By Dave Andrusko
Looking to update the situation in Iowa, I ran across a letter to the editor which praised the Des Moines Register for running pro-life and pro-abortion point/counterpoint. The letter writer eviscerated the pro-lifer and elevated the pro-abortionist (a “professor emeritus of biology at Drake University”) to the pantheon of the High and the Mighty.
Intrigued, I read the latter’s contribution, “Altruism: A different focus on abortion.”
Prof. Gene A. Lucas says there can be no “win-win” solution in the usual pro-and-con on abortion, so how about introducing a discussion of “altruism”?
Both sides have “altruistic” arguments for their position, he says. Naturally he frames the pro-life argument in a manner that he can’t lose: “In an altruistic sense it is understandable that the elimination of a fetus should be prevented if one believes it has the properties of a sentient being. I believe a reasonable argument can be made that it does not.”
Since nobody can argue that a pregnant woman is not “sentient” (self-aware), altruism can only be applied to her and so much for the debate.
But is being “sentient” the only issue? Does it tell us anything ethically and morally relevant? Does it open the door to a whole host of unintended consequences (for most people, but not Prof. Lucas)?
Consider how Lucas reasons. He acknowledges some traditional early biological markers for the purposes of (a) concluding so what?; and (b) applying his lethal logic to human beings out of the womb:
It is well established that legs can kick and hearts can beat, but the critical feature is that the brain, while forming and gaining experience, has not reached the level of self awareness. It is not fully functional until it becomes cognizant of itself, and recognizes what is happening to the point that it can react to its surrounding stimuli. This progression to full consciousness does not happen during fetal life and until after birth.
That is the only marker that makes the difference that matters–certainly the only marker that matters to Prof. Lucas: full consciousness which by the way is not accomplished “until after birth.”
So there is no obligation to consider “altruism” at any stage of fetal development, which is why hard-core pro-abortionists always, always, always wind up infatuated with infanticide, aka Alberto Giubilini’s and Francesca Minerva’s famous idea of “after-birth abortion.”
Lucas’ argument is a fraternal twin to Giubilini‘s and Minerva’s . Reduced to its essence, it is that any justification you could offer for abortion applies equally well post-birth.
Why? Because, they maintain, “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”
In Lucas’ case, the missing “attribute” is sentience/self-awareness/full consciousness.
By the way, if the ability “to react to its surrounding stimuli” is a hallmark of full consciousness, then what happens if we anesthetize the newborn or the baby who is three months old? For that matter, how about the annoying old person whose health care costs are eating up the inheritance? We get a whiff of that in his op-ed:
One might compare the fetal brain to that of an adult who is anesthetized. Pain stimuli may be present and reflexes may occur, but if the brain doesn’t consciously recognize them pain isn’t experienced. It doesn’t seem reasonable to equate the pain experience of an unfinished brain with that of the fully operational one of its mother.
Unless, of course, you have anesthetized the mother.
Last thought. As Margaret Somerville reminds us, Giubilini and Francesca “explain they’re interested in this question because of a study that shows not all babies with Down syndrome are identified and aborted prior to birth, a failure they propose can be remedied through legalizing infanticide.” Some will escape what Dr. Gerard Nadal called the “genetic submarine net.”
What Dr. Nadal said of Giubilini and Francesca essay that appeared in the Journal of Medical Ethics five years ago is apropos of Prof. Lucas contribution to the Des Moines Register last week: “A fascinating and profoundly disturbing read into the process of malevolent apologetics.”