The Rights of the Terminally Ill

NOTE: The Corona virus crisis is forcing us to make many changes making the familiar all that much more important. We shall therefore continue posting as we normally do.

One in 6 hospital patients are now being cared for in a Catholic hospital.  For people who believe in assisted end of life, that has huge consequences. Catholic hospital see assisting end of life as intrinsically evil, and insist their physicians abide by their principles, which means that should a doctor sympathize with a patient as happened between Neil Mahoney and   Dr, Barbara Morris in Colorado, the doctor gets fired.

Eight states currently have assisted dying laws (Oregon, California, Washington, Montana, Colorado, Vermont, Maine and New Jersey) and they are being considered in some 20 additional states. That’s a lot of people who wish for a say so as to how they die, when and how much pain they can endure.

I believe in assisted end of life. My own understanding says that to lie in a bed under palliative care sedated to deal with pain impedes and not eases the process of dying. That is not what I want, and neither do I want the principles of another religion to be imposed upon me.  What happened in the case of Neil Mahoney was that without a doctor’s prescription the medication he needed to end his life could not be filled. He eventually did find a pharmacist who believes in dying with dignity and who was able to help him.  But the issue remains, should the religious beliefs of a hospital dictate how I or anyone with another spiritual view should die?

The Return of Landmines

The Trump administration is reviving the use of landmines.  The state department’s cable announcing it said that it would only consider landmines with “technologically advanced safeguards” meaning mines which could self-destruct or mines which can be detonated by remote control. With the exception of Afghanistan in 2002, the US has not used landmines since 1991 and has not produced any since 1997. The treaty banning landmines was signed by 164 nations including all of the US NATO allies. The US however did not sign the treaty wanting to reserve the right to use them in the Korean peninsula. Nevertheless since 1997much progress was made towards destroying the stockpile.  Rob Berschinski who worked on landmine policy in the Obama administration and who is now with Human Rights First says that “…they’re not only massively harmful to civilians after war’s end, but they’re also of very negligible military utility.” Landmine Monitor, an organization which monitors landmines, estimates that between 1999 and 2018 there has been 130,000 casualties, mainly civilians.

This may be another instance of the administration rolling back the policies of its predecessor, but it is also a way to erase progress that was made toward creating a more harmless more humane world.

The Fate of Salvadoran Deportees

 Human Rights Watch has just compiled a report tracking what happens to refugees and asylum seekers who return to El Salvador. Its findings are a blow to one’s conscience. At least 200 El Salvadorans migrants or asylum seekers have been killed, raped or tortured after being deported. HRW traced 138 Salvadorans who were killed by gang members, police, soldiers, death squads and ex partners between 2013 and 2019. The 70 others were subject to beatings, sexual assault and extortion. Of course El Salvador is one of the most violent countries, and many have sought to leave. A measure of this is that from 2014 to 2018 the US deported 111,000 Salvadorans but only granted asylum to 18.2% of those who applied for it. It does not mean that those who were deported fared well. They just were not part of those HRW tracked. Obviously current policy had a big role to play in all this but too it brings to mind a larger issue. Although some means are in place, the world tends to not respond, or not adequately respond, to humanitarian crises. Politics, often under the guise of sovereignty, more often than not interferes. The tragedy in Northern Syria is but one example. The death of those Salvadorans, the fate of those deported, and the need for people to leave El Salvador to begin with reach deep into many aspects of the foreign and humanitarian aid communities.  Regardless, we must find better ways, ways free of politics, to address those crises wherever they are. As a civilization, a world, a country, we must institute whatever is needed to help those in need survive, whatever it is we might want if we were in that position.

Fiscal Quagmire in the Cards?

 A newsletter I receive had a small notice about an article in Fortune magazine which really caught my attention as I hope it will yours. The article which headline included that “America is moving towards a tax increase for the middle class”, was making a case for VAT, and in doing so shared some valuable if scary statistics—because a value added tax it claimed would  raise more money than any other means. According to the CBO, Congressional Budget Office, federal spending will jump from $4.45 billion in 2019 to $7,375 billion in 2029. Although revenues are projected to grow, expenses are projected to outgrow the revenues collected from taxes. This means that the federal deficit which was $984 billion last year will grow to $2.156 trillion in 2029.  The US would be borrowing 25 cents for every dollar it spends. The federal debt would rise to $29.6 trillion or 104% of national income when last year it was 79%. The gap between revenues and expenditures would be so wide that taxing the rich alone would not suffice. In this article the author claims only a VAT might help, a tax which would begin at the manufacturing level, make prices rise and be hard on most wage earners. It’s a tax some in Washington may be led to consider but it need not be the only solution.

The CBO’s numbers are sobering, distressing and frightening, at a time when no presidential candidate is addressing the issues they speak to and when another round of tax cut is possible.  Yet we need not be experts to realize this looming fiscal quagmire (the author’s words) needs to be at the very least acknowledged. Policy makers’ silence and ignorance need not be ours.