Jesurgislac’s Journal

June 1, 2010

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Liver and Chianti

Pro-lifers tend to be in agreement that forced use of organs is immoral: they just make an exception for using the uterus (using the organs of a pregnant woman) without her consent. As the essay The Only Moral Abortion Is My Abortion has already demonstrated, the anti-choicers are themselves unwilling for their own bodies to be used against their will: men can’t get pregnant,and pro-life women have abortions as often as pro-choice women.

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

Many more eggs are fertilsed than there are babies born. For a baby to be created from a fertilised egg, a woman must be willing to use her body – not only her uterus, but her heart (which must beat for two); her liver, her kidneys, her guts – all of her bodily resources are used in the process of making a baby.

As I noted in a comment on Catherine Palmer’s blog Ethika Politika (the blog of the Center for Morality in Public Life) the pro-life argument against medically-required abortions is that women have no right to life or health if their bodies are being used by a fetus: explicitly, that fetuses are more valuable than women. (That the only way to keep a fetus alive, safe, and supported through pregnancy is to ensure that the health and life of pregnant women is made a priority, is something that does not appear to have occurred to pro-lifers.)

The pro-life argument against elective abortions, is that a fetus has the right to make use of a woman’s body against her will, because a fetus is a “person”. But that’s not a workable argument if a woman is a person: because then she has an inalienable right to decide for herself not to use her body to bring a fetus to term.

To rephrase the very basic statement of morality made by a member of the pro-life community against forced organ use: The [pro-life] community has tempted some to seek a weakening of the strict ethical rules which prevent patients—no matter how sick or catastrophically disabled—from ever being treated as a mere organ system rather than an equal member of the moral community.

The key rule is: Organs will be taken only if consent is freely given—either by the patient or by family members (if the patient is catastrophically disabled or otherwise unable to consent). That informed and freely given consent is both a legal and an ethical principle. Arguments that the use of an organ is for the “common good”, that saving life justifies taking the use of an organ against that person’s will, are profoundly immoral: A woman must never be treated as a mere organ system to be “submitted to the common good”. Not for the use of her heart, her liver, her kidneys – or her uterus.

Again, going back to the article about disrobing pro-life euphemisms:

This ideology is, broadly speaking, the pro-life ideology. This doctrine insists, sans sound premise, that certain human beings ought to be labeled non-persons and thus be denied rights. It insists further that it is fundamental to society that no woman who decides against pregnancy ought to be allowed her choice: that human rights for women ought not to be regarded as protected by the US Constitution or by any other human rights laws.

As Catherine Palmer herself notes: The ramifications of this mentality are unspeakable, but not unprecedented. Anytime unpopular human beings are reduced to something disposable, we see horrific effects. We saw it in our segregated nation under Jim Crow laws in the 1950’s, when African-Americans were lynched by the thousands because they were dark-skinned; and we see it in [Latin America] today with denial of medically-required abortions where pregnant women are allowed to die of preventable complications as a human sacrifice to a religious Law without humanity. (For horrid examples of pro-life Americans celebrating the ideal of human sacrifice to the Law, see the comments thread here.)

Like Catherine, I would like to think (and generally do think) that the propagators of these killings would never commit them were they to see them for what they really are.

But the pro-life movement is guilty of murder, terrorism, and other violence towards health service workers, and has recently and very openly made clear that where the choice lies between saving a pregnant woman’s life by performing an abortion, and letting the pregnant woman die even though the fetus dies too, they argue for the latter: they prefer two deaths to one.

Like Catherine, I say the first initiative is educational in nature. We have a responsibility both to educate people who have been deceived by pro-life lies about fetuses, pregnancy, and abortion, and to educate people in valuing women as human beings. The abortion question ultimately comes down to the moral status of pregnant women, but pro-lifers like to argue that it’s all about “saving fetuses” – and then tell further, complicated lies both about the nature of fetuses/fetal development and about abortion. Both contradicting the pro-life lies and affirming the equal humanity of women are required to correct the inimical pro-life mindset. Pro-lifers need intellectual confusion to make their case: the service of truth corrects their lies.

Like Catherine, I say the second initiative is active in nature. The pro-lifers have political and religious power and money on their side: she argues that “we see that the Civil Rights Movement required authors and activists, professors and preachers, to bare segregation for the world to see”. I agree with her that the Pro-Life Movement will likely prove no different: it is not enough for them to expose themselves as indifferent to women’s lives and opposing human rights for women, it is essential that they should be exposed for what they are.

The pro-life ideology is an inhuman ideology “parading in dress-up clothes and pretending to be human”. Catherine quotes a Narnian in one of C.S.Lewis’s novels saying “But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet”. While a pro-lifer would naturally think in terms of violent action, which I oppose as I oppose all pro-life ideology – I agree with the recommendation to be wary of inhumanity.

The belief that other people exist to be used against their will is one of the most pernicious and deadly that humanity is rife with: and it is the pro-life belief in a nutshell. Pro-life euphemisms, be gone!

I should admit: I plagiarised large chunks of Catherine’s post with satiritic intent. The best satires were teaching rants. Catherine’s post presumes that if only those of us who believe that women are human and so support a woman’s right to choose, could understand the humanity of the cute li’l fetuses, we would somehow change our minds about the humanity of women. We do need to convince pro-lifers who have a sincere concern for humanity, that their concern is severely misdirected when they argue that because human fetuses are fully human, that must mean women ought to be treated as slaves, animals, or incubators. A fetus can have all the human rights that every human is born to: that does not mean that a fetus (or a pro-lifer claiming to act for a fetus) can force a woman to use her body as an incubator against her will. As humans we have the right to choose if, when, and how many children we will have: pro-lifer arguments that pregnancy is a “common good” for which women can be used against their will are straightforward arguments for enslavement and dehumanisation of women.

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6 Comments »

  1. I assume that you think it is also okay if a mother of a born-child leaves the child without any support. After all, even when the child is born, it still requires that the mother use her organs to support him–for-instance, her lungs when speaking to the child, her skin when holding the child, her brain when thinking about what to cook the child for lunch, etc. I am a little confused.

    Also, I think you are greatly mis-reading Catherine Palmer. As someone who has read what she has written, you are not making that much sense, so given that you are writing for people to read you, I would suggest that you understand better someone when you are writing about them.

    Oh, and a woman is not an incubator. When pregnant, she is a mother. There is a very big difference.

    Comment by Tommy Piolata — June 1, 2010 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

    • Tommy, I’m going to kindly assume you’re just not yet educated in what pregnancy means, and you should go educate yourself. That should remove your “confusion”. When you’ve studied up on what pregnancy involves, do come back and ask any further questions.

      Also, I think you are greatly mis-reading Catherine Palmer.

      No, I don’t think so. Catherine is arguing that if only those of us who support inalienable human rights for women understood that human fetuses are human, we wouldn’t support human rights for women any more. In that she is mistaken.

      Oh, and a woman is not an incubator.

      I agree. Nor an animal nor a slave. That’s why I am pro-choice.

      Comment by jesurgislac — June 1, 2010 @ 5:17 pm | Reply

      • Perhaps my last comment did me sound uneducated, and for that I apologize. I am only trying to better understand why a woman has a right to kill a child if it is in the womb, but when the child is out of the womb, then she no longer may morally do such an action. It seemed that you think it is okay for a woman to kill a child when it is in the womb because she has a right to her own organs, and therefore she can choose to not let a child in her womb use them. To be completely honest, I think we need a whole different hermeneutic of rights, because it seems to me that we are playing a ranking game with them. Regardless, I am still a little confused. What is so different about a child in the womb who is very dependent on his/her mother, and a new-born baby who is still very dependent on his/her mother?

        Also, I do not think that Catherine thinks if we understand that human fetuses are human then we would not support human rights for woman any more. If anything, precisely because we ought to respect women, am I pro-life.

        I think that your post also dismisses important philosophical structures like virtue theory, that human beings mature in their dignity through virtue. The fullest human potential is living as gift for another. But this is a whole other conversation. Ultimately, a lot of this dialogue requires us to first go back to our foundations and begin to take steps from there. This is why you probably think I’m crazy for thinking the way that I do, and the other way around. Regardless, any dialogue is better than no dialogue, so I appreciate this even though we are on very different pages!

        If people always have the “right” to choose how to use their own bodies, then I am wondering how we can establish any sort of moral or ethical code?

        Comment by Tommy — June 1, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

  2. Tommy asked: Perhaps my last comment did me sound uneducated, and for that I apologize. I am only trying to better understand why a woman has a right to kill a child if it is in the womb, but when the child is out of the womb, then she no longer may morally do such an action.

    That’s a very civil response. Let me explain.

    A fetus and a baby are biologically very different. Eliding over this by calling both fetus and baby “children” is intellectual confusion. A fetus is, biologically speaking, a most efficient parasite. (In more biological detail here.) The mammalian ability to nourish their young inside their bodies is so commonplace we forget how extraordinary it is in the animal kingdom. A woman lays an egg: the egg is fertilised. In non-mammals, the egg would then be deposited somewhere outside the body (or fertilised outside the body) and the genetically unique individuals would survive or die according to their environment. With mammals, the female of the species provides the environment within which fertilised egg can become a baby.

    A born infant couldn’t survive inside the uterus. Not for a minute. A fetus can’t survive outside the uterus. A woman can in principle give a baby to someone else to take care of. (I say “in principle” because this is frequently used as an argument that she should, and I don’t see there’s any obligation on a woman to bear a child she doesn’t want merely so that someone else can have the child.) But no woman can give her fetus to someone else to take care of. The fetus is a parasite that can become an independent organism if and only if a woman is willing to give 28-40 weeks labour, the use of her body, the risk of her health and life, to make the fertilised egg into a baby.

    The fertilised egg, or the fetus, will die if she isn’t willing to give the use of her body to keep the parasite alive.

    The baby isn’t a parasite. The baby, or the child, is an independent being. It’s not okay to kill a child. In cultures which oppose both access to contraception and to abortion, infanticide is far more common than in pro-choice cultures: pro-life laws, if enforced stringently enough, will ensure that more and more babies are killed rather than pregnancies terminated. Someone who genuinely sees no difference between infanticide and abortion, won’t care, obviously, and many of the men responsible for passing pro-life legislation really don’t seem to care that this simply means babies die in infancy and women die in childbirth.

    It seemed that you think it is okay for a woman to kill a child when it is in the womb because she has a right to her own organs, and therefore she can choose to not let a child in her womb use them. To be completely honest, I think we need a whole different hermeneutic of rights, because it seems to me that we are playing a ranking game with them.

    Well, do you believe that the man now dying of liver failure in a hospital near you has a right to a lobe of your liver? Do you believe that this man has a right to have you taken to hospital against your will, operated on to remove a lobe of your liver, and have it implanted into his body, so that he will live – and so will you: live liver donation is statistically far safer than childbirth. Do you believe that healthy people with rare blood types ought to have a pint of their blood forcibly removed every two to three months? People die of blood loss, and giving a pint of blood four to six times a year is far safer even than an early abortion – virtually zero-risk, which pregnancy and childbirth most certainly are not. Are you willing to argue that, if it can save a life, any organ in your body can be removed from your body, without your consent, even if doing so will kill you? If you’re not willing to argue for your bodily organs to be used without your consent, do you feel you need “a whole different hermeneutic of rights” to justify why that man dying within a hundred miles of you doesn’t get to take a lobe of your liver unless you consent to let him have it?

    Regardless, I am still a little confused. What is so different about a child in the womb who is very dependent on his/her mother, and a new-born baby who is still very dependent on his/her mother?

    See above. There is a vast biological difference between a fetus and a baby. But the distinction I mean to make is not between fetus and baby, but between a human and an incubator. A woman is no one’s property. No one but her has the right to make use of her body against her will.

    That is a basic human right.

    Also, I do not think that Catherine thinks if we understand that human fetuses are human then we would not support human rights for woman any more.

    Then why would she be arguing that we won’t want women to have human rights if we understand that human fetuses are human?

    If anything, precisely because we ought to respect women, am I pro-life.

    But if you respect women, you should believe that the pregnant woman is the only person able to judge whether a pregnancy should be terminated or continued. Who else could decide for her? That would make you pro-choice.

    I think that your post also dismisses important philosophical structures like virtue theory, that human beings mature in their dignity through virtue. The fullest human potential is living as gift for another.

    And why do you feel that women may not be allowed to develop their fullest human potential? A woman who isn’t allowed by pro-life legislation or dictats from bishops to choose is not being allowed to “live as a gift for another”: she is being treated as an incubator. If you believe a woman has a right to give herself for another, you are pro-choice: a gift can’t be forced.

    But this is a whole other conversation. Ultimately, a lot of this dialogue requires us to first go back to our foundations and begin to take steps from there. This is why you probably think I’m crazy for thinking the way that I do, and the other way around. Regardless, any dialogue is better than no dialogue, so I appreciate this even though we are on very different pages!

    I agree with that.

    If people always have the “right” to choose how to use their own bodies, then I am wondering how we can establish any sort of moral or ethical code?

    Don’t you feel that this is a moral and an ethical code? Or this? Or indeed this? Why do you feel it’s essential to a “moral or ethical code” to argue that some people should be used against their will by others?

    Comment by jesurgislac — June 1, 2010 @ 8:33 pm | Reply

    • Jesurgislac,

      I do not have the time to adequately respond to everything that you said. And to be honest, it will not make a difference. I feel that our dialogue is loosing its power as dialogue.

      Nonetheless, I will end on the following notes: I believe that every human being, no matter how old, how small, how young, how dumb, how weak, how strong, how inconvenient for society, how intelligent deserves life. I believe that every human being, regardless of their age, sex, or gender deserves life. To take away life is horrible, and we have no right to do it.

      And I share a completely different view of motherhood than you do. When a woman is pregnant, what is inside of her is not a parasite. It is a child.

      In the end, it all comes down to one maxim… I believe in love and in charity.

      Comment by Tommy — June 1, 2010 @ 11:51 pm | Reply

      • I feel that our dialogue is loosing its power as dialogue.

        I usually find that pro-lifers are unwilling to dialogue with someone who will not tolerate the usual pro-life lies, propaganda, and euphemisms: thank you for being civil when you got to the point when you realised that you were unwilling. (Seriously: thank you. Most pro-lifers get much ruder than you at this point.)

        I believe that every human being, no matter how old, how small, how young, how dumb, how weak, how strong, how inconvenient for society, how intelligent deserves life.

        I believe that too: but I believe that women are included in “every human being”. That’s why I’m pro-choice.

        To take away life is horrible, and we have no right to do it.

        I wish that more pro-lifers believed that. 130,000 women die each year in pregnancy-related or childbirth-related complications: pro-lifers have invariably been more interested in stopping women from access to contraception or from safe legal abortion, and preventing pro-choice humanitarian organisations from providing the healthcare that would save these women’s lives. I think that’s horrible, and I think pro-lifers have no right to do it. About 70,000 women die each year from complications induced by illegal abortions: entirely preventable deaths, which pro-lifers are actively involved in promoting. I think this taking away of life is horrible, and I wish pro-lifers believed they had no right to do it – and refrained.

        When a woman is pregnant, what is inside of her is not a parasite. It is a child.

        You asked me to explain why a fetus is different from a baby. You appeared to be sincere, and you were certainly civil, so I wasted some time this evening in explaining this to you. Apparently you were utterly insincere, and I wasted that time – I might just as well have directed you back to the original medical site and invited you to educate yourself. You wouldn’t have bothered, but at least I wouldn’t have wasted my time on someone who wasn’t interested in facts or truth or even paying attention to an explanation they themselves had asked for.

        In the end, it all comes down to one maxim… I believe in love and in charity.

        Pro-lifers always seem to have a rather unique definition of “love and charity”…

        Comment by jesurgislac — June 2, 2010 @ 12:17 am


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