Friday, February 29, 2008

The Pill Wrecks Environment, Non-Human and Human

For your consideration, a story with a politically incorrect detail that you won't see highlighted in your evening news. It seems that waste estrogen making it's way into Canadian waters is harming the fish populations:

Male fish exposed to estrogen become feminized, producing egg protein normally synthesized by females. In female fish, estrogen often retards normal sexual maturation, including egg production....

During that period [of the experiment that released estrogen into a small lake], they observed that chronic exposure to estrogen led to the near extinction of the lake’s fathead minnow population as well significant declines in larger fish, such as pearl dace and lake trout.

A little detail let slip: the source of this estrogen.

The research, led by Dr. Karen Kidd, an NSERC-funded biology professor at the University of New Brunswick (Saint John) and the Canadian Rivers Institute, confirms that synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills can wreak havoc on the sex lives of fish. Small amounts of estrogen are excreted naturally by women whether or not they are taking birth control pills. (emphasis added)

The difference being that the synthetic estrogen in the pill has to be more robust in order to survive the woman's digestive tract and make it into her blood stream, a hurdle natural human estrogen doesn't have to overcome. That's what Dr. Joel Brind told me over dinner at last year's Institute for the Study of Nature Summer Conference. He also added that all the estrogen in the water from birth control pills is the biggest issue in water treatment (in the U.S.).

Certainly it is an outrage that the fish populations are being harmed by estrogen in the water. But you have to wonder where all the outrage is over the harm women are doing to themselves by introducing synthetic hormones into their bodies.

Hormones are powerful chemicals. It makes sense that introducing more of them into, for example, an athlete's body harms him, so why doesn't it make sense that extra hormones in a woman's body does her harm?1 Basically the Pill stops ovulation by tricking a woman's body into "thinking" her pregnant. How healthy can it be for women's bodies to think they're pregnant all the time? We rightfully get all worked up about athletes introducing hormones into their bodies, and all the damage it eventually inflicts, why don't we get upset at women (and girls) introducing artificial hormones into their bodies?

And let's not forget the social structures that result from easy sexual availability of women. For example, without the worry of children that might issue from a sexual liaison, men much more easily view women exclusively as a source of male gratification. Humans are inherently relational creatures, and women even more so. Making and breaking intimate relationships is traumatic to women's psyches.

Certainly it's not politically correct to believe women emotionally vulnerable, but as evidence take this paragraph (not quite suitable for a family audience) by the redoubtable Caitlin Flanagan:

Proof that the sex lives of college women remain an object of intense cultural fascination can be found in a book like Laura Sessions Stepp’s Unhooked, which documents the semi-anonymous “hooking up” that is now the norm. Stepp’s intention was to study this phenomenon open-mindedly, “hoping to understand rather than intending to censure.” But journalistic objectivity was soon replaced by alarm and even horror. She found girls who were “exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually” by the practice. The girls’ behavior is starkly contemporary, but the adult’s characterization of it—and of the specific ways that sexuality can deplete a woman—could have been lifted from a 19th-century tract. In placing the blame for these developments on three forces (“the ethic of female empowerment; parental expectations for academic and professional achievement; and reluctance on the part of authorities on campus to intervene in students’ social lives”), Stepp occupies the squishy middle ground where many progressive women unhappily find themselves: Yes, yes, yes to female freedom and empowerment, but Jesus Christ, why are these girls giving b*** j**s to guys they hardly know?

Indeed. Why are we so fixated on PC garbage like sexual liberation and "empowerment" that we are unable to fix the messes we're in? Forget that: why are we barely even able to admit we have problems?

The answer is that in today's intellectual climate there is no notion of nature as having any value in herself. If nature is just a chance product, a happenstance and not an intentional creation, then it can make no difference that we are violating her integrity: she has no integrity to violate.

1. Not to mention the harm done to human society by the dearth of children that results in part from the Pill. The latter is a particular blind spot to liberals, as Don Feder recently documents is evidenced in the March 3rd issue of The Nation.

Caitlin Flanagan, "The Age of Innocence," Atlantic Monthly (April 2007).

Laura Sessions Stepp, Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both (Riverhead Books, 2007).

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Natural "Rules"

The March Atlantic Monthly has a significant piece on bringing reality back to romance. The author, Lori Gottlieb, is a single woman whose arrival at her 40th birthday has made her realize that she had been living in a world floating free of reality, that fantasy constructed by Hollywood and Madison Avenue in which each of us is destined to find heaven on earth in a "soul mate".

About two and a half years ago Ms. Gottlieb wrote about breaking up with her good but imperfect boyfriend and having herself impregnated artificially1. At the time, I was surprised at her frank block-headedness but also her chutzpah in insouciantly defending her decision to be a "single mother by choice" in the letters section a couple months later. (Let me make it explicit that I'm not faulting singles mothers who have no alternative; the stupidity is Ms. Gottlieb's wholehearted choice to do so.)

Well, Ms. Gottlieb has realized she was wrong and publicly admitted it, for which we should commend her.1 She's not quite to the point of admitting the injustice she's done to her child by choosing to raise him without a father, but she does at least clearly see the unnecessary trouble she's put herself through:

The couples my friend and I saw at the park that summer were enviable but not because they seemed so in love—they were enviable because the husbands played with the kids for 20 minutes so their wives could eat lunch. In practice, my married friends with kids don’t spend that much time with their husbands anyway (between work and child care), and in many cases, their biggest complaint seems to be that they never see each other. So if you rarely see your husband—but he’s a decent guy who takes out the trash and sets up the baby gear, and he provides a second income that allows you to spend time with your child instead of working 60 hours a week to support a family on your own—how much does it matter whether the guy you marry is The One?

That's right: nature has designed procreation to be a package deal. Women need husbands not just to become pregnant, but also to help raise the issue of the union. As she puts it, "marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection—it’s about how having a teammate, even if he’s not the love of your life, is better than not having one at all."

She's also realized (surprise) that being a single mother has made her less attractive to potential mates. You've got to wonder about a culture that allows an educated woman to get to her thirties without realizing the hard realities of love and family.2

But article is not so much about how much she needs the presence of a father for her child, but about the bill of goods about romance that she'd been sold and how she knows better now.

A number of my single women friends admit (in hushed voices and after I swear I won’t use their real names here) that they’d readily settle now but wouldn’t have 10 years ago. They believe that part of the problem is that we grew up idealizing marriage—and that if we’d had a more realistic understanding of its cold, hard benefits, we might have done things differently. Instead, we grew up thinking that marriage meant feeling some kind of divine spark, and so we walked away from uninspiring relationships that might have made us happy in the context of a family.

In an online interview she calls this hard aspect of reality "settling."

Well, [settling is] different for different people. But you look at what you need and what you want. You may have certain needs, like having a child. And kindness from your spouse. And reliability and stability and safety. But beyond that, what do you desire? You desire passion. You desire shared interests. You desire a certain level of intimacy. If your needs are met but your desires aren’t, that may be how you can tell if you’re settling.

I think she's needlessly dour about "settling." Isn't it simply a virtue (humility) to conform oneself to reality? There are two forms of "settling": the first is dumping all standards to marry anyone, the second is shedding the illusions our culture has foisted on us. The first is settling in the fully pejorative sense, and the second is just waking up to reality. Ms. Gottlieb's continued ambivalence about reality is the remnant of the thinking that got her where she is today, relationship-wise. Reality has a way of not only denying our expectations, but of transcending them.

But at least she now realizes that there are illusions that need to be discarded:

Because we’re conditioned to crave that Big Love. Every romantic comedy we see, every novel we read, every ideal we might have had as teenagers is about that. I remember this scene in Sex and the City when Charlotte, who has just come back from another bad date, says, “You know, I’ve been dating since I was 15. I’m exhausted. Where is he?” Like he is this guy who exists somewhere. And Miranda shoots back, “Who, the white knight?” It’s painful how pervasive the fantasy is that the one is out there somewhere, that he’s just as lonely as you are, and that he’s eager to find you. And that destiny or $29.99 on or whatever it is will bring you two together. (from interview)

In the article she goes further and says that our culture's ideals are not only empty illusions, but even were they true, would actually misdirect to less happy matches.

And while Rachel and her supposed soul mate, Ross, finally get together (for the umpteenth time) in the finale of Friends, do we feel confident that she’ll be happier with Ross than she would have been had she settled down with Barry, the orthodontist, [she left at the altar] 10 years earlier? She and Ross have passion but have never had long-term stability, and the fireworks she experiences with him but not with Barry might actually turn out to be a liability, given how many times their relationship has already gone up in flames. It’s equally questionable whether Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, who cheated on her kindhearted and generous boyfriend, Aidan, only to end up with the more exciting but self-absorbed Mr. Big, will be better off in the framework of marriage and family. (Some time after the breakup, when Carrie ran into Aidan on the street, he was carrying his infant in a Baby Björn. Can anyone imagine Mr. Big walking around with a Björn?)

When we’re holding out for deep romantic love, we have the fantasy that this level of passionate intensity will make us happier. But marrying Mr. Good Enough might be an equally viable option, especially if you’re looking for a stable, reliable life companion. Madame Bovary might not see it that way, but if she’d remained single, I’ll bet she would have been even more depressed than she was while living with her tedious but caring husband.

She seems to be describing a sort of game of chicken our illusions push us toward: how long can you go without lowering your standards?

Take the date I went on last night. The guy was substantially older. He had a long history of major depression and said, in reference to the movies he was writing, “I’m fascinated by comas” and “I have a strong interest in terrorists.” He’d never been married. He was rude to the waiter. But he very much wanted a family, and he was successful, handsome, and smart. As I looked at him from across the table, I thought, Yeah, I’ll see him again. Maybe I can settle for that. But my very next thought was, Maybe I can settle for better. It’s like musical chairs—when do you take a seat, any seat, just so you’re not left standing alone?


The paradox, of course, is that the more it behooves a woman to settle, the less willing she is to settle; a woman in her mid- to late 30s is more discriminating than one in her 20s. She has friends who have known her since childhood, friends who will know her more intimately and understand her more viscerally than any man she meets in midlife. Her tastes and sense of self are more solidly formed. She says things like “He wants me to move downtown, but I love my home at the beach,” and, “But he’s just not curious,” and “Can I really spend my life with someone who’s allergic to dogs?”

So by making the perfect the enemy of the good, she like too many women (and men) these days has backed herself into having to find contentment with far, far less than she would ever have conceived in her younger days.

There's much more worth reading in the article, which is available for free online.

Of course, none of this is new. Just as men have always been prone to sensuality—to objectifying women, using them as means to their own sexual gratification—, women have always been prone to the sentimentality that rules today's popular notions of love and marriage. Karol Wojtyla defines sentiment as "susceptibility (which is different from sensual excitability) to the sexual value residing in a ‘whole person of the other sex’, to ‘femininity’ or ‘masculinity’" (110). He further describes sentimentality and the problems to which it gives rise:

Idealization of the object of love is a well-known phenomenon....The ideal is more powerful than the real, living human being, and the latter often becomes merely the occasion for an eruption in the subject’s emotional consciousness of the values which he or she longs with all his heart to find in another person. (112)

[Sentiment] shows a characteristic ambivalence; it seeks to be near the beloved person, seeks proximity and expressions of tenderness, yet it is remote from the beloved in that it does not depend for its life on that person’s true value, but on those values to which the subject clings as to its ideal. This is why sentimental love is very often a cause of disillusionment. (113, emphasis added)

Sentimentality, like sensuality, can become an occasion for using another person to gratify one's individual desires.3 This is the core temptation that Ms. Gottlieb, like so many modern women, fell prey.

No, none of this is new. What is new is the technology and the social structures it inspires that allow such sentimentality to continue for so long unchecked by reality. But new technology hasn't and never can touch the core reality of humanity. At best technology helps us to perfect what we are; at worst it warps what we've been created to be and alienates us from ourselves, but it can never give us a new nature: the parts we kludge together out of our detached desires will never come together to form an integral whole. They cannot because they are imposed from outside and don't develop from an inner unity.

The Pill may make it possible for women to sleep around as carelessly as men, but it cannot excoriate the innermost essence of femininity: to nurture life. We'll never be rid of that without destroying womanhood itself. Artificial insemination may make it possible to conceive a child in the absence of a father, but it will never eliminate a woman's need for a husband or a child's need for a father without eliminating women and children altogether.

None of this is new, but we can thank Lori Gottlieb for exposing the problem today. Perhaps it will inspire a new generation to rethink "better living through chemistry" and return to the perennial wisdom inherent in nature.

More worthy commentary on this article on GodSpy.


1. I just wonder if there are women, inspired to follow her example, to whom she should apologize.

2. Ms. Gottlieb's outsized ego doesn't seem to fit in someone else's shoes, so to speak. On the other hand, while her repentance at having her child on her own appears to revolve purely around herself and her own convenience, I'm willing to chalk that up to being merely her rhetorical approach to convince today's self-centered populace.

3. As I've long observed, romance novels are women's equivalent of pornography. C.S. Lewis had some instructive words to remind us how our culture had bollixed up its conception of marriage in his The Screwtape Letters, in which a senior devil writes his nephew advice on tempting his "patient":

We [devils] have done this [derailed marriage] through the poets and novelists by persuading he humans that a curious, and usually short-lived, experience which they call "being in love" is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding.

The Enemy [God] described a married couple as "one flesh". He did not say "a happily married couple" or "a couple who married because they were in love", but you can make the humans ignore that. You can also make them forget that the man they call Paul did not confine it to married couples. Mere copulation, for him, makes "one flesh". You can thus get the humans to accept as rhetorical eulogies of "being in love" what were in fact plain descriptions of the real significance of sexual intercourse. The truth is that wherever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured. From the true statement that this transcendental relation was intended to produce, and, if obediently entered into, too often will produce, affection and the family, humans can be made to infer the false belief that the blend of affection, fear, and desire which they call "being in love" is the only thing that makes marriage either happy or holy. The error is easy to produce because "being in love" does very often, in Western Europe, precede marriages which are made in obedience to the Enemy's designs, that is, with the intention of fidelity, fertility and good will; just as religious emotion very often, but not always, attends conversion. In other words, the humans are to be encouraged to regard as the basis for marriage a highly-coloured and distorted version of something the Enemy really promises as its result. Two advantages follow. In the first place, humans who have not the gift of continence can be deterred from seeking marriage as a solution because they do not find themselves "in love", and, thanks to us, the idea of marrying with any other motive seems to them low and cynical. Yes, they think that. They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion. (Don't neglect to make your man think the marriage-service very offensive.) In the second place any sexual infatuation whatever, so long as it intends marriage, will be regarded as "love", and "love" will be held to excuse a man from all the guilt, and to protect him from all the consequences, if marrying a heathen, a fool, or a wanton.

Lori Gottlieb, "Marry Him!," Atlantic Monthly (March 2008), 76-83.

Sara Lipka, "The Case for Mr. Not-Quite-Right" (February 7, 2008).

Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1981). Helpful summary here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

"You Shall Be as Gods"?

I was down at MIT yesterday and paid a visit to a campus feature that I'd long heard about, and never seen myself—there being no photographs of it on the web. I'd heard that MIT was so high on the power of technology that a building on campus featured the empty promise of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, "You shall be as Gods," inscribed on a wall.

Well I discovered that it is true that serpent's words are painted on a wall (in Latin), but their significance is not so clear.

Through some web research, I found that the inscription is in the Walker Memorial Building (MIT building no. 50) at 142 Memorial Drive, facing the Charles River. It's in the central food court; if you'd like to orient yourself, you can see a 360-degree VR of the entire room here.

Here's the online description of the mural from the campus paper, The Tech:

The murals in Walker Memorial have been enjoyed by diners since their completion in 1930. The murals were painted Edwin Howland Blashfield1, who graduated in 1869. Everett Morss, after whom the hall is named, financed the venture. The following is a description of the murals printed in The Tech [“Alma Mater central figure in murals,” April 24, 1963] which was originally in a pamphlet written by James R. Killian '26 in 1935.


“Ye shall be as gods”

The left panel on the south....

The symbolic figure of the scientist stands between two great jars containing beneficent and maleficent gases, or constructive and destructive possibilities. the group below represents diplomats and officers at the council table of the world. In the upper section of the panel a figure of Hygeia is depicted placing a crown on the head of the scientist.

Animal figures symbolic of the dogs of war lurk beside the evil gases, while in the background may be seen the figure of Famine. The large figure standing in the shadow of the tree of knowledge represents Nature.

At the foot of the panel two children support an inscription from Genesis: “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

I omitted the beginning of the description of the mural, which sets it up as presenting a definite moral:

The left panel on the south wall conveys the thought that chemistry has given mankind almost unlimited power and raised the question: shall the power be used to build up or demolish civilization?

In other words, the mural doesn't re-offer the serpent's false promise, but warns against using our technological powers to accept that promise, the Latin inscription of the promise being the "punch line" of the warning.

If only more MIT students read Latin.

But then you have to ask yourself: why reproduce a lie without clearly demarking it as such? The mural itself seems to be rather more ambiguous than the description. Is the emphasis on the dangers of technology to man and creation, or on the crowning of man as a god? The original empty promise is itself ambiguous, and what keeps its larger meaning from ambiguity in the Bible is the God's judgment of man: "There is a real God and you aren't he."

On the other hand, almighty God is absent from the mural, the closest replacements being the metaphorical Hygeia and the personification of Nature.2 Certainly, the scientist is not exactly crowning himself, but it is not clear that Nature, in light of man's growing power, can maintain the superiority implied in the mural. (Lacking a creator god of some brand, Nature has no principles that originate in anything above man, so why shouldn't man manipulate natural principles at will?)

Certainly there is a dualism between the left and right sides, but is man portrayed as the master of good and evil, or is he also their recipient? The mural doesn't even carry any reminders of man's mortality per se (e.g., a skull).

In short, it is not clear that the mural isn't exalting the scientist and his power to dispense good and evil as he wishes. The mural could just as well be a celebration of man's supposed apotheosis as a warning against technological hubris.


1. It turns out the artist, Edwin Howland Blashfield, also did the central mosaic of St. Matthew in St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

2. Perhaps the artist could depend on the monotheistic cultural background of the audience at that time, but no longer. Maybe we should thank God more MIT students don't read Latin!

"Walker Murals," The Tech 120:25 (May 5, 2000). [article in online edition only]

Friday, February 08, 2008

Marriage and Goverment

In last month's First Things, Robert P. George had some great observations on the connection of small government to the strength of the traditional family:

I understand why someone would consider this idea [privatizing marriage], but it strikes me as a bad one. There is a reason that all cultures treat marriage as a matter of public concern and even recognize it in law and regulate it. The family is the fundamental unit of society. Governments rely on families to produce something that governments need—but, on their own, they could not possibly produce: upright, decent people who make honest, law-abiding, public-spirited citizens. And marriage is the indispensable foundation of the family. Although all marriages in all cultures have their imperfections, children flourish in an environment where they benefit from the love and care of both mother and father, and from the committed and exclusive love of their parents for each other.

Anyone who believes in limited government should strongly back government support for the family. Does this sound paradoxical? In the absence of a strong marriage culture, families fail to form, and when they do form they are often unstable. Absentee fathers become a serious problem, out-of-wedlock births are common, and a train of social pathologies follows. With families failing to perform their health, education, and welfare functions, the demand for government grows, whether in the form of greater policing or as a provider of other social services. Bureaucracies must be created, and they inexorably expand—indeed they become powerful lobbyists for their own preservation and expansion. Everyone suffers, with the poorest and most vulnerable suffering most.

As I've quoted here before, Fulton Sheen puts it this way, "If parents surrender responsibility to their children, the state will take up the slack. State power is the effect of the breakdown of family authority. Mothers more than politicians are the preservers of freedom and democracy."

At the basis of disagreement over marriage are radically disparate conceptions of what it means to be a human person.

Everyone agrees that marriage, whatever else it is or does, is a relationship in which persons are united. But what are persons? And how is it possible for two or more of them to unite? According to the view implicit in sexual-liberationist ideology, the person is understood as the conscious and desiring aspect of the self. The person, thus understood, inhabits a body, but the body is regarded (if often only implicitly) as a subpersonal part of the human being—rather than part of the personal reality of the human being whose body it is. The body is viewed as serving the interests of the conscious and desiring aspect of the self by functioning as an instrument by which the individual produces or otherwise participates in satisfactions and other desirable experiences and realizes various objectives and goals.


So, then, how should we understand what marriage is? Marriage, considered not as a mere legal convention or cultural artifact, is a one-flesh communion of persons that is consummated and actualized by acts that are procreative in type, whether or not they are procreative in effect. It is an intrinsic human good, and, precisely as such, it provides a more than merely instrumental reason for choice and action.

It goes without saying that sexual acts outside normal, heterosexual intercourse are not "procreative in type."

In truly marital acts, the desire for pleasure and even for offspring are integrated with and, in an important sense, subordinated to the central and defining good of one-flesh unity. The integration of subordinate goals with the marital good ensures that such acts effect no practical dualism that separates the body from the conscious and desiring aspect of the self and treats the body as a mere instrument for the production of ­pleasure, the generation of offspring, or any other extrinsic goal.

Marriage is not merely instrumental to procreation, but exists as a good in itself, which is why a couple need not have offspring to be truly considered married: "Western matrimonial law has traditionally and universally understood marriage as consummated by acts fulfilling the behavioral conditions of procreation, whether or not the nonbehavioral conditions of procreation happen to obtain."

Professor George concludes that we need a national resolution to this crisis to preserve the conjugal conception of marriage.

Robert P. George, "Law and Moral Purpose," First Things 179 (January 2008), 22-29. [subscription required for access]

Friday, February 01, 2008

Of Medicine and Murder

Should we credit the Times for allowing the other side to air its opinion?

In the New York Times Health section of a few days ago, Dr. Lawrence K. Altman pondered the wisdom of allowing a convicted murder to practice medicine:

A killer turned healer might seem to be a shining example of prison rehabilitation.... Yet it is hard to think of a case in which a murderer should become a medical doctor. Murder and medical practice are simply incompatible.

True: doctors are expected to be agents of life, not death.

Of course this is the same New York Times whose editorial last year faulted Dr. Kevorkian not for acting in accord with his philosophy, but for the damage his recklessness did to the cause of euthanasia: performing assisted suicides so badly, [Kevorkian] besmirched the movement he hoped to energize. If his antics provided anything of value, it was as a reminder of how much terminally ill patients can suffer and of the need for sane and humane laws allowing carefully regulated assisted suicides....

The tradition in Western medicine of barring doctors from taking life goes back to Hippocrates, whose oath was once obligatory to medical school graduates. As Patrick C. Beeman writes in the latest Touchstone, most medical school oaths omit "the two foundational principles" that "form the distinctive character of the oath"—prohibiting abortion and euthanasia:

In 1993, one hundred percent of American medical schools administered some oath to their graduates. However few actually use what could be called a "Hippocratic Oath," one that preserves its original intent while updating the language. Only 14 percent of the new oaths (Hippocratic or otherwise) prohibit euthanasia, only 8 percent proscribe abortion, and only 11 percent invoke God.

Beeman provides an insightful critique of the modern oaths, including the Oath and Prayer of Maimonides (which he notes were not written by Maimonides), and the 1949 Declaration of Geneva.

The prohibitions in the Oath may have disappeared, but our cultural habits don't change as fast as the elite's moral fashions. Everyone, even readers of the Times, have a visceral understanding that medicine and murder don't go together. Dr. Altman feels obliged toward this revulsion, but for the wrong reasons. As might be expected for these dark days, his argument hinges not on right and wrong, but on subjective criteria: patients might feel uncomfortable knowing themselves under the care of a convicted murderer: "Integrity and trust are the core of the patient-doctor relationship. Any erosion of them could harm the healing process."

Of course, even more fatal to patient trust (not to mention patient) than allowing putatively reformed murders to practice medicine would be allowing practicing doctors to kill patients! If the focus were on the patient's health, instead of his feelings, this consequence would be obvious.

Should we credit the Times for allowing another viewpoint? Probably not.


1. How was Kevorkian's reckless?

The fundamental flaw in Dr. Kevorkian’s crusade was his cavalier, indeed reckless, approach. He was happy to hook up patients without long-term knowledge of their cases or any corroborating medical judgment that they were terminally ill or suffering beyond hope of relief with aggressive palliative care.

The editorial then goes on to cite the precautions in Oregon's euthanasia law as models of proper care and good judgment. Of course the experience in that state and in countries that have legalized the practice is that these precautions present little barrier to, say, greedy or wearied children who want a parent knocked off. Once the dam between life and death is breached, there's no holding back the flood waters.

Lawrence K. Altman, M.D., "When a Murderer Wants to Practice Medicine," New York Times (Jan 29, 2008).

Editorial, "Dr. Kevorkian’s Wrong Way," New York Times (Jun 5, 2007).

Patrick C. Beeman, "Hippocrates Seduced," Touchstone 21:1 (Jan-Feb 2008), 17-19.

More Times coverage of Kevorkian