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In March of 2015, a Coloradan woman, Michelle Wilkins, was lured to a meet-up arranged on Craigslist and brutally attacked. During the attack, Wilkins, who was seven months pregnant, had her unborn child cut from her body. Wilkins survived the attack but, sadly, her child did not. And, as if to add insult to injury, Wilkin’s unborn child was not recognised as human under Coloradan law.
Legal abortion – which I will define as the state approved murder of an innocent life – is a barbarity no civilised society should tolerate. As the Canadian clinical psychologist and YouTube sensation, Jordan Peterson (1962 – ) commented, “abortion is clearly wrong. You wouldn’t recommend someone you love have one.”
However, this is not to say that abortion isn’t a deeply complex and emotive issue. On the one hand, it is a procedure often used by desperate or easily persuaded women who feel that aborting their unborn child is the only option open to them (which it very rarely is). On the other hand, it is a form of murder cynically exploited by feminist extremists for political purposes.
Pro-choice proponents have several arguments in favour of total and free access to abortion.
The first argument, and the one that carries the greatest degree of credibility, concerns the health of the mother and her ability to safely carry a child to term. The Washington Post, for example, reported a story about an Indian girl who had been repeatedly raped and eventually impregnated by her uncle. An abortion was performed when it was decided she was too young to carry her child to term.
In all honesty, this is a sentiment which I have a great deal of sympathy for. It is very difficult for a woman to be a mother if she is dead, and it would be as wrong to sacrifice the life of the mother for the child as it would be to sacrifice the life of the child for the sake of the mother.
But the argument that abortion is necessary when the health of the mother is in jeopardy does not necessarily translate into the full, absolute, and unquestionable right to abortion. It is merely an argument for the preservation of the life of the mother.
The second argument concerns the health of vitality of the child itself. Often, however, this kind of argument is often used as a disguise for a desire to engage in eugenics. Claiming that a child with down syndrome should be aborted, for example, is the same as saying that people afflicted with certain maladies should not be afforded the same right to life as everybody else.
The third argument concerns instances where pregnancy has been instigated through an act of rape or incest. Whether or not rape should be sufficient grounds for an abortion is a tricky one to grapple with. On the one hand, the mother did not choose to be placed in the situation she has found herself in. And, by extension, birthing, and most probably raising, a child borne of rape may prove to be an insurmountable emotional turmoil for the mother. On the other hand, however, the child did not choose to be conceived through rape, and it is immoral to punish an innocent person for the crimes of another.
In reality, however, the rape justification for abortion is merely a red herring. It is a backdoor method for justifying the total, absolute, and unquestionable access to abortion.
The fourth argument concerns the idea that a woman has the right to abort her unborn child because she has the absolute right to bodily autonomy. In Texas last year, Judge Earl Leroy Yeakel III (1945 – ) overturned Senate Bill Eight which prevented doctors from performing evacuation and dilation abortions by mandating that a child’s heart must stop beating before the procedure can be performed. Yeakel claimed that the decision to abort a child outside the womb is “solely and exclusively the woman’s decision.”
This is the easiest argument to refute. An abortion does not only affect a woman’s body, it also destroys the life of a separate, innocent human being. Furthermore, the right to choose when to have a family is one shared by all people up to a point. A man has the right to wear a condom, he can have a vasectomy, and so forth. Likewise, a woman has every right to use contraceptive birth control, a diaphragm, a female condom, a cervical cap, an intrauterine device, and more. Couples can even refrain from having sex. But the right to family planning ends the moment a child has been conceived.
The fifth argument, and the one that is the most egregious, is the argument that an unborn child does not count as a human life. Much of this is the result of language. We use Latin words like “foetus” and “embryo” to fool ourselves into believing an unborn child is not a human being.
Therein lies the rub. People have always justified evil and immorality by altering the parameters of their morals to suit themselves. People have always justified murder by claiming that the person they are killing is not human. They may argue, for example, that murder is wrong, but that they are justified in aborting their unborn child because they do not see that child as human.
And the biological and physiological question of whether the unborn child is a human being is, without any shadow of a doubt, yes.
This is the case right down to the genetic level. Virtually every cell in our bodies contains thirty thousand or more different genes that are spread out on long strands of DNA known as chromosomes. Now DNA is very special. It is the chemical building block that makes us who we are. It determines whether or not we will go bald, what our eye and hair colour will be, how tall we will be, and much more besides.
If there is anything that DNA is good at it’s replicating itself. This can occur in two ways. At the most basic level, DNA replicates itself through cloning. At the most complex, one set of DNA merges with another set of DNA through sexual intercourse. And in doing so it creates an entirely unique individual.
But how can it do this safely? The answer lies in a process known as meiosis. When the human body makes sex gametes – sperm and ovum – it does so by making a copy of a previous cell. When it does this it keeps itself attached at one point and then condenses to make an ‘X’ shape. The four chromosomes then embrace and transfer some of their genetic material to each other. Finally, the cell split twice to create new sperm or ovum that carries a unique genetic package.
In other words, every sperm cell and every ovum carry a set of chromosomes that has never existed before and will never exist again.
Human beings have a grand total of forty-six chromosomes or twenty-three pairs. The moment a child has been conceived a full set of these chromosomes, known as a diploid, is established. It will receive twenty-three chromosomes from its father and twenty-three chromosomes from its mother.
The average pregnancy lasts between thirty-seven and forty-two weeks. During this time the child growing inside a woman’s body will go through all kinds of wonderful and miraculous changes. At three weeks, it’s brain, heart, gastrointestinal tract, and spinal cord have begun to form. By the fourth and fifth weeks, the heart is pumping rudimentary blood through the child’s veins with a steady rhythm. By the sixth week, the child’s fingers and toes have begun to form, and the child’s heartbeat can now be detected. By the end of the second month, all the child’s essential organs have begun to form.
And there’s still another seven months to go! By the fourteenth to sixteenth weeks, the child will begin to move around, its liver and pancreas will have begun to secrete fluid, and its fingerprints will begin to form. By the seventeenth to the twentieth week, the mother will be able to feel her child moving around inside her, it’s heartbeat will be detectable via a stethoscope, and its fingernails, toenails, eyebrows, and eyelashes will have started to grow.
By the twenty-fourth through to the twenty-sixth week, the child’s brain will be rapidly developing, the nervous system will be developed to a sufficient enough degree to give the child some control, albeit minutely, over its own movements, it will have developed a startle reflex, and its sleeping cycles will be perceptible to the mother. A child born at this stage can survive outside the womb with the assistance of modern medical technology. By the thirty-third to thirty-sixth week, the child will shift into the birthing position and will rapidly put on weight. Within weeks, a fully formed human being will be born.
Any discussion about abortion must begin with the scientific truth that an unborn child is a human life. Only after that truth has been acknowledged can factors like the health of the mother, the vitality of the child, cases of rape and incest, and bodily autonomy can be considered. The preservation of innocent life is the most important responsibility for every person living in a free society. The way we respond to this issue will define us for decades to come.
February 3rd last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the execution of Ronald Ryan (1925 – 1967), the last man to be hanged in Australia. Since then, the general consensus has been that the death penalty constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment. Contrarily, however, it is the opinion of this author that the death penalty is not only just, but a key part of any justice system.
There are two main arguments against the death penalty. First, that it is an exceptionally expensive form of punishment. And second, that the death penalty leaves no room for non-posthumous exoneration.
The first argument is one of economics, not of morality or of justice. It does not argue that the death penalty is immoral, only that it is expensive. What this argument suggests is that a price tag can be placed on justice. That the most important factor determining a case is not whether justice is served, but how much money it will cost.
The way a society punishes murder is reflective of the value that society places on a human life. The life of a human being is not something that can have a time-based value placed upon it. It is something that has immeasurable value and purpose. The Norwegian mass-murderer, Anders Breivik, a man responsible for the death of seventy-seven people, received a sentence of just twenty-one years for his heinous crimes. A society that decides that the value of an individual’s life amounts to only one-hundred days is one that has no respect for the sanctity of life.
The second argument carries a great deal more weight. It is an undeniable fact that innocent people have, and continue to be, executed for crimes they did not commit. In the United States, prejudice against African Americans, Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, and other people often meant that justice was not as blind as it should have been. Furthermore, in an era before DNA evidence, convictions were based upon less reliable physical evidence and eyewitness testimony. And such evidence naturally carried a higher rate of false convictions.
There are two problems with the innocence argument. First, the advent of DNA along with other advances in forensic science has meant that the possibility of executing an innocent person is very low. DNA may not be foolproof, but when combined with eyewitness testimony and additional physical evidence, it makes a guilty verdict all the more concrete.
Second, the innocence argument is not an argument against the death penalty. Rather, it is an argument against executing an innocent person. It only applies when the condemned man is not actually guilty of the crime he has been convicted of. What it does not address is how a person whose guilt is certain beyond all possible reasonable doubt ought to be treated. When an individual’s guilt is that certain the innocence argument no longer carries any weight.
There are two primary arguments for the death penalty. First, that there are crimes so heinous and criminals so depraved that the only appropriate response is the imposition of the death penalty. And second, that the death penalty is an essential aspect of a just and moral justice system.
That there are crimes so heinous, and criminals so depraved, that they deserve the death penalty is self-evident. Carl Panzram (1892 – 1930), a thief, burglar, arsonist, rapist, sodomite, and murderer, told his executioner: “hurt it up, you Hoosier bastard, I could kill a dozen men while you’re screwing around.” Peter Kürten (1883 – 1931), also known as the Vampire of Düsseldorf, told his executioner that to hear the sound of his own blood gushing from his neck would be “the pleasure to end all pleasures.” Finally, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (1942 – 1994) was convicted of forcibly sodomising, torturing, and strangling thirty-three boys and young men. The question, then, is not whether or not any individual deserves the death penalty, it is whether or not the state should have the power to execute someone.
The answer to this question is undoubtedly yes. It is frequently forgotten, especially by humanitarians, that the key aspect of a criminal penalty is not rehabilitation or deterrence, but punishment.
In other words, what makes a justice system just is that it can convict a person fairly and impose on them a penalty that is commensurate with the nature and severity of the crime that person has committed. What separates the death penalty from extra-judicial murder is that the condemned person has been afforded all the rights and protections of law, including due process, a fair and speedy trial, the right to trial by jury, the presumption of innocence, and so forth, regardless of their race, religion, sexuality, or gender. When a sentence of death is imposed upon a murderer, it is not a case of an individual or group of individuals taking vengeance, but of a legitimate court of justice imposing a penalty in accordance with the law.
What makes the death penalty an integral part of any justice system is not that it constitutes a form of revenge (which it does not) or that it may deter other individuals from committing similar crimes (which it also does not). What makes it just is that constitutes a punishment that fits the crime that has been committed.