Abortion Q and A

Using a Q&A format, this article summarizes my writings on abortion over the past 14 years, since I first voiced my opposition to it.

WHY OPPOSE ABORTION?

My objections to abortion are moral and prudential. I cannot condone a brutal, life-taking practice for which the main justification is convenience. (See, for example, tables 2 through 5 of “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Qualitative and Quantitative Perspectives”, a publication of the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion organization.) Prudentially, I do not want to live in a country where blameless life can be taken easily, with the encouragement of the state or at the state’s insistence. Abortion is a step down a slippery slope.

There have been serious (academic) proposals to allow post-natal abortion (i.e., infanticide). The next step, which has been taken in some “civilized” countries (not to mention the Third Reich and Soviet Russia) is involuntary euthanasia to “rid the populace” of those deemed unfit.

Ah, but who does the “deeming”? That is always the question. Given the rate at which power is being centralized in this country, it is not unthinkable that decisions about life and death will be placed in the hands of faceless bureaucrats, accountable only to their masters in high places. And those bureaucrats will not care about a person’s politics when they render their decisions, for they will be drunk on the power that is vested in them.

If anyone thinks it cannot happen here, think again. No nation or class of people is immune from the disease of power-lust. The only way to prevent it from spreading and becoming ever more malevolent is to resist it at every turn.

(I address the slippery slope toward state-imposed eugenics at several points below.)

WHY DO I CALL ABORTION MURDER?

First, there’s the obvious fact that abortion results in the death of a living being. But that’s a mild way of putting it. The methods used in abortion would be termed “brutal” by opponents of capital punishment, who usually are pro-abortion. Consider this (from Wikipedia as of April 7, 2018):

From the 15th week of gestation until approximately the 26th, other techniques must be used. Dilation and evacuation (D&E) consists of opening the cervix of the uterus and emptying it using surgical instruments and suction. After the 16th week of gestation, abortions can also be induced by intact dilation and extraction (IDX) (also called intrauterine cranial decompression), which requires surgical decompression of the fetus’s head before evacuation. IDX is sometimes called “partial-birth abortion“, which has been federally banned in the United States. [Ed. note: One small step for humanity.]

In the third trimester of pregnancy, induced abortion may be performed surgically by intact dilation and extraction or by hysterotomy. Hysterotomy abortion is a procedure similar to a caesarean section and is performed under general anesthesia. It requires a smaller incision than a caesarean section and is used during later stages of pregnancy.

What happens in an intact dilation and extraction? This (according to Wikipedia as of April 7, 2018):

Feticidal injection of digoxin or potassium chloride may be administered at the beginning of the procedure to allow for softening of the fetal bones or to comply with relevant laws in the physician’s jurisdiction. During the surgery, the fetus is removed from the uterus in the breech position, with mechanical collapse of the fetal skull if it is too large to fit through the cervical canal. Decompression of the skull can be accomplished by incision and suction of the contents, or by using forceps.

Almost enough said. For more, go here for an excerpt of an interview of philosopher Don Marquis.

WHY DID THE “RIGHT” TO AN ABORTION BECOME A POLITICAL CAUSE?

Daniel J. Flynn makes this astute observation in a piece at The American Spectator:

Students did not end the Vietnam War. They ended the draft. And once the draft ended, their protests, at least on a mass scale, ended, too.

Wikipedia, not normally my go-to source for history, lists more than 100 major events on its page documenting protests against the Vietnam War. The very last one occurred one week before Richard Nixon ended the draft. Small, scattered protests, of the like that do not appear Wikipedia’s radar—one in Central Park in 1975 involving Joan Baez and others comes to mind—continued. But even as the killing continued the big protests did not because the draft did not.

And it is true that U.S. combat operations continued after the end of the draft. So I must agree with Flynn’s observation.

What does it have to do with abortion? It’s mostly about the “Me” generation — the Baby Boomers who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. Look at this:

The graph comes from this source, which addresses some of the causes of the decline in the abortion rate since 1980. There are others, such as easier access to contraceptives and the growing awareness (and fear of) HIV/AIDS.

But the most obvious cause of the decline is the aging of Boomers. A large fraction of the women who were born during the peak baby-boom years (1946-1960)  would have been “past it” by the mid-1990s*. And that’s when the abortion rate ended a period of relatively steep decline (see above graph). The abortion rate continued to decline at more gradual rate through the early 2000s, when it leveled off, then began to decline at a faster rate after 2008. (The most likely cause of the steeper decline since 2008 is the enactment by several States of stricter controls on abortion.)

This isn’t to absolve later generations of their sins. Most college graduates and college-goers** of the X, Millennial, and Z generations have drunk the kool-aid of political correctness and “liberal” fascism. But the Boomers — notable for their self-centered depravity — were and are especially dangerous because so many of them became prominent in politics, the law, and the internet-media-academic complex.

The Boomers (or too many of them) epitomize the left’s arrested state of adolescent rebellion: “Daddy” doesn’t want me to smoke, so I’m going to smoke; “Daddy” doesn’t want me to drink, so I’m going to drink; “Daddy” doesn’t want me to have sex, so I’m going to have sex. But, regardless of my behavior, I expect “Daddy” to give me an allowance, and birthday presents, and cell phones, and so on.

“Daddy,” in the case of abortion, is government, which had banned abortion in many places. If it’s banned, the left wants it. But the left — like an adolescent — also expects government to cough up money (others’ money, of course) to quench its material desires.

Persons of the left simply are simply unthinking, selfish adolescents who want what they want, regardless of the consequences for others. The left’s stance on abortion should be viewed as just one more adolescent tantrum in a vast repertoire of tantrums.
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* The late Norma McCorvey (a.k.a. Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade) epitomized the Boomers. She was born in 1947 and began her eventually successful suit to legalize abortion when she was 21. McCorvey’s later conversion to Catholicism and anti-abortion activism do great credit to her memory.

** College-goers, as distinct from students who are striving to acquire knowledge rather than left-wing propaganda and to exercise their critical faculties instead of parroting left-wing slogans.

IS THE “RIGHT” TO AN ABORTION REALLY THE “LAW OF THE LAND”?

No, not really. But it will take someone with political guts and a strong sense of right and wrong to undo Roe v. Wade by an act of resistance. The U.S. Supreme Court is not the final arbiter of the Constitution’s meaning.

The answer — departmentalism — is found in Michael Stokes Paulsen and Luke Paulsen’s The Constitution: An Introduction:

All branches of government are equally bound by the Constitution. No branch of the federal government— not the Congress, not the President, not even the Supreme Court— can legitimately act in ways contrary to the words of the Constitution. Indeed, Article VI requires that all government officials— legislative, executive, and judicial, state and federal—“ shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.” Thus, the idea of a written constitution is closely tied to the idea of constitutional supremacy: In America, no branch of government is supreme. The government as a whole is not supreme. The Constitution is supreme. It is the written Constitution that prevails over every other source of authority in the United States.

Further, as sovereign entities and parties to the constitutional contract, the States can (and should) refuse to implement unconstitutional decrees emanating from the central government. MikeHuckabee seems to understand that. Steve Byas writes about Huckabee’s musings:

“If these people in California can thumb their nose at a law they don’t like then I guarantee there will be a pro-life governor who will simply say no more abortions in our state and that’s just the way it is,” former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (shown) told Fox News on Friday….

Far too many Americans have … bought the line that the “Supremacy Clause” of the Constitution states that the federal government is supreme over the states. That is most certainly not what is said in Article VI of the Constitution! Rather, the supremacy clause of the Constitution states that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. A law passed by Congress that is not “in pursuance” of the Constitution is therefore no law at all — and neither is a decision of the Supreme Court that does not follow the Constitution.

While the wording of the Constitution is quite clear — the Congress makes all laws under the supremacy of the Constitution — it is still far too common to hear the misinformed remark that Supreme Court decisions are “the law of the land.” On the contrary, a Supreme Court decision is “the law of the case,” and is binding only on the parties involved in that case….

No one knows how the federal government would react if a state’s governor directed legal authorities to enforce homicide laws against clinics and abortionists. But, as Huckabee told Fox News, it might happen. In Oklahoma, a former state representative, Dan Fisher, is running for governor, and is vowing to do just that. Right now, Fisher is running far behind in public opinion polls for the Republican nomination. He is not expected to win the governorship.

But at some point, a pro-life governor may decide it is time to test the federal government on this point. If the federal courts and the rest of the federal government would actually follow the Constitution instead of a rogue decision by the Supreme Court, the federal government’s reaction would be meek acquiescence. Hopefully, that is what would occur, though no one can predict what the outcome would be.

It will depend mainly on who occupies the White House at the time. Which — like Roe v. Wade — is a sad commentary of the rule of law in the United States.

IS ABORTION A NATURAL RIGHT?

The road to natural rights is through natural law. Natural law is about morality, that is, right and wrong. Natural rights are about the duties and obligations that human beings owe to each other.

Believers in natural law claim to start with the nature of human beings, then derive from that nature the “laws” of morality. Believers in natural rights claim to start with the nature of human beings, then derive from that nature the inalienable “rights” of human beings.

A natural law would be something like this: It is in the nature of human beings to seek life and to avoid death. A natural right would be something like this: Given that it is natural for human beings to seek life and avoid death, every human being has the right to life.

Natural law is “discovered” in the sense that it consists of norms that arise from human nature. An example would be the Golden Rule, or ethic of reciprocity. It seems most likely to have arisen from experience and normalized through tacit agreement before it was enunciated by various “wise men” over the ages.

The main alternative to the idea of natural law as arising from human nature is that it preexists in divine ordinance. But the two ideas can be reconciled by saying that human nature, by design, manifests divine intent.

In any event, if the Golden Rule is natural law, it seems not to offer room for a natural right to an abortion, that is, abortion on demand for any reason whatsoever. Doing unto others as one would be done unto would seem to prohibit the arbitrary taking of a life. (This raises the question whether a fetus is a “person” or a “human being”, to which I will come.)

Moreover, if there is a fundamental natural right, one that underlies all others, it is the right to life. There are rare instances in which persons willingly and voluntarily succumb to death, but they are notable exceptions that underscore the basic human urge (natural law) to go on living. This, too, argues against the killing of a fetus.

So, as a general matter (which admits limited and specific exceptions), there isn’t a natural right to an abortion.

IS THERE A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO AN ABORTION?

There is, in the sense that the U.S. Supreme Court fabricated such a right in Roe v. Wade (1973). But there is not really such a right, for two reasons:

  • A ruling by a majority of the Court is merely a transitory interpretation, which may be later overturned by a subsequent ruling, and which is only an interpretation — not the real Constitution.

In fact, what the Court did in Roe v. Wade is so egregious that even some “liberal” constitutional scholars decry it. (See the discussion at this section of the Wikipedia entry for Roe v. Wade.)

Abortion was considered murder long before States began to legislate against it in the 19th century. The long-standing condemnation of abortion — even before quickening — is treated thoroughly in Marvin Olasky’s Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America. (excerpt here). Olasky corrects the slanted version of American history upon which the U.S. Supreme Court relied in Roe v. Wade. The criminalization of abortion by most States in the 1800s did not mean that it was generally approved of or thought of as a right at the time of the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It was certainly not thought of as a right at the time of the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.

The majority in Roe v. Wade found for abortion by invoking a general privacy right, which had been invented in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). But the Court could not decide whether the right is located in the Ninth Amendment (reserving unenumerated rights to the people) or the Fourteenth Amendment (guaranteeing due process of law). Neither amendment, of course, is the locus of a general privacy right because none is conferred by the Constitution, nor could the Constitution ever confer such a right, for it would interfere with such truly compelling state interests as the pursuit of justice. By the logic of the majority’s reasoning, infanticide in the confines of one’s home would be permissible if the States hadn’t legislated against it before 1787.

The spuriousness of the majority’s conclusion is evident in its flinching from the logical end of its reasoning: abortion anywhere at anytime. Instead, the majority delivered this:

The privacy right involved, therefore, cannot be said to be absolute. . . .  We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.

That is, the majority simply drew an arbitrary line between life and death — but in the wrong place. It is as if the majority understood, but wished not to acknowledge, the full implications of an absolute privacy right. Such a right could be deployed by unprincipled judges to decriminalize a variety of heinous acts.

In sum, the constitutional “right” to an abortion is a judicial whim that will be overturned if and when a majority of the Court’s justices are strict constitutionalists. In fact, a later Court went part of the way (but, sadly, not all the way) in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). As blogger Patterico notes, Casey

1) upheld the central holding of Roe on stare decisis grounds; 2) stripped the abortion right of its status as a “fundamental right” under the Constitution; and 3) replaced Roe‘s trimester framework with a rule tied to viability.

I address viability below.

IS A FETUS A “PERSON”?

This question is related to the Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade that a fetus isn’t a “person” — and therefore entitled to constitutional protection — until it becomes “viable” in the third trimester of pregnancy.

The “personhood” issue is legalistic rather than scientific. Personhood is an abstraction, not a physical fact. A human being is created at the moment of conception. It may be a rudimentary human being, but it is one nevertheless. And it has the potential to become a fully formed human being.

If it is permissible to kill a human being who is still in the formative stage, it should be permissible to kill anyone who hasn’t yet reached his full height. Perhaps that should be the cut-off point for “personhood”.

WHAT ABOUT THE VIABILITY ARGUMENT?

There is a phony pro-abortion argument that a fetus is fair game (so to speak) until it is viable. That is, until it could survive (as a newborn child) outside the mother’s womb. But that is a circular argument because a fetus that is aborted before it could have survived outside the mother’s womb would have attained viability had it not been aborted.

The viability argument comes down to this: It is all right to kill a fetus before it becomes viable so that it cannot become viable.

WHY SHOULDN’T A WOMAN CONTROL HER OWN BODY?

That question is a dodgy way of trying to get around the fact that a fetus has a life of its own — literally. The fetus may be dependent on the woman who is carrying it, but it is not her body. The fetus is a separate human being, no matter how dependent on its mother. Further, dependency doesn’t end with birth. In fact, these days it often continues until a child is a twenty-something. There are some advocates of post-natal infanticide, but only enthusiasts of euthanasia would extend abortion murder beyond that stage.

There is an equivalent argument for abortion. It is the self-defense argument, which is sometimes billed as a property rights argument. A leading example is found in Judith Jarvis Thomson‘s article, “A Defense of Abortion” (Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1 (1971): 47-66), which is available online here. It goes like this: A fetus is an “uninvited guest” in or “invader” of its mother’s body, which is the mother’s property. The mother may therefore do with the fetus as she will.

But a fetus is neither an uninvited guest nor an invader. Rather, it is a life, and that life — by biological necessity — is (almost always) its mother’s responsibility:

  • Conception, in almost all cases, is the result of a consensual act of sexual intercourse.
  • Conception is a known consequence of the act of sexual intercourse.
  • Life indisputably begins at conception.
  • A woman who conceives a child by an act of consensual sex has therefore incurred an implicit obligation to care for the life that flows from her act.
  • Given that the existence of a fetus cannot cause harm to anyone but its mother, the only valid route for terminating the life of a fetus would be a legal proceeding that culminates in a judicial determination that the continuation of the life of the fetus would cause grave physical harm or death to the mother.

A person who argues otherwise can do so only by regarding the fetus a sub-human implantation for which the mother bears no responsibility. Such a person might as well argue for a right to dispose of surly teenage children through involuntary euthanasia. The principle is the same: Kill the life you brought into the world because its presence is inconvenient or irritating. (For brilliant demolitions of arguments similar to Thomson’s, see this by Matt Walsh and this by Glen Whitman.)

IF ABORTION WERE ILLEGAL, SHOULD A WOMAN WHO ABORTS A CHILD FACE LEGAL CONSEQUENCES?

Kevin Williamson infamously said that women who have an abortion are guilty of murder and should be executed. That view, which he stated more than once — before he was hired by The Atlantic — led to his firing by The Atlantic when its spineless editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, caved in to a (figurative) lynch mob.

Where does that leave me? I will answer by repeating (with light editing) something that I wrote almost eleven years ago.

How much jail time? Anna Quindlen asked that question in a Newsweek article she wrote in 2007 about the punishment for abortion. Quindlen observed that

[i]f the Supreme Court decides abortion is not protected by a constitutional guarantee of privacy, the issue will revert to the states. If it goes to the states, some, perhaps many, will ban abortion. If abortion is made a crime, then surely the woman who has one is a criminal.

The aim of Quindlen’s column was to scorn the idea of jail time as punishment for a woman who procures an illegal abortion. It reminds me of the classic definition of chutzpah, given by Leo Rosten: “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.” The chutzpah, in this case, belongs to Quindlen (and others of her ilk) who believe that a woman should not face punishment for an abortion because she has just “lost” a baby.

Balderdash! If a woman illegally aborts her child, why shouldn’t she be punished by a jail term (at least)? She would be punished by jail (or confinement in a psychiatric prison) if she were to kill her new-born infant, her toddler, her ten-year old, and so on. What’s the difference between an abortion and murder? None. (See above.)

Quindlen, who predictably opposes capital punishment, is consistent in her (typical) leftist opposition to justice. The Quindlens of this world somehow manage to make victims out of criminals.

IS ABORTION A STEP DOWN A SLIPPERY SLOPE?

Every time the state fails to defend innocent life it sets a new precedent for the taking of innocent life. Thus we come to the slippery slope.

Ross Douthat uses the Williamson case as a springboard to highlight “liberal” extremism in the defense of abortion:

[M]y pro-choice friends endorsing Williamson’s sacking can’t see that his extremism is mirrored in their own, in a system of supposedly “moderate” thought that is often blind to the public’s actual opinions on these issues, that lionizes advocates for abortion at any stage of pregnancy, that hands philosophers who favor forms of euthanasia and infanticide prestigious chairs at major universities, that is at best mildly troubled by the quietus of the depressed and disabled in Belgium or the near-eradication of Down syndrome in Iceland or the gendercide that abortion brought to Asia, that increasingly accepts unblinking a world where human beings can be commodified and vivisected so long as they’re in embryonic form.

Abortion is of a piece with selective breeding and involuntary euthanasia, wherein the state fosters eugenic practices that aren’t far removed from those of the Third Reich. And when those practices become the norm, what and who will be next? Instead of reflexively embracing “choice”, leftists — who these days seem especially wary of fascism (though they locate it in the wrong place) — should be asking whether “choice” will end with fetuses.

In sum, abortion is of a piece with Hitlerian eugenics. If you consider that to be an exaggeration, consider this piece by Patricia E. Bauer (a former reporter and bureau chief for The Washington Post), whose child has Down’s syndrome:

Many young women, upon meeting us, have asked whether I had “the test.” I interpret the question as a get-home-free card. If I say no, they figure, that means I’m a victim of circumstance, and therefore not implicitly repudiating the decision they may make to abort if they think there are disabilities involved. If yes, then it means I’m a right-wing antiabortion nut whose choices aren’t relevant to their lives….

The irony is that we live in a time when medical advances are profoundly changing what it means to live with disabilities. Years ago, people with Down syndrome often were housed in institutions. Many were in poor health, had limited self-care and social skills, couldn’t read, and died young. It was thought that all their problems were unavoidable, caused by their genetic anomaly.

Now it seems clear that these people were limited at least as much by institutionalization, low expectations, lack of education and poor health care as by their DNA. Today people with Down syndrome are living much longer and healthier lives than they did even 20 years ago. Buoyed by the educational reforms of the past quarter-century, they are increasingly finishing high school, living more independently and holding jobs.

That’s the rational pitch; here’s the emotional one. Margaret is a person and a member of our family. She has my husband’s eyes, my hair and my mother-in-law’s sense of humor. We love and admire her because of who she is — feisty and zesty and full of life — not in spite of it. She enriches our lives. If we might not have chosen to welcome her into our family, given the choice, then that is a statement more about our ignorance than about her inherent worth.

What I don’t understand is how we as a society can tacitly write off a whole group of people as having no value….

And here’s one more piece of un-discussable baggage: This question is a small but nonetheless significant part of what’s driving the abortion discussion in this country. I have to think that there are many pro-choicers who, while paying obeisance to the rights of people with disabilities, want at the same time to preserve their right to ensure that no one with disabilities will be born into their own families. The abortion debate is not just about a woman’s right to choose whether to have a baby; it’s also about a woman’s right to choose which baby she wants to have.

Amy Welborn makes this apposite comment:

This is not about “having” or “not having” babies with disabilities – the common way of discussing such things, when they are discussed at all. It is about “killing” or “not killing” babies with disabilities. Period.

And Wilfred McClay adds this perspective:

I myself recall having a conversation with a Down’s syndrome adult who noted the disparity between Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s well-publicized support for the Special Olympics, and his equally well-known insistence that no woman should have to bear the indignity of a “defective” or unwanted child. “I may be slow,” this man observed, “but I am not stupid. Does he think that people like me can’t understand what he really thinks of us? That we are not really wanted? That it would be a better world if we didn’t exist?”

This from a speech given by Malcolm Muggeridge in 1978:

If people are only considered to be economic entities whose value is measured by the quality and/or quantity of their productivity, then what conceivable justification is there for maintaining, at great expense and difficulty, mentally and physically handicapped people and elderly? I know, that as sure as I can possibly persuade you to believe: governments will find it impossible to resist the temptation … to deliver themselves from this burden of looking after the sick and the handicapped by the simple expedient of killing them off. Now this, in fact, is what the Nazis did … not always through slaughter camps, but by a perfectly coherent decree with perfectly clear conditions. In fact, delay in creating public pressure for euthanasia has been due to the fact that it was one of the war crimes cited at Nuremberg. So for the Guinness Book of Records you can submit this: That it takes just about 30 years in our humane society to transform a war crime into an act of compassion. That is exactly what happened.

Not only can it happen in America, it is happening in America. In addition to abortion as a means of selecting “superior” specimens, there is genetic engineering, a more overt and frightening project of super-Frankensteinian scale.

There is the long-standing and partly successful push for voluntary euthanasia (a.k.a, assisted suicide). When and where it becomes legal, it provides cover for involuntary euthanasia. It is better to keep it illegal and let those who are truly desperate find reluctant help than to authorize it and invite all-too-willing help. (See Theodore Dalrymple.)

Another initiative, fortunately sidetracked for now, is forced mental screening of school-age children. Though this endeavor was pilloried as a plot by Big Pharma, it carried the seeds of thought- and behavior-control cloaked in a health-care guise. Something like it will be resurrected when the masters of practical thought-control — the Facebook, Google, YouTube generation — come to full political power.

The place to stop Hitlerian schemes is at the outset, before they gain a foothold and provide an excuse for other schemes that wear superficially benign masks. Every Supreme Court decision that enables interference in the lives, liberty, and property of Americans becomes an invitation to — and excuse for — further interference.

(Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland warned strongly against the evil side of eugenics in “The Death of Hippocrates” (The New Republic, September 12, 2004). The article is now hidden behind a paywall, but I excerpted much of it when it appeared. The excerpts are at the bottom of this article.

See also Amy Harmon’s “The Problem With an Almost-Perfect Genetic World“, The New York Times, November 20, 2005, excerpted at length here.)

INVOKING HITLER IS JUST A SCARE TACTIC ISN’T IT?

In answer, I turn to philosopher Jamie Whyte‘s Bad Thoughts – A Guide to Clear Thinking. Specifically, to one of Whyte’s logical errors, which is found under “Shut Up — You Sound Like Hitler” (pp. 46-9). Here’s the passage to which I object:

Anyone who advocates using recent advances in genetic engineering to avoid congenital defects in humans will pretty soon be accused of adopting Nazi ideas. Never mind the fact that the Nazi goals (such as racial purity) and genetic engineering techniques (such as genocide) were quite different from those now suggested.

Whyte seems to believe that policies should be judged by their intentions, not their consequences. Genetic engineering — which Whyte defines broadly — is acceptable to Whyte (and millions of others) — because its practitioners mean well. By that standard:

  • Obamacare, which has caused health-insurance premiums and medical costs to rise ever higher, has been a success because it was meant to cut premiums and costs.
  • Measures to combat CO2 emissions have been successful, even though they have resulted in higher energy costs and there is no demonstrably significant relationship between CO2 emissions and global temperature (whatever that is), and no well- understood relationship between global temperature and human flourishing. (Though people tend to migrate from cold climates to warm ones, and warming produces higher crop yields.)

I cannot find a moral distinction between such “benevolence” and Hitler’s goal of racial purity.

Whyte, in his eagerness to slay many dragons of illogic, sometimes stumbles on his own illogic. Whyte to the contrary notwithstanding, not all invocations of Hitler are inapt. Genetic engineering, Whyte’s primary example, can be Hitlerian in its consequences, regardless of its proponents’ intentions.

I say “can be Hitlerian” because genetic engineering can also be beneficial. There is, for example, negative genetic engineering to cure and treat particular disorders.

I will continue to invoke Hitler where the invocation is apt, as it is in the cases of abortion, involuntary euthanasia, and the breeding of “superior” humans.

(Speaking of philosophers, see this for a demolition of a pro-abortion philosopher’s casuistry.)

IS THERE AN ETHICAL OR UTILITARIAN ARGUMENT FOR ABORTION?

Peter Singer — the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values of Princeton University — says this about his ethical position:

I approach each issue by seeking the solution that has the best consequences for all affected. By ‘best consequences’, I understand that which satisfies the most preferences, weighted in accordance with the strength of the preferences. Thus my ethical position is a form of preference-utilitarianism.

That is to say, Singer sets himself up as an omniscient arbiter and weigher of the preferences of billions of individual humans (and other animals), in the belief that he has a formula for determining “the greatest good of the greatest number”. That is a bankrupt formula.

It’s patently absurd to think of measuring individual degrees of happiness, let alone summing those measurements. Suppose the government takes from A (making him miserable) and gives to B (making him joyous). Does B’s joyousness cancel A’s misery? Only if you’re B or a politician who has earned B’s support by joining in the raid on A’s bank account.

There is much more to say about Singer. Singer sought to exploit the tragic, state-ordered murder of Terry Schiavo, This is from WorldNetDaily:

During the next 35 years, the traditional view of the sanctity of human life will collapse under pressure from scientific, technological, and demographic developments, says controversial bio-ethics professor Peter Singer.

“By 2040, it may be that only a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists will defend the view that every human life, from conception to death, is sacrosanct,” says Princeton University’s defender of infanticide. “In retrospect, 2005 may be seen as the year in which that position (of the sanctity of life) became untenable,” he writes in the fall issue of Foreign Policy.

Singer sees 2005’s battle over the life of Terri Schiavo as a key to this changing ethic.

The year 2005 is also significant, at least in the United States, for ratcheting up the debate about the care of patients in a persistent vegetative state,” says Singer. “The long legal battle over the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube led President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress to intervene, both seeking to keep her alive. Yet the American public surprised many pundits by refusing to support this intervention, and the case produced a surge in the number of people declaring they did not wish to be kept alive in a situation such as Schiavo’s.”…

Yes, people say that they don’t want to share Terri Schiavo’s fate. What many of them mean, of course, is that they don’t want their fate decided by a judge who is willing to take the word of a relative for whom one’s accelerated death would be convenient. Singer dishonestly seizes on reactions to the Schiavo fiasco as evidence that euthanasia will become acceptable in the United States.

Certainly, there are many persons who would prefer voluntary euthanasia to a fate like Terri Sciavo’s. But the line between voluntary and involuntary euthasia is too easily crossed, especially by persons who, like Singer, wish to play God. If there is a case to be made for voluntary euthanasia, Peter Singer is not the person to make it.

Singer gives away his Hitlerian game plan when he advocates killing the disabled up to 28 days after birth. Why not 28 years? Why not 98 years? Who decides — Peter Singer or an acolyte of Peter Singer? Would you trust your fate to the “moral” dictates of a person who thinks animals are as valuable as babies?

Would you trust your fate to the dictates of a person who so blithely dismisses religious morality? One does not have to be a believer to understand the intimate connection between religion and liberty, about which I have written here and here. Strident atheists of Singer’s ilk like to blame religion for the world’s woes. But the worst abuses of humanity in the 20th century arose from the irreligious and anti-religious regimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

There’s more, from an article at LifeSiteNews:

In a question and answer article published in the UK’s Independent today, controversial Princeton University Professor Peter Singer repeats his notorious stand on the killing of disabled newborns. Asked, “Would you kill a disabled baby?”, Singer responded, “Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole.”…

“Many people find this shocking,” continued Singer, “yet they support a woman’s right to have an abortion.” Concluding his point, Singer said, “One point on which I agree with opponents of abortion is that, from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the foetus and the newborn baby.”

Let us be clear: Singer admits that it is the people who don’t support a woman’s “right” to have an abortion who insist that there is no distinction between the fetus and the newborn — or the fetus and an old person whose death might be convenient to others. Given Singer’s endorsement of involuntary infanticide — abortion and the killing of “disabled” newborns (“disabled” as determined how and by whom?) — Singer accepts, by implication, the rightness of involuntary euthanasia.

(There is much more about Singer’s “ethics” here, including his obvious support for “death panels”.)

ALL OF THAT ASIDE, DOESN’T ABORTION LEAD TO A LOWER RATE OF CRIME?

This question lends itself to rigorous statistical analysis. I begin with Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt (with Stephen J. Dubner). Here’s how The Washington Post reported Levitt’s findings about the drop in crime:

Freakonomics is packed with fascinating ideas. Consider Levitt’s notion of a relationship between abortion access and the crime drop. First, Freakonomics shows that although commonly cited factors such as improved policing tactics, more felons kept in prison and the declining popularity of crack account for some of the national reduction in crime that began in about the year 1990, none of these completes the explanation. (New York City and San Diego have enjoyed about the same percentage decrease in crime, for instance, though the former adopted new policing tactics and the latter did not.) What was the significance of the year 1990, Levitt asks? That was about 16 years after Roe v. Wade. Studies consistently show that a disproportionate number of crimes are committed by those raised in broken homes or who were unwanted as children. When abortion became legal nationally, Levitt theorizes, births of unwanted children declined; 16 years later crime began to decline, as around age 16 is the point at which many once-innocent boys start their descent into the criminal life. Leavitt’s [sic] clincher point is that the crime drop commenced approximately five years sooner in Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York and Washington state than it did in the nation as a whole. What do these states have in common? All legalized abortion about five years before Roe.

Well, Steve Sailer (among others) has attacked Levitt’s findings:

First, Levitt’s theory is predicated — at least publicly — on abortion reducing the proportion of “unwanted” babies, who are presumed to be more likely to grow up to be criminals. The empirical problem with this is that legalization (which occurred in California, New York, and three other states in 1970 and nationally in 1973), didn’t put the slightest dent in the illegitimacy rate, which is, by far, the most obvious objective sign of not being wanted by the mother and father, and has been linked repeatedly with crime…

… [But] the growth in the illegitimacy rate didn’t start to slow down until the mid-1990s when the abortion rate finally went down a considerable amount.

My article [in the May 9, 2005 edition of The American Conservative] offers a simple explanation, drawn from Levitt’s own research, of why legal abortion tends to increase illegitimacy. [Ed. note: Read the whole thing.]

Second, the acid test of Levitt’s theory is that it predicts that the first cohort to survive being culled by legal abortion should have been particularly law-abiding. Instead, they went on the worst teen murder rampage in American history….

For example, the 14-17 year olds in the not particularly murderous year of 1976 were, on average, born about 1960 (i.e., 1976 – 16 years of age = 1960), so they didn’t “benefit” from being culled by legalized abortion the way that the 14-17 years olds during the peak murder years of 1993 and 1994 should have benefited, according to Levitt.

In contrast, the homicide rate for the 25 and over cohort (none of whom enjoyed the benefits of legalized abortion) was lower in 1993 than in 1983.

If the legalization of abortion did result in less crime it’s only because abortion became more prevalent among that segment of society that is most prone to commit crime. (I dare not speak its name.) What policy does Levitt want us to infer from that bit of causality? Would he favor a program of euthanasia for the most crime-prone segment of society? Now there’s a fine kettle of fish for Leftists, who favor abortion and oppose “oppression” of the the segment of society that is the most crime-prone.

In any event, if abortion does anything, it leads to more crime by women because it “frees” them from child-rearing. In the following graph, the blue and orange lines denote pre- and post-Roe years (with a one-year lag for Roe to take effect).


Derived from Statistical Abstracts of the United States: Table HS-24. Federal and State Prisoners by Jurisdiction and Sex: 1925 to 2001; and Table 338. Prisoners Under Federal or State Jurisdiction by Sex.

It’s women’s lib at work. (A semi-facetious remark.)

In fact, Levitt’s findings are built on statistical quicksand. This is from the abstract of a paper by Christopher L. Foote and Christopher F. Goetz of the Boston Fed:

[A] fascinating paper by Donohue and Levitt (2001, henceforth DL) . . . purports to show that hypothetical individuals resulting from aborted fetuses, had they been born and developed into youths, would have been more likely to commit crimes than youths resulting from fetuses carried to term. We revisit that paper, showing that the actual implementation of DL’s statistical test in their paper differed from what was described. . . .We show that when DL’s key test is run as described and augmented with state‐level population data, evidence for higher per capita criminal propensities among the youths who would have developed, had they not been aborted as fetuses, vanishes.

Whatever abortion is, it most certainly is not a crime fighting tool.

BUT IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, ISN’T ABORTION CONSISTENT WITH LIBERTY?

Unsophisticated, self-styled libertarian defenders of abortion hold an “anything goes” view of liberty that is in fact antithetical to liberty. They may call themselves libertarians, but they might as well be anti-war protesters who block traffic or “greens” who burn down ski lodges.

Liberty requires each of us to pursue happiness without causing harm to others, except in self-defense. Those libertarian defenders of abortion who bother to give the issue a bit of thought try to build a case for abortion around self-defense, arguing that a woman who aborts is defending herself, and that no one should question her act of self-defense. But that is a ridiculous argument, as I show above.

Where, then, lies a valid libertarian defense of abortion? In privacy? Not at all. Privacy, to the extent that it exists as right, cannot be a general right, as I have also argued above. If privacy were a general right, a murderer could claim immunity from prosecution as long as he commits murder in his own home, or better yet (for the murderer), as long as he murders his own children in his own home.

A “practical libertarian” might argue that legalizing abortion makes it “safer” (less dangerous to the mother), presumably because legalization ensures a greater supply of abortionists who can do the job without endangering the mother’s life, and at a lower price than a safe abortion would command without legalization. I’m willing to grant all of that, but I must observe that the same case can be made for legalizing murder. That is, a person with murderous intent could more readily afford to hire a professional who to do the job successfully and, at the same time, avoid putting himself at risk by trying to do the job himself. “Safety” is a rationalization for abortion that blinks at the nature of the act.

I am unable to avoid the conclusion that abortion is an anti-libertarian act of unjustified aggression against an innocent human being, an act that is undertaken for convenience and almost never for the sake of defending a mother’s life. Murder, too, is an act of convenience that is seldom justified by self-defense. Abortion, therefore, cannot be validated by mistaken appeals to self-defense, privacy, viability, and safety. Nor can abortion be validated (except legalistically) by a series of wrongly decided Supreme Court cases.

A hard-core “libertarian” will take refuge in the dogma that governmental interference in matters of personal choice is simply wrong. By that “logic,” it is wrong for government to interfere in or prosecute robbery, assault, rape, murder and other overtly harmful acts, which — after all — are merely the consequences of personal choices made by their perpetrators.

If the state has any legitimate function, it is to defend the lives, liberty, and property of those subject to its jurisdiction. State sponsorship of abortion is antithetical to that legitimate function. It suborns the killing of innocent human beings whose lives the state ought to protect.

“Liberal” support for abortion is just one more piece of evidence that “liberalism” is the enemy of liberty.

“Libertarian” support for abortion is one more piece of evidence that libertarianism — the dogma — is corrupt and anti-libertarian. (See what happened to Nat Hentoff when he demurred from “libertarian” orthodoxy in the matter of abortion.)

(It would make an already very long article excruciatingly long if I were to elaborate on the preceding point. If you are interested in understanding the anti-libertarian nature of libertarian dogma, go here and follow the links.)


EXCERPTS OF SHERWIN B. NULAND’S “THE DEATH OF HIPPOCRATES” (THE NEW REPUBLIC, SEPTEMBER 12, 2004)

The exhibition [on eugenics at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington] details the influence of eugenics on determining Nazi policy from the time of the party’s assumption of power in 1933 until the end of World War II….Though some have thought of it as an applied science, eugenics is in fact more a philosophy than a science. Its proponents based their notions on genetics, having as their purpose the improvement of the breed. The word was defined exactly that way in 1911 in a book by the eminent American biometrician and zoologist Charles Davenport, director of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, New York (elected to the National Academy of Sciences in the following year), who called it “the science of the improvement of the human race by better breeding.”

Eugenicists believed that it is possible, and even a good idea, to attempt to enhance the quality of our species by regulating the reproduction of traits considered to be inheritable….

When Gregor Mendel’s forgotten experiments on inheritable characteristics were rediscovered in 1900, a certain biological legitimacy was conferred on these notions, as unknown factors (later shown to be genes) were identified as the source of traits immutably passed on to offspring, and it was perceived that some are dominant and others recessive….

Once the Mendelian laws of heredity were widely known, eugenics movements were founded in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Russia, several of the nations of Europe, and even Latin America and Asia. Eugenics research institutes were established in more than a few of these countries, most prominently the United States, England, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden….

Not unexpectedly, eugenics was a creed that appealed to social conservatives, who were pleased to blame poverty and crime on heredity. Liberals–or progressives, as they were then usually called–were among its most vigorous opponents, considering the inequities of society to be due to circumstantial factors amenable to social and economic reform. And yet some progressive thinkers agreed with the eugenicists that the lot of every citizen would be improved by actions that benefited the entire group. Thus were the intellectual battle lines drawn.

It is hardly surprising that National Socialism in Germany would embrace the concept of eugenics. But from the beginning, there was more to Nazi support than the movement’s political appeal or the promise of its social consequences. As is clear from the exquisitely structured and thoroughly reliable accounting of “Deadly Medicine,” the stage was set for the emergence of a drive toward a uniquely German form of eugenics long before the average citizen had ever heard of Adolf Hitler….

The earliest hint of the coming storm had appeared around the turn of the twentieth century, when the German biologist August Weismann definitively showed that changes acquired by an organism during its lifetime cannot be inherited. Weismann’s findings overthrew a theory promulgated a hundred years earlier by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, holding that such adaptations could be passed down to succeeding generations. So-called Lamarckianism had incited controversy since its inception, and its debunking added fuel to the fire of those who believed that human beings inherit not only fixed physical characteristics but also mental and moral ones….

[M]any [eugenics researchers] were serious scientists whose aim was to discover ways in which the very best of the inherited characteristics might be encouraged and the very worst eliminated, with the ultimate goal of curing the ills of society….”By the early 1900s, proponents of eugenics everywhere began to offer biological solutions to social problems common to urbanizing and industrial societies.”…

To large numbers of its host of well-meaning adherents, eugenics was a scientifically and even mathematically based discipline, and many of them actually thought of it as a measurable, verifiable branch of biology that held the promise of becoming an enormous force for good.

Though it must be admitted that the United States, Britain, and Germany became centers for eugenics in part because of each nation’s certainty of its own superiority over all peoples of the world, the fact is that these countries were hardly more chauvinistic than most others. The primary reason they led in eugenic studies is traceable to a far more significant factor: their leadership in science….

The German-speaking institutions were so far ahead of those of every other nation that leading clinicians, researchers, and educators in Europe, Asia, and the Americas considered their training incomplete unless they had spent a period of study at such centers of learning and innovation as Berlin, Würzburg, Vienna, and Bern, or one of the small academic gems among the many outstanding universities in Germany, such as Göttingen, Heidelberg, or Tübingen….

The Germanic medical establishment was heir to a grand tradition of accomplishment and international respect; when it took on eugenics as a worthy goal, it was convinced of the righteousness of its intent. Even when some of its own members began to voice concerns about the direction in which the research and its application were going, many authoritative voices drowned out the relatively few protests.

The process rolled on within a worldwide cultural milieu conditioned by the universally accepted belief that the earth’s population was divided into races, and further subdivided into ethnic groups within them….

The rising power of the international eugenics movement manifested itself in predictable ways, from anti-immigration laws to compulsory sterilization for those deemed unfit, enacted in such “progressive” countries as Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and parts of Canada and Switzerland — as well as the United States, where some two dozen states had enacted sterilization laws by the late 1920s. The most dramatic moment for Americans came on May 2, 1927, when the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state of Virginia’s intention to carry out tubal ligation on a “feebleminded” young woman named Carrie Buck, who had given birth to an illegitimate daughter also judged to be retarded, as was Carrie’s mother. Writing the majority opinion in Buck v. Bell, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. stated

It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes…. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

To a twenty-first-century sensibility, the equation with vaccination is at the very least questionable, but at the height of eugenic thinking, the eight-to-one majority among the justices reflected the general mood of a nation fifteen of whose states (the only ones of the twenty-seven reporting) would by 1933 have sterilized 6,246 of the insane, 2,938 of the feebleminded, fifty-five epileptics, sixteen criminals, and five persons with “nervous disorders.” More than half of these procedures were carried out in four state mental hospitals in California. In almost every state, the law applied only to residents of public facilities, which meant that lower-income groups were affected far out of proportion to their numbers in the population. Some sixteen thousand Americans would eventually be sterilized.

At this time Germany had not yet enacted any sterilization laws, in spite of strong advocacy and much expression of admiration for the American system by the so-called racial hygienicists. All of this foot-dragging ended when Hitler came to power in 1933, and it ended with a vengeance….Between 1934 and 1945, some four hundred thousand people would be forcibly sterilized, most before the war began in 1939. These included, in 1937, about five hundred racially mixed children of German mothers and black colonial soldiers in the French army occupying the Rhineland.

The basis for sterilizing these children was the outgrowth of the notion that a hereditarily gifted nation can retain its greatness only if the heredity remains pure, a thesis that had been widely accepted in Germany (and by many citizens of other countries as well, including our own) for generations….By 1937, the principle of pure blood had manifested itself in many ways, most particularly in the persecution of Jews and the passage of the Nuremberg laws of 1935, officially called “the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor,” by which marriage and sexual relations were prohibited between Jews and people of “pure” German blood. Shortly thereafter the Reich Citizenship Law went into effect, declaring that only “Aryan” Germans were citizens and Jews were to be considered “subjects.” This law defined who was a Jew and who was a so-called Mischling, an individual of mixed parentage. From these beginnings as an outgrowth of eugenics — itself a misconceived attempt toward utopia — Nazi racial policy would culminate in the murder of millions and the near-annihilation of European Jewry….

The theorists and the scientists who had until 1933 been able, and sincerely so, to claim detached objectivity for their research, could no longer delude themselves about the purposes for which it was being used. With the ascent to power of the Nazis, they had become, willy-nilly, active participants in the beginnings of genocide….

The murder of children was only the beginning. In October, 1939, Hitler authorized euthanasia for adults housed in German asylums….Between January, 1940 and August, 1941, some seventy thousand adult patients were gassed, their only crime being that they were unproductive members of the Nazi state….

But far worse was to follow….On January 20, 1942, the Wannsee Conference established the policy that would lead to the Holocaust, and from then on the real question became not whether but how….

Looking back with the wisdom of hindsight, it seems so clear that eugenics had always been a dangerous notion, and that its adherents were either deluded or racist. But the fact is that such a realization was slow in coming, and appeared only after matters had gotten completely out of hand and the stage set on which horrendous events would take place. Among the several reasons that medically trained students of eugenics allowed matters to turn so ugly was their failure to recognize a basic fact about the scientific enterprise, which is well known to historians and philosophers of the subject but continues to elude even some of the most sophisticated men and women who actually do the work. Though this fact characterizes science in general, it is even more applicable to the art that uses science to guide it, namely medicine, which was, after all, the underlying source of the momentum that drove the application of eugenic principles.

The basic fact to which I refer is that neither medicine nor science itself derives its “truths” in the thoroughly detached atmosphere in which its practitioners would like to believe they work. Especially in medicine and medical research, the atmosphere not only is not detached, but it is in fact largely the product of the very influences from which its participants seek to free themselves in order to isolate observations and conclusions from external sources and subjectivity. For an early explication of this, we may with profit turn to the father of Justice Holmes, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., who was for some years the dean of Harvard Medical School and bid fair to be called the dean of American medicine in the mid-nineteenth century. Here is what the elder Holmes said in an oration delivered to the Massachusetts Medical Society in 1860, titled “Currents and Countercurrents in Medical Science”:

The truth is, that medicine, professedly founded on observation, is as sensitive to outside influences, political, religious, philosophical, imaginative, as is the barometer to the changes of atmospheric density. But look a moment while I clash a few facts together, and see if some sparks do not reveal by their light a closer relation between the Medical Sciences and the conditions of society and the general thought of the time, than would, at first, be suspected.

The medical theory of any era–and to a somewhat lesser extent the science on which it is based–arises in a setting that is political and social. Not only that, but its directions and even its conclusions are influenced by the personal motivations, needs, and strivings of those who practice it, some of which may not be apparent to these men and women themselves. Though we would have it otherwise, there is no such thing as a thoroughly detached scientific undertaking. The danger in this lies not so much in its truth, but in the inability of society and the community of scientists to recognize the pervading influence of such an unpalatable reality, which flies in the face of the claims that form the groundwork for our worship of the scientific enterprise….

By itself, each of the small steps taken by the eugenics movement in the early part of the twentieth century seemed not just innocuous but actually of real interest as a subject for consideration. Attached to the names of highly regarded scientific thinkers, the theories intended to improve the general level and functioning of a nation had a certain appeal to men and women concerned about social issues….

At what point would I have realized the direction in which all of this was hurtling? Perhaps not until it was too late. Looking back with unbridled condemnation on the beginnings of racial hygiene does not enlighten today’s thoughtful man or woman in regard to how he or she might have responded at the time….

This is not to say that there had not from the beginning been enough evil men lurking at the ready to push the notion of racial hygiene down the slope whose slipperiness they recognized long before men of goodwill awoke to the reality of what they had wrought. Nor is it to say that — even when the worst was becoming evident — many others did not continue to allow the slide to take place and to accelerate because, after all, those being sterilized and euthanized were so unlike themselves. But it is most certainly to say that there is good reason for so many wags and wise men down the centuries to have repeatedly observed that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Sometimes “anarchy is loosed upon the world” not because “the best lack all conviction,” but because they firmly and honestly believe they are doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing: there has never been a period in the modern era when our species has relaxed its fascination with the idea of improving itself….A century ago the buzzword was eugenics. Today it is enhancement. Eugenics is meant to improve the breed and enhancement is meant to improve the individual, but they are too similar in concept to allow us to rest easy with either one.

Today’s molecular biologists and geneticists have dipped a very powerful oar into the ongoing stream of debate about heredity versus environment. Every year — every month — we read about newly discovered genetic factors determining not only physical characteristics but those of morals and mind as well. Sometimes we are even told their precise locations on the DNA molecule. No one knows how much of this will hold up in the coming decades, but we can be sure that a significant proportion of it will be confirmed. Some authoritative scientific voices are telling us that we should take advantage of the new knowledge to fulfill our fantasies of improving ourselves and indeed our species.

These new findings — and the enthusiasm of some of our scientists — take us huge steps beyond the ultimately shaky theoretical platform on which the eugenics movement stood. The debate has for several years been raging between those who look to the lessons of the past and shout warnings and those who see only the utopia of an enhanced future and shout encouragement. In a powerful discourse against reproductive cloning — only one manifestation of the brave new world being foreseen — Leon R. Kass wrote in these pages of “a profound defilement of our given nature … and of the social relations built on this natural ground.” At the far other end of the spectrum is Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society at UCLA and one of the new breed called “futurists,” whose enthusiasm for bio-psychoengineering (Kass’s cautionary term for such feats of creativity) and a post-human future is so unbounded that he has gone so far as to title his most recent book Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future. Inevitable! Even more frightening than the confidence of Stock’s vision for his fellow men and women is the title of the book’s first chapter, in which he outlines his image of how the laboratory will come to control evolution: he calls it “The Last Human,” meaning those few of us remaining whose bodies and minds have been formed by nature alone.

This is genuinely terrifying stuff. Not since the first half of the twentieth century have prominent thinkers been so starry-eyed at the thought of controlling the future of our species, or at least that privileged portion of it that will have the financial, cultural, and other wherewithal to take advantage of the offer being presented to us….Though I admire Stock for his sincerity and the magnitude of his intellect, I am sure that I would have admired more than a few of the early German eugenicists for the very same reasons had I known them as well as I know him. What concerns me is not the progression of the technology, but the inherent creeping hazards in its philosophical underpinning, which is ultimately to improve the breed.

It all sounds very familiar. Looking backward, we can now see the danger in state-enforced policies of improvement, but too many of us have yet to awaken to the equally dangerous reality of improvement that is self-determined. We are once again standing on the slope, from the top of which the future we may be wreaking is already visible. Now is the time to recognize the nature of human motivation — and the permanence of human frailty.