Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Marriage Clash - And Our Different Understandings of Marriage

I would like today, to really examine in greater depth, our understanding of what marriage actually is - where we get our understanding of marriage - even aside from the Bible - and how that understanding of marriage, since ancient Roman times, has played a role in today's controversy over same-sex marriage.

Let's begin by examining some simple roots of today's understanding of marriage. Going all the way back to pagan Rome, marriage was one of several acceptable forms of cohabitation and family life, and was available as a legal status to 'free' citizens.  In pagan Rome - if two 'free' persons (slaves being not free to consent to marry) man and woman, lived together by 'consent' in a regularized fashion, both assuming the roles and responsibilities of husband and wife, then they were considered married under ancient Roman law.  Roman law actually made it quite clear, that marriage was not about merely engaging in intercourse, but rather the 'free consent' of the two individuals entering into it.

Rome's understanding then, was that a marriage could exist even without legal formalization or recognition, only the two people's intent to form a household   (sort of similar to our modern-day common-law marriages. However, formally legalized marriages were available for those who desired the special privileges accorded marriage ... ie ... passing down the family name to any children born of the union, inheritance of a father's estate, titles etc.

So, as you can see, our modern Western culture strongly reflects much of ancient Rome's concept of marriage - particularly with the idea of a legalized state recognition of a couple's union, so that the children of that union may readily inherit the father's name and any other of the father's worldly assets and benefits.  

This 'consensual' view of marriage is even reflected in part of today's Catholic understanding that it is the couple who, through their 'consent', administer the sacrament of marriage to one another - and not the priest who marries them. This differs from the Eastern Orthodox, who believe it is the clerical officer, bishop or priest alone who marries the bride and groom. 

But, both Catholic and Orthodox churches define marriage as a covenant and a sacrament! It is simply that the Catholic Church requires the 'consent' of the couple, similar to ancient Rome's stipulation. A huge reason therefore for a Catholic annulment, is anything which might diminish the 'full and willing consent' of one or both of the parties. One cannot be forced or coerced under any form of duress to enter into marriage - or that there be any diminishing capacity on either of the two parties such as emotional immaturity, mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse -  which could mitigate the full capacity of the person's will to make a full and free 'consent'. Any one or more of these elements then renders the marital vow null and void in the eyes of the Catholic Church. I'm not completely sure what elements are required for annulment in the Orthodox Church.

Now, enter the Protestant Reformation, and Martin Luther is able to take this idea of "consent" one step farther with his own re-defining of marriage to be a mere contract, as opposed to the Catholic and Orthodox's belief that marriage is a covenant and a sacrament.  Martin Luther believed that this marital "contract" could be entered into or dissolved by the 'consent' of the couple, and not by any divine permission whatsoever.  We all know that from there, Henry VIII followed suit. 

For those of you who may not know the difference between a covenant and a contract - a contract may be broken - a covenant can not be broken.  The Catholic and Orthodox understanding of marriage therefore, is that it resembles the covenant between God and His people - God does not break his promises!

To this day, a Catholic - or an Orthodox, may not re-marry in the Church, unless they obtain an annulment on one or more serious grounds, such as those mentioned above.  Whereas Protestants, due to Luther's re-definition of marriage as a mere contract, are free to marry and divorce and re-marry as often as they wish.

Today, many people, who identify themselves as Christians, have adopted Luther's belief, that it is merely the will of a couple which brings a marriage into existence - and the withdrawal of this will is sufficient to terminate it. 

So, enter the gay-marriage movement - and considering all that we've just examined - what would you say has been the greatest component to its' headway into the legislature and the courts? 

Gay marriage advocates have made huge strides in our courts and our legislature, on this principle of 'consent'. They agree that marriage depends upon the will of two consenting people - and that there is no valid argument against persons of a same-sex union also consenting to assume the rights and responsibilities of husband and wife, and to form a household.

In an article from Touchstone, an Orthodox magazine, where I was able to glean much of my information, the author proposes that "Orthodox churches in such states as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut cease to cooperate or collaborate with the government in marrying persons, as has been done in one form or another within Christendom since the fifth and sixth centuries."

Now, from Yahoo News, I read where The Church of England has said it could be forced to stop conducting weddings on behalf of the state if gay marriage is legalized - that the governments' plan to introduce same-sex marriage would lead to a clash between Church law - that marriage is between a man and a woman - and that of Parliament. 

The Catholic and Orthodox Churches in this country may soon find themselves in a similar clash, as last month, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to define marriage exclusively as opposite-sex unions. Gay marriage also now looms on the horizon of Illinois.

There is a definite clash here between Church and State regarding the definition of marriage, and a lot of gaps in our understanding of marriage that has allowed advocates of gay marriage to gain a large foothold into our courts and legislature - and they will not be backing down any time too soon. We have a long road ahead of us. 

Watching the movie "For Greater Glory" based on the story of the persecution of the Church in Mexico in the 1920's, and the amazing heroes who stepped forward and risked everything for their Faith - even their very lives - I asked myself - how many of us will be strong enough to stand against the winds that are coming against our Faith and our Church and our Nation?  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pre-Mortem Organ Donation?

In response to an international shortage of kidney donors, in the latest issue of the American Journal of Bioethics, Paul E. Morrissey, of Brown University in Rhode Island, suggests removing both kidneys from brain trauma patients on life-support. Afterward the patient would simply be removed from life support and allowed to die, and two fresh viable kidneys are then available for rapid transfer to waiting recipients.

Morrissey's alibi is that "since life without your kidneys would be short - the argument could be made that the patient is so close to death anyway, you would not have to describe loss of kidneys as the cause of death - since the fundamental principle of transplant surgery is observed as, the Dead Donor Rule: that organ retrieval itself must not be the cause of death. Morrissey calls his new procedure proposal "pre-mortem donation."

Morrissey denies that the operation causes death because, "medically and legally the donor would be alive at the time of surgery (a zombie?) and would die, only secondary, to irreversible head injury at some interval after the surgical procedure. He feels this answers the ethical dilemma over organ donation via euthanasia or criminal execution.

Procuring both kidneys pre-mortem is the wedge for abandoning the Dead Donor rule.  That rule is "an ethical norm that has been formulated in at least two ways: 1) Organ donor must be dead before procurement of organs may begin: 2) Organ procurement itself must not cause the death of the donor. 

Morissey's Pre-mortem donation idea, is his suggested way to get around this Dead Donor rule.

Also, the President's Council on Bioethics says, that the legal definition of irreversible cessation of hearbeat and breathing used to justify Donation after Cardiac Death (DCD) and Non Heart Beating Donation (NHBD), has problems. 

Most of us have believed the term irreversible to refer to a stopped heart that cannot be re-started - when it actually means there is a deliberate decision NOT to try and restart the heart when it stops - and allow enough time to elapse to ensure the heart will not resume beating on its own. This has led to hearts being harvested from one baby - and re-started in another baby ... horror of horrors!  

So if your heart or the heart of a loved one stops, they may not attempt to re-start it in  your chest - but rather in another patient's chest.  (Don't sign the back of that driver's license.) 

Now, the suggestion is, to take both your kidneys, while you are on life-support and still alive. It doesn't matter that you won't live too much longer after the removal of these vital organs - the excuse is simply that you were alive when they removed them.  Ok, what is this line of reasoning called? 

Human beings have been reduced to utilitarian entities.  God forbid you or a loved one end up on a ventilator -  or have some other human limitations which label you as less than human in their eyes - because your organs will go on the auction block, and your relatives may want to sell them on Facebook.

I recall the first heart transplants in the early 1970's.  Before that, kidney transplants as well as less than vital organs, such as cornea transplants etc. seemed ok to me.  But the heart transplants?  That one seemed to stretch the limits of what science should do to prolong one persons' life, through the harvesting of an organ from another person.   

What is the real motive of science here?  This was the question I asked myself back then, as a young woman, who worked with a young man whose father had been one of the early recipients of a heart transplant. At the time,  it seemed macabre to me - and the rest of the people in our office. 

I recall my brother, who was a real grease-monkey, and loved tinkering with cars and engines in our yard. I specifically recall the day he transferred an entire engine block from one car to another - without the usual mechanical hoists used in regular garages, I might add.   Instead, he created his own make-shift hoist, via some heavy chains he threw over a heavy branch of our old oak tree in the front yard.  After much sweat, cussing and repeated attempts and failures, he was successful. 

But human beings are not cars! Our hearts are not engine blocks, to be hoisted from one vehicle chases to another.   Obviously, it was far easier for my brother to switch tires and other mechanical elements from one car to another, without too much trouble - and more importantly, without changing a major defining element of the car.  He ended up with the chases of a 1957 Chevy, but it had the engine of another make and model vehicle - which I don't recall today.

Death is an inevitability; science cannot change that reality.  Medicine should heal what they can - lessen the suffering of what they can't - but they cannot re-shuffle that deck.  And that's exactly what they're trying to do.

From the old Hyppocratic Oath: "I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being."