LETTERS News Weekly
, April 28, 2012
I read with interest and some perturbation Dr Alberto Giubilini and Dr Francesca Minerva’s article, “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?”, in the Journal of Medical Ethics, February 23, 2012 (reported in News Weekly, March 17, 2012).
In their article the two Melbourne-based academics advocate the admissibility of killing newborns in certain circumstances. In particular, they argue that (a) certain classes of people may be described as “non-persons”, and (b) because they are non-persons they may be killed.
I believe they have committed here a couple of basic logical fallacies.
Their first proposition, that certain classes of humans are non-persons, commits the informal logical fallacy of begging the question. They simply assert that they are non-persons, without any physical, chemical, biochemical or psychometric evidence.
They also commit the formal fallacy of affirming the consequence. In other words, because we kill unborn people, and some societies kill convicted murderers, these classes of people are non-persons. I note that they do not deny that any of these are human.
The killing of one’s opponent in war is legal, even according to international treaty (e.g., the Geneva Convention). However, that doesn’t make the opposition’s soldiers non-persons.
“Justifiable homicide” to defend one’s person against an assailant is legal. Does that make the assailant a non-person? I think not.
Few people appear to believe convicted murderers are non-persons. They are persons who have committed serious crimes for which the state prescribes a punishment. Indeed, if they were a non-person killing another, e.g., a tiger in the zoo, the tiger wouldn’t be killed; it would just have its cage made more secure to prevent a repeat!
The second proposition that certain classes of humans may be considered non-persons is a semantic argument. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary clearly defines person as “human” or “individual”.
As one can see, the dictionary sees no distinction between the word person, individual or human, in describing a member of the human race. It does not follow logically that a non-person may be killed when one feels like it because that non-person is inconvenient. (This is the informal logical fallacy known as non sequitur, where the conclusion doesn’t follow the premise).
A dog is not a person. You may not kill my dog, and the killing is punishable by law. A feral dog, or even my dog, however, may be legally killed but only if certain circumstances apply. For example, a farmer may legally shoot it if the dog is threatening his sheep. But it’s still a dog. It doesn’t become a “non-dog” just because the farmer is allowed to kill it!
I must confess a personal interest in this issue of the existence of non-persons and the use of the term to justify killing.
It has a long history, including that of the Polynesian cannibals. The Solomon Islanders’ word for their tribe is translatable as “human”, and their word for other tribes is translatable as “non-human”. So, under their rules, before European colonisation, it was permissible to eat a non-human but not a human (i.e., someone from their own tribe).
The Nazis in Germany used a similar argument to justify killing certain classes of people that their ideology led them to believe were the cause of perceived difficulties. My personal connection is that three of my great-uncles perished in the Nazi concentration camps.
This line of reasoning is similar to the popular position which loosely states that the world is full of problems. The problems are caused by some people and not by others. Therefore, if we get rid of those causing the problems, we will get rid of the problems.
The Nazis, the Communists and others have tried this to devastating effect throughout the 20th century, and failed in their aims, because the argument is fallacious (spot the many logical fallacies in it!).
G.K. Chesterton famously responded to a London Times article in the 1920s which had asked its readers to describe what was wrong with the world. He wrote: “Dear Sir, what’s wrong with the world? I am. GK.”
We are all flawed, no one is perfect, and attempts to solve our problems by punishing others are doomed to failure.
Dr Philip Dawson, BSc, MBBS, MM, FRACGP, DRANZCOG,
George Town, Tas.
Women in the military
Over the past few weeks, some commentators have praised the Defence Minister Stephen Smith and criticised Commodore Bruce Kafer on the grounds that if their daughters were involved in the reported behaviour they would expect criticism of the military.
Well, I thought that women were allowed to, or wanted to, join the military because they were supposedly equal to men. One would expect that they be treated no differently — or is it a case of Labor’s social engineering gone wrong?
The unacknowledged elephant in the room is women in the military in the first place, especially in front-line units. Regardless of who is Defence Minister, the Labor Party’s agenda is to “alter the culture” by fast-tracking political appointments, feminising the military, allowing the entry of incompatible ethnic groups and gradually turning it into a social welfare unit capable of producing like-minded political apparatchiks to further the dream of reducing the army to a branch-office role of a larger United Nations “peace-keeping force”. Translated, this means another nail in the coffin of national sovereignty.
With the navy now reduced to acting as an escort service for people-smugglers’ boats carrying undocumented human cargo, the army has come under the political spotlight. When the whole operation goes “pear-shaped”, the very same politicians, acting purely out of self-interest, will turn on the military for a lack of preparedness, conveniently covering their role in decimating the organisation.
Numerous community surveys in Australia and the United States on respected and trusted occupations always seem to place the military and nurses at the top and politicians at or near the bottom.
Hamilton Hill, WA
Blasphemy in Moscow cathedral
My attention has been drawn to the David Pryce-Jones extract “Putin the secret policeman” (News Weekly, April 14, 2012).
Pryce-Jones grumbles about Putin having arrested “young women who sing what are said to be punk songs”. In fact, the young women concerned were members of a blasphemous “musical” act, calling itself “Pussy Riot”.
The spoilt girls of “Pussy Riot” cheerfully and unambiguously desecrated Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, hoping thereby to advance such causes as so-called “gay rights”. (No wonder, incidentally, that their perpetrators are the latest pin-up girls for the pro-abort and pro-cultural-Marxist Amnesty International.)