Culture Friday – A culture of death in New Zealand

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday, November 13, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

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

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EICHER: Well, it’s Culture Friday. And we’ll talk about American political culture in a bit. But let’s begin with a story you may not have heard from New Zealand.

That country voted by an overwhelming margin—basically two-to-one—to authorize active euthanasia.

AUDIO: From someone with terminal cancer, thank you.

This is euthanasia campaigner Bobbie Carroll.

AUDIO: If at the end of my life, it’s too painful that I can now avail myself of assisted dying. I may not need it. But what it means is that I can if I want to, and my family can be with me.

BROWN: And it’s just heartbreaking. She talks about her cancer diagnosis and “along came this incredible campaign,” she says, the euthanasia campaign.

She joined the effort and said all of a sudden, I had a purpose!

EICHER: No purpose until she got involved in euthanasia politics. And as she’s talking in an interview, she’s filled with excitement—again, because she feels like her life has a purpose.

Let’s talk about this with John Stonestreet. John is the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

BROWN: John, good morning.

STONESTREET: Good morning.

EICHER: This is quite an odd campaign, John. Usually, there’s some kind of hard case that people point to, but as far as I could tell, this euthanasia campaign in New Zealand was very abstract. 

No compelling case and even the woman we heard from here, though she has cancer, talked about having euthanasia just as an option.

That’s what struck me. It’s a bit more understandable—in a way, I guess—how you can build public support with a really tragic case. But as far as I could tell there wasn’t one here and it still passed, as I said, 2-to-1. Euthanasia is really on the march, isn’t it?

STONESTREET: Yeah, the conversation on doctor-assisted death and euthanasia in New Zealand actually goes back more than a decade. And there actually was a remarkable case there of a young woman who actually broke the law and took the life of her mother as an act of mercy to preserve her dignity and then wrote a book about it from prison, if I remember the story correctly. And that started this conversation.

What’s tragic, though, in your point where this campaign, this particular campaign not having kind of a story, a heartbreaking story to drive it.

Like, for example Brittany Maynard who moved from California to Oregon, which was a catalyst for the California law there and even the Colorado law here. There were other cases on the other side of this debate that were front and center. And I know this to be true because I know one of them personally. He’s a very dear friend. I’ve known him for well over a decade. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met and he has cerebral palsy and he led the campaign as an Anglican priest and he led the campaign against it. And he put front and center those with disability because, as he knows, two things follow this sort of law. One is you quickly realize that the case is made on physical pain but the decision to end one’s life is made on mental anguish and suffering.

And then the second thing we realize is the right to die slides very quickly in many cases—at least in every case that I know of—into the duty to die. And it really puts those with disability at great risk going forward because their value has already been legally defined away depending on some physical characteristics that literally we’re not guaranteed and many people don’t sustain throughout their lifetime.

BROWN: Switching gears to American politics. I realize there are still challenges to come, but it does appear more likely that Joe Biden will become president than that President Trump will get a second term. We had a Biden victory speech, you see him appearing before a backdrop “Office of the President-elect.”

But let’s listen to some of the language of the victory speech.

BIDEN: The Bible tells us, to everything there is a season, a time to build, and a time to reap and a time to sow. And a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America.

And prior to that statement, Biden said this.

BIDEN: It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature. See each other again, listen to each other again. And to make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not our enemies. They are Americans. They are Americans!

You really want to take him at his word there, which is very appealing. Stop the harsh rhetoric, stop treating political opponents as enemies. And I realize President Trump used some harsh rhetoric, but so did Biden and I guess it would seem more sincere to me if he disavowed efforts like the “Trump Accountability Project” and Congresswoman AOC. Maybe you saw her calling on her millions of followers to archive social-media posts of—her words, here—“these Trump sycophants for when they try to downplay or deny their complicity in the future?”

What do you say?

STONESTREET: Yeah, it was a speech and it inspired many because it was a different tone than what we’ve heard for a long time. And I don’t just mean from the president.

But this really reveals the problem that I think Joe Biden has when he enters office, if he enters office. I’m assuming that he is at this point. But what he has is a very divided Democratic Party and he has, I think, a divided philosophical party even between him and his vice president selection. Look, they’re not on the same page and you have—if the Republicans continue to hold the Senate—you’ve got a split house here and what you end up having is the inability to get anything done and the drive of the more progressive aspects of his party, which are very loud, very vocal, very driven, and I also think there’s going to have to be some reckoning that those on the left are more quick to burn things down than those on the right. Those on the right use rhetoric that’s unconscionable sometimes. Those on the left use molotov cocktails and tear down statues and loot. 

And I’m not saying that applies to everyone, but it’s more than a random problem with a couple hundred people in somebody’s basement. This is a real part of the more progressive side of American politics. And some of them have already demonstrated, at least up the road from me in Denver, that they’re not happy that—they wouldn’t have been happy with either a President Trump or President Biden, either one. And they demonstrated and became violent and vandalized downtown and many were arrested at the same time.

I don’t think this is going away. I do appreciate the fact that we do need to figure out how to live together and we’re at the verge of not being able to live together. But you don’t live together just by saying, “Hey, get along.” I’ve learned that as a dad of girls. You don’t just say, “Hey, get along.” You actually have to pull people to a common agreement, to a shared vision. 

And this is one of the things that has stood out to me throughout this whole election season—both in the candidates that we chose between as well as the ballot initiatives. It’s one thing in ballot initiatives to disagree about the best way to get to a commonly shared vision, to disagree on the best means to a clear end. 

That’s not what we voted between. We voted between completely different ends. We voted between completely different visions about what life is for, about where human dignity lies, and so on. And, again, I’m talking about mostly what we saw in the ballot initiatives across America and the language of candidates down-ballot. I’m not even talking about specifically what took place at the top of the race, although it’s evident there as well. 

And that’s a pretty vulnerable place to be as a nation. Most of the time, a nation that’s doing well knows who they are. They know where they’re going. They know what the good life is. That’s not what we’re seeing right now.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

BASHAM: Thanks, John!


(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool) President-elect Joe Biden, right, shares the stage with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, left, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. 

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