically, the idea is, abortion has to be a woman's right, right?

So if abortion is a Constitutionally guaranteed right, and it is a right which inheres in women, does that mean that the Constitution guarantees women more rights than men?

And wouldn't that be a clear violation of the Constitutional guarantee of Equal Protection?

I'm just really curious, so any thoughts would be appreciated.

Down beside that red fire light

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

VH1 Presents: Behind the Legislation

The John Roberts confirmation hearings have once again affirmed that abortion is the only issue in American politics.

Car seat is freezing

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Commenting

From now on to comment on Philosfickle you will need to type in a word verification key. This is because my blog (along with several others) has been receiving spam comments. This step will eliminate those comments, while still allowing the comments of actual human readers. I will still be happy to take any and all comments - even anonymous (though I'd prefer to have names attached) - you just have to enter the word that will pop up on your screen when you click the comment link.

For all the rest of you having troubles with this problem, you can turn on this same feature by clicking on the settings tab and selecting the word verification option. It's real simple, and hopefully makes this a more enjoyable forum for all.

P.S. Where have all the comments gone?

I keep playing your part
But it's not my scene

Saturday, September 10, 2005

An Abscessed Truth

Do you ever wonder how the minds of other people function? Do people devote themselves to conclusions or to truth? I think there are clearly some of both type in the world, though lately at least it has seemed that there are far more of the former, than the later.

When people have deep conversations about meaningful topics or socially significant issues, do they enter those conversations with an open mind? Do they leave the conversation debating to themselves the points the other side has made?

The reason I ask is because these are questions which implicate intellectual honesty; a trait which I often find lacking in philosophical sparring partners. It's been a special curse since the law school year began again. I should qualify here that I'm thinking of no particular person or event - this isn't a pointed post with a hidden agenda - but generally, jumping back into the shark-infested classes, it has been a struggle for me to remember that for many people truth is subservient to desire.

I'm convinced that this is a problem. If one is going hold a view they must premise that view on prior thought and discovery, not on what they want. Too often in our time "thought" is a synonym for desire. Too frequently people say "I think X" when what they really mean is "I want X." And if a person enters conversation convinced of X, premised on what they want, then that conversation is unlikely to be fruitful.

I think this is an important point, and I do my best to avoid falling into the trap of identifying thought with desire. I want people to know that no matter how passionately I argue my point, I can be persuaded to see the other side's validity. I may seem confident, even cocky, but if you can show me where I've made a mistake, I'll likely change my tune. I'm not committed to a position, I'm committed to truth. And maybe that's why I can come across as so egotistical - because I'm flexible enough to change my position so that I'm aligned with truth. I have nothing to gain by remaining committed to a cause, once I see its deficiencies.

And so this post has two conclusions. First, I want everyone to know that when I enter a conversation, even if I seem unfailingly devoted to my position, my mind can be changed. Show me why your view is better - really convince me - and I'll be on board. Second, I think this is something we should all work towards. Why is our nation so evenly split on so many topics? Why is there this great divide on social and philosophical issues? The reason I would give is that too many people are dishonest in their reasoning. They've committed themselves to being pro or con on every issue, and never step back to work out the truth underneath.

When was the last time you actually, honestly, considered why you think what you do? Isn't it time we all step back and pursue truth instead of desire?

I can hear the bells are ringing joyful and triumphant

Monday, September 05, 2005

Chicken Noodle Supreme

... And then there were 7. Well, 8. Sort of. I'm talking about the Supreme Court of course. With Rehnquist's death we've got two openings on the Court, though O'Connor previously agreed to stay on until her spot was filled. Given the probable desire to have a full 9 seats filled, it would make sense for Bush to change his nomination of Roberts to Chief Justice, and keep O'Connor around until there's a another nominee in the pipe. I think this also makes sense because Bush would probably much prefer having Roberts as Chief Justice instead of the extremely liberal Justice Stevens. We'll see what happens, but with at least two confirmation hearings pending, it's an exciting time to be in Washington. I bet you're all so jealous. Except those of you living in D.C. You're probably markedly less jealous. Though in all honesty, most people I know living outside of D.C. probably aren't too jealous anyways. So forget I brought it up.

Naturally, I will be extremely interested to see who the next nominee is. There's still a ton of conversation about tokenism, as if it has some persuasive effect on the Bush administration. "Bush is going to nominate an Hispanic", "Bush is going to nominate a woman", "Bush is going to nominate someone from the New Orleans circuit," etc. Fools. I think we saw in his last nomination that such talk can hardly be trusted. The rumors of a Hispanic are the only ones I find somewhat credible, and only then because Bush has so many Hispanic friends and associates - a reason completely separate (and much more "W") than tokenism.

I should also pass on this choice Supreme Court tidbit:

The other day I was flipping channels and came across a program I couldn't refuse: confirmation hearings. From 1986. That's right, I was watching CNN reruns. The best (read "worst") part was that I got Laura hooked too. For an hour we watched Senator Edward Kennedy ask a conservative nominee questions about abortion that the nominee found it inappropriate to answer. Apparently history repeats itself on a 19-year loop.

We're just tiny little specks,
About the size of Mickey Roony