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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Alabama Prosecuting Pregnant Drug Users

I have a feeling libertarians and conservatives will sharply disagree over this case, but I could be wrong.

Via the New York Times:

ANDALUSIA, Ala. — A day after she gave birth in 2006, Tiffany Hitson, 20, sat on her front porch crying, barefoot and handcuffed. A police officer hovered in the distance.

Ms. Hitson’s newborn daughter had traces of cocaine and marijuana in its system, and the young woman, baby-faced herself, had fallen afoul of a tough new state law intended to protect children from drugs, and a local prosecutor bent on pursuing it.

...

There has not been a murder here in over three years, the prosecutor said. But a year ago a newborn died at the local hospital, and the mother had traces of methamphetamines in her system. Doctors told the police that the infant’s premature birth could be attributed to maternal drug use, and she was charged with “chemical endangerment of child,” which carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison.

“In my jurisdiction, a baby being born dead because of drug abuse is a huge deal,” Mr. Gambril [the prosecutor] said.

Mr. Gambril makes little distinction between fetus and child. He said his duty was to protect both — though the Alabama law he uses makes no reference to unborn children, and was primarily intended to protect youngsters from exposure to methamphetamine laboratories.

“When drugs are introduced in the womb, the child-to-be is endangered,” Mr. Gambril said. “It is what I call a continuing crime.” He added that the purpose of the statute was to guarantee that the child has “a safe environment, a drug-free environment.”

“No one is to say whether that environment is inside or outside the womb,” he said, and no judge or other authority in Alabama has so far disagreed.

In my experience, pro-choice libertarians claim fetuses have no rights; or that, if they do have rights, the rights of the mother have moral priority. If this is true, I can't exactly see how a brain damaged child of a drug addicted mother could claim the mother violated its rights -- since the child had no rights when the destructive behavior of the mother occurred.

Moreover, I don't see how anyone could say the rights of the future person the fetus would have become have been violated, should the fetus be born dead because of its mother's drug use; at least, I don't see how someone could make this argument without admitting that abortion violates the future person's rights just as certainly.

(Some may recall that Derek Parfit explored a similar, though not identical, moral quandary.)

Check here for (mostly) non-libertarian objections to the prosecution of drug-abusing pregnant women in Alabama from the "National Advocates for Pregnant Women."  In my opinion, these objections are simply lame, and include the claim that pregnant drug addicts deserve compassion and not punishment because it's so hard to break the addiction. No, I'm not kidding.

UPDATE:  This link looks great -- a collection of court cases about "reproductive rights" in Canada. The cases are more interesting (in a horrible way) than the typical ones philosophers generate in their imaginations. For example, in R. v. Drummond [1996], a woman was charged with attempted murder after shooting her fetus in the head. The charge was dismissed because, the court found, fetuses don't qualify as persons under the criminal code.

Here is a better list of relevant Canadian cases.

Posted by Terrence Watson on March 26, 2008 | Permalink

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Comments

The obvious reason to prosecute drug-absusing mothers is that the state will ultimately, even under most libertarian forms of government, end up bearing the cost of raising their drug-damaged children.

In any case, "defense of others" is always a valid basis for law.

Posted by: Adam Yoshida | 2008-03-26 10:56:12 PM


It seems the law says a woman can kill her drugged child before the child is born but the state must imprison the woman and care for the child if and when the drugged child is born. I suppose one could argue that intention of the framers of the law was to penalize the woman for not aborting a defective child. Perhaps this is a law which promotes abortion.

Posted by: dewp | 2008-03-26 11:06:22 PM


Throw the book at them. And while you're at it, toss this tidbit on the pile of evidence crowding the pro-life side of the scale.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-26 11:27:18 PM


Of course, we should account for what dewp said - the obvious result of heavy enforcement on laws against pregnant women using drugs would be an increase in abortions. Now, perhaps, from a eugenic point of view that might be considered desirable - even if it makes me slightly uncomfortable.

It's a tough one - kind of like how, for example, instiuting the death penalty or mandatory life imprisonment for child molesters could result in them killing their victims so as not to leave witnesses.

Posted by: Adam Yoshida | 2008-03-26 11:32:31 PM


Libertarians say it is morally wrong to harm others without their informed, voluntary consent. The libertarian camp divides into two over the metaphysical issue of whether (or at what stage) the fetus is a fully-fledged, rights-bearing "other."

Religious libertarians tend to side wih social conservatives on the metaphysical issue of personhood. Secular libertarians tend to side with secular liberals.

As a secular libertarian, I feel the need to come up with an argument for why it is OK for a woman to kill a fetus -- whether through deliberate abortion, or "accidentally" through drug use or other risky behaviour -- but it is not OK for her to bring a child into the world who is (seriously) damaged due to irresponsible pre-natal activities.

Admittedly, this isn't an easy line to draw. But a lot of moral lines are difficult to draw, and can be drawn only somewhat unsatisfactorily. Social conservatives and religious libertarians also have difficult lines to draw in this area. For example, why is it permitted to abort a fetus that was the product of rape or incest, or that would endanger the mother's life if brought to term, if it is an innocent rights-bearing other? If it is wrong to abort a zygote, why is it not wrong to prevent the zygote from forming (with contraception)?...

My own (weak-ish) reason for holding that it is wrong to bring a seriously damaged child into the world (but not wrong to kill the fetus it was) is that such a child will inevitably impose involuntary costs on society at large; and nobody has a right to impose such a cost.

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-27 12:32:28 AM


What a sad story. My initial, emotional reaction is that anyone who is irresponsible enough to take drugs while pregnant, resulting in a child with brain damage should be severely punished. Logically, however, I agree with Grant that this is a very difficult line to draw. I have concerns with the "cost to society" argument, because it could result in every pregnant woman whose child is born with some sort of disability being subjected to the scrutiny of the state. Did she take drugs? Did she drink? Did she take her pre-natal vitamins? It could also result in pregnant women with drug addictions avoiding rehab programs out of fear of prosecution should their babies be born with disabilities.

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-27 7:03:25 AM


Grant Brown wrote: "My own (weak-ish) reason for holding that it is wrong to bring a seriously damaged child into the world (but not wrong to kill the fetus it was) is that such a child will inevitably impose involuntary costs on society at large; and nobody has a right to impose such a cost."

I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one, Grant. First of all, it's not the baby's fault he's imposing such a cost; therefore, justice dictates that he not be the one to answer for it. Rather, it should be the mother.

"But wait," I can hear you saying, "You can't get blood out of a stone." True enough, but it's also very likely that the mother's drug use was discovered before it had a chance to do the fetus any great harm, and nothing was done about it. By throwing the book at drug-addicted mothers-to-be, we get to protect the baby AND hold the mother accountable.

By the way. If ever you "feel the need" to justify a practice simply to make it fit into your own set of beliefs, perhaps it's your beliefs you ought to consider tailoring. Beliefs ought to derive from an honest examination of the truth. And if you feel compelled, rather than willing, to come up with something simply out of a sense of loyalty, it generally means you're not being 100% honest with yourself.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-27 7:10:36 AM


Shane - how is it "very likely" that the mother's drug use was discovered before she had a chance to harm the fetus? I doubt that a woman who is using cocaine while pregnant is keeping up with her monthly check-ups.

I think you're misconstruing what Grant means when he says he "feels the need to come up with an argument for why it is OK for a woman to kill a fetus". Sometimes it's necessary to look at the big picture. You shouldn't change your whole belief system because of a visceral reaction to an isolated situation.

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-27 7:23:40 AM


Michelle wrote: "Shane - how is it "very likely" that the mother's drug use was discovered before she had a chance to harm the fetus? I doubt that a woman who is using cocaine while pregnant is keeping up with her monthly check-ups."

If she lives alone in a shack and has no friends and no job, then yes, I guess it might be hard for anyone to know. (You're not projecting, by any chance?) However, most pregnant women DO know people, and it is likely they would be aware of any drug habit.

Michelle wrote: "I think you're misconstruing what Grant means when he says he "feels the need to come up with an argument for why it is OK for a woman to kill a fetus". Sometimes it's necessary to look at the big picture. You shouldn't change your whole belief system because of a visceral reaction to an isolated situation."

In that case he should decline comment. Obviously he has misgivings, and until he sorts them, it's both counterproductive and irresponsible to go through the motions of cobbling together a half-baked defence. Crack babies, by the way, are increasingly common, so they don't really constitute an "isolated situation." Practically every piece of news or evidence that has come out on fetal development since 1973 has undermined the "it's not a person" argument, and only the sheer cultural force of the baby boom generation has kept abortion legal this long. Witch hunts and moral crusades have been launched (successfully) on far flimsier evidence.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-27 7:50:59 AM


Shane wrote: "If she lives alone in a shack and has no friends and no job, then yes, I guess it might be hard for anyone to know. (You're not projecting, by any chance?) However, most pregnant women DO know people, and it is likely they would be aware of any drug habit."

Resorting to insults already, Shane? Lame.
I have known people with drug addictions and it's quite possible to hide them without isolating yourself in a shack. Particularly if a woman were pregnant, it seems likely that she would go to great lengths to hide a drug addiction from others.

I disagree that a person should "decline comment" just because they recognize that an issue is difficult. Not everyone is adept at simplistic, black and white thinking.

By "isolated situation" I wasn't implying that there has only ever been one baby damaged by drugs in utero. Perhaps I should have chosen my wording more carefully. I meant that the issue of women who take drugs while pregnant is only one situation to be considered in the larger "fetal rights vs. women's rights" debate.

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-27 8:23:53 AM


What if the fetus were you?

If my mom had been taking drugs when I was in the womb, I would have appreciated that she at least dry out in jail so that I would not have suffered the damage from the drugs.

Posted by: SUZANNE | 2008-03-27 8:29:47 AM


I'm very grateful that my mother didn't take drugs while she was pregnant, Suzanne. I'm also grateful that I live in a country where a woman's reproductive rights are respected (aside - can we save the hysteria over my use of the word "rights"? I'm fully aware that other posters do not think that a woman has a "right" to an abortion). There are larger policy issues to be considered, which is why it's dangerous to resort to emotional arguments.

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-27 8:35:42 AM


Michelle wrote: “Resorting to insults already, Shane? Lame.”

It was a dig, not an insult. An insult would be ACCUSING you of those things, DECLARING them to be true, especially since there’s no way I could know. Emotionally mature people understand the difference. They also either answer the question or decline to answer, rather than sidestepping it behind a front of false outrage.

Michelle wrote: “I have known people with drug addictions and it's quite possible to hide them without isolating yourself in a shack. Particularly if a woman were pregnant, it seems likely that she would go to great lengths to hide a drug addiction from others.”

Apparently they were unable to hide them from you.

Michelle wrote: “I disagree that a person should "decline comment" just because they recognize that an issue is difficult. Not everyone is adept at simplistic, black and white thinking.”

It’s one thing to recognize an issue as difficult. It’s another to knowingly knock together a half-assed “solution” based on imperfect and incomplete information when there is no compelling need to do so, simply out of a sense of “loyalty” to one’s beliefs. As for thinking, not everyone is an adept, period.

Michelle wrote: “By "isolated situation" I wasn't implying that there has only ever been one baby damaged by drugs in utero. Perhaps I should have chosen my wording more carefully. I meant that the issue of women who take drugs while pregnant is only one situation to be considered in the larger "fetal rights vs. women's rights" debate.”

Yes, and I believe I acknowledged as much in an earlier post. But the sad truth (for abortion advocates) is that most of the “issues” that keep cropping up tend to weaken their position, not strengthen it. Yet they stubbornly, passionately refuse to even consider they might be wrong. See what happens when you create policy based on the supremacy of the self?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-27 9:03:44 AM


Michelle wrote: "There are larger policy issues to be considered, which is why it's dangerous to resort to emotional arguments."

ALL of the arguments in favour of abortion rights are emotional, Michelle; that's always been my point. And at every opportunity you've been given to justify abortion on an rational, logical basis you have sneered in indignation, as though the mere fact of my asking was the Netiquette equivalent of taking a dump in the punch bowl.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-27 9:06:24 AM


Shane wrote: “It was a dig, not an insult. An insult would be ACCUSING you of those things, DECLARING them to be true, especially since there’s no way I could know. Emotionally mature people understand the difference. They also either answer the question or decline to answer, rather than sidestepping it behind a front of false outrage.”

Are you really this ridiculous? You’re accusing me of emotional immaturity because I found it insulting that you asked if I lived in a shack and had no friends and no job? Okay, Shane – No, I don’t live in a shack and yes I have friends and yes I have a job. Satisfied? You might want to ask yourself why these “digs” are necessary.
“Apparently they were unable to hide them from you.”

Drug addictions generally come to light eventually. I asked why you thought it was “likely” they would come to light before she had a chance to hurt the fetus.

Shane wrote: “But the sad truth (for abortion advocates) is that most of the “issues” that keep cropping up tend to weaken their position, not strengthen it. Yet they stubbornly, passionately refuse to even consider they might be wrong. See what happens when you create policy based on the supremacy of the self?”

As a pro-choice advocate, I have spent a lot of time considering whether my position is wrong. In my experience it’s generally pro-lifers who don’t put much thought into it. If it’s your position that a fetus is a person, period, then there is really no reason to consider it any further.
You seem to think, Shane, that because I do not want to spend hours and hours debating this with you that you have won some sort of “victory”. Really, we’re just going to go around in circles infinitely because we have opposite value systems. I value a woman’s autonomy over the rights of a fetus. In several of your posts you have demonstrated a marked lack of respect for women, which is perhaps why you can’t even consider the idea that a woman should have not have to carry an unwanted child to term. In countries where abortion is illegal women die of dangerous illegal abortions. I would not want to see this happening in Canada. Since you are such a logical and rational thinker, perhaps you can offer an argument that will change my mind.

Shane wrote: “As for thinking, not everyone is an adept, period.”

Clearly.

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-27 10:25:02 AM


Interestingly, absolutely ancient knowledge and wisdom and law has not been improved upon or advanced one iota in 2,000 plus years.

The baby becomes an individual fully human being at the moment of conception, and is certainly an entirely innocent human being from that moment onward and for many years forward (until the age of reason, at age six or seven?). And absolutely no "exceptions" change that baby's individual dignity or status or "equality" as human.

All of the "studies" and "science" on this issue is mere proof of the duplicitous nature and the huge "defect" which each of us human beings carries within us (i.e. we can willingly and willfully do that which we know to be entirely wrong and hide it from even ourselves).

Logic, the product and trained use of the human mind, leads to no conclusion except that unborn babies (from the moment of conception) are individual human beings, and that abortion is murder.

The fraudulent religions (i.e. all of the Protestant denominations) which caved in and "allowed" for "certain exceptions" to the obvious wrong of ever condoning killing an unborn baby have been all falling apart ever since they separated themselves from the logical obvious Truth of life.

Truth is a singular noun.

Error is part of the human condition, as is deception and self-deceit regarding one's unwillingness to face (to say nothing of living in a manner consistent with) simple truth. We might even call it a "horrible defect" in a human person. Should we kill those people?

Posted by: Conrad-USA | 2008-03-27 10:55:59 AM


Thank you, Conrad. You have demonstrated my point perfectly. Conrad, like many pro-lifers, has formed his opinions such that they cannot be falsified, no matter how logical one's arguments. While he is certainly free to do so, there is no point in arguing with someone who thinks like this.

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-27 11:04:54 AM


Michelle wrote: “Are you really this ridiculous? You’re accusing me of emotional immaturity because I found it insulting that you asked if I lived in a shack and had no friends and no job?”

Yes.

Michelle wrote: “Okay, Shane – No, I don’t live in a shack and yes I have friends and yes I have a job. Satisfied?”

Again, yes.

Michelle wrote: “You might want to ask yourself why these “digs” are necessary.”

While you’re at it, why don’t you ask yourself why a sense of humour is necessary? (I’ve noticed that feminists often don’t have one, and perhaps that is why they take everything so personally.)

Michelle: “Drug addictions generally come to light eventually. I asked why you thought it was “likely” they would come to light before she had a chance to hurt the fetus.”

A person with needle tracks, pinpoint pupils, frequent mood swings and who is permanently stoned isn’t a clue?

Michelle wrote: “As a pro-choice advocate, I have spent a lot of time considering whether my position is wrong.”

And what factors have you weighed in your attempt to come to a decision? What are the criteria you use?

Michelle wrote: “In my experience it’s generally pro-lifers who don’t put much thought into it.”

Nobody has to put his hand into a bucket of tar to know it’s black. There will always be those who disagree, though.

Michelle wrote: “If it’s your position that a fetus is a person, period, then there is really no reason to consider it any further.”

My position is irrelevant. Truth is all the matters, and truth consists of facts. And more facts argue for prenatal personhood than against.

Michelle wrote: “You seem to think, Shane, that because I do not want to spend hours and hours debating this with you that you have won some sort of “victory”.”

I think, Michelle, that your sense of outrage compels you to say something, but your lack of supporting information dooms your efforts to failure. You are fighting me without weapons and for the wrong reason.

Michelle wrote: “Really, we’re just going to go around in circles infinitely because we have opposite value systems.”

The difference between your values and mine is that I have some. Values tend to humble the self and acknowledge the importance of others. A lack of values tends to glorify the self.

Michelle wrote: “I value a woman’s autonomy over the rights of a fetus.”

What we value does not matter.

Michelle wrote: “In several of your posts you have demonstrated a marked lack of respect for women, which is perhaps why you can’t even consider the idea that a woman should have not have to carry an unwanted child to term.”

You wish it were that simple, don’t you? I would take the same stance if it were the MAN who got pregnant, and I’ll swear to that with my hand on the Bible.

Michelle wrote: “In countries where abortion is illegal women die of dangerous illegal abortions.”

That they seek out willingly, knowing the risks involved, and knowing how they could have avoided the whole mess in the first place. All this proves is that people behave irrationally. It does not justify denying someone else personhood just so that person can conveniently erase their own stupid mistake.

Michelle wrote: “I would not want to see this happening in Canada.”

What you want does not matter. The truth does not care what you WANT.

Michelle wrote: “Since you are such a logical and rational thinker, perhaps you can offer an argument that will change my mind.”

I’ve given you several, including the one above. But you are not open to conviction on this issue. As you say above, for you it comes down to values, which are by their very nature illogical. About your adeptness at thinking, Michelle…

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-27 11:19:49 AM


Michelle wrote: "Conrad, like many pro-lifers, has formed his opinions such that they cannot be falsified, no matter how logical one's arguments. While he is certainly free to do so, there is no point in arguing with someone who thinks like this."

Let me see if I understand you correctly. "Conrad has formed opinions such that they cannot be falsified." Do you not mean "rebutted"? You can't falsify an opinion, unless you state one that is not your true belief. Falsification is the act of lying, not the act of refuting.

Michelle wrote: "There is no point in arguing with someone who thinks like this."

Wrong, Michelle. His arguments could be readily refuted with contradictory facts. But the facts don't contradict his opinions, do they?

Remember, you base your own opinion not on the facts, but on your "values." It is someone who thinks like YOU who is immune to reason, not Conrad--if indeed someone like you can be said to think at all. Because trying to shoehorn reality into a pre-shaped belief system and calling the result enlightenment suggests the absence of such cerebration.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-27 11:27:38 AM


Shane wrote: "Let me see if I understand you correctly. "Conrad has formed opinions such that they cannot be falsified." Do you not mean "rebutted"? You can't falsify an opinion, unless you state one that is not your true belief. Falsification is the act of lying, not the act of refuting."

No, Shane, I do not mean "rebutted" and yes, an opinion can be falsified. People used to be of the opinion that the sun revolves around the earth. This opinion has since been falsified. Incidentally, have you noticed how much time you spend nit-picking at people's debating skills and word choices? Perhaps your posts would be more persuasive if you put equal time into addressing arguments.

Shane wrote: "The difference between your values and mine is that I have some."
Shane wrote: "Remember, you base your own opinion not on the facts, but on your "values."

Interesting contraction, Shane.

Shane wrote: Wrong, Michelle. His arguments could be readily refuted with contradictory facts. But the facts don't contradict his opinions, do they?

Conrad's opinion is that: "The fraudulent religions (i.e. all of the Protestant denominations) which caved in and "allowed" for "certain exceptions" to the obvious wrong of ever condoning killing an unborn baby have been all falling apart ever since they separated themselves from the logical obvious Truth of life."

There is no way to argue against "Truths" that stem from religion, unless one wants to get into a theological discussion, which I don't.

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-27 12:12:06 PM


Oops - speaking of word choices, I meant "contradiction", not "contraction".

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-27 12:16:19 PM


Some people are just scum regardless of whether they live in a shack or not. Some people live in shacks and are decent loving people.

Scummy people will do scummy things and raise scummy kids. There really isn't much you can do about other than bleat on one side or the other.

If we could actually solve the problems of scummy people we would have done so by now. Nothing is new under the sun.

Best advice, stop worrying about the scum of the earth and take good care of your own.

Posted by: John West | 2008-03-27 12:33:01 PM


Shane makes the extraordinary claim that "ALL of the arguments in favour of abortion rights are emotional." Conrad makes an impassioned plea that human proto-organisms are entitled to the full panoply of rights from the moment of conception, thereby illustrating that anti-abortion arguments are not necessarily emotionless, either.

I'm a strict Darwinian. I believe that morality is an evolved feature of human beings with a determinable function: namely, to promote mutually advantageous cooperation. The reason I'm a libertarian is that I think that freedom is a precondition for mutually advantageous cooperation. (Am I getting too emotional yet, Shane?)

Now, since fetuses and animals and trees and other entities that some people sometimes claim to have "rights" are incapable of cooperating to our mutual advantage, I have a difficulty ascribing rights to them. They aren't the sorts of entities that, according to my ethical outlook, are capable of possessing moral or legal rights. That's why it is OK for people to abort fetuses, and to kill animals for food or sport.

Nevertheless, it happens to be a personal fact about myself that I love animals, and I take great pleasure in other natural and created entities. I think the world would be impoverished if these things were wontonly destroyed. It pains me when animals are totured for mere human pleasure.

Is there a moral basis for protecting -- to some small extent -- fetuses, animals, works of art, environments, etc. that falls short of ascribing "rights" to them? I think that there might be, although I haven't fleshed out the contours and grounds of these protections. Does that disqualify me from commenting?

In my opinion, anyone who thinks that "God said so" is a good enough reason to ascribe rights to fetuses is disqualified from commenting on moral issues. Where does that leave us?

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-27 12:45:47 PM


You have a very poor vocabulary for a lawyer, Michelle. The dictionary defines “falsify” as “1. To make untrue declarations; 2. To impart a false character to; 3. To give an inaccurate view of; 4. To make a fraudulent copy of.” It is possible that there also exists an archaic meaning of the word “falsify” meaning “to refute or prove untrue,” similar to the use of the similarly archaic context of “contempt” as in “contempt of court,” but most people will not be aware of such archaisms and it is better to use modern language out of court. A better choice of word would have been “refute” or “rebut.”

As for the “values” thing, notice that I put your “values” in quotes—meaning that I question whether you truly have any. In a sense you do; they are the norms that define you. But I wonder whether there is any nobility in them. I am confident that you base your opinion on what you consider to be “values”; does that clear it up?

Conrad wasn’t arguing that the Protestant Churches were wrong because they were Protestant. He was arguing that Protestant Churches made wrong arguments. I agree that he doesn’t consider Protestant Churches to be the “true” Church (and as a Catholic I agree), but I believe in interfaith harmony, and so I respect other religions, even though I don’t practice them or believe in them. He’s also correct in that the fact of fetal life is irrefutable; there is simply no rational way to argue away life signs. And those truths stem from medical research, not Divinity.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-27 12:46:29 PM


Michelle wrote: “I'm a strict Darwinian. I believe that morality is an evolved feature of human beings with a determinable function: namely, to promote mutually advantageous cooperation. The reason I'm a libertarian is that I think that freedom is a precondition for mutually advantageous cooperation. (Am I getting too emotional yet, Shane?)”

I think you’re once again placing too much emphasis on what you believe, Michelle. Your beliefs are supposed to flow from the truth. Instead you’re letting your take on the truth depend on what you believe. I don’t know about emotional, but such a thinking pattern does suggest narcissism.

Michelle wrote: “Now, since fetuses and animals and trees and other entities that some people sometimes claim to have "rights" are incapable of cooperating to our mutual advantage, I have a difficulty ascribing rights to them.”

Yet as a lawyer, you do assign, and may be required to even actively defend, the rights of criminals, even though they also do not cooperate to our mutual advantage.

Michelle wrote: “They aren't the sorts of entities that, according to my ethical outlook, are capable of possessing moral or legal rights. That's why it is OK for people to abort fetuses, and to kill animals for food or sport.”

Once again, Michelle. The truth does not flow from you; it’s supposed to flow TO you.

Michelle wrote: “Nevertheless, it happens to be a personal fact about myself that I love animals, and I take great pleasure in other natural and created entities. I think the world would be impoverished if these things were wontonly destroyed. It pains me when animals are totured for mere human pleasure.”

You, you, you! Your whole argument is founded on you. Your argument should be able to stand WITHOUT you, and it can’t. For the record, I hunt for food, but also believe in the humane treatment of animals. However, truth does not flow from these beliefs of mine. I don’t offer my personal convictions as evidence of this or that truth.

Michelle wrote: “Is there a moral basis for protecting -- to some small extent -- fetuses, animals, works of art, environments, etc. that falls short of ascribing "rights" to them? I think that there might be, although I haven't fleshed out the contours and grounds of these protections. Does that disqualify me from commenting?”

No. But it does mean that your comments should be weighed on that lack of thought and reflection.

Michelle wrote: “In my opinion, anyone who thinks that "God said so" is a good enough reason to ascribe rights to fetuses is disqualified from commenting on moral issues. Where does that leave us?”

They’re not disqualified from commenting; no one is ever disqualified from commenting. That’s why we have freedom of speech. Moreover, since religion is largely about morality, “because God said so” is not an irrelevant defence in a moral discussion. It IS an irrelevant defence in the crafting of public policy in any government but a theocracy, which Canada is not.

By the way. Not to put too fine a point on it, but God outranks you. He is the recognized head of three of the world’s major religions, totalling half the population of the globe. Your entire argument above can be boiled down to “because I said so.” So before criticizing another for saying “because God said so,” remember where you rank in comparison.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-27 1:16:33 PM


Hi Grant & Michelle,

Both have you have commented, in different ways, on the emphasis on rights in my post. I think rights terminology can be helpful, and I do think it resonates with many people, not least of all your typical libertarian.

Grant makes a good point, though: it's not the case that if a thing, X, has no rights, that therefore the rest of us are entitled to treat that thing however we wish.

The problem in this case is that the thing that presumably has no rights -- the fetus -- resides within a being that presumably does have rights. That's why I have qualms about saying the fetus is entitled to some protection on moral grounds that go beyond considerations of its rights. Rights, some say, are trumps. The pro-choice libertarian position I was articulating says that only the mother has a trump card: that has to override our desire to respect the lesser moral status of the fetus, even if, in some other cases, we might want to use the law to protect beings with equally lesser moral status (like animals?)

In this case, protecting the fetus can be done only(?) by infringing on the rights of the mother. Or so the argument could be made.

Utilitarian/consequentialist arguments against the Alabama law can be made. It could be that prosecuting pregnant mothers will induce more of them to have abortions. But I do not see how this consideration can be that relevant if rights truly are side constraints: we do not typically think that the rights of an innocent person can be violated just to provide others with an incentive not to violate the rights of still other innocent persons.

If I say, "If you don't let me murder one person, ten others will be murdered instead," you would normally consider me to be an evil person. The credibility of the threat against the ten others doesn't change that fact, and shouldn't lead you to think I should get an exception from the state with regard to the law against murdering people.

Maybe we should do without all this rights talk, as Michelle seems to suggest. But pro-choice individuals do not seem to want to give it up. They frame their arguments in terms of the absolute sanctity of the autonomy of the mother -- her right to live her life and control her body as she sees fit.

While claims are made about all the negative consequences, back alley abortions, etc that would occur if abortion were banned, these seem to be ancillary considerations. Moreover, I do not think these claims -- even if true -- would speak against just any potential law that would make abortion more difficult to obtain. At most, they would speak against banning abortion completely.

Thank you both for your comments!

Best,
Terrence

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-03-27 1:50:53 PM


I appreciate the thoughtful feedback, Shane, but that last post was Grant's, not mine. Although I'm admittedly new to this blog, I have not seen you respond to any of Grant's other posts in such a condescending way. Perhaps your feelings towards women/feminists were influencing your response? Just a thought.

While I respect your religious views, I'm an atheist so any arguments stemming from religion are not likely to alter my opinions. Perhaps religion is the basis for your assertions that there exists an identifiable "Truth" in this and other issues. You're free to think that my "values" are lacking in nobility, or that there are no rational arguments to support them, but your arguments are based on your values as well whether you admit it or not. The personhood of a fetus is far from a settled issue, either medically or morally. Yes, a fetus has life signs. Does that make it a person? If so, when does it become one? Conception? When it has a heart beat? When it has finger prints? Your opinion on this is going to be informed by your particular value system, as is your decision regarding whether the "rights" of the fetus should take precedent over the "rights" of the woman (or if she even has a "right"). There is no objective "Truth" in this matter.

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-27 2:16:37 PM


Actually, Michelle, there is always an objective truth. It may not be known, it may even be unknowable, but it's always there and attempting to wish it away will not make it so.

We know when life begins (at conception). Since the life in question is human, and a person is defined as a human, it's also a person. Those definitions are not subject to interpretation. Any attempt to work backwards from that point must do so with the full backing of truths that outweigh these.

For instance, if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, then she has the right to terminate, regrettable though that may be; to deny her the choice would be to negate her right to life. So while the personhood of the fetus has not been negated, in this case it's irrelevant in the face of a more pressing truth--the mother's life is in danger, and the choice is whether one dies, or two die. There's not much in between.

In pretty much any other instance, though, the choice is whether one dies, or none die. Absent a pressing concern for her own life, the mother has no grounds for offing the fetus. Describing her body as a shrine that is holy and not to be polluted is not a truth, and even if it were it would not negate the truth of the fetus's personhood. (It also smacks of self-worship.)

A case can be made for euthanizing a grossly deformed fetus, but we both know that would constitute only a minute fraction of abortions. There is now one abortion for every three lives birth, 110,000 a year in Canada and over a million in the U.S. They don't all have spina bifida or Down's Syndrome. What they do have, though, is worthless parents. I would blame the man equally, if he had any say in the matter.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-27 3:10:29 PM


"Your opinion on this is going to be informed by your particular value system, as is your decision regarding whether the "rights" of the fetus should take precedent over the "rights" of the woman (or if she even has a "right"). There is no objective "Truth" in this matter."

Michelle,

There's a potential problem with the kind of skeptical position you're taking. Or at least, there's an ambiguity, the resolution of which presents problems in either direction.

Is the fetus a person in the morally relevant sense? Sometimes, you seem to be saying that it might be, but that it is really hard to know for sure. Figuring out if the fetus is a person is like figuring out a really hard math problem: there's an answer there, but getting to it is difficult.

Supposing this to be the case, I'm not sure how it supports the absolute legalization of abortion. One might just as well say, if we don't know for sure if the fetus is a person we should err on the side of caution, and prohibit abortion, rather than possibly allowing murder to occur. If we do solve the "math problem" some day, we can adjust the law accordingly.

On the other hand, if we go to the skeptical extreme and say there simply is no answer to the question of whether the fetus is a person or not, one might wonder whether that skepticism should be extended to other supposed moral truths, despite the fact that people generally agree on them.

After all, if "Fetuses are persons in the morally relevant sense" is neither true nor false -- for example, if it is essentially an expression of emotion -- it wouldn't suddenly be transformed into the kind of statement with a truth value simply because some people happen to treat it as if it has one. For similar reasons, we shouldn't assume the statement "Blacks are persons in the morally relevant sense" is more than an expression of emotion, just because some people treat it as if it is the kind of statement that can be true or false.

Hm. Maybe this will be unclear. All I'm saying is that if we are to be skeptical about the possibility of moral truth, we should be skeptical in a consistent way, and that means being skeptical of all claims of moral truth.

Excellent comments, though! I'm really enjoying this discussion!

Best,

Terrence

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-03-27 3:29:20 PM


Shane:

Since god is a figment of your imagination, your reliance on god (or religion more generally) makes your argument all about "you, you, you," too. An argument from an imaginary authority is weak, weak, weak.

Your argument from definitions is no better. If I accept your definition of 'person', all it does is drive the question back one step: why do ALL so-called "persons" have rights, or even invoke moral considerations other than rights? The substantive moral position you defend does not follow from this definitional premise.

You don't get any closer to the (capital-T) truth by appealing to either god or definitions; you just go around in circles like a bee in a bottle, bumping up against the same invisible barriers.

In contrast, every element of my argument that morality serves the Darwinian function of facilitating mutually advantageous cooperation is scientifically defensible. It is the subject of my DPhil thesis, which, since it is unpublished and is only available at the Bodeleian Library at Oxford, I can't ask you to read. But I can refer you to the volume, "Liberty Games and Contracts: Jan Narveson and the Defence of Libertarianism," Malcolm Murray (ed.), (Ashgate: 2007), where my argument is sketched at somewhat greater length than can be done on a blog. The volume also contains an esay on children (and Jan's reply) that touches on some of the issues relevant to abortion.

There is a vast academic literature on these subjects (Darwinian ethics, libertarianism, abortion, etc.). If you expect me to reproduce it on a blog before you will accept that the arguments I sketch are more than simply about "me, me, me," then you reveal yourself to be both unschooled and unreasonable.

(And the justification for taking away the rights of criminals by incarcerating them is precisely because they don't cooperate for mutual advantage.)


Terrence:

Thanks for elevating the level of this discussion. To fill out the secular-libertarian view a bit more --

From the secular-libertarian perspective, fetuses (and even neonates) have the status of property of their parents. To understand why parents may nevertheless not treat fetuses and children as they please, like any other property they own, you need to consider the libertarian view about the abandonment of property.

The general principle about abandonment of property back into the unowned "state of nature" is that a property owner may not impose costs upon the broader society by doing so. For example, the owner of a nuclear power reacter cannot simply dump toxic waste back into the commons; he has to dispose of it in a way that doesn't harm or risk harm to others.

Now, fetuses (and children more generally) will, other things being equal, one day grow up to be independent adult members of society, who can effect the well-being of others for good or ill. They gradually become entities with libertarian rights. If they become "toxic" individuals who would impose a cost on society, society has a right to defend itself against them and punish parents who foist these people onto society. It is even better to pre-empt, as far as possible, the dumping of "toxic children" onto society, by forcing parents to properly care for their fetuses and children as they develop. An ounce of prevention...

Although it sounds a bit paradoxical, that is why although mothers have the absolute right to kill their fetus, they do not have the right to do lesser harms that will result in a "toxic child" being born and dumped on the broader society to care for.

I'm not going to debate all of the possible nuances and implications and extrapolations of this argument with all the axe-grinders on the World Wide Web. I just wanted to point people who are interested in learning more in the direction of libertarian wisdom on this issue.

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-27 5:24:42 PM


Grant wrote: “Since god is a figment of your imagination, your reliance on god (or religion more generally) makes your argument all about "you, you, you," too. An argument from an imaginary authority is weak, weak, weak. You don't get any closer to the (capital-T) truth by appealing to either god or definitions; you just go around in circles like a bee in a bottle, bumping up against the same invisible barriers.”

Except I never based my arguments on what God said, did I? Go on, read through my posts. I never did that, not once. That’s because I was opposed to abortion strictly on ethical and scientific grounds before I became a Christian. You simply take it for granted that all pro-lifers are religious zealots. I, at least, don’t see barriers where none exist.

Grant wrote: “Your argument from definitions is no better. If I accept your definition of 'person', all it does is drive the question back one step: why do ALL so-called "persons" have rights, or even invoke moral considerations other than rights? The substantive moral position you defend does not follow from this definitional premise.

I have a better question for you, Grant: Why should some people have rights and NOT others? Based on what criteria? Do you seriously intend to argue that people don’t have rights? If that’s the way you intend to proceed there really is little to be gained by further discussion; you’ve already fallen off the edge of reason into the abyss of fascism.

Grant wrote: “In contrast, every element of my argument that morality serves the Darwinian function of facilitating mutually advantageous cooperation is scientifically defensible. It is the subject of my DPhil thesis, which, since it is unpublished and is only available at the Bodeleian Library at Oxford, I can't ask you to read. But I can refer you to the volume, "Liberty Games and Contracts: Jan Narveson and the Defence of Libertarianism," Malcolm Murray (ed.), (Ashgate: 2007), where my argument is sketched at somewhat greater length than can be done on a blog. The volume also contains an esay on children (and Jan's reply) that touches on some of the issues relevant to abortion. There is a vast academic literature on these subjects (Darwinian ethics, libertarianism, abortion, etc.). If you expect me to reproduce it on a blog before you will accept that the arguments I sketch are more than simply about "me, me, me," then you reveal yourself to be both unschooled and unreasonable.”

Great. Another burger-flipping philosopher trying to pick up funding. That’s the problem with you academics—you complicate the simple. Your long-assed, pedantic dissertations bury the reader under an avalanche of impenetrable jargon, inflating weak ideas, obscuring poor reasoning, and inhibiting clarity. By the way, Socrates, there are two S’s in “essay,” and the correct abbreviation of “DPhil” is “D.Phil.” Some Oxfordman.

Grant wrote: “And the justification for taking away the rights of criminals by incarcerating them is precisely because they don't cooperate for mutual advantage.”

And because they have a choice in the matter that a fetus doesn’t. Honestly, is a human being’s entire worth determined by how much use he is to you? Fair warning, punk: I don’t like narcissists.

Grant wrote: “From the secular-libertarian perspective, fetuses (and even neonates) have the status of property of their parents. To understand why parents may nevertheless not treat fetuses and children as they please, like any other property they own, you need to consider the libertarian view about the abandonment of property.”

So the secular-libertarian perspective promotes slavery—the owning of one human being by another? How many children do you have, Aristotle?

Grant wrote: “The general principle about abandonment of property back into the unowned "state of nature" is that a property owner may not impose costs upon the broader society by doing so. For example, the owner of a nuclear power reacter cannot simply dump toxic waste back into the commons; he has to dispose of it in a way that doesn't harm or risk harm to others.”

Throwing the baby live into a fiery furnace would fulfill that requirement, provided the ashes were disposed of according to environmental rules. Do you condone that, Hammurabi?

Grant wrote: “Now, fetuses (and children more generally) will, other things being equal, one day grow up to be independent adult members of society, who can effect the well-being of others for good or ill. They gradually become entities with libertarian rights. If they become "toxic" individuals who would impose a cost on society, society has a right to defend itself against them and punish parents who foist these people onto society. It is even better to pre-empt, as far as possible, the dumping of "toxic children" onto society, by forcing parents to properly care for their fetuses and children as they develop. An ounce of prevention...”

No concept of responsibility for the life you’ve created? It all boils down to what the baby can do for you?

Grant wrote: “Although it sounds a bit paradoxical, that is why although mothers have the absolute right to kill their fetus, they do not have the right to do lesser harms that will result in a "toxic child" being born and dumped on the broader society to care for. I'm not going to debate all of the possible nuances and implications and extrapolations of this argument with all the axe-grinders on the World Wide Web. I just wanted to point people who are interested in learning more in the direction of libertarian wisdom on this issue.”

It sounds paradoxical because it is. You’re essentially arguing that a scam artist who bilks a few people out of some of their savings should get a longer prison sentence than someone who murders a twelve-year-old boy who is not yet contributing to society, because the value of the property destroyed is greater in the former example. And you call this wisdom. It would appear that Sophistry is not dead after all.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-27 10:53:42 PM


No, I'm an Irish Catholic. And this man sounds like a former Christian who has turned atheist to rebel against his parents--although I admit that's sheer speculation.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-27 11:46:28 PM


Grant,

Great response! I have one or two questions for you, though: what do you say about the case at hand? The baby is born, but dies very shortly after birth because the damage done to it pre-birth by the drug use of its mother?

It's not a "toxic child", in that it has imposed almost zero cost on the rest of society. Should the mother face any kind of sanction, do you think, criminal or otherwise?

This leads me to my other question: libertarian attempts to treat the fetus as property seem to lead to the following kind of issue. When a piece of my property does damage to the lives or property of others, my liability may very well be civil and not criminal. That is, if a tree on my lawn falls on your car, you can sue me, but (under typical circumstances) the police will not charge me.

Now imagine the tree is the toxic child imposing costs on certain other people; in a libertarian world, why wouldn't those others simply be able to sue the parents for damages, if and when they occurred? Why criminally prohibit the making of toxic children _as such_?

I'm going to have to look up that book you mentioned about Jan Narveson. I'm one of his former grad students! :-)

Cheers,

Terrence

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-03-28 12:08:02 AM


Yes, Karol, I did see the parallel, which is why I told him that if that is how he intends to proceed he has fallen into the abyss of fascism. He seems to forget that the only reason he is alive right now is because someone decided to keep him at a time that he was completely worthless according to his own belief system.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-28 12:31:17 AM


ok

Posted by: Bocanut | 2008-03-28 1:12:20 AM


"Fascism is not defined by the number of its victims, but by the way it kills them.
~Jean-Paul Sartre

"Fascism is capitalism plus murder."
~Upton Sinclair

"How little is the promise of the child fulfilled in the man.
~Ovid
BC 43-18 AD, Roman Poet

"We in the West do not refrain from childbirth because we are concerned about the population explosion or because we feel we cannot afford children, but because we do not like children."
~Germaine Greer

"Ah! what would the world be to us If the children were no more? We should dread the desert behind us Worse than the dark before.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Posted by: Speller | 2008-03-28 2:04:32 AM


Shane:

By rights, I should invoke Godwin's Law on you and Karol at this point, but against my better judgment I'll indulge you one last round.

Your argument is as persuasive as -- because it is the same as -- this one: Let's define a 'person' as 'any living creature'. Then if you don't ascribe rights to mosquitoes, if you think it is OK to kill them, then you are a Nazi fascist because you deny rights to people!!

The issue isn't even for a starter about the *definition* of a person, or a human, or a human person, or any variation of the above. The question is substantive: what entities is it rational to ascribe rights to / recognize rights in? On a Darwinian / contractarian view of rights, it is only rational to recognize rights in "moral agents," by which I mean the types of entities that can deliberately affect you for good or ill, and modify their conduct according to moral precepts. This is because natural rights derive from reciprocity (not from charity, or from religious decree). Sophisticated robots may some day be rights-bearers while human fetuses never will be, on this view.

You may mock this admittedly simplistic sketch of a position all you like. Mocking other people's ideas is a barrier to understanding them, which you evidently don't want to do anyway. "I'm just speculating," but I suspect you are afraid to do the hard work to research and understand opposing viewpoints because you are afraid deep down that you will be compelled to abandon some of your own most cherished beliefs. Your mockery is really a fearful defensive affectation.... (We can all psychologize to our heart's content on a blog, can't we?)

Terrence:

A mother who produces a neonate that is so damaged that it dies before it can do society any harm or impose a cost is in the same position as a negligent driver who causes a major accident that -- as luck would have it -- causes no injury to anyone. Or the driver who goes 100 mph through a school zone during the day but miraculously doesn't kill anyone. Or someone who plays Russian Roulette while you sleep even if the gun doesn't fire a bullet. In many scenarios, it is wrong to impose even the risk of harm on another, involuntarily.

In general, one can be held criminally liable for actions even if, by sheer chance, they don't cause the usual, expected harms. Further, some might argue that the crack-mother reveals through her actions a callous disregard for others, and this revealed personality trait may justify restrictions on her liberty before it is manifested again to the *actual* detriment to society next time.

It is a nice question (and a large one) when a harm to an individual should be treated merely as a civil wrong rather than a criminal offence. If someone breaks into my house and robs me, why don't I just sue for damages rather than call in the cops? As John Locke says, society in general has an interest in deterring certain kinds of behaviours, which makes them public and criminal. Drawing the appropriate lines between merely civil and criminal wrongs is not easy, but neither it there an in-principle difficulty.

P.S.: I have known Jan Narveson since 1979. He was my M.A. thesis supervisor in 1986. We are still constantly in communication, and we meet up a couple of times a year on average. The festschrift in his honour is a good volume, even if I say so myself... You will enjoy it.

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-28 2:20:46 AM


>"By rights, I should invoke Godwin's Law on you and Karol at this point, but against my better judgment I'll indulge you one last round."
Grant Brown | 28-Mar-08 2:20:46 AM

Godwin's Law is merely a meme.
It's a ploy which veteran bloggers use to keep wet-behind-the-ears trolls off balance.

You are very short on Netiquette and the blogosphere culture.

Nobody who has been blogging for any length of time pays the meme of Godwin's Law any mind.

You really don't know what blogging is about, do you Mr. Brown?

I won't tell you because I don't think you'll last.

Posted by: Speller | 2008-03-28 2:34:30 AM


People should avoid drawing inferences or conclusions about what others "value" on the basis of their theory of rights. I value Mozart symphonies very highly, but I don't think musical scores have rights. I value children very highly, but that doesn't commit me to the view that fetuses have rights. Nor the converse: just because I don't think fetuses have rights doesn't mean I care less than you do about children.

Also, I'll be the first to admit that I'm the world's worst speller. But sniping over spelling errors on a blog is simply rude, and I'd rather be a poor speller than a rude blogger. But just keep it up, if it satisfies some petty need you have.

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-28 2:34:31 AM


Terrance and Grant – what an enlightening discussion. It’s wonderful to see this level of thought put into posts on this blog. I feel as though I’m out of my league in this philosophical debate so I’m going to leave the discussion of moral relativism and the search for Truth for now.

Shane – I really enjoyed your 3:10 post. It made me understand your position more than any of your others.

If I understand the “truths” that are informing your opinion, it’s that life begins at conception, and that life is human, therefore it is also a “person”. It’s with the last part that I disagree. I think there’s a leap between “this is a human fetus” to “this is a person with legal rights” that I’m not willing to make. Again, I think is an opinion based on one’s particular moral values.

You have stated that the only reason why a woman should be allowed to have an abortion is when her life is in danger, because then the choice would be whether one person would die or two. I’m curious to know whether, in your opinion, this would be valid if there were only a 5% chance that the woman would die. How would you go about weighing the life of the mother against the life of the fetus? Another example that comes up continuously in the abortion debate is, what if a woman is raped? Do you think a woman should have to carry a baby that is the product of rape to term? What if she was mentally unstable and it would cause her severe psychological damage?

I know these are extreme examples and not typical of the situation surrounding abortions, but I guess what I’m trying to get at is – at some point it becomes more complicated than “both the fetus and the mother are people, period” and you have to do some weighing of the rights of both.

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-28 6:31:41 AM


Grant wrote: “By rights, I should invoke Godwin's Law on you and Karol at this point, but against my better judgment I'll indulge you one last round.”

Unless you’re a WS administrator, Grant, you have no power to invoke anything, nor compel others to obey. Also, an arbitrary law that arbitrarily silences debate because an arbitrary “rule” is broken is really just a modern form of book-burning. That, plus your eagerness to define the rights of your fellow beings dependent on their usefulness to you, as well as relegating certain subgroups thereof to the status of chattel, allows me to invoke the exception to Godwin’s Law:

“Godwin's law itself can be abused, as a distraction or diversion, that fallaciously miscasts an opponent's argument as hyperbole, especially if the comparisons made by the argument are actually appropriate. A 2005 Reason magazine article argued that Godwin's law is often misused to ridicule even valid comparisons.[6]”

So zip it.

Grant wrote: “Your argument is as persuasive as -- because it is the same as -- this one: Let's define a 'person' as 'any living creature'. Then if you don't ascribe rights to mosquitoes, if you think it is OK to kill them, then you are a Nazi fascist because you deny rights to people!!”

Proof once again of the academic need to complicate the simple and divide the indivisible. A person is defined as a human being, period. Your argument is fallacious, offering A as proof of B. That’s called affirmation of the consequent, which a philosopher major should know is a no-no.

Grant wrote: “The issue isn't even for a starter about the *definition* of a person, or a human, or a human person, or any variation of the above. The question is substantive: what entities is it rational to ascribe rights to / recognize rights in?”

Those which will benefit the species as a whole. Protecting our young, as a general thing, benefits the species as a whole. Already our birth rate is so low that we’re having to import labour from overseas—labour that, half the time, can’t carry on a meaningful conversation in either official language.

Grant wrote: “On a Darwinian / contractarian view of rights, it is only rational to recognize rights in "moral agents," by which I mean the types of entities that can deliberately affect you for good or ill, and modify their conduct according to moral precepts.”

And what happens if one does not subscribe to the Darwinian/contractarian (sic) view of the world? Here we have another fallacy: Argumentum ad verecundiam.

Grant wrote: “This is because natural rights derive from reciprocity (not from charity, or from religious decree). Sophisticated robots may some day be rights-bearers while human fetuses never will be, on this view.”

It is reassuring, then, that only a small minority of humans will likely ever embrace this view.

Grant wrote: “You may mock this admittedly simplistic sketch of a position all you like. Mocking other people's ideas is a barrier to understanding them, which you evidently don't want to do anyway.”

I suggest you take your own advice. The arrogance and contempt you have displayed in this blog are little short of breathtaking. It may get you an audience with John Ralston Saul, but if you really want to change things in a democracy, it’s the common people you have to convince. And you won’t accomplish that with techniques like these.

Grant wrote: “"I'm just speculating," but I suspect you are afraid to do the hard work to research and understand opposing viewpoints because you are afraid deep down that you will be compelled to abandon some of your own most cherished beliefs. Your mockery is really a fearful defensive affectation.... (We can all psychologize to our heart's content on a blog, can't we?) “

Talk about the stove calling the kettle black. Now I know you are a narcissist—the rules to which you would hold others do not apply to you. You are incapable of spotting a flaw in yourself you are all to quick to find in others. I also notice that you heavily lard your musings with qualifications, provisos, and quid pro quos, as if even you have a hard time swallowing them. Guys, this is called temporizing. It bespeaks a shallow and petty mind that will quibble over the most absurd of trivialities. But then, I’m guessing you didn’t go into the faculty of philosophy for the sex life.

Do us a favour, Grant—don’t speculate. Instead, find out for sure. Until then, stay inside your ivory tower. If it’s abandoned too long the university may dynamite it.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-28 7:29:10 AM


Well, Michelle, it's like this: ALL pregnancies carry SOME risk to the mother. So, for that matter, does getting out of bed in the morning. There is no complete safety in anything you do. But in such a case as this, a doctor is the best one to make the call--subject to the mother's approval, of course. It is a question of health, after all. That said, I have never heard a credible account of a woman's mental health being threatened by pregnancy. It sounds more like an escape clause than anything else.

Now, the other issue, the question of rape, is a bit of a straw man. I once did some idle arithmetic, and found that according to statistics, you have a sixteen-times greater chance of being split in half by a lightning bolt than becoming pregnant via rape. Granted, rape is underreported, which skews the numbers, but it's still pretty damned rare, not nearly common enough to base policy on.

In any case, this scenario does not fit into the "one dies, or two die" situation, so the fetus's right to life takes priority. If the rapist is found and proven guilty, however, he can pay the hospital bills and child support to whoever ends up adopting the baby (assuming the mother doesn't want it). This way the rights of all are protected, and the responsibilities of all are fulfilled. Of course the beauty of it is that the baby's DNA provides irrefutable proof of the rapist's guilt, provided the woman can prove she did not consent, so Mr. Dickwad can do the max.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-28 7:50:50 AM


Grant wrote: “People should avoid drawing inferences or conclusions about what others "value" on the basis of their theory of rights. I value Mozart symphonies very highly, but I don't think musical scores have rights. I value children very highly, but that doesn't commit me to the view that fetuses have rights. Nor the converse: just because I don't think fetuses have rights doesn't mean I care less than you do about children.”

Fortunately for the children, Grant, their rights do not derive from what you think, but from the Constitution, so they can rest easy in that regard. Only an abnormal man could compare a musical score to a human life in a discussion about the respective rights of each. Grant, I think you suffer from the common scholarly problem of being educated beyond your intelligence.

Grant wrote: “Also, I'll be the first to admit that I'm the world's worst speller. But sniping over spelling errors on a blog is simply rude, and I'd rather be a poor speller than a rude blogger. But just keep it up, if it satisfies some petty need you have.”

Nothing—I repeat, NOTHING—detracts from the impact of any document like poor spelling. That’s not rudeness; that’s the truth. Would you accept it in a dictionary? An encyclopedia? A legal brief? In any scholarly publication? Of course not. To simply dismiss it as a trifling weakness better left to underlings, and that others ought to ignore, reeks of sloppiness and intellectual laziness. Hell, browsers today will even highlight spelling errors for you, if you would only condescend to fix them.

Furthermore, you have not been appointed arbiter of Netiquette on this blog, and a good thing too, because you are extremely rude in the way you look down on other bloggers, the way you might study worms in the street. Arrogance has to be earned, and I’d like to know what you’ve done to earn yours. Neither by your writing skills nor by the ideas those meagre skills convey have you distinguished yourself. I have seen nothing to prove you are anything more than just another bloviating intellectual.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-28 8:09:51 AM


Actually, Karol, there was an alternative to the C-section with a much lower risk to the mother. If it was observed that the baby simply wouldn't fit through the birth canal, they would use a device called a cranioclast to split the baby's skull and take it out piece by piece, followed by the rest of the body, which would come out easily once the head was gone. It was the ultimate in partial-birth abortions and extremely gruesome, and more than one mother elected to give up her own life rather than let such a thing happen to their child.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-28 9:36:17 AM


Shane, your last few messages were intended as irony, right?

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-28 10:13:55 AM


Grant Brown: "Shane, your last few messages were intended as irony, right?"

No, Grant. Unlike intellectuals, I don't write for no reason about nothing.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-28 10:37:51 AM


Thanks, Karol, but you know, I read the Jaynes book almost 30 years ago and even referenced it in my DPhil thesis. It doesn't establish any point in your favour, or relevant to this discussion. If anything, it suggests that religious experience can be explained naturally, as a quirk of brain development. (Next time you post, it might profit you not to assume ignorance on my part.)

As for "living in the real world," it might interest you to know that I haven't been a university professor for over 10 years now. I was a lawyer for 4 years (or 5 counting articling), where I encountered a lot of what you refer to as the "real world."

And if that isn't "real world" enough for you: My father was a contractor, and I developed all kinds of trade skills while putting myself through university. I did all of the renovations to my house, including roofing, concrete, electrical wiring, plumbing, gas fireplace, painting, drywalling, sanding and finishing floors, installing ceilings, etc., etc.

First you question my qualifications, knowledge, and "real world" experience; then when I refute your naive assumptions about me, you accuse me of "arrogance." Damned if I do; damned if I don't. So don't expect a response from me in the future. (Which means what it says: don't *expect* a response; I might nevertheless condescend to give you one. once in a while.)

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-28 11:34:05 AM


You can take the professor out of the university, but can you take the university out of the professor? You don't talk like someone well grounded in the real world, Grant--your thinking appears heavily dominated by hyper-Darwinian fantasies--so I'm wondering exactly what kind of law you practiced, why you left after only four years (especially after four years of undergrad and four of law school), and for that matter, what you're doing now.

P.S. If you simply retired from the university, that doesn't count as a career change. A retired prof is still a prof.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-28 2:04:09 PM


etb says: "One can hold beliefs which simply don't depend on evidence..."

Yes, most assuredly. That is the essence of irrationality of belief. It is certainly the end of rational discussion. To accept a proposition on faith is the epitome of subjectivity.

As Bertrand Russell said, "Faith is what you have when you substitute emotion for evidence."

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-28 5:17:40 PM


Grant wrote: "As Bertrand Russell said, 'Faith is what you have when you substitute emotion for evidence.'"

What did he say about substituting arrogance for evidence?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-28 6:56:13 PM



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