Wesley J. Smith’s “The Culture of Death”: a second chance to read an invaluable resource

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. My wife and I are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where the 2017 National Right to Life Convention begins tomorrow morning. One of our featured speakers is bioethicist Wesley J. Smith. For those coming to NRL 2017 or who are wavering, here is a review I wrote about ‘The Culture of Death.”

I was absolutely stunned when I read the first few chapters of “The Culture of Death: The Age of ‘Do Harm’ Medicine,” written by the redoubtable and always insightful Wesley J. Smith.

Was it the caliber of his insights? No, I had come to expect superlatives from the author of the “Human Exceptionalism” blog at National Review Online, a daily source of insight into the nihilistic mindset of what can only be described as the priesthood of contemporary bioethics.

Was it his style? Only to the extent that Wesley was even more polished than ever, such as the “oozing of bioethics into every nook and cranny of the West’s institutions.”

I was stunned by something more mundane: the realization that while I had read, “The War on Humans” and “Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and the New Duty to Die,” I had never read the first edition of “The Culture of Death,” now 15 years old! The good news is that Wesley’s revised edition is on my desk where I am devouring a chapter at a time between writing posts for NRL News Today.

The book is so good that I will write an as yet to be determined number of posts, beginning today, on what is, I believe, a must-read [it turned out to be three posts].

Today’s post will be brief, starting with ordering details. You can purchase “The Culture of Death” (as they say) wherever books are sold. If a store doesn’t carry, it can be special ordered. It’s in stock at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online and is available in Kindle, Nook, Applebooks, etc.

For the first edition of the book, Wesley interviewed the great John Keown, the Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Christian Ethics at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics. There is this telling quote which comes early in the revised edition. It speaks volumes about what has become the medical culture of death:

“Traditional common morality, as its name suggests, comprises ethical principles common to civilized cultures. The notion that there are objective principles, which society must respect if they are to qualify as civilized, has been expressed in the West in the Hippocratic Oath, in Judeo-Christian morality, the prohibition against killing the innocent, and in the common law. … [But] much of modern bioethics is clearly subversive of this tradition of common morality. Rather than promoting respect for universal human values and rights, it systematically seeks to subvert them. In modern bioethics, nothing is, in itself, either valuable or inviolable, except utility.”

The culture of death, whose vanguard is the bioethical establishment ensconced in think tanks, law schools, and as editors of elite medical journals, is quite literally subversive–and proud of it. As Wesley explains, they are convinced that the ideas and philosophies that have undergirded the way we look at human beings (especially vulnerable human beings) are not only outmoded, but dangerously so.

Their goal, their raison d’être, is “forging a new ethical consensus in its own self-created image. There’s a word for such a breathtaking agenda: ideology.”

I will return to The Culture of Death repeatedly. Please continue to read these posts and to buy copies of this invaluable resource.