DEFINE WHEN LIFE ENDS, WHEN LIFE BEGINS

September 29, 2009

I have said on any number of occasion that I believe that life begins at conception.  I have also said that human life IS human life within 14 days after conception - to be sure.  In case you aren't acquainted with my position let me state it and give the rationale:

Arguing from science, law and medicine death has been defined within narrow and strict parameters.  In the realm of medicine, death is the cessation of brainwave activity and the deprivation of necessary oxygen delivered to the brain via the blood flow for after a definite period of time. The American Medical Association calls this brain death at which point the only thing a human can be is a vegetable (without cognition) wherein there is absolutely no quality of life.

In the legal realm, most states and courts have defined death as relative to the cessation of a heartbeat for an extended period of time wherein multiple organ failures have occurred.  Tying that in to the AMA's definition then the cessation of the heart for, say, over four minutes wherein the brain has been deprived of oxygen for an extended period of time, allowing a human to have no quality of life, then technically and legal the human is dead.

Scientifically, brain activity, heart and motor neuron and multiple systems failures are all drawn into the equation when defining death.

The common denominator in all three definitions of death is the heart, which, when beating, transmits and carries oxygen throughout the body, especially the brain.

Now, arguing from the reverse, I believe we can come up with a legal definition of LIFE!  It is not what the courts arbitrarily say it is (trimester accounts or otherwise).  If death is the cessation of heart and brain activity for a period of time (never to exceed ten minutes), then should we say that life is the presence of a heartbeat and brain activity?

The AMA, along with neuro-specialists, philologists and ethicists are in common agreement that within 10 to 12 days following conception there is a heartbeat.  Furthermore, within 12 to 14 days following conception a brain has developed (although primitively) that is receiving blood flow and is active.  This is to say, that by the time a woman has realized she has missed her period, she is carrying LIFE within her womb!

Now, scientifically I have defined life as beginning AT LEAST 14 days after conception.  Anytime before that period is a belief system, either it is potential life or life indeed. 

Today, our extreme-left leaning citizens are calling for a redefinition of life in more terms of quality.  For instance, if a person has no physical ability to make a significant contribution to society then there is no life. That is to say, if a person has outlived his usefulness then he or she should be allowed to die.  Conversely, if a life is too young to make a significant contribution, although later down the road he or she will have that ability, the child should be put at the back of the line in receiving care with the hope that he or she will survive to the age of "contribution."

A recent headline-grabbing story prompted me to evaluate where we are as a nation when it comes to the all-important issue of human life. More than a political issue, where America stands on human life today determines the direction not only of policies governing health care, abortion and stem-cell research, to name a few, but also our fundamental values as a nation.

Newsweek devoted a recent cover story to the issue of end-of-life care with an attention-grabbing headline: The Case for Killing Granny.

Editor Jon Meacham justified the cover, calling it “hyperbolic” but stating “the issues surrounding end-of-life care are so uncomfortable that if our over-statement can prompt some conversations about this touchiest of subjects, then we will have done our job.”

Let’s allow the naked duplicity of that statement to sink in for a moment, shall we?

It’s OK to use an overstatement to throw a critical issue into stark relief as long as a liberal does it. If a conservative uses the term “death panels” to describe removing end-of-life care decisions from doctors and families and placing them in the hands of bureaucracies concerned only with efficiency and cost, she’s attacked for fear-mongering and irresponsible behavior.

Add this to the long list of liberal double-standards, like disruptive dissent being the highest form of patriotism when directed toward the policies of a Republican president but “un-American” and “racist” when aimed at President Obama. But I digress.

In fact, the story was well written and unafraid to ask tough questions about end-of-life care. What struck me, however, was this otherwise comprehensive piece didn’t address two key questions around these deeply private decisions – who gets to make end-of-life decisions and who decides when a human life no longer has value?

People who defend the end-of-life counseling provisions in the House health care bill are being disingenuous when they claim they are there only to allow doctors to be reimbursed for offering assistance in the development of living wills, advance directives and similar documents. In a previous article, I stated the following:

The President and the people drafting this legislation are lawyers and they know how to use words to either clarify or obfuscate. If their intent was simply to authorize reimbursement of estate planning services under Medicare, why didn’t they just word it that way?

Moreover, Washington Post editorial staff member Charles Lane questions the “purely voluntary” nature of these counseling services, stating:

To me, "purely voluntary" means "not unless the patient requests one." Section 1233, however, lets doctors initiate the chat and gives them an incentive -- money -- to do so. Indeed, that's an incentive to insist.

Doctors are authority figures and their consultations carry a lot of weight with their patients. The notion that government, whose compelling interest is cost control, will pay doctors to recommend end-of-life alternatives to prolonged care, and doctors will force these consultations on their patients because they’re getting paid to do so, should trouble us in a free society.

Lane goes on to suggest that such counseling should be done by the family and an attorney of their choice, and that while doctors could be consulted, they aren’t placed in a position of “undue influence,” to use Lane’s term, because the government is paying them to push the conversation.  

Lane himself has his own living will and power of attorney for health care and, in his words, “No authority figure got paid by federal bean-counters to influence me.”

That last point is significant and shouldn’t be lost on the statists trying to place government in charge of the nation’s health care system – and yes, when you mandate the purchase of health insurance or else force individuals to pay an excise tax, or tell health insurance companies who they must take as clients, you’re taking over the health care system.

Life decisions are personal, private and different for each individual and their families. Most people, regardless of their ideology or politics, would agree that these decisions should be about compassion, not cost. Lane believes the current health care proposal places “compassionate goals in disconcerting proximity to fiscal ones.”

As Lane puts it, “You don't have to be a right-wing wacko to question that approach.” By his standards, I’m sure I must be a “right-wing wacko,” but that’s a column for another day.

The other deeper question revolves around the concept of “quality of life.” Intrinsic to this statement is the notion of value; people with a perceived high quality of life are presumably more deserving of consideration and care than those whose quality of life is considered low.

When our nation claims or grants to others the authority to decide who is or isn’t worthy of life, we have abandoned a core principle that made America unique in the world – the inherent sanctity, dignity and worth of every individual.

It is this shift in our values that allows us to justify the murder of 90 percent of unborn children diagnosed while in the womb with Down Syndrome. After all, their quality of life will be less than that of a “normal” person, making their abortion an act of compassion – and we won’t be burdened with their care.

It is this deviation from our declared ideals that makes it easier for a state to sponsor assisted suicide so the terminally or chronically ill no longer have to suffer – nor do we have to put up with them any longer.

It is this relativist mindset that is behind the emphasis on curtailing health care in the twilight of our years since by modern scales of measure, there is nothing to be gained from prolonging a frail – and useless - life.

Gradually, we’ve seen our nation’s mores shifting from our founding principle that the right to life is universal, unconditional and divine to one where life is a privilege to be granted or revoked by man in accordance with arbitrary decisions of contribution and comfort.

Whether it’s killing babies, killing the hopeless or “killing granny,” we have lost our reverence for life, and a cornerstone of our nation’s moral character has been rejected, perhaps forever.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.