Monday, November 8 · 7:00pm - 8:00pm
Perkins Student Center - University of Delaware
325 Academy Street
Dr. Patrick is a retired Medical Doctor and Associate Professor in Clinical Nutrition in the Department of Biochemistry and Paediatrics at the U. of Ottawa. He lectures around the world about controversial moral dilemmas in medicine, culture, and the integration of religion and science. He is one of the Founders and is the current President of Augustine College, Ottawa. During his academic career, Dr. Patrick did extensive research in Central Africa, Britain, the West Indies and Canada, and is an expert on childhood malnutrition.
It was a fascinating lecture. I asked Dr. Patrick afterwards if he had this online, and he said that unbeknownst to him, his wife had indeed put some stuff online that he hasn't yet seen. He discovered this after he gave a talk and someone asked him, as I did, if his thoughts were online. He said "No," only to have a student say, "Excuse me, but yes, there is a link on Augustine College's* web page." He says he still hasn't checked but takes the student's word for it. I did check. His web site is http://www.johnpatrick.ca/index.htm and on the left, under Papers you can find some of his work in both written and spoken version. I would absolutely recommend settling in and listening to one of the mp3 files over the written material. He wanders quite a bit when he speaks, and the written articles seem to be transcriptions of the talks rather than articles edited for publication.
Dr. Patrick started out as a biochemist and a medical doctor. He was specializing in the practice of infectious diseases in the mid-60's, and became familiar with the phenomenon of pregnant women who had contracted rubella measles coming to see him. Rubella causes severe birth defects in about 90% of the babies carried by infected women. He said he did not consciously think of himself as being engaged in abortion -- in those days, the word itself carried a horrendous connotation (kids born since Roe v Wade have no conception of the stigma attached to the word). As a rational, compassionate man, the way he would handle such cases would be to consult with the woman, tell her that unfortunately because of the rubella things had gone terribly wrong with the pregnancy, but if she wanted a fresh start, he could put her in hospital, take care of the problem, and she could then start over with a clean slate in trying to have a child. He said every woman he talked to like that always agreed, and he would do follow the lead of other doctors and record
performing a "D and C", since abortion was illegal.
Bess McAneny, who practiced as a nurse in the 60's in an Ob\Gyn wing of a hospital, afterwards said that she knew what he meant because there was one doctor, the chief of staff, who had a special room where he would take patients, and invariably his records would show up with a greater than average number of "D and Cs". Bess said she wondered why he had to do so many D and C's on such young patients, and why he had his own reserved room that nobody else used, but it never occurred to her that abortions were going on. Dr. Patrick confirmed that doctors all knew about such practices and covered one another.
Dr. Patrick said what happened to him was that although he left that practice and went on to other things, it stuck in his mind. Then abortion became legal. About 20 years ago, he said, his wife went off to work in a refugee camp in Africa for two years, and he became a widower of sorts. Having lots of time on his hands, he decided to think about the question of abortion, something he had not done at all during the years he was involved with it. He asked himself the question, What line of reasoning would I have to embrace in order to clearly hold the belief that
abortion was ethical? What else might flow from that line of reasoning?
This got him to thinking about personhood. What responsibilities do we owe all human persons? Protection from harm, particularly protection of the weak and innocent, is a basic responsibility that society owes to its members. If a human being isn't innocent in utero , then when is it innocent? He talked about how it is a clear fact that conception is the point in time that each human being is stamped with a unique DNA identifier, so obviously an unborn child is a human being. So why is a human person not identified at the point of conception? He discussed the various definitions philosophers have come up with for human personhood, and concluded that every one of them left him and all others who now enjoy the protection of the law at risk of suddenly becoming non-persons.
This is what he meant by titling the talk, "So much more than a baby dies in abortion". He said his reasoning lead him to realize that the legalization of abortion was not an exercise of justice but the exercise of raw judicial power, of promoting the rights of the strong over the rights of the weak. In order to do this, personhood had to be disconnected from being. That way, our consciences as a society would allow us to kill human beings who were not human persons. But of course, this means that we can kill any human being who does not meet the criteria we have set for persohood. Logically, abortion opens the gates to euthanasia, just as its initial foes predicted back in the
70’s. And indeed, despite protests at the time that of course no such thing would happen, voluntary euthanasia is indeed now available across the globe. Also, a woman who is given the choice to kill her child in utero can hardly be denied the choice to kill herself when she likes, thus leading to the logical legitimatization of assisted suicide. The rationale is still being used, in the discussion of euthanizing of disabled infants, but the most recent legal judgments have denied the application of this logic to the legitimatization of such euthanasia. In Dr. Patrick’s opinion, the U.S. courts who have ruled against euthanizing of disabled infants, have chosen to deliberately ignore the logic of the arguments in favor of it based on precedents set by abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia rulings because they know that American society is not yet ready to accept it.
He talked about a lot more than this, about the disintegration of western culture because of the marginalizing of Judaeo-Christian thought, traditions, literature and history. He faults the churches for not teaching their flocks to think. He said Protestants need to think where they now feel, and feel where they now think; Catholics, he says, are intellectually strong and know all the 100 dollar words but need to learn how to preach the word of God, and not just in the short homilies at Mass. He said the people that are doing the best work in the area of the decaying of western culture are atheistic secular Jews, and he named a few who have influenced him (can’t remember the names, Bess McAneny has them). He said an honest atheist is a treasure, because they cut through the bullsh*t on both sides and are the ones who proclaim loudest that the marginalization of traditional Jewish and Christian culture (which encompasses Hellenic culture) is having a deadly effect on the western world.
Dr. Patrick spoke like the college professor he is - witty and intellectual, but with a wry sense of how spiritually vapid academia can be and how important it is for academics like himself to avoid the temptations available to all professors to spin their own egos instead of truth. He believes in objective truth and says that moral relativists too believe in objective truth, for when they declare that “all points of view are equally valid”, they are making a statement that they wish you to believe as true, even as they believe it to be objectively and universally true.
He came from a blue collar background, the first in his family to be educated. He said he lost his faith at university, and since then he has seen the same thing happen over and over again to other students. That's why Augustine College exists, to stem the tide. He says blue collar working people the world over are the ones that have the strongest, liveliest faith, that intellectual pursuit these days tends to beat it out of you.
It was an excellent lecture. Left me with many thoughts.
*John Patrick turns out to be co-founder and president of Augustine College, which is the fruit of some years' discussion between him and some friends about how the lack of education on the "great ideas" is wreaking havoc in western culture. Basically, Augustine College appears to be a "great books" institution with a strong emphasis on philosophy as well as literature.
Want more? Go to http://www.johnpatrick.ca/index.htm and on the left, under Papers you can find some of his work in both written and spoken version. Listen to the talks rather than read them. Well worth the time.