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Author Archive: Practical Bioethics

About Practical Bioethics

Dying is hard work.  Preparing to die is hard work. Watching someone you love die is hard work.  It is the hardest work a family does. Want to know another thing that can be hard work in a family?

Communication.

Big Fish struck a chord because I encounter so many families with crushingly difficult personal relationships with one another.  Having a challenging communication struggle with a family member, especially a parent, can sometimes be “managed” to get through family events--holidays, graduations.  In Big Fish, the son simply moved thousands of miles away to avoid the issue.  Absent a crisis, there are many ways to get through the family communication muddle in closer proximity and make it past the bad times.  Known family “work-arounds” are paths well worn.  Happily, eventually, people forget that the graduation party was a disappointment because of one family member’s behavior, or the memory fades of the Christmas that part of the family did not show up even though they were expected, and preparations had been made.

But death in the family is different. It just happens once for each of us.  When that does not “go well” as we say, everyone remembers. The consequences can be dire and permanent, relationships irrevocably destroyed. At the time a loved one is dying, a lifetime of good family communication is worth its weight in gold. The stakes are the highest they can be.

Big Fish is about many things, but family communication or lack thereof is at its heart. It is about the consequences of talking without really communicating and the debilitating frustration that can ensue. The son’s strategy of literally distancing himself by living abroad crumbled with the news of his dad’s cancer being beyond chemo treatments. The achingly beautiful but fantastical stories Dad tells Will and others about his life (mostly absent from the family home) evoked entirely different responses from his wife and daughter-in-law than they did from his son. Will’s struggle with “believing for too long” and then learning that what his dad told him “was impossible” became too much to bear.  Without a lifetime of good communication, Will arrived at his dad’s deathbed with an empty tank. Many of us share Will’s need to set the record straight, to take one last shot at getting his dad to come clean, to tell the truth and to make things right. “I want to know who you really are!”  And dad’s frustrated reply “Who do you want me to be?” Will: “YOURSELF, just yourself!” And dad’s angry reply, “I have been nothing but myself since the day I was born, and if you can’t see that, it’s your failing, not mine.”  Will stalks out.

Later, Doc gets a couple of the best lines as he enters the quiet room to check on the unconscious Edward with Will sitting beside him. “I am glad to see you are not trying to have a heartfelt talk.  One of my greatest annoyances is people trying to talk to people who can’t hear…”

In the next encounter, happily, Will has made some discoveries among his father’s papers corroborating the stories, and his belief window has been re-opened enough to accommodate his new curiosity. His own reconnaissance work has surfaced chunks of truth in the formerly “impossible” tales. Will needed this evidence to allow him finally to embrace his father. While the film is lovely to watch—the use of imagery through water and color and light are eye-popping—the part of this movie for me that makes it unforgettable is when Will finally understands his dad’s need for him to join the telling of the story. Will does so with grace and with the imagination his father longed for him to find.  A father’s final gift. And from the Pearl Jam song at the end as the credits roll: “And the road the old man paved, the broken seams along the way, the rusted signs left just for me, he was guiding me. Love, his own way.”


* Linda Ward is the Vice President of the Center for Practical Bioethics

* Visit the website for a list of upcoming events at the Center for Practical Bioethics. 


- - - - - - -

Bioethics Film Series

From reproduction to end of life, bioethical issues affect all of us. What better and more fun way to think about them than film? 

The Center for Practical Bioethics is thrilled to partner with the Tivoli Cinema in Kansas City to present the Bioethics Film Series featuring three iconic films. 

Following screenings at 7:00 pm, Center staff will lead discussion of each film’s major themes. Tickets may be purchased from the Tivoli in advance or at the door (Adults $9, Students $7)


Big Fish
Thursday, October 11, 2018
7:00pm


Tivoli Cinemas 

4050 Pennsylvania 

Kansas City, MO 64111




Full Article

Dying is hard work.  Preparing to die is hard work. Watching someone you love die is hard work.  It is the hardest work a family does. Want to know another thing that can be hard work in a family?

Communication.

Big Fish struck a chord because I encounter so many families with crushingly difficult personal relationships with one another.  Having a challenging communication struggle with a family member, especially a parent, can sometimes be “managed” to get through family events--holidays, graduations.  In Big Fish, the son simply moved thousands of miles away to avoid the issue.  Absent a crisis, there are many ways to get through the family communication muddle in closer proximity and make it past the bad times.  Known family “work-arounds” are paths well worn.  Happily, eventually, people forget that the graduation party was a disappointment because of one family member’s behavior, or the memory fades of the Christmas that part of the family did not show up even though they were expected, and preparations had been made.

But death in the family is different. It just happens once for each of us.  When that does not “go well” as we say, everyone remembers. The consequences can be dire and permanent, relationships irrevocably destroyed. At the time a loved one is dying, a lifetime of good family communication is worth its weight in gold. The stakes are the highest they can be.

Big Fish is about many things, but family communication or lack thereof is at its heart. It is about the consequences of talking without really communicating and the debilitating frustration that can ensue. The son’s strategy of literally distancing himself by living abroad crumbled with the news of his dad’s cancer being beyond chemo treatments. The achingly beautiful but fantastical stories Dad tells Will and others about his life (mostly absent from the family home) evoked entirely different responses from his wife and daughter-in-law than they did from his son. Will’s struggle with “believing for too long” and then learning that what his dad told him “was impossible” became too much to bear.  Without a lifetime of good communication, Will arrived at his dad’s deathbed with an empty tank. Many of us share Will’s need to set the record straight, to take one last shot at getting his dad to come clean, to tell the truth and to make things right. “I want to know who you really are!”  And dad’s frustrated reply “Who do you want me to be?” Will: “YOURSELF, just yourself!” And dad’s angry reply, “I have been nothing but myself since the day I was born, and if you can’t see that, it’s your failing, not mine.”  Will stalks out.

Later, Doc gets a couple of the best lines as he enters the quiet room to check on the unconscious Edward with Will sitting beside him. “I am glad to see you are not trying to have a heartfelt talk.  One of my greatest annoyances is people trying to talk to people who can’t hear…”

In the next encounter, happily, Will has made some discoveries among his father’s papers corroborating the stories, and his belief window has been re-opened enough to accommodate his new curiosity. His own reconnaissance work has surfaced chunks of truth in the formerly “impossible” tales. Will needed this evidence to allow him finally to embrace his father. While the film is lovely to watch—the use of imagery through water and color and light are eye-popping—the part of this movie for me that makes it unforgettable is when Will finally understands his dad’s need for him to join the telling of the story. Will does so with grace and with the imagination his father longed for him to find.  A father’s final gift. And from the Pearl Jam song at the end as the credits roll: “And the road the old man paved, the broken seams along the way, the rusted signs left just for me, he was guiding me. Love, his own way.”


* Linda Ward is the Vice President of the Center for Practical Bioethics

* Visit the website for a list of upcoming events at the Center for Practical Bioethics. 


- - - - - - -

Bioethics Film Series

From reproduction to end of life, bioethical issues affect all of us. What better and more fun way to think about them than film? 

The Center for Practical Bioethics is thrilled to partner with the Tivoli Cinema in Kansas City to present the Bioethics Film Series featuring three iconic films. 

Following screenings at 7:00 pm, Center staff will lead discussion of each film’s major themes. Tickets may be purchased from the Tivoli in advance or at the door (Adults $9, Students $7)


Big Fish
Thursday, October 11, 2018
7:00pm


Tivoli Cinemas 

4050 Pennsylvania 

Kansas City, MO 64111




Full Article




It’s October and the Center for Practical Bioethics is about to kickoff our fall film series: Science, Medicine &Unintended Consequences. Our first entry in the three-film series is Gattaca (1997), staring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law. Directed by Andrew Niccol, Gattaca is set in a near-future where reproductive eugenics is available to would-be parents. There we find a stratified society, in which opportunity is reserved for those with tailored genes (and presumably parents rich enough to pay for them), even while genetic discrimination is technically illegal.

The movie gives shape to the various anxieties that accompany discussion of genetic engineering in humans. Given the ability to identify appealing genetic traits, what would happen if we designed our offspring? Given the knowledge of how our genes will affect our future health, what would happen if that information were available to potential employers. We see both the effects it could have on our society; regular genetic screening, structural discrimination, but also the effects it could have on individuals; parents alienated from their children, crises of identity and inadequacy.


Overall, the world of Gattaca is depicted as clearly dystopic, but twenty years after the film’s production consumer genetic screening products are finding their way into the markets, and powerful genetic editing technologies are being used on human cells for the first time. I don’t believe that these technologies will necessarily lead us to a dystopian future, but movies like Gattaca remind us that they can cast long shadows. Careful consideration, a robust ethical framework, and broad-based discussion are essential to successfully identifying and avoiding the risks associated with emerging technologies.


On that note, I hope that everyone enjoys our screening of Gattaca and the discussion that will follow!


Matthew Pjecha is a Program Associate at the Center for Practical Bioethics.


Full Article




It’s October and the Center for Practical Bioethics is about to kickoff our fall film series: Science, Medicine &Unintended Consequences. Our first entry in the three-film series is Gattaca (1997), staring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law. Directed by Andrew Niccol, Gattaca is set in a near-future where reproductive eugenics is available to would-be parents. There we find a stratified society, in which opportunity is reserved for those with tailored genes (and presumably parents rich enough to pay for them), even while genetic discrimination is technically illegal.

The movie gives shape to the various anxieties that accompany discussion of genetic engineering in humans. Given the ability to identify appealing genetic traits, what would happen if we designed our offspring? Given the knowledge of how our genes will affect our future health, what would happen if that information were available to potential employers. We see both the effects it could have on our society; regular genetic screening, structural discrimination, but also the effects it could have on individuals; parents alienated from their children, crises of identity and inadequacy.


Overall, the world of Gattaca is depicted as clearly dystopic, but twenty years after the film’s production consumer genetic screening products are finding their way into the markets, and powerful genetic editing technologies are being used on human cells for the first time. I don’t believe that these technologies will necessarily lead us to a dystopian future, but movies like Gattaca remind us that they can cast long shadows. Careful consideration, a robust ethical framework, and broad-based discussion are essential to successfully identifying and avoiding the risks associated with emerging technologies.


On that note, I hope that everyone enjoys our screening of Gattaca and the discussion that will follow!


Matthew Pjecha is a Program Associate at the Center for Practical Bioethics.


Full Article

By Tarris Rosell, PhD, DMin
Fifteen years ago in the aftermath of 9/11, I was invited to respond as an Ethics panelist to a new, self-published book, The Fundamentals of Extremism (Blaker, et al., New Boston Books, Inc., 2003). The authors aimed to expose “the Christian Right” as a danger to democracy. While I sympathized with chief editor Kimberly Blaker’s agenda, the book itself struck me as taking much the same rhetorical tack as the religious fundamentalists that she and her co-authors vociferously critiqued.

My invitation to a book-signing event came with the expectation that I, a progressive clergyman ethicist, would be an enthusiastic proponent who might also help sell a few books. While preparing remarks, I was challenged with the dilemma of not wanting to disappoint a young author with worthy aims, while also engaging in truth-telling as I saw it. Most importantly, I wished not to support or practice the very thing we both condemned: divisive, speculative, paranoid, demonizing fundamentalist—or even anti-fundamentalist—rhetoric. Unfortunately, to my Ethics eyes, The Fundamentals of Extremism was pretty much what it denounced.

So, for my panel presentation, I resorted to writing poetry, or possibly doggerel - an Ethics response in rhyme.

It seemed to me then, and now, that our ideological divisions are ameliorated best by civil discourse laced with mutual respect and a dose of good humor. This is difficult, and especially so when the stakes appear high, as they did back then, and now. Yet, if we who disagree with political or religious extremism engage in the same sort of rhetoric and behaviors as those we oppose, if our own claims are factually challenged anecdotes and innuendo, we only foster more schism and less democracy.

This is the poem I wrote (with minor edits). I think it still works in the partisan era of Trump.

An Anti-Fundamentalist Confession


Tarris Rosell
© 2003, 2018

I’m fundamentally opposed to fundamentalism,
And separate myself from those who foster any schism.
I feel an obligation to expose the boorish Right
And other such extremists whom the rest of us must fight.

I fear their chief ambition is to slay democracy;
Their paranoia leads them to engage conspiracy.
They’d have us all subservient to Fundie* ways of being,
Dichotomize and simplify our thinking and our seeing.

Black and white, or good and bad, on absolutist values
Strikes me as absolutely wrong, as I’m compelled to tell you.
Yet, in my strident anti-fundamentalist critique,
Another thought has struck me, and has left me feeling meek.

One problem with Conservatives in all their stridency
Is one that tempts both Right and Left as human tendency.
While exorcism of their demonizing fits the facts,
Sometimes I look into the mirror and see “Them” looking back.

The rhetoric we choose to use, the labels we assign,
The latitude we grant to those across the picket line,
Our attitude of hubris, or of apt humility—
All these demark the difference between Us and Them
Or We.

* A pejorative slang abbreviation that refers to religious fundamentalists of any religion or denomination.

Dr. Rosell is the Rosemary Flanigan Chair at the Center for Practical Bioethics. He is also Professor of Pastoral Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Clinical Professor, History and Philosophy of Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center, School of Medicine, and Chair of the Department of Bioethics at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.

Full Article

By Tarris Rosell, PhD, DMin
Fifteen years ago in the aftermath of 9/11, I was invited to respond as an Ethics panelist to a new, self-published book, The Fundamentals of Extremism (Blaker, et al., New Boston Books, Inc., 2003). The authors aimed to expose “the Christian Right” as a danger to democracy. While I sympathized with chief editor Kimberly Blaker’s agenda, the book itself struck me as taking much the same rhetorical tack as the religious fundamentalists that she and her co-authors vociferously critiqued.

My invitation to a book-signing event came with the expectation that I, a progressive clergyman ethicist, would be an enthusiastic proponent who might also help sell a few books. While preparing remarks, I was challenged with the dilemma of not wanting to disappoint a young author with worthy aims, while also engaging in truth-telling as I saw it. Most importantly, I wished not to support or practice the very thing we both condemned: divisive, speculative, paranoid, demonizing fundamentalist—or even anti-fundamentalist—rhetoric. Unfortunately, to my Ethics eyes, The Fundamentals of Extremism was pretty much what it denounced.

So, for my panel presentation, I resorted to writing poetry, or possibly doggerel - an Ethics response in rhyme.

It seemed to me then, and now, that our ideological divisions are ameliorated best by civil discourse laced with mutual respect and a dose of good humor. This is difficult, and especially so when the stakes appear high, as they did back then, and now. Yet, if we who disagree with political or religious extremism engage in the same sort of rhetoric and behaviors as those we oppose, if our own claims are factually challenged anecdotes and innuendo, we only foster more schism and less democracy.

This is the poem I wrote (with minor edits). I think it still works in the partisan era of Trump.

An Anti-Fundamentalist Confession


Tarris Rosell
© 2003, 2018

I’m fundamentally opposed to fundamentalism,
And separate myself from those who foster any schism.
I feel an obligation to expose the boorish Right
And other such extremists whom the rest of us must fight.

I fear their chief ambition is to slay democracy;
Their paranoia leads them to engage conspiracy.
They’d have us all subservient to Fundie* ways of being,
Dichotomize and simplify our thinking and our seeing.

Black and white, or good and bad, on absolutist values
Strikes me as absolutely wrong, as I’m compelled to tell you.
Yet, in my strident anti-fundamentalist critique,
Another thought has struck me, and has left me feeling meek.

One problem with Conservatives in all their stridency
Is one that tempts both Right and Left as human tendency.
While exorcism of their demonizing fits the facts,
Sometimes I look into the mirror and see “Them” looking back.

The rhetoric we choose to use, the labels we assign,
The latitude we grant to those across the picket line,
Our attitude of hubris, or of apt humility—
All these demark the difference between Us and Them
Or We.

* A pejorative slang abbreviation that refers to religious fundamentalists of any religion or denomination.

Dr. Rosell is the Rosemary Flanigan Chair at the Center for Practical Bioethics. He is also Professor of Pastoral Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Clinical Professor, History and Philosophy of Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center, School of Medicine, and Chair of the Department of Bioethics at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.

Full Article

Richard Payne, MD
The wisdom of humans tinkering with nature has been challenged throughout the ages based on a common storyline: humans unwisely tamper with nature with disastrous consequences for the creator when we cross a line previously reserved for the deity. Three decades ago, in the early days of gene engineering, scientists raised ethical and moral concerns about “playing God.” They weren’t opposed to interrupting the natural order to cross breed animals and plants or to cure or treat disease. Rather, they warned against exercising the power of science and technology without sufficient regard for its consequences, admonishing not to cross boundaries that manipulated nature in ways traditionally thought only an omniscient and benevolent God could or should do. 

Recently, a new study reported that defective genes in an embryo were edited and repaired through a revolutionary technique known as CRISPR-Cas9. The procedure was used to eliminate hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a devastating heart disease and the most common cause of death in otherwise healthy young athletes. Use of this technology is under intense scrutiny by scientists and ethicists to understand its risks and benefits. Moral, ethical and practical concerns are particularly strong as applied to genetic engineering of sperm and egg cells, because such “germline” editing not only affects the individual embryo, but also future generations.

So, does germline gene editing “cross the line?” There are strong arguments in support of the wise use of CRISPR-Cas9 technologies in medicine. Obvious examples relate to eliminating types of cancer, cardiovascular and neurological diseases by selective editing  genes of embryos with identifiable mutations that cause these disorders. The study reporting correction of the cardiomyopathy mutation specifically targeted the abnormal gene, indicating that the technology is becoming more precise and safer in a remarkably short period of time. This is why the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the FDA have ethics guidelines permitting research on germline editing and engineering. The ethical principles behind these safeguards include the notion that genomic editing technologies will be used by appropriately trained scientists in transparent processes to promote well-being for all humans.

However, there are concerns we should not ignore. Germline editing requires monitoring of future generations of the embryo’s offspring, which raises a host of practical, legal and regulatory issues currently unaddressed. Furthermore, use of gene editing to enhance human characteristics such as physical appearance and cognitive performance is less ethically justifiable and subject to potential abuse. Despite these concerns, many prominent scientists warn that halting research and potential medical applications for fear of unknown risks and unaddressed ethical questions is also risky, and poses problems by not addressing current moral concerns—such as application of these technologies to reduce the number of abortions and loss of embryos.

The late theologian-ethicists Paul Ramsey and Alan Verhey raised the possibility that “playing God” may not always be negative, with one qualification. They wrote that humans should only “play God, the way God plays God.” By that they meant that it is morally appropriate for humans to research and explore the natural world and to wisely use wonders such as CRISPR-Cas9 because God made humans in his image and made us stewards of creation. We humans “can play God the way God plays God,” they argue, if we intend and promote human flourishing through our scientific and medical discoveries and technologies, and if we make these advances available to all humankind by seriously attending to social justice and fairness. This is truly wise counsel and worthy of application as we inevitably push forward on our revolutionary genomic journey. It also may be much more challenging than the science.


Richard Payne, MD, is the John B. Francis Chair at the Center for Practical Bioethics, Kansas City, MO, and the Esther Colliflower Professor of Medicine and Divinity (Emeritus) at Duke University.

Full Article

Richard Payne, MD
The wisdom of humans tinkering with nature has been challenged throughout the ages based on a common storyline: humans unwisely tamper with nature with disastrous consequences for the creator when we cross a line previously reserved for the deity. Three decades ago, in the early days of gene engineering, scientists raised ethical and moral concerns about “playing God.” They weren’t opposed to interrupting the natural order to cross breed animals and plants or to cure or treat disease. Rather, they warned against exercising the power of science and technology without sufficient regard for its consequences, admonishing not to cross boundaries that manipulated nature in ways traditionally thought only an omniscient and benevolent God could or should do. 

Recently, a new study reported that defective genes in an embryo were edited and repaired through a revolutionary technique known as CRISPR-Cas9. The procedure was used to eliminate hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a devastating heart disease and the most common cause of death in otherwise healthy young athletes. Use of this technology is under intense scrutiny by scientists and ethicists to understand its risks and benefits. Moral, ethical and practical concerns are particularly strong as applied to genetic engineering of sperm and egg cells, because such “germline” editing not only affects the individual embryo, but also future generations.

So, does germline gene editing “cross the line?” There are strong arguments in support of the wise use of CRISPR-Cas9 technologies in medicine. Obvious examples relate to eliminating types of cancer, cardiovascular and neurological diseases by selective editing  genes of embryos with identifiable mutations that cause these disorders. The study reporting correction of the cardiomyopathy mutation specifically targeted the abnormal gene, indicating that the technology is becoming more precise and safer in a remarkably short period of time. This is why the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the FDA have ethics guidelines permitting research on germline editing and engineering. The ethical principles behind these safeguards include the notion that genomic editing technologies will be used by appropriately trained scientists in transparent processes to promote well-being for all humans.

However, there are concerns we should not ignore. Germline editing requires monitoring of future generations of the embryo’s offspring, which raises a host of practical, legal and regulatory issues currently unaddressed. Furthermore, use of gene editing to enhance human characteristics such as physical appearance and cognitive performance is less ethically justifiable and subject to potential abuse. Despite these concerns, many prominent scientists warn that halting research and potential medical applications for fear of unknown risks and unaddressed ethical questions is also risky, and poses problems by not addressing current moral concerns—such as application of these technologies to reduce the number of abortions and loss of embryos.

The late theologian-ethicists Paul Ramsey and Alan Verhey raised the possibility that “playing God” may not always be negative, with one qualification. They wrote that humans should only “play God, the way God plays God.” By that they meant that it is morally appropriate for humans to research and explore the natural world and to wisely use wonders such as CRISPR-Cas9 because God made humans in his image and made us stewards of creation. We humans “can play God the way God plays God,” they argue, if we intend and promote human flourishing through our scientific and medical discoveries and technologies, and if we make these advances available to all humankind by seriously attending to social justice and fairness. This is truly wise counsel and worthy of application as we inevitably push forward on our revolutionary genomic journey. It also may be much more challenging than the science.


Richard Payne, MD, is the John B. Francis Chair at the Center for Practical Bioethics, Kansas City, MO, and the Esther Colliflower Professor of Medicine and Divinity (Emeritus) at Duke University.

Full Article

Tarris Rosell, DMin, PhD
In a time of heightened anxiety about gun ownership and gun violence, the theme of this blog may already have some “Second Amendment People” reaching for their Glocks in self-defense. Or those impassioned for increased regulation of gun sales and ownership may be anticipating a welcome shot in the arm of support for that cause, especially in the wake of “Las Vegas”— the newest city whose name now depicts a national tragedy.

While I am unafraid to take on proponents of unfettered gun ownership and, as a life-long gun owner myself, I still remain an ardent proponent of tougher laws restricting access and distribution of firearms, this is not the tack I am taking here. The moral of this message is that we ought to pay attention as an ethically astute means of community care and also gun violence prevention.

To what or whom should attention be paid?

Lessons from Sandy Hook


I attended a community forum on October 9, 2017, organized by the Heartland Coalition Against Gun Violence, a program of Grandparents Against Gun Violence, and with co-sponsors that included the Center for Practical Bioethics. Plenary speaker Nicole Hockley urged us to pay attention to signs of a potential shooter. She claims that most incidents of gun violence are preventable, not so much by reducing the number of weapons (although she is not opposed to such efforts), but by identifying those whose trajectory of emotional-relational distress seems headed towards an act of violence, most often involving self-harm.

As the Public Service Announcement recently released by Hockley’s organization compellingly demonstrates, interventions can happen only if we are paying attention to those lurking in a lonely background. The 2½ minute YouTube video, “Evan,” is a must see and show for teachers, clergy, parents and other community leaders (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8syQeFtBKc).

Ms. Hockley is the mother of Dylan, one of 20 young children killed by 20-year old Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. She and some other bereaved parents have put their mourning to work in a nonprofit called Sandy Hook Promise (www.sandyhookpromise.org). Hockley speaks to groups like the one in Kansas City about prevention by paying attention. She trains listeners to “recognize the signs of chronic social isolation or marginalization or rejection and how to practice inclusivity, which is step one onto a different pathway or not going down one towards self-harm.”

The parents of Sandy Hook victims teach that “Gun violence is preventable when you know the signs. Learn them now.”

Warning Signs and Things You Can Do Today


The warning signs they point to include the following:

  • a strong fascination or obsession with firearms, shooting techniques and mass shootings
  • overreacting or acting out aggressively for seemingly minor reasons
  • real or perceived feelings of being bullied
  • unsupervised, illegal or easy access to firearms and bragging about such access
  • gestures of violence and low commitment or aspirations towards work or school, or a sudden change in academic or work performance

It is natural to feel demoralized after yet another mass shooting such as we saw in Las Vegas, with 59 dead and nearly 500 injured. Yet there is hope. Nicole Hockley encourages all of us to “know that gun violence is preventable, and . . . if you’re frustrated by the lack of progress on this from a legislative perspective, just don’t give up, because there are things you can do today that can protect your own children and your own community if you promise to learn how.” (See http://people.com/crime/a-list-of-warning-signs-to-prevent-school-shootings-released-by-anti-gun-violence-nonprofit-sandy-hook-promise/)

Dr. Rosell is the Rosemary Flanigan Chair at the Center for Practical Bioethics. He is also Professor of Pastoral Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Clinical Professor, History and Philosophy of Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center, School of Medicine, and Chair of the Department of Bioethics at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.

Full Article

Tarris Rosell, DMin, PhD
In a time of heightened anxiety about gun ownership and gun violence, the theme of this blog may already have some “Second Amendment People” reaching for their Glocks in self-defense. Or those impassioned for increased regulation of gun sales and ownership may be anticipating a welcome shot in the arm of support for that cause, especially in the wake of “Las Vegas”— the newest city whose name now depicts a national tragedy.

While I am unafraid to take on proponents of unfettered gun ownership and, as a life-long gun owner myself, I still remain an ardent proponent of tougher laws restricting access and distribution of firearms, this is not the tack I am taking here. The moral of this message is that we ought to pay attention as an ethically astute means of community care and also gun violence prevention.

To what or whom should attention be paid?

Lessons from Sandy Hook


I attended a community forum on October 9, 2017, organized by the Heartland Coalition Against Gun Violence, a program of Grandparents Against Gun Violence, and with co-sponsors that included the Center for Practical Bioethics. Plenary speaker Nicole Hockley urged us to pay attention to signs of a potential shooter. She claims that most incidents of gun violence are preventable, not so much by reducing the number of weapons (although she is not opposed to such efforts), but by identifying those whose trajectory of emotional-relational distress seems headed towards an act of violence, most often involving self-harm.

As the Public Service Announcement recently released by Hockley’s organization compellingly demonstrates, interventions can happen only if we are paying attention to those lurking in a lonely background. The 2½ minute YouTube video, “Evan,” is a must see and show for teachers, clergy, parents and other community leaders (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8syQeFtBKc).

Ms. Hockley is the mother of Dylan, one of 20 young children killed by 20-year old Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. She and some other bereaved parents have put their mourning to work in a nonprofit called Sandy Hook Promise (www.sandyhookpromise.org). Hockley speaks to groups like the one in Kansas City about prevention by paying attention. She trains listeners to “recognize the signs of chronic social isolation or marginalization or rejection and how to practice inclusivity, which is step one onto a different pathway or not going down one towards self-harm.”

The parents of Sandy Hook victims teach that “Gun violence is preventable when you know the signs. Learn them now.”

Warning Signs and Things You Can Do Today


The warning signs they point to include the following:

  • a strong fascination or obsession with firearms, shooting techniques and mass shootings
  • overreacting or acting out aggressively for seemingly minor reasons
  • real or perceived feelings of being bullied
  • unsupervised, illegal or easy access to firearms and bragging about such access
  • gestures of violence and low commitment or aspirations towards work or school, or a sudden change in academic or work performance

It is natural to feel demoralized after yet another mass shooting such as we saw in Las Vegas, with 59 dead and nearly 500 injured. Yet there is hope. Nicole Hockley encourages all of us to “know that gun violence is preventable, and . . . if you’re frustrated by the lack of progress on this from a legislative perspective, just don’t give up, because there are things you can do today that can protect your own children and your own community if you promise to learn how.” (See http://people.com/crime/a-list-of-warning-signs-to-prevent-school-shootings-released-by-anti-gun-violence-nonprofit-sandy-hook-promise/)

Dr. Rosell is the Rosemary Flanigan Chair at the Center for Practical Bioethics. He is also Professor of Pastoral Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Clinical Professor, History and Philosophy of Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center, School of Medicine, and Chair of the Department of Bioethics at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.

Full Article