Friday, November 5, 2010

Abortion: The SLED Argument

The first part of this three part series incited a number of comments, and as expected, key differences between a fetus and a full-term baby were cited. Specifically, the issue of dependency was brought up. Today I want to address that, as well as the three other key differences between a fetus and a newborn infant.

This argument is in fact not my own. It was first introduced in a 1990 book called Moral Question of Abortion, by Stephen Schwarz. It is commonly referred to as the "SLED" argument, because it begins by using the word sled as an acromyn, with each letter in the word referring to one key difference between a fetus and a newborn infant. While I will rely on the formula of the argument, I'll do so in my own words.


Size: One obvious difference between a fetus and a newborn infant is size. One might say, "how can something that small be a person?" But is it size that makes us human? Of course not. To say that would also imply that adults are more human than children, and that tall people are more fully human than short people. Men are typically larger than women, but they are not more human. I saw this bumper sticker just the other day:

Level of Development: Let's talk about this. An embryo in the very earliest stages doesn't have a lot of the things an adult has, including a functioning brain, the ability to experience pain, a beating heart, fingers, toes...the list goes on. But human value is not based on abilities, what a person can or cannot do. Again, brain damage does not make someone less human. Nor does a lack of fingers, nor the lack of an ability to feel pain. And one must consider the difference in development between a toddler and an adult. Despite the significant differences in both ability and appearance, the life of the toddler is no less valuable.

Environment: You might think this one would be a no-brainer, but thinking persists that because a child remains in the womb, it is not yet a person. "Location, location, location" certainly matters when we're talking about real estate values, but it has nothing to do with human value. Moving a few inches down the birth canal does not immediately make one human. Where you are and where you live doesn't give you value. That's basic human rights.

Degree of Dependency: Let's think this one through. An unborn child is absolutely dependent on its mother to live. That's true. However, we must allow that as science advances, younger and younger babies are capable of surviving outside the womb. A child that would not have been able to survive outside the womb twenty years ago might do quite well today. So does the child have more inherent human value simply because technology has advanced? Absurd. You may choose to argue that even that child could not survive without technology, but if you do, be prepared to give an answer to others dependent on technology like pacemakers and the like. Further, it's not as if a child is not dependent on its mother once it's been delivered. You couldn't just leave it alone outdoors and expect it to take care of itself. It's absolutely dependent on others for its care. So are most young children, but we wouldn't question the value of their lives, would we? Does being less dependent make one more valuable? Of course not. I could argue that none of us (or at least very few) are completely independent on each other. Dependency does not negate human value.


That's the SLED argument. I'm anxious to hear your feedback. And don't wander too far. Part three of this series on abortion will be coming soon.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Abortion: An Unreasonable Choice

I've been thinking about this for a while. Today I'm starting a three-part series on abortion. My thoughts on the subject have changed a lot over the years, but I've felt much more strongly about it since my wife got pregnant with our first child.

To start, I want to tackle the issue from the standpoint of logic. I'll admit there are stronger arguments, but I think this is an important one. The argument is similar to an important historical argument from Blaise Pascal. In case you're a little cloudy on who he was, you might want to check out his Wikipedia article. Anyway, theology wasn't what he was most known for, but he had a few things to say, and many would argue that this is his most significant contribution:


"… let us say: 'Either God is or he is not.' But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager? Reason cannot make you choose either, reason cannot prove either wrong. . . Yes, but you must wager. There is no choice, you are already committed. Which will you choose then? . . .

Let us weigh up the gain and the loss involved in calling heads that God exists. Let us assess the two cases: if you win you win everything, if you lose you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then; wager that he does exist. . . . And thus, since you are obliged to play, you must be renouncing reason if you hoard your life rather than risk it for an infinite gain, just as likely to occur as a loss amounting to nothing… Thus our argument carries infinite weight, when the stakes are finite in a game where there are even chances of winning and losing and an infinite prize to be won."

Personally, I think that's pretty brilliant. So let's take that same logic and apply it to abortion. First of all, we must establish something that neither side will like to admit. It's that we have no certain scientific proof of whether a human fetus is truly human or merely a collection of cells. I know both sides would like to argue with me on this point. But if anyone had incontrovertible proof of the truth here, there would be no reasonable debate. So for now, let all who will be reasonable agree that a human fetus either constitutes a genuine human life or it does not, and that there is some evidence to support both sides of the argument.

That being said, consider for a moment the consequence of each side being wrong. If I say that a fetus is, in fact, a living human being, the logical position is to forbid abortion. If I am wrong, and a fetus is not a living human being, then I have needlessly burdened parents with an unwanted child. There are further repercussions as well that encompass but are not limited to the risks of pregnancy to the mother and the life-changes that will inevitably ensue from the birth of the child. It must be noted that pregnancy puts the mother's life at risk.

Whereas in Pascal's Wager, the consequence of being wrong about God being real was really nothing, here there is a very real risk to being wrong. There is a lot of room for debate about the greatest negative repercussion to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. But does anything trump the possible death of the mother? To my thinking, nothing does.

Now let's look at the other side. If I say a fetus is simply a cell mass, and not a genuine human life, the logical position is to allow for abortion. But if I am wrong, the consequence of abortion is quite simply murder. It's pretty uncomplicated, and I don't think I need to say much more about it.

Let's weigh the consequences of being wrong. On the one hand, you burden the mother and/or father, may bring about huge life changes for them, and it's possible the health or even the life of the mother will be endangered. Bad stuff. But on the other hand, you have the certain and intentional death of an innocent human baby. And if there is a God that values life, as Blaise Pascal would argue there is, there will be a certain retribution.

Ok, some people really could give a flip about the God thing, but the logic of the issue seems clear. The Pro-Life position is simply more rational. You're weighing possible tragedies on one hand against a certain and ultimate tragedy on the other. And given that none of us can give a certain and incontrovertible scientific answer to the identity of the fetus, we're all gambling that we're right. So I think it's important to ask yourself, "What if I'm wrong?" Are you ok with the consequences of that? Or do you refuse to allow the question, and choose to remain in a bubble of ignorance and pride that will not allow for the possibility that the dissenting opinion could actually be right? And if that is the case, then you are the definition of "closed-minded."


Let's call this an introduction to the topic. In part two, I'll present evidence supporting why I believe a fetus constitutes a genuine human life. See you then.