Culture Friday: Psychiatric suffering

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 30th of November, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Authorities in Belgium are looking into the poisoning death of a woman eight years ago. Her death wasn’t considered foul play at the time, but there’s a chance now that it was. The woman was 38 at the time of her death in 2010 and her family is citing numerous “irregularities.”

The woman suffered a mild form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome. A psychiatrist who had the woman as a client is one of the people under investigation in the death. Turns out that psychiatrist had tried unsuccessfully to head off this probe. “We must try to stop these people,” the psychiatrist wrote, adding that these people, meaning the family, are seriously dysfunctional, wounded, and traumatized—and they lack empathy and respect for others.

By now, you’ve probably guessed that this is a euthanasia case. The psychiatrist is founder of a clinic for those who have questions about taking advantage of Belgium’s law that allows euthanasia for psychiatric reasons.

Well, it’s Culture Friday and John Stonestreet joins me now. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick!

EICHER: Belgium and Holland are the two countries in the world that allow euthanasia if you can get a doctor to certify your evidence of “unbearable and untreatable” psychiatric suffering. I read a story that stressed in the first paragraph that this case represents the first criminal investigation in the history of Belgium’s euthanasia law, going back to 2002. I wonder, John, whether this is just the tip of the iceberg. And whether this practice just inherently is ripe for abuse, with vulnerable people being talked into consenting to killing themselves.

STONESTREET: Well, I wonder if that’s even the iceberg. If it’s just going to be vulnerable people being talked into consent, I think the move on this down the slippery slope—and, again, I’m going to say it again, I know a slippery slope is a logical fallacy, formally, but culturally speaking, when slopes are slippery, societies start sliding. That’s just what happens and there’s not been a more obvious reality of that than doctor-assisted suicide, especially in Belgium and the Netherlands.

So, look, if consent remains, then that’s going to actually be a step back from where I think it’s going to go. I think we’re going to have the full-on move from the right to die becoming the duty to die, because what that does — doctor-assisted suicide, no matter how aggressive it is, whether it’s active or passive euthanasia, any of that, what you end up having is a price tag that’s put on people based on some sort of external characteristic or quality.

It may be a self-chosen price tag, it might be a culturally chosen price tag, or a mix of both.

This is a terrible, terrible thing. I mean, and what’s behind it are these really fuzzy words like “unbearable” and “untreatable.” What does that mean? What’s untreatable psychiatric suffering?

Untreatable, that’s a really fuzzy word and it changes from one hospital to the next when you’re talking about physical pain. When you’re talking about psychiatric pain and you’re not even using the word untreatable, you’re using the word unbearable, look, we’ve all met people who have born up under remarkable suffering. I think of my friend Joni Eareckson Tada right now who has dealt with not only paralysis but also with now her second bout of cancer. Constant pain every day.

So, this is a very, very — these are very, very fuzzy lines and that’s why of course this is the tip of the iceberg, but I think the iceberg is worse than what we think it is.

EICHER: I came across a really sad op-ed in The New York Times about a transgender person’s efforts to raise funds for so-called gender-reassignment surgery, which by now is probably a fait accompli. I know you saw it, too. It was very, very difficult to read, but brutally honest in its own way. And I say that in the context of some new social-media rules, rules that Twitter formulated last week, that makes it, in effect, a violation of terms of service to be brutally honest about transgender issues.

Twitter has already banned an academic feminist in Canada who has said she doesn’t accept “trans-women” as women. That was not really a controversial viewpoint in the not-so-distant past, but she’s been banned from Twitter for expressing that viewpoint.

John, it just feels more and more like we’re losing the opportunity to be honest about these things—and meantime, the dominant cultural viewpoint is pushing, again, vulnerable people to make life-altering choices.

STONESTREET: Well, we are and this is really tough territory and the reason is, when you’re talking about Twitter and Facebook, you’re not talking about government entities but you are talking about those that now dominate the market. And so with my free market hat on, I want to say, hey, Twitter and Facebook, it’s not good business practice, but you can actually do whatever you want.

And I think we should appeal to these companies to create space for all points of view. Good heavens, I think we should appeal to universities to create space for all point of view. We have example after example, we talked about one just recently, right, where a progressive point of view on transgenderism, it’s not even being allowed in the place in society set apart to have hard conversations and to learn both sides of things, the university. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise us at some level that it’s Twitter and Facebook.

So, this is the kind of the rock and the hard place we find ourselves in and I think we’re going to have to find other ways to get our message out and more creative ways. And actually, I think that story you’re talking about is a remarkable, heartbreaking op-ed written by a man about to go gender reassignment surgery. And saying in the article that it will not heal him, it will not even make him feel better, that the medication in preparation for the surgery has made him more suicidal and not less, and, yet, in the middle of it he says ‘and so even if it won’t help me, even if it won’t heal me, even if it won’t care for me and make me feel better, even if it will basically inflict a permanent wound, doctor, you have to do this surgery because I want it.’

Now, you say, how is this helpful? I think it’s helpful because it’s the most honest thing we’ve had from a culture that says the grass is always greener on the other side of a gender transition, other stories like that are suppressed and not actually covered and misinterpreted and reinterpreted. Here you have somebody in the middle of it and holding that up means two things: number one, it’s evidence that people who are struggling with gender dysphoria are often broken people and sometimes they’re consciously broken people. And who’s going to be able to actually provide an answer? The one who goes along with the culture and never says no? Or the one who goes against the grain for the good of the person? This is what we mean by truth and love.

It’s going to mean like through the history of the church, we like other Christians run into the brokenness not out of it. And that’s really hard because you read this and it’s just brutal on a number of levels. So, I think we’ve got to be creative and we’ve got to be courageous and we’ve got to find ways to say the things that we need to say and, yeah, I get it. The social media behemoths aren’t making it easy on us, but good heavens, we’re not facing rocks or spears or beatdowns or executions from Twitter or Facebook, we’re just, you know, facing invisibility. I think we can handle that one.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. John, thanks so much.

STONESTREET: Thank you, Nick.

(Photo/zoe J, Flickr)

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