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Monday, August 19, 2013

Reflections on the Dialogue/Debate with Chet Gaines, Part II

This will be the second part of my reflection from my debate last year with pro-choice person Chet Gaines. In part one, I reflected on the first half of the debate. In this part, I'll focus on the second half.

When we came back from the break, Chet still had some concerns with the Substance View argument. It's really not a very abstract concept. Basically, the idea behind the Substance View is that we are the same entity through every point in our lives, from fertilization to natural death. It's a metaphysical argument, but it's not really a very abstract one. If someone wakes up with amnesia, they wouldn't retain their memories, but I don't think they would believe themselves to be a different person from the person they were before they lost their memories. Neither does someone stop being the same entity when they fall asleep and don't currently believe themselves to be the same person, or even to exist at the moment (since they don't believe anything, being unconscious). Conversely, if all we are is a collection of our memories and experiences, then we would literally cease being a person whenever we lose consciousness, and we would literally be a new person if we did have amnesia.

So even though they're less developed the unborn are still full-fledged members of the human community. Toddlers are likewise less developed than adults. They don't have a working reproductive system, and they haven't reached their intellectual peak. Yet they're still full-fledged members of the human community. All that means is that they are morally relevant human beings, with all the rights and values the rest of us have. That doesn't speak to their level of development.

The topic of capital punishment came up. I plan on addressing this in more detail in the future, but essentially it's not contradictory to be pro-life and pro-capital punishment because there's a major difference between abortion, which is intentionally killing an innocent human being, and capital punishment, which is putting to death a convicted criminal after a fair trial by his/her peers.

The topic of contraception was also broached, which I'll likely approach in fuller detail, also. Chet's right that correlation doesn't necessarily prove causation, but the point I was trying to make is that simply having contraception more widely available won't, in and of itself, reduce abortion rates. It may help, but it also may not. At any rate, it's irrelevant because even if contraception were more widely available everywhere, that doesn't justify leaving abortion legal, any more than making guns widely available would justify making murder legal. Abortion is still the taking of innocent human life, and should be made illegal.

Chet's last point before we took some callers was about whether there are any exceptions. I think he correctly states that if we're going to hold that abortion is the taking of innocent life, we need to be consistent. But that doesn't mean that there can't be exceptions, as long as the exceptions are truly justified. For example, if the woman's life is at risk and the child is too young to be delivered and survive, I believe that abortion is permissible.

After I responded to his claims, we took a caller named Tim. Tim posed a question to Chet, asking him what makes someone morally valuable? In other words, what gives someone the right to life so that they can't be killed? And in Chet's response, it seems to me that he misunderstands the whole concept of rights. A right is just something that can or can not be done to me by another person. Obviously saying that I have a right to live doesn't make me immortal. I can still be killed by a natural disaster, wild animal, or just of old age. Saying I have a right to live is, in essence, just saying that I have a right not to be intentionally killed without strong moral justification by another rational agent.

Chet said that society should find a better way, which is apparently the utilitarian concept of what works toward societal well-being. I'm not sure that would be better than a government that operates to protect the natural rights of its citizens. Chet also said that since the unborn can't suffer, can't feel pain, then they don't count as moral agents that warrant consideration. Tim responded, asking him about people who have a congenital inability to feel pain, or someone who's under anesthesia. By Chet's criteria, they would not count as moral agents. In fact, one does not have to be in pain to suffer at all.

Chet's response was that he does eat meat. The reason that it's wrong to kill humans is that we have a greater amount of suffering, but that's a different claim than the claim he made earlier, that the suffering of conscious creatures is what matters. If that's what matters, then Chet is being inconsistent by eating meat as it takes the suffering of conscious creatures to make his hamburger. I agree with Chet that killing humans is wrong whereas killing animals is not, but I have a reason to ground that view and he doesn't. My view, that humans are inherently valuable as rational agents, is not inconsistent when it comes to eating meant, as opposed to Chet's, which is that we should avoid the suffering of conscious creatures. His statement that it's wrong to kill humans because we have greater suffering than animals doesn't mean that it's wrong to kill animals, only that it's more wrong to kill humans because we suffer greater. But then, that still doesn't get Chet off the hook, because that would mean that it's not wrong to kill human beings, just more wrong to kill the ones who suffer greater. That leads to a sliding scale, where the people who can suffer more (like adults) are more valuable than those who suffer less (like newborns or human embryos).

Chet responded that there are other types of suffering besides just physical suffering, so it would be wrong to kill adults who can't feel pain, but Tim continued to press him on why, then, could we kill the unborn even though they can't feel it. Unfortunately, the host had to end the call, but Chet got a chance to respond after the second caller. As to fetal suffering, as I mentioned in the last article, scientists know that fetus' feel pain at least from 20 weeks, which is why HB2 was proposed in Texas, but there is evidence that it happens much earlier. So if the question is do fetus' suffer as conscious creatures, the answer is obviously yes (though human embryos may not).

The second caller, Luke, had a question for me. Luke's question pertained to the state of abortion as we have it now, that a woman can get an abortion for practically any health reason, be it physical, mental, emotional, familial health, etc. I did ask him what kinds of health concern would justify abortion besides her life being at risk, but Luke couldn't give me any specifics. This was unfortunate because I'm sure there are health concerns that most pro-choice people would probably agree don't justify abortion. There are health concerns that would be a little more difficult, and I certainly don't believe that pregnancies are easy, but as Dr. Nathanson wrote in his book Abortng America, life can only be equated with life. If a woman is going to survive a pregnancy, I'm not sure there are any health concerns that would justify killing the child. We wouldn't allow that with a child outside the womb (e.g. if a woman was hospitalized with tuberculosis), so we can't justify it for a child inside the womb. If continuing the pregnancy will result in long-term health problems, this might be different. But at any rate, we should all agree that there are some health concerns that wouldn't justify an abortion. The ones that would would be extremely rare cases.

In fact, past president of Planned Parenthood, Alan Guttmacher ("Abortion -- Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow," in The Case for Legalized Abortion Now (Berkeley, CA: Diablo Press, 1967), even conceded, "Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and, if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save, life." He wrote this in 1967, a full six years before abortion was legalized across the board in the United States.

The third caller was Andrew, with a question for me. His question was if I had an argument for the pro-life position that doesn't rely on speciesism. While the Substance View doesn't rely on speciesism (because the argument is that humans are valuable based on the kind of thing they are, not just because of their biological affiliation), but Don Marquis' Future of Value also doesn't rely on speciesism. If animals could be shown to have a future of valuable experiences like we do, it would be likewise wrong to kill them.

Also, because the question is probably on most peoples' minds, the reason Andrew said he'd "see me tomorrow" is because he lives locally, and I was slated to give a pro-life presentation in front of his philosophy club the next day.

The last thing we talked about was a hang-up Chet still had regarding the Substance View argument, that as a substance we maintain our identity through change. But decks are not substances. All living things are substances, but artificial things are artifacts, or property-things. They don't maintain their identity through change. As Frank Beckwith mentioned in his book Defending Life, if you replace all the planks in a deck, you don't really have the same deck. A deck, just like all other artifacts, doesn't maintain its identity through change because there is no identity that unifies the whole. Even though we replace many of our cells every several years (and some cells never get replaced), we are still the same person we were even before the change because we do have an identity that unifies the whole. You are also the same person even if you lose a limb, or give blood, or have your appendix taken out. Going through changes doesn't change who you are.

I've debated and discussion abortion on-line with many people. This was really the first vocal debate on abortion I'd ever done. I have done two others and will plan on doing more in the future. This is an important issue, one that no one should take lightly, no matter which side of the debate you come down on.  But debates are more than just arguing -- debates are a way to present the arguments to an audience, and give them a chance to hear the arguments, probably for the first time, and come to a reasoned, informed conclusion, having heard arguments from both sides.

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