continuity and the culture of death

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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  1. In all of this there is the matter of continuity and compromise. It always strikes me as odd when I listen to these conservatives who oppose abortion but cheer-lead the war in Iraq, or who chatter on about the value of life and then condone the death penalty.

    The conservative arguement, which I support, is that the murderer and the foreign soldier have free choice. The fetus does not.Report

  2. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    But the murderer is not always guilty – and the citizen who opposes state-sanctioned execution has no choice. And the soldier could be conscripted – or could have the desperate choice of fighting to protect his family. These are not real choices.Report

  3. Avatar gauche
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    says:

    Mike:

    Our government also has a free choice as to whether to execute the criminal. In all relevant cases, our government has also had a free choice whether to enter into war against an opponent.

    For that matter, one may imagine a society very like ours, in which the government had a free choice not to intervene in a woman’s decision to abort a fetus.

    Tell me: why would we be implicated, from a moral standpoint, in the government’s choice in the third case, but not the first two?Report

  4. Avatar gauche
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    says:

    I knew I had written something on this. At the risk of repeating your point, E.D:

    http://semiotheque.net/2009/04/16/an-argument-on-death-and-punishmentReport

  5. Avatar Bob Cheeks
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    says:

    E.D.
    Are you saying hanging a confessed and sane muderer convicted of premeditated murder by a jury of his peers is the same as cutting a human fetus out of the womb?Report

  6. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    “The same?” Bob. I hate to get into arguments over whether this or that is the “same” since obviously the two things you mention are not at all the “same” but does that mean that the one is right and the other wrong? Sameness is beside the point. Stealing from a full grown man and stealing from a baby are not the “same” but they are both still stealing.Report

  7. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    Just to quickly add to E.D.’s point in comment 2 – even if the foreign soldier has freely chosen to be there (which is often not the case in many countries), there are few wars that don’t involve sizable civilian casualties. These civilian deaths are inevitable and cannot be pooh-poohed on grounds of “free choice.” This is doubly the case when one of the reasons for a full-scale war (rather than a limited one) is that these same people are already innocent victims of their own government who should be freed and bear no moral culpability for the alleged provocation to war.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    I’d kinda prefer a hypocritical situation where official policy is that abortion and euthanasia were illegal but doctors were free to shut their doors and lower their voices and discuss “other options” without fear of prosecution (perhaps due to a “Right To Privacy”, maybe?).

    I’m opposed to the Death Penalty not because I don’t think that there are some folk out there who don’t need killin’, but because I don’t particularly trust cops, prosecutors, judges, or jailers to the point where I think it should be official policy. (Allow folks to own handguns and bring back jury nullification, maybe?)

    As for War… whew. Once you allow for WWII to have been something we should have been involved in, you are now haggling when it comes to any conflict. Saying “don’t get involved unless you can help it” seems trite… but I don’t have a better rule of thumb.Report

  9. Avatar gauche
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    says:

    Jaybird:

    As for war, it seems to me that the Just War framework ought to work pretty well as a reasoning method: the problem is that national leaders pay a lot of lip service to the requirements of the just war framework without actually meeting them. The further problem is that we the (American) people have a really hard time with the idea that our nation’s motives in going to war are anything less than pure, so we are unable to hold our leaders to account.

    As evidence of that last sentence, you need only consider the responses whenever someone criticizes the U.S. for, e.g., breaking treaties with the Native Americans; taking the Phillipines from Spain; firebombing Dresden; dropping the nukes on Hiroshima & Nagasaki; establishing and supporting countless banana republics in South America; bankrolling Pinochet; supplying the Mujahadin in Afghanistan; selling Saddam the gas he used on the Kurds; &c. You don’t have to agree that all of those acts are immoral, but surely you must admit it is strange how many Americans believe that they are all moral.

    WWII is just a bad example. Even if you believe that it was an instance of a war in which both our motives and our every act were on the side of the just and the good, you must still admit that WWII is the exceptional war, and that most armed conflicts throughout history (including those involving the U.S.) have arisen out of baser motives and been pursued by immoral means.Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    “it seems to me that the Just War framework ought to work pretty well as a reasoning method”

    And now we’re haggling.Report

  11. E.D. , Gauche,

    By my reckoning, if the law says the pre-exsiting punishment for murder is death then the convicted murder has killed himself. As for soldiers, E.D. specifically mentioned Iraq so I was thinking of the all-volunteer U.S. military.Report

  12. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    But again, Mike – if the law says the punishment for murder is death then I think the law is wrong. And so I am forced to take part in the execution as a tax-paying citizen, and made complicit in that punishment.

    And you may be thinking about the all-volunteer US Military – but what about the Iraqis? What about the civilians there?Report

  13. We all have laws we don’t like E.D. If as a concerned citizen you are trying to change said law to the best of your ability, I don’t think that makes you complicit. Staying in the U.S. and doing nothing perhaps would.

    As for fighting conscripts, yes, that is a tough call.Report

  14. Avatar gauche
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    says:

    Jaybird:

    Fair enough. In fairness, I don’t suspect we disagree that much — I would be happy with “don’t get involved unless you can help it” as a standard of sorts. I think the problem is not one of epistemology but one of civics: not of determining whether a war is just or not so much as being able to do anything about it in light of American exceptionalism and the structures of the Constitution.

    Mike @ Big Stick:

    The law on capital punishment is law because our representatives say it is. It is not the case that a capital criminal will inevitably — that is, without any intervening cause — be executed. He will be executed because our representatives have chosen — on our behalf — to pass a law saying that he should.

    We can easily imagine a society in which the law required that a woman who married a man without her father’s approval should be put to death by stoning. I hope you will agree that such a woman has not, ipso facto, killed herself. There is an intervening cause: her father’s decision to stone her.Report

  15. Avatar gauche
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    says:

    Mike again:

    I think that what E.D. is trying to do is piece together a consistent life ethic first, and let that ethic guide his positions on a topic-by-topic basis.

    If that is the case, it is not enough to say that there are laws E.D. (or I, or anyone else) dislikes. The question is not what laws one likes. The question is what laws (plural) one can support from a logically consistent pro-life stance.

    It is an important inquiry, and one that has become terribly muddied, as E.D. notes, by the vagaries of American politics.Report

  16. Gauche,

    If thr law says, “Steal from someone and you will spend a week in jail,” do you dispute that the thief put themself in the jail cell?

    As for E.D. ‘s dilema, i understand it. As a Catholic I am supposed to take a consistently pro-life position, regardless of political affiliation. I simply do not lump capital punishment and abortion together.Report

  17. Avatar gauche
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    says:

    Mike:

    I do dispute it, yes: it is precisely that that I dispute. It seems to me far more intuitive, and to comport far more with our understanding of causation, to say that the state has put the thief into prison. Consider the following:

    But for the state’s action, the thief would be free. The state’s action is a necessary cause of the thief’s imprisonment.

    It is also a sufficient cause of the thief’s imprisonment: whether the prisoner is a thief or not, if the state imprisons one, one is imprisoned.

    Let us consider the other possibilities: there is, one may safely assume, some number of people walking around today who have taken property not their own. The mere act of stealing is not a sufficient cause of imprisonment: one may steal without being imprisoned. Indeed, one may not be imprisoned, even if one steals, unless the state imprisons one.

    Neither is it a necessary cause of one’s imprisonment: one may be imprisoned without being a thief.

    In light of the above, my assertion that the thief does not put himself in prison is logically sound, and comports with our intuitive understanding of the world. It is also reflected in the language we use. Nobody says “the thief imprisoned himself.” We say “they threw him into jail.”

    I hope you will not take it that I am picking on you particularly. The difference you see between capital punishment and abortion is not apparent to me, is all, and I am curious to see how you support it.

    Warm regards,
    gaucheReport

  18. Let me put it a different way: If I turn on a stove and you knowingly put your hand on the burner, you have burned yourself. I simply provided the means of doing so. In that respect, the state merely supplies the stove (law) and the thief applies his hand to the ‘flame of justice’ if you will. By saying the state imprisons the thief it seems to imply the responsibility for his imprisonment lies not wigth himself for committing the act, but with the state for establishing the consequences of said act.Report

  19. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Yes, but I’m arguing – to extend this further – that we should not turn on the burner….that this is the inappropriate action for the state to take.

    What you’re saying makes sense incidentally, but it is not a proper argument for causation. Is the murderer responsible for his punishment? Yes. In that sense he brings that punishment upon himself. Should the punishment be death? I would argue, no. Should there be punishment? Yes, but not the death penalty.Report

  20. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Is tyranny possible, then?

    I oppose abortion but not to the point where I’d be willing to have policemen show up at people’s houses and point guns at them to prevent it.

    I oppose the death penalty not because I think it’s never appropriate (I mean, I can think of circumstances under which I’d kill somebody and get most of y’all to, at least, shrug and say ‘couldn’t be helped’… from there it’s hard for me to say that The State wouldn’t be able to generate the same justification) but because I don’t trust The State to have the necessary competence to carry it out Justly. Since I suspect that The State will only screw it up, I’d prefer it not have the power.

    Two *ENTIRELY* different justifications to oppose two entirely different things. I support the “pro-choice” position because I don’t trust The State. I oppose the death penalty because I don’t trust The State.

    I could totally see how a statist might reach the opposite conclusion (so long as The Right People are making decisions, of course).Report

  21. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    I have similar conundrums over abortion, Jaybird. I do not look at those performing them as bad people and certainly it is hard to justify police showing up in those situations – though even scarier, to me, is the possible abuse the black market would inevitably produce, with hack doctors or desperate girls with clothes hangers. No easy answers.Report

  22. Avatar gauche
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    says:

    Mike:

    Your analogy is tortured. I agree that when I stick my hand into a flame I am burning myself, because no other action is required for me to become burned. The consequence of putting my hand in the fire is intrinsic to the act itself.

    This is precisely not what happens when I steal something. Stealing is not intrinsic to being in jail — indeed, the two are not logically related at all. We could just as well have a society in which the penalty for stealing was to cut off the thief’s hand. In any case, the punishment is not the same as the act.

    And the conclusion you mention, that my language implies that the state is responsible for the penalties it imposes, is precisely the conclusion that I mean for you to reach. The state is responsible for its choices, just like any other actor.Report

  23. Avatar gauche
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    says:

    E.D., Jaybird, Mike:

    To be clear, I am not saying that the state is wrong to imprison the thief. Merely that it is responsible for doing so.

    The greater point is that, in the case of the death penalty, the state’s responsibility puts it on the side of death instead of life. His Holiness JPII addressed this very point in Evangelium Vitae, in which he stated that so long as bloodless means of punishment are sufficient to safeguard the lives of the innocent, the death penalty is never appropriate. That is to say, the death penalty is only appropriate where it is necessary to save another life now living. In modern, western societies, this is an almost impossible standard to clear. Once a capital criminal is in custody, it is not likely to be necessary to kill him in order to save another life.

    Warm regards,
    gaucheReport

  24. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    gauche – thanks for all the insight (and good post, too, on your blog…) I think JPII is absolutely correct, and it is indeed an almost impossible bar to clear – which is good. We are in the business of justice, not vengeance, and if we can safely protect the innocent than no further step is needed.Report

  25. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    For the record, I very, very, very much dislike imprisonment.

    The Panopticon does not work. I have no idea why it is seen as humane. I’d prefer whipping. Just get it over with and put the person back in society.Report

  26. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    I think that very much depends on the person, Jaybird. Some people really do need to be locked up for the good of society at large. Most people, even many murderers, probably do not. Perhaps a good whipping would indeed do the trick. Food for another post, I’d say.Report

  27. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    If someone argued “Some people really do need to be killed for the good of society at large.”, what counter-argument would you give them?Report

  28. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Well – first I’d ask “why?” And then I’d ask why imprisonment wouldn’t suffice.Report

  29. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Por ejemple – someone like Jeffrey Dommer probably wouldn’t be “fixed” by a good lashing. He probably ought to stay locked up. My gut even says he probably ought to be killed – but I just can’t logically say why that is necessary or more suitable than a life sentence.Report

  30. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Would he have access to books or not?
    Would he have access to televisions or not?
    Would he have access to the internet or not?
    Would he have access to hot meals or not?
    Would he have access to picking flowers or not?

    Is the point to just put him in a room and keep him there until he dies of old age and then say that, at least, you don’t believe in the death penalty?Report

  31. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    I’m not sure if he’d have any of those things. But if he were the sort who might, just might, continue killing young gay men and eating their brains I’d say all that’s fairly immaterial and secondary. A society that values order (as every society must) needs a system whereby it can protect its law abiding citizens. Should it look like the one we’ve got? Probably not. Our imprisonment rate is way, way too high. Can we just do away with prisons altogether? Well, that sounds awful idealistic and Utopian but I just don’t see a practical means to make that work.Report

  32. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    This, once again, comes down to what I would see myself as having the right to do and giving The State no more power than that.

    Would I have the right to shoot so-and-so to prevent him from killing/eating another dude? Sure.

    Would I have the right to keep him in my basement until he was dead? Or would that make me a weird mirror image of him?Report

  33. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Yes on the first count if there was an imminent threat.

    No on the second because he, like the rest of us, is accorded due process – you know, the whole trial thingy…jury of peers etc. etc. etc.Report

  34. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    And then, once we’ve gone through due process, *THEN* I can keep him in my basement?

    Imprisonment strikes me as something barbaric that we ought to have grown past by now.

    Though I imagine that others say the same about whipping.Report

  35. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    So in Dommer’s case you would….do what?Report

  36. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Kill the guy to prevent him from killing/eating another dude.

    Was putting him in prison where he could be killed in the showers with a mop an improvement over my plan? Was the due process what made it better?Report

  37. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    We didn’t put him in jail to be killed so yes, it was a better decision. And no, we do not need to kill him in order to prevent him from eating another dude. You may think it more humane to kill him than to lock him up, but that still requires someone to do the killing, and that (to me in any case) is too high a price to pay.Report

  38. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    For the record, I do not disagree with the *INTENTION* of the Panopticon.

    I didn’t disagree with the *INTENTION* of alcohol prohibition.

    There is, however, a point at which we have to say “this is *NOT* what we wanted. We ought to stop.”

    Look at the prison system.

    This is *NOT* what we wanted.

    We ought to stop.Report

  39. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    But that’s a threadjack. I apologize.Report

  40. Avatar Francis
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    says:

    Interesting post and thread. Much to agree with, except this:

    The point at which life begins, scientifically speaking, is the moment of conception.

    That’s just wrong. Sperm cells and ova are both very much alive. Conception is just the continuation of a process that’s about 3 billion years old.

    And while I’m a lawyer, not a biologist, I’ve followed enough of the posts on this issue at Pharyngula to state pretty definitely that there is no one magic moment of the fusion of two DNA strands. Instead, the process is much fuzzier than is taught in high school biology.

    So, there is no point at which either “life” or an individual’s life begins, scientifically. (Note also that the scientific definition of the end of an individual’s life is also subject to debate.)

    That said, the lack of an adequate scientific definition does not prevent lawyers, politicians, theologians and just about everyone else from debating the point.Report

  41. From E.D.

    Is the murderer responsible for his punishment? Yes. In that sense he brings that punishment upon himself. Should the punishment be death? I would argue, no. Should there be punishment? Yes, but not the death penalty.

    We’re in agreement that the murderer is responsible for the punishment he receives. We’re just in disagreement over what that punishment should be.Report

  42. From Gauche:

    Stealing is not intrinsic to being in jail — indeed, the two are not logically related at all.

    That seems like an enforcement problem. If every citizen thought stealing = jail or stealing = punishment then logic would say we would have a much lower crime rate. The problem is that most potential criminals think stealing = free stuff.Report

  43. From Jaybird:

    For the record, I very, very, very much dislike imprisonment.

    The Panopticon does not work. I have no idea why it is seen as humane. I’d prefer whipping. Just get it over with and put the person back in society.

    I’m kind of with you there – though I think imprisonment is supposed to be about rehabilitation ( in theory).Report

  44. Avatar Francis
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    says:

    Imprisonment is our chosen form of punishment. The underlying rationales for punishment, and choosing one form of punishment over another, are generally considered to include:

    retribution (getting even),
    incapacitation (preventing further crime by that person by physically removing him from society),
    specific deterrence (deterring that person from committing a crime after the incapacitation period ends),
    general deterrence (deterring everyone from committing crimes), and
    rehabilitation (training person to not want to commit crimes).

    Whipping, caning, stockades and other forms of 18th and 19th century punishments are generally considered to fail both the rehab and incapacitation goals.Report

  45. Avatar Francis
    Ignored
    says:

    ack, hit submit too soon.

    They also are seen by many as violating the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments (which can be seen as essentially a limit on retribution).

    Note that there are tradeoffs. Overweighting rehabilitation may be seen by members of society as undervaluing retribution.Report

  46. Avatar Bob
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    says:

    ED, your fourth pillar, assisted suicide, has thus far generated relatively little comment. I doubt that assisted suicide is really a good fit with the three pillars that preceded it. In fact I see little relationship between any of the pillars, that is, wars and abortion, or capital punishment and abortion, or capital punishment and wars. Allow for assisted suicide and the iterations expand. The thinking that obtains in reaching a decision to end your own life has very very little to do with supporting or opposing abortion or war or the death penalty. Your pillars are in no sense equivalent.Report

  47. Avatar El Caballo de Sangre
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    says:

    E.D. says, “no easy answers.”

    This is not true at all. On the death penalty and abortion questions the answers are actually very easy to come up with – at least if we can agree that the answers should reflect and apply to the real world and not just some masturbatory philosophical universe.

    On the death penalty: It should be abolished. There is no possible real-world state that can be trusted to apply this punishment correctly in all instances, and so the power to apply it must be denied to all states. Even if one believes (as I do) that there are some people whose crimes justify killing them in retribution, it cannot be permitted because the state-sanctioned murder of an innocent person – as has certainly happened and will inevitably happen – is probably the worst crime I can imagine, the more so for its being preventable. So the answer here IS easy. The only person who could disagree would necessarily be a person willing to accept the execution of the odd innocent person as the price of doing business.

    On abortion: the answer here is messier than above, but still easy – some sort of limited availability tied to the fetus’ viability and the ability of the woman to consent. There is no reason that a society/state cannot express the idea that abortion is a thing fraught with moral peril but simultaneously not be willing to criminalize it in all cases. The reason that this should be the case is that there is no conceivable enforcement regime of legal prohibition that comports with our understanding and practice of individual rights, whether you agree with Roe v. Wade or not. And to say that it should be outlawed but that the law should not really be enforced does not comport with our understanding of the rule of law, because it actively undermines respect for the idea of law in general – not to mention that it creates a situation (as E.D. alludes to) ripe with the potential for such a law to be selectively enforced only against the weakest, poorest, and most vulnerable, again undermining the legitimacy of all laws. So again, the answer here IS easy – the fact that it makes lots of people angry or uncomfortable is irrelevant to its correctness.Report

  48. Avatar El Caballo de Sangre
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    says:

    On Jeffrey Dahmer- the glib assertion that it’s okay to kill such a horrific criminal illustrates the mistakes we make when we divorce such situations from their real-world contexts and treat them as thought experiments. To wit:

    He absolutely would have kept on killing and eating young gay men. His sickness was such that it absolutely compelled him to do so, and also to avoid the act of turning himself in to the police that would have put it to a stop. And he was sufficiently intelligent and self-aware to know this about himself, which would seem to point up the profundity of his sickness. It shouldn’t be surprising that by all accounts he was relieved to have been finally caught, nor that he put up only the most perfunctory of defenses, nor that he expressed remorse, nor that he was cooperating fully with doctors’ and psychologists’ attempts to figure him out up until he was beaten to death (with a weight bar, not a mop).

    Given all this, I view his death as a great tragedy in that it represents the loss of an excellent opportunity to gain potentially life-saving information and knowledge from him.Report

  49. Avatar Creon Critic
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    says:

    E.D. Kain: Does it all boil down to choice? And at what point does individual choice become superior to other societal concerns?

    With respect to assisted suicide, yes it boils down to choice. I’d argue the competent choice of the individual deserves a great deal of deference. That deference increases the more the interests of the individual are implicated (because of conscience, autonomy, human dignity, and reciprocity – I have or want to preserve the first three and should do so by means of reciprocal respect and deference to that of others).

    is it possible that the act of assisting someone to end their life robs them of their potential future? A future which could include breakthroughs in medical science to remove their pain, cure their disease, etc. or a future which might bring some unexpected happiness to assuage their depression? Or for those simply too old to want to go on living, perhaps a natural death on their own without the need of an assistant to act as usher?

    Yes a potential future is disrupted, but given a structured process (iirc, Oregon, separate doctors determinations of competence, waiting period, etc) I think legitimate social concerns about abuses and making an informed choice can be addressed. Competent individual means I’d strike depression though (See for example, (brief of bioethicists in support of a right to physician assisted suicide)). I’m not sure I’d phrase it as “rob” someone of their potential future though – don’t freedom, liberty, and autonomy mean that I’m able to choose the future I want for myself? In what sense could choosing assisted suicide be robbing oneself? When we make informed choices are we constantly robbing ourselves of potential futures? Also, I can’t imagine an informed consent process not presenting alternatives when choosing assisted suicide (likelihood of a cure, continuing with palliative care, hospices, etc). May go without saying, but state imposed, involuntary euthanasia is anathema to a framework focusing on the individual conscience, autonomy, and human dignity.

    I’d also urge you to consider an understanding of life (perhaps) at variance with yours,

    Life, particularly human life, is not commonly thought of as a merely physiological condition or function. Its sanctity is often thought to derive from the impossibility of any such reduction. When people speak of life, they often mean to describe the experiences that comprise a person’s history, as when it is said that somebody “led a good life.” They may also mean to refer to the practical manifestation of the human spirit, a meaning captured by the familiar observation that somebody “added life” to an assembly. If there is a shared thread among the various opinions on this subject, it may be that life is an activity which is at once the matrix for and an integration of a person’s interests. (Justice Stevens)

    Report

  50. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    El Caballo – Very good arguments. I agree entirely with the abolishing of the death penalty. Your solution to abortion sounds very good on paper but you’re also right that it’s messy. It would be even messier to come to legally given the divisive and partisan and wholly unproductive nature of this debate.

    I would also add that a good way to diminish our use of war would be to diminish the power of the presidency; and to speak to one of Bob’s points – that euthanasia is not at the same level as the other three pillars – I’d add that this is simply because it is not currently widely legal. I do think that we run a long-term risk adopting the practice of abuses and I still hold that it is morally wrong to assist someone’s suicide effort or to request assistance in that effort and that it twists the very function of healers around on its head.

    Creon – you also bring up some very good points about individual liberty. I agree that anyone who wants to should be allowed to take their own life – obviously there is no real way to prevent this. Beyond the tragedy of that, however, it is the “assisted” part that bothers me, and perhaps I am just very paranoid, but I find the entire thing (despite your examples of checks and procedure) hugely frightening.Report

  51. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    “Imprisonment is our chosen form of punishment.”

    What do you mean “we”? No one asked me. I sincerely doubt anyone ever asked you. I agree that this was in place when I got here and, most likely, will be here after I leave but that doesn’t make it “mine”.

    If I had said that “our definition of marriage precludes two dudes”, what counter-argument would you use?Report

  52. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    “I’m kind of with you there – though I think imprisonment is supposed to be about rehabilitation ( in theory).”

    That’s the intention of the Panopticon. You get your criminals and put them in rooms where they can always be seen but they never know whether they are being watched or not. When they have the insight that it doesn’t matter whether or not they’re being watched, you can let them out and they’ll be productive members of society who will always act as if they were being watched.

    No forced sodomy included.

    “Our” system does not work as advertised. It does not rehabilitate and is more likely to result in the opposite.

    The argument that whipping is less humane than the panopticon is one that I have sympathy for.

    My argument is that whipping is more humane than rape.

    “But we’re not *INTENDING* to have them be raped!”, I hear folk say.

    I’m on a journey of discovery where I am getting over “intentions”.Report

  53. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Ok Jaybird – how about a guest post on your panapticon (sounds like a Transformer to me) and philosophy in general over imprisonment?Report

  54. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Heh. Touche’. I’ll see what I can put together.Report

  55. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Oh, and it’s not “my” Panopticon. It’s Bentham’s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PanopticonReport

  56. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    So modest, Jaybird. What did Jeremy Bentham ever do for you?Report

  57. Avatar Creon Critic
    Ignored
    says:

    E.D. Kain: I’m not sure I can assuage your fears because I probably share them. Concerns about the potential for vulnerable people to be pressured into assisted suicide give me pause. But part of what reinforced my conviction was an explanation by a woman who’s been in the news here in the UK recently. She has MS and has been seeking clarification from the British courts that her husband will not be prosecuted if he helps her go to Switzerland to have an assisted suicide (where it is legal). Her point was the possibility that he would be prosecuted means she would end her life earlier so she could travel without his help, and possibly without him accompanying her at all.

    I think there’re parallels to the abortion issue. Those with the resources and wherewithal can travel to take advantage of freedoms, those without are stuck with the unfreedoms of their home country. Also, criminalization in the UK means a coarser, less humane death for her – without her family and in a foreign country. Those are the hangers and back alleys of assisted suicide. Furthermore, the UK ban on assisted suicide moves the date of her death forward, not backward. On the whole pretty perverse consequences. The process ended with her losing – no clarification that he wouldn’t be prosecuted, but the court hinting that it was unlikely that her husband would be prosecuted for helping her travel to Switzerland. (BBC) I’m deeply uncomfortable with justice functioning through winks and nods.

    Finally, just so this isn’t entirely an anecdote in place of argument, I think drawing on the interest-based theory of rights, especially my (not recent) reading of Joseph Raz, informs how I see the balance of society and the individual turning out.Report

  58. Avatar Cascadian
    Ignored
    says:

    Death Penalty: I don’t trust the system enough to let them have control over life and death. There have been too many exonerated death row prisoners to conscionably allow for the death penalty.

    Assisted Suicide: This is a scary one. I think individuals have the right to end their own lives. I believe a loved one should be allowed to partake in the process. I’m highly skeptical of how this could turn out with organ donation, exhaustion of the patients care network etcetera. It needs to have lots of checks and the system needs to be maintained so that legal considerations remain on the side of the patient.

    Unnecessary War:
    I’m obviously a big fan of federalism. I think the military should shrink drastically with the empire coming to an end. I’d favor doing more with State Guards than national. I often think of 1812 and the refusal by militias to take part in the invasion of Canada as a good example of the limiting effect of diversified military. I really only want everyone to come together when there is a real existential crisis.

    Abortion: My main problem is I don’t think human life is inherently sacred on some mystical level. We let people die all the time. Instead of fighting abortion, I’d suggest those that care (especially about late term abortions) work on developing science so that extreme preemies can survive. Simply birth the child early. If you can get it down so that you can have success with first trimester fetus’s more power to you. The reams of fertilized eggs will be an issue and at some point some body is going to have to pay for it all.Report

  59. Avatar matoko_chan
    Ignored
    says:

    death penalty: the state is not a trustworthy arbiter of life and death. no.
    euthanasia: should be a personal liberty granted to citizens, and again not determined by the state. yes.
    war: something homo sap. is wired for, just like religious belief, and something the rule of law evolved to ameliorate. yes.
    abortion: I have around ten thousand unfertilized oocytes, which are undeniably alive, in my own personal autonomous body. A differentiated cell clump is simply not a human life. At around 6 months gestation there is sufficient neurocortical substrate to support pain/pressure response and REM sleep and thought. There is a huge need for education on this issue, but the lower half of the bellcurve is simply unable to acquire this data. This is a pressing problem in that we will have anti-scenescence therapy in our life times…who gets it? Only the rich? Will we need tiered citizen rights for the accessibility of genetic engineering? Will people be able to refuse genetic engineering for their children on religious grounds?

    In around ten years the J-womb (japan) will be done, and ectogenesis for fetuses will solve that particular problem….I suggest christians and christian churches can bear the cost of the Bene Tleilax j-wombs, and then adopt the resultant children. A much better use of their monies than to lobby the citizens of California to supress minority citizen rights.Report

  60. Avatar matoko_chan
    Ignored
    says:

    But I’m going to propose that pro-life culture is only partly about “valuing human life”.
    A lot of is about sex, and the oppression of the XX.Report

  61. Avatar Diana
    Ignored
    says:

    This is such a male take on all this.

    Most young women can tell when they’re ovulating. If you have unprotected sex at that time of the month, you’ll get pregnant. So not having sex then is in a weird way like having an abortion: the cells are going to waste.

    Only men think having sex is the key stage in the pregnancy. Implantation in the uterine wall is the key stage in pregnancy, guys. You can get pregnant through artificial insemination but you can’t get pregnant without implantation and a certain amount of development.

    It’s a process — a process, not a moment — that happens in your own body. The moment when a soldier or a convict or a gangster meets his end is a moment, and you can debate whether we should use our power to cause death to a sentient being as much as you like, but it isn’t the same as abortion. There’s no moment when dead cells become living ones the same way living ones become dead ones. Living cells become living cells in an independent creature when that creature is born. If we decide they belong to an independent creature any time before, it’s a fiction we agree on — which is why we’ll never agree.Report

  62. Avatar richard
    Ignored
    says:

    “Living cells become living cells in an independent creature when that creature is born. If we decide they belong to an independent creature any time before, it’s a fiction we agree on — which is why we’ll never agree.” than the fetus is the equivalent of a cancerous tumor that can be cut out and destroyed at any time unless it is outside the womb and then it is permitted to live. Is that before or after the umbilical chord is cut? and then we have president obama who believes that a fetus who survives an abortion should be denied medical care. It seems diana some people don’t belive life begins even using your definition.Report

  63. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    “So not having sex then is in a weird way like having an abortion: the cells are going to waste.”

    Weird indeed since conception is a prerequisite for abortion.

    From medterms.com – Abortion: In medicine, an abortion is the premature exit of the products of conception (the fetus, fetal membranes, and placenta) from the uterus. It is the loss of a pregnancy and does not refer to why that pregnancy was lost.Report

  64. Avatar matoko_chan
    Ignored
    says:

    Well…..here is abortion-prevention the Christianist way.
    Looks like the DHS report was spot on.Report

  65. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    matoko, I could not open your link. Was it about the execuation of Dr. Tiller?Report

  66. Avatar matoko_chan
    Ignored
    says:

    Execution?
    It was about the murder of Dr. Tiller.
    BillO and FOXnews sicced the domestic terrorists on him.
    First we had Poplawski posting Glenn Beck FOX video to Stormfront before killing cops, and now this.
    Well Jaybird?Report

  67. Avatar bago
    Ignored
    says:

    It seems to me that most people view these issues with a set of abstractions set at points that are most useful for ideological purposes, rather than for descriptors of what is actually happening. (Or at least our best guess). In a world where there are a few hundred thousand humans max, go forth and multiply is common sense. In a strictly eugenic sense, you can make a case for exterminating your competition and spreading your genes as widely as possible.As soon as you start to add non-genetic memory channels the question becomes a lot more complicated. When genetics is the only avenue to pass information on to future generations, genocide is a valid method of ensuring your genes get to use available resources and survive. An eco-system is simply a collection of genocidal growths that have reached a point of equilibrium.

    As soon as you introduce methods of passing data on that do not need to live entirely in a genetic code, things become more complex. As soon as you can store data outside of DNA, in things like words and brains, the morality of data passage moves beyond simplistic Darwinian survival of the fittest. You can kill weak ideas without killing people. Glibly stuffing data transmission vectors into a 2 bit boolean matrix is REALLY missing the point.Report

  68. Avatar matoko_chan
    Ignored
    says:

    E.D. I think you should read this.
    IMHO the pro-life movement just got a 10 year setback.
    At least.Report

  69. Avatar conradg
    Ignored
    says:

    Regarding abortion and “souls”, you leave out the possibility that some, say me for example, might believe that fetuses do not have souls, that the soul is not some material thing that is produced by sperm and eggs at the instant of conception, that souls exist before conception, and only gradually come into association with a growing fetus, rather late in the process, and don’t become associated with fetuses that are going to be miscarried (extremely common) or aborted (far less common).

    Where did this notion come from that souls are created through this material process of physical conception? Even on the physical level, conception is not the beginning of life. The sperm and egg are both alive. What is created at conception is a DNA blueprint, a plan, for how to build a human being. Throwing out that plan is not killing the human being who might result from carryinng it out, any more than throwing out the blueprints for a new world trade center building is the same as blowing it up once its built. It’s interrupting the process of building at a very early stage. The later the abortion, of course the more of the building is built. At some point, one can call a building “almost complete”, and see the destruction of it as something wasteful or even immoral. But certainly we can’t make that claim about the fertilized egg, the zygote, the embryo, and we can’t impute a soul to this creature in the way we can to a fully built human being suitable to be inhabited by a soul. In other words, the soul doesn’t “move in” to the body until the body is ready for it, and it isn’t ready until most of the construction is complete.

    So it’s quite a different thing for a liberal such as myself to be against the death penalty – the killing of a fully built but deeply flawed human being who is inhabited by a soul – and the killing of an early fetus who is not yet inhabited by a soul. That doesn’t mean I’m in favor of abortion – there are other personal considerations that matter to anyone deciding about this. But it does mean that I’m against the state getting legally involved in that decision, either by prohibiting it or requiring it (as in China). I don’t have the same problem resolving this issue towards the mother’s personal choice, but that’s not because I’m being intellectually or spiritually hypocritical, I just have a very different set of beliefs about what makes a human being, and what the soul is, and how we should view the process of biological life.Report

  70. Avatar Another Voice
    Ignored
    says:

    Biologically speaking, a life does NOT begin at conception. Unfortunately, this statement is the sort of most oft-cited piece of melarchy mouthed by the anti-abortion crowd when attempting to ground their arguments in something approximating reason. What begins at conception is a biological identity. Nothing more, nothing less. Life did not begin then. Sperm and egg are not “dead” material. They are living as well. And the biological identities that define them are no more or less important in envisioning them as people, either.

    A comatose person who requires technical assistance in order to remain animated may also be alive (and therefore, “a life”?) – but in a sense familiar to jellyfish and sponges, and not to human beings.

    At some point, Americans are going to have to confront this papist predilection of theirs – this predilection for replacing a healthy sense of respect for human life with a tendency to make a fetish out of the very idea of life in the most rudimentary and biologically narrow sense.Report

  71. Avatar Alia
    Ignored
    says:

    A very thoughtful post, E.D. and one with ideas that should be debated more frequently.

    I submit that there IS no difference between any of the four pillars in the abstract. The difference is in how we’ve come to rationalize each one, whether it’s through philosophy, theology, logic, etc.

    Whether or not soldiers freely enlist or are conscripted isn’t the only question. Wars are no longer fought on a neutral site at a pre-determined time. Civilian (innocents) casualties are always involved, yet they are widely looked upon as no more than an unfortunate consequence, a momentary regret on the path to ‘justice’. War is a means of acceptable murder – and why is that? Because we’re defending our freedoms, we’re defeating the “bad guys”, the enemy, who wishes us harm. I don’t oppose this philosophy in principle, but I do question the principles and decisions – the choices made by the State – that lead to such conflicts.

    The Church that opposes murder was responsible for some of the bloodiest conflicts and policies in our shared history. Perhaps this is just a legacy of an Old Testament God who espoused “an eye for an eye” and His Son who implored us to “turn the other cheek”. I’m rather agnostic myself, but it’s not hard to observe that the issues of euthanasia and abortion are mired more in theological moralizing than in scientific evidence. But theologically speaking, women have always been property, never equal to men.

    I’ve believed for a long time that if men were biologically able to conceive and carry children to term, that abortion would not be the moral dilemma that it is today, and very little that I’ve seen has been able to convince me otherwise.

    These issues will continue to affect us for decades, and likely centuries, to come, and I will continue to hope for more thoughtful discourse on the subject, as you have provided here.Report

  72. Avatar matoko_chan
    Ignored
    says:

    I don’t think so Alia.
    I think this is game over for the prolife movement.
    Before this, americans were trending towards restricting abortion for the first time, even though 68% still support Roe. This is an EPIC PR disaster for the prolife.
    Sully is playing a youtube by Operation Rescue on Dr. Tiller. It is an order of magnitude worse than Rev Wright, and it will go viral. The MSM is going to superglue Roeder onto the prolife movement.
    Roeder is just simply free ammo for the left. The guy was a trifecta out of the DHS report– bomb-maker, tax-protester, abortion-doctor murderer.
    It will take ten years for the prolife movement to recover….certainly they don’t have a prayer now of eoverturning Roe in an 8year Obama administration.
    In ten years we will have functional ectogenesis. The japanese have already gestated a goat fetus to full term.
    Abortion will be a non-issue when we can just gestate any aborted fetuses in our swell new Bene Tleilax host-womb-vats.
    “Prolife” will become a movement without a cause.Report

  73. Avatar Katherine
    Ignored
    says:

    And at what point does individual choice become superior to other societal concerns?

    In most cases the answer would be: when it is not directly harmful to others. Driving drunk, for example, is illegal because there is a high chance you will kill someone.

    The death penalty should be abolished; I believe this is the only Christian perspective on it. For someone who believes in both grace and an afterlife, to execute someone is to express disbelief in the possibility of repentance. That is contrary to Christianity; whether or not someone may in future repent is not for us to guess at, even if the chance is infinitesimally small. In secular terms, the death penalty (and all other legal punishments) is absolutely something done by the state, not something the criminal does to themself; the question to ask is whether the punishment the state is imposing is just or right.

    With regards to abortion, thank you, E.D., for noting the fact that life begins as conception; more accurately, to answer “Another Voice,” a distinct life, different from that of either the mother or father, is created at conception. My preference would be to make it illegal for people to provide abortions, but not illegal (or at least, not resulting in imprisonment) for people to have them; this is a practical preference as the most possible and publicly acceptable method of preventing abortion. The most deeply disturbing think about liberals and the left, to me, is the absolute flippancy and sanguinity with which they regard abortion – the common view, one I have heard espoused many times, is that abortion is morally equivalent to picking bits of dead skin off your arm. In their determination to protect the right to kill, people prefer to minimize its import, so it is a relief to hear someone mention it in a more honest manner.

    Preventing abortion does not only require legal action, but that is an indispensable component. Simply providing aid to single mothers and a good social safety net will not prevent or even reduce it – most people would argue that Canada’s social safety net (including health care) is superior to that available to the poor in the US, but we have no fewer abortions per capita. “Abortion reduction” measures along those lines may often be very valuable things in and of themselves, but they are utterly ineffective in terms of actually reducing abortion – in that sense, they are a smokescreen. A young woman will have an abortion because, even if the government or charities provided aid to care for the child, abortion is still the easiest option and the one that best enables her to get on with her life undisturbed. I do not consider this even near a good enough reason for the destruction of a human life, and a large majority of the people in the US agree. The second thing that is needed is a change in culture, so that people actually see human life as valuable and worth making sacrifices for, not as an inconvenience to be gotten rid of. Abortions would also be reduced if people could come to regard sex as something more significant than mere recreation.

    If abortion is the most disturbing aspect of liberalism to me, war (along with torture) is by far the most disturbing one of conservatism. I would prefer to be an absolute pacifist. Even when it comes to World War II, I can’t help feeling that some response outside of war should have been made not by nation but by Christians; that some spiritual change could be effected by confronting armies empty-handed; that we have a duty to do what seems impossible and irrational, for our wisdom is not the world’s. But when I move to looking at actual events, it all seems ridiculous. So a very stringent application of the “just war” paradigm, combined with very strong skepticism about what good war can accomplish, seems like the best option. Only fight in defense (perhaps even only in defense against actual invasion); never provoke war; only use means that can minimize civilian casualties, even if the cost is additional military casualties on your side (as the military signed up for it and the civilians didn’t).

    Euthanasia seems the hardest of the four, and difficult to oppose on any but religious grounds, as it is a person’s individual decision rather than a person choosing to kill another person. And any number of examples can be given that make it appear the only humane decision (see, “Million-Dollar Baby”). But I can’t help feeling it is wrong nonetheless.Report

  74. Avatar brooksfoe
    Ignored
    says:

    How tedious is this crap? How many times in the 15 years I’ve been participating in online discussions have I been obliged to write “Life does not begin at conception, sperm and eggs are alive as well”? How many more times will I have to write it? Does Katherine really think she’s come up with some original insight when she writes “a distinct life, different from that of either the mother or father, is created at conception.” — apparently implying that a clone of me would not be a distinct life, that it would be morally acceptable for me to kill my adult clone or twin, etc.? Does anyone really think that they’re going to come up with something interesting and original to say on this subject, after all the pixels spilled over the past hundred years considering it?

    I consider Katherine’s position on this question to be superstitious cant. She is entitled to hold it, but not to impose it on me, my family, my community, or for that matter on anyone else. Should her teenage daughter become pregnant, I recognize her as the appropriate figure to guide her daughter’s decision about what to do, and I’m not going to intercede in that family process. I would hope she would recognize my right to be free of interference in the same fashion, and I’m not really interested in hearing any of the other dull and thickheaded things abortion opponents come up with in the misguided belief that they have come upon the argument that will convince me of the wrongness of my ways.Report

  75. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Katherine, I think wild statements, like this one, “The most deeply disturbing think about liberals and the left, to me, is the absolute flippancy and sanguinity with which they regard abortion – the common view, one I have heard espoused many times, is that abortion is morally equivalent to picking bits of dead skin off your arm,” need sourcing. “Common view?” I say that is bullshit.Report

  76. Avatar brooksfoe
    Ignored
    says:

    Incidentally, as to “Euthanasia seems the hardest of the four”: I’ve seen estimates that one in seven lives in America ends through informal, technically illegal, hospital-assisted euthanasia at the behest of patients and their families. Grandfather has a horribly painful terminal disease, isn’t going to make it out of the hospital, and asks to be allowed to die, relatives and doctors agree to put him on a rising morphine drip, and a few days later he slips painlessly away. This affords people dignity and control over how they end their lives. In our current system this practice is widespread, viewed as morally acceptable, and completely illegal; were anyone to publicly state that they had discussed it openly with their doctor, it could lead to imprisonment for the doctor involved. Is this a rational way to run a society? The Netherlands legalizes the procedure in order to prevent abuse, so that clear consent forms and standards of review are present. In the US we do it in the shadows, pretending we don’t. Medieval.Report

  77. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    brooksfoe, along with the estimates you give above, Denis Campbell writing in yesterdays Guardian (guardian.co.uk) gives the following information:

    “Record numbers of Britons who are suffering from terminal illnesses are queueing up for assisted suicide at the controversial Swiss clinic Dignitas, the Observer can reveal.

    “Almost 800 have taken the first step to taking their lives by becoming members of Dignitas, and 34 men and women, who feel their suffering has become unbearable, are ready to travel to Zurich and take a lethal drug overdose.

    “The tenfold increase in the number of Britons who have joined Dignitas since 2002 will raise questions about the law that bans assisted suicide in Britain.”Report

  78. Avatar brooksfoe
    Ignored
    says:

    Bob, I’m not surprised. Though I have to say I kind of like the idea that the final thing one does is take a trip to Zurich. There’s something dignified about that idea of the final journey.Report

  79. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Another Voice:

    What begins at conception is a biological identity.

    I’m sorry but I guess I just don’t see the real defining difference between “life” and “biological identity.” I am not of the opinion, for instance, that an egg or a sperm on their own constitutes human life – because neither without the other has the actual potentiality of full personhood. However, once the two have come together (much like germination in a plant) they are, in fact, not only “blueprint” but being. Philosophically we may disagree, but from a biological standpoint I can’t quite understand how this could be in dispute.

    Alia:

    Thanks for the kind words and thoughtful comments.

    I’ve believed for a long time that if men were biologically able to conceive and carry children to term, that abortion would not be the moral dilemma that it is today

    Ah…but then men would not be men would they? The entire dynamic would shift.

    Katherine – excellent points, as usual. Thanks! Bob, I have heard the argument that skin cells are just as alive as a fetus and worth about the same thing made by some people on the left.

    brooksfoe – Hey, we’re all entitled to our own views on the matter. I think it’s important to have honest, open discussion. As I’ve stated I’m not in favor of creating an abortion black market and I still have faith in cultural/scientific solutions to lessen abortion – including convincing people that the baby you see in the ultrasound is actually a living being.

    I do believe that the egg and sperm come together there is no human life yet formed and thus I do support contraception as a viable, practical means to lessen abortion (and disease).

    Regarding euthanasia, I am still paranoid that the act could become – especially under a single-payer health insurance system – a pernicious force in the hands of the state. And it is one thing to let a patient day and quite another to make them die, in my opinion.Report

  80. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    “Bob, I have heard the argument that skin cells are just as alive as a fetus and worth about the same thing made by some people on the left.”

    E.D., I’m sure that “some people on the left” make such comments. And some people on the right make equally ridiculous statements. Katherine asserted it as a “common view.”

    I’m sticking with my view until you or Katherine provide some evidence that it’s common. Statements like that are close kin to the right-wing nuttery that leads to violence. Asserting that the left and liberals hold such views is ignorant.

    Waiting for the evidence.Report

  81. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Well, the left and the right both have nuts, Bob. Nobody’s denying that. But I have definitely heard – maybe even on comments on this blog? – this argument surface.

    Then, too, the other argument one hears is that the fetus is not “capable of independent life” – to which I would say two things: First, neither is a newborn. They will most assuredly die if left on their own. Indeed, a child for many years requires co-dependency to survive. They are not in the womb, but they are dependent on their parents or guardians nonetheless. Second, dependency or the ability to survive on one’s own is surely not a defining feature, then, of life or personhood…is it? Are we not even more greatly bound to protect or look after those among us with the least ability to look after themselves? Isn’t this the point, in many senses, of progressive politics in the first place?

    It seems to me that some very nimble moral and scientific gymnastics are necessary to define fetuses as non-human with these sort of arguments.Report

  82. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “Well Jaybird?”

    I find the murder of Tiller to be awful. It’s not enough to get me to abandon first amendment principles (nor second amendment principles, for that matter).

    What are you hoping I’ll say? “This is human life we’re talking about, now I believe that we have to start burning books and censoring the media”?Report

  83. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    “But I have definitely heard….” Again E.D., I’m not denying such statements might have been made. Read the statement I quoted at comment #75. Can you really defend that? Can Katerine defend that?

    Since at least President Clinton, and I’m making no claim that he spoke for all the left/liberals, a position asserted regarding abortions, “safe, legal, rare.”Report

  84. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Democratic Party plank on abortion 2008.

    “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.”Report

  85. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Bob, for the record, I have been told in arguments regarding abortion that the fetus was little more than a parasite.

    Please understand, I believe that abortion ought to be legal up to and including the moment of crowning… the discussion was not centered around whether abortion ought to be illegal but whether the act of abortion contained any moral content whatsoever.

    I’m one of those folks who thinks that it’s morally wrong, but I don’t have the right to prevent it (and, thus, The State shouldn’t have the power to prevent it).

    But the discussion switched to how the act of abortion is one that contains no moral content whatsoever… like having a skin tag removed.

    Now you can say that this is hearsay (or worse! I might be lying!!!) and, sure. Could be.

    But consider this: in an argument over whether abortion is morally troublesome, do you really think that the position that abortion isn’t morally troublesome at all is rare enough to be dismissed?

    (Perhaps it is, and I’ve merely been lucky enough to discuss abortion with anomalous nutcases. This would, actually, explain a great deal.)Report

  86. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird, for the record, I have stated no position on abortion on this thread, or to the best of my recollection, anywhere on this blog.

    I was raised Catholic, and the church position on abortion is one that I have been unable to kick. Abortion is immoral, IMO. My opinion, however, is worth spit, not even warm spit, to women and families trying to cope with questions I will never face. So that leads me to my second opinion on abortion, governments should have no say in the matter.

    But all the above has nothing to do with my disagreement with Katherine’s assertion.Report

  87. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Dude! I am 100% with you!

    My problem with abortion is that it is wrong.
    My problem with the idea that police ought to be used to prevent abortion is that it is wronger.

    We have an ogre’s choice when it comes to abortion. Allow a bad thing, or cause a worse thing.

    For me, “safe, legal, and rare” is the best one can hope for… but when one argues against those who consider abortion akin to skin tag removal, one is going to be framed as one of those “pro-lifers” because… well, those who argue that a fetus is akin to a skin tag seem to categorize those who disagree as “part of the problem” as they are ceding ground to the Dobsonite Prohibitionists.

    As for whether the view Katherine talked about was “common”, I don’t know whether it is. I mean, *I* have encountered it more than once. But I’m one of those wacky people who discusses abortion for paragraphs and paragraphs with other people who are down with discussing abortion for paragraphs and paragraphs. Perhaps it’s not that common “in the real world”, but, I tell you what, I read her comment and recognized what it was describing and didn’t see “common” as that big of a deal. We could bust out some D&D classifications and say “uncommon but not rare”… would you find that preferable?Report

  88. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird,

    “’uncommon but not rare’”… would you find that preferable?”

    I know I’m being a yapping puppy on this. So, as far as I’m concerned, if Katherine wishes to amend her statement per your suggestion okay with me. If she really believes it a common position held on the left I await the evidence.Report

  89. From Jaybird:

    My problem with abortion is that it is wrong.
    My problem with the idea that police ought to be used to prevent abortion is that it is wronger.

    Are we as a society not allowed to enact laws to stop things we perceive to be wrong?Report

  90. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “Are we as a society not allowed to enact laws to stop things we perceive to be wrong?”

    “Allowed”.

    Well, let’s just say that society has the power to enact laws to stop things it perceives to be wrong.

    From here, it seems the Prohibition doesn’t work. Whether it be of alcohol, drugs, or abortion.

    And the Prohibition results in a worse situation than was had pre-Prohibition.

    But if you want to know whether we, as a society, are “allowed” to pass laws screwing over those not politically connected, of course we are.

    We were “allowed” to own slaves, for a while. For small values of “we” that excluded those enslaved and many who were not.Report

  91. Let’s rephrase that then: should we as a society not try to stop things we perceive as wrong?Report

  92. Avatar Cascadian
    Ignored
    says:

    “Let’s rephrase that then: should we as a society not try to stop things we perceive as wrong?”

    Not if the cure is worse than the disease. Not if you don’t want someone else to get a turn about your behavior. Not if it creates political entities and processes that can’t be controlled or dismantled if they don’t function as advertised.Report

  93. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “should we as a society not try to stop things we perceive as wrong?”

    We can always bust out the Doctor Phil and ask “how’s that workin’ out for ya?”

    Should society not try to keep you from drinking a shot of whiskey? A beer?

    Should society not try to keep you from smoking a joint to help with your back pain?

    Should society not try to keep you from aborting a baby you totally don’t want to bring to term?

    Should society not try to keep you from marrying your life partner?

    I think it’s that where you see “society”, I see a bunch of individuals. We agree that a bunch of individuals should be able to say “you can’t kill that other person and we’ll use force to prevent you from doing it”.

    The difference comes when it comes to stuff like “Should that group of individuals be able to tell that “mixed race” couple that they don’t want no mullato children running around their schools?”

    I say “absolutely not”.

    So I’ll ask you: should we as a society not try to stop things we perceive as wrong?Report

  94. I think yes, as a society we try to stop things that we perceive to be wrong. And that perception is constantly changing so the laws change with it. I’ve got no problem with that process.

    Every law we have is an attempt to stop a wrong. Some just disagree about how wrong abortion is.Report

  95. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “I think yes, as a society we try to stop things that we perceive to be wrong.”

    I have no problem with this statement.

    I’m just wondering if you’re down with bans on alcohol, weed, sodomy, abortion, Harry Potter books, tobacco, or high fructose corn syrup if, hey, we had a vote and 50%+1 of the folks who bothered to show up said “dude, we should ban that!” or if there’s a part of you that’s willing to say “there are fundamental human rights that you moral busybodies are trampling on and that’s wack, yo.”Report

  96. Avatar Alia
    Ignored
    says:

    Mike:

    Isn’t that where we are now? As a society, we agree that murder is wrong. It’s the definition of “what is murder” that is harder to agree on. E.D. mentioned four instances in this post, all of which are means of taking a human life (or a potential human life in the case of abortion.)

    If someone breaks into my house and I shoot them, kill them, in self-defense, regardless of the fact that I have the law on my side, is it not still “murder” that I have committed? State (and theologically) sanctioned it may be, but it doesn’t change the act itself – taking a human life.

    Or let’s say I was driving my car and someone ran a red light in front of me. I hit them, and they die in the accident. Or someone drives their car around a railroad crossing barrier, and an oncoming train hits them and kills them. Both I and the train driver have – inadvertently – taken a human life, have we not? Even though it wasn’t our fault or intention.

    What defines murder vs. manslaughter vs. justifiable homicide or whatever other classification you might trot out of the penal code is not, in our society, based on the act itself, but the intent and circumstances (motive, fault) surrounding that event. Nuance. Rationalization, moralization, our acceptance that the act of taking a human life is justified in certain circumstances.

    Yes, there are some who are callous when it comes to abortion – though I wonder about those who speak so have ever undergone the procedure themselves, or known someone who has – but there are many more women who have good, valid reasons for seeking abortion. And I have to say, as long as the dominant educational curriculum for sex-ed is abstinence-only based, we will continue to see a lot more so-called “poor” or, as Katherine above calls them, “not..near good enough” reasons why women seek abortion. (though that is still debatable – who is she or you or anyone to judge another’s reasons?)

    I should add the caveat that I am pro-choice. I have never had an abortion myself, nor do I have children. I have an auto-immune disease (Crohn’s) which, while it does not exclude me from having children, still complicates it enough that I would have to make difficult medical choices concerning my own health versus that of my child if I were to become pregnant, so I have chosen not to have children. I could sit here and tell you all that I don’t think I would have an abortion because that is my current personal stance, but I can’t say that with 100% conviction because I have no way of knowing what might happen if I did become pregnant. No woman ever knows that. (or man for that matter.)

    I am pro-choice for two reasons. 1) It’s not my place to dictate to another woman what she should do in her own personal circumstances, of which I am not privy, and 2) I strongly believe that it’s not the government’s place (federal OR state) to dictate to her either. It’s a personal decision between a woman, her family, her religious advisers, and her doctors. Period.

    You may feel that abortion is morally wrong based on your religious convictions, but not everyone shares those convictions. Considering the conservative/republican/libertarian conviction that government should stay out of personal, private affairs of its citizens, it’s interesting, is it not, that abortion and assisted suicide, (and LGBTQ issues, but that’s for a different day) are such glaring exceptions.

    We are civilized beings because we are able to reason and rationalize, and understand that sometimes there must be exceptions to absolutes. As for where and how we draw those lines, well, that’s the question, isn’t it?Report

  97. I don’t personally care for laws prohibiting victimless crimes. Since I don’t consider abortion to be a victimless crime i wouldn’t lump it in with tobacco or alcohol.Report

  98. Avatar Alia
    Ignored
    says:

    E.D.:

    “Ah…but then men would not be men would they? The entire dynamic would shift.”

    Yes, I imagine it would. But it doesn’t change the fact that throughout history, it has predominantly been men making decisions for women. My point was that if men could carry/conceive, they would have a different perspective from which to make such decisions, and therefore there would be no debate. (Or at the very least, much less debate.)Report

  99. Avatar conradg
    Ignored
    says:

    “Are we as a society not allowed to enact laws to stop things we perceive to be wrong?”

    Do you think it is the role of government to correct every moral wrong, according to some government-created concept of what morality is about?

    Most people consider adultery to be morally wrong. But we don’t have laws against adultery, we don’t put adulterers in prison, and we don’t even have arguments about this issue. (Outside of Sharia law, that is). Don’t you think that in most cases, the government should stay out of the business of criminalizing personal moral choices like this?Report

  100. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    I don’t think any of it can ever be so black and white. Yes, adultery is wrong – but not all things are equal. Slapping someone is wrong, but not so wrong as stabbing them. As is so often the case, there is a sliding scale of some sort – and the nature of laws and a society built upon laws is to come into some sort of contractual (or constitutional) agreement upon those laws (and those sliding scales).Report

  101. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “I don’t personally care for laws prohibiting victimless crimes.”

    Yeah, who does? But then you have to ask the question: should we as a society not try to stop things we perceive as wrong?Report

  102. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    If this discussion on victimless crimes continues, and I hope it does, I would like to have a definition and examples.Report

  103. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Okay, well surely you have a few…?Report

  104. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Hey we broke 100 comments on this thread. Neato.Report

  105. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    A “victimless crime” is a crime that cannot be used as an example of something that harms “The Children”.Report

  106. Don’t you think that in most cases, the government should stay out of the business of criminalizing personal moral choices like this?

    I think they stay out of the business of criminalizing adultry…sort of. As far as other ‘moral’ issues…the laws are filled with moral judgements. We shouldn’t pretend that they aren’t.Report

  107. Avatar conradg
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    says:

    btw, E.D., I posted above something in relation to your claims that fetuses have souls. You may not have noticed, or you might think me too odd to respond to. But I would like some clarification from you, since you seem to think this is significant to the abortion debate, what your views are on fetuses and souls, and how they come to associate with one another. Are you of the school that the act of conception somehow creates a soul? How could that happen? Just curious, since I have a different religious view about souls than you, where you get yours and how you justify it.Report

  108. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    E.D., if that question was directed at me, actually I don’t. Gambling, prostution, drug use are often given as examples. But a case can be made that there are victems. I’m asking, no hidden agenda.Report

  109. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    conrad – This goes back to my point on potentiality. Here, from Time:

    The Catholic view is based on a general respect for all human life, but it does not depend exclusively on the belief that a separate human being appears at the instant of conception. The teaching is that precisely because no one knows when the soul enters the body (or in secular terms, when the fetus becomes a person), the baby-to-be should be given the benefit of the doubt and be fully protected. One blunt analogy: no one would think it morally correct to heave a grenade into a room that is probably empty but just might have a human being in it, so why destroy a fetus that might be a person?

    …which is a pretty basic way of saying it. I look at this from the biological perspective as well though – which is the potentiality not so much of the soul, but of the physical human. The fetus will become the full person. We know it will, and we know how long it will take. There is no doubt that this will occur – unless we take away that potentiality.

    Bob – a victimless crime? Usually depends on the situation. Jaywalking is pretty victimless until you get hit by a car.Report

  110. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “Gambling, prostution, drug use are often given as examples.”

    Gay marriage and alcohol use are also favorites. Billy Sunday held a funeral for John Barleycorn after the 18th Amendment passed. The stuff he said would happen are really, really funny unless you compare them to the things that actually did happen in which case they’re somewhat less so.Report

  111. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Or cause an accident.Report

  112. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Right, and smoking pot is pretty much victimless (not good for your lungs though!) except that it’s a crime so it entails lots of drug dealing, smuggling, bribery, car chases etc. I get the problems with prohibition. I also get the problems with a society built around ethics of death. This is why I believe that fundamentally issues such as abortion need to be tackled on a cultural rather than political/legal level. And that’s the real failure of the pro-life movement which is failing the cultural/PR battle miserably.Report

  113. Avatar Bob
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    says:

    E.D., My comment #111 was in response to your jaywalking example, I’m sure you understood that, just wanted to be clear.Report

  114. Avatar Cascadian
    Ignored
    says:

    Arguably, our agricultural policies cause many children’s’ deaths across the globe. Our domestic policies leave the mentally ill to die on the streets. Countless old people die because our health system fails to pay for their life extension. All of these things may or may not be optimal, but simply because a situation is unfortunate, I fail to find that there is a moral imperative to help. Withdrawing or withholding support that leads to death is very different than killing.Report

  115. Avatar conradg
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    says:

    “I look at this from the biological perspective as well though – which is the potentiality not so much of the soul, but of the physical human. The fetus will become the full person. We know it will, and we know how long it will take. There is no doubt that this will occur – unless we take away that potentiality.”

    New here, wasn’t aware you were a Catholic. The argument from unknowability and potentiality is fraught with problems. I’m not sure if one can live a life from this point of view. There’s so many things I can’t know, that may be true or may not be, how can I even sneeze? Who knows what the consequences might be down the line?

    As for the specifics of the soul’s incarnation, not knowing in any sense how this happens isn’t much different from not knowing if it happens at all. If we take the purely biological route, there’s no point at all where a “human being” is created. “Being” has no scientific definition or meaning. And certainly the soul has no scientific meaning, unless there is a science of James Brown. Certainly, at some point, the fetus becomes a full human being, but arguably that doesn’t even happen until well after birth. The point of debate should be at one point do we value this organism in itself, not just for its potential, but for what it already is. That has nothing to do with determining when or if it conforms to some definition of a “full human being”, or, in the absence of that knowing, simply assuming it to be the case for every potentiality to be safe. Every one of my sperm is a potential human being. But I don’t value them as such and take them for walks in the park. There are no playgrounds for my sperm, so society must not value them very much, even if their potentiality is great. Perhaps because there are so many of them, hundreds of billions in my testes alone, not to mention all the other men out there with potential humans swinging from their groins. It’s a little overwhelming to care for such immense potentiality.

    But what’s the big difference between my sperm, the moment before it enters the egg, and a few moments afterwards, when the DNA has been spliced in with the egg’s DNA? The potentiality is certainly greater, but not by much. One can hardly examine a full, human soul inhabiting that egg. What would it even do with such a limited body? Not much. So if we are trying to calculate how seriously we should value this potentiality, it’s pretty low on the scale still. The size alone pretty much tells us how meaningless it is to ascribe a soul to this thing. One cannot assume, based on unknowability, that all possibilities are equally probable, and life can’t be lived on the basis of presuming the most unlikely things to be true, preventing us from acting. At some point, we must and do make calls about these things. It would appear that the Catholic Chuch, and you, have made a call, that there’s a great likelihood – not a small one by any means – that the fertilized egg has a soul.

    Your analogy of throwing a hand grenade into a room, without looking to see if anyone is there, is inapt, in that we can certainly look and see at various stages of the fetus’ development what its capabilties are. I know that when I look for the signs of a soul in someone, I don’t look at microscopic clumps of cells. I look at their eyes, their self-aware reflecting being, When that is present, there’s a human being with a soul. When it’s not, well, I’m not so concerned. I think its very safe to say that such a self-reflecting awareness simply doesn’t exist in the embryo, or even the fetus until well into its development. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but I’d feel safe letting an embryo die, that I wasn’t killing a creature with a soul. Just as I would be if I inspected a condemned building before demolishing it, especially if it were just dollhouse sized, not acting under the assumption that some kind of tiny invisbile creature lived in some inaccessible, invisible corner of the room.Report

  116. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Well, actually I’m only half Catholic. I consider myself to be a non-denominational Catholic I suppose, but I think there’s a great deal of value in Catholic social teaching and especially on the subject of the sanctity of life….

    As to your questions on the soul I’m afraid I can’t say for sure one way or another. What would a soul do with such a small space? Souls, last I checked, aren’t terribly concerned with spacial issues. In any case this is one of those areas where we just won’t see eye to eye, though I begrudge you no ill-will. This subject is tricky, and there are – as I’ve mentioned – simply no easy answers.Report

  117. Avatar conradg
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    says:

    “I think they stay out of the business of criminalizing adultry…sort of. As far as other ‘moral’ issues…the laws are filled with moral judgements. We shouldn’t pretend that they aren’t.”

    Okay, so clearly you think there are lots of issues of personal morality that the government should stay out of. I think we can agree that some matters, such as theft and violence, are the government’s business. But even there, it’s not the morality of these things that makes them the government’s business, it’s the economic and social consequences of a society in which such things go unpunished. It breeds utter chaos. So a government’s role in these issues is only valid if the consequences vastly outweigh the infringement on one’s personal moral choices. The moral choice to be a thief is not protected, because it destroys the core of social interactions and the role of government itself. But the moral choice to be an adulterer is simply not considered serious enough – even though there are clear social negatives involved – to make the government the enforcer of this moral code. If that is the case, I’m not sure that I see that government has a justifiable role in enforcing a moral code about abortion. We don’t have a lack of people in this country or this world. If anything, allowing self-regulation of the size of one’s family seems a fairly positive development in society. One has to look at abortion itself, not its social consequences, to see some moral wrong that government needs to correct, and that seems mostly an issue of personal religious belief or private moral feelings, which doesn’t seem at all to me to be any of the government’s business. Same with birth control, of course.Report

  118. Avatar conradg
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    says:

    Well, actually I’m only half Catholic.

    Isn’t that sort of like being only half-pregnant? …just joking…an aborted Catholic?…still just joking…okay, most of my ideas about things are half-aborted as well. I’ll leave it at that.

    I consider plenty of Catholic teachings to have validity, but many simply don’t make sense to me. It’s teaching on the soul and abortion for one.

    What would a soul do with such a small space? Souls, last I checked, aren’t terribly concerned with spacial issues.

    But have you actually checked? I don’t want to be doctrinaire here, I just like a good, contentious discussion, and you seem good at that. So I’m just questioning you a little more vigorously than you might like on an issue you seem to care about, but don’t seem to have thought through very well.

    So, honestly, would your own soul be satisfied with the experiential life of a zygote? I think not. It seems to me that souls like pretty well developed organisms that have lots of not just potential, but actual experiential and cognitive ability. Plenty of space to experience life in. My soul would not be very happy with a body in brain-dead coma, and would prefer to leave for other realms if that were the case. So “space” does seem to be an issue, when we are talking about souls incarnating in time and space.

    Which of course leads into the issue of euthanasia. Personally, I’m against it in most cases, in that if I’m going to die, I’d like to experience the whole thing, pain and all. But if I were in a permanent vegetative state, I’d prefer to be allowed to die in peace. I think people should be allowed to have euthanasia, even if in most cases I’d also argue that they shouldn’t choose it. But pulling the plug and not unnaturally postponing death seems to me a very natural thing to allow.

    In any case this is one of those areas where we just won’t see eye to eye, though I begrudge you no ill-will. This subject is tricky, and there are – as I’ve mentioned – simply no easy answers.

    I don’t have any ill-will towards you either, or your views. My own views are not fixed, they could easily change, but they are the result of considering these matters for many years, so they are neither arbitrary nor reflecting merely of some official teaching. If there were easy answers, it wouldn’t be a very interesting topic to discuss.Report

  119. Avatar Alia
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    says:

    Matoko-chan –

    Sorry I missed your reply earlier. Don’t you think that the “Bene Tleilax host-womb-vats” (yes, I’m a Dune fan as well!) will cause their own share of controversies once they are perceived by people to be viable? I think the reason there is very little controversy now is because people don’t know about it. Once the mainstream media latches on, I can almost guarantee it will spark more furor in the debate of God vs. Science/Technology, in the same vein as cloning. (After all, the concept of clones has been a mainstay of science fiction literature for decades, the key point being “fiction”. There was very little outcry before it became a scientific reality.) I wouldn’t be so quick to presume the game is over just yet.

    Mike –

    You don’t consider abortion to be a victimless crime. Fair enough. I would them point out that pro-life advocates notoriously refer to doctors who perform abortions as “babykillers” and “murderers”, yet by this standard, is not the woman seeking the abortion – in giving her consent to the act, or her parent or guardian consenting in her steed, which is a necessary component – also complicit? Yet it is an accepted caveat that these women are considered innocent while only the doctors (and their staff) are vilified. I’ve yet to see a single pro-life agency (of the non-crackpot kind) who advocates prosecuting the women along with the doctors.

    So where then does the basis for this double standard come from, and do you agree that women who seek and obtain abortions also fall under the umbrella of “victimless”?Report

  120. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Isn’t that sort of like being only half-pregnant?

    Err…uhm…yes…?

    But in all seriousness I take the C.S. Lewis approach to the Catholic Church – for the most part I find the Catholic tradition to be the most rich and beautiful of all the various Christian traditions (and the one most closely aligned with tradition generally) but I do not believe that the role of the Pope is at all what it should be. If Rome were ever to decentralize I might be able to convert to Catholicism but as it stands the Pope is far too central a figure with far too much power for good or ill.

    So, honestly, would your own soul be satisfied with the experiential life of a zygote? I think not.

    My soul would be much happier enduring the zygote for the promise of full humanity. The alternative seems a far cry worse to my mind.

    But if I were in a permanent vegetative state, I’d prefer to be allowed to die in peace.

    I am not opposed to turning off life support. I oppose artificially extending life beyond its natural course. That, to me, is not the same as using poison (or medicine…) to end a life.Report

  121. Avatar conradg
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    says:

    Alia,

    As a society, we agree that murder is wrong. It’s the definition of “what is murder” that is harder to agree on. E.D. mentioned four instances in this post, all of which are means of taking a human life (or a potential human life in the case of abortion.)

    Actually, the origins of the notion that “murder” is wrong (as opposed to other forms of taking human life), and should therefore be punished by the state, have more to do with the social consequences of unregulated vengeance killings than with the morality of murder itself.

    The reason murder is socially taboo is because it creates a hugely unstable society. People get killed over minor altercations, and then their families seek vengeance, and then they reciprocate back and forth. It never ends. So at some point people formed the notion of a government, which would take responsibility for punishing murderers, and ending the cycle of vengeance and disorder. It’s important that the notion that killing is somehow intrinsically “wrong” is a very late development, after the fact really, rather than some innate moral absolute. Saying that God forbids murder is just a way of giving the strongest social sanction to the punishment of murderers by society itself. It’s not actually true. If God were against murder, he would punish murderers himself, and there’s no evidence for that. People have the responsiblity to do so, if they want to create a stable social order. But agreeing that murder is just “wrong”, inherently, is merely the result of seeing the consequences of allowing murder to go unpunished, it’s not that actual killing is something we consider wrong, as you cite in the example of self-defense. In that case, the state sanctions a murder and prevents others from acting in vengeance upon the killer in order to preserve social order, not because the death of that individual is any less tragic.

    It’s important to realize how the state gets involved in criminalizing and even creating moral codes around such issues as murder. It’s not how we are generally taught, because civil and religious teachings about morality are aimed at creating a sense of inner conscience of “wrongness”, which proves quite effective in regulating social action, rather than in explaining the matter of fact reasons why we create moral codes.Report

  122. Alia,

    No. A woman seeking an abortion is just as guilty as the doctor performing it.Report

  123. Avatar conradg
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    says:

    I enjoy much of Catholicism as well, especially the mystics and saints. But to be honest, if I were to pick a mainstream tradition of Christianity, it would probably be eastern orthodox. But I don’t, and can’t even call myself Christian in the sectarian sense. More of an eclectic Vedantist if anything, but I simply don’t like identifying with labels. I do like Lewis’ approach to Christianity as “true myth”, however. And I agree that the modern papacy is a mistake all around. I prefer the corrupt, political medieval popes no one ever assumed had any spiritual authority to begin with.

    My soul would be much happier enduring the zygote for the promise of full humanity. The alternative seems a far cry worse to my mind.

    But is the alternative no life at all? I think not. If one zygote passes, the soul can always find another to hitch a ride with, no harm done at that early stage, when there’s so little conncetion between them.

    My own view of the soul is in some sense not even mysterious or mystical. The soul is us, right now, this self-aware conscious being who seems to dwell within our minds, who is aware of and experiences the body’s sensual life. We don’t have to go looking for it in some mysterious place, because we already are it, right now. It only seems mysterious to us because we spend most of our time looking outward through the senses rather than examining this inner sense of awareness. Religious life in general is about examining our own souls in this direct, inward sense, rather than merely having a good time through the senses.

    The point being that the soul in this sense simply isn’t present in the early stages of human fetal development. Nor does it logically need to be deeply attached to the early fetus in order to grow into a full human being. How could it be? It will find the proper vehicle at some point, and grow a connection with it, but it is not killed if the fetus is aborted, and prevented from ever experiencing full adulthood. It just finds another host. I’m not sure why this seems to you less reasonable. Perhaps that’s one of the limitations of Catholic teachings on the soul. The Vedantist approach seems much more plausible to me, and gets around the rather crazy notions that the Catholic teaching leads to. Such as, what happens to the souls of early miscarried zygotes, regardless of whether they are aborted or not? What kind of human soul would it be, if it never even got the chance to experience human life in any meaningful way? And what exactly would be the point of creating such a soul in the first place?Report

  124. Catholic teachings would place the soul of a miscarried fetus in pergatory.Report

  125. Avatar Katherine
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    says:

    Katherine, I think wild statements, like this one, “The most deeply disturbing think about liberals and the left, to me, is the absolute flippancy and sanguinity with which they regard abortion – the common view, one I have heard espoused many times, is that abortion is morally equivalent to picking bits of dead skin off your arm,” need sourcing. “Common view?” I say that is bullshit.

    Part of it is that the sites I’ve heard those comments tend towards being very strongly socially liberal, and may be out of the mainstream – but such statements are nonetheless far from uncommon.Report

  126. Avatar conradg
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    says:

    “Catholic teachings would place the soul of a miscarried fetus in pergatory.”

    Yes, but what kind of “soul” would it be, with what kind of self-awareness? And what kind of “experience”? How could it even comprehend what it was going through?Report

  127. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Mike – I can’t find that in the Catechism. I don’t think babies (aborted or miscarried) go to purgatory. Straight to heaven, no waiting around. It was thought almost “unofficially” that babies went to Limbo but under John Paul II and now Benedict that has been dismissed.

    Here is the official report:

    The idea of limbo, which the church has used for many centuries to designate the destiny of infants who die without baptism, has no clear foundation in revelation even though it has long been used in traditional theological teaching. Moreover, the notion that infants who die without baptism are deprived of the beatific vision, which has for so long been regarded as the common doctrine of the church, gives rise to numerous pastoral problems, so much so that many pastors of souls have asked for a deeper reflection on the ways of salvation….

    …So, while knowing that the normal way to achieve salvation in Christ is by baptism in re, the church hopes that there may be other ways to achieve the same end. Because by his incarnation the Son of God “in a certain way united himself” with every human being and because Christ died for all and all are in fact “called to one and the same destiny, which is divine,” the church believes that “the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” (Gaudium et Spes, 22).9

    etc. etc. (lots more)

    Report

  128. Avatar conradg
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    says:

    If it’s true that aborted fetuses go straight to heaven, isn’t that saying that abortion is good? Why would Catholics want to end a sure-fire way for souls to get to heaven?Report

  129. Avatar Bob
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    says:

    “”Part of it is that the sites I’ve heard those comments tend towards being very strongly socially liberal, and may be out of the mainstream – but such statements are nonetheless far from uncommon.”

    Katherine, thanks for the clarification.Report

  130. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Conradq – that’s like saying “What’s wrong with killing Christians if they go straight to heaven?” (Or puppies or Muslims or whatever you want to insert in there…)Report

  131. E.D. I was aware that the Church had revisited the issue, I just failed to look up the statement before I made that comment. I have one of those Catholic mothers who claim to quote Church doctrine frequently and then under scrutiny you find their statements are like Swiss cheese. Unfortunately I must have drawn from the wrong well.Report

  132. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Hey – I’m no theologian Mike, so no worries. I get stuff wrong all the time. And fortunately you were wrong about something that we can all be glad you’re wrong about, you know?Report

  133. I also hope my dear mother is wrong about dogs not going to heaven. I can’t imagine anything more sad than that.Report

  134. Avatar conradg
    Ignored
    says:

    “that’s like saying “What’s wrong with killing Christians if they go straight to heaven?” (Or puppies or Muslims or whatever you want to insert in there…)”

    Yes, it’s exactly like that. Which is why I think it should be rather obvious that I’m being facetious. And why I think Catholics don’t actually believe this is how the universe works. If they did, they actually would seek out martyrdom for themselves and others. But they don’t.

    Now, some muslims actually do believe this sort of thing, and seek out martyrdom. Suicide bombers and the like. For Catholics, this seems like just a very symbolic political way of “supporting the innocent victims of abortion”. But the logic of it makes no sense.Report

  135. Avatar koan0215
    Ignored
    says:

    The abortion debate in the US is so screwed up. Here’s an anecdote for you. I mention to my wife that some nutjob shot an abortion doctor on Sunday.
    “Why him specifically?” she asks.
    “I guess because he was performing late-term abortions.” I reply.
    “Late term?” she asks, “like, when the baby is basically a baby but not born yet?”
    “Yeah, I guess.”
    “That’s terrible! Why is that legal? I thought that was illegal!”
    “Me too.”
    “It should be.”
    “I agree.”

    And here’s the kicker, we are pretty liberal pro-choice people, or so I thought. That is, we were until a freaking right-wing terrorist shot a man in a church. Now it seems we are reevaluating our beliefs about abortion. Why is it that we are responding to an act of domestic terrorism this way? Because the abortion conversation in this country is profoundly messed up.Report

  136. Avatar Todd Douglas
    Ignored
    says:

    First let me start off by saying that most of you make excellent points on both sides of the argument. However, it seems like most of the pro-life arguments are supported by either Christian/religious beliefs or the immorality of abortion – and the moral argument is usually in reference morality according to their religious beliefs. I’d like to point out that morality has nothing to do with Christianity, or any other religion for that matter. The fundamentalist Christian pro-lifers are so inconsistent in their beliefs and actions that it’s laughable. Things are moral or immoral to these people based solely upon whether or not it justifies their beliefs/actions. What I’m trying to say is: if you want to be taken seriously when arguing your point in the abortion debate…then don’t mention religion because it invalidates your argument.

    Religion is something created by man, not god, and everything a respective religion believes in is purely speculative. The Christian Bible? Written by men who did not live within decades of Jesus’ lifetime, so it’s 50/50 at best whether it even resembles what god’s teachings would look like. “The Faith and Moral Teachings of Jesus Christ” by Thomas Jefferson is probably better moral guide than “The King James Bible.”

    I read somewhere a pro-lifer say this, “Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God.” Really? Maybe according to that person, but that person has no idea what God’s Law is. Secondly, we live in a country that has a separation of church and state, so religion has no place in the discussion.

    As far as Tiller is concerned, he was doing nothing according to United States law, which is the only law that matters. I saw a woman on TV recently discuss her experience at his clinic in Kansas, and the manner in which the abortion was carried out was horrendous. But apparently it fit within the parameters of U.S. law, so instead of protesting at Tiller’s clinic every day, perhaps the protests are better served with lawmakers than Tiller.

    I think everyone will agree that nobody is pro-abortion. The strongest argument for having a pro-choice stance (in my opinion) is if you believe there is a single circumstance that exists where going through with the pregnancy is NOT best for all involved, then being pro-choice is the way to go. It should be the very last option a pregnant woman turns to, but it should be an option. If it were illegal, pregnant women would still seek out an abortion and it wouldn’t be a proper legal procedure carried out at the hands of a certified doctor or in the appropriate environment – rather it would be in some dodgy underground clinic where the women and child are both less safe.

    Is abortion immoral? It can be, sure. When a mother terminates her pregnancy because she doesn’t feel like dealing with the responsibility of raising a kid…that’s wrong. But when a rape victim aborts her attackers unborn child, nobody can tell that rape victim she is immoral for doing so. Some people shouldn’t be allowed to have kids because they are unfit to raise them. In those cases, forcing a child to grow up in an abusive environment for 18 years that leads to a further tormented life is equally immoral as abortion. Ultimately, the intentions behind a parent’s decision makes it right or wrong (in my mind anyways).

    So, yes, I believe abortion should be an available option, but the last one used. Also, further restrictions should be placed on the parameters in which abortion is acceptable.

    In the Tiller murder, the shooter was simply doing god’s work by killing an “evil mass-murderer.” When will people get it through their heads that it’s not up to any of us to carry out whatever we believe justice to be? Because more often than not, these kind of people do not act for the betterment of humanity – but only to justify their misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And that is evil. That is immoral.

    My blog, THE TDG REPORT, link: http://thetdgreport.blogspot.com/Report

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