Monday, April 4, 2016

Are Non-Life Threatening Problems Less Worthy Than Life-Threatening Problems?

photograph of American G.I.'s standing over corpses at Buchenwald
A friend who has suffered from the discomfort of having to wear a catheter after an operation writes, “I have a friend who has  cancer. He has been on a chemo regimen for the past 4 years. He called and asked how I was feeling…genuine concern. But how can one tell someone who has chemo and wears a bag…that they are in pain. What is the philosophical answer?”  This is one of the oldest moral and ethical questions in the books. How can you complain about not getting the promotion when there are people dying of starvation in India? How can you grouse about your lousy childhood, when you read stories about children who survived the concentration camps after their parents had been sent to the ovens? Within the context of medicine itself with the exception of the relatively small class of suicidal ideators, how can you justify the profession of psychiatry where a good part of the male population bellyache about their problems with erectile dysfunction, when there are people dying of AIDS? The one thing that can be said about problems, even if they don’t involve life or death, is that they’re yours. Placing a problem low on the food chain is as ethically and morally suspect as failing to see it in perspective. Heidegger may have claimed that the lack of awareness of death leads to an inauthentic existence, but what can we correspondingly say about the lack of awareness of life? Death is a part of life as well as a life passage, but it is not all of life and similarly life threatening problems are only a part of life. Treating only those difficulties which are life or death matters is tantamount to turning away from life itself.  However dramatic life and death problems may be, many of the so called lesser problems account for the passage of days, a process which occurs until that one day when you take your last breath. To deny all the smaller problems is to give unfair weight to matters that occupy a relatively short time span. The morality or lack of morality of fixating on a non-life threatening problem is a no brainer. Do the math.

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