Saturday, September 25, 2010

Island Killings

A common point of agreement made across both sides of the abortion debate is that we all agree that reducing the abortion rate is a good thing.

I'd actually go with the opposite.  If anything, there are too many unloved, unwanted, under-cared-for children in the world as it is.   I'm a hopeless utilitarian, but I can't help that, if purely looking at the production of suffering, increased abortions would likely reduce suffering overall.  The world will have been a better place if many people were simply not born to begin with.

I understand that the reaction to this idea will strike many as cold or cruel.  But think of it this way.  Imagine a car is filled to capacity, and an extra passenger would face severe risk.  Should the passenger be asked to wait for the next car?

I'm probably sounding like I believe in reincarnation.  If only. 

I just don't understand why a fetus must be made sacred.  Beyond its ability to feel pain (and we're talking about, if anything, a very brief period of discomfort - certainly no worse than the agony I surely felt when I was circumcised), what is there?  The parent's feelings would be next in line.  Then I suppose there is the squishy idea of social normative behavior.  Do we want people going around aborting fetuses?  I don't have a problem with it.

The last concern is largely designed to deal with the inevitable question of when it is OK to kill a developing human.  Many draw the line at viability.  But that's a slippery term.  When is a fetus viable.  Medicine had been advancing considerably, leading to earlier and earlier viability.  But what would be the argument anyway?  It seems an arbitrary point, designed generally for winning an argument, if not merely for public health and legal reasons - like the driving or drinking age.

No, I think the question that needs to be answered is whether it would be OK to kill a newborn.  Or what about a three month old, etc.?  If done without suffering, there is no cost to the individual.  And what if the mother and father don't mind? Grandparents?  We must draw the line somewhere in concentric rings of possible indirect suffering.  And yet this point could be made about any individual, really?  A thought experiment:

If you were stranded on a desert island with a stranger, with no hope of ever being rescued, would it be morally OK to kill him in his sleep? 

He wouldn't suffer.  No one would mourn his loss.  In fact, the same could be said for many fellow citizens with no apparent social ties.  It appears the only recourse to which we are left is an appeal to moral decency.   Well, Jesus Christ, what the Hell is that?!!!!

It's an excellent question.  But I think we can put one foot in the right direction with this proposition: we ought to do what we think everyone ought to do.  It's not unsimilar from the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  The trick is in the details, of course.  Not everyone is like me.  I might find it perfectly reasonable to kill my newborn child.  A horrible thought, indeed!  But, maybe in some circumstances, after terribly wrenching moral anguish, I determine that the child would be better off dead, then off we go.  But to simply allow for such behavior by law, willy-nilly, seems very untoward.

Why this is might hold the key insight.  Moral anguish.  My wife had a miscarriage.  Zero moral anguish.  Couldn't care less, really.  What was it but a plop of barely activated DNA sequences floating about in a loose organization of cellular membranes?  But fast forward to the moment of birth and a father's heart melts.  This is highly intuitive, mammalian shit right here.  We don't kill babies.  Those of us who do are monsters.  Well, to be accurate, they are deeply dysfunctional individuals whose lack mental faculties make them unfit for civilized society. 

That's not quite how I'd describe myself.  And yet I still can't get worked up over a blastocyst.  I'm sure that when my chromosomes combined with those of my wife, it had made quite an interesting string of DNA.  But just as I wouldn't mourn the lost of a recipe I just printed off the internet in the same way I'd mourn the loss of a triple-decker cake I just spent hours lovingly crafting before it crashed to the floor, a fetus is only slowly moving toward my heart.  It exists as much in the eyes of my wife as I watch her belly grow, or the joy we share as the little feller begins to kick.

Oh, and by the way I wouldn't kill a stranger on a desert island.  But I'm not sure I'd mind if you did.  Although I'm sure I wouldn't think it wrong if you did.  And if we're ever stranded on an island together, just make sure it's quick and painless.

1 comment:

  1. keep the Gummit's hands off my moral ambiguity!!