A Modest Proposal

"There is a primitive society—I don't know which one exactly—whose members were shocked to learn that we embalm our dead, place them in boxes, and then bury them in the ground. Do you know what they do? They eat them. To them, it's ethical and moral and honorable to devour the corpse of your loved one. We're shocked at that, right? It's all a matter of acculturation, time, where you are, and who you are. If I visited this primitive society and I was a real humanist, I'd say, 'Oh, that's interesting.' And if the so-called savage in turn said 'Gee, that's interesting what you do,' then he or she would be a humanist. I used to define maturity as the inability to be shocked. So I guess in some ways we're still immature. But if you're truly mature, and a true humanist, you can never be shocked. If they eat their dead, so be it—that's their culture. But you know what our missionaries did, don't you? That's immoral action." — Dr. Jack Kevorkian, address to the American Humanist Association, 1994

Every day in every way we are, I am told, getting better and better. How do we know? Well, for one thing, there's ready access to culture (like the Lollapalooza Grunge Festival we occasionally celebrate near my beloved Seattle). There are also cleaner, safer abortions (if you don't let fundamentalists cow you into making overdrawn definitions about for whom, precisely, they are safe). And, of course, TV screens are larger than ever. This last item is especially important because it feeds into our increasingly receptive minds the critical information we need to know (such as the scientifically proven fact that every day in every way we're getting better and better—and that we should buy more and larger screen TVs).

In addition, proof of our upwardly mobile sociological evolution can be seen in the fact that we are no longer shackled by superstitious adherence to the taboos of a bygone age. Unlike olden days when, in Thomas Howard's words, human beings "believed they had souls, and that what they did in this life had some bearing on the way in which they would finally experience reality" we now know that nothing means anything, it just is. This, I am assured by my large screen TV, is a staggering ethical leap. To read transcendent significance into a cluster of atoms is pure illusion (I learned this from Carl Sagan on "Cosmos"). Now we know that truth lies not in this meaningless flux of physical events (and all events, I am told, are merely physical events), but in our personal truth of the moment—how we feel, not in what things "are" and not in what they might "mean."

All this has freed us, as I am daily assured by my TV, not only from our craven fear of mere natural forces such as plagues, earthquakes and comets, but from other more odious psychic burdens as well. Consider, for example, the wisdom of former Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elders, who was so freed from this sense of taboo and transcendent meaning that she was able to resolutely abandon her codependent "love affair with the fetus" and (along with many such advanced persons) boldly urge us to embrace exciting new vistas of fetal harvesting. What could be more pragmatic, what more sensible, what more liberated from the dead hand of tradition than this? We are, after all, just talking about tissue here, aren't we? Surely we adults of the 90s don't believe in some spooky "sacredness" that can't be seen or measured? One doesn't reverence or eulogize hair clippings or toenail parings, does one? Well then, why should we go on perversely attaching some mystical significance to other tissues either? Let's put this resource to work for the good of the economy!

This cutting-edge thought also undergirds the work of another moral trailblazer for our ever-improving age: Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Recognizing that human bodies are nothing more than unusually sophisticated collections of recyclable molecules, Dr. Kevorkian advocates not only physician-assisted suicide, but the harvesting of tissues from "Medicide clinic" customers under terminal anesthesia. This, my TV assures me, is a moral advance over the tired Judeo-Christian notion of "compassion" for the suicidal and the depressed. Why not put these worn-out and useless lumps of protein to good use on the basis of a healthy and realistic scientific materialism? Think of the reusable tissue which could be harvested at a greatly reduced price! Why impede the wheels of progress through superstitious adherence to the outworn notion of the sanctity of the body and the frippery that humans are "in God's image"? It didn't stop Planned Parenthood, so why should it stop these courageous pioneers either? Rational moral evolution like this has ever trod down the obscurantism of barbaric mystics like so much grass! Clearly we are witnessing the Wave of the Future and anyone who can anticipate further advances along this line stands to be hailed as a hero, a millionaire and a possible cabinet appointee in very short order.

This being the case, I think it high time we belatedly celebrated yet another moral pioneer. A man who clearly recognized (long before his timid, tradition-bound culture) that the old Christian belief in the body as somehow "sacred" is sheer fantasy. A dreamer who recognized the potential of an untapped natural resource. A visionary (like Drs. Elders and Kevorkian) unafraid to buck the tide of popular opinion and dismiss at once and forever any notion of some mystical transcendent "meaning" to the human body.

I mean, of course, Mr. Jeffrey Dahmer.

In his own unique way, Mr. Dahmer said what Drs. Elders and Kevorkian are saying. That is, the human body is America's renewable resource. It is a cash crop ripe for harvest, a rich source of proteins, vitamins and minerals, and a vast and virgin territory for research and utilitarian development. To be sure, Dahmer was a little rough around the edges in the execution of his vision. (Kevorkian has been criticized in a similar vein. Such is the lot of groundbreakers in a backward and intransigent culture.) But isn't the essence of Dahmer's philosophy identical to the wisdom of Drs. Elders and Kevorkian? After all, if we have accepted their reasoning, we must sooner or later ask: Why be tied to the notion that transplants are the only valid form of tissue transfer from one body to another? Why, but for the dead hand of religion, should we cavil at Mr. Dahmer's visionary effort to explore new ways of orally harvesting this abundant resource?

Shouldn't we then, as a secular society, throw off the yoke of religious mumbo-jumbo and make that resource available to a hungry world? Only unthinking prejudice rooted in mindless slavery to Christian dogma can account for our failure to enthusiastically embrace this chance for moral progress. As an enlightened modern culture we must have the courage to shake off these dead prejudices. As Normal People, we cannot and must not be bound by those determined to impose their religious values on American society. Not when this much progress and potential revenue is at stake. Thus, to the truly progressive I say, if you accept Drs. Elders' and Kevorkian's criteria for and proposed methods of tissue transfer as legitimate, nothing but unthinking religious custom prevents you from accepting the Dahmer Oral Method as well.

Shouldn't we then begin a process of USDA-approved sterilization and preparation at every hospital in America so that every patient is certifiably "healthy" whether they live or die? Shouldn't we set up a system of processing, refrigerated transport and supermarket distribution so that, in the words of Dr. Elders, every fetus remains a wanted fetus? Shouldn't we become the first nation in the world to import this valuable resource from developing nations and so, in the words of Dickens and the Cairo Conference, "help decrease the surplus population"? Imagine the potential for private industry (and, of course, the correlative tax revenue with its potential for further social good)! With a little finesse, many of our finest restaurants could undoubtedly persuade an initially reluctant public to relish this bold addition to the menu. In addition, pet food manufacturers, fertilizer producers, upholsterers, lampshade manufacturers, caterers and a host of other industries stand waiting to benefit. All it really requires is the final abandonment of the unconstitutional religious myth which irrationally insists on imposing the dogma of "spirituality" and "intrinsic value" on tissue. All it requires is the same sort of thinking that Drs. Elders and Kevorkian insist we apply to the human body in the case of fetal harvesting and clinical, harvestable suicide. All we need do is repeat after our TV "It's not sacred. It's just reusable tissue. Harvest it."

Jeffrey Dahmer, a truly mature man who could not be shocked, knew this. Perhaps someday soon, we'll know it too.

Copyright 2001 - Mark P. Shea