Margaret Somerville on why pulling the plug is not the same thing as euthanasia. As an observer of everything bioethics, I can tell you that the distinction is (a) real, and (b) relevant. I believe that a great deal of needless suffering is happening because people are afraid of “euthanizing grandma” by ceasing futile treatment. People die. The human species has a 100% death rate. Yet, we also have the medical means to keep people alive (i.e. breathing with a heartbeat) beyond their natural ability to do so. We need to understand the subtle yet critical difference between letting go and killing if we are to use the medical means at our disposal wisely and effectively.
With MP Francine Lalonde’s euthanasia bill — aka C-384 — just around the corner, it never hurts to brush-up on the reasons why euthanasia is wrong. This latest article from Margaret Somerville doesn’t present any new and improved arguments but reminds us why euthanasia, even when justified by compassion, is never morally defensible.
I think this new test sounds like eugenics to me:
A new prenatal genetic diagnostic test may soon cause a substantial increase in the number of fetuses affixed with “syndrome” labels. The noninvasive test, called chromosomal microarray analysis, allows doctors to detect submicroscopic genetic abnormalities that no other test can find. Advocates of the technology say it is safer, faster and more accurate than invasive diagnostic procedures like amniocentesis. Despite the test’s benefits, however, some worry that it will result in a flood of prenatal genetic information of uncertain significance and will lead only to confusion and undue anxiety for expectant parents. Others question whether scientists should even be in the business of cleaning up the gene pool and have evoked the dreaded “E” word: eugenics.
The picture above is of a little girl, Katya, who has genetic abnormalities–trisomy 13. Let’s make this theoretical medical discussion real: It’s people like her we won’t–and don’t often, even today–see. Does that seem right to you? Doesn’t to me.
Last week a strident pro-abortion person, Liz Shepherd, wrote in to the Ottawa Citizen. I remember reading the letter and ignoring it because the ideas were so flawed; I couldn’t be bothered–sorry. However, other people could be bothered in the letters section today, I’m grateful to see. Margaret Somerville wrote in to correct assertions about the medical system:
She is wrong that the patient’s autonomy is always trump, that other medical procedures are not prohibited, and that legally regulating abortion would be unique. Consequently, these are not valid arguments against having law on abortion. The law, both criminal and civil, governs all medical procedures and would prohibit some.
And this one is particularly good, too:
I can stay silent no longer on the abortion debate after reading Liz Shepherd’s letter. Her statement that “no one can claim to be both pro-life and pro-woman” has put me over the edge.
Indeed, the idea that you could not be pro-woman and pro-life is pretty ridiculous–it motivated this letter writer to write in.
Look, if I had a dollar for every time I pointed out the flawed thinking and lack of logic in pro-abortion arguments, I’d be a wealthy woman. Their thinking comes down to this–that women must be able to do whatever they want, no matter what. This involves some fairly anti-woman thinking–the notion that women simply can’t do well in life if they bear children in “unwanted” moments. This magic women-trump-all formula is everywhere.
The bad news: They are, momentarily, winning the public relations battle.
The good news: It’s not a really great argument. Parents don’t teach their toddlers the “whatever you want, whenever you want it” principle…it just doesn’t make sense. And when more and more women stand up to say just the opposite–that you can support women and children, yes, at the same time–our barbaric, uncivilized pro-abortion status quo will fall. Furthermore, when women like Liz Shepherd talk crazy, it’s highly motivating for people who might not previously have engaged in the abortion debate.
Keep up the good work, my pro-abortion friends.
Tanya adds: Margaret Sommerville mentioned this:
But if, for instance, a person wanted their right leg amputated, simply because they’d like to be a one-legged person, a physician could not legally carry out the operation — it would be contrary to public policy and a criminal assault, despite the patient’s consent and the absence of any negligence.”
I’ve been wondering lately about gal bladder stones. They usually pass, but occasionally need to be removed surgically. Now, if the stone is likely to pass, the medical professional will not recommend alternative intervention. Can a patient insist? Can a patient demand, say, surgery? And if they can, is that surgery covered?
I think the parallel I’m attempting to make here is pretty obvious.
Rebecca adds: Joyce Arthur chimed in that all medical procedures require consent (which they do) as if that meant that abortion is just like any other surgery. The difference is, abortion is not medically indicated for a disease or injury. One of the big things feminists did right was insisting that pregnancy not be viewed as an illness, requiring intervention and the passive status for women that accompanies this mindset. But you can’t have it both ways.
And it’s true that if you wanted a leg amputated because you wanted to have only one leg, it wouldn’t be covered by medicare (or performed anywhere, one would hope.) But even if the reason you wanted the leg amputated was because you were convinced that you could only realize your life’s ambitions, and your health and happiness were threatened by having two legs, you’re still not going to get the amputation if there is no medical problem with your leg. Not to belabor the point here, but elective abortion is not a medical therapy, any more than getting your ears pierced is medical therapy, because it doesn’t solve a medical problem – it’s a lifestyle choice. And until abortion rights advocates can get their minds around the fact that “because I don’t want to be pregnant” is not actually a medical condition, we’re not going to get anywhere going over the same ground again and again.
In today’s Ottawa Citizen:
Re: The shortest life, Margaret Somerville, Aug. 5.
I wept the whole time that I read Margaret Somerville’s opinion article.
Seven years ago I was pregnant with our first born, a son Darren. When I was 24 weeks pregnant, we found out that he had a rare congenital anomaly, a diaphragmatic hernia. They told us that his chance for survival wouldn’t be good at 50/50.
The first thing that they offered us also was to terminate the pregnancy. I went into hysterics that this was the only option they were offering us.
We didn’t know anything about what he had. To us it seemed that if this is what they are offering, it must mean he doesn’t have a hope at all to live.
My husband and I had discussed before we even thought about conceiving that if ever there was anything wrong with our baby, that depending on the severity of it, we would continue on in the pregnancy no matter what.
We chose to continue with the pregnancy because there was a chance things would be fine in our mind with the chances we were given.
The doctor was so casual with his comment that “so folks are we going to terminate this pregnancy today?” That was before we knew what a diaphragmatic hernia even was. Our son only lived for six days and we decided to remove treatment as he got worse over those six days. We had no regrets, for it had ultimately been our decision about his care and to this day I am thankful for the decision we made.
I had a lot of “issues” to deal with about our care and how we were treated but we have made it through that chapter of our lives and have had two beautiful children since then. Thank you to “M.G” for writing your story as it brought back a lot of memories for us. We are glad that people are getting to hear the other side of the story.
Thank you Ms. Somerville for sharing the e-mail. It is appreciated. It helps to know that other people, as sad as it is, have been asked the same questions and sadly treated the same way.
LUCY HONSINGER, Nepean
This is what I’m talking about: exercising your choices in favour of doing the right thing.
Women, empowered to choose life, in spite of obstacles, in spite of inconvenience, in spite of it all. In spite of knowing that your baby won’t make it, after carrying him for nine months. Is there not something heroic and honourable there? This is the substance of the choice that Somerville refers to in this article. And that’s the very same substance that ardent pro-abortion types won’t discuss, preferring instead to focus on how very different women’s “personal, individual realities” are.
I prefer to focus on what I can see, and what is true. Like the fact that disabled or not, this baby is still kicking in the womb.
From today’s Ottawa Citizen:
[Margaret] Somerville is not a member of the Order of Canada. A nomination submitted a few years ago by Anglican minister and preaching professor Carol Finlay was unsuccessful. Ms. Finlay was told it was because Ms. Somerville was too controversial.
Or, as Andrew Coyne pointed out a few days ago about the idea that controversial or divisive figures should not necessarily be banned from receiving civilian honours:
I would have more sympathy with the argument if it ever applied in the opposite direction. But it never – ever – does. A figure as controversial as Morgentaler, but of the opposite convictions would, if he were not behind bars, be shunned by all of the organs of polite society.
This is not confined only to the abortion issue. It applies across the board. The arbiters of orthodoxy are not content with perpetually skewing every debate to one side. It is necessary also to pretend, wherever possible, that only one side exists.
Thus, for example, a Rosalie Abella of the right, should one exist, would have no hope of ever being appointed to the Supreme Court. The chorus that would rise up against such a “divisive” debate would be made up of exactly the same people who burbled contentedly at her appointment, and quite unaware of the irony.
I say this as someone who subscribes to many parts of the orthodoxy. But the smugness of it, the heedless insensitivity to other points of view, can be a little hard to take.
A fine piece by Margaret Somerville in this morning’s Ottawa Citizen, debunking arguments against Bill C-484. Worth reading in its entirety, but if you only have time for a couple of paragraphs, it should be these two:
One pro-choice activist, Joyce Arthur, wrote recently that “when a pregnant woman is safe, so is her fetus.” In framing the issues that Bill C-484 is intended to address as being primarily, or even exclusively, one of the safety of pregnant women, Ms. Arthur is using a strategy adopted by pro-choice advocates to deal with one aspect of the bill that places them in a dilemma. In rejecting Bill C-484, they do not want to seem to be failing to empathize with pregnant women who are the victims of violence — indeed they strongly empathize — but they want to do that without in any way recognizing that a major part of the harm these women and their families suffer is the injury to or loss of the unborn child. In short, they do not want any recognition of the unborn child, or its worth and meaning to its family, realities that Bill C-484, if enacted, would affirm.
This strategy is employed because the pro-choice lobby bases its case that there should be no law governing abortion on the fiction that the fetus and woman are one “person.” They object to Bill C-484 because it contradicts that fiction in recognizing that there are two victims of a crime, although in doing so it does not affect the present law on abortion — indeed, for greater certainty, it expressly states that it does not do so. (As an aside, the need to rely on a fiction to justify abortion is a very weak stance ethically.)
Abortion is legal in Canada right up until the mother goes into labour. No one can argue that point. What is often disputed back and forth is whether late-term abortions actually occur for non-medical reasons. Here (thanks to Big Blue Wave) is an example of such a debate.
Says the pro-abortion side:
Although there’s no abortion law in Canada, doctors do adhere to the CMA recommendation of no abortions on request after 20 weeks. Even then, so-called “elective” abortions after 16 weeks are rare…
Though Joyce Arthur is quoted above, I’ve heard many an abortion rights activist cite similar information. Patricia LaRue, Executive Director for Canadians for Choice, claimed late-term abortions “don’t happen… No Canadian doctor agrees to do an abortion past 23.6 weeks for social reasons.”
But fact responds in the form of Margaret Somerville’s personal experience. She enumerates such examples as a woman, 34 weeks pregnant, who did not want to have a baby with a cleft-palate. Or again, a 29 year old student who “was 32 weeks pregnant and wanted an abortion for social reasons.”
There is an abortion clinic… in Montreal that… does all the very late term (over 22 weeks gestation) abortions… It’s been reported that the Quebec Government has sent at least one obstetrician to the US to be trained to do these abortions – if they were not happening, why have a clinic and why train someone to do them?
Denying that these late-term abortions occur would, I suppose, make the idea of them less haunting. How is it, then, that we who oppose abortion are faced with their very reality, while those who support their existence get to shield their eyes? In the words of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, I say to those abortion supporters: “Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.”
A woman who underwent a transgender transformation to become a man is pregnant. The child is due to be born this July. Read more here.
Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident being the man that I am. In a technical sense I see myself as my own surrogate, though my gender identity as male is constant. To Nancy, I am her husband carrying our child … I will be my daughter’s father, and Nancy will be her mother. We will be a family.”
After all, family is whatever you want it to be in this day and age.
[Ethicist Margaret Somerville] added: “It’s a very touchy thing, this deconstruction of our biological reality and the institutions that have existed across all kinds of societies over thousands and thousands of years to establish stability, respect and certainty. I think we’re just playing with fire.”