A cynic would say, “Don’t go into hospital. It’s not safe. Consider how many people die there.” But even the hardened cynic would be shocked at the hospital that insists on a patient dying rather than releasing him to be treated at a different hospital. Even a cynic would be a little put off by a hospital that would not even diagnose a patient but conclude that death would be in his best interests.
What would G.K. Chesterton have thought about the tragic death of Alfie Evans at the end of April? What would he have thought about a hospital systematically preventing parents from taking their own child to another hospital to try to save his life? What would he have thought the government in his own native England stepping in and siding with the hospital against the parents? Of the highest law courts in the land rejecting the appeals of the parents in what the judges actually called “the best interests” of Little Alfie, which was no more than a death sentence?
The answer is, Chesterton saw it coming.
He predicted that with the rise of bureaucratic health care, “health” would be given preference over life. He warned that the mere pursuit of health would lead to something unhealthy. He warned that official science would become more official and less scientific. He predicted that we would be subject to a tyranny of health care officials who answer to no one. He also saw the precedence of judicial murder. And he foresaw the current intolerance of faith in general and Catholic faith in particular.
As Catholics, we are still celebrating Easter, as well we should, but that means that Good Friday is still close enough to consider and re-consider. G.K. Chesterton suggests that we should try to consider it as
a cultivated Roman would have considered it.” It was dramatic, yes, that cruel form of public death, but the more awful fact is that it was not dramatic. “It passed easily and automatically as do all legal proceedings; or rather as do all legal proceedings in a state of social decay.
It was a system, he says, that worked smoothly. Too smoothly.
Criminals were captured and executed with more and more ease and swiftness: until suddenly people found out that no point was really being omitted except the point of whether they were criminals. First bad men, then less bad men, then doubtful men, then many good men, then eccentric and heroic men passed quite mechanically to a mechanical death. At last a God went with them and passed unnoticed in the crowd.
Now in our day we are watching the innocent being executed by a system that works too smoothly, a system so mechanical, so efficient, it cannot be stopped. The worst of all its symptoms, says Chesterton, is “this indifferent and automatic view” of death. He says that the portrait of Pontius Pilate in the Gospels is “almost mystically exact as a portrait of the English judge or magistrate; the tired good-nature, the sceptical interest in truth if it could be found…the enormous relief in getting rid of responsibility.” The judges would rather be left out of it. Now, “we have a complete conspiracy of official police.”
Official control means the loss of parental control. It’s gone from the classroom to the hospital room. The “official police” means we are not ruled not be natural law, but by unnatural law, a law which has lost touch with liberty, with morality, with common sense. When we hear of an inhuman action being carried out by a state official with the excuse that “the law requires it,” that, says Chesterton, “is the last word of decadence. A machine requires it; a machine that is no longer really worked by human hands.”
Be careful which buttons you press. It might be your buttons that are getting pressed. Beware the automatic. Beware the loss of control. “By the consciences of all men this death is condemned; but by the unconsciousness of all men it will be successfully brought about.”
It is amazing how Chesterton knew at the beginning of the last century that we had entered an age that would treat death with “unconsciousness.” He says that when the final justice is meted out the end of the world, he would not be surprised to see the inquisitors and the torturers go into the Kingdom of Heaven before us.
For they at least hated or dreaded the thing they slew; if they did hellish things it was in a hellish atmosphere; their hearts were as hot as their fires. But we shall come before God covered with idle blood, loaded with the lost lives that we took in an idiotic abstraction…we must break out of this trance of automatic evil, or perhaps remain in it for ever.
Note that phrase: “this trance of automatic evil.” We are part of a machine that murders without conscience. If we remain in it, it is we who are dead.