It’s interesting, the kind of things you find rummaging through your files when you’ve got a deadline and nothing to say. (This, innocent readers should know, happens to the writers you read more often than any of us like to admit.)
For example, the ethicist Charlie Camosy’s observations on what Pope Francis would think of the Planned Parenthood baby-parts scandal, which of course is still a live issue. He shows—and I much commend the article—how the pope offers a consistent witness to life, including his defense of those human lives that baby-parts sellers objectify. As Francis wrote in Laudato si’: “In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species?”
Selling the body parts of the unborn is yet another example. The pope continues: “Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted?”
This makes sense to me, and should make sense to those who think the pope’s just another guy and his God a mythical creature. Francis doesn’t ask people to be Christians or even religious. He only asks them to have “sound principles,” of the sort you might get from Plato or Aristotle, though he’d want you to apply them with a more generous view of humanity than would an ancient Greek. (Aristotle thought most people fit only to be slaves.)
Disciple of Rationality
It makes sense to me, but not to one of the online commenters on Camosy’s article, who named himself “Disciple of Rationality.” (Always a bad sign.) DofR objects to the idea that the unborn child is an unborn child. He begins by declaring “The foetus isn’t a ‘baby’ until AFTER it’s born.” No explanation, just assertion. And why is this, you might ask.
He answers in a later comment: “The decision has already been made that, here in Australia, the concept of ‘unborn children’ is a falsity. Rights and laws apply to ‘native’ citizens, that is, those who have already been born. That decision was made in consultation with legal scientific and community experts. It has already been tested in court and is solid. Get used to it.”
DofR also doesn’t like Camosy’s language. Camosy calls the unborn “Vulnerable prenatal children.” He calls this “a falsehood” because “children have first to be born in order to qualify for that status.” He doesn’t seem to believe in any actual fixed morality, but he believes this to be absolutely true and incontrovertible.
The real disciple of rationality—a.k.a., the reasonable person—will ask on what possible grounds human rights depend upon being born. If you believe that people have rights, unborn people have them. (Human rights aren’t something you can see, but our self-declared rationalist apparently believes in them anyway.) Unborn people are definitely human. They’re not anything else.
As with so many other matters, it’s not rocket science. 1) Human beings have rights. 2) Unborn children are human beings. 3) Therefore unborn children have rights. Among those human rights covered in number 1, even DofR would surely agree, is the right not to be killed.
The Authority of the Law
But what I find most interesting is DofR’s belief in the final authority of the law. The law says that the fetus isn’t a child with rights, therefore the fetus definitely, absolutely isn’t a child with rights. That decision is “solid” and the other idea a definite “falsehood.”
But no one really believes that. I’m sure he doesn’t believe it. We all know from reading the news that some laws are bad laws made for bad reasons. I’m sure that’s true in DofR’s native Australia. In this country, our Supreme Court has reversed itself many times, most famously in the notorious Dred Scott decision of 1857 which entrenched slavery.
Read it now and your first reaction, whatever your politics, will be that these guys were horrifically racist. They were leaders among the American ruling class, men of the elite, the mid-nineteenth century’s best and brightest, and were they to say that today you’d walk out of the room.
Even if you want partly to excuse them because they wrote when they did, and few then knew better, you will have to admit that we know better now. And if we know better about race than our ancestors, we very likely know worse about some other matters than our descendants will. Or than our ancestors did.
Our rationalist believes that the courts’ decisions can be held to be “solid”—and contradictory claims “falsehoods”—just because a court made them, but this is obviously untrue. See Dred Scott for starters.
DofR’s absolute belief in the courts isn’t rational. It’s wishful thinking. I’m fairly sure that had the Australian courts ruled the other way, he would be criticizing them, not bowing down to them.