Monday, January 12, 2009

I Wonder How Long ...

...it will take for the ultra secretive Parliamentary Pro-life Caucus to adopt this bit of chicanery:

Representative Paul Broun (R-Georgia) believes the "greatest moral issue facing our nation" is the killing of unborn children, and that all Americans have a "moral and constitutional obligation" to protect every unborn child. That's why Broun, a medical doctor, has promised that the Sanctity of Human Life Act will be the very first bill he will introduce in every Congress until abortion is banned in the U.S. He notes the bill scientifically defines life as beginning at the point of fertilization with the creation of a human zygote.


I'll give Mr. Broun credit - he's up front about what his objectives are - unlike Ken Epp's terminally dishonest C-484.

Before you wander down that little legislative path, let's consider a couple of implications here:

(1) Not all fertilized eggs implant in the uterus. This is a biological given. Does this mean that a woman who has a fertilized egg is guilty of either involuntary manslaughter, or 'failing to provide the necessities of life' should this happen?

(2) Should a woman who has sex find herself suddenly obliged to stay away from alcohol, tobacco and other substances until her next period, or risk being charged with child endangerment?

(3) Consider miscarriage (also known as a natural abortion) - has the woman then committed a criminal act?

(4) Is a woman who as a result of exercise or other activities injures the fetus she is carrying, is she guilty of some kind of an assault?

(5) Consider the medical ethics problems raised by treating a pregnant woman. Suddenly the doctor is potentially facing lawsuits not just on behalf of the woman, but a second set of damages with respect to the fetus. (You just have to know this one is coming) What are the doctor's options when saving the mother damages the fetus? Or vice versa?

The list is practically endless - and it all boils down to a moral belief that demands that a pregnant woman is not considered to be able to make her own moral and ethical decisions about a matter that affects her as much as it affects the fetus.

It's a matter of time before one of Stephen Harper's band of wingnuts puts almost identical legislation before the House of Commons.

10 comments:

Arabella-m said...

I'm a biologist and a couple of points from your list puzzled me, especially points 1 and 3.

(1) Not all fertilized eggs implant in the uterus. This is a biological given. Does this mean that a woman who has a fertilized egg is guilty of either involuntary manslaughter, or 'failing to provide the necessities of life' should this happen?


Death is a biological given. Just as not all fertilized eggs implant in the uterus, not all babies reach childhood, not all adolescents reach adulthood, and so on. In many places with low living standards the number of deaths in early childhood would be as great as the number of deaths of zygotes by failure to implant (the correct term for the fertilized egg is zygote - a new organism in its first stage of life).

I cannot see that the natural death of a zygote infers guilt by the woman carrying it. Does anyone draw this odd conclusion?

As you said its a biological given that some die, but this could occur at any stage of the organism's life cycle. This can range from death due to the zygote's failure to implant, death of the older fetus through miscarriage, death of some neonates (newborn)through birth defects, and so on, up to natural death in old age.


(3) Consider miscarriage (also known as a natural abortion) - has the woman then committed a criminal act?

No - how would one conclude that? The death is due to no fault of the woman. Death can come early or late in any individual organism's life cycle without any fault of another.

MgS said...

Arabella,

Rationally, I agree with you. Unfortunately, I do not think that the so-called pro-life crowd is necessarily rational in their thinking.

Remember, these are the same people who are now arguing that "The Pill" is an "abortifacient".

The implications (in particular legal - which is clearly distinct from biological) of granting legal rights to a fetus opens a moral and ethical can of worms that I do not believe has been adequately thought through - which is a big part of the reason for the extreme, if not borderline ludicrous, extrapolations I cite as possibilities.

Arabella-m said...

I wrote that "Death can come early or late in any individual organism's life cycle without any fault of another" in regards to your examples in points (1) and (3).


You say "Unfortunately, I do not think that the so-called pro-life crowd is necessarily rational in their thinking."

Rational, or not, the pro-life people ARE consistent. They say that the individual organism which is the zygote, or embryo, or foetus, or neonate (newborn) cannot be deliberately killed at any of these stages.

On the other hand consistency leads to the rational conclusion that just as the foetus which burdens a woman can be terminated so too can neonates which are a burden to society also be terminated. That they are not is really often based only on emotional reactions.

Just as a woman can be burdened by a pregnancy, so can societies and groups with limited resources (think of deeply impoverished countries) be burdened by having to care for the handicapped. There's not always the easy solution of saying someone will care for them when that care is expensive and no-one wants to provide. Sometimes there is simply no-one willing to take up the burden of care for an unwelcome other. Should they have to!

Philosopher Professor Singer and Professor John Harris (a member of the British government’s Human Genetics Commission and professor of bioethics at Manchester University) are clear about this. Harris says “We can terminate for serious foetal abnormality up to term but cannot kill a newborn. What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it okay to kill the foetus at one end of the birth canal but not at the other?”

He finds it irrational that the seriously handicapped neonate cannot be terminated as really it's the same thing as the foetus, only in a different place. Both can be a burden and unwelcome!

To be consistent either none may be killed at any stage, even as embryos, (that’s the extreme pro-life position and many are uncomfortable with that!) or we can decide that any below a certain age or capability (e.g. handicapped infants or even severely mentally handicapped adults) can be terminated. This is, of course, only if caring for these creates a great burden and curtails the freedom of more autonomous others (& the condition being there is no-one else to care for these so the burden cannot be otherwise avoided).

Sentiment and emotion often cloud our thinking!


http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article625477.ece

MgS said...

The so-called "pro life" crowd is not logically consistent - they are absolutist.

Their arguments deliberately disregard certain biological realities, as well as they similarly disregard the correlating changes of status that occur as those biological realities become social obligations instead of biological realities.

As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, as we grow, age and mature, our social and legal status with respect to our parents changes considerably.

You cannot argue that the relationship that a pregnant woman has with the fetus she carries is substantively different than it with the toddler that fetus will be in a few short years.

My position - if you haven't figured it out yet, is that a fetus is in no position to exercise legal rights of any sort, and is entirely bound to the mother - and therefore is protected by the protections that apply to the mother. Granting distinct legal status to the fetus prior to birth is an unreasonable thing to do because it ultimately places an unreasonable and impractical constraint upon the woman without regard to the realities of pregnancy.

In short, during pregnancy, the decisions related to that pregnancy are uniquely in the hands of the woman - in all respects including moral and ethical matters.

Arabella-m said...

The so-called "pro life" crowd is not logically consistent - they are absolutist.

Whatever you may think of the pro-life crowd they are consistent and they are absolutist.

Their consistency is shown in the belief held that at no stage may the human organism, from its first coming into being at fertilisation until its natural death, be deliberately and directly killed when it is innocent of any wrong doing.

How is that not consistent?


Their arguments deliberately disregard certain biological realities, as well as they similarly disregard the correlating changes of status that occur as those biological realities become social obligations instead of biological realities.

As a biologist I cannot see where they are ignoring biological realities. It's a biological reality that the newborn is completely reliant on others for care, as is the severely handicapped individual. It may be given to others to care for but that would simply transfer the ability to make life and death decisions to these others - this is consistent with the complete dependence of the foetus before birth being the criteria used to allow the woman the decision to terminate the foetus's life.

As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, as we grow, age and mature, our social and legal status with respect to our parents changes considerably.

Yes

So what did you make of Professor Singer's and Harris's conclusions that if the foetus can be killed it is logical to conclude that the parents and society can rationally also kill the foetus when it becomes a newborn?

If being dependent allows those who provide the care to make decisions this does follow (assuming there is no-one else able to take over the care of the newborn or handicapped one).

That's where I see a problem. How do you get around that? In what way are Harris and Singer wrong - remember they are both professors of philosophy, specialising in bioethics, and are not pro-lifers.

MgS said...

So what did you make of Professor Singer's and Harris's conclusions that if the foetus can be killed it is logical to conclude that the parents and society can rationally also kill the foetus when it becomes a newborn?

That is specious reasoning at best. Once born, the baby is no longer solely dependent upon its mother to survive. Foster care can be brought into the picture, which dramatically changes the context.

(Yes, I am fully aware that there is historical knowledge that many civilizations have done this very practice in the past - that doesn't mean I think it was right then any more than I think it would be right today)

It's a biological reality that the newborn is completely reliant on others for care, as is the severely handicapped individual.

Again, your reasoning is flawed for the same reasons I just stated above.

How is that not consistent?

I can consistently argue that the earth is flat - I'd still be missing the implications of evidence and context to the contrary, wouldn't I?

When someone presents a coherent explanation that proves that a woman, once pregnant, is incapable of making rational decisions regarding herself and her pregnancy, then I'll reconsider my position. In the meantime, I continue to assert that the only people with a real say in the matter are the woman and (to a lesser extent) her physician.

Arabella-m said...

That is specious reasoning at best. Once born, the baby is no longer solely dependent upon its mother to survive. Foster care can be brought into the picture, which dramatically changes the context.

OK, going along with your reasoning abortion after 26 weeks could be avoided as foster care could be used. With modern technology, after 26 weeks, there is no need for the foetus to be dependent upon the woman. There is some chance of survival in a humidicrib.

If the woman does not want the foetus the birth could be induced and the newborn placed in a humidicrib.

As technology improves the limits of viability change. In the future there may be artificial wombs developed wherein the gestation of even the youngest embryo could be completed. This could also change the context in the abortion debate.

This is analogous to your foster care example when considering the morality of infanticde.

Is abortion after the time that a child can be kept alive in a humidicrib an ethical choice?

MgS said...

That scraping sound is the goalposts moving. I'm not talking about "when does abortion become unacceptable" here by placing arbitrary lines in the sand.

First of all, late term abortion is relatively rare (less than 1% of all abortions in Canada) to begin with, second of all, I have no evidence before me that says that a woman is incapable of making that decision herself simply because she is pregnant.

Second, I can imagine that there will be a variety of circumstances which could arise where an abortion after 25 or 26 weeks is still an ethically valid choice.

Third, a pregnant woman may make a choice I disagree with personally, but that doesn't make her wrong for making that decision.

Arabella-m said...

That scraping sound is the goalposts moving. I'm not talking about "when does abortion become unacceptable" here by placing arbitrary lines in the sand.

No – I gave the example of abortion after viability because you sidestepped the following question of mine: “So what did you make of Professor Singer's and Harris's conclusions that if the foetus can be killed it is logical to conclude that the parents and society can rationally also kill the foetus when it becomes a newborn?” with this answer – “That is specious reasoning at best. Once born, the baby is no longer solely dependent upon its mother to survive. Foster care can be brought into the picture, which dramatically changes the context

I believe that Singer and Harris hold a rational logical position on the issue. I have not revealed my position. For all you know I might hold pro-lifers in the same contempt you do! I’m interested in philosophy and am a biologist – that’s where I’m coming from on this issue.

You’ve put a lot of weight on the argument that a woman can place the baby in foster care after birth, therefore you do not agree with Singer & Harris. I pointed out that after, e.g., 26 weeks the foetus can be placed in something analogous to foster care – a humidicrib. It need no longer be dependent upon the woman who carried it. Your argument for abortion (that the foetus cannot live apart from the mother), then, after 26 weeks gestation falls apart. Singer & Harris have the stronger case.


First of all, late term abortion is relatively rare (less than 1% of all abortions in Canada) to begin with,

If there are 100,000 abortions a year in Canada 1% would give 1,000. If it is half of 1% there are still 500 foetuses, or neonates (if they die after birth), that are terminated when these have a chance of living independently. That is not a small number!

Second, I can imagine that there will be a variety of circumstances which could arise where an abortion after 25 or 26 weeks is still an ethically valid choice.

But Singer and Harris are wrong – how is that?
If it is ethically valid to make such a decision at 26 weeks it is ethically valid to make such a decision about the (e.g. frail, dependent, handicapped) foetus/newborn one week after birth.

I cannot understand your criticism of pro- lifers when you merely hold a popular view about abortion and criticise the likes of Harris and Singer who are at least consistent: It is not birth, but independence AND a consciousness of self, that confers a ‘right to life’. If the foetus can be killed before birth it can be killed after birth.
‘Pro- lifers’ see this and it scares them.

MgS said...

Your argument for abortion (that the foetus cannot live apart from the mother), then, after 26 weeks gestation falls apart. Singer & Harris have the stronger case.

Let me be more precise for you, since you seem to wish to pick nits. Normal gestation is 36 weeks. While the fetus remains inutero, that fetus is unquestionably dependent upon the pregnant woman for all necessities of life.

My point is not that of deciding when a fetus may or may not be able to survive outside of the womb, but rather that during the time that the fetus is being carried by the mother, there is no question whatsoever as to whom that fetus depends upon in all regards. Similarly, there is no question as to who is taking the risks with respect to carrying that fetus. Therefore, in my view, all decisions regarding that fetus rest with the mother.

I cannot understand your criticism of pro- lifers when you merely hold a popular view about abortion and criticise the likes of Harris and Singer who are at least consistent

There is nothing inconsistent about my view. It is clear and it is consistent. Harris and Singer are postulating a slippery slope argument that I do not believe has any logical foundation. Further, I have already addressed that distinction quite clearly when I stated "As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, as we grow, age and mature, our social and legal status with respect to our parents changes considerably."

Further, Harris and Singer's extrapolations would run up against (in Canada at least) R. v. Sullivan, which clearly delineates a change in legal status following birth, which more than negates the prospect that Harris and Singer postulate.

My position is not necessarily "popular" nor is it "unconsidered". I have thought about the matter considerably over the years to arrive at the position I take today. Am I a "bioethicist"? No, of course not, but then again, ethics is hardly an exact discipline either.

Lastly, Canada has had no abortion law in force since 1988. The overall abortion rate has remained relatively stable over that time period, and in particular so has the late term rate. This does not give me any reason to believe that there is some urgent crisis that justifies an ill considered legislative approach of creating 'fetal rights', or for that matter, creating another abortion law, which drags the whole business back into the courts quite unnecessarily.