19 June 2008

An inconvenient truth

Hat-tip to The Western Confucian for this remarkable statement by Ecuadorian obstetricians and gynecologists on abortion.
The 15 Conclusions of the Workshop on the Prevention of Abortion:
Science teaches that human life begins at conception. If it is also true that it is affirmed by religion, it does not for that reason cease to be a strictly scientific truth, to be transformed into a religious opinion. He who denies that human life begins with conception does not need to contend with religion, but science. To deny this certainty of biology is not to express a lack of faith, but a lack of basic knowledge of human genetics, something that is even known by the general public.

'Nuff said.


bigblue said...

I have been watching this thread for some time, reluctant to comment on such a contentious subject, but here goes:

I like the idea that independent life commences with conception and that it should be respected as sacred. Whether it can scientifically be said to be "human" when it only consists of two or three cells is something else.

Where I think the argument of the Ecuadorians is quite weak is with their point 6:

"The inviolable ethical principle, universally valid (in time and in space), according to which "the ends do not justify the means", is also valid in medicine, even when serious problems arise, be they surgical, economic/social, familial, or generally human ones. It is not possible to prevent so-called "unsafe abortion" by promoting "safe abortion". Causing abortions in order to avoid abortions is as contradictory as combating death by causing death, or eliminating illness by killing those who are ill. "

Firstly doctors do face real dilemmas where they sometimes have to chose between the life of the mother and the life of the baby. They would never let both die because they cannot ethically chose between the two.

I am not suggesting (all or many) abortions are in this category, but I do believe that this establishes the principle of "taking the least worst course of action". We live in a real, not an ideal world. We give certain people free condoms not to promote promiscuity but to counter transmission of deadly diseases. We do this in parallel with "moral and ethical education" (Ecuadorian point 8) - these are not mutually exclusive acts.

I do therefore believe that we need to provide legal, safe abortions on demand (up to a certain period after conception). We know that if we don't, many women will die from unsafe backstreet abortions.

We will have been successful in our moral and spiritual aims if nobody avails themselves of this facility. I'm not exactly sure who I mean by "we" in this sense but I suppose I am thinking about a community that embraces all religious faiths.

Steve Hayes said...

big blue meanie,

It's not a topic I often blog about, because it can lead to endless arguments that don't get anywhere. But I think one does need, to some extent, to distinguish between science, ethics and law, and how they relate to each other. Distinguishing between them also doesn't necessarily mean that one can separate them.

Science may establish that human life begins at conception (that is where I believe the Ecuadorian doctors are correct), but science does not settle the ethical question whether it is right or wrong to destroy human life at any stage. Nor does it settle the legal question.

To take a slightly different legal question: should a law on safe, legal amputations be passed to say that a surgeon cannot be charged with assault for amputating a limb? I don't believe there is such a law, yet doctors are not routinely charged with assault. Nevertheless, I believe that there are circumstances where they should be charged -- for example, some of the medical experiments that went on in Nazi concentration camps.

Steve Hayes said...

PS to the last comment,

Im wondering why your MyBlogLog and Blog Catalog avatar did not appear, thoguh you must have visited my blog in order to have left a comment. Here i am thinking that no one has been visiting, because they have remained unchanged for several days now, bot only on this blog, but on my WordPress one as well. Did they both break simultaneously, or what?

bigblue said...

It's an interesting area Steve, and one where I find my own thoughts continually shifting and reshaping. Yet, you are right, it too often leads to dead-end debate.

I'm not sure why my avatars didn't appear. I can't see the widgets on your blog right now, but I'm almost 100% sure that when I was visiting yesterday I saw it on both.

Perhaps it was just broken when you looked.


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