Why Pro-Life Counsellors Ought to Lie

Those who are pro-choice often get frustrated by anti-abortion advocates, who are seen as using underhanded and immoral tactics to decrease numbers of abortions. These include presenting misleading information about abortions at their advice centres.
For example, it is claimed that some abortion counsellors show pictures of late-stage abortions when discussing early-stage abortions, exaggerate the trauma felt by people who have had abortions and assert that foetuses feel pain earlier than scientists believe they do. A large part of the opposition to the amendment proposed by Nadine Dorries , which would have prevented bodies which carry out abortions from counselling women, was that this might mean that more women would be counselled by anti-abortion groups who cannot be trusted to provide accurate information about abortion. I’m going to suggest that it is a mistake to think that anti-abortion advisors are failing morally by providing misleading information about abortions. Indeed, they might be failing morally if they did not do so.

The reasoning behind anti-abortion attitudes is often the following:

Foetuses (from conception) are people – full moral agents. (Campaigners in Mississippi are currently trying to get this belief incorporated into their state legislature.)

We don’t have the right to kill people under any circumstances except self-defence.

Therefore, we don’t have the right to perform abortions, except to save the woman’s life.

To someone who holds the above beliefs, a pregnant woman considering an abortion is in a similar position to a mother considering murdering her 3-year-old child. Imagine you were an adviser for the medical services, and a mother came in to seek advice about killing her toddler. The chances are that you would believe that she was contemplating a horrific crime, and would do all in your power to stop her. But assume that it was legal for mothers to kill their toddlers – that you could call neither the police nor social services to prevent the murder from happening. How far would you go, and how far should you go to prevent the murder? Perhaps you would tell the woman about all the mothers you know about who never got over the death of their children, omitting to say that in all those cases the children were teenagers and that you’ve heard of mothers being relieved to be rid of their children. Perhaps, even if the woman was planning to use chloroform, you would tell her how much pain she would cause her child. It seems to me that most people would think it not just allowable but imperative to use such tactics. If you were in this situation, it’s likely you’d think it your duty to say whatever it took to get save the toddler.

Now imagine that you believe that unborn foetuses are full moral agents, and are talking to a pregnant woman who is considering an abortion. You seem to be in a similar position to that above – a mother is proposing to kill her child, and the only thing you can legally do about it is to give advice that leads her to change her mind. If the situation really is similar, you seem to have the same duty to say whatever it takes to get the woman to change her mind.

As it stands, there are important differences between the two cases. A mother with a toddler can easily give away the child rather than killing it; a pregnant woman can’t just give away her child. But what if adoption services took 6 months, and so the mother of toddler couldn’t get rid of it until after that period? Most people would believe that she should put up with the child for that long, not be allowed to kill it.

Perhaps we might think that being pregnant was a greater sacrifice than looking after a toddler. But if the toddler was terribly
behaved, and a real nightmare to look after, would that justify killing it?

It might seem from the argument above that people who are anti-abortion, knowing they cannot be impartial, should avoid advising pregnant women about abortion. But imagine yourself back into the world where certain women are planning to kill their toddlers, and where all that stands between them and a gun is one advice session. Most advisors, to your horror, remain impartial on the issue and try not to influence the mothers’ decisions. In such a world, it seems plausible that it is your duty to train as an advisor, in order to prevent as many murders as you can. Perhaps your doing so would make a couple of mothers worse off, either because they didn’t kill their child when they would have been happier without the child, or because they went through with it but felt guiltier than they would otherwise have done. But it would surely be worth it if you just saved a couple of innocent children. That being the case, it seems that if you believe unborn foetuses are full moral agents, it is your duty to train as an advisor, in order to persuade women against abortions using any tactics at your disposal.

What are the implications of this argument? One implication is that we should not see anti-abortion pregnancy advisors as morally reprehensible if they stretch the truth, misrepresent facts and exaggerate evidence. Those who do not do so are allowing what they see as mass murder to on unimpeded. (Hence we should be suspicious of those who claim to be able to “put aside their ‘ideology’” in order to advise pregnant women.) Given this, and that our society believes that foetuses are not people and that women have a right to abortions, it is crucial that pregnancy advice services be rigorously regulated. Strangely, it is society’s duty to prevent people who are anti-abortion from doing their duty. The best thing to do, of course, would be to persuade people out of the mistaken belief that foetuses are full moral agents. Failing that, it seems plausible that we should seriously consider whether or not to allow people with such beliefs to be pregnancy counsellors, since they must either mislead vulnerable women, or act immorally.

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20 Responses to Why Pro-Life Counsellors Ought to Lie

  • Barry Lyons says:

    Michelle,
    Much of the abortion debate centres on the irreconcilable positions held by the opposing 'pro-choice' and 'pro-life' sides. The 'pro-life' position is that full moral personhood attaches to the foetus – from conception in the Catholic view. You acknowledge this, but then go on to say that this position is incorrect because 'our society believes that foetuses are not people'. However, there are problems with this argument. Firstly, just because legislation, or a majority of people, say that X is false, does not necessarily mean that X is false. Secondly, and I may be wrong here, I am unaware of legislation that says that the foetus is not a moral person. Legislation tends to state that full legal rights do not attach to the foetus. It seems to me that, given your argument, you are committed to a weaker claim – that because abortion (within certain parameters) is a legal act, regulation should prevent advisors with a particular moral viewpoint from delivering misleading information.
    Barry

  • Michelle Hutchinson says:

    Thanks for your comments Barry! I agree, of course, that from the fact that most people believe X, or that the law assumes X, it does not follow that X is true. My understanding is that the beings to whom human rights apply are natural persons, and that legally (in the UK at least, and in the US unless Mississippi passes its bill) natural persons come into being at birth. My argument was that if we endorse the current laws, then we must believe that fetuses are not persons in the full moral sense, and that people who believe that they are persons are incorrect. This leaves room for those who do not endorse the current laws. They may either believe that current abortion laws are wrong, or that the laws on abortion are good ones, but that they are based on a useful fiction about the status of fetuses – they might believe that fetuses are persons but should not be treated as such. However, I was explicitly addressing those who were pro-choice, was assuming that the majority of those fully endorsed the current laws, and was seeking to demonstrate the implications of their views.

  • Mike says:

    Michelle,

    You write: "One implication is that we should not see pro-life pregnancy advisors as morally reprehensible if they stretch the truth, misrepresent facts and exaggerate evidence."

    I think this claim goes too far. Your argument provides a good explanation for why pro-life pregnancy advisors might conclude their own dubious actions are justified, but I see no reason to believe that I ought to conclude the same. Put another way, I can understand why these pro-lifers lie about abortion (i.e. the argument seems valid and I can intellectually understand its appeal), but I believe they are mistaken and acting immorally since, for me, their actions derive from a the false premise that a fetus is a person (i.e. their argument is not sound).

    Anyway, I'm not sure this point changes anything about how you suggest we act with respect to pro-life pregnancy advisors, but I'd be interested to read what you think.

  • Simon Rippon says:

    1) Please don't use the misleading and loaded term "pro-life" when there is a far more accurate and neutral term available to describe what you mean: "anti-abortion". Someone who is "pro-life" in a sense that applies to humans only would literally would be: a) anti capital punishment, b) anti war c) contributing a very large proportion of their income to save people in the third world from starvation and diseases, OR in a sense that applies to all life would be d) vegetarian, e) environmentalist, or even f) anti-human, since we are quite far up the food chain, and practically speaking we have to kill lots and lots of other living beings in order to grow into adulthood and reproduce. Anti-abortionists need not be any of these things, but like to enjoy the positive associations of the "pro-life" moniker, even when the associations are false.

    2) What Mike said! You might be confusing instrumental and moral "oughts" in the post. If you believed the extermination of the Jewish race were a necessary part of the master plan for the survival of humanity, that would not make it the case that you ought morally to try to whip your country into a genocidal war against the Jews, or show that you were not "morally reprehensible" for doing so, though it might explain why you believed falsely that you ought.

  • Michelle Hutchinson says:

    1) I agree, ‘pro-life’ is a misleading term. However, given its prevalence in discussions of abortion, I think it’s clear what is meant, and at this stage in the debate, it might be confusing to use a different term.
    2) I guess I’m using ‘ought’ in Railton’s subjective consequentialist sense – that what you ought to do is the thing which seems, given the evidence available to you, to be the action which will lead to the best consequences. I agree there are problems with using it that way. But I think there are problems using ‘ought’ in a purely objective way as well, since it would often imply that people morally ought to have done actions which they knew of no reason to do. At the end of the day, this kind of seems like a linguistic point, rather than one which will have an impact on our actions. All you can do in any situation is what appears in the light of the evidence available to you to be right.

    • Simon Rippon says:

      1) Come on, Michelle, there's nothing "confusing" about the term "anti-abortion". And you may actually do a lot of harm by using the misleading term you chose instead – by affecting people's perception of the debate in non-rational ways. It is often said that, "a picture tells a thousand words". It is less often recognized that, very often, a word tells a thousand words. There used to be a very prevalent word begining with "n" that was used by white people to refer to black people in the United States. Perhaps its users felt that it was clear what was meant, and that it might be confusing to use a different term. Nevertheless, there were decisive reasons for using a differnt word that had fewer connotations.

      2) "you ought to do the thing which seems, given the evidence available to you, to be the action which will lead to the best consequneces".
      This proposal first needs to be answered with a question: "seems _to whom_?" Secondly, do you have any reason to believe that anti-abortion advocates have indeed taken into account "[all] the evidence available to them"? Third, I think the view is substantively mistaken. You can certainly act as you ought not, morally, because you're ignorant, or irrational, or insufficiently sensitive to the moral texture of the situtation, or because you lack empathy. The point is not merely a linguistic one: for example, I regret some of the things I have done in the past because I came later to see that I acted wrongly, though it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Sometimes this has motivated me to try to make amends. On your view, I acted rightly, and have no reason for regret or for trying to make amends.

      • Michelle Hutchinson says:

        I changed 'pro-life' to 'anti-abortion' in line with your comments. I worry that people will find it offensive that one group are term 'pro-' and the other 'anti-', particularly as 'pro-choice' is pretty vague (though still better than 'pro-abortion', which would be inaccurate), but it does seem to be more accurate wording.
        It still seems to make sense to regret actions you did under false beliefs. That might be because you acted wrongly because you should have sought more information, or it may be 'regret' in the sense of 'feeling sad that you didn't have all the information available that you do now'. Say that someone pushes you onto another person, which leads to the person you land on breaking their arm. I think in that case you're quite likely to feel regret and even guilt, and to try to help out the person who broke their arm. That's not because you acted in any way immorally, just because you were a causal part of a chain of events which led to someone being hurt. So it seems to make sense to feel regret even if you did the right action (or no action at all).

        • Simon Rippon says:

          Michelle, you are commendable for your your willingness to change your mind (if not your post title!) I agree that the term "pr0-choice" is unfortunately vague – the terms "pro-abortion-choice" or (if you want an anti- term) "anti-forced-completion-of-inititiated-pregnancies" might be more accurate – but given that they are such a mouthful, it seems fair to settle for "pro-choice" as the best available shorthand! You're absolutely right that "pro-abortion" would be a terribly inaccurate label for those who think women should decide for themselves.

          On regret, what you say seems right, but *guilt* does not seem like a rational or approriate response in the sort of case you cite, nor could reparations be reasonably demanded. So you seem hard pressed to explain why anyone should ever feel guilty or make amends because their moral judgment was mistaken. As you point out, sometimes you should seek more information (or reflect more on the information you have) rather than act on what you believe; perhaps this is what anti-abortion counsellors should do. But if so, they would be acting wrongly by lying, even on your "subjective consequentialist" view.

  • Andrew says:

    A problem with this line if logic is that it assumes that pro-life people adhere to the reasoning that the ends justify the means. In other words, that lying to save a life is morally justified. As a person who is prolife myself, I think that the truth of the situation stands strong enough to convince most well-meaning mothers away from the decision to abort. The argument that a Prolife person not only would, but should compromise their morality to bring about good is no better in this case as it would be for a "prolife" person murdering an abortionist. They want to save lives, so one way of doing so is killing those who perform the procedure. Such an action is virtually unanimously condemned by prolife groups with only small fringes believing that it would be ok.

    • Michelle Hutchinson says:

      Thanks for you comments Andrew! It's great to hear a different viewpoint, as my article was from a fairly pro-choice standpoint.
      I agree that my reasoning has been somewhat more consequentialist than most anti-abortionists would think allowable. However, it was for that reason that the examples I was giving of what seemed to be justified were not of outright lying (sorry about the title – brevity won over precision). Instead they concerned presenting misleading examples, leaving out one side of the story etc. I think that most people would believe that there are cases where very minor wrongs can be justified by circumstances. I would have thought that to most people, even outright lying could be justified in severe enough situations (the Nazi's banging on the door asking if you're sheltering any Jewish people for example), while murder would never be justified. If that is the case, there is a sliding scale. Then if killing an unborn foetus is very bad, and presenting only cases backing up one side (only telling a woman about cases where women were upset rather than relieved about having abortions, for example) is less bad than lying, avoiding the former might justify the latter.
      I somewhat worry about the implications of your claim that lying to pregnant women is just as immoral as killing abortionists, since the examples of behaviour which would be justifiable for anti-abortion counsellors to engage in were almost entirely ones which it has been shown they engage in. Your argument would seem to imply that the anti-abortion advice centres we currently have are, by their own lights, acting as unjustifiably as if they had murdered a doctor.
      "…the truth of the situation stands strong enough to convince most well-meaning mothers away from the decision to abort": If you mean by this that telling women the truth would convince all well-meaning women against abortion, this seems to imply that women who have abortions, or would have one if they were in certain circumstances, are malicious (or at least 'not well-meaning') or have only very limited information. I find that implication somewhat offensive. If you mean that if women believed the truth, they would not have abortions, I think this is implausible unless you're including 'that fetuses are people' in 'the truth'. But 'fetuses are people' is a prime example of something which abortion counsellors are not supposed to tell women, since it is something that the government does not accept.

      • Andrew says:

        Thank you also for your prompt reply!

        I apologize for the lack of clarity in my first post, as I was typing it on my phone, which was tiresome. I was not intending to imply that lying to a person and killing an abortionist are moral equivalents, just trying to show that the same line of logic that the ends justify the means is the same that a person would use that would bring them to committing an act such as killing an abortionist. It is for this reason that even the actions which are not so black and white, such as lying to a pregnant mother, should be avoided as well. I do also agree that misleading a woman would be even less than lying to her, but I don't see it as a necessary tactic.

        (A side note, I may also be unfamiliar with all of what you would consider "misleading" towards a woman, especially with what the anti-abortion clinics do in your area. Even then, it is possible that I would disagree with the stance that saying or not saying certain things would in fact be misleading. For example, I would not consider telling a pregnant woman who is far enough along that the fetus has a strong potential to feel the pain of the abortion procedure that it would be misleading to tell her so. If it is factual and the claim can be backed up scientifically, then I see no problem with saying it)

        ""…the truth of the situation stands strong enough to convince most well-meaning mothers away from the decision to abort": If you mean by this that telling women the truth would convince all well-meaning women against abortion, this seems to imply that women who have abortions, or would have one if they were in certain circumstances, are malicious (or at least ‘not well-meaning’) or have only very limited information. I find that implication somewhat offensive."

        Again please allow me to clarify, I don't believe you would consider this offensive. I said that "most well-meaning mothers" would choose to keep their child when presented with the simple facts about what it is that is inside of them. Viewing a sonagram, listening to the heartbeat, being able to see and understand the level of development in the fetus even by the time they first realize they could be pregnant. I said this because statistically (at least in this country), most women who see these things decide to keep the child. There are still well-meaning mothers who decide not to, hence the use of the word most, not all. Women who choose to have an abortion are certainly not by default malicious or anything of the sort. The unfortunate stereotype of anti-abortion people judging women, calling them murderers, whores, and who knows what else, is unfortunately true for many people who hold the anti-abortion standpoint. But I know from first hand experience, that those who lead the movements, that those who organize the people, do not hold these misguided beliefs. Yes, many well-meaning mothers who do view the truth about what is growing inside of them do still choose to go through with the abortion. But in order to truly affect the whole population, we must still respect that decision, even if it pains us to see it, even if it never pains them.

        Regarding the "limited information" claim, again, just realizing the knowledge base of the general population would make me believe that most women in general have limited information about fetal development, both pro-choice and anti-abortion women. From testimonies from women and former abortion clinic workers, I know that many times women are not given correct information about the development stage of the fetus. I don't believe that there is a malicious intent on the clinic workers to lie to the women, but just that they themselves don't know the facts. (many are not medical professionals who give counseling and advice to women over here).

        " If you mean that if women believed the truth, they would not have abortions, I think this is implausible unless you’re including ‘that fetuses are people’ in ‘the truth’. But ‘fetuses are people’ is a prime example of something which abortion counsellors are not supposed to tell women, since it is something that the government does not accept."
        Honestly, no, I would not consider that the fetuses are people to be a matter of factual truth but rather a matter of individual, or societal beliefs. However the same was believed for Africans, Jews, Native Americans, women, etc. Virtually all societies can be, and have frequently been, "wrong" on what constitutes a "person." But what is always subjectively truthful is what constitutes a human being. A fetus is not believed to be a person by society, but scientifically, biologically, it is a human being, a member of the human race, a homo sapien, with a unique and individual DNA structure unlike any that has been seen before.

        • Michelle Hutchinson says:

          Thanks for your very full reply! Here are some thoughts on what you’ve said:
          “I would not consider telling a pregnant woman who is far enough along that the fetus has a strong potential to feel the pain of the abortion procedure that it would be misleading to tell her so. If it is factual and the claim can be backed up scientifically, then I see no problem with saying it.” I entirely agree, I only meant it would be misleading to imply the fetus would feel pain in early abortions, for which scientific evidence is against the fetus feeling pain.

          “…when presented with the simple facts about what it is that is inside of them. Viewing a sonagram, listening to the heartbeat, being able to see and understand the level of development in the fetus even by the time they first realize they could be pregnant.” I feel there is a slide here from ‘presenting women with the simple facts about the case’ and ‘getting women to view a sonogram and listen to the heartbeat’. I think you could have all relevant facts of the case, without having done the latter, and therefore that the fact that the majority of women who have seen sonograms and listened to heartbeats do not have abortions doesn’t show that having all the information is enough to influence most women against abortion. Firstly, I imagine women asking to see the scan and hear the heartbeat are already those who are less likely to have abortions. Secondly, I think it’s likely that seeing the scan and hearing the heartbeat, rather than providing more evidence to allow a more responsible decision to be made, is likely to create an emotional response which may override the capacity for rational decision making. I, for one, would feel that way. I was thinking about an analogy: say that my partner is wants to donate his organs if he dies. Legally, the hospital has to ask the person’s next of kin before going along with an organ donation. I might be given all the information about which organs will be taken, the fact that they will sew him back up afterwards, who the organs will go to etc. I would then regard myself has having all the relevant facts. If a doctor offered to show me the instruments which would be used, mark the places on his body where the incisions would be, or let me watch a similar procedure being done, I would regard that as likely to cloud my judgement by evoking an emotional reaction in me, more than providing me with useful additional information. Likewise, were I faced with a sonogram and heartbeat, I think it quite likely I’d be put off having an abortion, but not because of the additional information the provided me with, but the emotions they’d evoke. Importantly, I’m not saying women shouldn’t have access to these – of course they should, if they want them. But ‘fully informing’ a person about an abortion shouldn’t include forcing a woman to see them, just as I could give fully informed consent to an organ donation without having to watch such a procedure.

          “From testimonies from women and former abortion clinic workers, I know that many times women are not given correct information about the development stage of the fetus.” This seems very worrying.

          “A fetus is not believed to be a person by society, but scientifically, biologically, it is a human being, a member of the human race, a homo sapien, with a unique and individual DNA structure unlike any that has been seen before.” I don’t know exactly how these scientific terms are used, or whether ‘human being’ really is a scientific term, but I am unconvinced that a fetus is biologically a human being. I would have said that it was an entity which will (probably) become a human being. Just a hand is not a human being, even if it has a unique and individual DNA structure. Neither would I classify a corpse as a human being, although it was previously a human being, and still has a unique DNA structure. I doubt science has firm cut-offs for terms like ‘human being’, because it would not be useful for it to have them.

  • Peter Wicks says:

    Interesting post, and interesting thread! As you all know, I don't see any credible foundation for a truly objective use of the word "ought". I think it's best if we just clarify whose subjective point of view we are referring to when we use the word (except where this is obvious).

    So if the question is, "Ought anti-abortion advocates present misleading information to pregnant women when this is likely to save the life of their unborn child?", my immediate answer would be another question: "Ought from whose point of view?"

    From my (subjective) point of view, "they ought to" is basically just synonym for "it would be best if they did". Since I am not yet convinced by the arguments ruling out abortion as a legitimate (though certainly sub-optimal) family planning option, and since I place a high value (for essentially rule utilitarian reasons) on honesty, particularly in the medical profession where trust is of such paramount importance, I tend to think that they ought not to present misleading information. But I can still respect their decision to do so (or not to do so if they think like Andrew), in the grounds that they are correctly living according to their own values. Furthermore, as a subjectivist I of course believe it is incorrect to refer to anti-abortion views as "mistaken", unless they are actually based on factual error. It may be just that they have different values.

    Simon's point about Nazis and Jews raises the question how we should engage with people who are correctly and consistently living according to their own values, but whose values are (to us) utterly repugnant (for example because they are likely to lead to massive pain). A key point here from my perspective is that one can still respect the consistency of people's views while still deploring their behaviour and doing what one can to prevent it or mitigate its effects. In other words, we really don't need to perpetuate the moral realist fiction in order to effectively fight against what we regard as evil. We just need determination and commitment. In fact, insisting that there is an entirely objective basis for our moral choices seems to me to be more of a distraction than anything else.

  • Jean Kazez says:

    I don't think your analogy is persuasive. In thinking about how to counsel a person, you have to think not only about whether their motivating beliefs are true or false, but about whether they're within a certain respect-worthy range. A person who thinks toddlers are disposable has a belief way outside the respect-worthy range. So an adviser ought to stop her from acting on that belief, even if the only way is to lie to her. It's another thing altogether to think an 8 week old fetus can be terminated. You'd have be deranged to believe in toddler-disposability, but lots and lots of sensitive, thoughtful people do believe in fetus-terminability. Whether that belief is true of false, it's very clearly within the respect-worthy range, where people maintain mutual regard and say things like "reasonable people will disagree." You don't get to go around presuming that your beliefs are true, and should be the basis of everyone's behavior, when all signs are that an issue is fraught with difficulty and sensitive, intelligent people disagree.

    Analogy: suppose a friend of mine thinks animals are not persons, that they have no rights, and can be eaten without any ethical difficulty. I see it differently. Can it really be OK for me to lie to her, to get her to stop eating meat? For example, may I tell her that there are frequent slaughterhouse accidents, so that every pound of hamburger contains a bit of human flesh? No, surely not ! Reason: even if I think her views about animal ethics are false, they are within a certain respect-worthy range that compels me to let her act out of her own convictions.

    Another analogy: suppose a friend of mine wants to vote for a candidate I see as atrocious. Am I really allowed to give her false directions to the polls, to make sure she doesn't cast her vote for the wrong candidate? No–again, it's partly a question of the belief being within a certain range. Because of that, I can't stop her acting out of her own belief, even if that leads her to do something I find objectionable.

    So–yes, the abortion counselor you envisage would be morally reprehensible. What she'd lack is a basic respect for the way perfectly decent and perceptive people disagree about the nature of the fetus, and a basic appreciation of the fact that a woman's choices will legitimately flow from her own convictions, not from the counselor's.

    • Michelle Hutchinson says:

      I like your idea about a respect-worthy range. But I worry about how you seem to decide what falls within that respect-worthy range. It seems to be defined by what intelligent, thoughtful people disagree on. For starters, I know a couple of very intelligent, thoughtful people who believe that toddlers are disposable, but I imagine that learning that does not make you less sure that you would prevent the killing of toddlers at all costs. Also, intelligent and thoughtful people in the past have held views we would now regard as abhorrent. If you found yourself in a society like pre-civil war America, would you think yourself justified in lying to stop someone harming a slave, or would you think that they were within the respect-worthy range, given that many highly intelligent and thoughtful people at the time thought racism and slavery totally justifiable? I think your argument about animals is an interesting one, because it seems to me this may be the kind of case that will change over time. I think there's a significant chance that at some point in the future we'll look back at our current treatment of animals as intensely barbaric, and think that it would be entirely justifiable to lie to someone to stop them from acting in that way.

  • Jean Kazez says:

    Michelle, I don't think it's obvious that throughout the whole pre-civil war period, defending slavery was within the respect-worthy range. Possibly it became an outlier at some point. Reasonable people no longer disagreed about slavery–only the die-hard slave owner still defended the institution. That might be true, anyway! With respect to abortion (and animal issues) we are in a different situation now. Reasonable people really do disagree about these things, as you can see even if you have a definite position on one end or other of the spectrum. It seems reasonable for people to take that to heart, and not act solely on their own personal version of the facts, when other people's choices are at stake. So–no lying to people to get them to stop eating meat (if you're pro-animal rights), and no lying to women who want to have abortions (if you're pro-life).

    Second worry … I find your appeal to intuitions puzzling. If my more social approach is adopted, people will sometimes defer too much to others, so not take the correct stand against some sort of wrong-doing. But if your individualistic approach is adopted, isn't it obvious they will also sometimes make errors–just different errors? For example–taking your approach, a madwoman could trust her belief that her child is a mass murdering devil, and lie to others to get them to kill the child. As a general rule, neither trusting yourself entirely nor considering which beliefs are generally "respectworthy" will consistently yield good results. So–noticing some bad outcomes for each rule can't conclusively show which we should follow.

  • Wayne Yuen says:

    I think the problem that I have here is that when a person comes to see a counselor, they are looking for information. So they enter into a kind of trust with the counselor to obtain information that will help them make their decision. But instead, they are given information that is targeted to help them make a particular decision, the decision that the counselor values, and not the patient. So the counselor qua counselor has an obligation to be truthful.

    I think we see the same kind of wrongness when people go to a cosmetic surgeon, looking for information, and the cosmetic surgeon promotes a particular kind of surgery so that she meets his standard of what beauty is, instead of the surgeon trying to inform the patient about what s/he is interested in. The cosmetic surgeon qua cosmetic surgeon has an obligation to tell the truth.

    So my line of reasoning would actually promote pro-choice counselors to inform patients of facts about their fetus, like capacity for pain and suffering, etc., if its relevant to the patient (e.g. in a later-term pregnancy), and pro-life (or anti-abortion) counselors to give information about the lack of pain and suffering capacity in early term fetuses.

    In some walks of life one needs to suspend >certain< moral obligations for their profession. Doctors have to suspend assaulting people, since surgery is assault. Abortion counselors might have to suspend their personal beliefs about abortion to be abortion counselors.

  • Theo says:

    Let me contribute to the discussion with an article I read today (in Portuguese: http://www.estadao.com.br/noticias/impresso,anjo-da-guarda-,781418,0.htm).

    Among some native Brazilian tribes, human beings are not born human, but become such gradually as they live (or not at all, I suppose).

    An immediate consequence of this is that babies do not hold the same rights as mature men and women, as well as that mature men's lives have less value than the elders' and other cultural heroes. This goes is obviously against the universal declaration of human rights. But then again, they were never told what the "UN" is.

    In the article there is a story about a baby buried alive because his mother died in labor and, without another one in the village to feed it milk, he would eventually starve to death. The solution was killing him without hesitation, for his own sake.

    This perspective is not completely unheard of in Eurasia. I guess the idea of "gradually acquiring the human-status" can be found, even if not so explicitly, also in Buddhism and Stoicism.

    I find this very interesting.

  • Justicar says:

    Well, all of this moral relativism here is rather interesting. Of course, conflating the choice to abort a first trimester fetus into a moral issue at all is dubious. However, assuming there is some moral duty attached such that the fetus' interests are to be considered, those interests must be weighed against the interests of the woman bearing the fetus. To say that we should excuse the moral failings of ideologues when they're working in the interests of the fetus (attending their particular brand of 'belief'), is to say that you're advocating a system where we excuse healthcare professionals who are working against the interests of their patients.

    Notably, the patient is not the fetus, but the woman who carries it. So, for all of the flowery language, what is ineluctable is this supposed moral position requires the argument: medical professionals can and should be legally, ethically or morally excused from having any duty to work in their patients' interests if they don't want to.

    It does only a slight amount of work to note later that 'therefore, we should make sure they make good ethical choices' or 'are screened properly' to make sure their morals are good enough. After all, no one has argued (except those with a political agenda that excludes women from full standing as an equal member of society) that we should be in the habit of increasing the rate at which certain professionals should fail in their ethical obligations by way of letting just any old bozo off the street have credentials in certain given professions.

    This system of yours is repugnant, and one is curious in just how many various positions you'd be comfortable knowing ahead of time that if the person whose office you're visiting disagrees with you, he's allowed to lie to until you see it his way. How about the expiry on food at the market? Particularly containing meat products? After all, some animal rights activists think of this as a moral issue of serious import. To let go to waste the killing of animal is quite arguably a moral failing. So, just smudging the date a little to make sure the meat is disposed of to make the most of the animal's death should be justified. Sure, I know, it works against the interests of 'moral agents' or 'real people' in favor of a non-entity, but if it works with a cluster of human cells having that power, why not a dead cow?

    So long as one thinks it's ethically serious enough that is.

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