Thanks to the curious way that Facebook decides which stories to show its members, I was privy to a conversation about abortion, quality of life, and human worth I would normally never see because the people involved have no relation to me. The conversation is… educational. Educational in the sense that from it we can learn what not to do in a debate about these topics and what views work better than others. It also reveals a trend regarding abortion: while abortion is becoming less and less politically and socially popular, its advocates are falling on emotional appeals instead of a solid framework of human worth.
The thread began with some information about a couple whose child was born with a severe birth defect. The brief conversation progressed as follows, with some moderate editing on my part to remove names and fix spelling and grammar:
Person A:If the parents knew of this condition early in the pregnancy, why did she carry to full term?
Person B:Not everyone is for abortion.
Person A:My question isn’t one of ‘is abortion right or wrong?’ or ‘for or against’? Morality aside, it is about quality of life.
Person C:Sadly largely because it is far less cognitively taxing to say something simple like “I am against abortion” than to carefully consider the actual consequences of such hard line black/white right/wrong stances. It’s unpleasant but we do need to start considering these things. Parents who keep a child who will know nothing but pain and a short pitiless life are really quite despicable. People shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind simple right/wrong binary logic when another life is involved. I get upset whenever someone says in a simple way “I am pro-life” or “I am pro-choice” when we should all be pro-humanity.
The Non-Moral Immoral Moral Question
“A” seems to be a bit confused. He claims that the question “why did the mother carry the child to term [knowing the child had a severe birth defect]” is not a moral question and has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of abortion. Yet it seems obvious that his question entails abortion. By what other means would a mother not carry her child to term sans unfortunate natural causes? Unfortunately for “A”, the question of whether abortion is moral or not is actually the foundation of his entire claim, which is that it is, at least in this particular case.
The particular case is about quality of life, and the person arguing it supposes that the quality of a human life influences whether or not that life should be preserved or in this case whether or not the life should be terminated.
This returns us to the question of abortion. If a fetus is a human being and a child is a human being, advocating for the death of a fetus with a birth defect is no different in quality from advocating the death of a child with a birth defect. Sounds horrific, doesn’t it? The unpleasantness of that thought aside, it reveals the implication of viewing a fetus and a child as equally human. This brings the debate back to where it belongs: does the state of being unborn negate the biological and philosophical realities that make someone human?
No matter what someone answers this question with, it will have direct implications with regards to the “quality of life” argument above; an argument that requires an answer to that question as a premise.
No, YOU’RE the bad guy!
“C” makes three separate arguments. The first is a meandering appeal to relativity which says that this question cannot possibly be one with definite answers. This eliminates a rule-and-exception approach and replaces it with a case-by-case approach, something that seems a little foreign to the idea of human worth.
The second and most subtle of the three arguments is really not so much an argument but an accusation. Assuming that (1) “abortion is not the taking of an innocent life” and (2) “the quality of life matters more than the fact of being alive” as unspoken premises, “C” makes the claim that parents who carry their unborn children to term knowing they may have birth defects is “quite despicable”. However, if either (1) or (2) is a false premise, such parents are behaving as ethically as possible. Despite all of his claims for relativity, C demonstrates that it would require a static and unyielding adherence to his unspoken premises to be anything but ethical and moral, let alone despicable.
The third part of “C’s” claim is that we should all be “pro-humanity”, not “pro-life” or “pro-choice”. Perhaps I’m not imaginative enough, but “pro-life” and “pro-humanity” seem to be synonymous. Perhaps “C” also values the dead as much as the living; we cannot say. And yet given his previous statements, it is clear that he is not “pro-humanity” as such, but more “pro-healthy-humanity-as-defined-by-myself”. That is, when an unborn child does not meet the standard he declares for health, the parents of said unborn child are “quite despicable” if they do anything but terminate that child’s life.
The confusion with both “A” and “C” comes from conflating the value of human life with the quality of human life. If the quality of life affects its value, then those who are in poverty are worth less than those who are affluent. Seems strange for such Progressively-Minded™ folks to say such a thing, but it is a natural implication. I’ll even go so far as to define it as a syllogism!
- The quality of human life determines whether or not that life should be preserved.
- An unborn child who has a severe birth defect has a low quality of life.
- Therefore, an unborn child with a severe birth defect should not have his life preserved.
Of course, you could substitute any measure for quality of life for premise (2) and end up with the same conclusion. Someone who disagrees would have to tell us why an unborn child is not human (so as to control the scope of premise (1) and (2)), but then we are back on the classic abortion debate mentioned above and we are not talking about the quality of human life anymore.
Quality vs Worth
The Christian view is trivially simple in comparison yet more in line with our experience. All human life is priceless in human measurements. Quality of life has no effect whatsoever upon the value of life and often the quality of life in economic, medical, or social terms has no impact on the quality of life from the perspective of joy and wonder. I know several people who have moderate or severe health problems, but they all consistently seem to appreciate life more than I do. In the Christian view, it is easy to determine how valuable their lives are – they are no more or less valuable than my own and I have no right whatsoever to deprive them of their lives.
Quality should be seen as an extrinsic property of human life while value should be seen as intrinsic. The former can change (and often does); the latter is constant.