Adam J. MacLeod

Opinion

Judging human worth

Adam J. MacLeod
Image

May 24, 2012 (thePublicDiscourse.com) - Some of the great civil rights battles of our day are being waged in Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, and Montana this year. If you do not recognize those states as civil rights battlegrounds, you are not alone. While advocates for assisted suicide have targeted those states with legalization campaigns, residents may not fully appreciate what is at stake.

The connection between assisted suicide and the civil rights struggles of previous centuries is foundational. To claim that some human lives are not worth living is to deny the intrinsic and equal worth of every human being. It is, in other words, to deny the principle from which we derived our prohibitions against slavery and racial segregation. Pro-life scholars and activists would do well to make this clear, and may be assisted in their efforts by consulting the arguments of Emily Jackson and John Keown in their new book, Debating Euthanasia. Jackson, a law professor at the London School of Economics, marshals the arguments for legalization of physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, and Keown, the Rose F. Kennedy Chair in Christian Ethics at Georgetown University, defends their continued prohibition by law on both practical and principled grounds.

Central to Keown’s case is concern for the equal and intrinsic worth of all human beings. The “cardinal ethical principle” of the inviolability of human life prohibits the intentional killing of an innocent person, and it is precisely this principle that grounds the “equal and inalienable rights” that we enjoy “in virtue of our common membership in the human family.” The authors of the Declaration of Independence thought this principle self-evident. Keown points out that the principle also finds expression in the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and a 1994 report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics. Neither anachronistic nor novel, this idea explains the law’s insistence on protecting the lives of all, irrespective of age, stage of development, or condition of dependency. No one is better off dead, Keown maintains, “even if some patients lose sight of their worth.”

CLICK ‘LIKE’ IF YOU ARE PRO-LIFE!

It is precisely the failure to grasp the implications of intrinsic human worth that plagues arguments for decriminalization of physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, including Jackson’s. Jackson quite candidly rejects the inviolability of human life. “There is nothing independently valuable about being alive, other than that it enables me to live a life.” But to claim, as Jackson does, that the value of life is merely instrumental is to reject the immutably inherent and equal value of all human persons. On Jackson’s terms, any particular human life is more or less valuable, and thus variably worthy of legal protection, according to some standard of instrumental usefulness. But this raises the questions of how the value will be measured and whom the state will authorize to make the valuation.

Jackson recognizes this problem but seems unable to resolve it coherently. She insists that we should not accept the judgment of the lovesick teenager that her life has no worth, and yet we should accept the same judgment from the elderly or terminally ill person for whom “life has become an intolerable burden.” Jackson discounts outright the lives of persons in persistent vegetative states because of the “important difference between simply being alive, and having a life which is worth living.” But here, again, we are no closer to understanding what a worthy life consists of.

Jackson tries to resist the full implications of her own argument. She protests that “accepting that someone’s life has ceased to benefit them is not the same as saying they have no worth.” Family and friends of a suffering patient, she claims, can assent to the request for death without assenting to the judgment that the patient’s life is worthless. Presumably, the operative principle here is one of deference to the personal autonomy of the patient, but Jackson does not explain why deference is necessary. Given the high correlation between terminal illness and depression, deference would seem especially inappropriate in such cases.

Jackson’s conception of human worth becomes clearer in light of her analogy to animal euthanasia. “When it comes to animals,” Jackson observes, “most people accept that euthanasia is not only justifiable, but also often the right thing to do.” For at least some humans, she argues, the experience of dying is no different than a cat’s. Even allowing for differences between humans and cats, such as the practice of making wills and other provisions for resolution at the end of life, these differences do not “justify forcing someone to suffer intolerably.”

That Jackson considers this argument persuasive indicates that she has not fully confronted the claim that human beings have intrinsic and equal worth. Keown is quite clear that we should not force anyone to suffer, nor should we preserve life at all costs. “That would be ‘vitalism,’” Keown explains, “and morally indefensible.” The right to life is a “right not to be intentionally killed” (Keown’s italics). Animals enjoy no such right precisely because they are merely animals, and not humans. Acting with a purpose to bring about the death of a fellow human being is fundamentally unlike acting with a purpose to bring about the death of an animal.

Jackson fails to appreciate her interlocutor’s arguments in other respects, as well. An important corollary of the inviolability of human life is the principle of double effect, according to which it is sometimes permissible knowingly to bring about harms (as foreseen side-effects) that may never be intended directly. Jackson attacks this principle with a hypothetical:

If I visit my doctor complaining of mild stomach cramps, it would not be acceptable for him to give me a life-threatening injection of diamorphine, and he could not escape responsibility for my death by pointing to the doctrine of double effect. My doctor could not claim that his intention was merely to relieve my pain, and that my death was a foreseen but unintended side-effect.

It apparently does not occur to Jackson that the doctor’s disproportionate response to the pain would in fact supply a significant, perhaps conclusive, reason to infer that his intentions were not pure. She ignores what Keown expressly states, namely, that one of the conditions of the operation of double effect requires a “proportionate reason for allowing the bad effect to occur.” Far from excusing the disproportionate conduct that Jackson rightly condemns, the principle of double effect would rule out the doctor’s actions.

By contrast, Keown takes Jackson’s arguments seriously. (In one instance, he makes the effort to strengthen one of her arguments before refuting it.) Indeed, the book’s most glaring weakness is its asymmetry. The rules of engagement required each author to submit his and her contribution blindly, unable to predict precisely what arguments the other would deploy. Nevertheless, Keown and others have developed many of the pro-life arguments over a period of many years. If Jackson wanted to understand the arguments she was trying to refute, then she could have found robust statements of those arguments with little effort.

Despite this asymmetry, Jackson’s contribution to the book is well worth reading. She is often refreshingly candid, as when she acknowledges the limits of personal autonomy. She remarks that the choice of suicidal patients to end their lives requires the cooperation of others: “they are crucially dependent upon other people, namely healthcare professionals, to comply with their wishes.”

Jackson’s contribution also contains important reminders for opponents of decriminalization. Legalization proponents, like many citizens who are open to legalization, are motivated not by bias against the disabled but rather by compassion and respect. “It seems cruel to force someone to endure suffering they find intolerable,” Jackson’s argument goes, “and condescending to disbelieve them when they claim to be suffering so much.” Such advocates, therefore, tend to be unpersuaded by the common pro-life argument drawing analogies between contemporary legalization and Nazi euthanasia practices. As Jackson notes, the Nazis operated on social Darwinist theories of racial hygiene; their “motivation was never a compassionate response to individual suffering.”

Similarly, Jackson offers some insight into the relative inefficacy of “slippery slope” arguments. Accepting assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia does not, in her view, obviously set one on a course toward “the involuntary extermination of disabled people,” and therefore, a blanket prohibition seems to her “a peculiarly blunt approach to regulation.” Why not give carefully regulated legalization a try?

There are, of course, many good reasons not to try. Keown discusses the failures of regulatory efforts in Oregon and the Netherlands. Despite the prevalence of depression among those who request assisted suicide and euthanasia, fewer than 10 percent are referred for psychiatric evaluation. Oregon’s meager reporting requirements prevent any comprehensive study of abuse, but anecdotal evidence suggests that coercion by family members is sometimes a factor in the decision to commit suicide. And the speed with which the Dutch have moved from voluntary euthanasia of adults to non-voluntary euthanasia of infants should trouble even those who are unmoved by slippery-slope arguments. But for legalization proponents, these failures are insufficient reasons not to proceed with legalization, albeit with more rigorous regulations. Jackson herself criticizes the Swiss regulatory scheme for its lack of safeguards. For example, she favors rules that would require “thorough investigation of the person’s circumstances.” One has the impression that, no matter how many of these safeguards might fail in practice, Jackson will always be prepared to propose more, until reasonable concerns about abuse are satisfied.

Most importantly, Jackson has no answer to the moral argument against physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. And herein lies a lesson for pro-life advocates as they fight legalization efforts around the country this year: they should resist the temptation to avoid making moral arguments. They are our strongest resources. To skirt the fundamental moral question would be both unnecessary and, it seems, a strategic blunder. Pro-life activists should not give offense or recall images of swastikas. It is enough to point out that a nation committed to racial equality should, for the same reason, be committed to the intrinsic worth of the sick and the disabled.

Adam MacLeod is an associate professor at Faulkner University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. This article reprinted with permission from thePublicDiscourse.com.



Share this article

Advertisement
Featured Image
A photo of Kim Tucci at 25 weeks gestation Erin Elizabeth Photography
Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

News,

‘Little miracles’: Mom gives birth to naturally-conceived quintuplets after refusing ‘selective reduction’

Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete
Image
An ultrasound of the five different compartments, each with its own baby, inside Kim's womb.

AUSTRALIA, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- A 26-year-old Australian mom has given birth to five healthy babies, all conceived naturally, after refusing the doctor’s advice that she must abort three of them in order to give the remaining two a better chance at life. 

“After my initial ultrasound I was told I could consider the selection method to give 2 babies the best chance in life,” wrote mom Kim Tucci in a Facebook post last September. 

“I watched a YouTube video on the procedure and I cried. I could never do that! Was I selfish for not giving two the chance of 100% survival? All I knew is that I already love them and that every heart beat I heard I connect with them more. For me life starts when a heart starts beating and all I know for sure is that I will do whatever it takes to bring them into this world healthy,” she wrote. 

Last Thursday Kim and her husband Vaughn welcomed the five new members into their family — one boy and four girls —increasing the number of their children from 3 to 8. The babies were born at 30 weeks, 10 weeks early, due to insufficient space in Kim’s womb. They weighed on average about 2.5 pounds. 

The quintuplets’ story began last March, after Kim and Vaughn had been trying for six months to conceive just one more child for their family. Due to health complications, Kim wondered if she would ever become a mother again. 

After what she thought was an extra long cycle, she decided to take a pregnancy test. 

“I was feeling tired and a little nauseated and thought I would take a pregnancy test just to get the ‘what if’ out of my head. To my shock and utter excitement it was positive,” she wrote on a Facebook post.

The parents got the shock of their lives when doctors confirmed in an ultrasound examination that there was not one baby, but five. 

“After a long wait for the ultrasound we finally went in. The sonographer told me there were multiple gestational sacks, but she could only see a heart beat in two. I was so excited! Twins!”

“I was moved to another machine for a clearer view and had the head doctor come in and double check the findings. She started to count, one, two, three, four, five. Did i hear that correctly? Five? My legs start to shake uncontrollably and all i can do is laugh. The sonographer then told me the term for five is ‘quintuplets,’” Kim wrote.

Even though Kim began to feel stretched to the limit with all those human lives growing inside her, she chose to focus on her babies, and not herself, referring to them as “my five little miracles.” 

“It's getting harder as each day passes to push through the pain, every part of my body aches and sleeping is becoming very painful. No amount of pillows are helping support my back and belly. Sometimes I get so upset that I just want to throw my hands up and give in.”

“Sometimes my pelvis becomes so stiff I can barely walk and my hips feel like they are grinding away constantly. I'm finding it hard to eat as I basically have no room left in my stomach, and the way it is positioned it's pushed all the way back with the babies leaning against it.” 

“My skin on my belly is so stretched its painful and hot to touch. It literally feels like I have hives! No amount of cream helps relieve the discomfort. I have a lot of stretch marks now. Dealing with such a huge change in my body is hard.” 

“Is it all worth it? Yes!!!! I will keep pushing through,” she wrote in one Facebook post days before the babies were born. 

The newborns' names are Keith, Ali, Penelope, Tiffany, and Beatrix. They were born at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Subiaco, Western Australia. Mother and babies are reported to be doing well. 



Share this article

Advertisement
Featured Image
Jordanian Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras
Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

News

UN rights chief tells Catholic countries to legalize abortion over Zika virus: bishops and cardinal react

Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

GENEVA, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- The United Nations, following the lead of international abortion activists, is now urging Latin American countries hit by the mosquito-borne Zika virus to lift restrictions on abortion for pregnant women who have contacted the virus and whose pre-born children may be at risk for birth defects, including having smaller than normal heads. 

The UN human rights office said today that it is not enough for South American countries to urge women to postpone pregnancy without also offering them abortion as a final solution. 

“How can they ask these women not to become pregnant, but not offer… the possibility to stop their pregnancies?” UN spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told reporters. 

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that governments should make available contraception and abortion services.

“Laws and policies that restrict (women’s) access to these services must be urgently reviewed in line with human rights obligations in order to ensure the right to health for all in practice,” he said.

But Brazil’s bishops strongly asserted yesterday that efforts should be made to eradicate the virus, not the people who may be infected by it. 

The disease is “no justification whatsoever to promote abortion,” they said in a statement, adding that it is not morally acceptable to promote abortion “in the cases of microcephaly, as, unfortunately, some groups are proposing to the Supreme Federal Court, in a total lack of respect for the gift of life.”

Honduras Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga has also come out strongly against the notion of “therapeutic abortions” as a response to the problem. Unlike Brazil where abortion is legal in the case of rape or health of the mother, abortion remains entirely illegal in Honduras.

“We should never talk about ‘therapeutic’ abortion,” the cardinal said in a homily at a February 3 Mass in Suyap. “Therapeutic abortion doesn’t exist. Therapeutic means curing, and abortion cures nothing. It takes innocent lives,” he said. 

While the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international public health emergency February 1 on account of concerns over the virus, critics have pointed out, however, that not one death as resulted from the virus. Even on WHO’s own website the virus is described in mild terms. 

“It causes mild fever and rash. Other symptoms include muscle pain, joint pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and conjunctivitis. Zika virus disease is usually mild, with symptoms lasting only a few days,” the website states. “To date, there have been no reported deaths associated with Zika virus,” it added. 

Critics suspect that the crisis is being manipulated to advance an anti-human agenda on the pre-born. 

“Is Zika, actually, a hideous virus that threatens to spread uncontrollably across the world creating an army of disabled children with tiny heads and low IQ’s? Or might this be a willful misinterpretation of the scarce data to manipulate public opinion and legislatures?” wrote pro-life critic Mei-Li Garcia earlier this week.

“It becomes very clear that the publicity surrounding this story has a very little to do with medicine and a lot to do with a convenient crisis that is being used by those pushing for the legalization of abortion around the world,” she wrote.



Share this article

Advertisement
Featured Image
JStone / Shutterstock.com
Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben

News,

Hillary’s litmus test for Supreme Court picks: They must ‘preserve Roe v. Wade’

Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben

DERRY, NH, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) - Hillary Clinton has a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees - several, in fact. At a Democratic event on Wednesday, Clinton unveiled her criteria in selecting a judge for the nation's highest court.

“I do have a litmus test, I have a bunch of litmus tests," she said.

"We’ve got to make sure to preserve Roe v. Wade, not let it be nibbled away or repealed,” she said.

There have been over 58,000,000 abortions since the 1973 court ruling legalizing abortion in all 50 states, according to National Right to Life.

That echoes her recent call to arms speech before Planned Parenthood last month, when she stated that taxpayers must fund abortion-on-demand in order to uphold the "right" of choice.

“We have to preserve marriage equality,” Clinton said, referring to last summer's Obergefell v. Hodges case, a 5-4 ruling that redefined marriage nationwide. “We have to go further to end discrimination against the LGBT community."

Her views differentiate her from the Republican front runners. Ted Cruz has called the court's marriage ruling "fundamentally illegitimate," and Donald Trump told Fox News Sunday this week that he would "be very strong on putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things." Marco Rubio has said he won't "concede" the issue to the one-vote majority.

All Republican presidential hopefuls say they are pro-life and will defund Planned Parenthood.

Her husband, Bill Clinton, raised the makeup of the Supreme Court early last month in New Hampshire, saying it receives "almost no attention" as a campaign issue.

On Wednesday, Hillary said "the next president could get as many as three appointments. It’s one of the many reasons why we can’t turn the White House over to the Republicans again.”

Clinton said her judicial appointees must also reverse the Citizens United ruling on campaign finance and oppose a recent decision striking down a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2013's Shelby County v. Holder, justices struck down Section 4(b) of the act, which said that certain states and jurisdictions had to obtain permission from the federal government before changing their voting laws.

At one time, most politicians frowned upon any "litmus test" for judicial nominees, emphasizing the independence of the third branch of government. "I don't believe in litmus tests," Jeb Bush told Chuck Todd last November.

But with the rise of an activist judiciary in the middle of the 20th century, constitutionalists have sought to rein in the power of the bench.



Advertisement

Customize your experience.

Login with Facebook