Monday, November 28, 2011
As mentioned in a previous blogpost, I began by holding up a parchment copy of “The Declaration of Independence” (which the class had been studying) and read the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men.”
I then asked, “What makes us equal? It can't be our body size, because some are larger than others. It can’t be how smart we are, because some have good report cards while others have bad ones. It can't be our bellybuttons because some point out rather than in. So what makes us equal?”
From all over the room, tiny voices shot back “We’re all human!” Exactly. The only thing we all share equally is our humaness.
I then held up my book The Case for Life. The cover shows a picture of two tiny feet in-utero. “What’s this?” Without a moment’s delay, kids all over that room shouted, “a baby in the mommy’s tummy.”
“Right.” And what kind of baby is this?” Again, there was no delay. “It’s a human baby.”
“Right again. But how is this human in the picture different than us?”
Hands shot up everywhere. “It’s smaller.” “It looks different than mommy.” “It can’t talk yet.” “You can’t see his eyes yet.” “He doesn’t go to school yet.”
“True. Do you think that those differences mean the baby in the picture is less human than any of us?”
A resounding chorus of voices shot back, “No!”
Notice the kids didn’t need a doctorate degree to grasp the obvious truth about our common human nature. I made a case for human equality (and thus, a case for the pro-life view) without mentioning the word abortion. More importantly, they understood perfectly what I was driving at.
But they won't for long.
By the time these same kids graduate high school, many will have talked themselves out of the obvious truths they once espoused as second graders. As Frank Beckwith and Greg Koukl point out, religion and morality will be mere preferences, like choosing your favorite flavor of ice cream. Intrinsic human value will be subject to a technological ethic that says that if we can do it, we should do it—meaning, for example, that human embryos are fair game if killing them helps us cure disease. The very definition of humanness will be up for grabs.
Sad, but many of my wide-eyed second graders will morph into full-blown moral relativists and religious pluralists! They’ll accept truth in the hard sciences, but not in religion and ethics.
Just like their secular friends, church school kids absorb relativism. True, they’re not absorbing it in the classroom (hopefully), but they are absorbing it from the surrounding culture. If you doubt this, try going into a large Catholic or Protestant high school and writing the following two statements on the board:
1. “Jesus is the only way to salvation and all other world religions are false.”
2. “Elective abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being and laws permitting it are scandalous.”
Think the kids will agree? My own experience says you will immediately take heat from a sizable minority even in those schools! “You’re intolerant to judge person’s sincerely held beliefs. So you’re saying Gandhi is in Hell?” “Who’s to say what’s best for a woman facing a crisis pregnancy. Shouldn’t we trust her reasons?” “Why are you an absolutist on human life when there could be serious consequences for a woman who’s forced to have a child?”
As for the rest who don’t publicly espouse relativism, they generally fall into one of four categories on the specific topic of abortion: 1) Those who agree with the relativists, but are quiet about it, 2) those who aren’t relativists, but support abortion because they fear bad things will happen if it’s outlawed, 3) those who agree with me, but have no idea how to refute the relativists, and 4) those who agree with me and persuasively answer the relativists. Only number four can help the pro-life cause, and number four is usually a very small group!
A short time later, these same students land at college where the assault on religion and morality goes nuclear. Are the pro-life kids in group #3 and group #4 ready for that?
So, when pro-life guest speakers visit the classroom in Catholic and Protestant high schools, what’s their primary answer to this worldview crisis?
Admittedly, I've not conducted an empirical study to prove this and I could be mistaken, but my own experience as a pro-life speaker suggests that in many towns across America, abstinence is the only pro-life message given to students. Each year, I speak at dozens of pregnancy center banquets and most centers can’t wait to tell donors about the work they are doing in schools. When I privately ask what, exactly, they are doing in the classroom, the answer is usually some variation on the abstinence theme. That is, they are telling students why waiting for sex until marriage is a good idea. Almost never are they systematically reaching students with persuasive pro-life content on abortion.
I don’t think pro-lifers grasp the enormity of the challenge facing us. Many of these kids have fractured worldviews where right and wrong are mere preferences and human life is a mere commodity. Against that backdrop, our primary response in schools is to slip in a little behavior modification? “Hey kids, keep your pants zipped or you’ll get an STD!” Talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight!
Catholic and Protestant students need pro-life talks aimed squarely at the reasons our culture supports abortion in the first place. If pro-life advocates don’t deliver those talks, who will?
I'm not saying abstinence talks aren't important. But it's hugely problematic if that's our primary message to students who will soon be dropped into a university environment where they are out-gunned and in way over their heads, where pro-life views will be under constant attack.
Again, my own experience may be mistaken, so feel free to comment away. But I fear that I'm right. With that in mind, I've begun work on a new book aimed at equipping pregnancy center staff and right-to-life affiliates to deliver persuasive pro-life talks in Catholic and Protestant high schools. Publication date is sometime before summer.
This 39 minute talk explains the problems pro-life students face in more detail.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Megan, a former University of Georgia Gymdog, was a part of the 2002 SEC Championship team. After graduating in 2004 with a journalism degree, she worked three years for a daily newspaper and won awards for her feature stories. In 2008, she left the paper to pursue graduate studies--first at Mercer University, then, Biola.
Biola's graduate program in apologetics is second to none, and Megan not only completed her course work--she did so with high honors! (Confession: I graduated from the same program, and her GPA beats mine!)
Megan's graduate degree in Christian apologetics is vital to our pro-life efforts because while the street-level debate over abortion rages on, a serious intellectual discussion about the foundation for human rights continues almost unnoticed among Christians. What makes humans valuable? Can secularism provide an adequate grounding for basic human rights? How do natural rights differ from merely positive (legal) ones? How do war, social justice, and theology impact debates over abortion?
Megan is uniquely qualified to train pro-lifers to persuasively answer those questions, and I highly recommend her to you as a speaker and educator. In the months ahead, we plan to use her expertise to launch a new training seminar for pregnancy center directors and staff entitled, “Reaching Hearts, Engaging Minds: Communicating Pro-life Truth with Love and Conviction.” Her objective is to equip pregnancy center staff to reach students in Catholic and Protestant high schools with pro-life content.
In addition to working with LTI, Megan also oversees "Answers," a monthly public forum and presentation held by Four Corners Church of Newnan that addresses topics of an apologetic nature. She also has experience working with youth organizations, campus outreach, and women's groups.
Endorsements of Megan:
I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Megan Almon since 2007. She is an authentic and creative communicator of God's word to high school students. Her effectiveness comes from her passionate love of the Lord and being theologically grounded in His word. She is relationship driven and students easily open up to her. She is an amazing young woman of God who is being used by Him in wonderful ways.
Reverend Brian Morgan
Minster to Students
First Baptist Church, Newnan, GA
I am happy to recommend Megan Almon as an articulate defender of Christian truth. I have come to know Megan through teaching her at McAfee School of Theology and dialoguing with her outside the classroom. Megan is a serious student of Scripture, Christian theology, and Christian ethics. She is clear and precise in both written and oral communication. She knows both what to say and how to say it. She is able to digest multiple perspectives while being clear about the best understanding of biblical faith. I recommend her highly!Congratulations, Megan! I'm proud of you!
Dr. David P. Gushee
Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University
An angry young man yelled at me, “So you think it is fair to force a woman to have a baby when she was raped?”
This is not rhetorical tennis and it is not required that I hit back the shot served to me. Understanding that we are talking about real people experiencing real fear and pain I responded, “I have been clear from the beginning of this conversation that there is nothing fair about what happens to a woman who has been raped. Whatever happens to her from the moment some man decided to assault her to satisfy his perversity is grossly unfair. When I say that I believe our moral obligations to the unborn human life conceived in that assault require that she not be party to destroying that life, I recognize that I am saying something that is hard for you to like.”
“That said, I don't think it is constructive to argue that she will either be able to get an abortion and begin healing or she will be forced to carry the baby to term and be further victimized. I am not convinced that the seemingly clear answer of allowing abortion in the cases of rape and incest are as superior in consideration of the woman as that simple way of looking at it portrays. I believe we have a moral obligation to protect the unborn life, and I also believe that we have obligations to the born as well. A wounded and hurting woman needs us to step in and offer her love at this point. To make certain she gets counseling, reach her in her needs, and help her to place the child in adoption if she chooses. The argument that human beings matter requires us to offer help and community to these women and not to abandon them to seemingly easy answers.” As students asked what that looked like, I was able to assure them that I have seen people do exactly those things in local pregnancy centers and this was not a case of wishful thinking.
This past year offered me the opportunity to talk to a lot of people from both sides of the issue of abortion. One of the most interesting things I have noticed is how little faith both sides have in each other in general. I think that this is where my past as an atheist and pro-choicer helps me a bit. I am convinced that good arguments by good arguers can make a difference because they made a difference in my life, and when a college student comes at me with guns blazing I picture “college Jay” and think about how to reach that young person. Attitude is unquestionably as important as content in that endeavor.
When I train groups I tell them it is important not to trivialize the felt needs that drive people toward abortion. Our argument is that the unborn are fully human and possess intrinsic moral value and worth. Our argument is not that women who get abortions and people that support abortion are contemptible by nature. Though some people may hold contemptible views or express themselves in contemptible ways, the person in front of me is another human being with intrinsic value and worth and the goal is to convince them they are mistaken on a vitally important moral issue. We should not merely appear as if we care about the person in front of us but actually care about their concerns and ideas.
At a another recent event a woman raised her hand. “What do you say to someone whose argument is that the world is so terrible and awful that it would be wrong to bring a child into it?” We train people in Greg Koukl's tactical approach to conversations using questions to help progress the dialogue, and this group was working on that skill when she asked her question. They waited to hear my response, but I momentarily paused. Not because I didn't have an answer, but because it is too easy to instinctively play that perverse game of rhetorical tennis without noticing something troubling.
I asked her, “Has someone said that to you? An actual pregnant woman considering abortion as opposed to a hypothetical discussion on campus with a student that disagrees with your views?” She nodded. “It is important that you proceed in that conversation with special care. Obviously my first question to her would be to find out what she means when she says the world is terrible and awful. Certainly there are terrible and awful things that happen every day, but there are wonderful and beautiful things that happen as well including – for me – my relationships with my children. Be mindful that the person in front of you may be wrestling with profound difficulties. If someone is convinced there is nothing good in the world and the only response to this is to deny their unborn child the opportunity to be born and live their life - in essence arguing that the ultimate expression of love toward her child is to kill him before he grows to become as miserable as she is - they need more than a good pro-life argument. They need help. They need community.”
Discussing abortion effectively does not require that we immediately access easy answers that settle our every doubt. Leon Kass points out in Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity that our ethical reflections will ultimately be applied by the real human community. That community is messy and complicated and sooner or later we will be forced to confront problems for which there are no easy answers. The presence of suffering, pain, and emotional confusion is not a counter argument to the identification of the unborn as intrinsically valuable human life. The profound pain of a raped woman or the paralyzing depression of a soul that lost all hope in life are not marginalized by arguing that unborn human life has a fundamental right not to be unjustly killed. Nor does the introduction of the choice of abortion act as a magical cure for such things. They are issues for which there are no easy answers and so the pro-life view does not suffer for failing to do what can't be done. There is no world of easy answers to terrible realities.
Friday, November 18, 2011
1. Pro-Life 101: Making a Case for Life on Hostile Turf
2. Pro-Life 201: Advanced Pro-Life Apologetics
3. Pro-Life 301: Speech and Debate Training
Dates: June 22-23 (Fort Wayne, IN)
Details soon here.
Alan Shlemon at STR has a good post on the Left's endorsement of graphic images--for cigarettes, but not abortion.
Are you a discouraged pro-lifer? Feeling beat-up? If you're a Christian, this post from Amy Hall will help you make sense of things.
Christopher Kaczor writes on the ethics of ectopic pregnancy. He makes a number of points:
1. The fact that a medical procedure brings about fetal death with certainty does not mean it’s intentional or direct abortion.
2. Removing the embryo from its pathological location is not intrinsically evil, but only circumstantially so.
3. Acting directly upon someone’s body does not, in itself, mean that all the effects which follow from acting are intended.
4. Regarding appeals to Church authority, Directives #45 and #36 are best understood to address uterine pregnancy, not removal of the embryo from its pathological location.
5. The fact that MXT acts directly upon the trophoblast and not for the benefit of the trophoblast does not indicate that it is intentional mutilation.
6. Given there is no consensus among Catholic philosophers on MXT (for example, William May has changed his position and now accepts both Sapingostomy and MXT), probabilism may be the best guide.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
The video is here.
Jivin J provides some analysis:
I like how the debate allowed the participants to question each other. That happens at about the 40 minute mark. In about a minute, Gray totally dismantles Morales' definition of person and the entire basis for his argument. When Morales' time to question Gray arrives, it becomes more awkward than some of Rick Perry's debate moments. After a couple of questions, he has no clue what to ask her. In fairness, he did step up for the debate about a week before the debate after numerous pro-choice Canadians declined the opportunity to debate Gray. The vocal pro-choice students in the audience (who frequently interrupted Gray and called her names) try to help him out and are clearly frustrated by their side's inability to put up a solid defense of the pro-choice position.
Something I found very interesting was Morales' continued attempts to argue that the unborn aren't children but at various times he would slip, call the unborn "children" and then correct himself.
Morales' knowledge of fetal development was also severely lacking. Some of his assertions about how developed the unborn are at certain stages during the question and answer time were absurd.
Every time I watch one of these types of debate, it seems like the pro-choice debater hasn't really thought through their position. One of the last questioners asks Morales how on one hand he can assert morality shouldn't be imposed but on the other hand he thinks the government should fund abortions. Morales answer is incoherent. He points out how he is anti-war and thinks he shouldn't have to fund the war (so he's opposed to that imposition of morality) but unfortunately you have go along with what the majority of the country favors ergo tax-funded abortions (a imposition of morality he favors). "Don't impose your morality" seems to be much more of a catchphrase than something he's actually thought about. It's like he sees any law against something he favors as a horrible imposition of morality but when he wants someone to accept his morals, then it's not really an imposition of morality.
Short answer: The remedy for post-abortion guilt is not avoidance. It’s forgiveness. When set within the context of the Christian gospel, the pictures can be used to bring healing to those in denial over sin.
You can watch how I introduce a short abortion film to high school students here.
Before showing a short abortion clip, I tell those listening that I’m not there to condemn. But I don’t stop there. I tell them why I’m not there to condemn. Here's what I said at a pregnancy center banquet last week near Orlando:
The reason I’m not here to lay a guilt trip on anyone is because I’m a firm believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That gospel, men and women, puts everyone of us in this room on the same footing before the bar of God’s justice. The gospel tells of a good and holy God who created humans to worship and enjoy him forever. But we rebelled against our creator, set ourselves up as God, and God who had every right to destroy the race for its rebellion against Him, did something remarkable. He sent Jesus, the sinless one, the second member of the Godhead, to bear in full His righteous wrath against sin.What’s the result? After almost every presentation—whether a banquet, church service, or chapel—post-abortion men and women thank me for the gracious way I presented my pro-life case. Yes, the pictures are painful to see. But used properly, they set the stage for the good news of the gospel, which alone heals us from our sin. In short, the video does the hard work for me so that I can use my words to soothe and bring hope.
Now, we don’t like that word “wrath” because it reminds us of an angry parent or vengeful authority figure. But God’s wrath is not an uncontrolled explosion of rage; it’s his settled hatred of sin. And if God is holy and just, he can’t sweep sin under the rug. He must punish it. And he did punish it, by crushing His Son on a cross for your sin and mine. As the prophet Isaiah tells us in chapter 53: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by his wounds we are healed.” That’s right, God the Father crushed His Son so self-centered sinners like me can be completely forgiven.
You know what I call that? I call that incredibly good news for those who’ve sinned on abortion. Listen, if that’s you—whether you’re a man who encouraged a young woman to abort or a woman who chose that option because you thought you had no other way out—you don’t need an excuse. You need an exchange, Christ’s righteousness for your sinfulness. For those who trust in Jesus alone for salvation, God gives them that righteousness. The Scriptures speak of it in 2 Corinthians 5: 21—“God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.”
But the news gets even better. For those who trust Jesus, God the Father not only forgives their sins; He adopts them into His own family as dearly loved children. Wow. So if that’s you, don’t try to make up for your bad stuff by doing good stuff. Your good deeds will never atone for your bad ones. Neither will mine. Trust only in the Son. Those who do are no longer condemned but have passed from death to life (John 5:24)
Paul puts it this way: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2: 4-5)
Did you catch that? God is “rich” in mercy. He has “great” love for those broken and sinful people that He saves through His Son. With that good news in mind, let’s take a minute to roll this brief clip. Again, if you wish not watch, feel free to look away…
Again, please take few minutes to watch how I introduce the short abortion film. You’ll also see how I use it to point listeners to the gospel of grace: http://vimeo.com/25061075.
At the top of my stack is Jonathan Morrow's Think Christianly: Looking at the Intersection of Faith and Culture.
The thing I love about Jonathan is his gift of translating. He takes weighty (and sometimes complicated) philosophical challenges to the faith and answers them in language lay people can understand. Yet--and here is the best part--he does it without talking down to educated readers. That's what set apart his excellent book Welcome to College and it's also what makes his current book shine.
Topics include (to name just a few):
--Thinking Christianly about all of life
--Cultivating a thoughtful faith
--Becoming like the Jesus the world needs
--Truth, tolerance, and relativism
--Christianity in the public square
--Bioethics in the 21st Century
--Questions of faith and science
--Rediscovering God's design for sex
I'll post a full review later. But for now, don't wait to benefit from Jonathan's contribution to the defense of the faith.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Last week, I participated in a Pro-Choice/Pro-Life debate on a university campus. The structure of the debate was two 4-person panels, consisting entirely of college students. Despite my unavoidable bias towards my own team, I think it is safe to conclude that our Pro-Life panel dominated the debate. The surveys taken from the audience at the end of the debate reinforce this opinion of mine - with all but one survey stating we were more effective. (The one other survey said it was a tie.)
I conclude that we won the debate not only on content, but also on style. For example, while the opposing panel presented their arguments by reading off a typed paper, we delivered our case while looking the audience in the eye and engaging them in what we were saying. While the opposing panel seemed to change their argument every time a different member spoke, our argument was one, singular voice coming from each member. We enunciated. We sited sources for our information. We appealed to science and philosophy, not emotion and religion. We structured our arguments. We broke stereotypes - we had more women on our panel, we didn't mention faith or the bible at all.
All of these things that gave us an edge had very little to do with the actual position we were arguing, they were merely aspects of speaking etiquette that the opposing panel seemed to lack. This made me ask myself: Why was this debate so non-conformed to the stereotypes of Pro-Life/Pro-Choice? I think we've all seen the media template: the pro-Lifer is a Christian, Bible-thumping, emotion-driven person who hasn't stopped to think critically about the issue, while the pro-choicer is an enlightened, educated, non-judgmental, accepting person. Granted, this debate is just one example, but I believe you can see many examples of my analysis if you look for it. What has changed?
1) We've been listening. The Pro-Life youth have grown up in a liberally biased environment. We've heard it all through the media and at the academic level - "Abortion is a religious belief, no one cares what your bibles says", "Empirical evidence is what matters", "Pro-Life people are extremists", "Pro-Life people are so close-minded", "You are all emotion, and no fact", "You can't even argue your case". We've listened when people tell us we are being ineffective. We've learned to base our position on science and philosophy instead of religion and emotion. We've adjusted. We've become equipped to engage at the academic level.
2) We no longer appeal to emotion - they do. When we present logical arguments from points of common agreement - like science and accepted morals (killing toddlers is wrong) - we are met with emotional appeals like, "forcing children to be born into poverty is terrible".
But wait - weren't these the exact type of emotional arguments we were ridiculed for using (and have thus adjusted)? The majority of the Pro-Choice youth only know how to parrot emotional arguments about rape, poverty, and disease masquerading as intelligent arguments. They get angry when we persist in a logical conversation about the emotional claims and what they mean. This is a complete 180 change from what the stereotypes were merely 10 years ago.
3) We are the under-dogs. We realize we are fighting an up-hill battle. Meanwhile, the Pro-Choice youth simply expect the intellectual conversation to be handed to them because they are so used to that being the status-quo. We realize that if we are going to make our voices heard, we had better have our facts straight, are arguments clearly outlined, our sources sited, etc. We prepare like professionals - because we need to be professional in order to be listened to. The Pro-Choice youth don't feel the need to think critically about their position because the media and laws currently agree with them.
4) We have become open-minded, they have become close-minded. The Pro-Life youth WANT to discuss the topics of human value and worth and how we should form our actions/laws. We want to have conversations about this. The Pro-Choice youth want to simply continue dismissing us with the condemnations of "Religious extremists", "You're over-simplifying", "You shouldn't judge others" - and thus put our opposing arguments out of mind. Very few Pro-Choice youth are willing to discuss the issue on a level playing field, without getting angry or offended. The whole idea that being Pro-Choice is the enlightened, progressive position that "fights the power" of the evil, religious, intolerant establishment is a complete illusion. There is nothing more anti-establishment than being Pro-Life, and nothing is less tolerated.
The tables have turned. Eventually, they will see the reverse of stereotypes. The religious, close-minded, extremist, emotional, judgmental zealots have become the intellectual, articulated, well-prepared, confident, charismatic civil-rights activists. It's a new generation.
Gear up, Pro-Choice Americans. We are the youth - and we will not go quietly.
“We certainly wouldn’t show images of a dead teen ejected from a vehicle crash to prove you shouldn’t drink and drive, or display a hanging person to teach against suicide; so then why show this?”
Well, we actually do show images like that, especially in the first case you mention. Consider this poster from the state of Texas, aimed specifically at students who might be tempted to drink and drive. Is this poster nothing but a “shock approach” or does it save lives?
True, graphic abortion images must be used properly (see how I carefully introduce them), meaning we should not spring them on unsuspecting audiences. When I use the short film “This is Abortion,” I tell students exactly what is in the clip and invite them to look away if they so desire. Nearly everyone watches and almost no one complains. I have found this to be true in diverse settings such as debates, banquets, schools, churches, etc. With Christian audiences, I introduce my remarks by stating Christ is eager to forgive the sin of abortion and that my purpose is not to condemn, but to clarify and equip. I use the sin of abortion to set the stage for a gospel presentation, one that offers sinners hope.
Geron Corporation was the big hope for embryonic-stem-cell research. After years of promises, its first-ever human trial using an embryonic-stem-cell-derived product for acute spinal-cord injury made huge headlines internationally. But now, the Washington Post is reporting that Geron has abandoned the field altogether.
This is an atom bomb of a story that will have a serious effect on the entire regenerative medical sector. And it should embarrass the critics of President Bush; the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which bragged about its part in funding a scientist involved in the research; and, perhaps most of all, the fawning media that have acted as press agent for both the field generally, and Geron specifically.
Francis J. Beckwith: Debates over abortion, marriage, and welfare are not, at their roots, political. They are metaphysical--involving questions about philosophical anthropolgy.
Kathryn J. Lopez on why the failure of Personhood in MS is not a defeat.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Speaking of a previous personhood campaign, Arkes writes:
The pro-lifers in Colorado have brought forth, for the ballot this November, a Personhood Amendment to their constitution: “the term ‘person’ shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.” The proposition is certainly correct and defensible. And yet it has the form and tenor of an assertion. Cast in that way, it promises to trigger the perversity and relativism of judges who have absorbed liberal slogans: They begin with the premise that the beginning of human life is an inscrutably religious question; that it hinges on matters of belief, not truths. They know that people are brazen enough to contend that they don’t know when human life begins – even with a pregnancy test – and so the amendment simply looks like an exercise of brute force: One faction has simply imposed its “opinion” on the community with the force of law.
I would prefer another approach. We could begin with the old-fashioned mode of a preamble, which sets forth the premises in the bill. And the trick is to set down premises that even judges would be embarrassed to dismiss, because even they could not contest their truth. The preamble could begin then by citing passages from the textbooks on embryology – e.g., “The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” [Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition]
“Nowhere in the chain of development does the offspring undergo a shift in species. It is human, and nothing less than human, from its first moments. Taller, heavier people are not more human than shorter, lighter people. No alteration in human standing can come with these changes in growth – or decline. Therefore, the ground of justification for the taking of this human life in the womb must be reconciled with the grounds that are required for the taking of any other human life in the laws of this state.”
Something in that vein – the legislative language may be sharpened and perfected. A commission could be authorized to hear cases and pass on the “justifications” that are offered. In all strictness, the legislation would still leave intact the right to order an abortion under certain circumstances – with the justifications yet to be tested. But at the same time, it implicitly calls into question many kinds of abortions now readily performed. Since there is no license to kill the children around us afflicted with Down syndrome or spina bifida, there would no longer be such a ready license to dispose of children in the womb with these afflictions.
This is not to say that judges, with more craft than shame, may not find a way to tie up these kind of law. But why not make them strain their wit to do it? And why not work, on our side, by seeking to plant in the law the truths that even the judges cannot dissolve.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
"Say your barn is on fire. And further say that in that barn there is a little white girl with blond ringlets trapped in one area of the barn and five slaves, adult men all, trapped in another area of the barn. The fire is getting wildly out of control. You can save the girl or you can save the slaves, but you cannot save both. What do you do?"
The young abolitioninst thinks for a moment and then begrudgingly acknowledges that he would save the young girl.
"A ha! So you acknowledge that you don't really believe that the slaves are human in the same way that we are. So if you are not convinced why should I be?"
Does anyone today read that scenario and believe for a moment that the friend demonstrated that the abolitionist movement was built upon false premises or lacked sufficient argument in favor of the ending of the evil of slavery? Does the fact that a young man grew up in a culture that imbedded in him certain prejudices and predispositions that manifest themselves in crisis situations somehow settle the argument whether or not slaves were human beings and ought to be considered people under the law? I can't see how anyone can reach that conclusion.
Now replace barn with lab and slaves with embryos and tell me if that somehow takes a bad argument and makes it good. The burning research lab is flawed on multiple levels, but the most egregious and obvious flaw is that it fails to address the core arguments of the pro-life position in any meaningful way. It is ad hominem to quoque, the intellectual equivalent of yelling, "You did it too!"
As the above example worked only to expose hypocrisy in the arguer and not to substantively address the arguments in favor of abolition, so the burning research lab seeks to expose hypocrisy in the pro-lifer that argues the humanity of embryonic humans. It attacks the arguer and not the argument. It is fallacious to its core.
And that is only one of the many weaknesses of the thought experiment. (May address others later when my schedule lightens up) It is simply not a good argument.
See old posts here and here.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
The Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) supports some aspects of Milgram's Obedience Experiment (MOE) while introducing other interesting elements surrounding the impact of institutions on our behavior. In 1971, Philip Zimbardo and his team chose 24 male college students from a larger group of volunteers they had psychologically profiled to assure mental health. They randomly divided the group into two groups of nine - guards and prisoners – leaving alternates on call if needed. Actual police officers arrested the prisoners who were then processed and placed into a makeshift prison over which Zimbardo was the superintendent.
To intensify the psychological effect, Zimbardo's team emasculated the prisoners by forcing them to wear gowns with no underwear, a stocking cap to cover their hair, and a chain on their ankle. The guards wore khaki uniforms, mirrored sunglasses to offer anonymity, and carried a billy club and whistle. They intended the experiment to last for two weeks. It was stopped after six days.
The guards psychologically tortured the prisoners and emotionally abused them to the extent that five healthy young men emotionally broke down within the first five days. A research assistant, Christina Maslach, confronted Zimbardo and told him, “It is terrible what you are doing to those boys.” Zimbardo had lost sight of the fact that he was a professor responsible for the well being of the students.
Elements of SPE compare to what we see in MOE. Early in SPE a student goes to Zimbardo and asks to leave. When Zimbardo encourages the student to stay he agrees but then goes back and reports to the other prisoners that, “we are not allowed to leave.” The students don't protest but immediately become disheartened and more obedient to the mistreatment. They acknowledge the authority of a college professor and other students to hold them prisoner against their will.
The accelerated rate that normal students turned into abusive guards is disturbing. The most famous of the subjects of the experiment is a guard nicknamed John Wayne (JW), who later claimed he modeled a part inspired by the sadistic guard in the film Cool Hand Luke. Even if he introduced an element of cruelty out of a desire to see how far he would be allowed to go - a startling ineffective and flawed defense that I'll address in a moment – that does nothing to explain why other guards allowed his cruelty and even joined him. Those guards that disapproved of the treatment of the prisoners – all of whom are normal college students – busied themselves with other tasks during the worst of the abuse rather than confronting JW and his cohorts.
Zimbardo became so immersed in the experiment that after releasing a student who opted out he became convinced of the truth of a rumor that the released student was coming back to break the others out and moved the prisoners. His first choice of location was the local jail but when the real authorities scoffed at his ridiculous idea he complained about a lack of “institutional cooperation.”(?!!) Ultimately he moved them to other rooms on campus and waited for the expected breakout. A colleague came by to see how the experiment was going and found Zimbardo sitting there alone waiting to surprise the former prisoner.
Zimbardo has since written about understanding the bad barrel as well as the bad apples and uses the toxic conditions of SPE and places like Abu Ghraib as evidence. In an appendix of the Schlesinger Report on DoD Detention Operations – a report birthed by Abu Ghraib – the committee sites both SPE and Abu Ghraib and writes:
Without proper oversight and monitoring, such interactions carry a higher risk of moral disengagement on the part of those in power and, in turn, are likely to lead to abusive behaviors.
Zimbardo argues that certain conditions where a group has power over another group without limitations breeds evil behavior in otherwise normal people.
But beyond that and more to the point of our discussion, a fascinating moment happened in the interviews with the participants after the fact. JW was confronted by a fellow student/prisoner that rebelled in the experiment by starting a hunger strike. JW and the guards placed him in solitary and taunted him to encourage him to give in. When confronted to defend his obviously abominable behavior, JW responds that what the student doesn't understand is that JW was conducting his own experiment.
How did he learn to excuse inexcusable behavior by pleading experiment? One can only assume that the SPE taught him that as long as you can characterize what you are doing as a scientific experiment then whatever wrong you do is justified. I can't think of any other way to understand why a normally functioning human being would think that he adequately accounts for abusing and torturing other human beings simply by saying, “It was an experiment.”
This is moral justification and it is a twist on what we saw in MOE. The Schlesinger Report sites Albert Bandura's definition of moral justification as the belief that misconduct can be justified if it is believed to serve a social good. Again, we see an otherwise normal and healthy individual appealing to our natural trust in the benefits of scientific exploration, but this time it is not someone who hesitantly and reluctantly pressed on. He is using our trust to excuse his zealous and immoral mistreatment of others by casting it in the light of experiment. Whether he legitimately believes it or not is irrelevant. He holds enough faith in other's trust of the social good of scientific experimentation - Stott's idealogical pressure – to justify his bad behavior.
Lydia McGrew once told me that she is convinced that many people that champion the pro-choice position do so from a similar point of view. They see themselves as able to push past the ugliness of it in some heroic sense to serve the greater social good. Certainly William Saletan cast George Tiller in this light as discussed in this earlier post. Saletan paints the picture of a true believer that did what others feared to do.
So this element seems present in our audience as well. Not just those who obediently acquiesce to authorities they trust, but also those people who independently excuse themselves through moral justification by way of some consequentialist gymnastics. The wrong that I do is not wrong because it serves a greater good, and we know it is good because it is scientific experimentation.
This most often comes up with the person that says things to me like, “So what if it is a human being. It doesn't know that it is alive or feel any pain and the experiments will help living people that are aware that they are in pain.” They are willing to do what must be done further to the cause even if it is objectionable. It is an experiment that will produce results that will help us all. You have to break some eggs if you want to make an omelette.
I have encountered this on college campuses which I will detail in another post as well as how I responded.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
After finishing my daily swim at the local pool I was in the locker room preparing to head home and get back to work. A young man in his mid-twenties, also heading home smiled and said hello. He had Down syndrome (DS) and demonstrated more trouble with basic skills than most people I have met with DS. After we both finished getting dressed he turned to me and asked, “Do you like my hat?”
It was a beautiful Atlanta Braves hat, and I assured him that it was the finest I had ever seen. He told me me that his dad bought it for him last year at the Braves game on Father's Day. They went together to see the Braves lose to the Mets at Turner Field. We agreed that such things shouldn't happen in a just world, and then someone called him from outside the locker room. He turned to leave without saying goodbye, but even so he remains one of the top five friendliest people I have met in a men's locker room. As he walked out and the voice in the hall greeted him warmly I was haunted by the fact that our culture is largely committed to the belief that people like that young man should not be allowed to be born.
Down syndrome is most commonly caused by trisomy 21, where an extra 21st chromosome is present at conception supplied by one of the gametes (sperm or egg and most often from the egg). Other forms such as Mosaic DS and translocation account for less than 10% of all cases but all three are linked to the presence of an extra 21st chromosome. It is the most common chromosomal condition in the United States with more than 400,000 people currently living with DS. According to the National Down Syndrome Society and the National Down Syndrome Congress there is absolutely no way to predict the degree to which DS will physically impact a person prior to birth. Although 100 years ago people with DS had an average life expectancy of less than 10 years, medical advances especially in corrective heart surgery and antibiotics have extended the average life span to 60 years old. Advocates for people with DS report that, because of developmental therapy, it is increasingly typical for people with DS to be employed and live productive lives.
Even so, Physicians for Life says that 84 – 92% of all people that get a positive amniocentesis for DS in the United States choose to abort their child. This statistic is mirrored in the United Kingdom with a 92% abortion rate for DS children holding steady. For all the compassion that those who attack the pro-life position claim to have - in contrast to the supposed insensitivity of pro-life advocates - these embarrassing recalcitrant facts continue to pop up. These arguments for choice struggle to explain why things like the eugenic attack on people with DS or the sex selection abortions of China and India are wrong. Within the arguments of the absolute bodily autonomy of women and the lack of personhood of the unborn such things are simply additional considerations in the choices women must make and are completely legitimate.
After a friend's daughter was born with DS his wife became pregnant with their fourth child. The medical professionals strongly recommended amniocentesis. When asked why, they answered so my friend could decide whether or not to abort the child if it had Down syndrome. He looked across the room at his daughter and asked, “So if my next child is like that beautiful, healthy, loving little girl over there we are being offered the option of killing it?” That was all the inspiration he needed to start the steering committee that began one of the greatest pregnancy centers in the country. His daughter is now 36, in excellent health and has worked for the same employer for 15 years.
Political columnist George Will's son Jon has DS, so you understand why he takes personally the contentions that children with DS are a burden or that it would be better for all - including the children - that they not be born. In a 2005 Washington Post Editorial Will wrote:
“One mother who participated in a study of 3,000 members of five state associations of parents of Down syndrome children reported that when, in 1999, she was told that the baby she was expecting had Down syndrome, a geneticist showed her 'a really pitiful video first of people with Down syndrome who were very low tone and lethargic-looking and then proceeded to tell us that our child would never be able to read, write or count change.' Try telling that to Jon Will as he navigates Washington's subway system to use his season tickets to the Wizards basketball games and (soon) Nationals baseball games.”
“When he was born in 1972 -- a time when an episode on a network television hospital drama asserted that people with Down syndrome could not be toilet-trained -- the hospital geneticist asked Jon's parents if they intended to take him home. That question is, surely, no longer asked when Down syndrome babies are born. But there are modern pressures to prevent such babies from being born, pressures that include the perfection-is-an-entitlement attitude of some expecting parents.”
There is no doubt that DS introduces challenges. It is not helpful to characterize those prospective parents that fear how a child with DS will impact their lives and their families as inhumane or pretend that they need to simply get over it. When Scott Klusendorf, the founder and president of Life Training Institute and my boss, speaks about the so-called “tough cases” pertaining to abortion he concedes that sometimes doing the right thing requires us to take unpopular positions. Sometimes doing the right thing requires us to face challenges that others will try to convince us are not necessary. Though we don't know that everything will be okay, it is more destructive and dishonest to consider a positive diagnosis of DS as a tragedy and to characterize those with DS as suffering or the families as coping. In a 2007 press release from David Tolleson of the National Down Syndrome Congress condemning the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for tacitly approving the termination of pregnancies with a positive diagnosis of DS he writes:
“Studies have shown that parents and siblings of children with Down syndrome overwhelmingly report that having a family member with that diagnosis has been a good situation. Early intervention and inclusive education have led to largely positive outcomes for children with Down syndrome. It is unacceptable that many obstetricians present negatives -- and seem to emphasize pregnancy termination -- rather than reporting the facts, which paint a much more positive picture.”
The other children of my previously mentioned friend certainly echo this sentiment. And for whatever that young man I met in the locker room has faced and overcome, whatever hardship his condition has introduced to his life and the life of his family, he certainly wasn't dwelling on them when I met him. He wanted to talk about his favorite hat that he got watching his favorite baseball team with his dad. In this, he is just like the rest of us. It is tragic that people have learned to fear something so special and scary that we have become so comfortable with, as George Will says, searching and destroying the likes of that young man.