Saturday, February 10, 2024

+Consider donating to a primate cause we support+
And visit our sister sites, the ASEBL Journal and Literary Veganism

The Wildlife State of Gaia. Ethical Dilemmas in Public Philosophy.

Animal Dignity, a book edited by Melanie Challenger, reviewed by Gregory F. Tague

Poetry by Vaneshran Arumugam

Letters to My Sheep by Teya Brooks Pribac - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

New Book by Jan Deckers - Health Care Ethics and Law

Defending Animals by Kendra Coulter - Reviewed by Gregory F. Tague

Garrett Mostowski, Lunations: Poems - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor Troutman

Ross Gay, The Book of (More) Delights - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Anne Whitehouse poetry book Steady - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Oppressive Liberation: Sexism in Animal Activism - book review by Gregory F. Tague

"Zelensky's Passion" - Poem by Nina Tassi (video)

Lichens by Vincent Zonca - book review by Gregory F. Tague

Justice for Animals by Martha C. Nussbaum - book review by Gregory F. Tague

Space Races by Anne Whitehouse

A Better Ape by Victor Kumar and Richmond Campbell - book review by Gregory F. Tague

Tribute to Dr. Kathryn Coe

An Evolutionary Case for Veganism

Is there moral justification to eat meat? Read Gregory F. Tague's answer to that question in the Ecological Citizen

Animal Crisis: A New Critical Theory by Alice Crary and Lori Gruen

Carlo Alvaro, a Philosopher of Virtue Ethics, Comments on Cultured Meat

The Creative Lives of Animals by Carol Gigliotti - book review by Gregory F. Tague

Metamorphoses by Emanuele Coccia - book review by Gregory F. Tague

Growing Up In The Ice Age by April Nowell - book review by Gregory F. Tague

A paper, by Gregory F. Tague and Sintia Molina, on the cultural ecology of food in the journal Environmental Sciences Proceedings

Charles Darwin - a biography by J. David Archibald - Reviewed by Gregory F. Tague

Art and Adaptability: Consciousness and Cognitive Culture by Gregory F. Tague

On the Animal Trail - Review by Gregory F. Tague

Arrest Fauci? - Opinion Essay by Ryan Ritchie

Ghosts of America - Novel by Caroline Hagood - Reviewed by Mitch Levenberg

Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris by Chris Herzfeld - Review by Gregory F. Tague

An Ape Ethic - Extended Abstract Essay - in The Montreal Review

Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer - Review by Gregory F. Tague

Speak the Word - Music and Lyrics by Vaneshran Arumugam

Patience is a Virtue - Waiting Poems by Isabel Rimanoczy

Skaidrite Stelzer, Digging a Moose from the Snow – Book Review

Story of Jimmy (video)

Poetry by Vaneshran Arumugam

“Freedom...yet incomplete”
             By Vaneshran Arumugam

I’m just a tiny piece of the planet
that prays with my eyes closed
while i feel every flutter in the darkness where my prayer is uttered
I am alo preyed upon so that 
the whole of my peace is disturbed, my ease is curbed
when you're convinced convincing me that we are two
It is not so true
Every matter only appears outside these eyes
while the real light is inside burning bright
catching glimpses of the primordial dance, the fight
or flight
If I can compose myself again i just might
grow from my mind some runners to root in the dimension that follows...
the what is next.
Maybe then that final peace will come

But magic spells are incanted syllable by syllable
Great stories stitched together piece by piece
Harmonies symphonised beat by beat
until colours bleed from the dark and a kaleidoscope emerges
like a scent on the breeze
opposite to nowhere
and far from disease

Copyright©2024 by Vaneshran Arumugam. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Letters to My Sheep by Teya Brooks Pribac - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Teya Brooks Pribac, Letters to My Sheep. 2023, Blue Books. 136 pages. U.S. $16.99, paperback. 978-0-45374735 

Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Even though the title, Letters to My Sheep, suggests a direct address to these creatures, Teya Brooks Pribac is often writing to her fellow humans. This writer is at pains to speak against the reduction of animal life into a product for food consumption. Indeed, it hurts her heart. Those familiar with veganism will find familiar arguments with which to agree. But the underlying question for Pribac is: How do we change someone’s mind? How do we, living in a culture that commonly considers humankind superior to the animal kingdom, change our worldview? Pribac demonstrates that empathy is the greatest teacher.

Letters to My Sheep gives voice to Pribac’s companions. Their thoughts are recorded in italics and provide humorous commentary sprinkled throughout the book. Pribac is not averse to depicting her sheep as gently poking fun at her and her understanding. For instance, a sheep muses, Humans have this little obsession with mirrors (40). Pribac is aware that such writing has an anthromorphic effect on sheep, making these creatures more humanlike. But in my opinion, these thoughts work because the author is an astute observer. Much of the book is a narration of her time watching the sheep be sheep. And she makes the effort to view sheep on their own terms: “It took me a while to realize that peeing is another sign of happiness in sheep, a bit like a smile in humans” (41).

Letters to My Sheep includes brief descriptions of the relatively new scientific field of ethology, the study of nonhuman animal behavior. Basic theories, such as the brain’s categorization of visual objects, are introduced, including critical analysis (such as how the process of categorization can lead to prejudice), which are then illustrated with the sheep.

I was most interested in the “momentary states of uncertainty” that temporarily resist “closure” or assimilation into known categories. Pribac thinks of such states as a moment of awe and asks, “Can sheep have this kind of experience? I believe so” (99). In a pean of praise for our “delicate and beautifully interconnected world,” she writes, “Every move, every sound, every smell is worth a thousand human words” (51).

If awe is one common response between human and nonhuman animal life, Pribac profoundly demonstrates that so is grief. Her sheep mourn the loss of their canine friend, and the book closes with Pribac’s and her husband’s grief over the loss of a sheep. She includes her husband’s poetry as a means to point to this loss: “When he dies, I will have lost a dear friend, a co-author, an idiot savant, as hungry for life as anyone I have seen go out of it” (127). It’s moving, and yet Pribac recognizes the inevitability of death: “We can’t do much about it. [The cycles of life] steal from us, but they also bring us gifts.” I think readers will find many gifts between the pages of this book.

- Andrew Taylor-Troutman is pastor of Chapel in the Pines in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and the author of seven books, including Tigers, Mice & Strawberries: Poems.

Copyright©2024 by Andrew Taylor-Troutman. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 1, 2024

New Book by Jan Deckers - Health Care Ethics and Law

Deckers, J. Fundamentals of Critical Thinking in Health Care Ethics and Law, Ghent: Owl Press, 2023.

Available from various locations, for example from here.

General information

As cutting-edge technologies continue to reshape the landscape of health care, we are faced with profound ethical and legal dilemmas on our journey towards a brighter future. This book invites you to develop your critical thinking skills in relation to a number of themes in bioethics and law, including our duties to care for each other, for nonhuman animals, and for the nonhuman world. While the book engages with the law as a source of guidance and food for thought, unlike most publications in health care ethics and law, the emphasis is on the development of critical thinking skills in ethics. Each chapter ends with a list of questions that act as prompts in your own critical thinking journey.

The book is printed on climate-neutral paper. Emissions are offset by supporting a clean drinking water scheme in Zoba Maekel, Eritrea. It supports communities in renovating their boreholes so that people have access to clean water.

I provide the table of contents below, as well as a brief summary of each chapter.

Table of contents

Chapter 1: A short introduction to health care ethics and law

Chapter 2: Autonomy and its limits

Chapter 3: Duties of care, confidentiality, candour, and cost minimisation

Chapter 4: The creation and use of human embryos for human reproduction

Chapter 5: When is it acceptable to use non-human animals to promote human health?

Chapter 6: Research ethics

Chapter 7: Ethics in relation to pregnancy termination

Chapter 8: Is genetic engineering justified?

Chapter 9: Human embryo research in embryonic stem cell and cloning debates

Chapter 10: Ethical and legal issues related to the end of life

Concise summary (chapter-by-chapter)

Chapter 1: A short introduction to health care ethics and law

I argue that there is an urgent need to develop critical thinking skills in health care ethics and law, as the health care needs of a large number of organisms are in jeopardy, in spite of the fact that we have the capacities to address many of them. In order to do so, it is good to reflect upon one’s meta-ethical theory to determine what ethics is about. It is also important to reflect on how one’s values shape one’s principles and theories, and what ethical theory might be best to adopt. While much health care ethics theorising focuses on abstract/formal ethical theories that are applied insufficiently to reality, I argue that it is much more important to reflect upon different axiologies (theories of which concrete things/entities should be valued, and what value each has).

I argue for a theory that includes a deontological (duty-based) and a consequentialist element: the duty to promote positive consequences for one’s own health. This is not accompanied by an individualistic axiology. Rather, this theory is compatible with an axiology that ascribes intrinsic value to all entities. A crucial question here is what the intrinsic values of different things are, and how much value one should give to one entity relative to the value of another entity. Our axiologies are influenced by our reflections on what different entities are, which is the subject of ontology (theory of reality).

I outline two dominant ontologies, mechanistic materialism and dualism. I identify problems with both and sketch an alternative ontology, ‘panexperientialism’, that might both inspire and be inspired by a different outlook on what matters.

The practice of health care ethics is not only shaped by ethics, but also by different health care professions and by the law. This is why health care professionals and patients must take heed of relevant professional guidance and law, while avoiding legalistic approaches to health care.

The chapter concludes by providing some practical tools that can be used in ethical reasoning, including the use of logic, analogies, and thought experiments. These tools are applied to different areas of health care ethics in the ensuing chapters.

Questions raised by this chapter:

1. What are the different meta-ethical theories that have been described in this chapter and why might meta-ethical reflection be important?

2. What is your theory of health care ethics?

3. What does it mean to ascribe intrinsic value, which entities should be valued intrinsically, and how would you weigh up different entities’ values?

4. What ontology do you adopt and how might this inform your ethical theory?

5. What is the relevance of professional guidance and law for health care ethics?

6. Do you agree with the view that logic is important in health care ethics? Justify your answer.

7. Could you provide an example of how an analogy or a thought experiment might be helpful in health care ethics?

8. Why might legalism be a problem?

9. What is your view on the (ir)relevance of slippery slope arguments?

10. ‘Plants are sentient beings. Therefore, plants should be valued intrinsically.’ Do you think that this argument is logically valid?

Chapter 2: Autonomy and its limits

I argue that the concept of autonomy is relevant in health care and that health care professionals should reflect critically on what the law demands from them when human patients are unable to consent due to a lack of autonomy. I also argue that the need to balance the values of autonomy and beneficence can present great difficulties when health care professionals consider the health care interests of children, including their interests in safeguarding. The chapter ends with a discussion of the value of liberty and how it may need to be limited for health reasons in some situations.

Questions raised by this chapter:

1. What should health care professionals do in order to make sure that patients consent?

2. What should health care professionals do in situations where patients lack capacity?

3. Why might it be appropriate for health care professionals to consider advance refusals from patients who lack capacity?

4. In what circumstances would you condone restricting someone’s liberty for health reasons?

5. Do you agree with the view that there are some aspects of care that patients should not be allowed to refuse?

6. How should health care professionals decide whether or not to provide health care treatment to a child?

7. What counts as child abuse?

8. What should health care professionals do when they think that continued treatment of an infant is not in the infant’s best interests and when the parents insist on its continuation?

9. Do you agree with the view that a competent child’s views on medical treatment should be allowed to be overridden?

10. How should a health care professional handle a situation where they discover that a child has been subjected to female genital mutilation?

Chapter 3: Duties of care, confidentiality, candour, and cost minimisation

I discuss the duties of care, confidentiality, candour, and cost minimisation. As health care professionals can fail in these duties intentionally or through being reckless, careful attention must be paid to how these duties can be fulfilled and to how some of these might need to be balanced with other moral considerations.

Questions raised by this chapter:

1. How can health care professionals ensure that they act in accordance with their duties of care?

2. What should be demonstrated to determine whether a health care professional has breached their duty of care?

3. What should health care professionals do to safeguard patients’ right to confidentiality?

4. In what situations might it be appropriate for health care professionals to divulge confidential patient information to third parties?

5. What should a health care professional do if the police ask for information about a patient to investigate a potential offence that took place on a road?

6. How can health care professionals ensure that they act in accordance with their duty of candour?

7. When might it be appropriate to mislead patients?

8. What might be the benefits and disadvantages of using the notion of QALY in decisions about how to allocate funding for different treatments?

9. How would you decide between offering a lung transplant to a 75-year-old person who recently stopped smoking and a 25-year-old person who has never smoked when both are clinically equally suitable for transplantation?

10. Which criteria would you use to discriminate between patients who may need intensive care due to infection with a coronavirus when not all patients can receive treatment on the intensive care unit?

Chapter 4: The creation and use of human embryos for human reproduction

I provide an overview of the views adopted in the Warnock Report and in UK law on the use of embryos for reproductive purposes. I show that the arguments underpinning this framework do not provide a firm foundation for legislation. I recognise that, while it is one thing to undermine a range of arguments that have been used to deny high moral status to the young embryo, it is another matter to make a convincing case for why the young embryo should be granted such status. It is important to recognise that people who debate human embryo research often portray the young embryo as if he or she were an abstract, alien entity, the product of those who experiment with substances in test tubes in laboratories. The moral position that young embryos lack high status might be favoured by this mode of representation. At the same time, however, some modern technologies, for example, ultrasound sonography, allow us to represent embryos and foetuses in more concrete ways than has been possible until recently. This might perhaps make it more likely for some to be able to empathise with them, and prompt them to assign a higher status to them than they might have done otherwise. My view is that we should grant equal moral significance to all human beings. I am uncomfortable with the idea that we should value some human beings more than others. I also argue that health care professionals and patients should consider a number of other issues related to fertility treatments, including the use of PGD, sex selection, the creation of ‘saviour siblings’, mitochondrial donation, and issues related to whom should be able to access (information about) such treatments.

Questions raised by this chapter:

1. What are the main issues associated with the creation and use of human embryos for human reproduction?

2. What is the UK legal framework on embryo research, what are its ethical underpinnings, and how has it influenced other jurisdictions?

3. What is the position on embryo research developed by the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology?

4. How has the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology influenced different laws on embryo research?

5. What is the argument from sentience? Is it valid?

6. What is the argument from individuality? Is it valid?

7. What is the argument from twinning? Is it valid?

8. What are the key issues associated with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis?

9. When, if ever, should pre-implantation genetic diagnosis be acceptable to diagnose disability?

10. When, if ever, should pre-implantation genetic diagnosis be acceptable to diagnose the sex of an embryo?

11. When, if ever, should pre-implantation genetic diagnosis be acceptable to diagnose whether an embryo is a suitable tissue match?

12. When, if ever, should mitochondrial donation be allowed?

13. What should be the conditions for someone to be allowed to receive fertility treatment?

14. What should be the conditions for someone to be allowed to donate gametes?

15. When, if ever, should those who are conceived with donated gametes have access to genetic information about their donors, and what information should they be allowed to access?

Chapter 5: When is it acceptable to use non-human animals to promote human health?

In this chapter I grapple with the question of when it might be acceptable to use non-human animals to promote human health. I start with the observation that people use non-human animals in various ways to promote human health, and explore two common ways in which they are used: their use in research and their use for human nutrition.

With regard to the research usage, I sketch some laws that legislate the use of non-human animals, highlighting in particular that widespread support for the principle of necessity and the 3Rs questions many projects that use non-human animals, given that such animals are poor models for human beings. In addition, I engage with the question whether non-human animals should be used to model human health and illness, even if they might be good models, where I argue that an account of the moral standing of different non-human animals must be based on evolutionism. In this light, it would be particularly problematic to use non-human animals for research that does not benefit them where the animals are closely related to us.

With regard to the human use of non-human animals for food, I argue that, if the underlying reasoning is applied consistently across different domains, EU legislation on the use of non-human animals for research would lend significant support for significant change in laws on the use of non-human animals for food, resulting in a drastic curtailment in the human consumption of animal products. I sketch the moral arguments underpinning qualified moral veganism, which is defended against some challenges. The chapter also considers the ethical issues related to radically novel ways in which animal products could be produced, including the development of lab-grown meat.

Questions raised by this chapter:

1. What might be the reasons behind the fact that most books on health care ethics and law do not consider the use of non-human animals to promote human health? Why do you (dis)agree with them?

2. What moral theory do you advocate in relation to the human use of non-human animals?

3. What are the key issues to consider when human beings use non-human animals for research?

4. What is the relevant law on the use of non-human animals for research, and what legal change do you advocate, if any?

5. What do the positions of Singer, Regan, and Midgley entail for the use of non-human animals for research?

6. What would the EU law on the use of non-human animals for research imply for the human use of non-human animals for food, if the law in relation to the latter was made consistent with the law in relation to the former?

7. What moral reasons might someone adopt in support of carnism and in support of qualified veganism?

8. What arguments could be used to support or undermine the use of non-human animals for human nutrition?

9. How would you evaluate the morality of technologies that aim to produce lab-grown meat?

10. What useful functions, if any, might be fulfilled by committees that evaluate particular projects to use non-human animals? Justify your answer.

Chapter 6: Research ethics

In this chapter I engage with generic issues that apply to research projects, as well as with more specific issues that pertain to research that is carried out in clinical health care contexts. I identify the benefits and disadvantages of different types of clinical studies and discuss whether clinical trials should only take place when there is clinical equipoise. A failure to conduct RCTs in particular may be unethical and may result in a stagnation of ideas, a misplaced trust in unsystematised clinical experience, little development in available treatments, and a waste of resources. I also discuss the relevance of complementary therapies, question the use of alternative treatments, set out why research ethics committees play a valuable role in health care research, and how those who sit on such committees might go about evaluating research projects.

Questions raised by this chapter:

1. Why is consent important in relation to research?

2. Do you think research should ever be allowed without consent from participants? Justify your answer.

3. What do you think about the view that any research should be allowed, as long as participants consent?

4. What are the key ethical features of the relevant laws in relation to health care research?

5. Why should many RCTs never take place? Justify your answer.

6. What safeguards should there be to make sure that RCTs do not expose participants to disproportionate risks?

7. Should people ever be incentivised to participate in research studies?

8. What do you explain to potential participants when you want to recruit them to your study?

9. Should children be allowed to participate in research? Justify your answer.

10. What is your view about the opinion that health care trials should only be allowed if there is clinical equipoise?

Chapter 7: Ethics in relation to pregnancy termination

I propose how abortion legislation in the United Kingdom should be modified if it was informed by the view that all unborn human beings should be granted a right to life that should be allowed to be trumped in a limited number of situations. I argue that the current distinctions in the legal provisions for ‘able’ and ‘disabled’ foetuses as well as for ‘implanted’ and ‘unimplanted’ embryos cannot be maintained, and that greater protection of all human life must be enshrined into law. I also argue that there should only be a limited right to conscientious objection to participate in the provision of abortion services. There should be no right to object conscientiously to providing abortion services when there is a great risk that a pregnant woman’s life might be lost should the pregnancy be continued, and no right to refuse pregnancy counselling and referral of those who satisfy any of the revised legal grounds.

I recognise that, whether abortion law is altered in line with this proposal both depends and should depend on whether a valid democratic process is instigated towards legal reform. It is my hope that, if abortion legislation were amended in accordance with this proposal, health care professionals would provide those services that women should be entitled to, give serious consideration to facilitating or providing abortions that should be allowed, and reject those that should be prohibited.

Questions raised by this chapter:

1. What are the salient points of the law on abortion in the different jurisdictions of the United Kingdom?

2. What should a health care professional consider when a patient requests an abortion?

3. Why might abortion pose a moral problem for health care professionals?

4. What do you think should be the legal boundaries regarding the right to conscientious objection related to abortion?

5. Should abortion be allowed without any restrictions? Justify your answer.

6. What shape should the law on abortion have? Justify your answer.

7. What is your position on the legality of using medicines that might be abortifacient?

8. If one adopts human egalitarianism, would it imply that abortion should never be allowed? Justify your answer.

9. Do you think men should have any say in relation to whether or not an abortion should be allowed? Justify your answer.

10. Should everyone who wants it have free access to IVF treatments? Justify your answer.

Chapter 8: Is genetic engineering justified?

In this chapter I discuss ethical issues related to genetic engineering. While there is no doubt that genetics has advanced our understanding about health and illness a great deal, technologies that use the science of genetics can both promote as well as undermine health. Physical health can be improved and undermined, both directly and indirectly, through genetic engineering. The same applies to mental health. With regard to the mental health impacts of genetic engineering, a significant concern that has received relatively little attention in the literature is the concern that we ought to avoid creating unnatural things, and that genetic engineering is unnatural.

Although nothing is unnatural in the sense that everything is part of nature, I argue that the widely used distinction between the natural and the unnatural is nevertheless not meaningless. A semantic distinction between the natural and the unnatural can be drawn whereby the latter pertains to that which is affected by human culture and the former to everything else. More importantly, I argue that the fact that human culture pervades many natural events does not eliminate the distinction, but that it is appropriate to situate the natural and the unnatural at opposite ends of a spectrum. Where an entity is situated along this spectrum depends on the likelihood with which its specific essence might have come about counterfactually, which in this case means naturally. I distinguish between three gradations of unnaturalness, in spite of this continuity.

This distinction between the natural and the unnatural has moral relevance. While we must adopt a prima facie duty to safeguard the integrity of nature, the integrity of nature should not be protected at all costs. Doing so would stifle all human activity. In order to flourish, Homo faber must alter nature. However, an action that alters a natural entity’s teleology more significantly is, ceteris paribus, more problematic compared to another action.

This discussion is highly relevant to evaluate genetic engineering. As genetic engineering projects normally involve type 1 instances of the unnatural, they are morally suspect. In spite of this, the example of Huntington’s disease shows that this does not imply that genetic engineering is necessarily wrong. However, if a type 2 or type 3 intervention existed that could enhance the quality of life of the person in question equally effectively, we ought to prefer it.

Questions raised by this chapter:

1. Why might the question of what is natural be relevant for a discussion of genetic engineering?

2. Do you agree with the view that there are gradations of artificiality? Justify your answer.

3. How might differences in degrees of naturalness be morally relevant?

4. How might genetic engineering be used to benefit human health?

5. How might genetic engineering undermine human health?

6. Do you approve of the creation of Herman the bull?

7. Would you approve of using genetic engineering on a human embryo to correct the gene that predisposes for Huntington’s disease, if such were possible?

8. What do you think of the view that there is nothing new in genetic engineering as nature has engineered itself for a very long time?

9. What do you think of genetic engineering projects that aim at making some non-human animals better models to study human disease?

10. Would you eat genetically engineered plants or animals? Justify your answer.

Chapter 9: Human embryo research in embryonic stem cell and cloning debates

In this chapter, I provide an overview of the views that have been expressed by advisory bodies and members of Westminster Parliament in support of legal developments to allow research on young human embryos in the United Kingdom. While UK law has inspired similar legal reform in many other countries, this chapter shows that the arguments underpinning this framework do not provide a sound basis for the current legal position. My view on the status of the young human embryo is at odds with the views underpinning this framework. Rather than denying the embryo high moral status, I adopt the view that we should consider all human beings to be equal, rather than make the question of what value should be assigned to a human being dependent on how many properties, capacities, or experiences a human being might possess.

Questions raised by this chapter:

1. How would you sum up the moral reasoning underpinning the Human Fertilisation (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001, and what do you make of the arguments that were developed to support these?

2. What are the two arguments from potentiality in relation to the status of the young human embryo and do you think that these arguments are sound?

3. What is the argument from capacities in relation to the status of the young human embryo and why do you (dis)agree with this argument?

4. What is the argument from probability in relation to the status of the young human embryo and why do you (dis)agree with this argument?

5. What is the argument from mourning in relation to the status of the young human embryo and why do you (dis)agree with this argument?

6. What is the argument from ensoulment in relation to the status of the young human embryo and why do you (dis)agree with this argument?

7. What policy would you like to adopt in relation to human embryo research? Justify your answer.

8. Would you favour altering the law on human embryo research so that human embryos can be used for research when they are older than 14 days? Justify your answer.

9. What is the relevance of the scientific advances that have been developed on the basis of human embryo research for the ethics of embryo research?

10. Do you agree with laws that allow the creation of human admixed or hybrid embryos? Justify your answer.

Chapter 10: Ethical and legal issues related to the end of life

In this chapter I consider when treatment might be futile, whether it may ever be appropriate to withhold or to withdraw treatment from a patient, whether pain relief that might hasten one’s death should be taken or provided, whether physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia should be legal options, and how health care professionals might cater for the spiritual needs of patients. These issues are difficult and emotionally challenging. In a culture where ageism is challenged and where speaking about death and the dying process might be more widely accepted, there is a good chance that people may feel better able to cope with the prospect of dying and with making decisions that promote well-being when it is hard to do so.

Questions raised by this chapter:

1. How might health care professionals go about determining whether or not a treatment is futile?

2. How might a health care professional justify withdrawing treatment from a patient?

3. Do you agree with the withdrawal of treatments for patients who are in a persistent vegetative state? How might you try to justify your answer?

4. Do you think that there are aspects of care that should never be withheld or withdrawn from patient, and if so, which aspects? How would you justify this?

5. What do you think of the view that English law on assisting suicide discriminates against disabled people?

6. Do you think assisting suicide should be allowed? Justify your answer.

7. Do you think euthanasia should be allowed? Justify your answer.

8. If assisting suicide were allowed, what do you think should be the conditions?

9. If euthanasia were allowed, what do you think should be the conditions?

10. Do you think there may be situations where those who aid in the suicide of a patient should (not) be prosecuted?

11. How might the doctrine of double effect be applied to the provision of pain relief to a dying patient?

12. Do you agree with the view that withdrawing artificial hydration and nutrition from a terminally ill patient should always be accompanied by terminal sedation?

13. What should health care professionals do when the parents of competent children demand life-saving treatment that the child refuses?

14. What do you think of the view that good palliative care is always preferable to treating the patient in order to end their life?

15. How might health care professionals optimally look after the spiritual needs of patients who adopt Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, or Buddhism?

Copyright©2023 by Jan Deckers. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Lunations by Garrett Mostowski - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Lunations: Poems, Garrett Mostowski. Wipf and Stock; 71 pages, 2023.

Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Wendell Berry asked that his readers speak his Sabbath poems to the trees. I wonder if Garrett Mostowski envisions Lunations read out loud to the moon, his muse. Whenever and wherever this collection is read, I recommend an atmosphere for quiet concentration.

Mostowski is a poet’s poet. He gives attention to the craft of a poem, employing literary devices like alliteration, internal rhyme and diction (choice of words). He cites a number of classical and modern poets, meaning he is well-versed and generous with naming his influences. That is refreshing.

Many poems are in free-verse form and use creative line breaks, spacing and structure. There are also prose poems, including two separate series envisioned as a captain’s journal and comments “overheard onboard.” He writes a haibun and several haikus. To give an idea of the range of topics, my favorite poem is a moving reflection about the relationship between father and son in the context of riding bikes.

Lunations, however, is aptly named. Many poems ruminate on that silent orb in the night sky. The moon’s many phases serve as a metaphor for the unpredictability, struggle and occasional delight of life. Poems about the moon are grounded in Mostowski’s earthly life, especially his intimate relationships. Though this is his first poetry collection, Mostowski avoids the rookie mistake of trying to say too much at once.

Like the moon’s surface, many of these poems are concealed with intentional ambiguity. Readers will have to work to interpret meaning. While a parish pastor, Mostowski rarely references Christianity. Like the shadow of the moon, he leaves readers to imagine the contours of their own faith.

The mark of this book is that such a reader’s effort is rewarded. Mostowski invites us to live into the paradox: we are moved in our daily lives by higher forces, if only we stop and look up. Slow down and notice. In “captain’s journal: final transmission,” Mostowski writes, “Here’s why I’m slow: … It is because I am away, / but still here with you, / just observing / everything / in my / time/ with space.”

Copyright©2023 by Andrew Taylor-Troutman. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Ross Gay, The Book of (More) Delights - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Ross Gay, The Book of (More) Delights, 2023. Chapel Hill, NC, Algonquin Books. 304 pages. $28 U.S. hardback. 978-1-953232-83-8.

Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

The other day, I saw a birch tree and immediately thought of its bark as “curling like pages of old books.” Reading Ross Gay will put his words in your head.

The Book of (More) Delights is the sequel to the author’s best-seller. He practiced the habit of writing about one thing that delighted him each day for an entire year. He calls them essayettes. They read to me like a hybrid between a journal entry and prose poem.

At one of his readings, I heard Gay claim that he is a “simile guy” and his latest book of prose bears this playful poetic touch. For instance, sweet potatoes are nestled under the ground “like a fluffle of bunnies.” This is delightful. Also, his description of a friend’s laugh as “like a gravelly hot air balloon … sometimes like a tire popping.”

When Gay happens upon a squirrel face first in a front porch Halloween pumpkin — “that plump butt, those long-footed rear legs, and that tail, buoyant, flamboyant” — he memorably describes the creature as devouring a seed “like me eating a little pizza.” Delight!

When reading these essayettes, I often found myself humming the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts.” A gift to be simple, a gift to be free. In Gay’s words, “There are so many simple pleasures, simple delights, and maybe the goal, the practice, is to be delighted especially by them, the simplest of things.”

But despite what a reader might think, Gay protests that he is not “some kind of sage of delight.” He also reflects upon “un-delights” such as the Macy’s Day Parade as “a miserable advertisement for global corporate dominion.” He compiles a litany of un-delights: “being the descendent of people who were treated as property; having been driven from your land; having had your neighborhood razed for a highway or industrial park; having had the top of the mountain where you live blown off; having been disbelieved, or brutalized, in a medical setting …” Gay goes on.

The paradox about this book of delights is that Gay returns again and again to the topic of death. Anyone who has ever visited someone in Hospice will deeply resonate with the chapter “At the Door.” When Gay’s grandmother dies, he eulogizes her, in part, by delighting at the recollection of the unique way that she said his name. His writing brought tears to my eyes. Might that, too, be a delight?

Just as another of his essay collections, Inciting Joy, made clear that joy is not the absence of sorrow, reading Gay helps me realize that simple delight is found among complex realities, including struggles. He refers to a “completely unspeakable difficult time” when “the awful … was really rattling around in my mind like a maraca.” (Note another delightful simile!) Gay then describes a simple spoon, but it occasions this reflection on a profound friendship: “no small balm … to have a friend pointing out, too, what is not only un-awful, but truly beautiful, the truly beautiful human-made, the human made beautiful…”

The short chapters of this book can be read quickly. I tried to slow down and savor the words, which I suspect is also a way to look for delight in my life. This book has taught me that curiosity is a close cousin to delight. And reminds me of the deep, abiding delight to contribute to the delight of others: “It is … some delight when a kind who has a hard time becomes a kid who’s having a good time in no small part thanks to you throwing that kid in the air again and again.”

Copyright©2023 by Andrew Taylor-Troutman. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Anne Whitehouse poetry book Steady - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Anne Whitehouse, Steady. 2023. Loveland, OH. Dos Madres Press. 206 pages. $22 U.S. paperback. 978-1-953232-83-8

Though the title poem in Anne Whitehouse’s collection is offered near the end of the book. I couldn’t help but turn to it first. “Steady” is an elegant, if simple poem of three stanzas with four lines in each. Lovely, I thought, then returned to the beginning of the book.
Whitehouse’s book has four sections, each titled for the first poem: “Morning Swim,” “Signs,” “An Art Story,” and “Blue.” Readers begin this journey with “Morning Swim,” a short poem that dives deeply into paradox: “What seems like silence / Is full of sound.” Other poems in this section often deal with water and death, perhaps another paradox (if one thinks of water as the necessity of life). The last line of “Morning Swim” references “endless waters,” which are suggestive of mystery and transcendence, that are simultaneously (paradoxically) “cold, healing, and bitter.”

Such complexity is further explored in the second section. This opening poem, “Signs,” suggests the COVID-19 pandemic (“The enemy is the invisible virus”) and other poems have temporal markers as well, suggesting the poet wants to ground us in the particular. In addition, I observe titles make direct reference to literary giants, Auden and Dante, and one epigraph cites Psalm 23. Though famous people and texts suggest grandiose topics, many of these poems center on quotidian subjects (a necktie, a book case) and everyday people. The idea seems to be that such ordinary people and things point (or signify) greater truths and realities: “a celebration of imaginary / over the mundane.”

The third section of Steady is longer than the previous two sections combined. These poems alternate between first- and third-person narratives of the lives of Ruth Asawa, Leonora Carrington, Lee Miller, Iris Origo, Imogen Cunningham, and Frida Kahlo, whose picture is the book’s cover. Whitehouse writes a kind of historical poetry, obviously well-versed with the lives of her subjects. Yet in another “celebration of the imaginary,” she blends the artists’ own quotes with her own imaginative leaps about how they might have thought and felt.

I was struck that the lives of the artists highlighted in the third section of this book are anything but “steady”—they have health crises, accidents, infidelities, pain, and triumphs. I went back to the title poem, “Steady,” and its profundity became clear: “Another form of steadiness / is simply not to fall … change happens to us all.”

If the third section shows this kind of steadiness in the lives of famous people, then the fourth section reads as if Whitehouse has applied and played with lessons of perseverance and paradox in her own life. This short, final section is filled with simple delights, which remind me of poet Ross Gay. From Gay, I learned the insight that the prefix de- can entail an absence—“de-light” could mean the removal of light. This apophatic approach characterizes much of the poetry of this section. My absolute favorite, “Bridge Over the Nosterkill,” describes glimpsing a beloved person “out of the corner of my eye,” but instead of interrupting this person’s singing, “I listen without seeming to.”

After reading and re-reading the entirety of this elegant collection, I deeply appreciate the delight and power of Whitehouse’s poetry. Steady is rarely preachy or didactic. Profound, paradoxical truth about the “change (that) happens to us all” is communicated through subtle observation—the sidelong look and overhearing of “Bridge Over the Nosterkill” may be likened to the “slant truth” that Dickinson described.

The final poem, “Late Summer, Block Island,” includes a blessing that comes from the “beloved haunts of my essential solitude.” Whitehouse is clear-eyed about the difficulties of life, including suffering and grief, yet finds a reverence and awe worthy of sharing.

- Andrew Taylor-Troutman is pastor of Chapel in the Pines in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and the author of seven books, including Tigers, Mice & Strawberries: Poems.

Copyright©2023 by Andrew Taylor-Troutman. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Space Races by Anne Whitehouse


Every American in my baby boomer generation knows about Cape Canaveral. The early years of manned flights into space coincided with my first years of elementary school. Each rocket launch was eagerly anticipated. On the morning of the launch, our normal classroom routine was interrupted. We sat at our desks, while a portable black-and-white television was wheeled into our classroom on a cart, and its cord was connected to an outlet. First came static, and the teacher fiddled with the rabbit ears antennae, until the picture was resolved just in time for us to see the blast-off. Swiftly, the rocket ascended, trailing enormous plumes of fire and smoke. In a second, it had disappeared.

All this preparation for what passed in an instant. Then it was time for us to return to our scheduled lessons. Yet, during the day, my mind would drift to thoughts of the astronauts hurled into outer space and circling the earth. I was a physically fearful child, and the thought of being shot in a rocket at enormous speed past the earth into the unknown filled me with dread. At the same time, I felt excited and intensely curious. What would it feel like to be weightless? How would you sleep? Eat and drink? Pee and poop? What would it be like to look back at our earth, as if it were another planet?

Children of my generation lived vicariously through the astronauts. They represented better versions of ourselves—in superior shape and health, with agile minds to match their agile bodies. They received the best training our country could provide. They were universally admired. For children living in Florida, like my cousin who grew up in Daytona, the connection was closer. As an elementary school child, she also watched rocket launches on television, “and then we’d all run outside just in time to see the rocket over our heads.”

This January, I felt the same thrill watching the simultaneous launch of two SpaceX rockets outside our rented condo on Cocoa Beach, near Cape Canaveral. Rocket launches remain one of the area’s most popular attractions, and an hour before the launches, Jetty Park was packed, as well as the roads leading into it and lining the causeway. We were lucky we could just step outside our condo for the show. What was unusual about the launch we saw was that it was a double launch, the purpose of which, one of the locals told me, was “top-secret military.” This is how the SpaceX website described it: “On Sunday January 15 at 5:56 pm ET, the Falcon Heavy launched the USSF-67 mission to a geosynchronous Earth orbit from Launch /complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the second launch landing of these Falcon Heavy side boosters which previously supported USSF-44.”[1]

We looked north up the beach, beyond the low structures of the Cocoa Beach pier, and beyond it, we spotted the flares of two bursting fires climbing higher and higher in the twilit sky, leaving behind billowing trails of smoke. It was a beautiful sight. The flares burned bright yellow, tinged with iridescent green, and the clouds of smoke unfurled in huge spirals as they dissipated into the atmosphere. When I looked up, I could see the boosters uncoupling. Most astonishing was the rockets’ return, ten minutes later, after they’d discharged their mysterious payloads, right back to the launch pad. How did they land so precisely, from such terrific speeds? The show was brief, from launch to return less than half an hour accompanied by sonic booms, and it filled us with awe.

A few days later, we visited the Kennedy Space Center, where the rocket launch occurred. The United States space industry complex began operations on Merritt Island in 1950, when the government established a missile testing range on the land it owned surrounding the Cape Canaveral lighthouse. In 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began to launch satellites at the site. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced plans to place a man on the moon before the end of the decade. To achieve this goal, the federal government acquired 140,000 acres of land north and west of the Cape on Merritt Island in 1963, where support facilities for the launch complex were established. That year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered into an Interagency Agreement with NASA to manage all lands within the Kennedy Space Center that are not currently being used for NASA KSC operations. These lands, known today as the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and wildlife.

The Visitor Complex of the Kennedy Space Center is privately operated by Delaware North Companies and welcomes visitors from all over the world with a variety of exhibits about the space program accompanied by blaring, piped-in music. The Heroes and Legends exhibits are designed to appeal to emotion. Their message, cited by a number of astronauts in video interviews, is that “nothing is impossible.” They present a hagiography of the astronauts, interspersed with videos of children expressing their own aspirations. The space program is portrayed as a quest for greater knowledge, mastery, and expansion—in short, as an idealistic venture.

That was the same message being conveyed in my childhood. But back then there was another message as well. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union threatened to break out into real war. The advent of the space race elevated the struggle between the two superpowers representing opposing ideologies and economies. The threat of war was sublimated into a higher, non-lethal quest: which of the two countries would succeed in achieving manned space flights and landing a man on the moon? In 1959, the Soviet Union’s Luna 2 on a robotic mission became the first human-made object to reach the moon. Ten years later, the United States’ Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed on the moon, and Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon’s surface. The United States won that competition, and twenty years later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

At the Kennedy Space Center, the struggle concerning the United States and the Soviet Union is underplayed in favor of a message of cooperation between nations symbolized by the establishment of the International Space Station in 2000, a shared program between Europe, the United States, Russia, Canada, and Japan. The exhibits lead the visitors through a Rocket Garden of actual rockets that were built for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs and never deployed, along with two replicas. I was struck by the rockets’ smallness. Models of the first two-men and three-men capsules reveal that there was not much more space than in an airplane economy seat. Space travel, particularly in those early flights, was a claustrophobic experience. Astronauts got their first views of the universe’s vastness cooped up in very small spaces.

In a video interview, Alan Shepard, who became the first American to orbit the earth in 1961, recollected his sense of awe at his first glimpse of the earth from space. This astonishing sight inspired him to wonder why human beings on this small planet keep on attacking one another. Astronauts that followed Shepard have echoed his thoughts. Yet these lofty sentiments, so often repeated, have not led to any lasting changes in human behavior nor altered our impulses towards destruction.

From its beginnings, the space program was not primarily an idealistic quest for greater knowledge. It originated with the military, and military purposes and defense applications have remained paramount throughout its history. Nevertheless, this history, which is crucial to understanding the space program in its entirety, goes mostly unmentioned at the Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex. For every Hubble or James Webb telescope bearing glimpses of interplanetary and interstellar worlds, there are other devices beaming back at us, used by nations to spy on each other. There would be no space program without its military necessity and justification.

On the bus ride from the Main Visitor Complex to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, visitors pass the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). This building is visible from miles away, looming over the marshes, wetlands, mangroves, and inlets of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The VAB, its attendant facilities, and the launch pads along the shore are the functioning heart of the Kennedy Space Center, and they are off limits to the public. Launch Pad 39A, where the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rockets blasted off, has a storied history. From here in July 1969, Apollo 11 sent its three-man crew to the moon, realizing President Kennedy’s goal expressed in his Rice University speech in 1962 of landing a man on the moon within the decade.

Yet it seemed it might not happen, at least not within President Kennedy’s time frame. The space program’s defining disaster of that decade was the training session fire that broke out in the Apollo 1 command module in January 1967, one month before its anticipated launch at the Kennedy Space Center. The three astronauts were trapped inside and quickly asphyxiated. The ignition source of the fire was determined to be electrical, and the fire spread rapidly due to combustible nylon material and the high-pressure pure oxygen cabin atmosphere. Rescue was prevented by the plug door hatch, which could not be opened against the internal pressure of the cabin. The astronauts had previously complained about the lack of safety standards, the shoddiness of the capsule’s construction, especially the wiring, and the possibility of fire. That this preventable tragedy occurred on the ground seemed especially terrible. Manned space flights were suspended for twenty months, while NASA identified and corrected hazards.

If Apollo 1 was the nadir, Apollo 11, just two-and-a-half years later, was the zenith. Yet it was a near failure. The margin of error came down to 17 seconds of fuel. The quick-wittedness and considerable skills of all three astronauts—Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong—as well as the essential role played by NASA’s Mission Control on the ground in Houston led to the space program’s most resounding success. That story is briefly told in a video presentation at the Kennedy Space Center. For those seeking a more in-depth exploration, I recommend Dr. Kevin Fong’s podcast, Thirteen Minutes to the Moon. It expanded my knowledge of the program and its young scientists and engineers, whose average age was 27. The moon landing was one of those rare unifying moments that brought people around the world together. In those years after the moon landing, the astronauts spoke of visiting country after country and hearing people exult, “We did it!” Not “you Americans did it,” but “we, the human race, we did it.”

Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the moon; the last, Apollo 17, in 1972. In all, twelve astronauts walked on the moon. Only Apollo 13 was a failure whose success consisted in narrowly avoiding a catastrophic loss of human life. Its planned moon landing was prevented by an oxygen tank explosion, crippling the command space module. The crew barely returned to Earth safely by using the lunar module as a lifeboat on the return journey.

The Apollo missions collected 842 pounds of lunar rock and soil, which were found to be far older than rocks on earth, ranging from 3.2 to 4.6 billion years, leading to the hypothesis that the moon was created from the impact of the earth with another planetary body. The space program’s next step was to reduce waste by building a reusable space shuttle with recoverable rocket boosters. After nearly ten years in development, the space shuttle Columbia, known as STS-1 (for Space Transportation System), was launched in April 1981. Manned by a crew of two astronauts, the Columbia took off like a rocket and landed like an airplane. It spent 54.5 hours in flight on its maiden voyage, orbiting the earth 36 times. Approximately 31,000 protective silicon tiles were installed to protect it from the heat of re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The space shuttle changed the way we go into space.

In its 30-year existence, the space shuttle program operated 135 space missions. All but two flights returned safely. On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing its crew of seven astronauts. Seventeen years later, on February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke up on its return to earth after 17 days in space, killing all seven astronauts on board. As with Apollo 1, these two disasters prompted NASA’s intense soul-searching and detailed investigations of what went wrong. Photo evidence revealed that a fault in one of the Challenger’s solid booster rockets led to its fatal failure. With the Columbia, damaged heat resistant tiles failed to protect the shuttle upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. NASA made many changes in equipment and protocols to improve the safety of its operations. Today all of the launches at the Space Center are closely tracked and photographed, and the resulting footage is carefully studied by teams of engineers and experts seeking to discover any problematic evidence.

Daniel Tani, an engineer and retired NASA astronaut, believes that most astronauts are thinking of their predecessors when they go into space. “If you are a mountain climber scaling Mt. Everest, you will be aware of the places where previous climbers met with accidents. The two hardest feats in all of rocket science are starting and stopping. Going into full throttle up, I thought of that moment when we lost the Challenger, and on re-entry, when we hit Mach 19, I thought of the moment when we lost the Columbia. Maybe every astronaut thinks of these moments and feels an intense relief to get past them,”[2] he confessed in Dr. Kevin Fong’s excellent documentary, The Final Launch of the Space Shuttle Program, about the last flight of STS-135, the space shuttle Atlantis in 2011.

Today visitors to the Kennedy Space Center can see the actual Atlantis rotated 43.21 degrees with payload doors open and Canadarm extended, as if just undocked from the International Space Station. For a successful mission, millions of things must go right. Dr. Fong’s film is a surprisingly emotional document. He was granted close access to the astronauts and ground crew during their preparations and simulations. He was at the launch pad when the Atlantis blasted off for the last time, and he was on the tarmac filming the landing. Atlantis’s pilots trained rigorously in an especially adapted Gulfstream 2 business jet adapted to have the same flying qualities as the space shuttle. Each pilot had to complete 1,000 practice missions before operating the shuttle. The flight deck of the training aircraft was modified so that it was identical to the Atlantis.

The space shuttle was designed to travel at hypersonic speeds in the upper atmosphere. Its short wings meant that when it came down, it sank like a stone, descending at an angle seven times greater than a commercial jet, with the engines in reverse working to push the plane backwards, and the landing gear deployed at 30,000 feet. Chris Ferguson, who completed 1,400 practice runs before he piloted the Atlantis on its final flight, told Fong, “The first time I went up in a training session, and the pilot showed me the tiny strip of runway under my left arm, I said, ‘There’s no way we can land on that.’ He said, ‘I’m going to show you.’ And he did. You come downhill really fast, but it works.”

Fong accompanied Ferguson and his co-astronaut Doug Hurley on a practice run where they rapidly ascended 28,000 feet and even more rapidly descended, roaring, with the engines blasting in reverse. Just short of the runway, not ten feet from the ground, the plane, which seemed in free fall, pulled up, leveled off and began to ascend. It was an astonishing feat, like the dive of a falcon. Fong filmed himself in the plane with Ferguson, as they went down and then up again and down.

We’re falling 28,000 feet per minute [commented Fong]. I’m looking straight down at the ground. I feel the dead weight and the powerlessness of the   shuttle. It feels like we’re falling out of the sky. We’ve come down 16,000 feet by the time we are lined up with the runway, dropping out of the sky like a stone. A few feet from the ground, we pull up and soar back into the sky. Up we go again, and back down. It’s an incredible ride, the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my life – 28,000 to zero, 28,000 to zero, up and back for ten times in an hour and a half. 

When Ferguson landed the Atlantis on her final flight, he came down as lightly as a feather.

On the launch pad before the final take-off, Fong observed, “It’s peaceful up there, and you’re 200 feet in the air off the coast. There’s some sunshine, the breeze in your hair, and then you see you’re standing next to a hydrogen bomb. And if you’re the astronaut, you’re about to get into that machine and leave the earth at 17,000 miles per hour.”

Former astronaut and NASA engineer Daniel Tani recalled, “On launch morning, I got out of the Astrovan, and I stood here and thought how incredible it is that humans could put something so complicated together. Steam was coming from it. It was like a beast awakening, and I had an awareness that this machine, now sleeping in its protective metal cocoon, was going to come alive very soon.” After he was an astronaut, Tani worked in Mission Control. During the space shuttle program, he was asked if the flights ever came to seem routine. He replied, “Putting human beings in that explosion that is going underneath them to get them into orbit is amazing and not even close to being routine. We conduct training scenarios where things go wrong, so we can learn from them. We have very difficult simulations.”

Terry White designed the shuttle’s thermal protection system in the aftermath of the Columbia disaster: “Upon re-entry into earth’s atmosphere, the shuttle must be able to withstand temperatures of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit in order for the orbiter, its payload, and the astronauts to get home safely. The polystyrene tiles on the Columbia had a coating like an eggshell. The ones on the later shuttles are so strong that you can hit them against a brick without damaging them. It takes up to two weeks to install one tile. It took two years to install the Atlantis’s 24,000 tiles.”

Each launch is photographed, and the footage is closely inspected by teams of specialists in order to ascertain if there is any damage that needs to be repaired in space. Kenny Allen was NASA’s lead instrumentation specialist in the space shuttle program. “I am in this enclosed area with the best instrumentation in the world,” he told Kevin Fong. At blast off, the sound waves come through walls and go right through my chest, while I’m tracking the duration of the flight with my joystick. Then I go to the computers and look at what we’ve done. The imagery is stunning. We look frame by frame in the minutest of detail. Photographic evidence is crucial. When foam hit the wing of the Columbia, it was seen. We’re here to say if the spacecraft is safe.”

In The Final Launch of the Space Shuttle Program, Kevin Fong noted that it took five hours to move the Atlantis with its rocker boosters and tank three miles from the Vehicle Assembly Building to historic Launch Pad 39a. Of the rituals associated with take-off, one of the most cherished came about from the discovery that a 1960s-era rotary wall phone on the bridge of the launch pad still worked, and astronauts are invited to make a last phone call to their loved ones before climbing into the shuttle. Another is the order for a sandwich to be stored under their seats before takeoff and eaten after launch. The most popular choice is peanut butter and jelly.

“One of the drawbacks of the space shuttle program was its complexity,” said Charles Bolden, the NASA Administrator who regretfully oversaw the end of the program in 2011. The government sought private partnerships to develop a future space shuttle program that would be technologically superior and simpler in design. Today NASA’s most active partnership is with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, founded in 2002.

Nine years after Atlantis’s final flight, NASA and SpaceX successfully completed its first joint space shuttle mission on the Dragon spacecraft on May 30, 2020, with a crew of two astronauts.
 A second mission followed on October 5, 2022, manned by an international crew of four, comprised of NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina. NASA’s video, Expedition 68--NASA's SpaceX Crew 5 Flight Day 1 Highlights gives viewers extraordinary views of outside and inside the spacecraft as it completes its maneuvers, including docking the Endurance spacecraft to the International Space Station in preparation for the long-duration science mission. In the decade since Atlantis, space suits have evolved into sleek efficient machines that connect directly to the shuttle’s seats with an “umbilical cord,” controlling pressure, cooling, air flow, and communications. The control panel of the spacecraft is now operated by touch screens although there are still auxiliary knobs and buttons as a backup. The ambitious plans of NASA SpaceX include ventures to the moon and Mars in the next few years.

An auxiliary benefit of the space program are the inventions developed for space that have been adapted into everyday use on earth. The list includes satellite navigation, scratch-resistant lenses, cordless dust-buster vacuums, ear thermometers, shoe insoles, invisible braces for teeth, memory foam, fire retardant and heat-resistant clothing used for firefighters, space blankets, shock absorbers for buildings, improved solar cells and water filtration, semiconductor electronics, and others. Even the first computer with silicon integrated circuits was developed for the space program in the 1960s.

The Kennedy Space Center is surrounded by the vast marshlands and undeveloped beaches of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. A thirty-five-mile-long barrier island, Merritt Island, between the Banana and Indian Rivers, is on the Atlantic Flyway, a major bird migration corridor. On the day we drove the wildlife trail, we saw over a hundred species of birds, including thousands of American Coots, the resplendent Purple Gallinule, and the shy Sora. The partnership between the Wildlife Refuge and the Kennedy Space Center, is unlikely, but it works. The Wildlife Refuge is a refuge for the Space Center, too, and the Space Center is engaged in efforts to ensure that its practices do not harm the wildlife.

Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who is also a former astronaut and a Marine Major General, expressed his view that the importance of the space program lies not only in its science and engineering advances. “It changed the way we see the universe,” he observed. “On a clear night, I can look up at the sky and watch the International Space Station fly over.”

Judy Hooper, the Manager of Crew Quarters where the astronauts are quarantined before launch, traces her career back to STS-1, the first space shuttle flight of the Columbia. “I came on board in 1979,” she recalled. “It was the most exciting thing that you could ever imagine. Everybody you ran into—every engineer, every tech, every astronaut—it didn’t matter where they worked, they would have done it for free. That’s how cool it was.” Her worst moment was the Challenger disaster in 1986. “I was up on the LCC watching it. The families were there. And I remember looking up and—somehow you know. You don't know the minute you realize it because I think you kind of go into shock. It was so sad. They were such a great crew.”

That twinned sense of excitement and danger persists in the space program today. There is perhaps no riskier job than being an astronaut, other than serving in the military in wartime. Astronauts accept the risks they are assuming, but it is harder for their spouses. Yet they consider the human costs worth the benefits. What of the social and economic costs? Is the space program an expression of human indulgence and escapism, or vital, necessary, and important exploration and discovery?

I went to the Kennedy Space Center knowing I would not be able to answer these questions. My visit gave me an opportunity to explore the origins and history of the space program, reflect on its past and current development, and learn more about the efforts of so many dedicated, skilled, intelligent, and fearless people that have resulted in its amazing accomplishments.

Copyright©2023 by Anne Whitehouse. All Rights Reserved.

[1] USSF is the acronym for United States Space Force.
[2] Quoted in The Final Launch of the Space Shuttle Program, documentary film written and produced by Dr. Kevin Fong with the BBC, 2011.