Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pigs, Pain, and Abortion

Oh boy, it seems @RichardDawkins has really stepped in it now.

What is unfortunate is that he is merely trying to have a conversation - can't we disagree on details without vilifying each other over it? Let's get to a conclusion first and see where we stand. Especially since I think he is strongly pro-choice. But the fact is, in most locations, elective abortions after about week 20-24 aren't allowed currently, there must be some threat to the mother after that point. This is largely because medical science tells us this is the time at which the fetus might start to feel pain (some studies suggest even later).

And yes, I strongly objected to Dawkins' "Dear Muslima" post precisely because it was NOT a conversation. It was an attempt to silence a voice of a legitimate complaint using a fallacy, arguing that because something else in the world is worse you should just shut the hell up. And I'll happily repeat what a shitty thing that is to pull on someone and shame on him for failing to apologize for it. But that doesn't mean everything he does is wrong henceforth (and I'm seeing a lot of ad hominem attacks, "why do we care what a misogynist says"). Attack the argument, not the person.

Now I'm going to step in it (even more than the above), and ramble a bit... I don't have a fully coherent argument here but I do have some musings I would like to share with the 3 people who might ever read this.

I'm pro-choice primarily for reasons of bodily autonomy because the social consequences (and those evidenced by the history of anti-abortion) are abhorrent to me (which is an emotional argument but I'll try to make the case for why this is irrelevant).

But I do think about and consider things such, 'why' does this Bacterium move away from the neutrophil, and 'why' does the neutrophil give chase?

Do they possibly have some kind of primary experience? I honestly don't know, I must plea ignorance on the question. I can only make some rough estimates about it. I know that I don't get cold sweats at night thinking about the trillions of bacteria I killed when I took some antibiotics (or swallowed some food for that matter). I think bacteria are simpler than our human eukaryotic cells, and those cells die all the time, I don't worry about them. What about HeLa cells (human cells with a now independent, single-celled existence)? Is each of those cells a full human with all the rights of a human being? Of course not, it requires a massive collection of cells working together to make a human being, to have the same kind of conscious thought we have requires a functioning brain. This is why, to me, it doesn't seem like a fetus can or should have the same rights as an actual human being. The mere potential for something isn't the same as the thing.

Sure, the actions of the bacterium and neutrophil are "just" chemistry/physics, but so is pain (as are our brains). Pain is even more illusory, subjective and arbitrary. Your brain decides to feel pain or not - sometimes it is wrong, sometimes (usually) it indicates real damage. Of course, we know we don't like pain -- but this is an emotional reaction. And this is the reason that, I think, emotions sometimes must matter. And we can't argue it's "just" chemistry in one case and ignore the fact that it is ALL "just" chemistry.

If we are honest we must admit that our emotions are largely the source of our "values".

Consider what happens to a child who does not feel pain at all (video). Without the feedback of 'pain' our behavior is very different - we no longer care that we've just broken 7 bones, we keep running until the bone shards shred our insides and we die. It's not a good thing for the organism. But their lack of pain sensation doesn't mean we can just abort that person - so this cannot be our sole criteria, but I still agree that it is an important one. Similarly, we find that people who cannot experience empathy are often sociopaths. Such people might need to kept out of society for their entire lives but I don't know that means it is ok to kill them even if they have done something horrific (and here I refer to the Death Penalty, which I oppose, in part because of how often we have murdered innocent people in our fervor to place blame).

This doesn't mean all emotions are equally valid or override the rights of others. But there is a reason we social beings have, as a whole, the emotional responses we do (including humiliation, anger, empathy/compassion), the trick is to temper them with our faculty of reason.

So I hope we can have productive conversations and discussions on this issue.

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