I lost one of my dearest friends years ago to liver disease. At the time, he needed a new liver but could not get one because of the lack of organs and the arcane selection system. We’ve recently learned just how unfair that system has been. And we’ve learned that many Doctors have frequently gone to extreme lengths to game the system in favour of their own patients. Their Hippocratic Oath demands they do whatever they need to do to help their patient. But at the same time, they are charged to ‘do no harm’.
In the past, these kinds of conflicts between having to choose between the needs of the one vs. the many were, for most of us thankfully few and far between. And the pyschic damage was pretty obvious. Think “Sophie’s Choice” or combat veterans who had to sacrifice a comrade to win a battle. A lot of people never recover. We’re just not wired to deal with those forms of calculus.
And yet, almost without noticing, we’re living with conflicts of interest more and more. No, these choices aren’t dramatic. They’re subtle. But they’re real. And I’m wondering if they’re not conditioning us to accept ever increasing levels of psychic damage. Sort of like air pollution that fouls the air so slowly you don’t notice it.
Just one example: Look at all the stocks we buy for our retirement, often in companies with policies we find morally suspect. And yet, we feel obligated to choose them because… hey it’s our retirement! Every day, we now confront such choices. Every day, most of us have to choose ‘to do for me and mine’ at the expense of someone else. It’s inescapable in ways small and large.
Jesus tells us, ‘Render unto Caesar’. OK, fine. We can’t turn our back on the world. We have to pay our taxes, do what we must to put bread on the table and not die penniless on the street.
On the other hand, doesn’t it feel like the world creates ever more situations like the above liver specialist? Situations where we have to make lots and lots of choices that we live with—so long as we don’t think about them too much.