July 10, 2014

Same-sex marriage, Subway sandwiches

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, July 10, 2014

Same-sex marriage, Subway sandwiches

A popular internet argument (meme) dismisses concerns about same-sex marriage by drawing a comparison to choosing a Subway sandwich. It persuades many, but it's mistaken.

Here's the argument: "I went to Subway today to get my favorite sandwich. The guy in front of me ordered a different sub. I was pissed because he didn’t get the same sub as me, even though it didn’t affect me in any way. This is what people sound like when they say gay marriage affects them. LOL."

So, just as someone's choice of a particular sandwich doesn't affect anyone else, and so we shouldn't be concerned, so too gay marriage doesn't affect anyone else, and so we shouldn't be concerned. Thus, voicing concerns about gay marriage is silly—laughable.

The argument's analogy, however, is faulty. The sandwich choice is a personal matter, but the legal redefinition of marriage is a public policy matter.

Granting legal status to same-sex marriage affects others in multiple ways.

First, it changes the public's understanding of the minimal requirement of marriage from (a) the union of a man and woman who can (at least in principle) reproduce sexually via their union and nurture their biological children to (b) a union of two adults regardless of their sexual noncomplementarity, requiring new reproductive methods and new family structures.

According to political philosopher Ryan T. Anderson, co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (2012), this change centers marriage on "consenting adult romance" instead of what's best for children. How? By emphasizing adult wants so much so that men and women, mothers and fathers, are made interchangeable when they're not.

Significantly, Anderson argues, reliable studies from the social sciences strongly suggest parenting by married biological parents—i.e., biological mother and biological father—is ideal for the well-being of children.

But same-sex marriage (along with divorce and single parenting) takes society another step away from this ideal.

Also, McGill University ethicist Margaret Somerville points out that same-sex marriage abolishes the child's biologically-based moral right to know and be raised by both biological parents.

Furthermore, according to Somerville, same-sex marriage may normalize In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and thereby exacerbate IVF's problems. (IVF creates leftover frozen human embryos, i.e., human beings; often requires "selective termination," i.e., abortion of unwanted implantations/ fetuses; exploits women as surrogates and egg suppliers; plus threatens to turn children into commodities.)

Also, same-sex marriage is conceptually wed to a non-fallacious slippery slope. According to Anderson, once we redefine marriage broadly as committed adult intimacy instead of the union of a heterosexual couple, why not accept a "throuple" (rhymes with "couple" but involves three or more)?

The rationale for "couple" derives from the one-man-one-woman sexual union requirement—but this requirement has been abandoned. So why stop at two? Why not a polyamorous relationship?

If loving commitment is a sufficient condition for marriage, and if one man and one woman are no longer a necessary condition, then if you love X, you should be able to marry X. But X is a placeholder. (Slate Magazine has published an article arguing in favour of polygamy.)

Finally, religious liberty is affected. For deeply held religious/ moral reasons many citizens believe same-sex sexual relations are wrong.

But with legalized same-sex marriage, public institutions must embrace same-sex marriage as a good that's equivalent to heterosexual marriage. As a result, many public school children are taught what their parents believe is immoral.

Problems also result for businesses and private schools that disapprove of same-sex marriage, as wedding florists, bakers, photographers, and Trinity Western University Law School will attest.

Voicing concern about same-sex marriage is not like getting upset about another's choice of sandwich. Rather, it's like being served a stale sandwich sold under the advertising slogan "Eat Fresh!" and then explaining it's not fresh.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

For further thought:
  • Ryan T. Anderson clearly sets out and develops three negative consequences of same-sex marriage in this 23-minute video presentation. (The subsequent 34-minute Q&A is important, too.)
  • For a truly helpful overview of the traditional understanding of marriage as set out in the book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (by Anderson, Girgis, and George), see John G. Burford's Amazon review. (Also, Burford's succinct outline of the Anderson-Girgis-George reply to the gays-are-like-infertile-heterosexual-couples-who-marry objection is very good.)

June 26, 2014

In Vitro Fertilization unwise

Embryos float in a petri dish held by Dr. David Diaz,
 an Orange County, California, fertility doctor
 (Seatle Times, October 12, 2008)


By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, June 26, 2014

In Vitro Fertilization unwise

Is In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) wise? I don't think so. Let's examine IVF and its pros and cons.

IVF means fertilization "in glass," that is, fertilization in a test tube or Petri dish.

The IVF procedure involves the following steps: (1) a woman's ovaries are stimulated to release multiple eggs; (2) 5-15 eggs are extracted (via minor surgery); (3) sperm is obtained from a donor (via masturbation); (4) eggs and sperm are placed in a Petri dish where fertilization occurs; (5) up to three embryos are placed in a woman's uterus; (6) remaining embryos are frozen.

If IVF is successful, an embryo implants in the uterus and a baby is born nine months later. If not successful, leftover embryos are thawed and more embryos are implanted.

IVF pros/ "pros":

● IVF allows a woman and her husband to have a child if they otherwise have difficulty with getting pregnant. If needed, a donor's sperm or egg can be used.

● Older women whose eggs risk defects may use a donor's egg with her husband's or a donor's sperm.

● IVF makes it possible for women who can't bear children themselves to have their eggs fertilized by their husband (or sperm donor) and use a surrogate mother.

Lesbian couples can have a child using an egg from one partner, sperm from a donor, then have the baby carried to term by the other partner.

● Gay men can have a child, too: egg from a donor, add sperm from one partner, add a surrogate mother.

● Conceivably (sorry) single men and women, gay or straight, could have their own children by using their own or a donor's sperm/ eggs plus a surrogate mother, if needed.

Parents could find egg/sperm donors with specific qualities to create a child of their choice.

IVF concerns/ questions:

● Up to three embryos are placed in the uterus. But what if, as is not uncommon, there's more than one implantation? Possible problems: (1) too many children, thereby perhaps risking mother's health; (2) "selective termination," i.e., abortion of the extra child/ children.

● IVF usually creates more frozen embryos than needed. What about the "leftovers"? Garbage? Research? But science tells us that the human embryo is a human being. Surely, discarding or doing research on human embryos (research that destroys them) is a moral concern. Should embryo creation cease until the frozen leftovers have been implanted or adopted?

● Do biologically-based moral obligations to the IVF child accrue to sperm and egg donors? Biological parents have moral obligations to their offspring—we sue biological fathers for child support because they are biological fathers. So what about the sperm donors who become biological fathers? What about the egg donors who become biological mothers? Do egg and sperm donors violate a nature-based moral duty to their children? Is this unjust to children?

● When sperm and egg donors—i.e., the biological parents—are anonymous, their IVF children struggle deeply with personal identity. For a child, knowledge of and being loved by his/ her biological mother and father are important. But anonymous sperm and egg donors obliterate this connection. Is this unfair to children?

● IVF creates markets for women's eggs and egg harvesting presents serious health risks to women. Is this "eggsploitation"—the exploitation of women for their eggs?

● IVF creates markets for surrogate mothers. Are women (especially vulnerable women) now exploited for their wombs? Does IVF contribute to the creation of a sub-class of women—a.k.a. "breeders"?

● IVF-created people should be loved and respected. But do IVF efforts to create "designer babies" turn children into commodities?

● Finally, what about the many already-born, non-IVF children who need parents? Should they be rescued first? Should their adoption occur instead of IVF?

Is IVF wise? I think the cons outweigh the pros.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

June 12, 2014

Doubting Euthanasia

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, June 12, 2014

Doubting Euthanasia

Is it wise to legalize euthanasia (a.k.a. physician-assisted suicide/ doctor-assisted death)? I doubt it, for five reasons.

1. The popular argument for euthanasia hinges on a false dichotomy: euthanasia or painful death. Significantly, there's a third option: palliative care.

Doris Barwich, M.D., President of Canadian Association of Palliative Care Physicians: "Pain is rarely the reason patients ask for hastened death—it more often comes out of a desire to control the circumstances surrounding death. Fortunately, we can assure our patients that with Palliative Care tools and resources, pain and other distressing symptoms can usually be controlled and support provided to ensure comfort and quality of life."

2. Instead of euthanasia for the (rare) difficult cases, there is palliative sedation.

Journal of the American Medical Association: "Palliative sedation is the use of sedative medications to relieve extreme suffering by making the patient unaware and unconscious (as in a deep sleep) while the disease takes its course, eventually leading to death. The sedative medication is gradually increased until the patient is comfortable and able to relax. Palliative sedation is not intended to cause death or shorten life."

If, foreseeably, palliative sedation hastens death, it needn't be judged unethical. According to ethicist Margaret Somerville, just as death isn't the intended effect of high risk surgery (needed to relieve pain), and so such surgery isn't immoral if death occurs, so too if death isn't the intended effect of high risk pain management, yet death occurs, then such pain management isn't immoral either.

There's an important moral difference between engaging in a procedure with intent to kill (euthanasia) rather than not (palliative sedation). Euthanasia takes the lower moral ground.

3. Allowing terminally ill patients to die from their illness via termination of life support by withdrawing/ withholding extraordinary, burdensome, or medically useless treatment is already a legal and ethical part of palliative care—and doesn't require euthanasia.

Ethicist Scott Rae: "Physicians need not always 'do everything' to stave off death, especially when it involves no more than simply delaying an inevitable death…. Choices about CPR, respirators, and intravenous procedures in the last weeks of life should not be viewed as choices for death."

Euthanasia isn't needed, in other words.

4. Euthanasia imposes a terrible burden on the vulnerable. If life is no longer society's default position, then the most vulnerable members of our society—the elderly, terminally ill, disabled—must justify their continued existence.

This is just plain nasty.
5. According to philosopher Paul Chamberlain, a logical-legal slippery slope looms large.

Consider the notion of patient autonomy and the fact that reasons for one action sometimes also justify unintended actions.

In the context of legalized euthanasia, patient autonomy becomes understood in terms of the following fundamental principle: the sufferer has the right to doctor-assisted death to end his/her suffering.

Significantly, accepting euthanasia as a legal right on the basis of this fundamental principle opens up and justifies many other situations in which persons suffer and request death. These situations include the non-terminally ill, the elderly, the disabled, persons with chronic back pain, the depressed teenager, etc.

Trust legislative safeguards for protection? Good luck. Aside from abuse (one third of Belgium's euthanasia deaths were illegal and lacked patient consent), safeguards fail because courts will do what courts do—promote consistency. Consistency demands that all of the above-mentioned persons, if suffering, and if desiring death (and if represented by a smart lawyer), can be reasonably seen to have the right to death as well.

After all, at the core of these other situations is a sufferer who requests doctor-assisted death, rendering situational differences incidental.

Legalizing euthanasia, then, puts us on a non-fallacious slippery slope that embraces death as a solution.

But medical, social, and psychological problems require medical, social, and psychological solutions—not killing.

Surely, legalizing euthanasia is not wise.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

P.S. For further reading on euthanasia/ physician-assisted suicide, see the following APOLOGIA columns: