Tag Archives: Philosophy

Doctors fail four-question test

I deeply hope I’m being snookered, but it seems not. In a Journal of Medical Ethics article entitled “After-birth abortion: why should babies live?” it is suggested that babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life”. (I saw this here, which referred to here. I looked up the links above myself.) The journal is by BMJ, whose tagline is “Helping doctors make better decisions.”

There’s so much here that could and should be discussed, but there’s a very simple root to all of this. For all of man’s knowledge, advancement, and technology, we cannot come to agreement concerning the Big Questions of existence, and because of this, we do terrible things.

Here’s what I mean. I think there are really only four Big Questions:

  1. What is life?
  2. What is mind?
  3. What is truth?
  4. What is evil?

This hideous journal article’s conclusion is hideous because of it’s answer to each of these, but especially (1). And I needn’t put words into their mouths:

“We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

Seriously think about this for a moment.

How does this apply to the one day old. One week old? One year old? Or the mentally disabled? Or the physically disabled? Or the aged dementia sufferer? Or the terminally ill? Or the deeply depressed? Or mood-swinging teen?

I’m tempted to say this is utterly untethered from any sense of morality, but it’s worse than that. It’s sneaks in its own poorly defined and unjustified moral code. What does their test even mean?

If a newborn senses some kind of awe or pleasure at it’s first encounter with light, does that count? Or is that not cogent enough to fulfill “attributing” or “value”?

Babies sense their surroundings and respond to them with a sense of preference. I’ve seen mama leave a room and the baby start to cry. I’ve seen the baby cry at the environment change at birth. When a newborn first smiles because of recognizing mama or papa, does that count? Are they not expressing something like “I like this,” containing both “I” and “like”? Is it lack of language the dooms them to non-personhood, as if knowing a noun changing their state of being? Surely not.

But these are only questions on their own terms: saying that some level of response to or interaction with environment defines life and mind. But arguing at that level is folly. It’s not enough. There is something else, deeper and more difficult which is below all this. Without having a baseline sense of what life really is, or what mind really is, these doctors are simply children playing with toys they don’t understand.

The authors appear to be coming from, or at least unintentionally employing, a reductionistic, naturalistic, mechanistic set of values, but those values themselves are to be questioned. In my opinion, they do a poor job of answering those four questions, and so cannot be counted on to provide meaningful guidance.

Core questions are important. Here we see implications of philosophy and metaphysics; real life actions depend on this stuff. In this case, these men have found it worth using the euphemism “after-birth abortion” for what used to be abhorred as “infanticide” because of their answers to core questions. But, those answers being poor, their conclusions are contemptible.