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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Morality and Euthanasia (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Morality and Euthanasia
Marie
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Mother Wants To Euthanize "Severly Disabled Children"

I saw this on a friend's Facebook status today. I personally tend to be a fence-sitter on a lot of issues regarding being pro-life or pro-choice. They seem to bring up more questions then they do concrete answers about what is and isn't moral.

Just to make it clear, I am pro-choice. However, this video reminds me of a conversation I was having with some co-workers a few days ago. One of them, who tends to have views that I don't agree with at all, said that she would have an abortion if she found out that her baby would be disabled, not because she is selfish, but because of issues with quality of life.

I personally find this mindset, and this video, to be somewhat disturbing, even though I can sympathize with the mother. It's difficult to say whether or not this is right or wrong especially since the children can't speak for themselves.

Thoughts?

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rivka
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http://notdeadyetnewscommentary.blogspot.com/2012/04/dr-phil-promoting-killing-people-with.html
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Rakeesh
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I think there probably are circumstances in which euthanasia really is a just, moral thing to do. I mean, I can imagine some that fit and they're far from unheard of out in the world. They mostly center around adults in greatest distressing pain and suffering from terminal illness with no hope of recovery, aside from miracles.

Where I start to get really uneasy is when it begins to be seriously suggested for things like mental disabilities, or paralysis, or so on and so forth. Before I really sat down and gave it a good think, I forget when but years ago, I thought about it only in a very surface way and reached the typical sort of conclusions, such as 'I'd rather be dead than in a wheelchair', stuff like that. But essays like the one rivka posted, compelling in their own right, also got me to ask the question, "Would I really rather be dead than paralyzed?" And once I really asked myself that I had to say I didn't know-and then to acknowledge that there really are quite a lot of people who are stricken with the sorts of things that are commonly said to be worse than death...but they don't routinely go forth and kill themselves, not even a majority of them, not even a sizable minority-and it seems pretty unlikely to me that the limiting factor is their inability to see it (suicide) done. With plenty of time, a lack of fear of consequences from other human beings, and a strong commitment, I think we would see quite a lot more suicide amongst the afflicted than we do now, which then points to the strong possibility that when something as serious as a life-altering injury or illness strikes at us, we frequently reconsider opinions that we didn't think much about before.

Anyway. All of this is quite separate for supporting the right of person x to decide for person y whether they want to live or not. On the less serious end of the spectrum of mental impairment, nobody can credibly deny that they can live lives with joy, and bring that to others, and make the world a better place by their presence. Further along when it becomes difficult to communicate, well, perhaps we can GUESS the quality of life is so low that it would be avoided by that person if they could, but...seems like a lot of uncertainty. Especially when you consider our attitude towards people with disabilities.

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CT
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I think things are complicated. They are complicated in almost every aspect in this area.

I am certain that the complicated parts least likely to be seen are the sorts of things Rakeesh mentioned: i.e., that when people (even those who thought otherwise before) actually lose particular abilities, they generally don't choose to die -- especially not when they have a chance to talk with others in the same position who have the very basic supports we should be taking for granted as members of a civilized society.

And I know this: when you ask children with disabilities about their own quality of life, they routinely as a whole rank it higher than their physicians do. And higher than do their parents. This has been researched over and over, and the findings are consistent.

There is so much fear about disability. There is so much that is driven by that fear, and it drives decisions, choices, and judgments that people may never even be aware they are making.

This is a powerful, powerful reason for inclusion. Frankly, we should all know enough people who live ordinary lives full of love, joy, anger, frustration, challenge, satisfaction, and the whole gamut of a normal human life -- on the full spectrum of various disabilities and abilities -- that those choices and decisions can be more accurate and based in truth, not fear.

Yes, living with disabilities can be a challenge. Some are more challenging than others. I never want to minimize that. It's good cause to make sure adequate support is available, funded, and common. But those challenges shouldn't be something any of us should be afraid to see clearly rather than filtered through a lens of ignorance, fear, or whatever it is that makes for the disparities of judgment above.

[ May 03, 2012, 07:47 AM: Message edited by: CT ]

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CT
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PS: I cannot recommend Dave Hingsburger's blog Rolling Around In My Head highly enough.

He's a Canadian who writes a daily blog about what is going on in his life, often to do with disability but sometimes just little snippets of this and that. Ruby (I believe his niece) likes to take rides with him on his wheelchair. He and his partner Joe have their favorite shops and restaurants. (Dave likes a good tea. A lot.)

He travels often because he works as a lecturer and guest speaker or teacher across Canada and, I believe, down in the US as well. He had been working in assistance to those with disability before beginning to use a wheelchair for mobility himself. He has a sharp brain and a keen sense of humor, and he knows how to tell a story.

If you don't know someone well with disabilities, that blog is a pleasant way to get to know Dave. [Smile]

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Rakeesh
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quote:
And I know this: when you ask children with disabilities about their own quality of life, they routinely as a whole rank it higher than their physicians do. And higher than do their parents. This has been researched over and over, and the findings are consistent.

This touches on another thing that it seems few people realize. You'll be able to comment on this much more knowledgably than I will, CT, but it seems that quite often when actual studies are done (having read a couple but heard more often of them on documentaries, news reports, etc.) on how humans think before something happens, and what they think after it happens, it seems that often we're actually pretty bad at predicting how we will feel about something, when it's an experience new or uncommon to us. In this case it shows up as people almost never, in fact, preferring death to a life with a disability once the choice is actually presented to them.
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AchillesHeel
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Hi, I was born with a congenitally deformed foot and have lived my entire life in pain.

Life no matter how difficult is still better being... um... alive? rather than killed before birth for being something other than perfect. So in a small way, you all know someone who has always been and always will be disabled. The LGBT community has adopted the phrase "It gets better" but in the case of disabled people that is not always the case. But I can attest that being is whole lot better than never having been, and I say this as someone who was born despite my mother having her tubes tied and was almost not born with the health care to correct my foot as much as they could (my mother had to cooperate with an investigation regarding an ahcccs employee, not fun.) Quite literally I should not have been conceived, I should not be able to walk, and on top of all that some people say that I shouldn't have been allowed to be born the way I am is infuriating.

The very idea challenges my right to live at all.

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Rakeesh
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Well, another of the layers of complexity on this is that very few people think or would at least own up to thinking publically to the idea of aborting a pregnancy because of a congenital foot deformation. But...it really does seem to me that there are more than a few head-fakes in that direction, towards the logical response towards the horror and revulsion our culture often demonstrates towards disability or handicap-out of sight, out of mind. When applied to pregnancy, there aren't many pleasant ways that thinking can turn out.
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AchillesHeel
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This autistic girl at the age of eleven, having never been able to communicate with anyone before or shown any interest in a computer began typing on her own. She now uses a laptop as the bridge between herself and the people she loves, who she has always loved but could never tell them without a computer and a lot of patience on her part.
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Samprimary
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Euthanasia is one of those snakepit moral issues. It will probably end up being like abortion in terms of how attempts to forbid the practice will invariably drift away and fail.
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AchillesHeel
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Articles from last year about abortions in the U.K. for "sensitive" abortions like cleft palate and club foot. Bluntly put from a man with a club foot, they kill people like me.

Link.

Link #2

quote:
As usual, my hope that this news would give rise to a huge outcry among women (especially those who are, or would like to be, mothers) was dashed: in our disposable culture, what's more disposable than a less than perfect specimen? The fact that 2290 abortions for medical problems (including cleft palate and club foot) took place last year seems to be taken as a matter of course: why would a woman, the implication is, wish to spawn a deformed baby? No one points out that there are operations that can fix both cleft palate and club foot; and certainly no one would dare say anything as old-fashioned as "every one is made in God's image and therefore special".

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Destineer
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If abortion is killing, it's pretty much always wrong. If it's not killing, I don't see why doing it selectively should be a problem.
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mr_porteiro_head
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Assuming, of course, that "is killing" is strictly binary.
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Orincoro
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Or that killing and murder are synonymous. I'm glad to see MPH own up to the distinction, actually. I had forgotten whether you were a hard liner on this issue.

For myself, on the matter of abortion, I am strong a believer in the right of choice obviating the question of moral certitude. A person has the right *not* to harbor another life on her body. That right superseding the rights of that other life. As genuinely tragic as that may be, I think it is the most just system.

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mr_porteiro_head
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I don't think that it's identical to killing a person, but then I also don't consider babies fully human yet. I do think something that could be describe as it mostly likely being like killing, or mostly killing, with the possibility that it is fully so.

For myself, on the matter abortion, believe almost the exact opposite of you. The right to live (and the evil of killing) eclipses the rights of choice or personal autonomy. As genuinely tragic as that may be, I think it is the most just system.

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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by Destineer:
If abortion is killing, it's pretty much always wrong. If it's not killing, I don't see why doing it selectively should be a problem.

Yeah, I agree with you on this one. (I think I've said this before, too. It's why I have so much contempt for the pro-choice movement, despite largely agreeing with their conclusion.)
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King of Men
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The existence of particular people with disabilities whose lives are nonetheless worthwhile, does not demonstrate that life is worthwhile for all people with disabilities, which is what is required to show that euthanasia can never be the right thing.
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Samprimary
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Well, now that we're talking about abortion? Same thing. Attempts to forbid it will fail in a way which will foretell how the battle for euthanasia rights will go.
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Strider
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quote:
Originally posted by Destineer:
If abortion is killing, it's pretty much always wrong. If it's not killing, I don't see why doing it selectively should be a problem.

Are you making a distinction between "wrong" and "illegal" here? You might want to say that killing is pretty much always wrong, but it's certainly legal in many situations, mainly involving self defense. Similarly, it might be argued that while abortion is pretty much always wrong, there are a class of cases where it should nevertheless be legal.

It's also worth mentioning that it could be (is) argued that abortion is only killing after a certain point, before which it's not.

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Rakeesh
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quote:
Euthanasia is one of those snakepit moral issues. It will probably end up being like abortion in terms of how attempts to forbid the practice will invariably drift away and fail.
I agree that it's a snakepit issue morally speaking, but I disagree that it's like abortion. With abortion, it seems to me, the central question is, "Is a fetus a human being, and if so, at what point does it become one?" Everyone knows that left alone, at some point if it's not already, it will become human barring less artificial mishaps.

That's not quite the case with euthanasia, in quite a lot of situations where it's bandied about. With many of them, the subject is unequivocally human-the stereotypical case of someone in hopeless agony on their deathbed, or someone paralyzed from the neck down. Some people would suggest euthanasia be permissible in both cases, either if the person asks for it or has made provisions for it prior to the incident-and sometimes even if they haven't.

As for other cases, such as children with mental disabilities for instance, it's different from abortion in other ways. Once it's out, the child that is, we've unquestionably got a duty to protect it-that's fundamental to all humanity, though of course methods differ greatly, and that wasn't always the case. There is no such common ground with respect to fetuses. Furthermore, we aren't talking about, for example, a tiny organism that weighs fractions of an ounce, gestating in a womb. Questions of its humanity in that case are necessarily...difficult.

With an adult or a child suffering from some sort of mental disability, though...well, it's not a question of what makes someone a human being as in the intangibles, self-awareness or something. Or at least, we ARE talking about that, but the answer to that question lies in whether or not the child or adult can be communicated with. It's not some sort of conceptual thing, as with a very young fetus. It's a question of knowing whether the brain in there is working in a way we would call human (and what qualifies as human, too), and how we can find out, IF we can find out.

quote:
The existence of particular people with disabilities whose lives are nonetheless worthwhile, does not demonstrate that life is worthwhile for all people with disabilities, which is what is required to show that euthanasia can never be the right thing.
I don't believe anyone here has suggested it cannot ever be the right thing. Furthermore, if 'demonstration of a worthwhile life' is the standard we're going to use before permitting someone(thing) to be killed...well. I don't claim you were suggesting that, bear in mind, but only point it out to highlight a difficulty with your argument.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:

For myself, on the matter abortion, believe almost the exact opposite of you. The right to live (and the evil of killing) eclipses the rights of choice or personal autonomy. As genuinely tragic as that may be, I think it is the most just system.

Both are duly complex in implication.

On the one hand, favoring the right to life leads to questions of moral responsibility to others over the self, for example, is it morally just to preserve one's own life or autonomy in any circumstance where that freedom jeopardizes the life of another? Chances are you're going to feel differently depending on the exact circumstances.

On the other, favoring the right to personal autonomy also leads to the same questions: when is it morally unjust to maintain complete control over your own life and body? But ultimately, in my estimation, the less inherently contradictory stance is to favor personal autonomy. Even as both stances contain internal contradictions viz. personal rights and freedoms.

There's also the matter of what you think is morally right, and the way you actually want the law to function. I, for one, find the idea of abortion horrifying. But I also recognize that to not allow it seriously contradicts the basic rights of personal freedom layed out in our system of laws. I wouldn't have abortion outlawed, if only because I think that kind of change in our stance towards personal freedoms would be damaging to that system- even more damaging and morally unjust than allowing abortion. Either way you sit the fence, though, I think you have to cop to some level of taking the bad with the good.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
quote:
Originally posted by Destineer:
If abortion is killing, it's pretty much always wrong. If it's not killing, I don't see why doing it selectively should be a problem.

Are you making a distinction between "wrong" and "illegal" here? You might want to say that killing is pretty much always wrong, but it's certainly legal in many situations, mainly involving self defense. Similarly, it might be argued that while abortion is pretty much always wrong, there are a class of cases where it should nevertheless be legal.

It's also worth mentioning that it could be (is) argued that abortion is only killing after a certain point, before which it's not.

Mmmm. I'm always fascinated by those laws that have to do with, and I hope a lawyer will interject the actual terminology used here, the preeminent right of self-preservation.

For example, in some instances, if two people are drowning in the sea, and one is a stronger swimmer than the other, and the weak one is grabbing onto the stronger one to survive, it could be deemed legal, in that context, for the stronger swimmer to kill the weaker one in order not to die himself. It could be read as simple self-defense,but the interesting distinction is that there is no attack involved. The weaker one is simply endangering the other. The practical details can be told a thousand ways, but the fact is that there is a lack of moral certainty about killing in every situation.

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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
With abortion, it seems to me, the central question is, "Is a fetus a human being, and if so, at what point does it become one?"

It seems to me that that is a fundamental and common misunderstanding of the what that central question of abortion is.
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Rakeesh
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It's really not, kmbboots. It is the central issue because all other issues, however important they may be, are either relevant or not based on its answer. If the fetus is a human being, then we have to ask whether or not another human being has the right to kill that human being by right of its reliance on its body. We have to decide to what extent, if at all, the human being having been invited in many cases to subsist off another human being's body has any bearing on the question.

If, however, that fetus ISN'T a human being and is instead only a cluster of organic matter, then almost without exception we would all believe we could do as we wished with it. Of course it's the central question, even when it cannot be answered and must be tabled for the time being.

Knowing a little about your politics on issues of foreign policy, health care, and the criminal justice system, it is frankly *very* odd that you wouldn't think the question of deciding whether something is human before killing it shouldn't be central. Bluntly: are you sure that's not because that particular question is potentially much more disadvantageous to your position?

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
quote:
Euthanasia is one of those snakepit moral issues. It will probably end up being like abortion in terms of how attempts to forbid the practice will invariably drift away and fail.
I agree that it's a snakepit issue morally speaking, but I disagree that it's like abortion.
It is .. in the way I am specifically referencing. That abortion laws have fallen away in a manner that I believe will resemble the process that will advance voluntary euthanasia rights.
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The Rabbit
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All these comparisons between abortion and euthanasia ignore the central ethical controversy that underlies the abortion debate. When considering abortion, it's critical to recognize that there is a direct and irresolvable conflict between the rights of the fetus and the right of the mother to have sovereignty over her own body.

No equivalent conflict exists for euthanasia and so it's highly unlikely that the debate will follow the same course.

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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
It's really not, kmbboots. It is the central issue because all other issues, however important they may be, are either relevant or not based on its answer. If the fetus is a human being, then we have to ask whether or not another human being has the right to kill that human being by right of its reliance on its body. We have to decide to what extent, if at all, the human being having been invited in many cases to subsist off another human being's body has any bearing on the question.

If, however, that fetus ISN'T a human being and is instead only a cluster of organic matter, then almost without exception we would all believe we could do as we wished with it. Of course it's the central question, even when it cannot be answered and must be tabled for the time being.

Knowing a little about your politics on issues of foreign policy, health care, and the criminal justice system, it is frankly *very* odd that you wouldn't think the question of deciding whether something is human before killing it shouldn't be central. Bluntly: are you sure that's not because that particular question is potentially much more disadvantageous to your position?

I think that the human/cluster of cells question is unanswerable. It is possibly both. It is certainly potentially human so even if it is a cluster of cells, there are still moral repercussions. This is the question that can be tabled unless we assume that any other being - human or not - has a right to use another human being's body - blood, tissue, organs - without their permission and whether such a right should be legally enforced.

quote:
All these comparisons between abortion and euthanasia ignore the central ethical controversy that underlies the abortion debate. When considering abortion, it's critical to recognize that there is a direct and irresolvable conflict between the rights of the fetus and the right of the mother to have sovereignty over her own body.

No equivalent conflict exists for euthanasia and so it's highly unlikely that the debate will follow the same course.

Exactly right, Rabbit.
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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
It's really not, kmbboots. It is the central issue because all other issues, however important they may be, are either relevant or not based on its answer. If the fetus is a human being, then we have to ask whether or not another human being has the right to kill that human being by right of its reliance on its body. We have to decide to what extent, if at all, the human being having been invited in many cases to subsist off another human being's body has any bearing on the question.

If, however, that fetus ISN'T a human being and is instead only a cluster of organic matter, then almost without exception we would all believe we could do as we wished with it. Of course it's the central question, even when it cannot be answered and must be tabled for the time being.

I didn't see this before my last post but I'd like to address it now. The question of whether (or to what extent) a fetus is human is an important part of the abortion controversy, but it is not the central issue.

There are several major flaws in your line of reasoning.

First, you are arguing a false dichotomy. A fetus does not have to be either a being deserving of full human rights or a lump of cells of no moral consequence. A fetus can deserve some moral consideration even if its not the same moral consideration as an adult human. Most people recognize an intrinsic value to life, even if its not human life. A lot of people, very likely most people, consider killing of any living being to be an ethical issue. Everyone I know personally, considers wanton destruction of non-human life to be unethical. Even the people I know who are avid hunters consider killing an animal to be unethical unless you make good use the meat and skins. Despite all the hyperbolic rhetoric about "killing babies", I have yet to meet anyone who looks on abortion with the same degree of horror they have for infanticide or who believes that a woman who has an abortion should receive the same sentence as a murderer. Conversely, I suspect that anyone who claims they can see no difference between a fetus and a mole is either dishonest or willfully ignorant.

But that isn't the central problem with your argument. All moral or ethical controversies arise as a result of a conflict between moral imperatives. Moral dilemmas are therefore always about compromise. They are always about weighing and balancing two sides of an equation. The central issue can not be about the absolute value of one side of the equation. It is inherently about the relative values of the two sides. People can always argue that one side has no value at all or that the other is of infinite value, but that tends toward irrational indefensible conclusions. If there were not genuine value on both sides -- the controversy would never have arisen.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
It is certainly potentially human so even if it is a cluster of cells, there are still moral repercussions.
An adult human is also a cluster of cells. Unless you believe in an immortal spirit, every living thing is just a cluster of cells. So what? Many people believe life has intrinsic value even though they believe life is nothing more than chemical reactions.
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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
No equivalent conflict exists for euthanasia and so it's highly unlikely that the debate will follow the same course.

My comparison is not saying it is going to follow the same course, except in the most general sense.

As in, I think there will eventually be a roe v. wade moment that brings forth in this country the legal right of patients to request drug-enduced euthanasia, rather than the much more arduous ways we already permit patients to voluntarily end their lives, simply by sort of pretending they aren't-really-euthanasia-in-some-sense (for instance, patients may voluntarily refuse food and water in order to dehydrate to death — VRFF is available and practiced in hospices here).

And that, if you follow the lessons learned in the general changing of attitude and the waning of the steadfast (and usually theological at their core) objections against the practice through generations, I believe one will find many parallels between the two struggles.

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Rakeesh
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quote:
I think that the human/cluster of cells question is unanswerable. It is possibly both. It is certainly potentially human so even if it is a cluster of cells, there are still moral repercussions. This is the question that can be tabled unless we assume that any other being - human or not - has a right to use another human being's body - blood, tissue, organs - without their permission and whether such a right should be legally enforced.

Fair enough. I didn't mean to suggest that it must necessarily be completely human or not at all human, but I communicated badly there. I also think it's very possible it might in fact (if there can be a clear cut fact for something such as this) a shading of organism/human.

But in any event, it's still the central question, even if it's tabled. Nobody anywhere seriously questions the right of a human being to, say, get a breast reduction or enlargment, or lipo suction-because it's their body and the stuff they're removing is just human tissue of one kind of another. Even in totally cosmetic cases.

The reason it's the central question is that it is the one that has to be asked first: is a fetus human, and if so, to what extent, and how do we know that? The question cannot be answered outside of faith or belief, it's true, but it's still the first one we have to ask. Once that question is dealt with, either by tabling it or answering it, then we start to decide when and to what extent one human being has the right to end another's life if they are using their body to survive.

----------

quote:
First, you are arguing a false dichotomy. A fetus does not have to be either a being deserving of full human rights or a lump of cells of no moral consequence. A fetus can deserve some moral consideration even if its not the same moral consideration as an adult human. Most people recognize an intrinsic value to life, even if its not human life. A lot of people, very likely most people, consider killing of any living being to be an ethical issue. Everyone I know personally, considers wanton destruction of non-human life to be unethical. Even the people I know who are avid hunters consider killing an animal to be unethical unless you make good use the meat and skins. Despite all the hyperbolic rhetoric about "killing babies", I have yet to meet anyone who looks on abortion with the same degree of horror they have for infanticide or who believes that a woman who has an abortion should receive the same sentence as a murderer. Conversely, I suspect that anyone who claims they can see no difference between a fetus and a mole is either dishonest or willfully ignorant.

Yup, like kmbboots you're right. I worded that badly. As for wanton killing of non-human life being considered unethical...well, it really does depend on what we deem wanton, doesn't it? Without a doubt, us human beings are killing vastly more pigs, chickens, and cows than we need to survive. I mean, by staggering overwhelming proportions, particularly in the developed world. But very few people consider that an ethical problem-the closest most people get is considering the treatment of those animals before we kill them for leisure eating an ethical consideration.

quote:
But that isn't the central problem with your argument. All moral or ethical controversies arise as a result of a conflict between moral imperatives. Moral dilemmas are therefore always about compromise. They are always about weighing and balancing two sides of an equation. The central issue can not be about the absolute value of one side of the equation. It is inherently about the relative values of the two sides. People can always argue that one side has no value at all or that the other is of infinite value, but that tends toward irrational indefensible conclusions. If there were not genuine value on both sides -- the controversy would never have arisen.
True enough, but I think perhaps you misunderstood what I meant about central questions-which is my fault, given my wording. I didn't mean that it was the central question in the sense that it was the only problem whose answer had any relevance. I meant it was the central question in the sense that the answer to that question determined whether or not almost all of the other questions even come up. If we are to answer that we cannot know if a fetus is a human being, or that it is a blend between human and animal organism-both very valid arguments, IMO, which I actually agree with-then the very real, pressing question of when one human being may cause the death of another by stopping it from using its body comes into play, whether it was invited or not.

But if the answer to the first question is 'no, it's completely a non-human organism', if a person thinks that, then if they really believe it they won't even have to ask other questions-the woman may morally do exactly as she likes with the fetus, just as she may decide at any point to have her breasts reduced or enlarged, or her tummy tucked, or her nose narrowed, or her kidney donated, or so on and so forth.

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Raymond Arnold
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Some of us don't put "humans" in any special category. Framing the question in "human-vs-non-human", or even "special blends" still brings in a lot of assumptions. So does framing it in terms of "rights exist." I believe rights are a useful social construct, but they aren't "real", and are definitely not sacred, inalienable things that you can't compromise on when necessary.

I'm not sure I can summarize my framework here, but the relevant question for me is something like "does the fetus have preferences about the world yet?" I only care about things that care about things.

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Strider
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Even that framing is somewhat problematic Raymond. You need to spell out more details.

People who are asleep don't really care about things while they're asleep, but they will care about things when they wake up. Fetus' will eventually care about things too.

Also, it may be argued that certain organisms can experience pain and pleasure, but who don't "care about things" in any meaningful way (beyond those in the moment experiences). i.e. - pain objectively causes them suffering, but they don't have the capacity to reflect and think, "man, this suffering really sucks". they have no ability to contemplate counterfactuals, etc...So how you're defining "care" is also important.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
I meant it was the central question in the sense that the answer to that question determined whether or not almost all of the other questions even come up.
You could just as easily argue that the central question is whether a woman should have the right of sovereign control of her body. If you believe women should not have that right, then all the other questions don't even come up. Either argument ignores the fundamental moral complexity of the issue.

quote:
But if the answer to the first question is 'no, it's completely a non-human organism', if a person thinks that, then if they really believe it they won't even have to ask other questions-the woman may morally do exactly as she likes with the fetus, just as she may decide at any point to have her breasts reduced or enlarged, or her tummy tucked, or her nose narrowed, or her kidney donated, or so on and so forth.
No. Deciding that the fetus is a completely non-human organism is not equivalent to deciding it deserves no more moral consideration than a kidney. We have laws governing what you can do to your pet cat or dog and no one is arguing that they are human organisms. The question of whether or not a fetus is a human being is not the same as the question of whether it deserves moral consideration.

Scientifically, the fetus is not a part of the woman's body. It is a genetically distinct individual being. Even if it is not yet human, it is not equivalent to her kidneys.

And if you want to get technical, we have all kinds of laws and regulations governing elective surgery and the donation of kidneys. A 16 year old girl could not legally have a mole removed without permission of a parent or guardian. The question of parental consent for abortions (a point of major controversy) does not depend at all on the question of whether the fetus is human.

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Originally posted by Strider:
Even that framing is somewhat problematic Raymond. You need to spell out more details.

People who are asleep don't really care about things while they're asleep, but they will care about things when they wake up. Fetus' will eventually care about things too.

Also, it may be argued that certain organisms can experience pain and pleasure, but who don't "care about things" in any meaningful way (beyond those in the moment experiences). i.e. - pain objectively causes them suffering, but they don't have the capacity to reflect and think, "man, this suffering really sucks". they have no ability to contemplate counterfactuals, etc...So how you're defining "care" is also important.

I'm aware of that. Also aware that my moral framework is still hazy and contradictory, even if I did take the time to write it all out. I'm not sure I even believe in a "continuous self".

But the point is, there's nothing special about human DNA that factors into my moral schema. Just some qualities that feature more prominently in humans than other animals. I definitely ascribe fetuses less personhood than an adult chimpanzee.

The "are you a person while you're asleep" issue is problematic. But if we care about "potential people" who have never been people at ALL, then even drawing the line at conception is arbitrary.

[ May 07, 2012, 02:38 PM: Message edited by: Raymond Arnold ]

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The Rabbit
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quote:
I only care about things that care about things.
Is this really true or just poorly articulated? I know that I care deeply about many things that are very unlikely to care about things.

For example, I care a great deal about the health of our planet, even thought I don't expect the planet cares whether we destroy it or not. I am continually awed at the beauty and complexity of our planet. I find mountains, rain forests, coral reefs, deserts and glaciers to be things of intrinsic worth. I care about them even though I have no expectation that they care about themselves.

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Strider
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:

The "are you a person while you're asleep" issue is problematic. But if we care about "potential people" who have never been people at ALL, then even drawing the line at conception is arbitrary.

Sure, I don't mean to imply that potentiality is some sort of trump card at all. Only that it's a consideration that needs to be sorted out. I'm not entirely unagreeable to the point your pushing at, but I think the care formulation, as you've presented it so far, is ambiguous. When do they need to care? How much? I can make all sorts of decisions for my child that they don't care about now, but that they will greatly care about later, some of those decisions are going to be considered more wrong than others. Like selling them into slavery. Or promising them in marriage. etc...
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The Rabbit
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The big problem I see with the "care" formulation is that it is genuinely impossible to determine with any certainty whether anything other than myself "cares" and what they really care about.

I think its a reasonable presumption that when something behaves the way I would when I care, its likely that that thing cares, but I know the converse is unlikely to be true. Even when we are talking about other human beings who share my language, it's often difficult to determine what a person really cares about. If you can't communicate with a thing, even with body language, what chance do you have of determining whether it cares. How could I even begin to guess whether or not a tree cares if it's cut down?

I think its a reasonable presumption that a new born baby cares. It's ability to communicate is limited but it is sufficient to let its parents know when it is hungry or uncomfortable. I'm also quite comfortable presuming that a newly fertilized egg does not "care" what happens to it. What I'm uncomfortable with is my ability to determine at what point between fertilization and birth a baby begins to care enough that it might warrant me being concerned about what it wants or how I might determine what it wanted.

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Is this really true or just poorly articulated? I know that I care deeply about many things that are very unlikely to care about things.
Poorly articulated. I considered how much of my moral scheme I wanted to go into (because it really doesn't condense down into a useful soundbyte). Rather than predict which qualms people would have with it and address them, I decided to post the simplest one and then respond to criticisms as they came.

One extrapolation from "I care about things that care about things" is that I also care about the things other people care about.

quote:
I'm not entirely unagreeable to the point your pushing at, but I think the care formulation, as you've presented it so far, is ambiguous
While I could narrow it down somewhat, I don't have a non-ambiguous answer. Any rule I've come up with resulted in contradicting moral intuitions that seemed clearly wrong to me.

The closest rule I can think of is that once an agent exists (with preferences), then I care about its future preferences.

(If you have a framework that you think is similar to what I'm aiming at, but you consider better developed, I'd like to hear it)

((I'm trying NOT to dedicate too much time to this while I'm at work, I'll probably write something better thought out later tonight))

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The Rabbit
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quote:
My comparison is not saying it is going to follow the same course, except in the most general sense.

As in, I think there will eventually be a roe v. wade moment that brings forth in this country the legal right of patients to request drug-enduced euthanasia, rather than the much more arduous ways we already permit patients to voluntarily end their lives.

If you are talking strictly about terminally ill but mentally competent patients who choose to be euthanized, then I agree that it is likely that our society will most likely legalize euthanasia at some point in the not too distant future.

If you are including cases like the one in the OP, where a parent or guardian wants to euthanize a disabled but not terminally ill person who is unable to communicate their own desires, then I disagree.

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Strider
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:
(If you have a framework that you think is similar to what I'm aiming at, but you consider better developed, I'd like to hear it)

I do have a developed framework, but I fear that posting it here will lead to the same problems you've come up against. Either I have to devote an inordinate amount of time to do it justice (which I'm just not willing to do), or I have to post the soundbites, which will necessitate defending them against the criticisms that pop up from trying to simplify ethics down to short phrases.

The best short soundbite that I could come up with would be something like "minimize harm," but that's not very useful without more context. Also even that's misleading, since while I used to consider myself a utilitarian (where that would make more sense), I've recently moved over to a (type of) virtue ethics framework, where ethics is focused on the agent and developing into a certain type of person. Under that sort of framework, "is abortion right/wrong?" is no longer even the proper question to ask. Though the question of whether it should be legal is still incredibly important.

If you're interested, just message me through facebook. I have some essays (some longer, some shorter) that I could share with you.

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Raymond Arnold
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Messaged you. For now, my snarky criticism of your hastily articulated soundbyte:

quote:
The best short soundbite that I could come up with would be something like "minimize harm,"
Isn't minimizing harm easiest achieved by nuking the entire planet? Seems to me you'd want to at least by maximizing [insert hazily defined good quality].

The actual foundation of my framework is something like "maximize median preference satisfaction," (when taking time to seriously consider issues), but to save cognitive resources, come up with simple deontological rules that loosely approximate median-preference-satisfaction.

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Strider
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I have a very falliblistic picture of knowledge and morality. We have no direct access to or correspondence to the truth or what is right. So we can never have certainty that we're doing "the best" thing, or the "the right" thing. On the other hand, we can more reliably know "what not to do". My picture of both knowledge and ethics is engaging in a process of action selection that more reliably moves us away from error, i.e. - try to be less wrong. Also, I didn't define harm above, which I recognize is problematic, but my notion of ethics is definitely not about preference satisfaction.

A more accurate soundbite for me would be something along the lines of: act in such a way that you are striving to develop into the type of person who is living a life of flourishing (read: eudaimonia). Where defining flourishing would necessitate fleshing out some notion of human ontology, rooted in our biology and psychology and the social nature of our being.

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Raymond Arnold
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I suspect most people would (at least upon reflection) desire eudaimonia. I've only learned the phrase recently, a while back I considered myself a "happiness maximizing utilitarian." Essentially I meant "eudaimonia" when I said happiness, but I didn't articulate this well and a lot of people got upset.

Some people very definitely DON'T want to be happy, or at least care about other things much more. I don't think it's my place to tell them what they *should* want.

I also don't really see personal flourishing as a "moral" issue. It's an important issue, and having a world where everyone did their best to flourish would be a much better world. But I think "morals" should be about how you interact with other people, as opposed to how effectively you pursue your own interests.

(Many people are happiest if they treating other people well, participting in and improving their community, etc. But not everyone. Some kinds of introverts, some people on the autistic spectrum, etc)

And none of that really seems informative about the rights of fetuses, or non-communitative disabled people.

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Strider
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This is why I didn't get into the soundbite thing! I see no contradiction in saying that my personal flourishing depends in large part on how I interact with other people. Similarly to how while I believe utilitarianism is not feasible, I still believe that *consideration* for the consequences of our actions might be one of the most important aspects of ethics.

Also, remember that I mentioned that how flourishing was going to be defined was going to necessitate fleshing out some notion of human ontology, dependent on our biology and psychology and the social nature of our being. Flourishing is not an entirely self defined thing, there are ways we can be in error of our own ontology, or at least a possible ontology, even if we don't know it, even if we believe we are pursuing happiness and succeeding in flourishing.

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Raymond Arnold
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Heh. Yay for attempts to simplify morality.
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Darth_Mauve
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I think both of these debates have another central-core issue. Does what you believe to be moral give you the right to interfere with my body?


If you say yes, that what I believe to be morally right means I must take steps even if that interferes with your body, then Abortion and Euthanasia can be proscribed by the government, and those who follow "Pro-Choice" must stand down.

If you say no, that my body is my responsibility, and another person can not force changes to my body to fit in with their ideas of morality, then society has can not stop Abortion or Euthanasia.

On the other hand, neither can they enforce it.

On the other hand, isn't Abortion in itself, a forcing of one's morality upon the fetus's body? Hence, if you say, "No--I can not force my morality on another person's body" also mean you can not force your choice on the fetus?

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Raymond Arnold
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sort of in response to Darth_Mauve:

One thing that drives me nuts is Pro-Choice people (often friends of mine) who argue that "abortion is wrong, but it's a choice, and you don't have a right to take that choice away."

This completely misses the point that *we have all kinds of laws that restrict choice*. The whole point of a legal and moral system is to restrict choices that harm others. If you believe abortion is murder, then of course you should be campaigning to stop it, the same way you should be campaigning to stop regular murder if it were legal.

[ May 08, 2012, 04:41 PM: Message edited by: Raymond Arnold ]

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kmbboots
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Which would make sense if the regular people who got murdered were living inside your body.

DM, then why can the fetus force its "choice" on you?

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Raymond Arnold
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I disagree with the pro-life people. The point is, if you *actually* think murder is happening, dismissing it as "choice" is hardly persuasive.
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