Catholic Prof. to Pope: Agree with Peter Singer

The New York Times can be counted on to publish noted Catholic thinkers–when they attack traditional Catholic beliefCase in point: Notre Dame philosophy professor (of course!) Gary Gutting calls on the Pope to liberalize the Church’s unequivocal opposition to abortion.

Not being Catholic, my concern isn’t Church doctrine. But Gutting shovels personhood theory of a kind no different than perniciously advocated by the notorious pro-infanticide Princeton bioethicist, Peter Singer. From, “Should Pope Francis Rethink Abortion?” (my emphasis):

Other exceptions to the condemnation of abortion arise once we realize that an early-stage embryo may be biologically human but still lack the main features — consciousness, self-awareness, an interest in the future — that underlie most moral considerations. An organism may be human by purely biological criteria, but still merely potentially human in the full moral sense.

False premise alert! Moral consideration based simply on being human remains a relevant consideration throughout much of society (if not the ivory tower).

Gutter contradicts himself. Earlier in the piece, he claims that it is wrong to kill newborns and late term “healthy” fetuses:

Late-term fetuses, for example, are no different biologically or psychologically from babies born prematurely at the same stage of development. It’s hard to see how killing a premature baby is immoral but killing an identical late-term fetus isn’t. At a minimum, aborting a healthy late-term fetus would, except when the mother’s life is at risk, be immoral — which is no doubt why it is seldom, if ever, done.

Late term abortion of healthy fetuses occur more frequently than “seldom.” But why is it wrong?

From conception on, an embryo or fetus is at least potentially human in the sense that, allowed to develop along its natural path, there is a human life ahead for it. As the philosopher Don Marquis has pointed out, one reason it’s wrong to kill a human being is that, when you take a life, you take away a human future.

The same is true when you kill a potential human being: All the human goods that it might have enjoyed are eliminated. At the very least, even early abortions for trivial reasons (e.g., not having to postpone a trip or pass up an athletic competition) would be immoral, even if not the “murder” of pro-life rhetoric.

Now I am confused. All abortions–early, middle, late–”take away a human future.” All eliminate “all the human goods” that might have been enjoyed. 

But under personhood theory–which as we have seen Gutter supports–there is no rational reason to prohibit late term abortion or infanticide, a point Peter Singer makes frequently.

Late term fetuses aren’t yet conscious. Newborns aren’t self aware and have no more (and no less) “interest in the future” than a gestating baby. Indeed, recall the international brouhaha over advocacy for “after birth abortion,” which was predicated explicitly on the belief that newborns aren’t persons. 

Then comes a typical ivory tower sophistic put down:

Another point, seldom discussed, is that not even pro-life advocates consistently act on their belief that any embryo has full moral standing. As the philosopher Peter Smith has noted, they do not, for example, support major research efforts to prevent the miscarriages or spontaneous abortions (many so early that they aren’t ordinarily detected) that occur in about 30 percent of pregnancies. If 30 percent of infants died for unknown reasons, we would all see this as a medical crisis and spend billions on research to prevent these deaths.

First pro-lifers are accused of being radical absolutists. And then, also accused of being hypocrites for not being radical absolutists. 

I don’t know that pro-lifers don’t support research on preventing miscarriage. But research to better ensure that more embryos implant in the uterus would not only be very difficult to do, but would require researching on and destroying early embryos. That seems consistent to me.

Gutting does not argue for legally restricting abortion to comport with his view of when it is a moral act. Rather, he calls for a loosening of the current CC’s opposition to almost all abortions.

Since moral objection is the only protection all unplanned fetuses have against being aborted, Gutting’s prescription would just result in even more abortions than currently performed. Are there never enough?

But the real danger here from my perspective is his advocacy of personhood theory in an article aimed at softening Catholic opposition to abortion.

That wouldn’t just endanger nascent and newborn human life, but also people on the other end, who have lost the supposed capacities that accord moral value–opening the door to what I guess we could call “late-stage-of-life abortion.”

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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