If there’s one thing Yale has too much of, it’s overbearing, sentimental moralizing. Which is why I’d like to commend James Mendelson for his emotionless, logical approach to abortion in his recent column, “Marching for Reason” (Feb. 6).
As he rightly points out, “In all pregnancies, there exists an extraordinarily high likelihood of miscarriage.” The implication, naturally, is that a fetus cannot be a “meaningful, organized being,” because it’s very likely it won’t be around for very long.
Mendelson may be on to something. Life is a dangerous proposition. It seems not a day goes by that a morsel of this or a dollop of that isn’t found to cause cancer or some other malady. I hear they were only days away from stamping newborns with, “This item is known to cause cancer by the state of California.” If only that budget crisis hadn’t killed the funding. But I digress.
Fact: Life has the unavoidable side effect of death, and you may experience the onset of symptoms any day. Apply one part Mendelson logic — one cannot really claim that something is a person if there’s a good chance it might die, and … bam! People who might not survive, namely all of them, are not really people. Whoops.
But we can go further. Mendelson’s clever use of reductio ad absurdum reveals how strange it is to claim that killing a fetus is murder when so many commonplace actions increase the likelihood of that death. Coffee increases the risk of miscarriage, but no one would accuse Blue State’s proprietors of accessory to murder — celebrating an atmosphere of exclusion perhaps, but no serious crime.
Certainly no one would argue that actions and products that indirectly and marginally harm fully grown people — or rather, homo sapiens sapiens specimens — should be outlawed. Well, except for all those campaigns to outlaw hazardous substances like French fries and stamp out “bad” behaviors, but that’s still not murder. If we knowingly forced someone to drink coffee until they died, that still wouldn’t be murder. Oh wait, it would be, because intent is a large part of our criminal justice system.
You see, there is a great deal of difference between chance and certainty. A man who murdered his aged father for an inheritance could claim nature might have beaten him to it, but it was his bullet that turned that chance, however large, into certainty. It is this finality, this theft of another’s future no matter what our assumptions about it, that our society has always seen as a most grievous crime.
Mendelson’s cold logic falls flat because it fails to account for the complex nature of life versus death and the human desire for a richness of experience. Every activity besides sitting in a sealed clean room with a treadmill and carefully metered nutrient paste is likely to bring you closer to your inevitable demise, but who would fault a parent for not raising their child like that? Who would choose such a life for themselves? The human condition brings a certain fondness for experience which leads us to actions that logic and probability alone do not always warrant. There are a great many unhealthy and dangerous things that we allow others to do to themselves and others merely for the experience and pleasure of them.
Granted, we permit them only so long as we are reasonably certain they will not result in irreparable harm to others. Where that line may be is not as clear as we might hope, but you cannot deny that causing another human’s demise knowingly and purposefully crosses that boundary by a mile. Argue if you will over what constitutes a being worthy of the term human, but “they might have died anyway,” is a pretty poor attempt to strip babies of the term.
John Scrudato is a senior in Morse College.