Monday, June 01, 2009

Ethics and power

Reader Bob Hunt finally gets down to the meat of all ethical issues:
The conversation is moot, anyway. Conscience rights are here to stay. Health care workers will not tolerate their abrogation, and there are more of us than there are of you.
Our socially constructed ethics come down to what we will or won't tolerate, and, more importantly who has the power to actually eliminate what they won't tolerate.

Presumably by "more of us" Mr. Hunt refers not to health care workers but rather to uterus-slavery advocates. Mr. Hunt's reveals his vaunted principles as strategies to achieving his underlying uterus-slavery agenda.

Ethical principles have no validity on their own, they are a codification either of our present moral beliefs, or of what their advocates hope to achieve. Whenever someone is arguing for a principle — especially like Mr. Hunt a supposedly universal principle that has only narrow applicability — dig deeper and look for the underlying (often hidden) agenda.

You know you're being bullshitted when there's a large gap between the argument for the principle and the intended result, when the supposedly universal principle is inapplicable outside the domain of the intended result

If you look at the pro-choice movement, the principle is the intended result: all pregnant women should have the choice, in theory, law and practice to terminate a pregnancy at their choosing. The intended result is right out there, and all the principles and policies are directly related: a woman has autonomy over her own bodies, a collection of cells without anything resembling a sentient nervous system does not have moral rights (and genes don't have rights) are directly about abortion. Even the larger medical issues — e.g. the obligation of physicians to consider only the patient's best interest, not the physician's own moral agenda, and a patient's right to seek the best medical treatment without interference from the state — really are universally applicable and important outside of abortion.

If you look at the uterus-slavery movement, however, the principles are always at least one step away from the intended result. They call themselves the "pro-life" movement, but the principle of "sanctity of life" is at least one step removed from abortion, because of course only fetal life is truly sacred. Every day we kill and condone the killing of actual feeling, thinking, self-aware people, in war, in self-defense, in law-enforcement. Furthermore, if life were truly sacred, we would be equally obligated not just to prevent killing but to preserve life where physically possible, and yet we let tens of thousands of children die every year from preventable — often cheaply preventable — causes (and that's just the tip of the iceberg). Let's face it: Life is important, very important, but it's hardly sacred, even to the uterus-slavery movement.

We see the same "one step removed" in Bob Hunt's own argument. He won't come out and say that physicians should oppose abortion because abortion is wrong: he's trying to sell supposedly universal principles that have nothing to do with abortion — some sort of "conscience rights", personal exemptions from socially constructed laws and professional standards — that are completely absurd outside the domain of abortion. He's unconcerned with their incoherence as universals; he's arguing only to enable physicians and other medical professionals to use their socially-constructed power and privilege to enact his own private moral agenda.

We citizens must ask a more fundamental, universal ethical question. Do we want to subject our personal and social lives to the power of physicians? Do we want physicians to be moral authorities? Today it's abortion. Tomorrow its contraception. Thursday it'll be treatment for HIV and other STDs. Who knows: next week or next year physicians might use their power to suppress any criticism of the medical profession. "You wrote an article criticizing physicians, Mr. Smith; I'm afraid I can't in good conscience treat your cancer."

Every principle the uterus-slavery movement advocates, from conscience rights to "don't spend my tax dollars on objectionable medicine" to parental notification shows this "one step removed" on paper but "applicable only to abortion" in reality. Coupled with the egregious disregard for actual facts, from the bogus link of breast cancer with abortion to portraying third trimester miscarriages as typical of first trimester fetuses, not to mention the uterus-slavery movement's almost universal hostility to contraception, shows us clearly that this movement is nothing but bullshit, all the way through.

But around Robin Hood's barn, Mr. Hunt does reveal an important ethical truth: it's all about power. If you want the world to be a certain way, if you want women to have liberty and autonomy, if you want physicians to be servants of our health and not masters of our lives, it's not enough to simply ask yourselves these questions, but to acquire and exercise the power to change our society.

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