>Reflection on an anniversary (9-11, Katrina)

>Lots of news and reviews this week and last due to the anniversaries of the aftermath of Katrina and the 5th anniversary of the attacks on our Nation on September 11, 2001. The ethics of the responses to the grief and impact on our lives could (and should, in my opinion) be part of our discussions.

The Bioethics Discussion Blog, by Maurice Bernstein, M.D., has a post that quotes “Janet” who lists some of the many causes of pain and suffering in the world and says,

These things are happening each and every day, causing a total of death and suffering far greater than September 11, but they don’t make the headlines. Enough people who cared and who opened their hearts in the same way they did to the September 11 victims could make an unbelievable difference to many of these situations. I don’t mean to make light of September 11 or the victims’ suffering, but I freely admit it makes me angry that events like this are considered the epitome of tragedy against which all else is supposed to pale into insignificance. The real tragedy to me is the number of horrors in this world about which people don’t care.

Why do we mark the deaths and loss of a finite number of people due to a given event, while death and loss are daily occurances all over the world and throughout history? What makes the death of less than 3000 people in a few hours on “9-11” worthy of days of media coverage and conversation? On the other hand, how is it that we remember the flooding and its aftermath in New Orleans more than that in Mississippi due to the same hurricane or the tsunami, which happened in January of 2005, and which resulted in a huge outporing of charity and relief aide on the part of people around the world?

People aren’t totally logical when it comes to weighing the “value” of pain and suffering. We think and react in our linear time and often out of the degree of empathy with the victims.

We react one way to the deaths of nearly 3000 people in a few hours from a deliberate act that was intended to make us feel threatened, another way to the horrors of slavery ongoing all over the world, and yet another to possibly billions of women being ritually mutilated, confined to the home, denied education and decent healthcare, and treated as non-persons.

But then, even in our own communities, we react in different ways when we hear that a young mother from our neighborhood died in a car wreck on the highway that we use to get to work and when we hear that a great-grandmother died after a long illness.

I guess it’s sort of like the difference between the treatment of an acute trauma from a car wreck that shuts down several organ systems, a burst appendix in a teenager and Type II diabetes. All are life-threatening and will leave permanent scars and other effects, but the first is more directly threatening to us, making us remember that we could die the same way. The causes and results of the first seem completely out of our control unless we’re the trauma surgeon, while the others require a quick burst of emergency response or a chronic titration of treatment, but we hope we can control or at least moderate the effects and even the cause of the latter two, bit by bit.

(Note, edited at 16:42 to clean up some of the language and make the title more readable.)

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4 thoughts on “>Reflection on an anniversary (9-11, Katrina)

  1. >For the most part I understand where you're coming from. The question is whether what we feel is the same thing as whether it truly has different moral worth. It's interesting, because we're very quick to put ourselves in the situation where we could suffer the same harm— but (I would argue) the extent to which we do this varies based on engrained ways that we identify ourselves— be it gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality. I would argue that this is the only way that true atrocities (many wars, slavery, genocide) can be lived with— refusing some common humanity to a group of people.So how far that down that road can be considered acceptable? Perhaps what we feel based on how we identify ourselves could let us do the most heinous acts without guilt.

    Posted by Sunny | September 13, 2006, 1:10 am
  2. >Left out a phrase. The extent to which we do this varies based on those engrained identifiers that we have in common with the victims.I.E. urban or black or NewOrleanites or poor people feel more from Katrina than people that might not be in that situation.But, using that feeling as a basis, if I'm never going to Iraq and I'm a white Christian living in America, what do I care if we kill thousands of innocent civilians?

    Posted by Anonymous | September 13, 2006, 1:14 am
  3. >What we feel does not change the moral worth of others. All human life is beyond value – you can't measure any difference between one human life and another. But, we are human and have limited resources, limited knowledge and we sometimes act incorrectly. We also owe a duty – and/or are held to a different standard of responsibility because of that duty – to some people, such as our minor children or someone we've harmed.There's the problem posed by what we can do and what we should do. I can't feed everyone on Earth, but I can feed my family and give some of my goods to strangers by some means if it doesn't harm those who have first call on my duty. States have often asserted the right to prevent me from harming myself in these efforts, especially if the State finds me incompetent or a victim of fraud.The only way to justify war is if we and those we have a duty to – our Nation or our neighbor – are being threatened by the one we are waging war against. (The Judeo-Christian tradition calls on us to "rescue those being led away to slaughter," for instance Proverbs 24:11)And then, as in each case when we use force to protect rights, the least amount of force necessary to preserve the life and liberty of those threatened should be used.As to war,

    Posted by LifeEthics.org | September 13, 2006, 5:33 am
  4. >You're mostly citing Augustine's just war doctrine. I would argue that though it's justified by religious tradition, it seems difficult to find Jesus' acceptance of any act of violence, even in self-defense (a particular saying of turning cheeks comes to mind).Also, it seems unclear by what you mean by "beyond measure". Would I not be a worse person if I killed 100,000 innocents in cold blood than a single one? Now, if you're saying that we all have equal moral worth, that's another thing. But I would say most people think that killing a psychotic serial killer is worse than killing a lovable and harmless child, and that seems to be a function of the difference in moral worth between these lives.If we're all morally equal, then we've got some things to answer for— for example, why our country has killed more innocent civilians than Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein combined. Ah, but we have a responsibility to ourselves to protect ourselves. But how many innocent civilians can we kill to do that?

    Posted by Sunny | September 13, 2006, 9:14 am

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