Shift and Puzzle: What do an ape and a donkey have to do with bioethics?

January 31, 2019 • Posted in Blog

Unmasking the Cultural Lies, One at a Time

D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.
Executive Director

In C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, Shift is a shrewd, crafty ape, and his neighbor, Puzzle, is a meek, somewhat simple donkey. It has been a long time since Aslan, the all-powerful lion, has been seen in Narnia. Therefore, when Shift spies an old lion skin, he decides to have Puzzle dress up in it and pretend to be Aslan. Shift constantly insists that Puzzle do all the heavy-lifting involved in any of their escapades, but in such a way that Puzzle thinks he is getting the better end of the deal or protecting Shift from some (imagined) harm.

After Shift has conquered Puzzle, he sets out to conquer all of Narnia, conducting himself as “Aslan’s mouthpiece.” He commands the destruction of the forest of talking trees. He demands the nut-hoard of the squirrels “for Aslan,” although it is he who is eating them. He also insists that He is not an Ape, but a Man. His appearance as an Ape is because he, a Man, is very old. With these and many other lies, Shift works to deceive and conquer Narnians. He revels in power. And it you want to know the rest of the story, you will need to read it for yourself: I do not wish to deprive you of the pleasures inherent in the book.

I retell part of The Last Battle story because it is not only Narnians who can be deceived by lies promulgated by others in powerful roles. In fact, there are any number of lies afoot in our culture. I look at three today . . .

1) Slippery slope arguments about euthanasia represent only scare tactics. Really? Two recent articles show this to be fictional:

A) Quote from Christopher de Bellaigue’s article in The Guardian:

“Steven Pleiter, the director of the Levenseindekliniek . . . said he hoped that in future doctors will feel more confident accommodating demands for ‘the most complex varieties of euthanasia, like psychiatric illnesses and dementia’—not through a change in the law, he added, but through a kind of ‘acceptance … that grows and grows over the years.’ When I asked him if he understood the scruples of those doctors who refuse to perform euthanasia because they entered their profession in order to save lives, he replied: ‘If the situation is unbearable and there is no prospect of improvement, and euthanasia is an option, it would be almost unethical [of a doctor] not to help that person.'”

B) Wesley Smith writes in the National Review:

“Now, the Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation—a respectable transplant medical journal, not a nut fringe Internet blog—has published an article proposing beating–heart harvesting as a form of euthanasia where medicalized homicide is legal.”

2) “Safe, legal, and rare”—goals with respect to abortion.

The glowing pink spire of One World Trade Center declares the news that the State of New York gladly endorses the slaughter of innocents throughout gestation. New York’s Reproductive Health Act establishes a right to abortion until birth, performed by “A HEALTH CARE PRACTITIONER LICENSED, CERTIFIED, OR AUTHORIZED UNDER TITLE EIGHT OF THE EDUCATION LAW, ACTING WITHIN HIS OR HER LAWFUL SCOPE OF PRACTICE . . .”

This, together with the fact that there were more than 93,000 abortions in New York in 2015, makes clear that the real desirable goal of abortion advocates is that abortion be “legal.”

3) Marijuana is safe, so ruled Francis Young, a DEA administrative law judge in 1988: “marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”

A) Alex Berenson, in his book, Tell Your Children: The Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence (New York: Free Press, 2019), is convincing as he evaluates decades of evidence from India to Mexico, and points in-between as well as north and south. Berenson’s article in the Wall Street Journal provides a good introduction to his unsettling thesis. He points out that the marijuana of the 1970s typically contained less than two percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound. That has changed. He writes, “Marijuana sold at legal dispensaries now routinely contains 25% THC. . . .Wax and shatter aren’t even cannabis at all; they are near-pure THC that’s been extracted from the plant.” (Berenson, Tell Your Children, xix).

“Safe” does NOT describe marijuana.

B) JAMA Network Open recently published a small study of 17 persons—all infrequent marijuana users—who served as their own crossover controls, smoking or vaping marijuana over 12 weeks. Vaping led to higher blood levels of THC than did smoking, as well as heightened side effects, like dry mouth and paranoia (as seen in the graphic below).

F. Perry Wilson, MD, MSCE, ended the Medscape article thusly:

“So, what’s the take-home? People who haven’t smoked pot in a long time—be careful. The effects are real. If you’re going to do it, realize that vaping will deliver more drug, don’t operate machinery under any circumstances, and remember that just because a study is small, it doesn’t mean that it should totally harsh your mellow.”

While Berenson sounds the alarm loudly and well regarding marijuana’s dangers, even a soft advocate of marijuana’s “safe” mask admits there is risk.

So, what can one person do? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Read The Chronicles of Narnia, including The Last Battle.
  2. Read Alex Berenson’s Tell Your Children . . .
  3. Read or listen to the news critically. Ask questions:
    1. “Of what is the author trying to convince me?”
    2. “What is missing from this account?”
    3. If it is a study or survey, ask, “Who is funding this?”
  4. Educate yourself about the issues.

The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture can help. We are currently offering a series of “Cultural Conversations” monthly at the Brentwood Library, 8109 Concord Road, Brentwood, TN. We have talked about gene-editing humans and “technology and us” to date. Our next conversation will be held on Thursday, 21 February, 3:30-4:30 PM. Contact us for details!