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bioethics

This tag is associated with 17 posts

“We the Underpeople” – Cordwainer Smith and Humanity in the Future

wtu-smith

Cordwainer Smith (actual name: Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) was an expert in psychological warfare, a scholar of Eastern Asia, an Anglican, and a science fiction author, among other things. He wrote a number of short stories and one novel all set in the same universe–our own. These stories go from the past into the far future and put forward a vision of the future that is at once hopeful and bleak. Here, I’d like to discuss a few themes in the works of his I’ve read, collected in a volume called We the Underpeople by Baen. There will be some minor Spoilers in what follows.

Free Will and Determinism

A prominent theme found throughout Smith’s work is the discussion of free will and determinism. The “Rediscovery of Man” is a time period in which members of the Instrumentality decide that they need to change the world such that people aren’t always happy any more. You see, they made it so that accidents wouldn’t happen (or if they did, prompt healing was available), people wouldn’t say bad things, and the like. If someone did get unhappy, they were brain wiped and reconditioned. Everyone’s happy, see?

Yet the members of the Instrumentality argued and finally allowed for some unhappiness to be allowed back into people’s lives: the Rediscovery of Man.

Smith here notes that human freedom is something that is at the core of our being. Without it, “happiness” falls away into determinism. We may be “happy,” but it is a happiness that is not truly experienced or real. The feelings might be there, but the reality is not. The human capacity for wrongdoing and suffering is there, but it must be in order to have the capacity for truly experiencing and enjoying happiness and delight.

A challenge might arise here: what of heaven? I think this is a tough question, and one that I admit I have no answer I feel firmly about. It’s possible that the choices we make are, over time, enough to solidify us into a sinless existence (a position of Greg Boyd). Perhaps instead, the renewal of our minds that takes place in the New Creation helps us to avoid doing those things that we would not like to do but find ourselves doing in our fallen state.

Humanity and Inhumanity

Humans in Smith’s world have created “underpeople”–animals that have been bred to serve humans in various capacities. Yet these animals are self-aware and brutally oppressed. They experience free will and life, but are trampled by human wants and desires. They are not “people.”

The poignancy of this theme hits close to home when we consider those people who are often set aside in our own world. Things like the Rwandan Genocide are allowed to happen by those we have put in power because there aren’t resources there deemed worth protecting; people are allowed to starve to death because we don’t want to give “handouts,” and the like. How might we as Christians work to correct the wrongs in our own world done to those we have deemed “underpeople”?

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a major theme in Smith’s novel, Norstrilia. The main character, Rod McBan, is attacked by a bitter man, the Honorable Secretary, who is upset that he cannot also have his life extended for a very long time. At a pivotal scene in the book, McBan forgives the Honorable Secretary for the attacks. However, he also forgives himself, for he had–even in thought–mocked the man and his inability to get the same treatment as everybody else to extend his life. McBan realized that his own behavior towards the Honorable Secretary had, in part, lead to the man’s wrongs.

It is a stunning change in the tenor of the plot thread, for the reader had been prone to sympathizing with the main character and forgiving his own “innocent” jabs at the man who tried to kill him. Yet here, Smith elegantly points towards the need for mutual reconciliation and the need to confess one’s own sins. It is masterfully done and speaks very highly of the power of forgiveness.

Conclusion

Cordwainer Smith masterfully wove his Anglican worldview into his science fiction, but he did so very subtly. I haven’t even touched on some of the other messages conveyed in his body of work, such as the allegorical story of Joan of Arc. There is much to contemplate in the works, including human freedom and the need to forgive. I highly recommend his science fiction to my readers.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Check out my other posts on popular books, including several other science fiction works. (Scroll down for more.)

Cordwainer Smith– Another blogger writes on the themes found throughout Cordwainer Smith’s science fiction.

 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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“Zeroboxer” by Fonda Lee- Bioethics in the Future, oh, and boxing

zeroboxerFonda Lee’s Zeroboxer is a science fiction work about the sport of zero-gravity boxing. See my review for more details on the work. Here, I’ll be highlighting aspects of the book that deal with bioethics, and offering some philosophical and theological comments on them.

The basics of the book are that Carr “The Raptor” Luka has been rising in the ranks as a great zeroboxer (one who boxes in zero-gravity). As his star rises, so does his fame, and possibly his infamy. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Genetic Therapy vs. Enhancement

The first question is simple: What is the difference between genetic therapy or genetic enhancement? I wrote about this distinction elsewhere:

Gene therapy is the use of genetic research and information to cure illness. Speaking very hypothetically, suppose that we were able to discover the exact genetic code for illnesses like sickle cell anemia, isolate it, and replace it with a non-anemic code before a person was even born; that would be gene therapy. Genetic enhancement takes this a step further. It allows for modifying people genetically to enhance certain features such as physical strength, endurance, mental aptitude, and the like. It would, in a sense, create “super humans.”

In the world of Zeroboxer, genetic therapy is standard, and enhancement is regulated, but normalized.

The main character, Luka Carr, unbeknownst to himself, has “illegal” levels of enhancement. His mother allowed a criminal to modify him and make him some kind of superhuman. But it is hard to see why he should be faulted for it–after all, as he says, he’s still himself. It isn’t his fault that others made such choices around his life.

Enhancement is more common on Mars than on Earth. The latter, so-called “Terrans,” stage protests on Mars and about Martians as they seek to go against their “freakish” ways of enhancing. It’s not hard to imagine just this would happen. Who are we to play God, after all? But that kind of argument leads to questions about what it means to play God. Is it playing God to prevent illnesses through modern medicine? How far a step is it from surgery to correct vision to enhancing vision genetically? These questions defy easy answers.

Poverty and Enhancement/Therapy

Lee also raised the issue of poverty and the enormous inequalities that could be created by furthering genetic enhancement. Luka remarks on the state of a friend, Enzo, who’s just shown up wearing glasses:

“Why don’t you get your eyes fixed, then?”
[Luka] guessed the answer before Enzo lowered his face in embarassment. “My mom doesn’t have the money right now. She said maybe in a few months…”
A surge of anger brought heat to Carr[ Luka]’s scalp. It was bad enough that the kid had an asthmatic wheeze and carried around an inhaler. Now he was half-blind too? What next, a peg leg? Didn’t Enzo’s mother care that her son walked around with genetic poverty written all over him? (117)

The phrase “genetic poverty” is forward-thinking and possibly prophetic on the part of Lee. What happens if and when genetic therapy and enhancement become norms? It seems to me that therapy is potentially very valuable and a great good. But what kind of greater inequalities would come to be from it? We must try to anticipate these and work to prevent further inequalities. As Christians, we need to care for the impoverished, and that includes what might be considered “genetic poverty.”

Supposing diseases begin to be cured on a broader scale through genetic therapy, it seems that Christians ought to support these changes with every effort. After all, curing illness and helping those in need is what we are called to do. But what does this mean for enhancement?

That question is much more complex. Enhancement, it seems to me, would necessarily increase the inequity between the haves and have-nots. After all, those who have the money to get super-sight or super-strength or predispositions to being great musicians could simply cash in to do so. Those who don’t, cannot. But does this mean it is wrong? It’s a very difficult question, and one that I don’t have a firm answer on. I lean towards saying that such things are permissible, but regulation seems a wise choice given we have little idea what impact modifying genes might have on the broader person. Again, I’ve written more on these questions here. What are your thoughts on answers to these questions?

Conclusion

Zeroboxer is an unexpectedly thoughtful book. Though it has some flaws, it is a worthy read. Just be aware of the violent and explicit content. See my review for more details on that. Exploring these issues related to genetics is very important. I see this as a field that will be expanding rapidly over the next decades. Christians need to engage with it and think about it ahead of time.

Links

Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?– I delve into deeper questions about genetic enhancement vs. therapy. I also provide some further reading on the topic.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Response to “Problem in the Pro-Life Camp”- Abortion, victims, and moral culpability

prolife-dcA recent comment by Donald Trump caused something of a stir. What a surprise. This time, it was about abortion, and he said that there has to be “some kind of punishment” for the woman who chooses an abortion, should abortion be made illegal. The internet exploded, as people of both pro-choice and pro-life persuasions came out to discuss the topic, largely coming out against Trumps comments. Here, I want to discuss one post from a pro-life individual that offers a critique of the pro-life movement for not arguing for a harsher punishment of women who choose abortions, in the case of them being illegal. That post is entitled, “Problem in the Pro-Life Camp.” At the outset, it is worth revealing my bias in this. I am pro-life myself and I think that this is a complex topic that many pro-life persons have not thought deeply about. I am essentially editing and re-posting my comments here with some context.

The post in question begins by stating the “problem” with the pro-life camp:

The problem that I have with the “pro-life” movement in general is that much of it appeals to the woman as being the victim/or merely the accomplice to the crime. Rather, the mother is the transgressor who in the majority of cases, knowingly tested positive in her pregnancy test and nevertheless, storms into the abortion mill with premeditated murder. Whether the sin is done in ignorance or not, she is still morally culpable before God.  She is not a victim.

Men and women are indeed victims when abortion is presented as the only logical choice or the only option. They are victims when people of specific races are targeted for abortion advertising. But whether one agrees on this or not, it is largely irrelevant to the primary point you’re making in this post. It seems that there are two issues raised in the post, but they are interlinked: the notion that the woman is a victim in abortion is false, and that is intrinsically linked to the notion that woman is morally culpable.

The original post asked, “Can an abortive mother who has malice of forethought be considered a victim and be morally responsible the same time? Morally responsible for what? when they are already deemed a victim.”

It seems to me that there are clear cases where someone who is a victim could still be morally culpable. A child soldier who has been forced into fighting for a cause they don’t believe in is a victim, yet the killing he or she may do is not without moral culpability. We may give a lighter sentence or charge than murder, but that doesn’t mean that this victim is without moral culpability whatsoever. Indeed, I think this is a far better analogy than the one with the bully utilized in the original post. (A bully beats up someone to take their money, and then sends others to do so; are they a victim?) After all, the analogy with the bully begins with the bully directly beating up someone else! The analogy, then, falls apart at the beginning, because I don’t know of any case (I suppose there could be such a case–but I would be surprised if it were even possible) where a woman performed an abortion on herself.

Now my analogy is to show that the notion of being a victim is not incompatible with the notion of being morally culpable. It does not demonstrate that the woman who seeks an abortion is a victim. Instead, my purpose was to show that the complaint of incompatibility is mistaken.

Thus, it seems to me that the pro-life person who maintains that a woman is, in some sense, morally culpable for the abortion, while also arguing or believing that the woman is, in some sense, a victim in such a situation is not being inconsistent.

The original post appealed to a question asked in a group of women who had abortions. They were asked whether they believed they were victims. I agree that self-definition is vastly important, but I also think it is easy to be mistaken about such things. For example, someone who is working as a prostitute may say that they are not a victim and they did it by choice, but even if they choose such a profession, the fact remains that the act of purchasing another’s body for sexual gratification does, indeed, victimize them whether they acknowledge it or not. I’m not saying that women who have abortions are prostitutes, obviously. My point is that self-defining oneself as “not a victim” does not make it the case.

To sum up: my response has sought to demonstrate two primary points. (1) The notion of someone being a victim does not necessarily undermine the notion of that person being morally culpable; (2) Self definition does not necessarily show us with certainty that someone is not a victim.

I would like to emphasize that these points don’t necessarily reflect my own views. I have, instead, written simply to show that the argument here is not sound.

Responses and Replies

The author of the original post kindly responded to my comments above. The comment can be viewed at the original post. I offer below my reply.

A woman cannot be both a victim or morally responsible at the same time. Either she is a victim or morally responsible (i.e. murderer)… I am using ‘victim’ in a more specific and literal fashion concerning a crime against the unborn.

As a result, it would be a logical fallacy (violates the law of non-contradiction and Scripture) to call a murderer a victim.

I think the conclusions here are hardly surprising, then. By what is written above, victim is being specifically defined as “a crime against the unborn” and then concluding, in accord with this definition, that anyone who disagrees is violating the law non-contradiction. Yet this is does not defeat the argument put forth above. I could just as easily say: “A woman can be both a victim and morally responsible at the same time. I am using ‘victim’ in the sense that makes this true. Therefore, disagreeing with me is fallacious.” Yet that is exactly what the response here has argued. I did assert that a woman can be a victim and morally responsible at the same time, but I defended that assertion with arguments.

Substantively we agree that it is a morally culpable act to seek an abortion. The area of disagreement remains as I outlined it in my original comment, and so far the response is simply to define out of existence any evidence to the contrary.

The author of the post followed with another response, arguing that the pro-life movement has consistently held that women are victims in abortions, but that they cannot be. He wrote,

abortive mothers are not victims, when they commit abortions… Either they are a victim or the transgressor when the abortion is committed.

In other words, what we have is simply a re-affirmation of the original point without argument. My purpose in commenting was to establish that being morally culpable is not incompatible with being a victim. I have been arguing all along this is a false dichotomy, and at no point has there been any attempt to refute the argument I’ve put forward. Each response has merely reasserted the initial premise without argument.

Because the purpose of my responses have been limited to the above point, I haven’t made an extended argument for how one might view the woman involved in abortion also as victim. Given the mere reassertion without argument, I believe that on some level my point has carried.

As a final question, I’d ask whether the author of this post, EvangelZ, believes that women are in no way harmed by abortion. That is, does he believe that abortion does not, in fact, lead to increased risk for breast cancer, that it leads to a higher risk of suicide, that it leads to increased risk for depression, that potential for future miscarriages is increased post-abortion, or that other risks (such as the possibility of the death or physical harm to the mother) are not, in fact damaging? The position of this post and the comments following it entail that no harm comes to the mother in any sense. After all, the mother is not–and according to the author–cannot be a victim (repeated claims of logical impossibility entail this). Hence, the woman cannot possibly be harmed by abortion, because that would entail that she is, in some sense, also a victim. Thus, EvangelZ or any who share this position are forced to conclude that abortion in no way causes harm to the mother. I think that is a pill too tough to swallow, because it seems obviously false.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Problem in the Pro-Life Camp– The original post I am responding to here.

Be sure to check out my other posts in which I argue for the pro-life position. Particularly relevant to the present discussion are “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

“The Masterpiece Society”- Star Trek: The Next Generation and Genetics, Eugenics, and Ethical Quandaries

the-masterpiece-society

Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have been watching through the series with my wife from the beginning and recently watched “The Mastepiece Society” from Season 5. The episode is a fascinating look into the moral issues of a society that wishes to control breeding. Here, we will examine some of these questions. For a plot summary, see here. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Eugenics/Genetics

The “Masterpiece” society is one in which they have actively worked to use genetic enhancement and therapy [see my post on genetic enhancement and therapy to get some background into this debate; see a differing opinion here] to try to create a perfect society. Diseases are genetically selected against; other alleged defects are also screened before birth (euphemistically referencing the termination of pregnancy); and other methods are hinted at.

One of the most poignant scenes is when Geordi La Forge, the Chief Engineer, is sitting down with Hannah Bates and they talk about his blindness. He challenges her on the notion that he would have been terminated before birth:

“It was the wish of our founders that no one have to suffer a life of disabilities.” – Bates
“Who gave them the right to decide whether or not I might have something to contribute?” – La Forge

After this brief discussion, it turns out in an ironic twist that Geordi’s visor that helps him see actually is the solution to saving the colony. This emphasizes his point: he does have much to contribute.

One can’t help but wonder about the echo that those unborn who are killed each and every day through abortion would raise. What contributions have we stolen from our society through the desire for convenience or other reasons for abortions?

Free Will

Suppose we were able to create a society in which we could select genetically the features we deemed best-suited for specific roles. What would this due to free will and the right to choose one’s own destiny? Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the Enterprise, asks this very question.

It sounds like something wonderful: we can have sure and certain knowledge of what we’re going to do. There is no uncertainty; no worrying about a job. The society has been built around having you in the exact place you are to occupy based on your genetics.

Is there, in any sense, a right for children to not have their genetic qualities selected for them? I’ve discussed this very issue elsewhere, but I think this episode raises it fairly poignantly. Suppose someone was bred to be a leader in the society, but they felt they would rather be a construction worker? The society, it seems, would suffer in the sense that they now lack a leader; but perhaps someone else who would want to be a leader could step up to the task. Of course, as in the episode, one fears a kind of cascade effect in which people who would be perfect, allegedly, for the tasks they are destined to be assigned instead opt for tasks they can only “imperfectly” perform.

This, then, leads to questions of what it means to be “perfect” for a task. Are we merely genetically determined creatures, or does our freedom to choose transcend the genetic history we have been dealt? What benefits or costs might there be to a society in which you are trained from birth to occupy a specific role?

Conclusion

Star Trek frequently raises ethical issues, and “The Masterpiece Society” was particularly thoughtful. I’d recommend watching it and then reflecting on the worldview-level issues it raises. How much are we currently missing out on because of the system we have in place? What might we do ethically to improve our society without restricting the freedom of the individual? Is this latter question even important?

From a Christian perspective, it seems clear that it is impermissible to terminate humans simply because they are blind or have some genetic impairment. Here, it seems, the Christian perspective can also demonstrate its practical utility, for as Geordi demonstrated, we may miss out on quite a bit if we decide to allow such things to occur.

Regarding genetic enhancement, however, the issue is much more difficult. My perspective has shifted a bit, but I am still fairly wary of the notion. I admit this might purely be some kind of bias on my part that doesn’t have as much a rational foundation as I’d like to think. The post I shared earlier from a friend has some pretty strong arguments in the direction of genetic enhancement even from a Christian perspective. I recommend reading his post, and checking out my older post (about 2 years old) that I edited as I wrote this one.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?– I go over a number of key ethical issues related to genetic enhancement and therapy.

“The Measure of a Man”- Star Trek: The Next Generation and Personhood– I discuss matters of “personhood,” using the character Data from Star Trek as a foil.

Why You Should Genetically Engineer Your Children– An argument that differs from my perspective on genetic enhancement. What are your thoughts on this post in favor of it?

The photo in this episode was a screenshot capture of the episode. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Aborting Aristotle” by Dave Sterrett

aborting-aristotle-seterrettAborting Aristotle by Dave Sterrett explores some of the metaphysical background needed to discuss the morality of abortion. It is a brief book best seen as a primer on issues related to abortion in philosophy.

The book proceeds in a logical fashion from showing that inconsistency doesn’t undermine the good things that people like Aristotle or Thomas Jefferson said, then arguing that metaphysics is necessary, and moving on through examination of some of the primary grounds for believing abortion is permissible: uncertainty and materialism. Then, arguments are put forward showing that natural law can be a basis for rule of law, that distinctions related to substance are important to the debate, that all humans are persons, and that we are persons not based on what we do but rather on who we are. The book ends wit ha chapter showing some ares of agreement or disagreement between pro-life and pro-choice advocates.

Weighing in at 120 pages, the book is quite brief on these various topics. Again, it functions as a primer, not an exhaustive overview of any of these issues. That limits its usefulness in some ways, as there are other books which provide groundwork on philosophy before diving into the abortion debate with greater depth. Where Sterrett’s work excels is in its focus on the concept of “substance” and its importance for understanding personhood. He demonstrates that much of the debate boils down to one’s philosophical background, and advocates one which sees humans as substances.

Aborting Aristotle is a great read for someone looking to ground themselves in the abortion debate. It is the kind of book that one should read before delving into some of the meatier works on ethics and bioethics related to abortion.

The Good

+Provides much-needed background knowledge of the abortion debate
+Builds a framework for discussing various arguments about abortion

The Bad

-Extremely brief
-Relies a bit too much on quotes

“But it’s Legal” – Does the legality of an act make it moral?

One argument that is often used to defend certain acts which are argued to be immoral is the notion that these acts are “legal.” For example, one might say they are personally opposed to abortion, but it is legal and so they do not seek to end abortions. A more specific example has been the defense of Planned Parenthood in regards to donating fetal tissue. It is argued that the donation is legal, and so no wrongdoing has occurred. Evidence from the recent videos released seems to suggest that those fetal tissues might be sold, rather than donated, but that is not the issue at hand. The question to address here is: “Does the legality of an act make it moral?”

Thus, in the case of Planned Parenthood’s donations/sales, if legal, does it follow that it is moral?

To be blunt, the legality of an act is not enough to make it moral. One clear example of this would be antebellum slavery, which was legal for quite some time in the United States. Would those who want to assert that legality is enough to make an act morally permissible agree that slavery, at that time, was moral? If so, that is a tough pill to swallow. But we can go beyond that example and see how Nazi Germany was treated. After World War II, several of the perpetrators of the Holocaust and other atrocities committed by the Nazis were put on trial. The first of these became known as the Nuremberg Trials. The argument they made, however, was that they were obeying the law of their land. The argument was thus made that there was no law to which they could be held accountable.

The argument was rejected, and the legacy of these trials led to the creation of various international law organizations and more specific definitions of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the question that must be pressed is whether these trials were just. The laws that they were condemned by were largely created after or during the trials themselves. What were the Nazis guilty of? The answer has already been provided, in part, as crimes against humanity. By willingly participating in and carrying out genocide and other atrocities, despite having orders to do so and acting within the laws of their land, the Nazis had still violated a higher law, which held them to a moral standard. There remains much debate over the legal basis for the convictions and executions of those who carried out the atrocities, but it seems that if one ultimately wants to argue that the law is all it requires to make something moral, they must side with the Nazis and agree that they should not have been held accountable for their acts.

We can therefore see that the mere appeal to a law to argue something is moral is not enough. Anyone who disagrees must assert that slavery, as it was being conducted in the United States, was at least morally ambiguous if not a moral good, because it was legal. Similarly, they must assert that the genocide the Nazis carried out was itself at least morally ambiguous if not a moral good, because it was legal and they did it under orders. The absurdity of these two conclusions should lead any reasonable person to agree that the legality of an act is not enough to establish its morality.

Thus, the simple legality of an act does not make it moral. An appeal to an acts legality does not mean it should be dismissed from moral scrutiny. Planned Parenthood should justly remain under intense scrutiny.

Abortion, the Violinist Analogy, and Body Parts

A Pro-Life Demonstration at the Supreme Court. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

A Pro-Life Demonstration at the Supreme Court. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The “violinist analogy” is an argument for the permissiveness of abortion. It is based on granting that the unborn is a human person, but argues that it is still permissible to kill the unborn because it may be justified as “non-intentional killing.” The argument originated with Judith Jarvis Thomson, to the best of my knowledge. She put the analogy like so:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. [If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but] in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you. (Thomson, cited below)

The argument seems to have much force. After all, who wouldn’t agree that you may be well within your rights to unplug yourself from this violinist. You aren’t obligated to him in any way.

There are a number of glaring difficulties with this argument (see this post for one argument against it), but the one I want to focus on now is tied to the recent controversy over the allegations of Planned Parenthood selling body parts. I’ve already pointed out one of the biggest problems is the question of “Whose body parts are they?” However, we may see that this controversy also undercuts the violinist analogy in a very brutal way.

Thomson has clearly massaged the analogy to make it seem fairly innocuous. After all, unplugging the violinist is fairly non-violent, right? You’re just having him removed from you so that you are no longer in the state of having to support him with your own body. But Thomson’s analogy needs to be amended. After all, Planned Parenthood itself acknowledges that they’re getting body parts from abortions and donating them. Thus, we might now fix Thomson’s argument for her to make it more accurate.

When the choice is made to “unplug” the violinist, it isn’t just unplugging him. Instead, those doing the unplugging are concerned with making sure that the violinist’s body parts come unplugged intact. They thus break his body apart in such a way as to preserve the heart, liver, brain, and other parts which might be used for science or saving the lives of other people. The violinist is not merely unplugged, but torn quite literally limb-from-limb in order to remove him.

Clearly, Thomson’s analogy has missed this point–a point Planned Parenthood itself acknowledges. For some reason, Thomson decided to smooth over these clinical facts in her “defense of abortion,” choosing instead to present it as something as simple and innocent as an “unplugging.” But the reality is that the analogy should point out that the choice involved is not merely to unplug the violinist but rather to have him effectively ripped from the one to whom he is hooked up in such a way that dismembers him.

There is good news, though: the parts of the violinist can now be used for research!

Source

Thomson, J. “A Defense of Abortion”. Philosophy and Public Affairs 1:1 (Autumn 1971): 47–66. Citation and quote found on Wikipedia.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Be sure to check out my other posts in which I argue for the pro-life position. Particularly relevant to the present discussion are “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Whose body parts are they?

The recent revealing of a video that purports to show a Planned Parenthood employee talking about selling the body parts of aborted fetuses has caused a stir around the web. There have been, predictably, many different reactions to this video. Some have been skeptical, noting that Planned Parenthood itself claims to only receive reimbursement for the transportation of this “tissue.” Others have jumped to accuse Planned Parenthood of human trafficking. Tired labels rejected by those being labeled have been tossed back and forth, like “anti-abortion activists”; “murderers”; and the like.

I’m not going to dive into the controversy over whether careful editing made the video say more than it actually does, or whether Planned Parenthood needs to be shut down. It seems like investigations are already underway to look into this issue more deeply.

What I instead want to offer is a brief discussion of the question that is behind all of this controversy: “Whose body parts are they?”

To whom do these hearts, livers, lungs, and the like belong? Which body are they a part of? How you answer these questions is extremely important. If these are part of the mother, then the controversy may still stand–selling one’s own body parts would be questionable ethically. But if they’re not, then what?

The position that maintains these are just parts of the mother cannot be maintained. Does a mother, upon pregnancy, begin to grow an extra heart, extra limbs, an extra brain? How many brains do human beings have?

To maintain that this “tissue” is merely part of the mother that is being donated or sold for research (or whatever purposes) is absurd on its face. One would have to actually believe–not just argue for the sake of maintaining their position–that during pregnancy, a mother grows new parts of her body such as a brain, legs, and the like, which are all characterized by different DNA (unless cloned) and around 50% of the time has a different gender. That is, not to put too fine a point on it, one would have to actually claim that women grow penises.

So I ask you, dear readers. Whose body parts are they?

The outrage for selling these body parts may be on point. But how much greater should the outrage be at the fact that the body parts in question are those not of the mother, but of a distinct living organism with separate DNA?

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

Be sure to check out my other posts in which I argue for the pro-life position. Particularly relevant to the present discussion are “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The “Dependency” Argument for Abortion: A Dilemma

PersonhoodSupremeCourtOne common argument for the pro-choice position is what I shall call the “dependency” argument for abortion. This argument suggests that because the unborn is dependent in a unique way upon the mother, abortion is permissible. For example, one might argue that because a fetus cannot survive without the direct use of the mother’s body, the unborn does not have a right to life. The status of dependency upon another being in such an intimate and unique fashion means that abortion is permissible, according to this argument.

One way to respond to this argument is to show that the dependency of the unborn upon the mother is not relevantly unique. For example, one may cite the dependency of a newborn upon his or her parents, of a person hooked up to an artificial heart or some other dependency-creating situation. However, here we will consider what I think is a more direct and intractable problem for the abortion advocate. Namely, that the dependency argument yields an inescapable dilemma for their position.

The Thought Experiment

Suppose we were able to create artificial wombs–something which doesn’t seem all that preposterous given that it’s being worked on right now–to which we were able to move the unborn at any point up to birth and allow to grow there. In this case, the growing being is not dependent upon its mother or even any woman or person. We may cut out the people doing maintenance on the artificial wombs by having some kind of automated maintenance system.

The Dilemma

Would it be permissible to terminate the unborn within the artificial womb?

If so, then the grounding for abortion on the notion that the unborn is in a relevantly dependent situation related to the mother cannot be correct. For in this case the unborn is not in that dependent situation, yet the pro-choice advocate still maintains a right to abort. If it is not permissible, then there must be some reason why it is not permissible to abort once the unborn is no longer within the mother, and this reason would have to be one that could, in a way that is not ad hoc, not apply to the unborn when inside the mother.

I think this is a serious dilemma for those who use the “dependency” argument in order to ground objections to abortion.

Answering the Dilemma

Perhaps one might try to answer the dilemma by embracing the second horn of the dilemma and suggesting that once the dependency situation is removed, then the right to abort is also removed. However, the same type of dependency which the unborn is in with the mother has simply been transferred to an artificial womb. Perhaps, however, one cannot be relevantly (morally) dependent upon a machine. But this is to effectively beg the question, for the very grounds of the pro-choice argument is that it is dependency which creates a state of permissive abortion. Perhaps they could modify their stance and say that it is actually dependency upon the mother alone. But here is where the danger of an “ad hoc” stance rears its ugly head, because the relevant criterion–dependency–is maintained while it is the location of the unborn which has shifted. If dependency is alleged to be enough to ground abortion rights, then smuggling in additional premises alongside dependency defeats the initial argument.

The point needs to be emphasized: I think this is the best route for the pro-choice advocate to try to go to avoid the conclusions of the dilemma, but if they do go down this route it raises even more questions for their position. First, if we suppose that dependency must be on a person to be morally relevant, than it undermines the notion of dependency as the reasoning for allowing abortion to begin with. For, in this case, it would be the person grounding the moral status, not the dependency. Second, to embrace this horn means that the pro-choice advocate is effectively granting that the unborn has some right to live, so long as it is not in this relevant state of dependency. This is a startling admission, and it must be emphasized that this means, frankly, that according to the pro-choice advocate a being with a right to live has that right suspended so long as a valid “dependency criterion” can be met. The implications of this would be enormous.

Moreover, if we grant that the second horn may be embraced by means of saying that if dependency is removed, then it follows that any possible way to remove the dependency situation, if such a way could become reality, makes abortion impermissible.

Free Wombs?

Now, suppose further there were a foundation that was willing and able to pay for anyone (anywhere and anytime) to move their unborn into an artificial womb rather than abort the fetus. For the sake of argument, we will assume this is a risk-free type of procedure, with relevant clinical test results, etc., etc. This strengthens the dilemma posed above because at this point, there is effectively no dependency upon mothers beyond conception. For, the moment a woman finds she is pregnant, she could phone this foundation and transfer the unborn to an artificial womb, relinquish any claim to parental rights, and be done. But if this were the case, then dependency would in a sense no longer exist. The unwanted pregnancy could immediately be ended without the termination of the fetus.

Once again, it seems that in this situation only the location of the unborn remains relevant, should the pro-choice advocate wish to maintain the right to abort. The mother could choose to end her pregnancy by transferring the unborn and all rights/knowledge of/etc. thereof elsewhere at any point.

I realize that some may object and say that having a surgical procedure is an inconvenience, no matter how safe, quick, successful, secret, etc. it might be. But at that point I must wonder where the line is drawn for abortion. After all, if the scenario envisioned above really did exist, and someone really did want to maintain the right to abort, what they would have to be saying is that something thought to be inconvenient alone is enough to abort. Setting aside the fact that abortion is also a procedure–and one with risks–at this point I think I would point out that the dependency argument has been shown to be mistaken, because the pro-choice advocate must now base his or her argument upon the “convenience” of the mother.

Conclusion

It appears to me that the only recourse the pro-choice advocate has with regard to the dependency argument is to argue that location really is a relevant criterion for allowing for abortion. But in that case, dependency ceases to be the factor which grounds the right to abort, and thus the dependency argument fails.

I’m fairly sure I’ve read a similar argument to the one I present here somewhere. However, I do not remember where I may have read it and regret to omit a reference to it here.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Pro-life– I have written a number of posts advocating the pro-life position. See, in particular, “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

The image is courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Another Pro-Choice Meme – Does it Succeed?

pro-choice-argument

Recently, I saw a few people on Facebook posting this image. It’s a bit hard to see on here so here’s a transcript (skip this if you already read it and go to the “Analyzing the Meme” section [I typed it as it is without correcting punctuation):

Women: I’m pregnant what should I do?
Pro life: keep the baby!
Women: okay! Can I have prenatal vitamins?
Pro life: what?
Women: can I have financial help for doctor appointments?
Pro life: ummm…..
Women: can I at least get paid maternity leave?
Pro life: ummm… Excuse me?
Women: the baby is here can I get financial help?
Pro life: I’m sorry do we know you?

Analyzing the Meme

The meme is clearly aimed at the notion that pro-life advocates are inconsistent. They claim to be “pro-life” but when it comes down to the details of life, they jump ship.

I am not speaking for all who are pro-life (that would be impossible), but I do think it is extremely important to be consistently pro-life. That is, an argument like this can show that a position like pro-life is inconsistent, and that does discredit the pro-life position. We need to be consistently pro-life if we are to consider ourselves pro-life at all. But–and this is a really big “but”–the meme completely misses the point.

Missing the Point

It should be clear, however, that the argument presented in this meme is a bit off target. The point is that the real question at issue is whether the unborn is a person.

Think about the meme this way:

Women: I have a toddler what should I do?
Pro life: keep the toddler!
Women: okay! Can I have health care?
Pro life: what?
Women: can I have financial help for doctor appointments?
Pro life: ummm…..
Women: can I at least get paid leave if he/she is sick?
Pro life: ummm… Excuse me?
Women: the toddler is here can I get financial help?
Pro life: I’m sorry do we know you?

What conclusion could be drawn from this? That women (or men) have the right to kill the toddler if they don’t receive those things? I should hope the answer is obvious: no, that does not follow at all. Whether one thinks the answers to the questions the women ask in this scenario should be affirmative or not, suppose it was no to all of them: does that mean we’d go ahead and green light the parents killing the toddler?*

Thus, the argument begs the question. No one should take seriously the notion that if someone can’t pay for supporting a human being they should kill him or her. The only way the argument makes any sense is if one has already assumed that the unborn is not a human being/person. And that is an issue that should be discussed more thoroughly. I have written numerous articles in defense of the pro-life position, so I won’t repeat my arguments here.

Conclusion

One of the comments on Facebook a user posted from the group that put up this image was “How true..
They are not pro life…they are pro birth…then wash their hands afterwards..”

I think this comment demonstrates how much of an emotional impact a meme like this can have. We as pro-life individuals need to be consistently pro-life, lest people reject our reasoning because they see us as “hypocrites.”

However, the ultimate point–the one at the heart of the debate–is whether the unborn is a person. And a meme like this does nothing to discredit the pro-life position whatsoever. It does not follow that if I can’t pay to support my son, I should be allowed to kill him. Neither does it follow that the interlocutor of the meme has demonstrated the pro-life position is mistaken.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Pro-life– I have written a number of posts advocating the pro-life position. Particularly relevant to the present discussion are “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

*This is an example of the “trot out the toddler” defense of the pro-life position. It was coined by (I believe) Scott Klusendorf.

I am not sure who was the original user that put the image  up, so I can’t cite it appropriately. I make no claim to owning the image and use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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