Thursday, January 31, 2008

In Defense of Steve Wagner [SK]

Jill Stanek has made a valuable contribution to the pro-life cause and I enjoy reading her blogposts, which I do weekly. However, she's mistaken about the "common ground" approach advocated by my friend Steve Wagner.

Specifically, she takes issue with this paragraph by Steve:

It appears from their article that Kissling and Michelman are calling for an internal discussion of the effective pro-life challenges they've highlighted, but I would encourage them to go further. Talk to pro-life advocates about them. We're ready to listen, understand and build common ground first in order to really hear your concerns and perspective.
In reply to Steve's post, Jill writes:

I am concerned that some on our side see Michelman and Kissling's piece as some sort of mea culpa, and pro-lifers should stand ready to hold hands with them singing "Kumbaya....I for one will never try to "build common ground" with the abortion industry. There is no common ground. The culture of death is the sworn enemy of the culture of life. This is a war, a clash of civilizations.
I think if Jill reads more of what Steve has to say she'll come to a radically different view of his position. Unlike some pro-lifers, Steve has never suggested that we compromise with abortion-advocates in hopes of finding "common ground." He's not advocating common ground as a final goal, that is, as a means of ducking legitimate debate. He's not interested in getting abortion-advocates to like us at all cost. To the contrary, he recognizes that finding points of agreement is a very effective tool in persuading someone to rethink areas of disagreement.

For example, notice how Steve starts pro-life conversations on college campuses. His strategy is simple and effective: He moves the conversation from debate to dialogue by asking the right questions. Each step of the way, he’s establishing common ground with his listener:

"Look around this campus at all of the born people. Would you agree that each person has the same basic rights, that each should be treated equally?"
Why does Steve begin this way? Because he knows almost everyone he talks to believes in the basic human rights of all born people, regardless of differences or disabilities. He then asks his listener to explain why equal human rights exist for anyone:

"But if all of us should be treated equally, there must be some quality, some characteristic, we all have equally that justifies that equal treatment, right? What is that characteristic? (Pause) Wouldn’t you agree it can’t be that all of us look human, because some have been disfigured. It can’t be that all of us have functional brains, because some are in reversible comas. It can’t be one’s ability to think or feel pain, for some think better than others and some don’t feel any pain. It can’t be something we can gain or lose, or something of which we can have more or less. If something like that grounds rights, equal rights don’t exist. And if we look at the whole population of America, almost 300 million people, there is only one quality we all have equally—we’re all human. We have a human nature and we all have it equally. You either have it or you don’t."
After establishing common ground, Steve gently presses the pro-life argument upon his listener:

"Why are sexism and racism wrong? Isn’t it because they pick out surface differences (gender or skin color) and ignore the underlying similarity all of us share? We should treat women, men, African-Americans, and Whites as equals and protect them from discrimination. Why? It’s because they all have a human nature. But if the unborn has that same human nature, shouldn’t we protect her as well?"
In short, Steve establishes his reasoning before pressing his conclusion. Absolutely brilliant stuff.

Jill is a good thinker and I'm sure that when she reads Steve's new book Finding Common Ground Without Compromise she'll agree that he has no interest in surrendering principle for friendship. I hope she'll review it soon on her excellent blog.

My trust in Steve is strong. I tell pro-life leaders "to the extent you trust my work trust his." Indeed, if I were unable to make a scheduled debate, I would not hesitate for even one minute to ask him to fill-in. Steve would no doubt be gracious to his opponent, but he'd also be tough as nails intellectually.

Tough minds and tender hearts. That's what we need in the pro-life movement. Steve models both better than anyone I know.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why Can't I? Part II [Jay]

In my previous post, I discussed the difference between the following two questions:

“Can I kill this?”
“Why can’t I kill this?”

I want to be clear why I am writing these posts. I think that some pro-choice arguments are incredibly clever and difficult to easily parse through. As much as I enjoy the challenge of rigorous intellectual discussion, I find the idea that one must be a scholar in philosophy to understand why you ought not to kill unborn children irritating. It is equally irritating to me when people try to discuss things in an accessible manner and they are lambasted for not writing a 2,000 page book that includes every nauseating detail on how we apprehend absolute moral truth and every counter argument from the sublime to the ridiculous. Sooner or later, even the most complex ideas must be expressed in accessible language, lest their practical applications be forever elusive.

All that to say, I know this illustration is basic. But we have a very basic disagreement that can become cleverly confusing. That confusion itself serves to build rancor and emotion.

Greg Koukl’s example is straightforward. A living thing is found, picked up, and brought forward for identification. The question from behind our back is asked, “Daddy, can I kill this?” I turn around and see my child holding a living thing that he ought not to kill. His question indicated correctly that he has not killed the living thing yet. I tell him, “No son, you cannot kill this.” He may have more questions, but the limit is understood before action. We can discuss the thing in his hands and we have time to explain why this living thing cannot be added to the list of things that he is allowed to kill.

The second example may go differently, the question comes, “Why can’t I kill this?” Perhaps we turn around to see a philosopher holding something living that he ought not to kill. As we explain why he cannot kill that living thing he counters, “We already started killing these things in the backyard.”

Aghast, we grow a bit more forceful in our argument that it is wrong to kill this living thing and the fact that he has already done so is beside the point. He counters again, “Yeah, but the doctor out there said that we ought to be allowed to kill these things all we want.” You explain that the person in question is mistaken. There have always been a large number of people that knew we ought not to kill these things including doctors. Even though some disagree we have more recent information that helps us to know more about that living thing than we used to. “Yeah? Let me see it.”

You leave the room and come back to find that he has killed the thing he was holding but now has another one in his hands. You freak out and ask him why he did that. “Why can’t I kill this? You haven’t given me a good argument.” As you try to explain that you have not been given a chance to do so, he kills the thing he is now holding, and turns around opens a sack and grabs another of these living things. You scream at him to stop doing that and he says again, “Why can’t I kill this? Your arguments seem religious to me. I am not very religious."

As you try to ascertain why you need to be religious to know that you should not be standing here killing these living things he kills another and produces yet another life out of his bag. You shriek for him to stop for a second and he says, “Why can’t I kill this? They are all over the place out there and quite frankly in the way. They cost us time and money that can be spent elsewhere.”

You try to help this person understand how some factors are more important to us as moral people than others, and that we have to find more productive means of dealing with problems than this. As you are talking he kills the one in his hands and reaches into his bag and produces another one. You scream at him to stop killing these things for one moment. “Why can’t I kill this? It is perfectly legal for me to do so. I have a legal right to do this.”

You are now screaming at him that legal rights do not absolve us of moral responsibilities, but the entire time you are trying to make the argument he kills 5 more of these living things. You are hysterical and ask him to stop while you are talking. “Why can’t I kill this? I have noticed that one group of people is dramatically more affected by these things being around. It only seems fair to me that we even the score.”

The bodies are piling up in the room and the man keeps killing these living things one after another. All the while he drones on and on about how these things aren’t really alive and he really isn’t killing anything and all of the areas you have failed to make a case to stop him. You want to answer but the ever-growing number of things this guy is killing distracts you. You finally and desperately scream at him, “Just stop killing these things!!”

He looks at you nonplussed and says rather indignantly, “You are too emotional. I cannot talk to people who are so emotionally driven in their arguments." All the while, the killing never ends.

Why Can't I? Part I [Jay]

I have been considering something for a while and I wanted to air it out a bit. Greg Koukl developed the simple scenario to break down the moral complexity of the issue of abortion. According to them we envision ourselves standing at the sink washing dishes. From behind us we hear our young child ask the following, “Daddy, can I kill this?”

Obviously the first thing we must determine before we can answer that question is what exactly “this” is. If it is a spider or cockroach then we will probably affirm his right to kill it. If it is his little sister, then the answer will be an emphatic no. This demonstrates that our intuition tells us the identity of the unborn is the central issue in the abortion debate. We all immediately understand this.

It is dangerous to push analogies beyond the specific purpose they are designed to demonstrate, and so I will not do that here. I have noticed more and more, though, seemingly compassionate people arguing for the right to kill the unborn at certain developmental stages for less than convincing reasons. The odd thing about this attitude toward killing unborn life is that it is so often oozing with an enlightened superiority that is breathtaking. What these people are claiming is that they have a better intellectual handle on what we can kill. They then attack pro-lifers for a lack of compassion for not having their broader conceptions on things that we are allowed to kill.

In their defense, they would argue that the term kill does not apply at all to the termination of life in question. In the case of very early life or severely brain damaged individuals that an actual person does not exist to kill at all. This does not ease my mind, though. Proponents of this position seem to be arguing that something living is present, but that this something is a thing that we can reasonably kill.

I admit that we kill many things. Just down the street from where I am working, a poultry plant is killing chickens on a massive scale. I am not disturbed by this fact for various reasons. I have no moral opposition to killing chickens for the purpose of eating them, and so any concern of mine over a large number of chickens being killed would be out of place. If I think killing one innocent chicken to feed me is ok, why would it bother me if you kill 10,000 to feed 10,000 other people? Certain needlessly barbaric practices may outrage me and highlight a need for regulation, but I will not become inflamed by numbers. In this line of reasoning, the practical method of killing is the issue and not the fact of terminating the lives of innocent chickens. Cows, pigs, and many other animals would be included in this category.

In addition, roaches spread filth and disease and spiders can conceivably hurt my family. Therefore, I feel reasonably justified in killing innocent insects and arachnids. It should be noted however, I admit that I am most definitely killing the cockroach I pick up with a paper towel and then crush in my hand. I see it as a justified killing, but a killing none the less.

But what if we framed the original question differently? What if my son asked, “Why can’t I kill this?” Does this demonstrate a different perspective? I think so. It appears to me that this is how many people who defend the practice of abortion are framing their approach to the question of the unborn.

What is the functional difference between the two? Both questions acknowledge that we have a right or permission to kill certain living things for various reasons. The first question my son asked, “Can I kill this?” starts from a position that sees the termination of life as something that must be weighed against additional considerations. Whatever it is that he is holding in his hands, the question demonstrates that there is information that must be discussed before we kill it. In approaching the question of the right or wrong of killing the object in question, the questioner presupposes he may not be allowed to kill this object and had better check before doing something that cannot be undone.

This is not the same as asking, “Why can’t I kill this?” This question presupposes that I have a right to kill and I want to know why this thing falls outside of that right. It sees restriction as impediment in a negative sense as opposed to a reasonable limit. The difference here is subtle, but I think important when working through these arguments. The more I read the defenses of abortion the more I here this second question asked over and over again. In the next post I will draw out how I think this difference effects the level of discourse.

*The original post credited Scott and Greg Koukl for the "Can I kill this?" illustration. Scott has corrected me that it was Greg alone who came up with that.*

Monday, January 28, 2008

Philosophy and Rock Music [SK]

I had a philosophy prof in the early 80s who taught the class to analyze arguments by playing rock music. "Listen for the arguments and presuppositions," he would say. Admittedly, that was difficult when it was Alice Cooper or AC/DC, but Bowie and Boston weren't bad.

Without question, my favorite lefty anti-war song from that period is Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits. Take a listen. If you don't conclude it's some of the most hauntingly beautiful guitar work you've ever heard, you are just plain nuts. (And this performance is live!)

The song laments how humans make war on each other and create a living hell in the process. I like it because even though I reject the premises of the "peace at all cost" crowd, this particular tune affirms human exceptionalism. In other words, the song presupposes that we humans are supposed to do better than make war, that somehow we're not acting according to our higher natures when we blow each other to bits.

Of course, the secular left denies there can be such a thing as human natures, only socially constructed selves. Humans aren't exceptional and anyone who says they are is guilty of Speciesism. But seriously, we don't lament tigers making war on zebra's and eating them for lunch, do we? We might find the whole ordeal a bloody mess, but no one is surprised when a tiger acts according to its inner nature.

But when a raging Michael Vick clubs his Pit Bull for losing a fight, we're justifiably outraged at his inhumane, beastly behavior. We demand better of him as a man.

But on what grounds?

Wesley Smith is right: If you keep telling humans they are no different than animals, don't be surprised when they act that way.

Enjoy the song as you revel in its irony.

Please, God! Give us More Preachers Like This!

From John Piper's sermon last Sunday:

And just like the psalmist looked child sacrifice full in the face, so today we need to study abortion. We need the raw facts—just as raw as the language of this psalm. We need to watch the videos over at Abort73, and we need to look at beautiful pictures of the unborn. We need the statistics of over 40 million babies killed by abortion since 1973 just in our own country, with 90% of the abortion clinics in urban centers, and therefore wiping out massive numbers of minorities (over half of all abortions) with a kind of ethnic cleansing that pro-choice people cannot dare to think about. We need to know the procedures (suction-aspiration, dilation and curettage, saline abortion, intact dilation and extraction, RU-486, intrauterine cranial decompression, or partial birth abortion).

Some Sins Need Raw Language

The psalm is as raw as it could get before photography and DVD. The point is: There are some sins that cannot be comprehended without raw language or raw pictures. I once read in the Star-Tribune that if all Americans could be made to watch a live execution (electric chair or lethal injection), capital punishment would be abandoned. I don’t know if that is true. But if it is, the same thing applies all the more to abortion. If we were made to watch a doctor pull off the little baby’s legs and arms one by one and place them on the table like a dentist removing cotton from your mouth—if all Americans were made to see what it really is, the pro-life goal of abortion being unthinkable (not just illegal) would be much nearer. (Emphasis added)
For more on what YOUR pastor can do, go here.

Will McCain Compromise on Supreme Court Candidates? [Serge]

As the election season continues upon us, the Republican candidates are often portrayed as consistently pro-life with the exception of Guliani. This may be true for the candidate's views individually, but far more important is the candidate's ability to render change in the makeup of SCOTUS. That is the roadblock that we face, and we need to judge the candidate's ability to be courageous enough to nominate strong pro-life judges.

It is for this reason that I am surprised that John McCain has not taken more criticism, especially his involvement with the so-called "gang of fourteen". If you recall, the Democrats had taken to filibustering many conservative judicial nominations. The Republicans were threatening the "nuclear option" in order to force the Democrats to allow these nominees a vote. Remember that the issue was not to force the Democrats to confirm these nominees, but to merely allow the senate to vote on confirmation.

McCain was a leader in the compromise that ended the fight. He got the moderate Democrats to allow the full senate to vote on 3 judges, but also allowed them to continue to filibuster 2 additional judges. He also got the Democrats to agree to nit filibuster unless there were "extraordinary circumstances".

In other words, in a political situation where the Republicans had the presidency and both houses of Congress, McCain felt he needed to throw two conservative judges under the bus in order to allow a mere vote on the other three. Furthermore, the pledge to not use a filibuster only under extraordinary situations fell apart when two of the members of the "gang of fourteen" failed to vote for cloture for Brett Kavanaugh, who still received a vote and was later confirmed to the bench.

If McCain felt the need to compromise in a situation where the Republicans held the majority, how confident can we be that he will not feel the need to compromise his judicial nominations if he becomes president? Compromise may be a great strategy if you are a long-term senator who seems to enjoy drawing attention to himself, but as our chief executive and leader, his past record is troubling.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Reaching Hearts and Minds on Abortion [SK] the title of my presentation heard today and Friday on Focus on the Family.

Listen on-line here.

Or, click here to find a station in your area. (From the drop-down menu, select "Focus on the Family Daily Broadcast.")

Monday, January 21, 2008

Robert P. George's "Embryo" [SK]

Last week, Justin Taylor interviewed me on the top 5 books every pro-life apologist should read. That was before I read Robert George's Embryo: A Defense of Human Life--which hit the shelves eight days before the Q&A with Justin. I wouldn't subtract any of those previously mentioned books, but having just finished George's book, I must insist on adding a sixth title to the list.

In a word, it's spectacular. Here is my own (brief) summary of the book's major themes:

A) In a civil society, science and philosophy work together to arrive at morally sound conclusions. With embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), science gives us the facts we need to determine the kind of thing the embryo is while philosophical reflection tells us how we ought to treat it. The science of embryology is clear that you didn't evolve from an embryo; you once were an embryo. That is to say, you are identical to the embryo you once were. At that younger stage, you were not some other kind of animal organism. Nor were you part of a larger human being or a mere clump of cells. Rather, you were a complete (though developmentally immature) whole living member of the human family, directing your own internal growth and development.

B) Thus, the ethics of destructive embryo research come down to this threshold question: Is it unjust to relegate a certain class of human beings to the status of objects that can be killed to benefit others? If, for example, researchers wanted to kill mentally disabled children to harvest their organs, no reasonable person would classify the resulting controversy as a debate between the progress of science on one hand, and the constraints of private religion on the other. Nor would anyone say the debate was about the benefits of organ transplantation, or, if you will, "therapeutic organ harvesting." In a civil society, the debate would turn on the question of killing disabled humans to benefit others. The question of who might be helped by the killings would never arise in the first place!

C) Scientific progress must be tied to objective moral principles. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we ought to do it. For example, the Tuskegee Experiments were technologically feasible, but morally indefensible.

D) It is no more a religious claim to say an embryo has value than it is to claim a Black Man does. Suppose that instead of killing embryos for research, someone were to suggest killing ethnic minorities for that same purpose. Would anyone dare to suggest that those opposing the ethnic killings were simply forcing their religious views on the rest of us? Truth be told, the "religious" objection is a cop-out, a means of avoiding the question of whether all human beings--regardless of race, gender, level of development, and location--have an equal right to life.

E) Self-body dualism, as espoused by secular critics, is indefensible. Indeed, there's a host of problems with the idea of personhood coming into existence only after some degree of bodily development. One is that you end up saying things like "I came to be after my body came to be." Or, "I inhabit a body that was once an embryo." Absurd. It's far more reasonable to say living organism (like human beings, dogs, or cats) are substances that maintain their identities over time and change. What moves a puppy to maturity or fetus to an adult is not an external collection of parts, but an internal nature or essence. Thus, as the human embryo develops, it does not become more of its kind, but matures according to its kind. It remains what it is from the moment it begins to exist even if its ultimate capacities (for example, the ability to think abstractly) are never realized. Likewise, a puppy does not become more of a dog as it matures. Nor does it cease to be a dog if it never develops the ability to bark. True, a human embryo will develop accidental properties (such as self-awareness, size, and physical structure) as it matures, but these properties are non-essential and can be changed without altering the nature of the thing itself. This is why a person can lose a body part and yet retain his personal identity through that change. Applied to the pro-life case, the substance view says that you are identical to your former embryonic self. You were the same being then as you are now, though your functional abilities have changed. From the moment you began to exist, there's been no substantial change in your essential nature. In short, humans have value in virtue of the kind of thing they are rather than because of some function they perform. You and I are identical to the embryonic human beings we once were--meaning that although you were once small as an embryo, your small size and lack of development did not change the kind of thing you were. You were the same being then as you are now.

F) Advocates of ESCR cannot account for basic human equality. As I stated in my interview with Justin (and in other posts on this blog),if humans have value only because of some acquired property like self-awareness, it follows that since this acquired property comes in varying degrees, basic human rights come in varying degrees. It's far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature that comes to be when they come to be.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Five Best Pro-Life Books [SK]

Justin Taylor interviews me on books (including my own upcoming title, "Equipped to Engage: Pro-Life Christians in the Brave New World") and the reasonableness of the pro-life position in general.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Primary Time in Michigan [Serge]

Here's the count so far. I've received five phone calls from Romney and two from McCain. During the NFL playoff games over the weekend (where I watched Sunday's game at my in-laws without TIVO), it was McCain and Romney again, with Romney having about twice as many commercials. Nothing from any of the other candidates in terms of advertising.

As far me and the Mrs., we are definiately voting in the primary. As for whom, lets just say I don't always listen to political advertisements or always see eye to eye with the prez. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Irrelevant Madness [Jay]

I came back from vacation to see that Serge is posting like mad. I am enjoying his point by point refutation (here and here) of Jill’s post at Feministe listing questions that she believes undercut the pro-life position that the unborn are human beings with an equal inherent right to life based on the nature of their being. I have an entirely different problem with Jill’s questions. They don’t matter. Jill and others are confusing categories in an attempt to reverse the field on the pro-life arguments.

You see the pro-life arguments have been advanced by demonstrating that if the value of a human being is determined by a subjectively chosen point of development, like birth or organized cortical brain activity, then the unforeseen consequences of the those subjective determinations can lead to devaluing life that the abortion rights proponent would otherwise not devalue. For instance, if the unborn are less valuable because of their dependence on another person, then dependence devalues all sorts of other human beings such as those with chronic medical conditions that are daily dependent on others to provide care for them. This works most obviously with the SLED acronym advanced by Stephen Schwartz and refined and championed by our own fearless leader, Scott Klusendorf; Size, Level of Development, Environment, and Degree of Dependence. This line of argument has been effective.

The current line of counter argument that is being advanced by the pro-abortion side tries to turn the tables. If the unborn are human persons with all accompanying rights then there are all of these absurd and unforeseen consequences that make that position implausible. How do we calculate death rates and populations? Do we issue Social Security numbers to the unborn? How do we criminally punish those women who inadvertently or intentionally cause the deaths of unborn children? It is madness! Complete and utter irrelevant madness!

You see the central focus of the pro-life argument is how we correctly identify the nature of the unborn. The absurd consequences of the subjective determination of value are directly relevant to the question at hand. If we have the power to decide when another being is important, we have to be very careful where we draw those lines lest we find ourselves suddenly less important. But that is not what the counter arguments are doing. They are asking an irrelevant question to undercut the premise of an argument they are losing. We say it is innocent human life and it is of value. Therefore, it is immoral that we destroy that life for elective reasons. They counter with the argument that if it is life and of value, the government is going to have a heck of a time sorting out the logistics of dealing with that life.

Quite frankly, that is not where we are and I really do not care. What are the unborn and what are we doing to them? Are we treating nascent human life in a moral manner? This is a moral argument not a question of civil law. If the argument is that that the unborn are not valuable life and we have no moral obligation to them, then get busy proving your point. It is immature and silly to act as if the possibility that we will grant people at varying stages of development different civil rights is insane. I do not see any inconsistency with saying that a human being has an inherent right to life based on their nature from the moment they come into existence, but we will issue a birth certificate at birth, a social security number a couple of months later, a drivers license at 16, the right to vote at 18, the right to legally purchase and consume alcohol at 21, the right to run for U.S. Congressional Representative at 25, Senate at 30 and President of the United States at 35. What we must not do is kill others because they are inconvenient or financially taxing at any point in their life. These questions do nothing to further the argument that the unborn are not human persons, although they do very weakly skirt the argument to try to embarrass the pro-lifer with unexpected legal issues that will certainly arrive. Once you clear the dust of the silliness, as Serge is doing, you are left with very little that addresses the central point.

Is it moral to kill unborn human beings for elective reasons? Are they human beings? If so, then let us start to address the other practical matters in earnest. Otherwise you are wasting our time with arguments that fail to make any points relative to the issue. We can sort these other issues out when we agree that we ought not to kill unborn human beings at will. Until then, this is simply missing the point.

Perhaps that was the intention of the arguments all along.

Friday, January 4, 2008

More Answers to Silly Pro-Abortion Choice Questions [Serge]


5. Should fertilized eggs and embryos get social security numbers? What benefits should they be entitled to?
Social security numbers are assigned in order to gain some form of benefit for a child. The only benefit that the prenatal human being is looking for is not to be intentionally killed in their mother's womb. Therefore, the answer is no.

6. What responsibilities and legal consequences should pregnant women face? Should Child Protective Services be able to step in if a pregnant woman does something that could potentially damage the fetus — like eat tuna or drink coffee or exercise heavily? What if a woman isn’t pregnant, but makes her body inhospitable to a fertilized egg — say, for example, that she uses birth control, which thins the uterine lining and makes it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant? What if she’s anorexic? Some anorexics may be able to ovulate, but may not be able to sustain a pregnancy, or even have enough nutrients to allow for implantation. Can such a woman be prosecuted or otherwise punished for creating an environment that was deadly for an egg-child? What if a pregnant woman had a miscarriage, and it could be linked to some behavior — going skiing or flying or not eating properly? We already prosecute pregnant women when they use drugs during their pregnancies. If a pregnant woman otherwise does harm to her fetus, should she be prosecuted for child abuse? Neglect? If she miscarries, can she be tried for homicide?

These laws would remain exactly as they are now, except that they would be more consistent. With the obvious exception of legal abortion, we already treat wanted prenatal humans as valuable. We should continue to strive to provide everything that a pregnant mother needs to support her child.

For example, I just performed surgery under IV sedation for a number of young women. If one of them was pregnant, and I gave a medication that would harm their child (such as thalidomide or accutane), I would be held liable for the damage done to the child. If I did so intentionally, I would be help criminally liable for the death of the child. Likewise, men who give their female partners medications in order to cause an abortion are criminally liable for their actions.

The lone exception to this is legal abortion. I cannot give a medication that could harm a prenatal human, but with the mother's consent, a doctor can give a medication that would intentionally kill the same child. This is grossly inconsistent, and would be rectified. As far as the mother goes, any action which did not intend to end the life of her offspring would be of no significance.

7. I’ve asked this one before, but I rarely get a straight answer: If a woman intentionally terminates a pregnancy in a pro-life nation, how much time should she do? If a fetus is a person and a woman intentionally terminates the life of that fetus, should she go to jail? Be up for the death penalty? In almost any other circumstance, a person who intentionally kills another person — or who pays someone to do the killing for them — is prosecuted. Why should women who terminate pregnancies be exceptions? And if women who terminate pregnancies should be excepted because they just don’t know better, should the same hold true for women who intentionally kill their born children? For women who intentionally kill strangers?
I'm surprised that you have not gotten a straight answer, considering that NRO had an entire symposium on this very topic. I have previously answered this question here, but if you do not wish to read the whole thing, I'll even provide a quote:

Second, there is another reason why laws against abortion may be merciful to the mother. Although the number of illegal abortions that occur would probably be less than our pro-abortion choice opponents claim, it seems clear that some would occur. In that case there is a significant chance that women who received an illegal abortion would be at risk for serious medical complications. These complications would be best treated as quickly as possible in almost every case. If the law would mandate serious punishment for women who have illegal abortions, there would be a great disincentive to seeking medical care for any complication. It is reasonable to argue that the care of those who have made the poor decision to kill their child is paramount. Also, it is reasonable to hold the physician who caused these complications to a higher standard and to hold them primarily responsible for the injury.
Knowing that illegal abortions may occur, and that women would be harmed if they did not seek medical care for them, I believe it is best not to provide a disincentive for care by threatening prosecution. Is there anything wrong with this?

8. If a fetus is entitled to use a woman’s body to sustain its own life, should we begin researching other ways for humans to share bodily functions? It could save lives, after all. If, say, my kidneys fail and there is a way that you and I can be physically attached for about a year, can I can use your body to clean out my own? Sure, it will mean that you will be less physically mobile, it’ll require you to take time off of work, it will significantly alter your health, and getting me off of you when I’m ready will require you to go through a long and expensive process which re-defines the meaning of pain, but if a fetus has those rights, why don’t I?
You can read my article in the Christian Research Journal regarding this question.

I'll get to 9-12 when I have a chance.

Pro-Life Answers to Silly Pro-Abortion Choice Questions [Serge]

Jill over at Feministe has posted a series of questions that she feels few pro-lifers have the courage to answer. In the event that these may actually resonate with some, here's how I would answer them. Jill's questions are in italics, my answers after.

1. How do we determine our population? If a person is a person at the moment of conception, then we need to seriously re-evaluate how we calculate the number of persons world-wide. How do we track each conception? Have women make daily doctor visits to check? Implement some sort of required daily home test?
I see no reason to recalculate the methods in which we presently determine population. The only "right" that a prenatal human being is seeking is the right not to be dismembered on the order of their mother. If they are not counted in the next census, I don't see a problem.

2. How do we determine our death rate? Somewhere around half of all fertilized eggs naturally don’t implant in the uterine lining, and never develop into fetuses, let alone babies. Does our death rate just go up a few million with the passage of this amendment? The medical community has traditionally defined pregnancy as beginning at the point of implantation precisely because so many fertilized eggs don’t implant. Should we change this definition?

Our "death rate" is presently 100%. In other words, 100% of the human beings conceived will die at some point in time. Although I believe overturning Roe v Wade will accomplish much, this "death rate" will remain the same. Except that less of the deaths will occur via intentional dismemberment.

3. Should every “human” death be investigated? If so, how? As it stands, if a person dies (and especially if they’re found dead), there’s often some sort of investigation, especially if there’s reason to believe that another person caused their death. So, first, how do we recover all the “bodies” of the fertilized egg-people? Do we insist on checking every pad and tampon for evidence of human life? Every pair of panties? Every toilet bowl? And if we find a fertilized egg, should the police be called? I mean, if you find a baby in a dumpster, you call the police. If you find a used tampon in the trash, should you do the same thing? If a woman goes to the hospital for a miscarriage, should she be investigated as a potential murderer or child abuser? Should there be laws about the proper disposal of dead egg-bodies, the way that there are laws regulating the disposal of born human bodies?
No. As per question 2, human beings die all the time. The vast, vast majority of these deaths are natural and there is no reason to investigate all of them. When evidence exists that the death is not natural but instead is the intentional action of another human agent, then investigation may be warranted. Without such evidence, it is assumed that the death is natural.

Your example shows this. A dead infant found in a dumpster is investigated because, well, babies don't naturally crawl into dumpsters and die. On the other hand, all of the other examples you used happen naturally. There would be no reason to investigate almost all of them unless there some other more compelling evidence.

I have two quick questions for you: If a woman today presented to a hospital ER after a miscarriage but there was evidence of a perforated uterus possibly due to a botched "back-alley" abortion, do think this should be investigated? Second, why did you place "human" in quotations in describing "human death"? Is there a question whether or not a human zygote is in fact, human?

4. Pro-lifers claim to value each and every human life, from the moment of conception. That’s why, they say, they want abortion to be illegal — because it kills a person. And there are indeed a lot of abortions. But the abortion rate pales in comparison to the rate of fertilized eggs that don’t implant and “die” by being naturally flushed out of the body. Yet there is not a single pro-life organization (at least that I can find) dedicated to finding a solution to this widespread, deadly epidemic. The “death rate” of unimplanted fertilized egg-persons almost certainly far exceeds the abortion rate and the death rate from AIDS combined. Why the silence? Why no mass protests or funding drives or pushes for research?* Where is the concern for the fertilized egg-people?
I must admit I'm a bit confused by this question. The attitude of pro-lifers seem very similar to virtually every pregnant mother who wants her child. Deaths that occur naturally are seen as tragic and should be avoided if possible. However, anyone with even a basic knowledge of human physiology can see that there is no foreseeable way to prevent all natural deaths from humans regardless of their stage of development. Protests or funding drives would change none of that - although we certainly do attempt to educate mothers on the proper steps to take in order to minimize the risk to their child.

I'll answer 5-8 in the next post.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Forgetting the Legacy of Tuskegee [Serge]

Dr. Robert Kelch details another argument for the destruction of human embryos in the Detroit Free Press:

Embryonic stem cell research should proceed, and Michigan's current restrictive laws should be removed, because these patients deserve the best effort that medical researchers here in Michigan and worldwide can offer. That means allowing science to push forward the way science does best -- creatively, pursuing many paths, able to evaluate new and sometimes unexpected results...

At this early stage in stem cell exploration, it makes no sense to abandon any avenue of research, especially if that would delay the life-changing therapies for which people are waiting. (emphasis mine)
Kelch argues that scientific knowledge must soldier on past any ethical restrictions in order to have the maximum number of paths to pursue potentially life saving cures. This attitude parallels the attitude of those involved in one of the worst chapters of American medical history: the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.

For those unfamiliar with this study, allow me a quick historical review. The Tuskegee study started in the 1920s in Alabama in order to study syphilis, an STD effecting as much as 30% of the population. Men with latent syphilis were given aggressive treatment. The treatments at that time were only about 30% effective and were highly toxic.

Although the study began with the best intentions, two events significantly changed that. First, due to the great depression, funding for the treatments was stopped in 1932. At that time, an effort was made to salvage whatever knowledge could be gained by following the men who no longer were being treated for their disease. 400 men with latent syphilis were followed and compared to a control of men without the disease.

The second important event is that by 1947, penicillin was widely available and found to be effective in treating the disease. The researchers had a dilemma; if they gave these patients penicillin they would lose the ability to study the progression of syphilis and possible find a more effective treatment. Although PCN would potentially help the individuals involved, other possible avenues of knowledge would be lost forever. For that reason, they decided to continue to study the course of the disease by intentionally withholding treatment that they knew was effective. The patients did not receive treatment until after the study was stopped in 1972. In other words, a potentially fatal disease was allowed to progress for over 25 years.

There are so many topics covered by this incident (race relations, informed consent, etc.) that it can be easy to overlook important facts. These are not to be missed:

1. This study was not secret. Findings from the Tuskegee study were published in major medical journals. Many, many professional medical practitioners knew about these men who were not being treated.

2. The study was endorsed by the CDC and regional medical associations as late as 1969. An ethics panel from the CDC had all of the information and concluded that the advancement of scientific knowledge that would occur from allowing the disease to continue was worth not treating these men. This study was not the advent of a rogue investigator: it was the consistent application of the theory that scientific knowledge should proceed at all costs, and was endorsed by the medical establishment.

3. The study was motivated primarily as an effort to gain scientific knowledge that would help others. Although we now know that PCN is effective to treat syphilis (it is still the primary drug of choice), we did not know that for sure back in 1947. At least initially, it was thought that by giving these men PCN, an opportunity to discover an even more effective treatment could be lost.

This is getting long, so I'll continue the thought in my next post.