Thursday, March 31, 2005

Beating the Same Old Drum, Again, Still

This is just a gloss on the last few sentences of Emma Tom’s article in the Australian yesterday.

Our response to the expired will never be egalitarian. But to avoid accusations of living in a persistent vegetative state, we should have a robust argument to justify why we give some dead or soon-to-be-dead people so much more attention than others.
Like unwanted fetuses, the brain dead and the suicidal terminally ill, for instance. I'd love to know why right-to-lifers think these humans (who either don't know they're alive or are actively choosing not to be) warrant so much more time and money than those boiling Congolese sisters, who are bound to have been all too aware of their fate and must have protested most terribly.

Now, the brain dead are dead, full stop. One must just be careful that they really are brain dead first before turning out the lights. This is something that is now easily amenable to empirical observation. Pop them in the MRI and find out. As for the sucicidal terminal ill, good riddance. I am wary of legalising suicide for such folks only because of the Dutch example that it encourages doctors- already far too prone to delusions of omnipotence- in homicide of the non-suicidal terminally ill, and of the non-suicidal not-quite-so-terminally ill.

But, I most emphatically would say that there are far more unwanted fetuses in the world than there are civilians at risk in the Eastern Congo, and thus quantitatively they warrant more time and money. Why, if as Emma says, they don’t know they’re alive?

Because the bad thing about premature death is not suffering. Suffering is not the greatest of evils. This is an ancient heresy, like the priests say in A Canticle for Liebowitz. This is the heresy of the giant brain thing in A Wrinkle in Time. No, the bad thing about premature death is the loss of potential. Whether you think humans are destined for some immortal existence outside of space-time, or whether you think the locus they trace through space-time is a unique and valuable thing in itself, the premature truncation of their path through space-time by other humans must be considered something abominable. At least, it is by me.

Just taking a stab at this same thing from a slightly different angle in hope of making my position clearer, if further clarification was needed...


Dave said...

You know what? That is absolutely the first cogent argument I've ever heard against abortion - albeit somewhat metaphysical.

I still don't agree, of course - I am fundamentally disposed to the assertion that suffering *is* the greatest of all evils, heretical viewpoint or no - but at least you've framed the argument in a manner that allows me to consider the possibility that not everyone on the other side of the debate is (and I generalise for satirical purposes here) fundamentalist misogynist control freak.

For what that's worth, I should say, since I'm not really a participant in the debate.

Dr. Clam said...

That is rather a double-edged compliment, considering all the arguments I have tried before, but thanks! :)