Focusing on “Culture”

July 27, 2020 • Posted in Blog

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

The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture exists to promote human dignity in the face of 21st Century bioethics challenges. Our theme for 2020 is Human Flourishing. Living in the surreal time of a pandemic with all the increased complexity of our lives, flourishing can almost seem too high an ideal. Artist Carol Harkness penned the following essay (lightly edited) about the important building blocks of culture—integrally related to flourishing—and that not only for our day.

We are still busy with bioethics as well. Here are a few recent articles you may want to check out:

  1. “Dying Well in an Age of Denial” (link).
  2. What happened in New York with ventilators and nursing homes? (Hint: It started long before this pandemic.) See the timeline here.
  3. Nursing Homes and Rights in New York (read it here).

Now, to Carol’s work . . .

Family Tree

by Carol Harkness, Multimedia Artist

24″ x 24″ Wood and Clay Mosaic

unnamed (10)


unnamed (1)Special Guest Column:

Family Tree

Carol Harkness, Multimedia Artist

When thinking about family structure, I chose a cross section, as in a tree stump, to represent our “Family Tree,” because this metaphor best describes the human timeline. For example, a tree has rings, revealing its history, by which one can tell how old the tree is, and how the years have affected the health of the tree, such as injuries and years of prosperity or of drought. As a tree matures, the wood in the center dies and becomes heartwood. Heartwood is strong and is necessary to hold a tree upright. Likewise, our ancient ancestors have passed, but who they were, and what they did for better or worse, set the building blocks for our culture.

Sapwood, the next layer, contains both living and dead cells, but still functions to move material from the roots to the canopy. As it ages, it collects minerals that strengthen the cells; then the cells begin to die, and become heartwood. Some grandparents and great grandparents are still active, and some have passed on, but those we were fortunate enough to have known, or heard personal stories about, have influenced our lives on a more personal level than those from ages ago.

The cambium is the outer cell-producing layer, located between the inner bark and the wood. It contains living and growing cells producing new phloem on the outside and new xylem on the inside, which form the annual rings. Protecting this layer is of utmost importance as the longevity of the tree is dependent upon its health. Similarly, young families are the childbearing and the culture producing demographic of our time. We must teach them what is true, right and just, in the eyes of the one who created them, and preserve our history so that we all learn from both our successes and failures. Importantly, if the cambium ceases to function properly and kills its own cells, the tree cannot be nourished by the photosynthesis process. As the xylem and phloem die, the cambium falls apart, as does the sapwood eventually rotting the heartwood, the very support system which holds up the tree.

Our current culture is in danger of this demise. Many earlier events have contributed to this, but in 1973, an all out assault on the building blocks of our culture began with the legalization of aborting our young. This cancer of disrespect for life has penetrated the sapwood where our elders are no longer revered. Age is looked upon as a burden to society. Talks of legalizing euthanasia began and some states have legalized that as well. In 2020, the disrespect has accelerated during this pandemic as several “progressive” governors ordered COVID-19 patients to be placed in nursing homes, where the virus would knowingly spread throughout the facility killing many seniors. And now this cancer has reached the heartwood, our history, and the very foundation of what is true and right has been turned upside down. What is good is now evil and what is evil is now good. History cannot be rewritten. One cannot remove the sapwood and the heartwood and expect the cambium to flourish.