Sunday, May 3, 2015

"Right to Live...or Die," Ch. 29, BUT...AT WHAT COST

When I sent the previous chapter to my editor, he emailed back that I had punted on the abortion issue. (Yes, Doug, I suppose I did.) My inclination has always been to punt on abortion and end-of-life choices. My pragmatism and morality are clearly at odds in these areas – especially when it comes to quality-of-life issues.

Because my mother relied on my opinions concerning the care of my grandmother, I had just such a choice to make. I learned when Gram was dying in the nursing home, that no extraordinary measures would be taken (their policy). This was before I knew about DNRs and Health Care Proxies – if they even existed then. Anyway, I had the choice of moving her to a hospital for further treatment or leaving her in the nursing home to die. It was a battle for me: was I doing it – whatever I chose – for her or for me? That was the moral distinction. Whatever I chose to do, I believed it shouldn’t be a selfish decision.

In my mind, the Gram I knew and loved was already gone, and there was no reasonable expectation that any amount of medical intervention would return her. That was the fact that allowed me to let her die. Even though her death would make my life (and Mom’s and Dad’s lives) easier, that was not the reason I chose the way I did. It was more a matter of the quality of Gram’s life, her level of consciousness, and her potential for improvement.

For me, these are the main criteria, from conception to old age, which determine the morality of the act. I would not consider the feelings of the mother in the case of abortion or the survivors in the case of end-of-life decisions nearly as much as I would consider the status and potential status of either the fetus or the patient. I, for example, would hesitate to consider a mother’s emotional well-being in the case of rape or incest. As sad and as difficult as those situations are, the innocence of the child is unaffected. The mother’s “health” is relevant only when a medical complication could cause her severe physical damage or death.

I suppose my atheism is what allows me to consider factors other than the sanctity of life. I don’t see a baby as a gift from God. I know it’s a human life, but I see an unborn baby (or fetus) as a blob of protoplasm with potential before five months gestation. Until then, it has no intellectual awareness (consciousness) for which I need to be concerned; therefore, I can accept the choice of abortion up to that point. I would accept the choice for abortion more readily if it were based on the discovery of a genetic mutation where potential might be severely limited, but I can accept more selfish (or frivolous) reasons up until the point of fetal awareness. For me, anencephaly, among other severe anomalies, could qualify as a sound moral choice for abortion beyond a five-month gestational period.

Each case is different, and for that reason I hesitate to inflict my moral judgments on others. I prefer to punt.

The intellectual giants in my life – Ashley, Connie, and now Doug Cooper, my editor – have differing opinions on abortion. Ash’s main argument is: if it’s okay at five months gestation, why not at two years old? I fear he may think it’s better to cull the human race after we see what we’ve got than at a fetal stage. Ever the devil’s advocate, he may be busting my chops for the sake of argument. We can only hope. (There are ethicists around who do accept Ashley’s tongue-in-cheek rationale, however.)

Doug Cooper, my editor, is firmly anti-abortion. From what little discussion we’ve had on the subject, I gather he supports the decisive view of Immanuel Kant. Right is right and wrong is wrong… and never the twain shall meet. For Kant and Doug there is no wiggle room – no circumstances or possible consequences that should allow one to make an immoral choice. Doug is a realist and fully understands that arbitration is necessary in a democratic, constitutional republic, but he will forever fight for the rights of the unborn. Of course, we don’t know what Kant would have thought about abortion, but we do know that if he deemed it wrong, no circumstances would make it right.

Connie is a firm believer in abortion – for others. Anyone who wants one should have it, no questions asked. As far as I can tell, it’s a moral issue for her, but a different moral issue. For her the practical choice is the moral choice. This is one of few areas where we disagree. Her stance reflects Sanger’s on birth control, I think. At the risk of getting rid of some good people, it’s better to have it available to all for the benefit of both poor families and society. There’s no doubt many families, and society in particular, would benefit from having fewer dependent people to take care of, but I cannot in good conscience view abortion the same exact way I view pre-conception birth control methods. To me and most people, I think, it’s not the same thing at all, and they should be treated as wholly different moral issues.

Connie’s rationale for accepting abortion includes the societal and environmental benefits of having fewer people on this earth. Saving the planet and the American way of life (freedom to choose) is as much a moral issue for her as the right-to-life is for Doug. She does not approve late-term abortions, however; that’s where the more commonly held morality jumps in for her. I hope I’m not putting words in her or Doug’s mouth.

Now we’re in the territory of “for the greater good.” Should societal benefit ever take precedence over personal freedom? Sometimes it has to. Is it better (or more moral) to allow people to have as many kids as they want and then let half of them starve to death… or should a government enforce restrictions on birth rates to avoid more deaths by starvation? This was China’s choice, and they chose what for me, was ultimately more moral. The death of an unconscious fetus is more acceptable than the death of a person who is aware of what is happening to him. Attempts to avoid worse realities can be morally acceptable choices.

For me, there are few inherently right or wrong choices. Circumstances can and should change one’s moral perceptions of an event. Sometimes it’s right to kill… but not to do so to “cleanse” the human race. Besides being utterly immoral, attempts at cleansing may have an effect opposite of one’s intent. In our case, in America, abortion rights have had the unwanted result of increasing the economic chasm between the middle and underclasses, dumbed down the country, and increased crime rates. “How?” you ask.

Forgive them, they know not what they’ve done… or do they? A lesson in human nature may be needed here. Who (generally speaking) has too many kids and who uses their abortion “rights” to make their lives better and easier?

Back in the sixties when I was having my kids, there was a huge cultural push for zero population growth. I don’t know if the supposed “need” was politically manufactured or not, but the result was fewer children being born. I wanted to have more children, but I chose not to based solely on that belief: that the world was going to run out of food. America didn’t (nor was it about to), but that was Paul Ehrlich’s (The Population Bomb) dire prediction.

Obviously, primarily those interested in reading books, newspapers, and magazines got this message; the under-classes, who generally don’t pay much attention to news outside their immediate circles, did not. Nor did they avail themselves of contraceptives or abortions at the same rate members of the middle-class did (or do). The lower classes are low for a reason; they tend to make bad choices – in this case to keep having too many kids. So, in effect, smarter people had fewer children; lower achievers had more children. This was, of course, across racial lines. Poor, uneducated people with lower IQs had more kids than smart, educated people with higher IQs… in other words, the very people some would have preferred to be rid of, multiplied faster than those they would have preferred to have among us.

There are both heritable traits and cultural influences that assure the cycle of the rich get richer and the poor get poorer will continue. It can be no other way, if the have-nots keep having more kids than the haves.

Progressive doctrine assumes wealth redistribution will cure the cycle. How? Does having more money magically raise IQs or provide money management skills or enforce a work ethic? Just look at some lottery winners from poor backgrounds. If a winner still lives by the rules of his dysfunctional culture, he’ll more than likely blow the whole wad. Money alone accomplishes very little; you have to know how to use it effectively. For decades all we’ve been doing is throwing money at the poor without recognizing “why” they’re poor, or trying to do anything about the root causes of personal failure. So now, we have an unprecedented number of people living off the government, which, of course, is exactly what big-government Progressives want. Coincidence?

Ehrlich and his disciples from the environmental wing of the Progressive movement either wanted these results for political reasons, were stupid for not foreseeing these results, or cared more about the environment than people. Go figure.

Generally speaking, the poor are not goal-directed, and that is one of the reasons they’re poor. Young people and criminals tend to be more impulsive by nature. Perhaps if our culture recognized and addressed these unwanted behavioral tendencies and the tried and true ways to inhibit those tendencies, we wouldn’t have so many uneducated, dysfunctional people.

The median IQ is represented by 100; however, I question if an IQ of 100 today represents the equivalent aptitudes and age-related knowledge that it did fifty years ago. It seems not to, to me. I know it is said our national IQ is rising somewhat, but I don’t see it in terms of general knowledge, which I would expect to be evident. Randy certainly hasn’t witnessed any positive trends during his decades of teaching; he sees a decline in achievement and so do I. I know anecdotal evidence is not proof, but damn, it’s about time we find out why a kid going to Colgate University didn’t know how to do percentages. (Connie was there doing research fifteen years or so ago and had this experience.) How did this happen?

I sneaked a peek at some of Randy’s students’ work a while back and was appalled by their lack of writing skills. He said, “I know. I’ve never been a good writer, but these kids make me look like Hemingway.”

I’ve strayed from the abortion debate, but not completely. My point is: politically induced beliefs have consequences. By eliminating the moral aspects of the right-to-life debate and making it a purely pragmatic and women’s “rights” issue, Progressives have, in my opinion, caused much of the moral decline in our culture. Some of it was through the back door by not understanding human nature well enough to achieve the outcomes they desire – but their political strategies are largely responsible, nevertheless.

It has never made sense to me to accept a moral equivalency between a woman’s “right” to choose to kill and a woman’s “right” to choose to let live. Where is the moral equivalency in those choices? The feminist, Progressive assumption is that there’s no moral difference between allowing life and causing death. What?

I guess my definition of morality in any situation would rely more on the circumstantial than on the dogmatic… and I don’t see the Left’s arguments any less dogmatic or any more logical than the Right’s.

This whole “moral equivalency” thing the Progressives are pushing needs a lot more investigation. “Judge not lest ye be judged” doesn’t make sense, whether you get it from the Bible or the diversity pimps… not if we want to live in moral, ethical communities. Morality matters.


We serialize here Judy Axtell's BUT...AT WHAT COST: A Skeptic's Memoir, published by Outskirts Press, available from OP and,,  and other on-line retailers in paperback. I'm proud to have coached her and edited the book.

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