Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reflections on '...as long as it's healthy.'

This post was originally blogged at the Failed Atheist.

There is a common saying popular in Western culture when talking about the birth or scheduled scan of a child. It can arise in a number of different contexts but usually amounts to something like ‘…as long as it’s healthy’.

What does this mean? I don’t think people necessarily mean it in some sinister eugenic sense but what it means is that their child we be loved only if they are healthy. It places a condition on whether that child will be welcomed into the world and loved. I’ve heard it from so many people that it seems accurate to state that it’s culturally ingrained in our subconscious view of  the unborn child. A healthy child is a welcomed child whilst an unhealthy child is not, after-all in a culture of cost-benefit analysis an unhealthy child will just drain our resources right?

What’s wrong with ‘…as long as it’s healthy’? I can think of a number of reasons why we should stop saying it. There is nothing wrong in preferring a healthy child, I think most people can agree that we would prefer that our child was healthy than not. But that sentiment is not being portrayed in the saying, it goes much further than that by implying that an unhealthy child potentially won’t be loved by their parents and may be better off not being born. A parents love is meant to be unconditional but we have such a low cultural view of disability and poor health that it encourages our love for such children to be tentative and conditional. There is subtle yet pervasive pressure to only bring a healthy child into the world, this is why we have the scale of prenatal screening and diagnosis that we do, it is simply cheaper to diagnose and dispose of an unhealthy child before they’re born. Infanticide is still frowned upon here (for now), unlike the Netherlands and their Groningen protocol.

This is not a normal way to view ones children but part of a dehumanizing culture that has made an idol out of health and well being. We have trouble understanding that someone who may be in poor health or have a disability can be happy, our assumption is that those things equal a sub-par human existence which is not necessarily true. You do not need to be a healthy human being to be a good, influential or heroic one, just check out these people, Stephen Hawking, Hellen Keller, Jean-Dominique Bauby and Christy Brown as just a few examples of this.

To unconditionally love someone is to say that it’s good they exist. A humans dignity isn’t based in their talents and abilities but in their shared human nature. This is the Christian view of human value, we all share equal dignity grounded in being made in the image of God, and not because of how intelligent or physically able we may be. We should thus welcome all human beings into the world we share together, regardless of their health or abilities. When we keep repeating statements like ‘as long as it’s healthy’ we are partaking in an idea that implicitly intends not to welcome certain human beings into the world. Of course I understand that caring for a child who isn’t healthy may be challenging but we can make it easier by creating a culture where all humans are welcome and not only those who meets societal standards of normalcy. I therefore suggest that we stop saying ‘…as long as it’s healthy.’.

After writing this I discovered other people have also written about this, both from a Secular and Christian perspective, both very helpful for further reading.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Monkeying Around With Personhood [Clinton Wilcox]

Wesley J. Smith has written about a case in Argentina in which an orangutan named Sandra has been declared by the court to be a non-human person. This ruling essentially would grant Sandra her freedom because it is unethical to hold people captive unlawfully.

The BBC has even written about litigation in the United States to try to get Tommy, a chimpanzee living in captivity, recognized as a "legal person."

Peter Singer and Michael Tooley are two atheist philosophers who have long supported this notion that certain animals, like chimpanzees and dolphins, ought to be considered persons and human infants, embryos, fetuses, and the severely disabled ought not to be. Now it seems that fight has gotten bigger, even being won in at least one part of the world.

This line of thinking is atheist at its heart. If we are just the product of random mutations, a blind, naturalistic process of evolution, then really we are no more special than any other animal species out there. [1] This isn't just my interpretation, either. In Matter and Consciousness, Paul Churchland wrote: "The important point about the standard evolutionary story is that the human species and all of its features are the wholly physical outcome of a purely physical process...We are creatures of matter. We should learn to live with that fact."

In fact, Singer and Tooley both (in Practical Ethics and Abortion and Infanticide, respectively) have argued that this idea that humans are intrinsically valuable is a religious idea, and we need to do away with these "antiquated" notions. The only reason we now view infanticide as wrong is because Christian morality has permeated Western civilization.

So if you are going to argue that certain animals deserve personhood, one of two things must happen:

1) You raise those animals to the status of human beings. So if Tommy and Sandra are persons, and infants are not, that means that killing a chimpanzee is more serious than killing a human infant. If you "murder" a chimpanzee, you deserve to be locked away in jail for life or executed. [2] If you kill an infant, you don't. At most, you would be guilty of a property crime, if you killed the infant against the parents' wishes. This is a highly counterintuitive idea.

2) You lower humans to the status of mere animals. After all, if we're no intrinsically different than animals, then it's really not seriously wrong to kill another human being. This is also highly counterintuitive, since we have very strong intuition that killing any human being, especially ones that are younger and more vulnerable than we are, is seriously wrong.

The bottom line is chimpanzees don't deserve personhood status. Personhood is not some arbitrary idea that we can just ascribe to entities and consider them "one of us." Being a person is inherent in being the kind of entity that you are (in our case, a human being made in God's image, or to state it in a secular way, an entity with an inherent nature as rational agents). Those who believe you are a person based on the functions you currently perform are guilty of a simple confusion: confusing being a person with acting as a person. As you must be a human before you can develop human parts, so you must be a person before you can develop personal properties.

I do not believe that animals are rights bearing entities. That's not to say that we can mistreat them. They are still entities that feel pain, and we should respect that. And a human being who mistreats an animal is at risk of becoming animal-like, themselves, becoming desensitized to pain in others. However, even if you believe they are rights bearing entities, you can ascribe rights to them without ascribing personhood to them. But what we also have to understand is that with rights comes duties. I have a right to live. This means that I am also obligated to respect everyone else's right to live. Apes cannot understand or abide by any obligations.

Sandra and Tommy are both blissfully unaware of these court proceedings. In fact, they don't care one iota about whether or not you consider them persons. This is an important difference between apes and humans. Apes may be highly intelligent -- but only when compared to other animal species (this is often lost in the animal rights debate). Apes are not very intelligent when compared to human beings. No ape will ever write like Tolstoy, or paint like Michelangelo, or compose music like Bach, or fly other apes to the Moon. And while apes may be able to use certain rudimentary tools -- that's all it is, a rudimentary tool. No ape will ever open a hardware store for the carpentry needs of other apes. And while infants may not yet be able to understand these rights and obligations, they will. And that's the crux of the matter. Human embryos/fetuses/infants will naturally develop these abilities, whereas apes never will.

So trying to ascribe personhood status to lower animals is unnecessary and makes a mockery of human dignity. Animals have been part of the ecosystem for a long time. Animals kill each other, protect each other, copulate, and do all manner of things without human help and will continue to do so without human intervention and without caring a bit about personhood or what it is. There is just no reason to ascribe personhood to animals. The only possible reason would be to ensure that humans don't mistreat animals or cause them to go extinct. But ascribing them personhood status is not necessary for that, either.

[1] I'm not wanting to get into a debate about evolution. It's certainly possible that God used evolution as the mechanism by which to create humanity. The operative idea here is if naturalistic evolution is true, this is the idea that would follow.

[2] Again, the debate regarding capital punishment is beyond the scope of this article. This idea here is that whatever the penalty for murder is, that's what you deserve if you "murder" a chimpanzee.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

‘Pregnant woman leaves prolife advocates speechless’ – A Response to a viral Pro-abortion/choice video

Over the last week the abortion debate has been reawakened in the UK, after a viral video of a pro-choice/abortion women criticising prolife campaigners went viral and has been seen nearly 5 million times. The abortion debate has been on the front of newspapers, on the TV, Radio and all over the internet, the first time to such an extent for quite some time. Borrowing the words of Francis Schaeffer, the roof has come off and people have been made aware of the point of tension. Simply that abortion is a violent, dehumanising act that kills a whole, living distinct human being and abortion imagery makes that fact impossible to hide from. This has made a lot of people very angry and the UK press are not happy about it!

The viral video has been extremely popular but I have written a response to it which you can read here, and there is also a link in the first paragraph to the viral video.