This question was immensely important to me because it deals with an issue that seems to be overlooked quite a bit in the “right to life” debate. As a society we condone all types of ways which end lives. Be it abortion, euthanasia, withdrawing of life-sustaining treatment, police and military action, or the death penalty, they all have the same result: the cessation of life. We rationalize each in their own way, as each serves a different purpose for our personal and collective good. (note: None of these examples are just like the others, each is unique and its circumstances are unique, but the unifying factor is ending of life. Abortion is not war, euthanasia, cessation of life support, or the death penalty, in spite of sharing the same outcome.)
We give the next-of-kin (or POA) the power to end or to continue a life in the case of patients who rely on life support. I know many people would point out here that a coma patient will most likely remain in that sate. Well, there have been cases of people waking up after decades of being in a comatose state. Many times a prognosis is made in favor of withdrawing life support, but the family will not relent. And, sometimes, the wait pays off and the person regains consciousness. But the ultimate issue is this: we follow medical advice that we think is best for someone else, and at times, for us as well. The care and cost involved in keeping a person on life support are astronomical.
Another example of life-and-death decision making can come in the form of withdrawal of treatment (not life support). Those who are unable to make their own decisions rely on the next-of-kin or a POA to choose whether or not potentially life-saving treatment will be administered. The drug tPA is a fairly recent form of treatment for ischemic strokes. It must be administered no longer than 4.5 hours after the onset of the first symptoms. This decision requires consent, and if the patient is unable to provide that, their next-of-kin has to. But, they can choose not to in spite of the possibility of the drug increasing their loved one’s chance of survival. Consent to treatment is a very good example of how we exercise control over the lives of others, and one which is condoned by society.
I’m curious why it is widely accepted that we can make decisions about the lives (and deaths) of our loved ones in spite of a chance that their life may continue with treatment, but not when it comes to pregnancy. I am well aware of the differences between the two situations, however there are so many similar components that I’m extremely curious as to why one is so much more acceptable than the other.
This was a very intriguing argument, I must give you credit for your careful thought and analysis.
The difference in all of the examples you provided and abortion is simple: a gestating human being is following his or her natural life path, innocently and by evolutionary process.
The prenatal child has no desire to die as with euthanasia, is unlikely to die from gestation as with a comatose patient, has committed no crime as with police action, holds no ideology worth fighting for as with military action, and has not been convicted and sentenced to death as with capital punishment. They are simply growing and if left uninterrupted, they will be born and represent the essence of human innocence and stand as a beacon of hope for humanity.
Abortion is the elective killing of an innocent growing child. It just doesn’t get more complex than that.
Allow me to begin with this: when dealing with legislation, the issue of ‘innocence’ should not be a factor unless we are talking about personal culpability for one’s actions. A developing fetus by default has no means of asserting innocence since they lack the capability for reason, abstract thought, and for most of the pregnancy even purposeful action – its movements are guided primarily by involuntary reflexes of the nervous system. Using innocence in the abortion debate caters to the subjective, emotional aspect of the issue, and that must take a back seat to objective thought since not everyone shares the same idea of what defines innocence, and how it is perceived. So let us take innocence out of the issue for the purposes of objectivity.
The difference in all of the examples you provided and abortion is simple: a gestating human being is following his or her natural life path,
innocentlyand by evolutionary process.
Although war, euthanasia, the death penalty, and police action all involve at least some level personal choice, we still deem them as acceptable forms of taking a life. We have collectively decided that there are situations in which ending a life will benefit the person, someone else, or society as a whole. Abortion is similar to this in the way that it benefits the pregnant person, and also provides collective benefits for society (less children born into poverty, fewer maternal deaths from health complications, lower crimes rates due to lower poverty, more opportunity for unprepared mothers to finish school and sustain a livable wage, less children in the foster system, etc.). Can we really assign more value to fetal life than we do to soldiers in the military, civilian casualties of war, criminals on death row, police officers, petty criminals, or the like? On the most basic level, all of these lives have equal value. It is us, as a society, who have decided that it’s okay to defend yourself and take a life which is worth as much as your own. It is us who have decided that crime is a punishable offense. It is us who have decided that engaging in military conflict is necessary and that civilian casualties are “collateral damage.” Likewise, we have decided that abortion is a legal choice which should be afforded to women. As an atheist I’m sure you understand that since no higher power exists to establish the value of a life under particular circumstances, it is up to us to make these decisions for ourselves.
The prenatal child has no desire to die as with euthanasia, is unlikely to die from gestation as with a comatose patient…
A child may be unlikely to die, but so can be said of many comatose patients. As someone who has worked in healthcare to put herself through college, I’ve seen quite a few patients in comatose states. They linger for years, sometimes decades, with their families hopeful that someday, against all odds, they will wake up. That scientific breakthroughs of the future will make them functioning beings again. These patients have no desire to die, just as a fetus has no desire to die, simply because neither has the capacity to do so at the time (excluding cases in which a living will was prepared in advance). So we trust their families to decided for them. Will they wait and see if anything changes? Or will they withdraw treatment and/or life support and let them die? We do what is best for the patient, and their family. In cases of abortion, we make similar distinctions. Will the parent(s) be able to sustain and care for the child? Do they think adoption will be good for that child? Or will terminating a pregnancy be the best option for all? We leave these decisions to people directly involved in the situations, without interjecting our own views. We allow people to have a choice.
They are simply growing and if left uninterrupted, they will be born and represent the essence of human innocence and stand as a beacon of hope for humanity.
As much as I can appreciate this sentiment, that’s all it can be: an emotional idea which may, or may not hold any substance. The ideas of human essence, human innocence, and hope are not applicable when we are attempting to establish laws by which society must abide. Personal musings on the nature of humanity have a place in subjects such as spirituality and philosophy, but not in lawmaking. The are simply too ambiguous and too subjective.
I appreciate you responding to this post. My goal was to illustrate the idea of how we, as a society, regulate the cessation of life under various circumstances. Death can have different implications within various contexts, and we need to be aware of that. I think in order to understand why we do or do not want abortion to remain legal, we need to consider it in context of society as a whole, and how we handle other end-of-life issues.
I do not understand why you feel that you can remove innocence from the equation as it is the defining characteristic of how we as a society apply the application of legalized death in all matters except abortion. It actually is the basis for much legislation, especially when dealing with human rights and criminal code. I do understand that you want to take a prenatal child’s innocence away to validate your arguments, but the fact remains that they are innocent by virtue of being a clean slate. When we were in our mother’s womb, we had no past to be judged, no crimes to be punished for, and no actions to regret.
Innocence cannot be removed from this argument as it is fundamental to why a prenatal child should be protected by both our human family and by legislation. After all, the entire abortion debate would dramatically shift if, as some radical abortion advocates like to state, that a prenatal child is actually an ‘unwanted intruder’ or a ‘parasite’, both of which imply that a certain level of guilt should be placed on the child. These are false arguments, of course. The child did not invade the womb, he or she was placed there by others, regardless of the circumstances behind their conception. And any thinking person knows they are not a parasitic organism separate from the human species.
You are right, I do understand that we and we alone determine the value of human life. The examples you provide of soldiers, police officers, criminals, etc. stand apart from a prenatal child in that they made their own personal choice to pursue their respective lines of work and were not forced into their deaths. A soldier knows the risks of warfare, a police officer the risks of protecting their community, and a criminal the risks of punishment. A prenatal child made no choices that should put his or her life at risk.
If I follow your argument, you believe that a prenatal child should be considered collateral damage in the war on poverty, maternal mortality, crime, ‘unwanted’ children, etc., because it benefits society as a whole. The danger with this premise is this: why stop with prenatal children? Why not apply this philosophy to the newborn? They are no more a sentient human person capable of thought than they were minutes before while residing on the other side of the cervix. Your argument becomes a slippery slope and is precisely the kind of thinking that has led to some of the worst human atrocities of our past.
You cannot and must not ever remove emotion from any intelligent debate regarding human rights, human life, and human value. It is incorrect to believe that human emotion has not and does not play an incredibly important role in legislation. Our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America are awash with human emotion and are the basis of our entire legal system.
From the 14th Amendment to the Constitution:
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Discuss taking someone’s life or liberty away and see how emotional they get. Laws are all about human emotion. It is human emotion that drives everything good and bad that ever happens between human beings.
Abortion is an extremely emotional issue because of what is stated in the 14th Amendment. You are denying that living human being of their right to life and liberty. It is unjust and it is immoral. Someday, the Constitution will be properly interpreted to protect all of us from the moment of conception, the logical and scientific beginning of life. Anything else is ambiguous morality at play for the convenience of those already born.
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