Oxford academic calls pro-life position absurd
A common criticism of the sanctity-of-life of human embryos is that so many of them perish spontaneously, especially before implantation, that it is absurd to treat them as precious. Michael Kinsley, formerly editor of The New Republic and Slate, now a columnist for Time magazine, often deployed this argument. "An embryo feels nothing, thinks nothing, cannot suffer, is not aware of its own existence. Embryos are destroyed routinely by the millions in the natural process of human reproduction. Yet opponents of stem-cell research would allow real people, who can suffer, to do so in service of the abstract principle that embryos are people too. If faith takes you there, fine. Reason can’t," he wrote in one of his Slate articles.
This argument is highlighted in a recent issue of the American Journal of Bioethics, where an Oxford academic claims that the notion that embryos have the same moral status as adults leads to absurdly unpalatable conclusions. Toby Ord contends that 200 innocent million people must be dying each year through spontaneous abortion — if this is taken seriously -– far more than from cancer or any other disease. It is, he says, "one of the world’s greatest problems, if not the greatest problem."
And what are pro-lifers doing about this tragedy? Almost nothing. This inconsistency, he maintains, shows that no one really believes in equal moral status of embryos. Otherwise a movement equal in fervour to animal liberation would exist to save embryos. "With 200 million lives per year at stake, it would surely be a matter for heated discussion in the journals or in the Church."
AJOB did its best to highlight this ingeniously simple argument by recruiting several academics to comment on it. In summary, most of them highlighted utilitarian themes in Ord’s approach: that everyone counts as one, that the greatest good of the greatest number is the measure of ethics, and so on. He also deploys a staple theme of euthanasia debates: collapsing the distinction between doing evil and failing to do good. But none of the responses shook Ord from his conviction that a consistently pro-life view means that "the badness of embryo death [must] be at least roughly comparable to the badness of adult death." ~ AJOB, July 2008
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