Tuesday, May 4, 2010

They Know It's Murder - They Just Happen to Like Murder!

Philosophy used to be done using logic. Alas, not at the formerly Catholic St. Mary's University in Halifax, where Mark Mercer, the author of the following piece in the Ottawa Citizen, teaches. It is entitled "A Fetus is not a Person." This requires a good fisking, so here goes. [My comments in red, bold and square brackets.]

Those of us concerned that abortion should be legal, safe, and easy to obtain, both in Canada and around the world, need to set aside talk of a woman's right to choose, at least for a moment. Women's reproductive freedom is today under threat, and that's partially because talk of choice seems irrelevant in face of the fact abortion involves killing human fetuses. [That is a huge concession! Very true. But it sounds ominous - he is not going to draw the obvious conclusion that we should make killing human fetuses illegal.]

Opponents of abortion insist that an individual's right to do with her body what she wants doesn't include or imply a right to do to other people's bodies what she wants. And they are right, it doesn't. [Another huge concession: the fetus is not simply part of the mother's body.]

For that reason, if we are going to show that abortion should remain a private matter, of no interest to the law, we have to address directly the question of killing human fetuses. The point we must make is that killing a human fetus is not killing a person. [What is the difference? There is no definition here.] The reasons a woman might have for seeking an abortion cannot be outweighed by the fetus's right to life, for, not being a person, the fetus has no such right. [Why not? This is sheer assertion so far. He hasn't presented anything like an argument yet.]

Debates about abortion are often misconceived as debates about when human life begins or whether the fetus is human. Let's remove these misconceptions right away.

The question when human life begins gains no purchase because nowhere in the process of reproduction does anything non-living come to life. The egg is alive, the sperm is alive, and, should the sperm fertilize the egg, the zygote is alive. [To say the egg is alive in the same sense that zygote is alive is bad biology and out and out wrong. The sperm or egg is not alive in the sense of being a living being capable of development whereas the zygote is. It is like saying that He implicitly recognizes this fact in the next sentence.] At conception comes a new human being. [Another huge concession; this is what the pro-life movement has said all along.]

Abortion, then, involves the killing of a human being. But that abortion involves the deliberate killing of a human being is no reason for abortion to be illegal. Nor should one be morally troubled by it. [Think about these three statements carefully for a minute. No one should be troubled morally about killing human beings. That is what he is saying. There is a whiff of sulfur here.]

To kill a reader of this newspaper would be to kill a creature richly aware of its environment and full of beliefs and desires, including the desire to continue living. To kill him or her would be to kill a self-conscious creature. Thus, to kill a reader of this paper would be to destroy a self-aware locus of experience, one, moreover, that prefers not to die. [This is a mess. How does he know the reader is not suicidal? He doesn't and later he will probably advocate killing people with suicidal thoughts as they do in the Netherlands. The only definition he gives of personhood here is self-consciousness, which makes those in comas or below a certain IQ of dubious personhood. Are sleeping persons fully persons? Why?]

That is why only extremely strong, ethically sound reasons could justify killing a reader of this paper. [Notice that he makes no assumption that you and I should be allowed to live. Anyone might be legitimately killed if there are "strong, ethically sound reasons" why they should be killed. These reasons must be strong and ethically sound to whom? To the person being killed? To the State? To private individuals?] Absent such reasons, we're enjoined to let her live.

A human fetus, on the other hand, though human, has only a rudimentary awareness of its environment and lacks self consciousness entirely. It has no interest in living, for it can have no interests at all. [All human beings who lack self consciousness can be killed with impunity - this is what he is saying. So the old, the senile, the sick can be killed.]

Because a fetus is not a person, killing a fetus is not killing a person. That established, [Established? How about asserted loudly without argument and hoping that no one notices? There is much more to a human being that makes a human being a human being than simple consciousness. That is just an arbitrary definition picked out of thin air that confuses one aspect of the person for the essence of the person.] now comes the time to speak of a woman's right to choose. A pregnant woman is a person, and because easy access to abortion helps her to live her life as she wishes, we as a society should make sure abortion is easily available to women generally.

Now it is true that each human fetus is potentially a person, in that, most likely, in the fullness of time, any particular fetus will become a person. But this is an argument against abortion only if it is better to have that particular future person walking around than it is to respect a here-and-now person's autonomy. [Even if a fetus was merely a potential person, that in itself should cause us not to treat it like a piece of dirt - for the sake of respecting the common humanity which we share. In other words we should treat it disrespectfully for the sake of our own self-respect. As for the here-and-now person's autonomy; that is irrelevant. No one is talking about autonomy. The woman can do what she wills with her own body but the writer has already conceded that the fetus is not part of her body. So autonomy does not come into it at all here.]

The overall point is that abortion is not in any degree a morally fraught option. A woman considering whether to have an abortion or, instead, to raise a child is making a practical decision, not a moral one. This is what we who are pro-choice have to make more widely known. [This is simply barbaric; that to kill a young member of our species is not a moral issue.]

Certainly, people who don't want to raise a child should practice contraception, but that's because abortion is a surgical procedure and surgical procedures are risky and consume time, money, and emotion. But from an ethical perspective, there is nothing at all to say against ending an unwanted pregnancy.

Overall, this looks suspiciously like an argument for euthanasia. It attempts to frame the justification for abortion specifically so that it can later be extended easily to justify the killing of many other categories of human beings.

It is logically self-contradictory, morally shallow and philosophically dangerous. The writer knows full well it is murder but he just happens to find murder convenient in this situation. And once one gets used to the convenience of murder, there will be no end of situations in which one is tempted to use it.

No comments: