Index by Subject

The Ethics of Men

I grew up hearing lessons preached on ethics.  The lessons were critical of a ethical view taken by many religious people called “Situational Ethics.”  While a situational view of what constitutes ethical action has always had a foothold in the world, it was largely rejected by those who claimed an affinity for the Bible.  For generations religious people were content to let the word of God be the standard by which ethics were established.  They accepted at face value the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who wrote, “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).  To those who accepted the Bible as an authoritative and absolute ethical standard, lying was always a sin, as was sexual activity outside of the marriage bed.  Regardless of circumstance, sin was sin, and righteous behavior was well defined.

In the 1960’s things changed for many religious people.  Situational Ethics was first popularized by an Episcopal priest named Joseph Fletcher, who wrote two books titled The Classic Treatment and Situation Ethics.  In the books he contended that the principle of Love (agape) was supreme, and sometimes situations necessitated a breaking of God’s law for the higher good of expressing love for another.  The concept was accepted by a large number despite its arbitrary, individualistic and subjective nature.  Its influence is the primary reason why the hue and cry of religious people today, rather than obedience to God, has become, “You have no right to judge me!”

It is also the reason why religious people have become so accepting of sinful action in our society.  Many believe that, depending upon the situation, lying, stealing, divorce, abortion, etc., may be excused by God.  At its core, the view makes man the final arbiter of what is right and wrong in any particular circumstance, rather than God.  As experience has shown, this is a slippery slope.

American Slavery

The institution of slavery is a horrific blight in America’s past.  It was allowed to flourish because of the attitudes popularly held by the white population of America from its inception as a nation.  The southern states needed cheap labor for the cultivation and harvesting of crops such as tobacco and cotton.  The African slave trade provided the labor force.  It was economically convenient, but would have been untenable if the populace had regarded black people as human.  The common view was (at the very least) that the black man was less human than the white man – less capable of self-government, of education, of civilization.  The prominent view had no basis in reality, but it was widely held.

In reading a recent biography of Andrew Jackson, this truth was clearly demonstrated to the mind of this writer.  Jackson as President (1829-37) was a champion of “the people.”  He fought for the rights of the common man, and ferreted out corruption in government that would harm American citizens.  Although he commonly wrote and spoke of the rights of “every man” to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it was obvious that his view of “every man” was not inclusive of either native Americans or blacks.  He was a slave holder, and during his Presidency he supported measures that robbed native Americans of their homelands and sovereignty. In all of this he considered himself to be a benevolent protector of these “lesser peoples.”  In correspondence with native American leaders he often referred to himself as their “great white father.”

The vestiges of these attitudes remain in the racial inequalities and racist views of many today.  In fact, one of the saddest realities of our culture is the racial segregation that is characteristic of our worship assemblies and churches.  Brethren, this ought not to be. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

The view that such a system of slavery would never be tolerated again is simple minded.  What would it take?  Simply that those who still hold that the black man is inferior to the white man be given sufficient voice to convince the majority that it is true.  This is why it is so important to educate people to the reality that skin color and cultural differences do not have a bearing upon the humanity or worth of any individual or group.

The Holocaust

More recently (within the lifetime of some of our readers) another example of such evil emerged.  As the Nazi party gained ascendancy in Germany in the 1930’s, Nazi propagandists began to claim a scientific basis for their proclamations of Aryan superiority.  The Nazis began a eugenics program.  Eugenics advocates the use of tactics designed to “improve” the genetic pool of a population.  Methods used by the Nazi party included the forced sterilization of 400,000 people, and the killing of 70,000 more under a “euthanasia” program called Action T4.

The Nazi party targeted individuals who were examples of “life unworthy of life” (Lebensunwertes Leben). These individuals included criminals, dissidents, those with mental or physical handicaps, and homosexuals.  The program also called for the extermination of “sub-humans” (Untermensch), a designation that especially included Jews.  This policy culminated in the Holocaust, where it is estimated that 6 million Jews (73% of all Jews in occupied Europe at the time), and a total of 11 million people overall were killed in concentration camps.

The Nazi regime used architecture, cinema, sports, and youth organizations to sway the populace to its view of Aryan superiority.  The efforts were very successful in leading the German people either to stand idly by or participate in one of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind.  To this day Holocaust survivors and their families plead with the world to “never forget”, and the German government prohibits the existence of Nazi organizations or the free expression of Nazi doctrines.  This is done because of the legitimate fear that allowing the Nazi voice to go unchecked could lead to such vile actions once again.

Abortion

While those who compare abortion to the Holocaust are immediately accused of contributing to uncivil discourse and division, there is a legitimate parallel with regard to the use of human reasoning to justify the practice.  The German phrases (Lebensunwertes Leven) “life unworthy of life” and (Unttermensch) “sub-humans” serve as perfect descriptions of the attitude pro abortion advocates have regarding a human fetus in the womb.  Depending upon the situation (the health of the mother being in some way threatened), the woman has a right to terminate her pregnancy.  It is important to note that when the Supreme Court ruled on the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1973, it explicitly rejected the concept of personhood for the unborn child.  The majority opinion contended that a fetus is not “a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.”  Therefore, it did not have the right to life.

This ruling has remained the standard for roughly 37 years, and the impetus for the termination of an estimated 55 million pregnancies.  We, of course, contend this to be the killing of 55 million unborn children.  However, since the law arbitrarily determines that the unborn fetus is “sub-human”, or “not a person”, the practice continues unabated.  It is a practice that has been generally accepted as morally defensible, as the woman has a right to determine what will or will not be done to her own body.

The most morally reprehensible aspect of this situation is man’s view that he has the right to define personhood.  Our own President, Barak Obama, argued for this right on the floor of the Illinois senate in his role as a state senator in 2001.  In question was a proposed law that would require doctors to try to save a fetus delivered during a late term abortion, if it showed signs of life.  Obama argued against the law, stating:

Number one, whenever we define a previable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or the other elements in the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a – a child, a nine-month-old – child that was delivered to term. That determination then, essentially, if it was accepted by a court, would forbid abortions to take place. I mean, it – it would essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an antiabortion statute.

Pro-life advocates argued during the 2008 election Obama was advocating infanticide.  Obama said they were lying.  How did he justify the claim?  By affirming that by law an aborted fetus was not a child, even if it was alive post partum.  Such language is identical to the Nazi propaganda of the 1930’s.  Who is human?  Who is a person?  Who is an infant?  Who is a child?  It is the one to which the state grants such a designation.  In order to justify the practice of abortion, we must deny that a human fetus has the inherent right of personhood.  Obama and others would (depending upon the situation) extend that denial to a point outside of the womb.

Infanticide

Is it surprising that some ethicists are now denying that inherent right of personhood to all newborn children?  In a recent article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, two so called ethicists, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, advocated what they refer to as “after-birth abortions.”  Consider the arguments they make:

“The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”

“Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.

“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.”

By now the language is familiar.  A new-born baby may be a human being, but if we are allowed to define what a “person” is, those who fall outside of that definition can be “ethically” denied the right to life.  The authors contend that if a child is born with Down’s Syndrome or some other defect, it can constitute an “unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”  Since 36% percent of Down’s cases could not be determined with prenatal testing, they assert that the parents should be allowed to “abort” the child after it is born.  They prefer using the term “after-birth abortion” over “infanticide” to, in their words, “emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus.”

One chilling aspect of such reasoning is that there is no moral repugnance in killing the newborn for any reason.  In fact, these ethicists contended that a practice of “after-birth abortion” should be viewed in exactly the same way that society already views abortion – that there is no moral difference between the two.

Some may argue that these two individuals are fringe lunatics, and that such reasoning will never be accepted by society as a whole.  In fact, the Journal was forced to defend the decision to publish their work.  Consider the defense made of the action by Julian Savulescu, the Journal’s editor:

As Editor of the Journal, I would like to defend its publication. The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defence of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion.

The novel contribution of this paper is not an argument in favour of infanticide – the paper repeats the arguments made famous by Tooley and Singer – but rather their application in consideration of maternal and family interests. The paper also draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands.

Many people will and have disagreed with these arguments. However, the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises. The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible. The authors proceed logically from premises which many people accept to a conclusion that many of those people would reject.

The position advocated by these two is one that has long been argued.  It is even practiced in the Netherlands.  Perhaps the most cogent point made by the editor is the fact that these men are arguing logically based upon a premise that is accepted by many.  In other words, they are taking it to a logical conclusion.  What we see intimated in Obama’s arguments back in 2001 is being touted as the logical consequence in the present.  The only thing necessary to bring about the practice of infanticide in this country is time and a willingness to accept the consequences of concepts that have already been adopted.

Conclusion

Webster’s dictionary defines an ethicist as “one who specializes in or is very concerned about ethics.”  The term ethics is defined as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.”  It comes down to this – an ethicist tries to figure out what is right, and what is wrong.  What we should do, and what we should not do.  As we have amply demonstrated, if such ethics are determined by human definition, we have an arbitrary and changeable standard that can lead to actions that future (and past) generations would regard as atrocities.

Each generation and society arrogantly claims that it has the ethical answers.  This was true in the antebellum American south.  It was true in Nazi Germany.  It is true today, as our society lawfully executes an average of 1.2 million unborn children each year.  And it will be true in the not too distant future as our society agrees to the killing of newborn babies while authoritatively proclaiming them to be Lebensunwertes Leven, “Life unworthy of life.”  Do you consider these the words of a provocateur?  We shall see.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death”
(Proverbs 14:12)