Ethical arguments, part one

Let’s talk ethics.

But first, let me say this:  while there are some things that do get under my skin and make me strengthen my tone, I in no way regret the decision to post this series.  I do not grieve over the squabbles in the comments.  I see a bunch of people with strongly held views struggling with how to relate those to the content of posts, and that pleases me.  Because in fairly considering our values, we find challenge and growth.  That growth doesn’t have to align with my own value system for me to take pleasure in it.

Now, let’s talk about ethics.

I have rarely heard an argument made adainst first trimester abortions that wasn’t based off of religious belief.  I have heard ethical arguments against abortion beyond that point- for example, once the brain stem is fully formed and functioning, the fetus ought to be considered a human being; or that once the fetus would be considered viable should it be born, it should be considered equal in rights to a born child.

I have heard no such argument for a first trimester abortion.

Note that I am not saying that such an argument cannot rationally exist- just that I have never heard such an argument.

Let’s not have an unequal argument.  If one person says, “this is the code of medical ethics” and another says “this is the code of religious ethics”, they aren’t having a debate.  They are simply reiterating their own feelings without consideration for the point of the other.  And if I am the one with religious beliefs, it is MY cross to bear that I must lower myself to the level of the debate at hand, rationally evaluate the arguments of my peers, and try to discredit them on their own value, or accept them as the only rational truth to be observed in the absence of belief in God.

Yes, I realize this is a highly uncomfortable fact, but we cannot foist our religious beliefs on other people to save them from their own immorality.  That immorality is a choice afforded to them by God himself, and a state whose consequences they alone will bear.

Now, I understand that when it comes to abortion rationales such as my own become tenuous- because if it is to be believed that abortion is equal to murder, it’s not someone’s own immorality that we are condemning, but instead a life that we are attempting to save.

Then we must return to the question of proof.  How is one to prove that it is murder?

My challenge to you, today, is to make a rational argument that a fetus under the age of twenty two weeks gestation is equal in value to a born child, without the use of any religious or moral arguments or religious texts.


23 thoughts on “Ethical arguments, part one

  1. I don’t believe that can be done. You can’t argue relative worth of individuals without the use of religious or moral arguments.

    Here’s an attempt though:

    Every year technology progresses and we can keep younger and younger fetuses alive. In 2007 a baby born at 21 weeks and six days and weighed just 10 ounces. She survived. What is not viable today may be viable tomorrow.

  2. Jonolan: Thanks for playing along. Honestly, I don’t know that it’s possible, otherwise pro-life lobbies would have gotten much further in scaling back abortion laws by now.

    I just thought I’d attempt this as a way to show people who generally argue against abortion how absolutely dependent on their religious beliefs they are for their arguments- an argument which would honestly go unheard by anyone who doesn’t have a religious standard for themselves.

  3. LOL Yes, arguing morality with the immoral or amoral is much like casting pearls before swine; it’s a waste of pearls and annoys the swine.

    Unfortunately – I guess – the counterpoint is true as well. Arguing social science and secular constructs with the religious community is also like casting pearls before swine; it’s a waste of pearls and annoys the swine.

    We have no common frame of reference for the argument.

  4. Jonolan: I agree with you, to a point, but let me explain something:

    most Christians believe that those who do not come to a close personal relationship with God or come to acknowledge Jesus as their savior will either burn in Hell or suffer some other kind of consequence. An extension of this belief is that sin also comes with dire consequence (either immediate earthly, or eternal) and thus most Christians will agree that those who are *ahem* (I say this somewhat sarcastically) “enlightened” on this point have a moral obligation to demonstrate the goodness of the gospel and holy living with those around them.

    All of which I’m sure you’re aware of, as Christians tend to be annoyingly vocal about it. Now, this is where things get interesting- because if as Christians we insulate ourselves among those who only see as we do, and our actions and debates with others (take women who have abortions and gay men as two fine examples) actually HINDER our “calling” to those who are not saved and IMPEDE us from actually being able to minister them, logically it follows that we’re condemning ourselves by shirking our moral obligation to share God’s love.

    Which I fervently believe.

    While it may be “unfair” or even intellectually dishonest to leave our beliefs out of the discussion, I think we have to. Because this discussion needs to be had, and it needs to be done with temperance and tolerance. I feel the same way about homosexuality- if you ever get the time and are curious you can check out that category in my sidebar. Needless to say I get mixed reviews. 😉

    Science is the common ground. Most of the laws in the Old Testament weren’t subjective- they had their basis in the protection of the Israelite people. Otherwise why would God command them to torch tents that grew black mold? To not eat food that sat out in the heat overnight? Sex with fish is an odd one, but what the hell…

    Can you see where I’m going with this?

  5. Yes, I can see where you’re going with this. I’m just not sure there’s a road leading to that destination. You’re essentially trying to debate right and wrong without bringing morality or ethics into the discussion. I don’t see how that can be done.

    But OK, science. How does one approach the fact that, as science improves we can save fetuses at earlier and earlier in the pregnancy? If viability is the determining factor of “worth” – actually a core point of Roe v. Wade – then an arbitrary 1st trimester cutoff point quickly becomes unsupportable by scientific argument.

  6. Jonolan: One can argue ethics without arguing morality. Morality is subject to the believer, but ethics are objective.

    I’m not saying that we can’t talk about ethics- just that we can’t bring our reasoning for our own personal morality into the picture with someone who doesn’t share it. For example: People’s personal morality certainly fed into their belief that Hitler needed to be stopped- but one didn’t need to invoke God for America, as a country, to agree to go to war. Ethically speaking a holocaust is just as wrong as it is morally speaking. The same is true of rape and murder- one doesn’t need to invoke God or personal morality- societal ethics suffice.

    The problem with things like homosexuality and abortion is that societal ethics appear to argue against what a Christian’s personal morality requests. Society is better off if gay people can wed and if women can abort.

    That’s what makes this all so sticky.

    I’ve made a personal compromise by dividing my individual morality from what I believe is best for society and praying that I’m not making a huge mistake. But I’m at peace with that, and I don’t think I AM making a mistake. While I personally believe that God “has a plan” for any child I may concieve, even if it were a product of rape, I find forcing that morality on someone who does not share my belief in God insupportable. And since the soul of the child, should it have a soul in the first trimester, is pure and not in danger of condemnation, the mother’s soul is- and if my foisting my morality on her would cause her to reject God’s love, that is ME making a judgment that puts HER soul in peril, thus making a judgment against myself.

    But, as I said, I tend to get mixed reviews in Christian circles. (Another thing I’m totally fine with.)

  7. “because if it is to be believed that abortion is equal to murder, it’s not someone’s own immorality that we are condemning, but instead a life that we are attempting to save”

    We know that now, RIGHT NOW, someone is dying. Someone is getting hacked to death with a machete in Zimbabwe. Someone is dying slowly in a re-education camp. Someone else is dying quickly of gunfire.

    This is a world in which people die, in which people are murdered, and ‘good people’ manage to operate in it without too much outrage. This outrage on behalf of a fetus/baby/clump of cells (whatever you want to call it) saddens me.

    Why is this ‘life’ so much more important than the others? If the argument is that to see murder and do nothing is a sin, that the person is -in fact – trying to save someone from murder – then why just unborn lives? Why not the lives of people who go through pain and torture and misery and fear? Why not those lives too?

  8. Hayden: salient point. Thank you. I’ve often wondered about the “innocent life” argument. As in, abortion matters more because it’s an innocent life that is being taken. Once I questioned a woman. I asked her, “what about the AIDS orphans in Nigeria? Aren’t they innocent?”
    The woman responded, “their parents should have never had them. Why should I be held culpable for their mistakes?”
    I replied, “so in abortion it’s an innocent life who should not be held accountable for the sins of their parents, but an AIDS orphan should be?”
    The hypocrisy is so blatant, it’s heartbreaking.

  9. Hayden,

    Most people believe that those who are already born have capability for defense – albeit often a meager one. An unborn child has no such defense.

    Also, many people realize that the problems in places like Sudan, Kenya and Zimbabwe can’t be solved by people in America. We can – through violence – temporarily curb the atrocities, but we can’t fix the problems; the native populations must do that.

    We could, however stop the murder – if we decide that it is such – of the unborn in this country. That is within our power.

  10. Jonolan, I understand the logic, I don’t understand the cognitive dissonance of emotional reaction. Just because someone is getting hacked to death in a land far, far away – shouldn’t make it any less of a visceral response. Not with cable news in this day and age.

    Most people who are anti-abortion are not standing outside clinics trying to change a young girl’s mind. Nor are they involved with programs to help the mother, provide shelter and food, etc.

    Yet their opinions are staunch, they get whipped into a fervor of emotion, a fervor sorely lacking when it comes to these other scenarious.

    What I am saying is that the emotional response, if you follow the stated logic, just doesn’t jive. There is clearly something else going on.

  11. And yet – quietly – the US gives 100s of billions of dollars in AIDS relief to the world. So the response IS there, but it doesn’t have the visible fervor because it’s a positive action, not a desperate reaction. Or at least that’s how I see it.

    And Hayden is right, most people aren’t fervent enough to be among the picketers or generous enough to look at more “holistic” solutions that might retard the abortion rate.

    It IS an awkward situation. When morality and law are in conflict, reactions can be odd and often unpleasant.

  12. Ok, let me see if I can be a little clearer. The only time I really see people whipped into a fervor over abortion is when it comes to politics.

    I think it is yet another symptom of the “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality in this country. I think another, smaller reason, is that objection to abortion is founded in religious/biblical ideology. Though many reasons have been thrown into the ring as to why abortion is bad, the one with the most emotional ‘weight’ is that abortion is against God’s law.

    So combine politics with “I’m right” with “the Bible is right and should be accepted as the ultimate guideline for everything” = extreme emotional fervor. Sure, I think that some people really feel that there are murders occurring (not ‘think’ but ‘feel’), but the vast majority of it is founded in these other reasons.

    Because if people REALLY felt that abortion was murder instead of ‘thinking’ that abortion is murder, you would have legions of people chained to abortion clinics in nonviolent protest – doing whatever it takes to stem the slaughter.

    Anyway, I’m not saying abortion is right or that the Bible isn’t the ultimate go-to source for moral guidance – I’m just saying that people are not accepting the situation as it is.

  13. You’re right, Hayden. Most people are not going to chain themselves in front of abortion clinics. They don’t have that level of religious fervor – and many have been taught that such displays are wrong. I know I was such.

    They get whipped up into a frenzy whenever there’s a chance – i.e. election times – to work within the system to end the slaughter.

    I too wonder sometimes at times how strong their beliefs can be if they won’t take what steps are necessary to save the children. So maybe it all smoke and mirrors and a chance for the self righteous to thump their chests.

  14. Once I questioned a woman. I asked her, “what about the AIDS orphans in Nigeria? Aren’t they innocent?”
    The woman responded, “their parents should have never had them. Why should I be held culpable for their mistakes?”

    GAH!!!!!! Talk about “situational ethics”!!!! (The woman’s, that is, not Lindsey’s very valid point…)

  15. mssc54: Obviously I believe that all life is sacred, I realize you do, too, and obviously you believe they are equal in the eyes of God.

    But could you demonstrate that society as a whole ought to consider them equal without invoking God or the Bible?

  16. Explaining why fetus under 22 weeks is equal to the value of a born child without resorting to religious or moral arguments. Wow!! I’ll take my crack at this one.

    When a baby is born, it often fascinates me how unique they are right from birth. Each baby has it’s own little personality and combination of attributes that just can’t be duplicated. Then, I think back and wonder at what point that baby started expressing it’s individuality. Well we know it’s definitely before birth. From what I understand (having never personally experienced this) a women can feel the movements of her baby at around 22 weeks. And some babies are more active and others are more calm. Some sleep during the day and others sleep at night.

    Now, all of this personality and individuality can be felt in the second trimester, but just because it can’t be felt before that, doesn’t mean that personality isn’t there. I watched a show with those 3-D ultrasounds and saw so much movement and uniqueness in behavior from at least as early as 6 weeks. A fetus at 2 inches has aspects of it’s personality already in place long before birth. It’s not just some tiny generic cluster of cells resembling a slight human form that will one day, out of no where, suddenly receive it’s individuality. All the aspects of that person were in place even at the tiniest of stages.

    So in looking at that baby at birth, one can ask the question at what point was this person with us as the same human being we are looking at now? And the truth is they’ve been there just as they are all along. That baby was the exact same baby at 1 inch slowing moving itself around with it’s little limb buds as it is at 21 inches and 8 lbs. Size, viability or the ability to sustain one’s life independently of the mother doesn’t change that that baby was still a unique human being displaying it’s own inherent personality traits from the tiniest of stages. Just because it’s still extremely dependent, doesn’t mean it isn’t a person just like the rest of us.

    If I wasn’t so tired, I could probably word this argument a little better, but it still sums up why I think abortion should be very rare.

  17. Lindsey;

    You see that is just the problem. We first have to determine at which point to start. What is our “base line?”

    If not the Bible would it at least be the Ten Commandments? Or do we just go by the rule of (current) law… giving that laws change depending on who is in power that would be a pretty fluid place to begin.

    If we can’t agree on a starting point then, certainly, we will have different views on what is ethical and what is not.

  18. Interesting argument. I am a Christian and I really enjoyed what Mother Teresa said. “Give me your children that you do not want, I want them.”(Maybe paraphrased I forget) As a Christian you have to be against abortion, but are we showing Christ’s love to those mothers. Are we picketing outside of abortion clinics? Is that what Christ would do? How can we be so hard against something without doing anything for it? If you are so hard against abortion, you need to be adopting those babies, and consouling those would-be mothers, in Christ’s love.
    Arguing about when a baby is a baby is like questioning what Christ meant when he said, “take up your cross” How far up? Any sized cross. We know what it means and when a baby is a human.
    However it pains me that so often the Church is known for what it is against instead of what it is for, we are know to be anti-homosexual, pro-life. But do people know what Jesus stood for. Christians are really good at the do-nots, but what about the do’s? Love, peace, kindness, returing good for evil, hope. How often does the church display these charateristcs.

  19. mssc54 makes very good point, on your question of morality and ethics is this your definition or did you dig it out from somewhere else. My main point is this, to start with conception itself is a miracle remember there are millions of sperm and one egg, yet this results in conception. Your assumption that we should argue with the societies point of view is common mistake it makes implication that anything over 50% of votes dictates the right and wrong. What happens when society changes opinion, remember that homosexuality was not accepted even 20 to 25 years ago as it is accepted now. Those this flexible ethics apply to our judgments on all issues we encounter I hope not otherwise I would worry that tomorrow we may start excusing pedophilia by saying that this is their genetic make up, and as many evolutionist and humanist put it we just can’t find our genes. Bible is I’m a afraid our benchmarking (Business terminology) or measuring stick by which have to judge, otherwise we just go with the majority, and that is not discussion that is ruling by majority. Just remember this one Jesus came it was a one single man that endeavored to change the world. Additional point to make is it viability of survival that makes things right or wrong? I would strongly argue against this notion, just think how would makers of BMW cars think if you said we will disregard this piece of car as it’s not possible to be driven on it’s own its not fully a car. On the point of why we don’t intervene with people in Africa etc. just think of this “Two wrongs do not make it right” just because someone else has raped someone in New Jersey does not entitle me to still your money see where I’m going with this. Fact is Jesus came to live and die for us and unfortunately for those who object to Christian morality we have to say that we are all influenced by something me and you may be influenced by Christianity but their world view may come from Atheism, humanism,etc. Therefore we are even we all, and I reiterate this all are under influence of those we come in contact with. I for exampled have two friends that are homosexual but I do make it clear that I believe that this is a sin and that I will continue to love them and support them, but if they are to accept me as a friend they have to accept my ideology. last point to make is this “things are not correct or incorrect just because you or I say so” Whilst some things we learn like names of the colors, arithmetic and other sciences there is also inbuilt mechanism, call it compass if you like that continues to point towards God. Whilst human rights can and do survive without the input from Christian people they only truly make sens in Christina context. I think your point about disusing ethics should possibly start by sharing about your faith as two are hard to separate. Also understanding that God send his son so that we could live life to the full and not louse out, it’s life enriching not depriving, all my sensory activity increases and does not diminish since I become Christian. I’m better at my music, I better understand others as I can relate to them in the same way I copy from Jesus. Remember that he was called “Friend of the sinners” I can love better my two children my wife and all my friends. I’m even asked to love my enemies, and that is the difference God asked us to go that extra mile which is not required by those that have not embraced faith in Christ.

    My last point to make, I do believe that there are some times when abortion is right, I.e. when the life of the mother is in danger i.e. she is likely to die, or even when early diagnosis reveals that the fetus is ill I.e. check Edwards syndrome and there are others, when baby is likely to suffer throughout her earthly life. I appreciate that there will be many self righteous people saying that we should go ahead no matter what. My answer is wait until your wife, mother, sister etc have to go trough the same process, and finally whatever the deed we do, God is big enough to love us and Forgive us if we seek his forgiveness. Check John 3:16 -17 and you have the Gospel and that is what matters, he wants and desires our salvation, and most certainly is opposed to designer babies or making choices when we are going to have a baby. I have a friend who had abortion, she now strangles to get pregnant, now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that this was God’s punishment, who am I to say that. My point here is we don’t know when is the right time and may regret loosing that wonderful opportunity. Don’t forget that Bible clearly says that Children are the gift from God. So abortion therefore equates to refusal of God’s gift to us.

    Yours in Christ Jesus

    Defend the Word

  20. defendtheword: I didn’t say the Bible shouldn’t be our personal spiritual compass- it should be, we have nothing else. I am simply stating that we cannot convince someone else of our rightness if they don’t share our conviction without using a non-spiritual argument.

  21. I see you point, however I would modify your approach just a little bit by using both, this is what many Cristian writers have done i.e Use the Bible and then explain why this is beneficial to us. For example marriage is a Biblical standard for raising children, you can then argue (if that is what you would prefer) that many research done by government bodies in Western Europe in dead suggest that this is the best environment i.e. where Child will learn to live in harmony with both sexes with both parties playing part of role models that will help young child understand how our society works.

    If you going to talk against Homosexuality (you can if you like) use medical reasons to explain why this is so much more dangerous and detrimental to our health. I know this as I had friend who is a doctor who regularly treat STD with Guy people. Again this does not mean we judge people, I always live that to God and the Bible but we can point things out. As i mentioned to you before we are commanded to love and share our lives with sinners, this is the best way to be light in the darkness. I.e. you can not be light if we hide this light away. What you must bare in mind is that,in the same way they have their reference points for non christian views we have ours, this does not mean that we look at others from the point of superiority but when looking at what Jesus has done for us, we can in humility both love and help guide others to that same love of Jesus. Also just because we use Bible as our reference point, we should not make it sound as we are right etc, we are not having God on our side, absolutely not, we should just make sure we are on God’s side. And that is all the difference in the world that you can bring to our non Christian frinds.

    In Christ Jesus

    Defend the Word

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