Bless me, Father, for I have neurally adapted

They discovered, as expected, that people initially had a strong emotional and neurological response to lying; but as they continued to lie, they felt less and less emotional response (flushed cheeks, racing heart) and, accordingly, their brains’ amygdalae responded less and less.

The study is especially interesting because the participants’ brains were reacting not to conditions outside their control, but to their own free choices. So, yes: Lying gets easier with practice.

It’s hard to know what to say about a study like this, other than, “Well, duh.” The Church already has a word for this phenomenon — and a cure, as well.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Stone Man by Gilgongo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Pro-life Even at the End of Life: What the Catholic Church Teaches about Care for the Dying

End_of_life_(2967585466)

The Catholic Church has a consistent, compassionate approach to end-of-life issues, but many Catholics don’t know what the Church actually teaches. As a result, doctors, hospice care workers, and the guardians of patients in distress are branded “murderers” even when they’re doing their best to care for the sick and dying in a loving, responsible, and ethical way. 

I wrote this article for Catholic Digest in 2013.  I’m reprinting it today in light of recent conversationg surrounding Baby Jake and the court’s decisions about his future medical care.

Pro-Life Even at the End of Life

“Technology runs amok without ethics,” says Tammy Ruiz, a Catholic nurse who provides end-of-life care for newborns. “Making sure ethics keeps up with technology is one of the major focuses of my world.”

How do Catholics like Ruiz honor the life and dignity of patients, without playing God—either by giving too much care, or not enough?

Cathy Adamkiewicz had to find that balance when she signed the papers to remove her four-month-old daughter from life support. The child’s bodily systems were failing, and she would not have survived the heart transplant she needed. She had been sedated and on a respirator for most of her life. Off the machines, Adamkiewicz says, “She died peacefully in my husband’s arms. It was a joyful day.”

“To be pro-life,” Adamkiewicz explains, “does not mean you have to extend life forever, push it, or give every type of treatment.”

Many believe that the Church teaches we must prolong human life by any means available, but this is not so. According to the Catechism of the Catholic ChurchDiscontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment” (CCC, 2278).

Does this mean that the Church accepts euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide—that we may end a life to relieve suffering or because we think someone’s “quality of life” is too poor? No. The Catechism continues: “One does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted” (CCC, 2278).

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of Pro-Life Activities at the USCCB, explains that caregivers must ask, “What good can this treatment do for this person I love? What harm can it do to him or her? This is what Catholic theology calls ‘weighing the benefits and burdens of a treatment.’ If the benefit outweighs the burden, in your judgment, you should request the treatment; otherwise, it would be seen as morally optional.”

Palliative care is also legitimate, even if it may hasten death—as long as the goal is to alleviate suffering.

But how are we to judge when the burdens outweigh the benefits?

Some decisions are black and white: We must not do anything, or fail to do anything, with the goal of bringing about or hastening death. “An act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator (CCC, 2277).

The dehydration death of Terry Schiavo in 2005 was murder, because Schiavo was not dying. Withdrawing food and water had the direct goal of killing her.

But if a man is dying of inoperable cancer and no longer wishes to eat or drink, or his body can no longer process nutrition, withdrawing food and water from him might be ethical and merciful. He is already moving toward death, and there is no reason to prolong his suffering.

Moral Obligations

Our moral obligations are not always obvious. Laura Malnight struggled with doubt and fear as she contemplated the future of her tiny newborn quadruplets. Two of them had pneumonia.

“It was horrible to watch them go through what they had to go through to live, being resuscitated over and over again,” Malnight says.

One baby was especially sick and had suffered brain damage. The doctors who had pushed her to do “selective reduction” while she was pregnant now urged her to stop trying to keep her son alive. “They said we were making a horrible mistake, and they painted a terrible picture of what his life would be like in an institution,” Malnight says.

Exhausted and overwhelmed, Malnight was not able to get a clear answer about the most ethical choice for her children.

Everyone told her, “The baby will declare himself,” signaling whether he’s meant to live or die. “But,” says Malnight, “my only experience with motherhood was with these babies, in their isolettes. The thing was, we would put our hands over our son and he would open his eyes, his breathing would calm.”

“We just kind of muddled through,” she says. Her quadruplets are now 13 years old, and her son, while blind and brain-damaged, is a delightful and irreplaceable child.

Doerflinger acknowledges Malnight’s struggle: “Often there is no one right or wrong answer, but just an answer you think is best for your loved one in this particular situation, taking into account that patient’s own perspective and his or her ability to tolerate the burdens of treatment.”

The key, says Cathy Adamkiewicz, is “not to put our human parameters on the purpose of a human life.”

When she got her infant daughter’s prognosis from the neurologist, she told him, “You look at her as a dying system. I see a human being. Her life has value, not because of how much she can offer, but there is value in her life.”

“Our value,” Cathy says, “is not in our doing, but in our being. Doerflinger agrees, and emphasizes that “every life is a gift. Particular treatments may be a burden; no one’s life should be dismissed as a burden.”

He says that human life is “a great good, worthy of respect. At the same time, it is not our ultimate good, which lies in our union with God and each other in eternity. We owe to all our loved ones the kind of care that fully respects their dignity as persons, without insisting on every possible means for prolonging life even if it may impose serious risks and burdens on a dying patient. Within these basic guidelines, there is a great deal of room for making personal decisions we think are best for those we love.”

Because of this latitude, a living will is not recommended for Catholics. Legal documents of this kind cannot take into account specific, unpredictable circumstances that may occur. Instead, Catholic ethicists recommend drawing up an advance directive with a durable power of attorney or healthcare proxy. A trusted spokesman is appointed to make medical decisions that adhere to Church teaching.

Caregivers should do their best to get as much information as possible from doctors and consult any priests, ethicists, or theologians available—and then to give over care to the doctors, praying that God will guide their hearts and hands.

Terri Duhon found relief in submitting to the guidance of the Church when a sudden stroke caused her mother to choke. Several delays left her on a ventilator, with no brain activity. My husband and I couldn’t stand the thought of taking her off those machines. We wanted there to be a chance,” she says. But as the night wore on, she says, “We reached a point where it was an affront to her dignity to keep her on the machines.”

Duhon’s words can resonate with caregivers who make the choice either to extend life or to allow it to go: “I felt thankful that even though all of my emotion was against it, I had solid footing from the Church’s moral teaching. At least I wasn’t making the decision on my own.”

Adamkiewicz agrees. “It’s so terrifying and frustrating in a hospital,” she remembers. “I can’t imagine going through it without having our faith as our touchstone during those moments of fear.”

 *********

End of life resources

 

Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services (from the USCCB)

Evangelium Vitae

Pope John Paul II, To the Congress on Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State, 20 March 2004 

NCBCenter.org provides samples of an advance directive with durable power of attorney or healthcare proxy.

This article was originally published in Catholic Digest in 2013.

What can American parents learn from a doll?

Polio_sequelle

In wealthy, progressive Seattle, polio vaccination rates are lower than in Rwanda. Parents in Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Algeria, El Salvador, Guyana, Sudan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Yemen are doing more to protect their children from this crippling and often deadly disease than some American parents.

This dangerous trend is due, in part, to historical amnesia. There are fewer and fewer people around who remember the devastation of the polio epidemics of the late 1940′s and early 50′s.  Between 19445 and 1949, something like 20,000 American contracted polio. In 1952, there were 58,000 cases. Ten of thousands of American were paralyzed; many died. The nation was terrified, and rightly so.

Read the rest at the Register.

***

Gee, your corpse smells terrific!

Bernadette

Not only does the Catholic Church “do science,” but she allows us a heck of a lot of latitude in our personal devotions. Myself, I have steered clear of incorruptibles as any proof of anything besides the fact that the world is weird, history is messy, and lots of people are different from me.

Read the rest at the Register. 

RIP Charles Townes, Brilliant Physicist, Man of Faith

Charles_Townes_statue

The idea that faith and reason are inevitably at odds with each other is one of the most persistent and least defensible myths of modern times.

Read the rest at the Register.

Mercola Officially Endorses Blowing Smoke Up Your Ass to Cure Ebola

No, really. Here’s the article, and here’s the money quote from one Dr. Robert Rowen, an “oxidative therpist” (emphasis mine):

Ozone is quite versatile, as you can administer it in many different ways. It’s extraordinary in terms of its anti-infective and antiviral action, and it has virtually no toxicity, making it a prime candidate for both prevention and treatment.

Ozone is only hard on the lungs, but it can be given in other ways. It can be given intravenously. It can be given in the bladder, in the vagina, in the rectum, via injection – anywhere.

You read it here first, folks. Right up the ass, and away goes the virus! (For the Mercola-resistant among us, here’s a wee bit of background about the effectiveness of oxygen therapy.)

Rumor has it that, for a small fee, you can request a specific nurse to administer the ozone into the orfice of your choice.

sexy ebola nurse

Well, goodnight, everyone.

 

RETRACTED: “Whistle-blower” Hooker’s study linking MMR Vaccine to autism in African American boys

PIC photo of Hooker

The Editors no longer have confidence in the soundness of the findings.

Original article by Brian Hooker  here. Retraction as follows:

Retraction: Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young African American boys: a reanalysis of CDC data

Brian S Hooker

Additional article information

Retraction

The Editor and Publisher regretfully retract the article [1] as there were undeclared competing interests on the part of the author which compromised the peer review process. Furthermore, post-publication peer review raised concerns about the validity of the methods and statistical analysis, therefore the Editors no longer have confidence in the soundness of the findings. We apologise to all affected parties for the inconvenience caused.

There is still no proven link between vaccines and autism.

There is still no proven link between vaccines and autism.

There is still no proven link between vaccines and autism.

There is still no proven link between vaccines and autism.

There is still no proven link between vaccines and autism.

There is still no proven link between vaccines and autism.

There is still no proven link between vaccines and autism.

Rational Catholic continues dismantling the shoddy science in Dr. Deisher’s vaccine/autism study

The indefatigable Rational Catholic, still undeterred by accusations of being an enormous meany-pants, has provided us with part two of what will be a three-part series explaining why there is no reason to accept Dr. Theresa Deisher’s study proposing a link between vaccines and autism.

In part one, Rational Catholic teased out the problems with Deisher’s statistical methodology. In part two,  Problems with Deisher’s Study: Biological Implausibility, Rational Catholic systematically dismantles Deisher’s actual hypothesis.

Noteworthy: Part II was updated to include commentary from Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, who has read all of Deisher’s public work. Fr. Austiraco has just been awarded his second research grant from the NIH. Rational Catholic added his comments on Deisher’s work with permission from Fr. Austiraco, who is a Dominican priest with a Ph.D in Biology from MIT. He teaches theology and biology at Providence College.

Congratulations to Fr. Austiraco (pictured below) and to Rational Catholic for their faithful work pursuing truth through rigorous science!

 

 

PIC Fr. Austiraco

Hey, who wants to talk about Dr. Deisher and vaccines and autism and fetal cells and statistics? Some more?

PIC man showing woman statistics chart

Not me! But other folks do, and ain’t other folks what make the world go round? Here are a few good reads for vaccine/austism/fetal cell/Deisher/statistical analysis die hards, following an odd exchange I had with Stacy Trasancos in the comment box of my Monday post, But what if we’re not scientists?

The folks at Rational Catholic have added an even more in-depth commentary on the statistical analysis in Dr. Deisher’s study with Looking a Little Closer at the Numbers

Joseph Moore of Yard Sale of the Mind offers Simcha Fisher’s Science Post: the Gift that Keeps On Giving!

And after Stacy Trasancos wrote this, to her credit she asked highly credentialed statistician Matt Briggs to evaluate Dr. Deisher’s study. You can read his opinion at Autism and Stem-Cell Derived Vaccines: Deisher’s New Paper.

So now you are all caught up! I find that I am sitting here slowly making my way through an unattended stick of butter as I type, so rather than go through and find tantalizing pull quotes for you from the links above, I’m going to get away from my computer for a bit. Byee!

But what if we’re not scientists?

When Catholics have a hard time understanding or accepting some point of doctrine, their path is not easy, but it is clear. John XXIII reportedly told a man,  “Accept the teaching you can accept, and pray to accept the ones you can’t.” We do this because we understand that the magsterium, the teaching authority of the Church, speaks for Christ and deserves our obedience. We don’t always like it, and we don’t always manage it, but our job is at least to try to accept the doctrine we don’t like or can’t understand, and to work toward understanding why the Church teaches what it does. Augustine, the original Mr. I Did My Homework, said “Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”

So that’s faith. Science is different. There is no magisterium in science; and we are never required to work as hard as we can to make ourselves accept an idea that seems wrong or false. If something sounds wrong, it is okay to look for another explanation from another source. It is more than okay: it’s the right thing to do.

But what if we are not scientists? What if we are not capable, because of time, temperament, training, or plain old brain power, to understand certain specialized information? We can’t all be experts in everything. Sooner or later, even intelligent people are going to come across something we don’t understand.

It’s not fashionable to admit this, but it’s indisputable. We all have our limits. We all get in above our heads at some point. This is especially true when we’re talking about medicine, because medicine stands at an uncomfortable crossroads: it involves extremely complicated matters, making it hard to grasp, and it directly affects us and the people we love, making it very personal. What to do?

Again, it’s not fashionable to admit, but all sensible people do the same thing: we decide who we’re going to trust. We pick someone who seems to understand the issue better than we do, and we decide to believe what that person says.

A good many people don’t realize that this is what they’re doing. They say they’ve “done their homework” or “researched the matter thoroughly.” Really what they mean is that they’ve found a bunch of books and articles that are written at a level they understand, and they have talked to a bunch of people who seem trustworthy, and they have decided that they are going to trust that the people who seem to understand the matter better than they do.

There is nothing wrong with this system! In fact, most of us have no choice, because we can’t all be experts in everything. So we decide who we’re going to trust. This is what Debi Vinnedge, executive director of Children of God for Life has done. Vinnedge’s degree is in business administration, and so she has decided that, not being trained in science herself, she will trust someone who is: Dr. Theresa Deisher. And this is what I am doing when I decided to trust the folks at Rational Catholic who have been patiently, systematically plowing through Dr. Deisher’s study and compiling a list of problems they found in the study.*

I am not an expert in science of any kind. What I do, and what I recommend that other people do, is this:  Don’t pretend to understand more than you do. Instead, be smart about consciously, deliberately choosing whom to trust — and be ready to change your mind, if you have reason to stop trusting that person. The person you trust need not be a degreed expert in the field. Some of the best teachers are people who have educated themselves in matters that interest them; who know how to explain things well; and who are good at pointing other people toward more information.

So, how do we go about deciding which experts to trust, and which to be suspicious of? Here are a few of the traps we can fall into:

Mistrusting a knowledgeable person because he expresses his ideas in an unpleasant way. I wish people wouldn’t do this, because it ratchets up emotions and makes me reluctant to share otherwise solid information. But unpleasantness of expression is not, in itself, a reason to disbelieve the facts, as long as the facts are there along with the unpleasantness.

Mistrusting a knowledgeable person simply because he said something that makes you mad or upset or scared.

Trusting a knowledgeable person simply because he said something that makes you feel happy or peaceful or contented. 

Trusting a knowledgeable person simply because he has a degree or went to a certain school. Educational credentials tell you something; but in many cases, it’s easy to produce someone who disagrees with your expert but who holds the same degree and who went to the same or an equally prestigious school.

Mistrusting a knowledgeable person because you disagree with him about unrelated things. If he is wrong about lots and lots of things, then beware; but remember that you’re not swearing fealty to a prophet and all that he professes; you’re simply assessing a specific idea. Lots of people are right about some things and wrong about others.

Trusting a knowledgeable person simply because he agrees with you about other things. We see this mistake among secular people when they mistrust scientists who are pro-life, simply because they are pro-life. This is clearly unfair. But Catholics make the exact same mistake when they trust someone simply because he is pro-life. It goes like this: Scientist X opposes his abortion, therefore all of his ideas about everything must be pro-life, therefore you must agree with all of his ideas about everything or else you are not truly pro-life.

Trusting a knowledgeable person because it would be uncharitable to question his findings, or because his personal life is difficult at the moment. This is just bizarre, and I’m always amazed to hear this idea being treated as if it means anything. Being mean to people is a sin against charity. Criticizing ideas is why God gave us brains. (This mistake, too, has a corollary in the secular world: people accept experts simply because they are contrary and annoy people.)

Trusting a knowledgeable person because he has published a study in a scientific journal. This is, unfortunately, not the gold standard for research that it ought to be. There are reputable journals and disreputable journals, and many have low standards for what they will print, but have chosen prestigious-sounding names for themselves.

Trusting a knowledgeable person who says things that you don’t understand at all.  Remember, the reason you decided to trust this person is because you believe he understands things better than you. But he should still be able to convey at least some of what he understands to people who are not experts, or he should at least be able to point you toward more accessible explanations. Someone whose writing is entirely opaque to you is someone you have no reason to trust. Technical words and complicated sentences are often a smokescreen for people who are either trying to fool you, or who don’t understand the subject matter themselves, but have picked up some dazzling vocabulary.

Remember, you’re not a complete moron, or else you’d be off refreshing your news feed for more photos of Paris Hilton’s new puppydog, rather than reading a post about scientific research. As a non-moron, you don’t have to head into these things blind. There are some things you can check yourself. Here is a useful chart to use as a starting point, when you hear a new idea and are wondering whether to get behind it or not.

 

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And remember: nobody likes to be challenged, but good science stands up to scrutiny. Questioning someone’s study is not an attack, or an attempt to silence that person. It’s just what all credible scientists should expect, especially if their studies contradict what nearly every other researcher in the field has found.  If you are being scolded for the mere act of challenging an idea, then that in itself is a sign that the science may be bad.

 

*Part one: The Numbers went up the other day. It is a response to the way Deisher has gathered and analyzed her statistics. Here is a summary:

– Change points are artifacts of poor statistical approach (i.e. they aren’t real)
– Even if the change points were real, they do not correlate to introduction of changes in exposure to fetal cell line vaccines.
– If the change points were real, they do, contrary to Deisher’s claims, correlate to changes in diagnostic criteria between DSM editions.

Therefore, the central premise of Deisher’s argument (changes in autistic disorder diagnoses correlate with fetal cell line vaccines and not other factors) is not supported by this study.

If you are wondering why Catholics like the authors of this blog are criticizing Dr. Deisher, then you should read Rational Catholic’s post, and stay tuned for parts two and three, where the conclusions she reaches will be analyzed just as closely. There is nothing personal, scurrilous, hateful, or uncharitable in responding in detail to a scientific study. The authors of Rational Catholic believe that parents should not be frightened away, by Deisher’s study or by anybody else, from vaccinating their healthy children.