Monday, February 4, 2013

All Human Life Not Equal?

"The arguments are the same then and now because the two options presenting themselves to us haven’t changed and won’t ever change. Slavery and abortion aren’t just random, unconnected controversial issues, they’re rooted in our view of human beings, and they illustrate the two possible directions in which our country can go as we move forward. Will we embrace intrinsic human value or instrumental human value?
"Whatever we decide as a nation, don’t think for a moment that the principle we settle on will only be applied to abortion." ~ Amy Hall, Stand to Reason

Abortion is obviously an issue over which Americans are deeply divided. A classic "pro-choice" (the politically correct way of saying pro-abortion) tactic has been to argue that an unborn child is not a "human life" until some later-term point in the pregnancy. If it really is not a human but just a "fetus" in the first or second trimester, then there is nothing wrong with aborting it, right?

Pro-life advocates have countered with the argument that life begins at conception. This, I believe, is a powerful argument because it exposes the arbitrary nature of the "pro-choice" tactic. If life does not begin at conception--the point where genetic material comes together and creates a complete genetic human--then all other choices of points in a pregnancy are arbitrary. For example, if you look at the long-haul of my 31+ years of existence, where was the most unique, important, and decisive turning point in my development? Was it when my heart started beating? That is very significant but not the most decisive. The most decisive turning point was when the genetic material from my father and mother came together and created the "genetic me" that has existed ever since. Everything else after that was merely a further expression of the "genetic me" in this world. The "genetic me" was guaranteed to have a beating heart (and every other physical feature I have) at the moment of conception (baring any unforeseen external complications). This is also important because the definition arises from something internal to me (to the unborn child), not external. All the other definitions of human life are extraneous--recognitions that arise in an outside observer. To choose any point of development that depends upon the opinions of society that are based on observations of the unborn child, not anything within the unborn child itself, is arbitrary. In America, abortions are legal up to 24 weeks. What makes that the magic moment? What is the difference between the 24 and 25 weeks? Or what is the difference between 24 and 23 weeks? The choice is arbitrary with respect to the life itself and is based on political and social opinions from external observations. Some "pro-choice" advocates have argued that date is valid because it is the point at which the baby would be viable outside the womb. That is still an external definition, not one intrinsic to the child, and it is not the most decisive turning point in its development. Furthermore, that is only true given the proper medical technology and medical technology is constantly improving. Will we keep pushing that date back as medical technology improves? That makes the value of life depend on the medical advancements of society--again, an arbitrary and extraneous definition of human life. (For an extended and robust version of this argument, see Part 2 of David VanDrunen's Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions.)

Recently the "pro-choice" tactic has taken a turn. Mary Elizabeth Williams has argued that the unborn are human beings but "a life worth sacrificing," if the mother ("the boss") so chooses:
Here's the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That's a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She's the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.
Ms. Williams probably thinks she has disable the pro-life argument. "Sure," she says, "It's life, but so what?" My brothers and sisters in Christ over at Stand to Reason (quoted above) have written a response showing the above argument is the same argument made for slavery in the sad history of our country and much of the rest of the world. It is worth reading, so make sure you do.

I want to add to their rebuttal. Ms. Williams has not essentially changed the "pro-choice" tactic. Her definition of when abortion can be permitted is still arbitrary: she has just moved the arbitrary choice from when life begins to when life has value equal to the mother. It is still completely arbitrary. When does the life become as valuable as the mother's? When does it become equal to the mother? In the second trimester? When it is born? When it is one week, ten weeks, a year? When it can say its first words? When it leaves the house? Or, does it never reach the same value and should mothers have the right to kill their children at any point?

We must also ask, who determines this value? Is it really the mother herself or is it a consensus of society? If it is either, then the killing of a child could be justified at any point in time simply because the mother or society deems it acceptable. Not only that but we must ask if this value ever leaves the human and if so, when that occurs? Does the child's value ever exceed the mother's? Perhaps when the mother is dependent on the child for survival? Is it acceptable for children to kill their parents if they have started to become a drain on their resources or the resources of society?

The darkest chapters in human history were born out of the opinion that all humans are not created equal. If human value is not the same throughout its life, then it becomes a completely arbitrary "free-for-all" driven by the opinions of society and those with the most political influence. Slavery becomes a very real possibility. Infanticide is just around the corner, and euthanasia of our elders will shortly follow. When all human life is not equal, a pecking order of value is created and oppression (or worse) of any group is up for grabs.

By His Grace,

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