Suffer the children

During the past few days, there has been much discussion of philosophy professor Gary Comstock’s spirited defense of infanticide, in the case of a severely handicapped newborn baby who is likely to die (New York Times, July 12, 2017). Such an infant, argues Comstock, lacks “the things that make a life: thoughts, wants, desires, interests, memories, a future.” And if did have thoughts, its dominant thought about being kept alive on a respirator would surely be: “This hurts. Can’t someone help it stop?”

Bioethicist Wesley Smith has pointed out that the case described by Comstock (who is not a doctor), of an infant suffering excruciating pain as its life is needlessly prolonged, is totally fictitious: “When life support is removed, doctors do not just let patients twist choking in the wind. They palliate — as necessary to alleviate pain and agitation.” The testimony of palliative care physician Ira Byock (whom Smith mentions in his article) is well worth citing: “In more than 35 years of practice I have never once had to kill a patient to alleviate the person’s suffering. When other measures fail, palliative sedation for alleviation of physical suffering is reliably effective. Alleviating suffering is different than eliminating the sufferer.” (Maryland Medicine vol. 17, no. 4; January 2017.) And Dr. Michael Egnor, commenting on Comstock’s article for Evolution News and Views, writes: “The notion that handicapped children intractably suffer is a lie. I’ve treated thousands of these kids. Most of the conditions that cause severe neurological impairment aren’t painful and don’t inherently cause physical suffering. Spina bifida, holoprosencephaly, various trisomies and anencephaly don’t ‘hurt,’ and in fact the children afflicted are often quite content babies. They are loved by their families, and they can enjoy life in accordance with their physical limitations.”

Wesley Smith and Michael Egnor point out that infanticide is a crime against humanity, for which doctors were hanged at Nuremberg. Some of these doctors had euthanized handicapped children. Both authors make a telling point; nevertheless, the question needs to be addressed: exactly why is infanticide wrong?

“Humans have spiritual souls” – why I think this is a bad answer

Professor Jerry Coyne, in a recent article over at Why Evolution Is True, suggests that the opposition to euthanasia of severely handicapped newborns is primarily religious: “The reason we don’t allow euthanasia of newborns is because humans are seen as special, and I think this comes from religion — in particular, the view that humans, unlike animals, are endowed with a soul. It’s the same mindset that, in many places, won’t allow abortion of fetuses that have severe deformities. When religion vanishes, as it will, so will much of the opposition to both adult and newborn euthanasia.” Sadly, Dr. Egnor, in his reply to Coyne’s article, adopts a stridently religious defense of the legal prohibition of infanticide, arguing that there is something unique about the human soul, as opposed to the animal soul, whose operations are entirely physical: “Humans have spiritual souls, created in God’s image, which distinguishes them from animals.” I don’t think this defense is legally or philosophically adequate, however.

The beliefs that humans have a spiritual soul, made in God’s image, is a metaphysical belief, as well as being a religious belief. While there are some metaphysical beliefs which are fundamental to our legal system (e.g. the belief that there is an external world, that there are other minds besides my own, and that rational individuals possess libertarian free will), they at least relate to things which we can directly experience. The belief in an immaterial soul which is made in the image of its immaterial Creator is a belief of an altogether different kind. You can’t see a soul, any more than you can see God. If Dr. Egnor is right, then an atheist could have no good reason to oppose infanticide as a matter of principle. On this point, I think Egnor is gravely mistaken.

A purely secular argument for the immorality of infanticide and abortion

Several years ago, I wrote an online book titled, Embryo and Einstein – Why They’re Equal. In my e-book, I endeavored to provide a purely secular argument, free of any controversial metaphysical premises, showing why the intentional destruction of a human being at any stage of development is morally wrong. After citing passages from the writings of atheist feminists who are staunchly pro-life, I went on to argue that any satisfactory defense of the notion that the intentional killing of a human individual is intrinsically wrong has to be grounded in its actual (as opposed to potential) qualities, and should eschew all talk of a spiritual soul:

What distinguishes this essay from other essays written in defense of unborn human life is that I shall endeavor to explain precisely why a human embryo is every bit as valuable as you or I. Moreover, my explanation makes no appeal to the merely potential qualities of the embryo; instead, I only invoke actual properties. Thus my argument is invulnerable to the philosopher Peter Singer’s criticism that a potential X does not necessarily have the rights of an actual X – for instance, a prince (who is a potential king) does not possess the same rights and privileges as an actual king. And unlike the philosopher Don Marquis, who argues that an embryo/fetus matters just as much as we do because it has a future like ours, my account of why a human embryo matters is based principally on its present characteristics. Finally, my explanation makes no appeal to the existence of an immaterial soul, although it is perfectly compatible with belief in one.

In a nutshell, my argument was that anything possessing and running a program for making itself into a rational human adult, has the same intrinsic value as that adult:

In brief, the essence of my argument is that a human embryo is a person, because it is a complete organism, embodying a developmental program by which it directs and controls its own development into a rational human adult, and in addition, it has already started assembling itself into a rational human adult. A human adult is not merely something the embryo/fetus is capable of becoming, in a passive sense; rather, it is the mature form of the organism that the embryo/fetus is currently assembling itself into, by executing the instructions contained in its developmental program, which has already started running. (In this respect, the embryo/fetus differs vitally from a potential king, who is legally incapable of doing anything to make himself king, and who has none of the rights that properly belong to a king.) I shall argue that it is reasonable to regard any biological organism which is currently assembling itself into a rational human adult through a process which is under its control, as being just as valuable as the adult it will become, and as therefore having the same right to life as an adult. I shall also contend that nothing is acquired by an embryo, fetus, newborn baby or child in the course of its development which would add to its inherent moral value in any way; hence a one-cell embryo must be just as valuable as you or I. Finally, I shall argue that a severely defective embryo, which has no hope of developing into a rational human adult, has the same right to life as a normal embryo, because the correction of its defects does not require the addition of any new instructions to its developmental program; all it requires is the repair of program flaws, and that this correction would in no way alter its identity as a human individual, or add to its inherent value. Given that a normal embryo has the same right to life as a rational human adult, it follows that a severely defective embryo (which is just as valuable as a normal one) has the same right to life as well…

All that matters, for the purposes of my argument, is that:

(a) the development of an embryo/fetus is directed by instructions contained within the embryo;
(b) although external stimuli also have a considerable impact on the embryo’s development, no new developmental instructions are added to the embryo/fetus from outside as it matures; and
(c) the instructions in the embryo’s developmental program are extremely complex and contain a high degree of functional information… [I used this term in its standard scientific sense, in my e-book.]

How the embryo builds itself

To support my claim that a one-cell embryo is a true organism, with its own developmental program, I cited an online paper by Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, titled, When Does Human Life Begin? A Scientific Perspective (White Paper, Volume 1, Number 1, October 2008, published by The Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person):

The embryo is not something that is being passively built by the process of development, with some unspecified, external “builder” controlling the assembly of embryonic components. Rather, the embryo is manufacturing itself. The organized pattern of development doesn’t produce the embryo; it is produced by the embryo as a consequence of the zygote’s internal, self-organizing power. Indeed, this “totipotency,” or the power of the zygote both to generate all the cells of the body and simultaneously to organize those cells into coherent, interacting bodily structures, is the defining feature of the embryo. (p. 11)

From the moment of sperm-egg fusion, a human zygote acts as a complete whole, with all the parts of the zygote interacting in an orchestrated fashion to generate the structures and relationships required for the zygote to continue developing towards its mature state. Everything the sperm and egg do prior to their fusion is uniquely ordered towards promoting the binding of these two cells. Everything the zygote does from the point of sperm-egg fusion onward is uniquely ordered to prevent further binding of sperm and to promote the preservation and development of the zygote itself. The zygote acts immediately and decisively to initiate a program of development that will, if uninterrupted by accident, disease, or external intervention, proceed seamlessly through formation of the definitive body, birth, childhood, adolescence, maturity, and aging, ending with death. This coordinated behavior is the very hallmark of an organism. (p. 7) [Emphases mine – VJT.]

There are, of course, many objections to the view that a one-cell embryo is a human being with a right to life. I’ll discuss a few of them here; I answer these and many more objections in my e-book.

Are skin cells people, too?

The philosopher Sam Harris sarcastically quips that if embryos are people, then so are the skin cells you scrape from your nose when you scratch it: “Every time you scratch your nose, you have committed a Holocaust of potential human beings.” However, a human skin cell does not qualify as an organism. Its epigenetic switches, unlike an embryo’s, are not fully activated. As Dr. Condic puts it:

A human skin cell removed from a mature body and maintained in the laboratory will continue to live and will divide many times to produce a large mass of cells, but it will not re-establish the whole organism from which it was removed; it will not regenerate an entire human body in culture. Although embryogenesis begins with a single-cell zygote, the complex, integrated process of embryogenesis is the activity of an organism, not the activity of a cell.

I also mentioned that a skin cell can be artificially converted into a human embryo, by “rewinding” its epigenetic switches back to an embryonic state, essentially turning it back into an embryo again. I then argued that if a scientist were to do that and if the adult skin cell were rewound back to a totipotent stage, then he/she would indeed have created a new human being. However, until the switches are reset back to “embryonic mode”, an adult stem cell is not a human being.

The twinning argument

The “twinning argument” is also cited as a supposedly unanswerable objection to the view that embryos are people, but all it proves is that humans have two modes of reproduction: sexual and asexual. Strictly, the parents of a monozygotic twin are actually its grandparents. The parent is the one-cell embryo that cleaved to form two new human individuals.

The helplessness of human fetuses and infants: information vs. meta-information

Finally, many of my readers have pointed out that an embryo / fetus / infant will never grow into a rational human adult without lots of external assistance: babies need to be nourished, nurtured and taught to talk and think, before they can reason as adults do. This is perfectly true, but what it overlooks is the distinction between information (which a human individual receives from other people in the course of its development) and meta-information (i.e. the genetic and neurological instructions in that individual’s brain and body, which enable him/her to process the information it receives, and make sense of it all). What makes us inherently valuable, I would suggest, is not information as such, but the meta-information which enables us to process that information.

There’s a lot more in my e-book for those who are interested. At any rate, the point I wanted to make is that you don’t have to be religious in order to oppose infanticide. The practice of killing newborn babies, even severely disabled ones, has no place in any human society.

The slippery slope is real

The slippery slope is all too real, and if we legalize the practice of euthanizing severely handicapped newborn babies, it will warp our attitudes towards children, causing us to view them as less than fully human. Abuses will inevitably creep in if euthanasia is legalized, as Dr. Byock warns us, citing the example of the Netherlands:

One need only look at Belgium and the Netherlands to glimpse the future. In both countries suicide by self-administration of life-ending drugs and euthanasia by doctor-administered lethal injections have been available for several decades and are increasingly prevalent. According to the annual report from the Dutch Euthanasia Review Committees 3.9% of all deaths in the Netherlands were intentionally hastened, including 5,277 people who were euthanized by physicians. [4] Dutch people are being euthanized at their request by their public health system for non-terminal conditions which include chronic pain, tinnitus or blindness. In excess of 50 of those euthanized in 2015 suffered from psychiatric disorders. Many mentally ill patients who request euthanasia suffer from personality disorders and socially isolation; depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders are common. [5 – Olie E, Courtet P. The Controversial Issue of Euthanasia in Patients With Psychiatric Illness. JAMA. 2016;316(6):656-657.]

Dr. Byock is writing about the elderly here, but the same potential for abuse exists with the very young, who are also helpless and vulnerable.

To sum up: euthanizing newborn babies who are severely disabled might sound “compassionate,” but it is a barbarous practice that will not relieve any suffering, and will serve only to dehumanize us all, by deadening us to the horror of destroying a human being.

What do readers think? Over to you.

Recommended reading: Deliberate termination of life of newborns with spina bifida, a critical reappraisal by T. H. Rob de Jong. (Child’s Nervous System, 2008 Jan; 24(1): 13–28. Published online 2007 Oct 10. doi: 10.1007/s00381-007-0478-3.)

131 thoughts on “Suffer the children”

  1. AcartiaAcartia

    Mung: According to Acartia, the United States of America is a “barbaric country.” And yet he marvels about why he gets banned at UD.

    Any country that kills its citizens and calls it justice is barbaric. Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.

  2. Corneel

    Mung: Under Dutch law why wouldn’t it be murder?

    Under Dutch law, parents and physicians that administer euthanasia are indeed risking criminal prosecution on the charge of murder.
    There is however no law that forces us to use the word “infanticide” or “murder” for this and frankly I find it disrespectful of the people forced to take these very difficult decisions. I also find it ironic in the extreme that you are accusing me of “framing the debate ” when you just introduced the word “murder” into the debate.

  3. Corneel

    Acartia,

    I am sorry to hear that. Yes, it is a terrible disease.
    I believe the example that I mentioned in my discussion was a more severe case, and that the baby did not have the prospect of living to that age. But your point is taken; it is difficult to qualify “unbearable suffering” when the patient cannot express this himself.

  4. petrushka

    Back in the good old days, before liberals took over the world, and when people went to church, parents of “defective” children were simple told the child was stillborn.

    Or, for minor defects, like tails, they were simply snipped off and no one was told.

    In cases of gender ambiguity, an assignment was made and surgery done without much consultation, and not much record keeping.

  5. newton

    Mung: Thank the Queen that Canada has never collaborated with the U.S. LoL!

    Or poisoned its political opponents.

  6. vjtorley Post author

    Acartia,

    You write:

    The fetus either has the same rights to life as you and I, or it doesn’t. If it does, then it is entitled to the protections that we all enjoy and anyone who ends this life should be charged accordingly. If you want a different set of charges and penalties to be imposed on those who participate in an abortion then you have to acknowledge that the fetus is not entitled to the same right to life that we are.

    I distinguish: the unborn child is indeed “entitled to the protections that we all enjoy,” but it doesn’t follow that the penalty for killing an unborn child should be the same as that for killing another human being, such as a newborn baby. The reason is that the physical and psychological burdens of carrying an unborn baby are (a) quite different to those involved in caring for a newborn baby and (b) non-shareable (either a mother or a father can look after a newborn baby, but only the mother can carry an unborn child). Parity of penalties is not warranted, unless one takes a particularly rigid view of how the law should be applied, which I don’t: as I wrote above, I’m a pragmatist.

    You also have no first hand knowledge of how stressful the experience of being a new mother can be. You can only speak on the stress you had as the father of a newborn. And only the ones that you experienced. Not the stresses that others had.

    I beg to disagree. There’s only one thing a new mother can do that a new father cannot, and that’s breastfeed. I’ve never heard any woman rationalize killing her newborn baby on the grounds that she couldn’t cope with the demands of breastfeeding.

    You may object that fathers spend a lot less time looking after the baby than mothers do. True enough, but that cuts no ice with me. If I hadn’t needed to work, I would have been delighted to spend more time at home, as a father.

    And while I haven’t experienced the stress felt by other parents, I would respond that I don’t really need to. I acknowledge that some parents might find it hard to love a child whom they haven’t even seen yet, let alone touched. But if you’re a properly constituted human being, then you should love your baby instinctively, more than you love yourself, and it should be an unshakable love. If you possess such love, then killing your child becomes unthinkable, no matter what stress you may be under.

  7. vjtorley Post author

    Hi everyone,

    Dr. Richard Weikart, author of The death of humanity and the case for life, has written an excellent piece over at ENV,in response to Professor Coyne’s defense of euthanasia for severely handicapped newborns. I’ll just quote an excerpt:

    Does Coyne really believe that we should treat humans like dogs and cats? Given his desire to see the United States embrace progressive public policies similar to those in Scandinavia, I rather doubt it. But let’s test and see.

    I have a modest proposal for Coyne to consider. Picture this: Round up all the homeless people in Chicago, sterilize them, and then incarcerate them until someone comes to provide them a home. If no one is willing to take them in after a few weeks, then we can euthanize them. The problem of homelessness would be solved.

    I’m confident Coyne will be outraged by this proposal — as he should be. However, this is exactly how we treat dogs. Apparently, Coyne does not think humans should be treated like dogs. Apparently, he recognizes that some things are objectively immoral.

    Coyne, like many secular intellectuals, sees morality as non-objective, because he thinks it is produced by random mutations, natural selection, and also changing cultural factors. He uses this moral relativism as a sledgehammer against morality (and religion) that he doesn’t like. But then he turns around to promote a different “progressive” morality and tries to impose that on everyone. This morality, we are assured, is better and more advanced — hence the term “progressive.” It thus claims to be moving toward an objective moral standard. You cannot have it both ways, Dr. Coyne.

    Well said, Dr. Weikart!

  8. AcartiaAcartia

    vjtorley: I distinguish: the unborn child is indeed “entitled to the protections that we all enjoy,” but it doesn’t follow that the penalty for killing an unborn child should be the same as that for killing another human being, such as a newborn baby. The reason is that the physical and psychological burdens of carrying an unborn baby are (a) quite different to those involved in caring for a newborn baby and (b) non-shareable (either a mother or a father can look after a newborn baby, but only the mother can carry an unborn child). Parity of penalties is not warranted, unless one takes a particularly rigid view of how the law should be applied, which I don’t: as I wrote above, I’m a pragmatist.

    And the physical and psychological burden of looking after a newborn are quite different than those of looking after the elderly, and quite different than those of a person with a cheating spouse, and quite different than those experienced by a person with a tyrant for a boss, and quite different than those who have had their life savings taken by them through fraud, and quite different than those of a woman with severe post-partum depression. Yet in all of these cases, we don’t see the need to invent a new category of homicide or range of available penalties. In all of these cases (and thousands of variations on these) anyone who plans and executes the death of another individual is charged with first degree murder. The stresses the person was under and the conditions leading up to the crime can certainly be used in the defence and in informing the sentencing, but the initial charge of murder does not change.

    Arguing that there are significant physical and emotional stresses of being pregnant is a feeble argument. The vast majority of abortions occur long before there are any significant physical changes to the woman. And a significant proportion of these occur simply because having a baby at that time is simply not convenient for the woman or the family. For the lack of a better word, she has the abortion for selfish reasons. Must other premeditated murders are also for selfish reasons.

  9. AcartiaAcartia

    vjtorley: Coyne, like many secular intellectuals, sees morality as non-objective, because he thinks it is produced by random mutations, natural selection, and also changing cultural factors.

    I can’t speak for all subjectivists, but is it not more likely that we believe that there is no objective morality because there is no compelling evidence for it?

  10. newton

    vjtorley: I have a modest proposal for Coyne to consider. Picture this: Round up all the homeless people in Chicago, sterilize them, and then incarcerate them until someone comes to provide them a home. If no one is willing to take them in after a few weeks, then we can euthanize them. The problem of homelessness would be solved.

    Apples and oranges.

  11. newton

    vjtorley: But then he turns around to promote a different “progressive” morality and tries to impose that on everyone. This morality, we are assured, is better and more advanced — hence the term “progressive.” It thus claims to be moving toward an objective moral standard. You cannot have it both ways, Dr. Coyne.

    Last I checked progressives are not advocating mandatory euthanasia or abortion for anyone.

    Only those who believe that there is non progressive objective morality and they have an objective way determining it, are seeking to impose that morality on everyone else.

  12. stcordova

    faded_glory:

    My question is, do people see a difference between starving and dehydrating someone to death, and giving them an injection that would achieve the same outcome in seconds rather than days? Surely letting a helpless person die by not giving them drink and food is just as much murder as injecting them with poison? Why allow the one and not the other?

    We faced the same decision with Dad in 2003, but mercifully he died of a heart attack (as far as the doctors could determine) before we had to put him on forced ventilation and feeding.

    I think giving a lethal injection is actively killing someone. Putting someone on a ventilator or other feeding at least gives time to see if the condition improves. Sometimes it does, one young lady had a mysterious illness and she was all sorts of tubes. The parents had 1000 people praying and then they pulled the plug expecting her to die. She lived and miraculous became healthy.

    The reason I know of this story is that when I was first starting in the ID movement after 2003 after my father passed away, and agnostic college student listened to me speak for 4 hours about ID at James Madison University. Her name was Alexandra. I was impressed that she wanted so much to be a Christian, but she was troubled about the scientific issues….

    She said she wanted to be a Christian because her best friend had been miraculously healed in the name of Jesus after having the plugs pulled on her. Alex eventually became a Christian.

    For reasons like this, and many others, I find the Case for Christ believable….

    Now in the case of others who are on tubes, I think pulling the plug is Ok because when the body can no longer help itself, it’s just letting nature take its course after all reasonable attempts have been made.

    In the case of Dad, when he went into arrest they put him on a ventilator immediately. After the second or third arrest, they pulled the plug.

    Dear God, it hurts just having to recount this. It’s hard to hold back the tears….

  13. MungMung

    Acartia: Any country that kills its citizens and calls it justice is barbaric. Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.

    “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

    – Genesis 9:6

  14. MungMung

    Corneel: Under Dutch law, parents and physicians that administer euthanasia are indeed risking criminal prosecution on the charge of murder.
    There is however no law that forces us to use the word “infanticide” or “murder” for this and frankly I find it disrespectful of the people forced to take these very difficult decisions. I also find it ironic in the extreme that you are accusing me of “framing the debate ” when you just introduced the word “murder” into the debate.

    So it’s an emotional issue for you.

    But let’s say some prosecutor wished to prosecute, but in order to do that wouldn’t they be required to name the crime or offense?

    There is however no law that forces us to use the word “infanticide” or “murder” for this …

    It seems to me it would be important to get the charge right if there were to be a prosecution. So yes, correct terminology matters, even if you find it distasteful.

  15. AcartiaAcartia

    Mung: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

    – Genesis 9:6

    He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.”(Deuteronomy 23:1)

    Don’t forsake thy protective cup.

  16. newton

    Mung: Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

    Unless you are rich and have a good lawyer.

  17. faded_Gloryfaded_Glory

    stcordova,

    I’m sorry to hear your story, Salvador. Losing a loved one is a terrible experience and one that you never forget.

    Personally I can’t really see a moral difference between active euthanasia or ‘pulling the tubes’ as you call it (obviously I’m talking here about cases where the patient has clearly expressed their wish to die). Both are actions that will inevitably result in the patient’s death. Both are acts of mercy, intended to minimise suffering in the final stages of someone’s life.

    My father in law made his choice and clearly that was not the time to go into a religious or philosophical debate, so I don’t know why he choose the sedation over the injection. All of us present would have accepted either method. When you sit next to a loved one who suffers so much that they rather die, it would be utterly callous to refuse that wish because of one’s own religious convictions. If a doctor has conscientious objections to performing the euthanasia, they should excuse themselves and bring in a colleague.

    Anyway, the OP was about infants who can’t express their wishes. My view is that a carefully considered consensus between parents and doctors has a higher likelihood of arriving at the ‘right’ outcome, in a particular situation, than blindly following the teachings of a religious text. Parents in such situations are suffering terribly, and whatever they do, it will be based on love and mercy. As the father of a child who as a baby suffered from a serious and life-threatening defect I have some idea of what goes through people’s minds at times like that (fortunately my daughter has overcome the problems and she is now a healthy and happy 32 year old!), and for sure the one and only thing that matters to them is the well-being of their child. Hard as it is, sometimes ending the suffering is better than prolonging it.

    If God exists and is Love, I think he would agree. If not, and if he would rather see a different outcome, he could always intervene – could he not?

  18. newton

    faded_Glory:
    Personally I can’t really see a moral difference between active euthanasia or ‘pulling the tubes’ as you call it (obviously I’m talking here about cases where the patient has clearly expressed their wish to die). Both are actions that will inevitably result in the patient’s death. Both are acts of mercy, intended to minimise suffering in the final stages of someone’s life.

    In one case the person’s underlying illness is causing the death, in the other a lethal dose of drugs is the cause of death. The effect is the same,causation is different. One is non interference , the other interference.

  19. Robert Byers

    Acartia: He also said to kill homosexuals, adulterers and women who weren’t virgins on their wedding night.

    Thankfully only barbaric countries allow capital punishment.

    There are no countries but people . People within the country murder each other.
    If they are not executed then its saying THE MURDERING was not important. It was not important about the victims actual existence! There was no great injustice.
    HOWEVER all this is wrong. So the injustice must be punished and in a equal way.
    The murderer must be executed. No friend etc can allow the murderer to not be punished. I see no injustice in a murderer being killed by anybody. so the law is only to establish guilt and then execution more carefully.

    in primitive nations its only about why/who is executed. nOt the principal of execution.
    Yes they are right to execute murderers. Otherwise why even bring the murderer to court? Just to stop MORE killing?
    Then they kill the fetus. i presume they don’t think its a child.
    if they do then its murder/barbaric.
    Another issue.

  20. faded_Gloryfaded_Glory

    newton: In one case the person’s underlying illness is causing the death, in the other a lethal dose of drugs is the cause of death.

    It is not at all as clear cut as that. Removing the feeding tubes causes dehydration which for terminally ill patients may well be the true cause of death.

    Also, what makes you think that refusing to give a helpless person food and drink until they die is any less criminal than administering them a poison?

    Your narrative is just that, a narrative. Like the execution squad where one rifle contains a blank so that people can ease their conscience.

  21. newton

    faded_Glory: It is not at all as clear cut as that. Removing the feeding tubes causes dehydration which for terminally ill patients may well be the true cause of death.

    True and the need for tubes to provide hydration is back to the underlying syndrome. I agree ,it is complex and difficult which is a reason to defer to the choices of those most closely involved .

    Also, what makes you think that refusing to give a helpless person food and drink until they die is any less criminal than administering them a poison?

    With an advanced directive , it happens legally in hospice care everyday. But I would not be suprised if a fatal dosage of pain killer happens occasionally

    Your narrative is just that, a narrative. Like the execution squad where one rifle contains a blank so that people can ease their conscience.

    That seems to me to be the nature of morality, a narrative.

  22. Kantian NaturalistKantian Naturalist

    Coyne’s confusion stems from accepting Singer’s utilitarianism without even acknowledging any of the major problems with it, let alone noting how Singer’s views on euthanasia have been criticized by disability rights advocates or scholars in disability studies.

    If one is a utilitarian, then perhaps there’s not much room for the role of intention, which is crucial for thinking that there’s a morally relevant difference between killing and letting die. That seems like giving up on far too much of the ordinary conception of what makes an action morally right or wrong. I’m fine with giving up on pre-theoretical intuitions when it comes to science, but the situation in ethics is quite different. (More on that later.)

    To make the kind of argument that Coyne wants, what he needs is the concept of having a future. Human beings are future-oriented — we exist in the world as having projects that we care about, and that make our lives meaningful for us. It’s not about pain; it’s about meaning. A newborn baby that is almost certainly going to die very shortly due to some deformity will never have a life that is meaningful to it — if you will, it will never have a subjectively meaningful life.

    By contrast, the lives of people with Down syndrome and other mild cognitive impairments are rich with love, care, and subjective meaning.

    Singer’s utilitarianism and empiricism simply doesn’t permit him to do justice to these existentialist insights. And neither does Coyne’s.

    Weikart is in worse shape, conceptually.

    The fundamental fact that Weikart fails to understand is that the objectivity of morality has nothing at all to do with the idea that morality evolved. If morality is a product of evolution (which is my position as well), that would undermine some accounts that have been offered that purport to explain the objectivity of morality. But that doesn’t affect the objectivity of morality itself. Whatever arguments there might be to question the objectivity of morality, they are independent of whether and how morality evolved. It’s sheer confusion to think otherwise.

    That’s one major failing of Weikart’s.

    The other is the idea that moral progress requires a objective moral standard. That this is false can be easily seen by comparing morality with science. We have no problem talking about scientific progress even though we have no idea what a complete description of the universe would be like. We say that Einstein’s physics is an improvement on Newton’s because we have confirmed predictions made on the basis of Einstein’s physics that could not have been made on the basis of Newton’s, and also because we can explain, within the Einsteinian framework, why Newtonian physics appears to be correct, to the extent that it is. We don’t need a complete physics in order to make this assessment.

    Put otherwise, and more generally, progress is a retrospective assessment, not a prospective. It is part of the story we tell ourselves about how we have avoided the errors of our ancestors, not a part of the story about how we are approaching the insights of our descendants. Our descendants may find it utterly baffling as to why we fail to see the self-evident wrongness of capitalism and a meat-based diet, just as we are baffled as to why our ancestors failed to see the self-evident wrongness of slavery and torture.

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