There is no intention in this piece to cause offence. But there seems to be no point in being anything other than blunt.
Two thousand years ago, Aristotle could argue that politics should be moral – that we should govern the polis in a manner that fostered virtue in its citizens. There wasn’t then the split between public and private morality there is now. The polis was still small enough that other than in a tyranny (of the type Plato thought might be necessary) a family member (the man) from every family (well the lead families at least) could come and debate in the square what everyone knew was going on.
Things are different now. Pinning down what drove the split between politics and morality we now have is difficult. Was it the printing press that brought news from parts so distant it was difficult to feel responsible for the people who lived there or to know what was really going on? Was it industrialization and urbanization that concentrated people in a megalo-polis that called for a different kind of politics? Was it the Reformation that fractured the community of believers to the point they were willing to exterminate the “others” in their midst?
Machiavelli’s The Prince marked the transition. In politics the ends now justified the means. Kant and others attempted to restore a universal secular morality against which politicians might be held to account. But in the new world of homo economicus, self-made men followed the data, especially the data on money, rather than any universal code. The idea that if you did well, God obviously favoured you, offered a convenient cover, along with the invisible hand that ensured the more you prioritised your self-interest the better it would be for the community.
While still claiming universality, just as women were being relegated to the morality of a domestic sphere, philosophers and religious retreated to a private morality. A private world where caring was celebrated rather than expediency – except in the case of the many clerics who were more obsessed with the private vice of others.
Health was the key realm where caring remained the central public virtue – until around the year 2000, since when it seems continuity of data has become more important than continuity of care, in what is becoming a service industry rather than a site of care. (A case can also be made for education being an important location of care – similarly transformed into a service industry).
Aside from the occasional questioning of the private lives of some politicians, little seemed capable of disturbing the comforts that this split offered both politicians and churchmen. Global wars, Auschwitz, and Hiroshima might as well have been Hollywood movies. And ministers of health are now impervious to the degradation of care happening in health.
Until – despite efforts by Hollywood to rewrite the script – evidence from Ireland of priests sexually abusing children led to a disintegration of the empire of private morality that was almost as rapid and comprehensive as the disintegration of whatever it was that occupied Eastern Europe – was it an Empire, was it totalitarianism?
These were the background musings against which the following striking reminder of how dangerous our planet can be caught my attention.
Suicide is Painful
A recent BBC article was entitled Catholic priest at teenager’s funeral condemns suicide
Parents of a teenage boy who took his own life have complained after their Catholic priest criticised him at the funeral for killing himself.
Father Don LaCuesta in the service questioned whether Maison Hullibarger, 18, would enter heaven, horrifying his parents and family. The Archdiocese of Detroit have relieved Father LaCuesta from funeral duties, but the family want him fired.
Catholicism has traditionally taught that suicide is an unforgiveable sin. Only recently has the church said that extreme psychological stress could mean forgiveness for those who take their own lives.
Maison, from Temperance, Michigan, took his own life on 4 December. His parents Jeff and Linda Hullibarger sought the help of their priest, Father LaCuesta, before the funeral.
“We wanted him to celebrate how Maison lived, not how he died,” Ms Hullibarger told the Detroit Free Press.
But the priest used the service at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic church to attack their child.
“He was up there condemning our son, pretty much calling him a sinner,” Mr Hullibarger said. “He wondered if he had repented enough to make it to heaven. He said ‘suicide’ upwards of six times.”
The appearance at the funeral against their wishes of their son’s football coach, who reportedly bullied Maison and his brothers, added to their pain.
A statement released by the Archdiocese of Detroit said Father LaCuesta would not preach at funerals “for the foreseeable future” and apologised for what happened, but the family want him removed from his post to stop him upsetting others.
“We’re afraid that, like the Catholic Church does, they’ll send him off and he’ll do it to somebody else,” Mr Hullibarger said.
I know nothing about this case beyond what is here. The details might make a huge difference.
On one level we have a priest doing his job. Until recently suicides could not be buried in a church cemetery or with the services for others who die. Suicide was close to the ultimate private sin. Its easy to imagine a priest figuring that going soft on this further cuts the ground out from under private morality. Is there anything left that Churches stand for?
But here’s the rub. What is the Catholic Church doing about the marketing of psychotropic drugs which cause suicide? These suicides aren’t just accidents. They don’t happen without company personnel or senior figures in the medical establishment knowing what is going on. What would Don LaCuesta say at the funeral of a senior company executive who had stood in the way of warnings about these hazards?
Many years back Leonie Fennell’s son Shane Clancy killed himself and others in horrific fashion. He had been put on citalopram, and encouraged by his doctor to continue with it despite reporting problems, A jury of people from a rural part of Ireland, with an ethos not far removed from that of Aristotle’s polis, decided his death was not suicide.
Irish psychiatry in contrast, particularly it’s members most closely linked with the Catholic Church, declared Leonie’s efforts to raise awareness of the suicide inducing effects of SSRIs to be ungodly. Some years later, the same psychiatrists campaigned vigorously against the introduction of greater access to abortion in Ireland, while being completely unwilling to look at the evidence that antidepressants double rates of miscarriages, and birth defects, and increase rates at which women seek abortions.
As part of her efforts to raise awareness of the profound problems opened up by Shane’s death and the deaths of others at his hand, in early 2014 Leonie organised for me to meet the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. We laid the issues out for him and put it to him that the Catholic Church was one of the few organizations with the credibility to ask the right questions. They didn’t have to provide the answers but if they asked the questions someone would have to respond. He was pleasant. He was a politician – a public issue like this was not one for the Church.
Getting no answer, Leonie wrote to Jose Mario Bergoglio, who had just taken over from a previous Pontiff. Bergoglio was widely reported in the press as just picking up the phone and chatting to women about their concerns – even divorced women – as well as advocating for the need for us to care for the planet – a rather public concern.
Claiming to act on behalf of Bergoglio, a Peter Wells washed some pleasant words over the boss’s hands. My sympathies dear woman – it must have been difficult to see your son up on a Cross.
A year earlier, the Church, under a German patriarch, had convened a Vatican meeting to consider issues surrounding psychotropic drugs in young people. The organizers were advised they should have Healy. They opted not to – seemingly on the basis that a year earlier Healy had designated the senior figures in medicine and psychiatry who have presided over the ghostwriting of the medical literature and sequestration of clinical trial data as Bishops and Cardinals.
The comparison was triggered by the striking image above of the 2001 Pontiff with cardinals from the US whom he had called to Rome after the sexual abuse crisis had blown up.
Did the Vatican think this was a slur on decent medical people or a slur on the leaders of the faithful by comparing them to medical people operating on the basis of a ghost written literature and tolerating a total lack of transparency on matters of abuse? Who knows.
For Cardinals – see Here.
Drug (and device) wrecks – the injuries treatment causes – are the key site where the personal becomes political in our world. This is the point where there is the greatest silencing of what everyone knows is going on.
This silencing is more profound that the silencing surrounding the sexual abuse of children. Patients trying to tell doctors about a problem they are having or have had on a medicine cannot get a hearing.
Psychologists, nurses and a host of others who have all kinds of reasons to speak up about the failings of doctors and drug companies, and who have no problems accusing authority figures of sexual abuse that might have happened their patients on spaceships when the patients were less than a year old, aren’t prepared to support people suffering from side effects right in front of them in speaking up about problems happening in real time.
We now face a first ever drop in the data for life expectancy. This silencing of anyone who attempts to raise awareness about possible harms has to be one contributor to this drop, facilitating as it has done, the entry of a service cuckoo into the healthcare nest who is pushing any fledgling carers out of the nest.
Somewhere around 40% of the population over the age of 10 in many developed countries are on 3 are more drugs every single day, which means that something of the order of 75% of those doctors see are on 3 or more drugs every single day.
The academic literature on these drugs is almost totally ghostwritten and there is a total lack of transparency on the clinical trial data, especially the data on harms, and especially as regards our children.
If Churches or philosophers want to become relevant again, this is the point where they need to Woman Up. While the global climate is getting slowly poisoned, the sea-levels aren’t obviously rising just yet. The climate in healthcare though has become remarkably toxic remarkably quickly and life expectancy is now clearly falling. If we can’t care for each other, if people don’t count, why care for the planet Jose?
All kinds of people are turning away from single use plastics, buying electric cars. What about reporting an adverse event and leaving your name on it – and if your doctor doesn’t co-sign, what about changing your doctor? Anyone who does this will do more for global climate change than they will do by buying an electric car or avoiding plastic.
On Christmas Eve 1914, combatants on either side apparently joined in singing Silent Night. Its difficult to listen to this now and think about that night without wondering what the fuck was anyone doing continuing to fight on after that or wondering why on earth did religious leaders not exhort people to just go home.
In the silence of every night between now and this time next year, there will likely be a baby born to a woman who has been on antidepressants throughout her pregnancy, even though she knows the risks but can’t get off them. There will be a baby born with birth defects or behavioural defects, possibly including permanent asexuality. Some pharmaceutical company general will have precipitated someone into a “suicide” or sent someone out to shoot or otherwise kill someone else. And this is just the antidepressants.
You don’t have to have a position on antidepressants or any other drug or vaccine Jose – if you talked about the hazards you would like just increase sales of the drugs in addition to harming yourself and your institution.
You just have to ask for the private to be public. Science is supposed to be the place where everything is public – data we can all scrutinise. And then trust the people.