Investigating NFP: The Great Embryo Killer? (Part II)

"And finally, one person’s modus ponens is another person’s modus tollens. One could simply conceive of this whole argument as a reductio ad absurdum of the cornerstone of the argument of the pro-life movement, namely that deaths of early embryos are a matter of grave concern."

"[Footnote ii.] John Harris makes a similar argument for procreation. If one is genuinely concerned about embryonic death, then one should choose reproductive techniques that minimise embryonic death. If IVF had developed to the point that a pregnancy could be brought about at minimal cost of embryonic death, then one would be required to refrain from reproducing through sexual intercourse, because it would come at a needlessly high cost of embryonic death. Harris (Harris,2 p 346) takes this to be a reductio ad absurdum of the reverence with which the pro-life movement treats embryos in the discussion about stem cell research."

A commenter at Pandagon (language warning) believes that such a reductio is the true aim of this paper, rather than serious discussion of the ethical issues involved. It is important to note that by the end of the article, Bovens has subtly changed his argument. Whether NFP causes additional spontaneous abortions due to its rules is no longer of paramount importance. He needs only to point out that in typical use, NFP fails far more often than the Pill does. He’s pointing out that if you believe embryos should be protected from dying unneccessarily, you should choose the method of birth control that results in the fewest embryo deaths. Based on failure rates, the Pill fits the bill and thus Bovens believes he has reduced pro-life arguments against abortifacient devices and medicines to absurdity. Biologist PZ Meyers, who blogs at Pharyngula, summarizesBovens implied argumentwell.

"[P]regnancies fail all the time anyway, even if the eggs are fertilized at the optimum time. Trying to get pregnant is always going to be an exercise in baby killing, if you believe that a freshly fertilized zygote is a a fully fledged human being—that baby is going to get flushed spontaneously about half the time."

"[…]If we accept the anti-choicer’s claim that the zygote is a baby at the moment of fertilization, and the abortion rate is about 46 million per year world wide, and the number of live births is approximately equally to the number of spontaneous abortions, and the number of babies born last year was about 80 million…that means God killed almost twice as many babies as the abortionists did last year. That psychopathic bastard."

"I want to see the anti-choicers start picketing churches instead of abortion clinics."

Surely this is not a new argument in the pro-life vs pro-choice debate. However, Bovens’ "wry philosopher’s joke" will likely make it popular again, especially in the MSM.Lindsay Beyerstein, who blogs at Majikthise, puts a fine point on the argument.

"It seems a little odd to classify intrinsically non-viable embryos as a rights-bearing subjects. Ex hypothesi, these embryos aren’t even potential fetuses or potential babies because they’re too damaged to gestate."

The best answer I can give Bovens, Meyers, and Beyerstein, while avoiding explicitly religious arguments, focuses on which embryos die. In the case of natural spontaneous abortions,only "unfit" embryos die. In the case of artificially induced spontaneous abortions, some of the embryos killed would otherwise be viable. There is a distinct difference between allowing nature to ensure survival of the species through natural abortion and deliberately killing embryos that "made the cut". Quoting Whitty one last time:

"The article fails to acknowledge the distinction between natural loss and loss caused by deliberate human intervention; common sense and every criminal law system recognise the importance of knowledge and intent in human responsibility; in particular, the fact that accidental deaths happen does not justify causing similar deaths. Bovens adopts Harris’ perspective, that the knowledge that some embryos will not naturally survive, amounts to convicting any couple then continuing to conceive naturally of “destruction” (3) of embryos. This is a thesis open to redutio ad absurdum, and rests on [John] Harris’ having dismissed to his satisfaction the double effect principle patently used universally in daily life and medical practice."

To that I’d add the question, "What ever happened to the hippocratic notion of doing no harm?" Doing no harm does not mean guaranteeing immortality, which no sane doctor would ever think of, but minimizing the outright harm we do. Current medical sciencecannot tell us which embryos are viable and which ones aren’t. If an abortifacient device or drug kills an embryo that would have been spontaneously aborted anyway, no harm’s been done (assuming there are no nasty side effects). On the other hand, what if we kill viable embryos?

"50% or more embryos die naturally before implanting", is poor argument for deliberately taking the lives of those that nature spares. Viability at various stages of life is sometimes defined by the state of medical practice and the affordable availability thereof. In poor countries where good obstetric care is hard to come by, a lot of babies aren’t viable. Is it odd to classify them as rights-bearing subjects? How about people with terminal cancers; are they less than human? How about victims of natural disasters? If half a village does in an earthquake, should we kill a few that survive to make our lives more convenient?

Embryos ought to be treated as human beings with inherent dignity and right to life. History is filled with stories of the horrors created by trying to control who has a right to live and who doesn’t. Now we’re beginning to learn that bad things happen when people decide who gets to be born and who doesn’t.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

2 thoughts on “Investigating NFP: The Great Embryo Killer? (Part II)

  1. Pingback: Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Investigating NFP: The Great Embryo Killer? (Part I)

  2. Pingback: Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Bovens’ Bovine Excrement

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