A MIGHTY HEART: Bioethics and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The power of the first viewing of A Mighty Heart is a plot which rips Daniel Perlman from his pregnant wife and soon to be born son. This is set amid the chaos of Pakistan, a country simultaneously ancient and at 55 years post colonial rule, younger than wines in a good cellar. The second viewing, through excellent film craft, shows A Mighty Heart tells a very different and peaceful story. It is the story of a multiracial, multicultural, feminist, who loses her husband, yet her spirit refuses to capitulate to the tactics of terror. 

A Mighty Heart is directed by Michael Winterbottom. The screenplay is written by John Orloff. The film is an adaptation of the memoir written by  journalist Mariane Pearl who is played by Angelina Jolie.  Mariane is the widow of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who in 2002, was assassinated in Pakistan. Dan Futterman portrays Daniel Pearl.

Since 1992, over 1000 journalists have been documented to be  killed in the line of their duty, The conviction for these crimes around the world is around ten percent. Those responsible for the killings have enjoyed relative impunity for their actions. It is journalist James Foley, murdered in August 2015 in Syria, along with others, which prompts this second look at A  Mighty Heart. Jim, like Pearl was beheaded by fascists. The word fascist is chosen intentionally, avoiding the various euphemisms often applied to such murderers. 

The visuals of A Mighty Heart, beat a rhythm of an environment wrought with the oppression of masses of people, crammed into tight spaces. Medical researchers working with rats know that if you put too many in a cage, they will turn on one another.  As Marianne Pearl points out, she lost her journalist expatriate husband, but ten Pakistanis were also killed by extremist that same year. The visuals of poverty, the streets of Islamabad and Karachi, juxtaposed with privilege, the homes and servants of journalists, expatriates and wealthier Pakistani citizens, delicately illustrate fascist fundamentalism coming to have such a foothold. It’s an old story. Destitute people cling to ideologies which replace the void left by  their dignity. 

Why is this a bioethical issue? Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation.” The hierarchy says that  the essentials of physiology, safety, and love and belonging are prerequisite to esteem and self actualization. Health and welfare of individuals through the beneficent use of health sciences may be requisite in exercising ones enlightened self interest. However beneficence and autonomy are not sufficient to provide equal distribution of burdens and benefits, that is, justice in extraordinary circumstances of injustice. Building requires blueprints. In 1948, five years after Maslow’s ‘A theory of Human Motivation,’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)  was ratified by the newly minted United Nations.The UDHR operationalized Maslow’s hierarchy in service of building more just societies. Freedom of the press,and more, is addressed in Article 19 of the UDHR:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

In combination with a campaign to stop impunity for those murdering journalists there are calls for the international courts to consider the murder of journalist as crimes against humanity, A Mighty Heart  is worth second look as it struggles to speak truth to article 19 of the declaration of human rights.

A Mighty Heart (35mm) directed by Michael Winterbottom USA Paramount Vantage.
2007(108 min) 

Pearl, Mariane (2003). A Mighty Heart. with Sarah Crichton. New York City: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 978-0-7432-4442-8.

For More Information see: 
The International Federation of Journalists http://www.ifj.org/campaigns/end-impunity/ accessed August 31, 2015

United Nations Press Freedom Day 2015 http://webtv.un.org/search/world-press-freedom-day-side-event/4224398140001?term=world+press+freedom+day  accessed August 31, 2015 accessed

National Writers Union Co-Sponsors Press Freedom Day at the United Nations https://nwu.org/nwu-co-sponsors-world-press-freedom-event-at-the-united-nations/

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ accessed August 31, 2015.


Paul McLean said...

Glad to have discovered your blog, a connection made via Twitter (@medethicsandme). New film may be worth your attention for this blog: "Time Out of Mind," starring Richard Gere. I've not seen it yet, and from the review it's not specifically medical or bioethical story. And yet, the central character represents a growing patient population, variably known as unbefriended or unrepresented or even "incapacitated and alone," and making ethical medical decisions for them is increasingly a challenge.

Review: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/09/movies/review-richard-gere-in-time-out-of-mind-a-life-adrift-on-the-margins.html?ref=arts&_r=1

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