Thoughts on abortion and euthanasia

With several “pro-life” rallies and demonstrations taking place at ASU recently, and with the other discussions on the subject that I’ve seen or participated in, it seems like a good time to give my current views on abortion and give you a chance to post yours.

by Leonardo da Vinci

First of all, I don’t like any of the epithets used to describe either side. People who don’t want to outlaw abortion are for the most part not “pro-death”, “anti-life”, or even “pro-choice” in all matters, and those who want to outlaw abortion are in my experience rarely “pro-life” or “anti-choice” in every way.

How can you be “pro-life” and still support cold blooded murder through the death penalty? I can see how people would think they were being “pro-life” in opposing euthanasia, and it is a dangerous issue, but even there forcing someone to undergo a prolonged period of suffering before an inevitable death is just cruel. “Pro-suffering”, if anything.

How can we in good conscience take people’s feeding tubes and IVs and let them starve to death just to avoid admitting that we are causing their deaths? I know some people would argue that they are giving time for a miracle to happen, but if there is an omnipotent god out there who wants to save these people then he can damned well intervene before the issue comes up.

It might be reasonable to temporarily remove the tubes, for a few hours or maybe even a day if we think there is a chance that they might wake up, but at some point it just becomes cruel and useless. If we really believe that they can recover then we shouldn’t be removing their life support no matter what the insurance companies want, but if they are really gone with no hope then it is kinder to end it quickly than to dehydrate and starve them to death.

Euthanasia and abortion are often made out to be black and white issues, but there are large grey areas in both. With euthanasia the issue ranges from the assisted suicides of apparently healthy people (although there are almost certainly mental health in these cases), to completely brain-dead people (not politician-brain-dead, but actually brain-dead) who are physically damaged to the point where we know they are essentially dead, and a lot of grey area in between.

Abortion is complicated too, but it seems a bit more straightforward to me. At the point when a fetus can survive on its own outside of the womb, I believe that aborting it is essentially the same as killing a newborn baby. There might be some few strange cases where a choice must be made between the life of the mother and the life of the baby, but in almost all cases at this stage of development I think that the baby could and should be taken out alive one way or another.

On the other extreme, taking “the morning after pill” the morning after a potential conception gives me no moral trouble at all. Although the numbers are disputed, a high percentage (possibly even the majority) of conceptions end in spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), usually without the mother even knowing she was pregnant.

In any case, hours after conception the embryo is still just a small mass of undifferentiated cells. There is no chance whatsoever that it can think or feel pain, and the only thing that really differentiates it from the the separate egg and sperm that combined to form it is that it is slightly further along on the road to potentially becoming a person.

Of course it is easier to simply say “life begins at conception” or “life begins at birth”, but neither one is a universally acceptable position, and many of those opposed to one or the other are vehemently opposed. I find the idea of killing an 8 month old fetus appalling, but I also find the idea of forcing someone to let a newly conceived embryo grow to term inside of them appalling.

Where do we draw the line then? I’m not sure. For most or all of the third trimester, I think that babies are developed enough to be removed alive if it’s necessary, and I don’t see any way to justify an elective abortion at this point. For most of the first trimester, I do not think that the fetus is developed enough to cause a serious moral dilemma. With every day that goes by though, the issue gets more cloudy, so I would urge anyone considering an abortion to make the decision one way or the other early on.

I believe week 10 is where the brain really starts to develop, but exactly what state it is in at that point, I’m not sure. I see this time period as the beginning of the real grey area though, and I think it needs continued study and thought.

In order to fairly consider the issue though, we must be willing to talk about it reasonably, without sticking dogmatically to whatever positions we may hold. Although the battles over such issues as abortion and euthanasia have been long and bitter, there is some hope of consensus if we can all admit that we may not be entirely right and we can manage to start a more sober dialog on these sensitive and important subjects.