Has “Civilized” Society Truly Progressed?

It seems that the more people insist that human beings are far more civilized than their barbaric ancestors from antiquity simply because we have greater access to information, modern healthcare, and advanced technologies at our collective disposal, the more evidence we tend to stumble across that suggests this simply is not true.  While it is true that Western democracies and republics tend to generally endorse civil and human rights far more than their direct predecessors, there is an underlying relatively modern development that implies these societies have merely evolved their barbarism with the times to target the weak and the defenseless.  Perhaps no issue embodies this notion quite like that of legalized abortion.

According to a recently published article in the British Journal of Medical Ethics, two Australian medical philosophers argue that “both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons” and “the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant” to the ethical considerations that characterize the issue (emphasis added).  This is truly disgusting propaganda that blatantly advocates infanticide as both an individual right (of the mother – not of the child, of course) and an acceptable social policy, as if the sole justification for the determination is in line with the supposed moral appropriateness of terminating unborn children.

But that has always been the next logical step, has it not?  Only the naïve would assume that a society that endorses the utter disregard for the sanctity of life at one point along an arbitrary linear progression would steadfastly protect it at a different point, just slightly further along – or even much further along.  By legitimizing the underlying precept of abortion so gratuitously in the West, is not the next logical step to legitimize the killing of all burdensome “non-persons,” such as babies, the infirmed or disabled, the geriatric, or even races of people that are not truly people?  Many pro-abortion spokespeople have long ridiculed as silly hysteria their opponents’ grisly predictions of where such blatant disrespect for the inherent inviolability of life will ultimately lead, and yet those predictions appear to not be the stuff of hyperbole after all.  There are indeed people in society who would wholeheartedly endorse such proposals, which are the logical extensions of an ethically flawed originating point of view.

So-called “civilized” folks have established a long history of rationalizing truly barbaric behavior by supposing that the targeted victims of deliberate infringements of the Natural Law are not people, in the strictest sense of the word.  Perhaps the most famous example of modern times, the Nazis, rationalized the mass killings and torture of and medical experimentation on Jews, Romas, and homosexuals by asserting that they were not really “people.”  The authors state that “merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.”  This sounds like a statement that I would have more likely ascribed to Dr. Joseph Goebbels or Adolph Eichmann than modern medical ethicists.

The United States government itself is not historically innocent of deciding who is a person and who is not.  Perhaps the most infamous instance of this, and arguably a precedence-setting one, occurred in Dred Scott v. Stanford (1857).  In this landmark case, the United States Supreme Court held that freed slaves and their descendants were not “people or citizens” sufficient to exercise a right to judicial redress for infringements of their natural rights or individual due process under the Constitution.  And so it was in Roe v. Wade (1973) as well where the Court, in its inherently non-medical capacity, decided that the conceived were not individuals entitled to government protection of their lives pursuant to the Natural Law.  Both of these decisions exceeded the instituted legitimacy of government in general, were arbitrary distinctions meant to rationalize purveying unethical behavior by its constituency, and have had long-lasting and terrible unintended – and in many cases, very much intended – consequences.

But the authors go further still in their troubled rationale.  It is apparently not enough to presume that fetuses and infants are not people, per se, but they also rationalize legal infanticide by associating the children with “an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economy provides for their care.”  So it would seem that the American grandmothers and grandfathers currently dependent upon MediCare or their families for their many healthcare needs or the millions of Americans drawing unemployment benefits or some other form of welfare should probably begin getting their affairs in order, if this perspective is to “progress” in the United States as it apparently has elsewhere.

The authors additionally invoke the wholly subjective standard of judging which lives are worth living and which are not, as if any of us in any capacity are ethically empowered to make such a determination regarding someone else.  “…Medical professionals have recognised [sic] the need for guidelines about cases in which death seems to be in the best interest of the child.  …  Euthanasia in infants has been proposed by philosophers for children with severe abnormalities whose lives can be expected to be not worth living…”  And just whose expectations are being measured, I would ask?  The measure of the relative quality of one’s life is a determination reserved solely to the individual in question under the Natural Law.  I have personally never met someone with Down ’s syndrome who did not demonstrate an infectious love of life, the likes of which most “normal” people I know cannot claim to exhibit routinely.

Perhaps the most disturbing rationale that the authors relate to justify this social approach is that, in their opinion, the newborn is unaware of the precious gift of life of which they are the recipient and therefore cannot properly appreciate that it might be taken away.  As if this article were actually some twisted comedy skit lifted from a dystopian Saturday Night Live episode, these so-called ethicists equate their proposed “after-birth abortions” to taking someone’s property who is not aware that it has been taken.  The acts of murder and thievery themselves are thus apparently only immoral if the victim is aware they are being perpetrated and can express some value for the life or property that has been affected.

To that end, the ultimate question eventually boils down to when does life truly begin?  This has always been the crux of the abortion debate in America at least and one that is not difficult to answer in my estimation.  We need only to reflect on when death is official – medically and therefore legally – to make such a determination.  If the cessation of the heartbeat in an individual is sufficient for physicians to legally declare death then it logically follows that the inception of a heartbeat must medically and legally be measured as the establishment of an individual’s life.  And this reveals a key element of consideration of the pre- or post-birth abortion issue as it relates to government and society: how can a society or government presume to be magnanimous while simultaneously displaying such arrogance as to suppose that born and/or unborn children (or anyone for that matter) do not possess a soul, humanity, or appreciation for life simply because they have no recognized, developed way to express value for them?

That is ultimately the nagging thing about principles, or the lack of them.  If we, as a society, cannot function with an ethically consistent standard of conduct in all instances and institutions then we certainly cannot expect our subsequent governments to wield power over us in such a manner.  Why would they when they take their respective cues from us?  If government does not exist to protect innocent life then I must ask what purpose can it legitimately claim to serve?*

As noted political philosopher and classical liberal Frederic Bastiat stated in 1850,

No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree, but the safest way to make them respected is to make them respectable.  When law and morality are in contradiction to each other, the citizen finds himself in the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense, or of losing his respect for the law – two evils of equal magnitude, between which it would be difficult to choose.

The intensity of my distaste for such displays of callous disregard for the sacredness of innocent life is largely suppressed in this post for the sake of retaining some degree of communicative worth.  The authors declare that “the moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus” and on this sole point I concur, though certainly not with respect to their intent within the greater context of the article.  My one cynical hope is that this article is actually a satirical paper meant to draw attention to the immensely hypocritical and immoral stance of government tolerance of abortion in general, and particularly the expansions of its application of late.  Otherwise, the vicious and cold nature with which these alleged academics solicit such an inhuman stance regarding humanity is utterly disturbing.



* On a side note, it is of some ironic interest to me that many of the same folks that will argue for expanding government power and consequent legal plunder under the rationale of protecting future unborn generations’ rights and freedoms (e.g., education programs, environmental policies, etc.) will also thoroughly endorse the murder of those same unborn generations as if protecting the right to life itself is not a business that government should be involved in.







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  1. #1 by Bradley Peraino on March 12, 2012 - 5:07 AM

    I have a poetic response to this article, if you don’t mind…


  1. Planned Parenthood Is Not a Human Rights Organization |

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