Saturday, September 09, 2006

I was looking through my archives on the off chance that someone might have left a comment, and I stopped to reread a post I'd made on abortion. I quoted some pro-choice person and argued against her position, but I realized just now that I'd overlooked what might have been the most fundamental aspect of the pro-choicer's thesis. Allow me to repost the passage in question:

Please do not ask the question that way.

Very few abortions take place after viability, and those abortions are for health reasons. There is a difference between believing that abortions are "okay" and believing that a woman and her doctor, rather than state legislators, should make the decision.

Our concern should not be whether abortion is "okay" with us. It should be with who should make the decision.

This person is saying that people in general should not decide whether abortion is murder, and therefore wrong, but only the individuals involved in the would-be abortion should decide whether one should be had or not. Sounds pretty utilitarian to me, or at least presumptuous enough to make me wonder why attention is being drawn away from the moral question.

Some things are private. Some moral situations are not cut and dried. Each should be examined closely by the involved parties instead of being conclusively judged by a broad-stroked and abstract presentation. Many things, however, are so dire that society lays down rules in advance. Murder is one of them. In fact, murder isn't just a crime against the victim, or against the victim's loved ones; it's a crime against the state, against society itself. If the family wants retribution, they can sue for wrongful death after the criminal trial; if they don't, it's not their place to refrain from pressing criminal charges. I'm not saying the arrangement's flawless, but it shows that killing is always a bigger issue than the killer and the killed, which is also why premeditated killing has historically been permitted to the government, either for executing a criminal or for waging war.

If you think it shouldn't only be judges and generals who get to make life and death decisions, you don't want a doctor. A doctor is an expert in medicine and knows a good deal (I would hope) about medical ethics, but if you are trying to decide whether something is fundamentally right or wrong, the least you should have is an expert in philosophy, an expert in morality and medical ethics in particular. Doctors should be in the dialog because it's their profession, but expecting them to get the job done with only the guidance of the patient is like expecting a general practitioner to perform good neurosurgery like Dr. McCoy in the "Spock's Brain" episode of Star Trek.

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