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Monday, September 29, 2003

On my way to class today, I saw something somewhat thought provoking. In the plaza by Hornbake library, there was a large, two-tiered, circular construct (it looked like a massive cake, with the top tier being smaller in circumfrence than the bottom) with pictures which alternately portrayed the holocaust, various scenes from Rwanda and other African civil wars, and abortions. In a few places, they also put up a definition of genocide, which was approximately as follows:

The targetted killing of a given group, which the exterminator has deemed unwanted.

The implication being, of course, that abortion was the targetted killing of fetuses, which they deemed a genocide on par with, say, the holocaust. It strikes me, naturally, that this definition is overly broad. Does anyone intentionally target someone for death, while at the same time not deeming them "unwanted?" It extends to any instance where multiple people are killed intentionally due to some common characteristic. Therefore, Columbine was "genocide." I tend to hate this sort of conflation - as if mass murder, on its own, were somehow something we consider morally palatable, but when you cross that line into genocide, well boy, now you've crossed the line.

I actually decided, against my better judgement, to go and eat my lunch on one of the benches near them (I was eating a chicken sandwich - the chickens, of course, being the victems of a vicious genocide, I half expected to be stopped. I am glad to report that I wasn't.) This resulted in my hearing a number of the conversations people had with these activists. It was about equally split between people who composed the proverbial "choir" to which these folks were preaching, and sophomoric philosophy majors who were going to convince these people that they were wrong, goddamnit. It struck me that a lot of the assumptions people make about what ought to be a pretty tangental issue in women's health are things I hadn't ever considered. I've always been of the personal opinion that abortion is an undesirable outcome personally, but not one which should be interfered in by the government, and that's all there is to say about it. It's one of those issues I considered really interesting to talk about back in seventh or eighth grade, but currently on the long list of things debated to death despite being of no consequence.

One of the things I got to thinking about was the question of whether people actually have some sort of medical right to have procedures performed on them, if those procedures were simply things which could alleviate some degree of burdon in the short-term. All in all, one really does have to view abortion as a medical procedure on par with the removal of a kidney unless one seeks to elevate a fetus to a status it ought not possess (moral consideration and all that.) A natural consequence of most of the arguments I heard today with regards to a fetus "having a bad life" if it is born to "parents who are not prepared" seem to be implicitly granting ethical consideration to future consciousness - a tricky area. So the real question appears to come down to whether or not the government ought to be able to regulate acceptable medical practice.

I think the answer here is a pretty solid "yes." Given that the government has the burdon of establishing regulatory committees to oversee things like malpractice, and in some sense incurs costs by maintaining a justice system which holds people accountable therein, it is a natural extension of this to say what does and does not constitute legitimate medical practice. If, for example, I want a doctor to surgically fasten a zebra leg through my stomach, it would be reasonable beyond a shadow of a doubt to say that this is the type of thing which they have a compelling interest in disallowing. A normative justification for government regulation of this specific profession is also, of course, that generally when you need a doctor you are in a naturally coerced situation. One cannot shop around or haggle prices if one has a snapped fibia. But it's possible you're a crazy libertarian, and don't believe that the government ought to be the ones creating things like the ABA or its medical analog, and think the market will solve. I will admit - if you think that hundreds of people ought to die before establishing a given doctor or medical establishment as illegitimate enough to warrent the information's dissemination through the mass media, there's little else I can say to you.

Anyway, given this, there seems to be little real basis for a "right to abortion." Even the SCOTUS decisions regarding it only limit the normative justification for abortion to right to privacy from the government in medical decisions, something which only goes so far. For example, say you decide to take large amounts of pain killers or have an unlicensed surgeon operate on you to give you larger breasts. Are these protected classes of medical procedures?

Don't get me wrong. I think the social harms of banning abortion (not the least of which being that it wouldn't actually prevent abortions - the rate stayed about the same before and after Roe v. Wade) outweigh any benefit of satisfying the social conscience which it appears to violate so egregiously. But is it really a right, in the conventional sense?

Give me your thoughts. :/

cranked out at 2:48 PM | |

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