Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Brain-Death Debacle and Its Consequences

The brain-death question, as you know, is not simply the life and death issue involved in organ transplants and the multibillion dollar industry that drives it. If the human person is holistically "I" [and experienced as such] and not reducible to the hylomorphic dualism of soul/body, much less to body/brain, then the ramifications of the outcome become large. It would then be the question of the future global culture and the epistemology (and its source) that drives it. Let me quote from Benedict XVI as Joseph Ratzinger in his conversation with Marcello Pera:[1]

“There are two opposing diagnoses on the possible future of Europe. On the one hand, there is the thesis of Oswald Spengler, who believed that he had identified a natural law for the great moments in cultural history: first came the birth of a culture, then its gradual rise, flourishing, slow decline, aging, and death. Spengler argued his thesis with ample documentation, culled from the history of cultures that demonstrated the law of the natural life cycle. His thesis was the West would come to an end, and that it was rushing heedlessly toward tis demise, despite every effort to stop it. Europe could of course bequeath its gifts to a new emerging culture – following the example set by previous cultures during their decline – but as a historical subject its life cycle had effectively ended.

“Spengler’s ‘biologistic’ thesis attracted fierce opponents during the period between the two wars, especially in Catholic circles. Arnold Toynbee reserved harsh words for it, in arguments too readily ignored today. Toynbee emphasized the difference between technological-material progress and true-progress, which he defined as spiritualization. He recognized that the Western world was indeed undergoing a crisis, which he attributes to the abandonment of religion for the cult of technology, nationalism, and militarism. For him this crisis had as name: secularism.

“If you know the cause of an illness, you can also find a cure: the religious heritage in all its forms had to be reintroduced especially the ‘heritage of Western Christianity.’ Rather than a biologistic vision, he offers a voluntaristic one focused on the energy of creative minorities and exceptional individuals.”[2]

I skip….

“The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that although the fallacy of the communist economy has been recognized – so much so that former communists have unhesitatingly become economic liberals – the moral and religious question that it used to address has been almost totally repressed. The unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe. The decline of a moral conscience grounded in absolute values is still our problem today. Left untreated, it could lead to the self-destruction of the European conscience, which we must begin to consider as a real danger – above and beyond the decline predicted by Spengler.”[3]

The outcome of the brain-death issue will not come ultimately from argumentation but from a change in the paradigm of experiences. Ultimately, it can only be an experience of self-transcendence as in the Christian faith that can restore the consciousness of the "I" of the person and his transcendent dignity. However, argumentation will be absolutely necessary to lead the mind to the aporia that results from the stagnation of reason that has wilted under the burden of a technological culture of nothing but facts and data bases.

An indispensable reading to make this paradigm shift is Wojtyla's "Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Person" Person and Community Lang (1993) 209-217. And then, further: J. Ratzinger, "Introduction to Christianity," Ignatius (2004) 183-184.

[1] “Without Roots,” Basic Books 2006.

[2] Ibid 67-68.

[3] Ibid 73-74.

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