I was recently confronted in the Emergency Department with a situation I rarely encounter: a woman requesting "the morning after pill." Since I practice in a largely conservative state, for a few minutes I introspectively debated whether I should provide her with such a prescription (italics mine).The portion I emphasized above demonstrates Parker’s first problem. He is looking at this issue as a political issue. But while the issue has been used by politicians, determining the ethics of abortion has nothing to do with politics. Therefore, the fact that Parker lives in a “largely conservative state” ought to have exactly no bearing upon his actions from an ethical perspective. (It might be relevant if he was dealing with a legal issue; but since the so-called “Morning After Pill” is legal in the US, that’s a non-issue here.)
Secondly, Parker displays his ignorance of the rights of man when he writes:
The anti-abortionist position also fails to recognize that human beings are granted rights qua man's status as a rational animal, not qua animal.There are several problems with this. Let’s start with the fact that if we consistently hold to this, then we MUST say that those people who are “more rational” than others have more rights. That is, under this theory, an imbecile does not have the same human rights as a genius. In fact, the smarter one is the more rights a person must have.
Furthermore, it means that adults will by and large have more human rights than children, as most adults are far more rational than most children. As a result, our ethical conditioning to save children before adults in the case of fire, for instance, is not only wrong but evil. If an infant and his mother are caught in a burning building, the ethical choice for the firemen is to save the more rational of the two. Let the infant burn, rescue the mother. But this obviously goes against most of our common ethics (regardless of whether you hold to a Biblical world view).
Further, rationality must be measurable in order for it to have any meaningful usage in Parker’s dictum. But this presents a problem for Parker because whatever tests we use to determine rationality would have to occur when he is conscious. If Parker is asleep, we cannot test his rationality—he would score exactly the same as a non-rational rock! Therefore, if I kill him while he’s asleep I have not killed a rational human being at all under his definition. Therefore, if we are consistent with his ethic, no murder has occurred.
Finally, Parker’s claims about the rationality of the person are identical to the views of those who defined slaves as non-persons. Black slaves were considered less-rational than whites, and therefore whites could own them. If we take Parker’s position that rights come about based on something that is not linked to our humanity but instead to some other ontological feature, then human rights cease to be human rights and instead become whatever rights the ruling political class allows. In Parker’s case, human rights become rational rights. And as soon as we change rights in this manner we can begin to exclude whomever we deem unfit.
Additionally, I must point out that the Christian response to Parker is that human rights are not “granted” at all, but exist due to the fact that humans are created in the image of God.
Parker also tries to make a distinction between the actual and the possible. He writes:
In reality, the potential is not the actual, nor is an entity's parts the same as the entity itself and rights can only be granted to actual rational entities.Again, Parker treats human rights as if they can somehow be “granted.” But if they are granted that implies a grantor. What grants those rights to us? If he says it’s the law, then all that needs be done is that we modify the law. If the law grants rights, we can change the law to say, “People named Parker can be executed” and that would not be unethical. If it’s the consent of the people, we can still get enough people together to say, “People named Parker can be executed.” Is that not what every oppressive regime does? Hitler’s Germany decided Jews had no right to life, so they could be killed. How is this a violation of the rights of Jews unless the “grantor” of the right is something beyond either communal law or the consent of the governed?
Also note that Parker’s claim is that a fetus is potentially rational. (Again, this requires us to assent to his idea that rationality is what determines rights—something we’ve already shown above to be flawed.) This comes to fruition when we read:
Individual rights should not and cannot be granted to potentialities because they are metaphysically distinct from actualities. The potential and actual therefore have distinct moral and political implications.Let us use his reasoning here. If human rights come about because of the humanity of the object, rather than Parker’s invention of “rationality” then we see that the fetus actually satisfies the requirements above at gaining “individual rights.” A fetus is a human being. This is a scientific fact. Human beings have human fetuses. Humans cannot have cat fetuses, humans cannot have walrus fetuses; humans have human fetuses. The fetus is human from conception, and this is scientifically undeniable. Therefore, if rights come about due to the humanity of the fetus rather than due to the rationality of the fetus, we have proven using Parker’s own methodology that the fetus actually has human rights because the fetus actually is human.
Parker then continues:
Another flaw with the anti-abortionist view is the failure to acknowledge the proper metaphysical relationship between mother and the unborn fetus. The fetus is physically within the mother and connected to her via the placenta and umbilical chord. It is directly physically dependent on the mother for all of its life sustaining needs-oxygen, energy and safety from the external environment. The relationship between mother and fetus is not that of two distinct human entities, but rather that of an independent human being (the mother) with rights and a dependent physical appendage, something that is physically within and part of the mother and therefore cannot have individual rights.Note that Parker is arguing that rights are not just dependent upon rationality (his original claim) but also upon the location of the individual and also the relationship of that individual to another individual. As I did before with his “rationality” argument, I want to examine the outcome of this thinking.
First of all, Parker is flat out wrong when he says “The relationship between mother and fetus is not that of two distinct human entities” because scientifically, it is exactly that. The fetus is a distinct human being and the mother is a distinct human being. It is true that the fetus is dependent upon the mother, but dependency does not affect rights! If it did, parents ought to have the right to kill all their dependants. Infants cannot live on their own. They require nurture. Under Parker’s theory, it ought to remain moral to kill infants.
Furthermore, as a doctor I’m sure that Parker can think of several cases when a person is under anesthesia. That person is now completely dependant upon the doctors for his well-being. Is it morally justifiable for a physician to kill a patient under his care because the patient is now completely dependent upon the doctor? Of course not. A person does not lose his rights simply because he is dependent upon others for his well-being.
Likewise, Parker has determined that the location of a human being can determine whether or not that human being has rights. But what is the rational basis for that argument? This is an ad-hoc claim, completely unsupportable. How does the location of the fetus change the rights of the fetus? How could the fetus have no rights when, if he was moved just a few inches away, he would have full rights? How is such a thing justifiable ethically? Parker cannot simply assert that it is the case that the fetus has no rights based on location: he must prove this claim.
Individual rights cannot be granted to the parts of human entities-to do so would make a surgeon a murderer when he removes a healthy kidney from a patient for an organ transplant, an internist a murderer when he poisons a tapeworm to achieve its removal from a patient's intestine, a dermatologist a killer when he removes a mole from a patient's face.But of course a fetus is NOT a “part” of the mother. The fetus is a complete human being distinct from the mother. That is the point. If the fetus was a part of the mother, the fetus would remain a part of the mother after birth. Just as the removal of a kidney does not transform it into some other person, so removing a fetus would not transform the fetus into some other person. If Parker wants to play that game, he’s proven himself irrational…which means I can ethically kill him.
The basis for individual rights lies in man's nature as a rational animal, as a living being with a volitional consciousness (free will). The concept of individual rights can therefore only be properly understood in the context of a rational independent entity, not in the context of a living thing with rudimentary sensations.We’ve already addressed this earlier, but note that nowhere does Parker actually argue for this. He merely asserts it as if it were true.
Finally, Parker says:
The metaphysical act of birth, when the unborn makes the transition from mere potential to an actual human being and successfully separates from the mother to become a separate metaphysical entity, an actual living being with a volitional consciousness, confers the moral and political concept of rights.Birth is a metaphysical act? Moving a few inches down the birth canal changes the metaphysical nature of a fetus?
If one thing is obvious, it’s that Parker has no philosophy degree.
Even if we pretended metaphysics changes at birth, his reasoning is still completely wrong. Before birth, the fetus is distinct from the mother. This is self-evident because you can locate the fetus! The fetus is therefore a separate entity from the mother. That the fetus is connected to the mother does not make the fetus any more equivalent to the mother than the fact that my touching another human being makes us the same person. The fetus is also alive before birth. What is an abortion if not the killing of the fetus? You cannot kill what isn’t alive. Regardless of how you look at it, the fetus is most certainly a living organism, distinct from rocks, gasses, and all other non-living objects. Furthermore, if the fetus has a “volitional consciousness” at birth, it most certainly had it moments before birth too. The act of birth does not create the “volitional consciousness” of the fetus, nor does it animate the fetus. These things were already in place before the birth occurred.
In point of fact, the only thing the act of birth does is confer political rights. But political rights are not the same thing as moral rights. Politically, it was okay to own slaves in 1800. Morally, it was not okay to own slaves. Politically, it may be okay to kill unborn human beings; morally, it is not okay to do so.
Parker says: “This is the reason why I provided this patient with the morning after pill and the reason why I am not a murderer.” But a murder is someone who takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification. And “because the mother wants to” is not proper justification for taking the life of an unborn human being. Therefore, Parker is a murderer. Not in the legal sense, of course. But not all who are murderers are legally murderers.