Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Apparently, that's an argument

I read this story from the BBC:
A medical ethics adviser has provoked controversy by comparing the morality of abortion with that of infanticide. Professor John Harris said it was not "plausible to think there is any moral change that occurs during the journey down the birth canal". He questioned whether there was any moral difference between infanticide and a late abortion in the event of severe brain damage. ... "The geographical location of the developing human, whether it is inside the womb or not, is not the sort of thing that can make a moral difference."
This is a serious challenge for people who oppose (morally) infanticide, but not abortion. But apparently, those who care about these issues aren't interested in serious challenges:
Pro-life activists called the BMA adviser's comments "horrifying". ... Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, said Professor Harris's views were dangerous and that the ethicist had indulged in "a philosopher's mind game".
I hate that "ooh, you're just doing philosophy" can actually pass for a rebuttal in some circles.
"He is wrong in saying there is no moral change that occurs in the process of birth. "That is a change that is recognised in the law. Most parents would recognise their views about their newborn baby are considerably different than their views about the foetus in the mother a day earlier." Julia Millington, political director of the ProLife Party, whose question prompted Professor Harris's remarks, told the Sunday Telegraph: "Infanticide is murder and is against the law."
Millington and Nicholson seem to be making an even more obvious mistake than Margaret Somervile's confusion regarding gay marriage. Do they seriously believe that the illegality of infanticide settles the moral issue? Surely they recognize that it's conceptually possible for something to be illegal but not (otherwise) immoral (presumably, they think this about pre-Roe abortion), or legal but immoral (I hope they think this about husbands cheating on their wives). Abortion, sad to say, is one of those issues that is so highly-charged that people are entirely unwilling to engage in dialogue about it. These pro-choice complainers get as far as recognizing that Professor Harris's suggestion runs at least slightly contrary to their point of view, and just start blasting away. And no, I certainly do not think that pro-lifers are more rational in these debates.

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