Tuesday, December 01, 2015

PIty both sides can't lose

Guy Williams
Thank you from this pro-life mainliner for the reminder that many of you sectarians are pretty okay with lawlessness when the law in question doesn't strike your fancy. Echoes of Kim Davis.
And for the record, yes, a physician has the moral/ethical/legal obligation to save even Pablo Escobar needing an embolization. Anyone with a cursory understanding of medical ethics or law knows that.

That's in response to this post:

Let's peel the layers of the onion:

1. He doesn't explain what he means by calling me a "sectarian." 

2. I don't concede that Kim Davis was lawless. 

3. Only a fanatic like Hobbes is an absolutist about the rule of law. The law exists for the sake of morality, not vice versa. Sometimes it's permissible or obligatory to break the law. I commend the Jewish midwives for defying Pharaoh's edict (Exod 1). I commend Christians who illegally sheltered Jews during WWII. I commend businesses that broke Jim Crow laws. 

4. He doesn't bother to identify what lawlessness I'm "okay" with. What law did my post advocate breaking? None. 

For instance, my final paragraph said: But there's no moral obligation to save the life of a contract killer. People in the business of taking innocent lives should kill at their own risk. They are not entitled to protection. You can't obligate others to rescue you in that situation.

That, however, is hardly an incitement to lawlessness. There's no legal mandate for me to get involved in that situation. Supposed I happen to be walking by an abortion clinic when gunfire breaks out. There's no legal mandate for a private citizen to step into that situation. There's no legal mandate for me to call the cops. So it's unclear what Guy imagines he's referring to. 

5. Suppose there's a turf war between the Cali cartel and the Medellin cartel. Drug cartels don't like competition. 

I don't take sides in that conflict because there's no side to root for. As Kissinger would say, it's a pity both sides can't lose.

I'd say the same thing about Scott Roeder and George Tiller. They deserve each other. 

If Scott Roeder were on the lam, I'd have no moral or legal obligation to either cover for him or report him to the authorities. Both sides kill at their own risk. I disapprove of each. 

6. Although I've given my reasons for opposing anti-abortion violence on several occasions, let's briefly review:

i) If a person has dependents, he has a prior obligation to care for his dependents. As a rule, he doesn't have a right to take actions that would jeopardize his ability to fulfill his prior obligations. An exception might be a member of the armed services. We could discuss the permutations of that exception.

Likewise, this can apply to the future as well as the present. If I'm an only child, my parents may need me to care for them in their old age. That's something I should make allowance for. 

ii) Nowhere does Scripture indicate that Christians have a general obligation to be vigilantes, even though the Roman Empire was rife with injustice. If that was a Christian duty, we'd expect the NT to say so somewhere or another. 

In the OT, there's the avenger of blood. Even aside from the question of whether that carries over into the new covenant, the avenger of blood is confined to avenging the wrongful death of relatives. Moreover, that's not so much a command, but a custom that Scripture permits and regulates. 

iii) In his providence, God often puts us in situations where we have limited ability to rectify injustice. 

7. That said, there are situations in which I think vigilantism is justifiable. For instance, the Obama administration has repeatedly demonstrated that it will not protect Americans from Chinese cyberterrorism. Suppose Chinese hackers attempt to penetrate Microsoft's firewall. Suppose Microsoft has the wherewithal to retaliate by planting a worm or virus in Chinese military computers. Since the Federal gov't has abdicated its duty to defend Americans against foreign aggression, I think Microsoft would be justified in acting in self-defense, even if that's technically vigilantism. 

8. Guy asserts that a physician has the moral/ethical/legal obligation to save even Pablo Escobar needing an embolization. "Anyone with a cursory understanding of medical ethics or law knows that."

i) He offers no supporting argument. Legality and morality are hardly interchangeable. An action can be legal but immoral, or moral but illegal. 

ii) Here's an overview of Escobar's illustrious career:

Escobar’s ruthlessness was legendary. His rise was opposed by many honest politicians, judges and policemen, who did not like the growing influence of this street thug. Escobar had a way of dealing with his enemies: he called it “plata o plomo,” literally, silver or lead. Usually, if a politician, judge or policeman got in his way, he would first attempt to bribe them, and if that didn’t work, he would order them killed, occasionally including their family in the hit. The exact number of honest men and women killed by Escobar is unknown, but it definitely goes well into the hundreds and perhaps into the thousands. 
Even being important or high-profile did not protect you from Escobar if he wanted you out of the way. He ordered the assassination of presidential candidates and was even rumored to be behind the 1985 attack on the Supreme Court, carried out by the 19th of April insurrectionist movement in which several Supreme Court Justices were killed. On November 27, 1989, Escobar’s Medellín cartel planted a bomb on Avianca flight 203, killing 110 people. The target, a presidential candidate, was not actually on board. In addition to these high-profile assassinations, Escobar and his organization were responsible for the deaths of countless magistrates, journalists, policemen and even criminals inside his own organization. 
By the mid- 1980’s, Pablo Escobar was one of the most powerful men in the world. Forbes magazine listed him as the seventh-richest man in the world. His empire included an army of soldiers and criminals, a private zoo, mansions and apartments all over Colombia, private airstrips and planes for drug transport and personal wealth reported to be in the neighborhood of $24 billion. He could order the murder of anyone, anywhere, anytime. 

But according to Guy, a physician has a moral/ethical obligation to save his life, even though Escobar will use his renewed lease on life to order the deaths of hundreds or thousands of additional innocents, including entire families. Not surprisingly, Guy doesn't bother to explain how that's morally obligatory. 

Let's take another example, if Himmler was wheeled into the ER with a pulmonary embolism, would Guy say a Jewish physician has a moral/ethical obligation to save his life–knowing that will ensure genocide? 

iii) You can't just stipulate ethical obligations. An argument from human authority can't leverage moral norms. You can appeal to natural law or revealed moral norms. 

iv) In fact, I'd take it a step further. Suppose jihadists shoot up a synagogue full of worshipers. Suppose the synagogue has security guards who return fire. Both jihadists and security guards are wounded in the melee. The security guards have irreparable damage to their liver and kidneys. They need organ transplants to survive. 

In that situation, I think physicians would have a right to euthanize the jihadists and harvest their organs to save the lives of the security guards they shot. 


  1. Guy Williams

    "And for the record, yes, a physician has the moral/ethical/legal obligation to save even Pablo Escobar needing an embolization. Anyone with a cursory understanding of medical ethics or law knows that."

    As a friend points out:

    "(3) In situations not covered above, it may be ethically permissible for physicians to decline a potential patient when...(c) A specific treatment sought by an individual is incompatible with the physician’s personal, religious, or moral beliefs." (Source)

  2. I hate to seem to agree with anyone who sneers at Kim Davis (as evidently Guy Williams does). In fact, the best principles for disagreeing with you actually _support_ Kim Davis, but I won't take up everyone's time by going into that.

    Anyway, I have to disagree with you pretty strongly in this series, Steve.

    First, there is the issue of the doctor-patient relationship. A person who happens to be a doctor may also, wearing a different hat, be an executioner (for example), but he shouldn't be both at once. Qua doctor treating a patient, he is obligated to set aside questions of whether the patient is a good or evil person and do what is best for the patient. That is his duty as a doctor. It is of the essence of the doctor-patient relationship, which it is important not to corrupt. This is why, for example, doctors should not be saying that they don't want to save a patient's life because nobody loves that person, or his life is pretty miserable, or whatever, and hence the utilitarian judgement is that their resources are "not well spent" saving that person. The doctor's job qua doctor is not to make those decisions but rather to treat the patient before him. Anything else is completely corrupting to the medical profession. It is the utilitarian ethicists that are trying to undermine this and involve the doctor in deciding what is "best for the community" etc. rather than having this special and exclusive responsibility to the patient as a person under his care. We shouldn't help them out with that.

    Second, about executions: The fact that a person deserves to die doesn't just make him fair game for anyone who happens to come along. If I happen to know that the guy across from me at dinner has done something heinous and deserves to die, that doesn't make it okay for me to drop a dollop of cyanide into his drink, and if I do so, I'm not an executioner but a vigilante. A society in which any old body can kill somebody because he's a bad guy, or he's planning later to do something evil, etc., is not a well-ordered polity but a state of anarchy, and that's not a good thing.

    Moreover, executions must be done in a way that recognizes the imago dei in the person being killed. This is not pacifism, since it acknowledges the rightness and justice of execution, rightly done. But no execution should turn the person executed into a mere object or thing. This is why it is wrong to use executed criminals (even those who deserved to die) for cannibalistic feasts. This is why it is wrong to torture to death even those who deserve to die. This is why it is wrong to carry out medical experimentation upon people on death row. And this is also why it is deeply wrong to take the organs of executed prisoners, even those who deserve to die, so that their bodies get "used up" for others--yes, even those they harmed. All such activities are a form of dehumanization of the criminal. And no matter how wicked the criminal is, and even if he can be rightly executed, he must never be dehumanized.

  3. By the way, patching Himmler up in the ER doesn't "insure" genocide, any more than giving Himmler a drink of water or giving birth to Himmler "insures" genocide. Himmler is the one who commits genocide, not the person who gives him life in some context or other.

    If a doctor is responsible for HImmler's genocide because he patched him up in the ER as an adult, why isn't his mother responsible for his genocide because she gave him food as an infant? If it's okay for a doctor to refuse (on the grounds of the evil actions Himmler will otherwise carry out) to patch Himmler up as an adult when the doctor is confronted with him in the ER, would it also be okay for a fireman with prophetic powers to leave him to die in a burning building at the age of three?