PRO-LIFE: A QUALITY-OF-LIFE CASE
Lantern Hollow Press is about producing literature that reflects a biblical world view. One aspect of that world view is that values human life as something sacred and deserving protection from the law, including in the womb. I’d like to try a bit of a different spin on that aspect of Christian thinking today.
Christian Pro-Lifers usually reject out of hand “quality-of-life” arguments about abortion, insisting that only a sanctity-of-life understanding gives us a fully valid basis for making such judgments. They are right to do so for many reasons. But I think that even the quality-of-life argument for abortion fails, fails miserably, and can be shown to fail miserably.
Pro-Choice arguments trying to spin abortion as a charitable act often focus on the various trials and hardships in life that a foetus unfortunate enough to be “unwanted” or handicapped is going to be spared. That seems reasonable until you apply it to some actual test cases. Let’s take a seriously handicapped individual who actually lived, Helen Keller. Did she think her life of such a quality as to be not worth living? It doesn’t seem so. Let’s try again. Does Stephen Hawking think his life of such a quality as to be not worth living? Would he, in other words, prefer non-existence to being bound to a wheelchair and having to talk through a computer? Clearly not; if he did prefer non-existence (assuming that is his concept of what death would be), he could surely arrange to have it.
O.K., let’s try a different kind of case. I have known a few Down Syndrome victims (a condition whose detection often now leads to elective abortion), and I certainly consider them unfortunate. But not one of them wanted to die. Not one of them, once able to make the choice, would have chosen non-existence over the quality of the life he or she enjoyed. (Never mind the consequences of such a choice for an eternal soul—we are limiting ourselves here to considerations about the quality of the present life only, for the sake of argument.) Maybe some people in these situations would so choose; but it only takes one who would not to raise serious ethical questions about the quality-of-life case for abortion.
What is that ethical dilemma? Well, here’s the next question: Would any of these people appreciate it if you unilaterally made the decision whether their lives were worth living for them without consulting them? Especially if you decided in the negative and proceeded to enact that decision! What would you be guilty of if you did so? Hmmmm.
Another question: What difference does it make if you make that preemptive decision about the value of someone else’s life before he or she can be consulted on the matter? Would this timing make that person’s murder (what else can we call it?) less heinous, or more? That’s a hard question. Here’s an easier one: Would you want to be deprived of the choice to determine for yourself whether your own life was worth living? That’s just the Golden Rule, right? If you would not, how can you justify depriving someone else of the same . . . er . . . right to choose?
One might point out that once we have added the Golden Rule it is no longer a purely quality-of-life ethic. Something other than considerations of quality, the principle of “Do as you would be done by,” is now determining our choices. Exactly. A pure quality-of-life ethic would not really be an ethic at all. And therefore nobody has one. Little deontological bits of what Lewis called the Tao (like the Golden Rule) are always snuck in. The Golden Rule is, after all, pretty hard to argue against.
There are then many problems with a quality-of-life ethic, and I am not advocating one. But it is worth pointing out: Even when one is trying really hard to operate on a quality-of-life basis, once we add so simple and universally accepted a moral principle as The Golden Rule to our consideration of the facts, abortion is still very difficult to distinguish from murder and impossible to justify.
Donald T. Williams is R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College. He is the author of nine books, including Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams, Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy, and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd edition, revised and expanded, all from Lantern Hollow Press. To order, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.
Posted on June 23, 2014, in Christianity, Donald Williams, Philosophy, Theology and tagged Abortion, Golden Rule, Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Quality of Life, Sanctity of Life, world View. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.