Archive for January, 2011

God as a retard

[Apologies for the non-book or song related title for the blog but it was too good not to use.]

Following on from the last post:

Now for some leaps of logic and thought (at least on my part)

If those with the learning difficulties bear the image of god what does that mean for me to know God as someone with trisomy 21? (incidentally – great photo when you follow the link)

God’s face is the face of the retarded

Suffering Presence P178

I confess God’s face is far more like mine. Mine after some ace photoshopping at least.



Suffering Presence – 5

The retarded suffer not from being retarded but being retarded in such a world as ours.

[I still cringe a bit inside every rime I hear the word retarded. Perhaps I recoil with shame at my childhood use of the word as an insult and my remaining discomfort with those with disabilities.

Hauerwas used the term in the early 80s because it was the preferred term at the time and an improvement on the terms “idiots” and “imbeciles” that were used before it. In the introduction to Suffering Presence he updates the term to “mentally handicapped” as that was what those who were so labelled preferred at the time.

I imagine the current preffered term is “learning difficulties”, at least it seems that way from my experience in the emergency department but I may be wrong.

I suppose the point is that all terms are problematic and are in many ways revealing about our moral opinions.]

Hauerwas suggests that the retarded are a good way of thinking about humanity and suffering as so many of our definitions of health and humanity include such normative standards as autonomy and capacity that those with intellectual disabilities do not fit into.

He goes on to suggest that it is more the world that needs changing rather than the elimination of those with leanring difficulties.

He also points to a problem with our imaginations:

unable to see like the retarded, to hear like the retarded, we attribute them our suffering. We thus rob them of the opportunity to do what each of us must do-learn to bear with our individual sufferings.


Pay for what you get

If you’ve talked to me then you’ll reaise that i’m not a big fan of private health insurance.

It seems like a money-making scam for the middle-classes to feel safe from tabloid-esque medical bungling

[medical-bungling happens, i’m just not sure private insurance stops it]

This Irish Times article covers a few of the issues of ireland’s private health care situation. I’ve been quoted greater than 50% for the number of Irish people with some form of private insurance.

I’ve not worked in the Irish health care system, given some of the stories you hear from people it sounds like it may be non-existent.

Perhaps it is a place were people are dying in droves without life-saving treatments, though I somewhat doubt it. A lot of the stories I hear about people being badly treated involved them not getting treatments that don’t work anyhow, or being denied tests that they didn’t or shouldn’t have had in the first place.

There are of course all kinds of nuances and subtelties in there, and there of course lots of medical cock-ups in there too.

But the interesting point that the article raised for me was what would happen if everyone ditched their private health insurance en masse?

Naturally there’d be a few less boob jobs and a few less parental tonsillectomies (the parents just really want the child to have the tonsillectomy…) and that perhaps be no bad thing.

But then there’d be all the important stuff that really needs done, but just gets done quicker in the private system. Who would pay to pick up the slack? Could the slack even be taken up in the system as it stands?

It seems that if the Irish people all chucked in their private health insurance then the public health system would collapse under the weight.

I find that kind of scary.

Suffering Presence – 4

our reason for living is not that we are sure about the ultimate meaning of life, but rather because our lives have been touched by another and through that touch we believe we encounter the very being that graciously sustains our existence

This makes sense of a lot of things for me. I’ve thought a lot about how to understand and think about death and i’ve always come back to thinking that we can’t have any conversation about it till we know what life is for in the first place.

So that’s easy then. We just figure out the meaning of life and we’re sorted…

I know that I’m not entirely sure what life is for. My own experience reveals that but I can definitely relate to what Hauerwas says.


Not a job

I do a teaching job. It’s not high powered. It’s not gonna advance my career. It’s not the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.

But I really quite like it.

Yet whenever I talk to my peers (mainly the medical ones) I seem to have some kind of out of body experience watching myself try to “talk-up” the job with vague pretensions toward research and academic qualifications. Either that or talk about how the job is good because it allows me to pursue all these other wonderul esoteric avenues of interest.

Now that may all be true but I know I’m only saying it at that moment because I feel some kind of need to justify it. Some need for me to build up an identity somewhat “sexier” (as sexy as dead bodies gets…) than that which it is.

As someone who has made multiple statements about being “anti-careerist” I realise I’m not quite all that.

Please make cheques with your approval of what I do payable to Andrew Neill…

Commuter Love – #12

Trains seem to have become extensions of the office for a lot of people. Especially the intercity to Sligo that I sometimes hitch a ride home on.

It’s one of the fancy new ones with the power points and trip switches so you can plug in your computer but not your hair straighteners.

There’s no plugs on the normal commuter trains. There’s sometimes no heat. Sometimes there’s no train. And there’s barely space to open a book never mind a lap-top.

On the fancy train it’s a different story and people come armed with lap tops with dingles, dangles and dongles hanging out of them.

So people are on their emails or on Skype or using the pinnacle of modern consumer electronics to play fullscreen minesweeper.


It does lead to some awkward moments and invasions of personal space.

People view the space up to the midline of the table as their rightful property. The back part of their lap top has every right to rest on that line. So does the person opposite.

And then comes the tilt in the screen. The tilt that’s needed to make the screen readable. Opposing screens touch. Everyone saw it, we just pretend it didn’t happen. It’s mere sabre ratlling. It’s like the bay of pigs all over again.

And in the unspoken and unwritten laws of train table ownership it’s not quite clear who has the right of tilt. I suppose it’s like those neighbors from hell who let their leylandii grow over your hedge and then you try and trim it back and it turns out you’ve no legal right and all of a sudden you’re putting out rat poison to knock off your neighbours dog and playing zeppelin at 4am to piss him off…

Something like that


Suffering Presence – 3

In Suffering Presence in an essay on rights duties and experimentation on children

rights are neccessary when it is assumed that citizens fundamentally relate to one another as strangers, if not outright enemies. From such a perspective society appears as a collection of individuals who of neccessity must enter into a bargain to insure their survival through providing for the survival of the society

The language of “rights” is fairly prevalent in any ethical discussion today. Rights are fine as far as they go but have completely dwarfed (if not erased) any discussion of duty.

We seem to live as beings of entitlement who are deserving of certain things. The idea that we live as beings who owe certain responsibilities to other beings is something we are far less familiar with in the discussion of ethics.

Yet these actions of duty and obligation seem to come naturally to us (more or less) in the setting of family and friendship.


Suffering Presence – 2

In Suffering Presence Hauerwas quotes Alasdair Mcintyre (a bit like Lewis quoting Macdonald)

any account of morality that does not allow for the fact that my death may be required of me at any moment is an inadequate account

The above quote is understood not to suggest we are moral because we suffer but we suffer because of our moral convictions.


You can do better than me

I have of late developed something of an interest in theological ethics. So I figured reading some relevant material on the principles of philosophy and ethics might be useful.

Perhaps typing “philosophy and ethics” into the Trinity College library was a bit of a simplistic place to start but I figured it was a start.

I found this book – Philosophy and ethics of medicine – by Michael Gelfand.

Being published in the sixties by a guy who lived and worked in the country formerly known as Rhodesia didn’t make me that optimistic.

I was not to be disappointed. Or impressed.

It was kind of weak on the philosophy bit, and the ethics bit wasn’t too hot either, and I really wasn’t sure about a lot of the medicine…

Early in the book he defends “medical epistemology” as being best because it follows the scientific approach with no argument to justify why this might be best  approach. Or even that other approaches exist.

This was one of my particular favourite quotes

what should the doctors attitude towards telling his patient the true nature he is prescribing for him other risks invovled in an operation he has advised? The problem is a complicated one. Firstly the doctor should avoid, if possible frightening the patient or the family lest he refuse the treatment and so endange his life

It’s much better that the medical profession should endanger your life rather than let you endanger it yourself…
Truth telling is good as long as they do what we think they should do.
And the specific drugs he was considering warning the patient about in the above quote were named as emetine (a drug that eventually ended being used to induce vomiting and is now abandoned even for that purpose), arsenic (enough said…) and antimony (which used to be used for treating parasitic diseases but we gave up on it cause it behaved a little too much like arsenic…).

The Politics of Jesus – 4

Yoder ends with talking about how modern social ethic is obsessed with meaning and direction of history and making sure it heads in the “right” direction.

He suggests this in itself makes 3 big assumptions

  1. the relationship of cause and effect is measurable and visible. If we make the right choices it will move the way we want it
  2. assumes we are adequately informed to set the direction
  3. movement toward these goals is itself a moral yardstick.

He highlights church history as a good example of how every time we work this way it seems to go badly wrong.

He concludes with this simple phrase

Vicit agnus noster, rim sequamur

(Our lamb has conquered; him let us follow.)

This highlights something pretty substantial about how I think about the church. Something my wife has hammered home in me (via Stanley) that the church is primarily called to be faithful.

Perhaps that much seems obvious to you. But it seems in stark contrast to how we actually seem to live it out. We live as if our job is to change the world. When perhaps that is not our “job” but the “job” of the one we follow.

If we are faithful no doubt the world will be changed but that is somewhat different.

Suffering Presence – 1

[A few thoughts on reading through this collection of essays]

Hauerwas talks alot about how medicine as a moral act is difficult to sustain in a society as morally confused as the one we exist in.

To illustrate it I found this quote:

we blame physicians for keeping us alive beyond all reason, but fail to note that if they did not we would not know how to distinguish them from murderers.

Those of us who have been involved in talking about end of life issues, either in the church or in the public sphere, will realise how such conversations can go. The multitude of opinions found (and how uncomfortable we are with them and the language we use to talk about them) gives light to the moral confusion we live under.


The Best of 2010

Seems somewhat appropriate given the time of year. At least the time of year that I first started thinking about this, not the the time when I actually wrote the blog.

I started 2010 as I had a few of the past few new years – in work. Hanging out with the slightly inebriated revelers of South Tyrone and Armagh and re-attaching their lips and eyebrows to their faces. Mainly in the appropriate position.

I then ended up in Texas of all places. The wedding we went for was kind of cool. Texas itself was kind of weird and perhaps not a place I find myself rushing back to. You’ll have to do better than that America!

I spent a lot of time maintaing the long-distance international relationship with my good lady friend. This involved a lot of time driving and listening to 6 years of back recordings of Emergency Medical Abstracts and learning more about emergency medicine, primary care and research methodology than I would care to imagine.

I spent some a lot of time on the train too. I tended to spend this time hunched over the laptop and this lovely program making little red notes and highlighting PDF files.

I discovered Lifehacker. Which is a little bit like discovering crack cocaine. Anything that can pump your RSS reader that much in a day can’t be good for you. I kept finding annoyingly useful things like bulldog clips, downgrading an iPhone back to the stone age of 2007 and oodles of free software.

I discovered torrents too.

Angry Birds became a dark and sinister addiction in many of my friends lives.

Our hospital went to a digital radiology system and the switch over went surprisingly smoothly and the whole thing has made getting and looking at x-rays a whole lot easier. We’ll not have anywhere to put you once we know you need to come into hospital but hey…

I got a new job teaching anatomy. Well kind of teaching. My kind of teaching at least. This made me feel slightly less guilty about quitting my “real” job in may and not doing any other work till september.

We stayed a weekend here and it was immense.

I had to say goodbye to living with these guys

I finally played a gig with a band and me singing my songs and it was thoroughly terrifying and enjoyable at the same time.

I had a stag do and so to avoid being tied naked to a lampost and degradetated we went to a small island in the middle of the largest lake in the british isles. I also proved that I have the best friends ever who would follow me on such a trip.

I spent considerable time and effort planning and getting through and enjoying our spectacular spectacular wedding affair.

Our wedding rocked like a hyperactive puppy on steroids strung out on meow-meow who’s been fed too much sugar. You should have been there.

To wind down we went to a series of tiny Scottish islands which combined unemployment, beauty, and ancient history into one.

I read a lot of books. I suppose the highlights inculde:

– East of Eden

– The Hauerwas stuff, which has hopefully ruined my career in medicine as I knew it and left me more deeply in love with the church

– The Mission of God

– Yet more Kurt Vonnegut

Of movies I’d give it to

– Of God’s and men

– The station agent

– Inception

Maybe (as i’ve been writing this for 45 mins now) I should call this the best of the first half of 2010.

Since getting married I seem to have a million more stories to tell, as if the second half the year was so much more filled with activity. Perhaps it is the simple proximity that helps me recall it but i suspect it is the lack of a full time job which gives me the time to do all the stuff.

This is kind of cool and much appreciated and not to be sniffed at. Part-time is the new full-time. Or something like that…

I haven’t talked about any of the shitty bits…

I have managed to attain a detailed knowledge of the course of the hypoglossal nerve and have discovered enough exciting books and ideas to keep me going for ages yet.

I now live in the same town as many of the “blog friends” (slightly above facebook friends on the friendship hierarchy) and have managed to fool most of them into becoming real friends.

I continue to lament the loss (or more accurately the absence) from my life of my previous co-conspirators in the North of this fair land. I continue to struggle with the simple limits of how many relationships one can keep spinning well.

The older I get and the more people I meet, the more frustrated I get at how poorly I manage to love them.

I am surrounded by grace, mercy and love. That is something special.

Now that I’m getting all weepy I suppose I may as well admit that getting married kind of made 2010 for me. Marriage is terrifying. It is impossible to get away from the fact (that John Cusack put so well in High Fidelity) that “I am a fucking asshole”. It is a miracle to be loved in return.

The Politics of Jesus – 3

There’s a great bit when Yoder talks a wee bit about translation of this famous verse. In my mind always remembered as “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation”. Yoder translates it somewhat differently

if anyone is in Christ there is a whole new world



January 2011