Posts Tagged debate

(Cross) Examining Assisted Suicide

I recently had the opportunity to come on the Cross Examined Life podcast to defend the position that physician-assisted suicide should be illegal. It’s a really great new podcast, with a premise that resonates with me- improving the way we disagree. I enjoyed the conversation, and I hope you’ll check it out. You’ll have to give it a listen to get the full argument, but I had a couple of thoughts after we spoke.

First off, I wish I’d emphasized more that my position is primarily concerned with protecting the rights of vulnerable people. That’s why I hold it, and that’s why it’s important. It’s easy to wander off into abstract ideas and lose the thread of why the ideas and principles matter–in this case, they matter to the people who will be harmed if this principle is discarded. A common argument is that assisted suicide ends an individual’s suffering, and it’s simply nobody’s business how someone chooses to deal with their suffering. So I want to strongly reinforce this point: this is emphatically NOT about “morality” in terms of “I think it’s distasteful, so YOU shouldn’t do it.” Rather, it’s about morality in terms of not harming or abandoning vulnerable people in their time of need.

Looking back, I would have organized my case a little bit differently. Instead of presenting separate arguments, I realize that I might rather have presented all the later points as evidence of what goes wrong when you violate the first one. That would have reflected my thinking more clearly, and would have kept me from getting tied up like I did in questioning whether someone is competent to make this or that decision. Rather than debating whether freedom from coercion and pressure is itself a reason to make assisted suicide illegal, I should have made clear from the start that the problem of coercion is something which emerges from the violation of the fundamental principle; that is, that we shouldn’t be killing people anyway.

I also would have tried to more clearly express the argument that life has intrinsic value, because that’s what’s underneath the whole thing. If the basic principle that “life is worth defending” is itself in question, then none of the rest matters. I think that might have sparked a bit of productive discussion. Why is life worth defending? Why do we all generally accept that we shouldn’t kill people, or that suicide is sad? These questions need to be answered before we can really explore whether or when exceptions ought to be made (e.g., we shouldn’t kill people, except in circumstances X and Y when rule Z takes priority, etc.).

At the end, I said that the conversation gave me some things to ponder further. What I had in mind was one of Chris’s very first questions, asking about the role of autonomy. As someone with a tendency towards libertarian thinking, this gave me pause. In the conversation, I stayed mostly grounded in the argument that virtually everyone agrees that matters of life and death are an appropriate place for government regulation. One can make “personal autonomy” a high priority and still believe there’s a place for laws addressing whether or not it’s ok for us to kill each other.

Upon further reflection, I think I’d flesh out an additional point. I briefly touched on this, then moved on quickly. But the question on the table isn’t actually about autonomy; that is, about someone’s individual actions and choices. We weren’t talking about whether suicide is ok or should be legal; I’d give a different answer to that question. We were considering assisted suicide- should it be legal for a doctor to give someone, in a moment of despair, a way to harm themselves. “Should an individual be able to do what he wants?” is a different question than, “should we call ‘causing death’ a form of medical care?” The principle of autonomy applies to the first, but not as strongly to the second, I would argue.

One last thing. I should have done a better job of acknowledging how blurry the line between “allowing death” and “causing death” can look, that’s absolutely fair criticism. If I could go back, I’d grant that the two things don’t always appear all that distinct on the surface. That said, I would still push back on the point. Here’s why: I think people everywhere, in all cultures, widely recognize this distinction. If someone holds that there is not really an important difference between a disease taking someone’s life, versus a person taking it, then that’s the view that requires defending.

Please give the podcast a listen and a share, and let me know what you think!

To go deeper into this topic, many disability-rights and elder-abuse prevention organizations have great resources. These types of groups are almost unanimously opposed to legalizing assisted suicide, which should carry some weight in itself.

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

Patients Rights Council

American Association of People with Disabilities


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The New Abolitionists

Every fifty years or so since the founding of our Republic, there seems to be a major societal revolution.

The founding itself took place in a revolution, and our nation was built on revolutionary ideas (such as a constitutional government which rested on natural law and popular sovereignty) which today are taken for granted. A little more than a half century later, we fought a bloody civil war, and a revolutionary idea, equal protection under the law, began to be put into practice. In the beginning of the 20th century, the country was split over giving women the right to vote; again, justice prevailed. Almost fifty years later, segregation’s time was up, and a revolution in civil rights took place once again.

We look back today at the men and women who fought these battles–the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the civil rights activists–as the heroes that they are. Their courage and actions changed the world. In each case, they were defending a vulnerable group against injustice from those in power. In each case, as the arc of history bent towards justice, they were the benders. And their heroism lies in no small part due to the fact that in each case, they faced a culture that was split around the issue; by standing up for what they knew to be right, they faced widespread public derision, possible rejection by their own family and friends, even violence.

If the pattern holds, we’re due for another of these cultural shifts.

We also look back today at 41 years of legal abortion, and at 56 million dead children. Again the country is split. And again, an abolitionist movement is gaining strength.

It amazes me how the pro-choice arguments mirror so closely the old pro-slavery arguments. “They’re not people. You can’t give them the same rights as real people.” “They’re really better off this way. What kind of life would they have if you got your way?” In any event, the slave owners and their supporters were simply trying to protect their freedom to choose to own slaves. That is, if you don’t like slavery, then don’t own slaves. But how dare you take away someone else’s right to choose based on your beliefs! Right?

I don’t want to belabor this too much. It doesn’t need it. This is a simple issue (don’t kill kids) and momentum is already on the side of justice. Just allow me one little harangue. Look to the examples I listed above. We are in our revolution. It is taking place now. We are today’s abolitionists. History will look back at today and see either courage, or cowardice. People will look back at us and admire those who stood up to protect the vulnerable from the powerful, just as we look back with admiration for those who have fought this battle before. They fought on different battlegrounds, but justice is the same today as it was yesterday; and it makes the same demand whether the victim is a slave or an infant.

"Thousands" gather for the 2013 March For Life*

“Thousands” gather for the 2013 March For Life*

So to my harangue. Be the person today that you will look back at with pride, knowing that you stood up when it was hard to do. Don’t be silent. Remember that “don’t kill kids” will one day be as obvious as “don’t make people slaves” is to us today. Don’t be afraid. The tide has already turned. Speak up. Most Americans are with you, even if the news won’t report it.

*Image stolen without asking from Yes, I used a 2013 picture despite today being the 2014 March For Life. This is just such a fantastic picture. Today’s pictures are all full of snow.

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The Simplistic Nelson Mandela

So everyone has an opinion on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

The coverage and commentary I’ve seen over the last few days has pushed something to the front of my mind which has been percolating semi-consciously for a while: the universal human tendency to reduce complex things (like people) to simplistic things (like bumper stickers). In particular, I have watched with fascination and frustration the political manifestation of this tendency, the reduction of a real, complex human being to either a Saint or a Demon.

This isn’t a partisan post, because this isn’t a partisan issue. If you, whatever your views, think that only the Other Side does this, or even just that the Other Side does it WAY WORSE than your team, you are wrong, and go sit in the corner and think about what you have done. Everybody does this, and it’s never acceptable, and it’s never helpful, and we all need to stop it.

So on to the current case. I’m not an expert on Mandela. But I know enough to know that everything I have read so far from all sources is criminally simplistic. I know to expect this to some degree, but I would hope that on the occasion of the death of the respected 95-year-old South African statesman, we could wait at least a couple of weeks here in the US before starting to make this all about us.

To those making Mandela out to be a saint: calm down. The man was the founder of a terrorist group. This fact is not in dispute. He was imprisoned for attempting to violently overthrow the government via this group, for which he was guilty. He was friends with Fidel Castro and Muammar Gaddafi, violent dictators that as a matter of policy murdered their own people. He was married to a woman for almost 40 years who was found by South Africa’s own TRC to be both “accountable” and “responsible” for “gross violations of human rights.” He was proudly Marxist throughout his life. He remained in prison for part of those 27 years because he refused what was in at least one offer the only condition he was presented: that he “unconditionally reject violence as a political weapon.”

To those making Mandela out to be a demon: calm down. The man successfully navigated the end of apartheid and saw South Africa to its first truly democratic election. He personally held Marxist views, yes, but did not follow through on his early goals of nationalizing much of South Africa’s economy. He was committed to nonviolent means of protest for many years until he became convinced by the grave injustice and violence he constantly witnessed that sometimes there may be no other way to prevent future violence. This is the same justification given by any hawk for military action. While in prison and after his release, he seems to have attempted to exert what influence he had over the ANC to end the violence. After his release and as President, he was deeply committed to racial reconciliation and forgiveness for both sides, so much so that some of the violent revolutionaries he used to lead turned on him.

Finally, to those yelling at each other over this: calm down. It’s fitting and proper to celebrate the good things Mandela accomplished. They are real, and they are significant. It’s also fitting and proper in a political and historical context to remember accurately his violent past and his controversial positions. There is nothing racist about the above paragraphs.

All of these things can be true at the same time because–and if you’ll remember, this is what prompted me to write this whole thing–people are not simplistic. People are complex. They live in real life and make real judgments with real consequences. Sometimes they change. Another of Mandela’s friends, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, had the following to say about him: “Before Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962, he was an angry, relatively young man. He founded the ANC’s military wing. When he was released, he surprised everyone because he was talking about reconciliation and forgiveness and not about revenge.”

Let’s all think about that as we reflect on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Let us keep some decorum, and let us remember that he was a man, not an ideology, neither a saint nor a demon. He was complex. He was not a bumper sticker. Let us strive to live up to that description ourselves.

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Don’t Overcomplicate Abortion

20w ultrasoundThis is a picture of my son from a couple months ago. He still has a month or two to go now. Specifically, his gestational age is just over 20 weeks in this picture.

You can see that he’s already got all his parts at this point. He spent his time in the ultrasound room running in place, stretching, rolling around, and basically dancing around non-stop.

Many of the recent state laws that have come up in the abortion debate have centered on banning abortions after the 20-22 week range. Advocates for abortion rights have lost their minds over the very idea that someone would want to restrict a woman’s right to terminate her 22-week old fetus–how dare anyone, any MAN, tell a woman what she can do with her body!

Look again at my 20 week old son. Really look at him.

There is another body involved. Another living human being.

My son is not a lump of undifferentiated cells. If you saw him move (and according to my wife, it seems like he never stops moving), you would not say that he’s not alive.

If you support abortion rights, do you really look at that picture and not see a human child? Do you really believe that if his mother wants to kill him, that’s nobody’s business but hers?

The burden of proof is not on the pro-life camp here. This argument isn’t based on some out of context quote from the book of Leviticus. This isn’t about controlling people, or men telling women what to do with their bodies. The argument is based on the fact that my son is a living human baby, and should not be killed. Abortion defenders argue that, if we feel like it, we should have the right to ask a doctor to reach in with a knife and suction tube and, living, cut him to pieces.

Look at my son again and tell me if you would be okay with that. I’m completely serious. Look at my son right now, and picture that procedure. I’ll wait. Now tell yourself that’s perfectly fine, if that’s what you think.

If you can’t do that, you might need to spend some time considering your position.

My son’s humanity does not depend on his level of brain activity or whether or not he happens to be inside a uterus at the moment. He’s a human being by the fact of his very DNA and the fact that he is alive and growing.

The pro-life argument is very simple. All it comes down to is that it’s not okay to kill a baby. The opposition screams a thousand insults; I am called a misogynist, a fundamentalist, a theocrat, a hypocrite. I am called hateful, judgmental; I may lose friends over this.

And still, all I have said and all I am saying is that it’s not okay to kill a baby.

That’s really the extent of the pro-life argument.

I truly believe that the reason the pro-abortion side gets so blindingly fanatical, so irrational in these arguments is because on some level, they know that killing a child is unjustifiable. I believe that much of the rage and hatred against pro-life arguments and pro-life supporters find their unconscious source in a need to justify to oneself that one is still a good person despite arguing for the right to kill children.

If this were not the case, you would hear different arguments in favor of abortion. But very few argue that abortion is okay. The argument is almost always some form of, “it’s a woman’s right to choose,” with the implied follow-up, “(regardless of whether it’s right or wrong.)” President Clinton pontificated that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. But if it should be rare… why?

Why assent that it should be rare? If it’s morally acceptable, who cares how widespread it is?

But if you think it ought to be rare because you know it’s killing a child, that’s an issue that overrides some of our individual liberties. Freedom and government noninterference doesn’t go as far as allowing murder.

If you agree that abortion ought to be rare, think about that. Meditate on why you think so.

Look one last time at my son. The pro-abortion argument says that the right to end his life is a matter of equal rights for women.

All I’m saying is that it’s not okay to kill a baby.

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New Year’s Resolutions for America

As Americans are making their resolutions, here’s what I’d like to see the country do this year.

One: America ought to resolve to pay more attention to what’s happening. We, as a country, tend to get excited about fads and pay no attention to substance. And so, we end up with elected leaders that woo us with nebulous, undefined promises of hope and change. We end up allowing really frightening things to occur quietly, like the recent fully-bipartisan passage of the NDAA. We get caught up in cults of personality, on all sides–with Barack Obama most obviously, but don’t ignore the same halo of messianic destiny imagined by supporters of, in the past, Sarah Palin, and currently, Ron Paul. We must pay better attention, and we must hold our elected officials accountable for what they say and do.

Two: America needs a broad change in direction. We found ourselves in a mess a few years ago, and as a country, agreed to have the government try to control it, to fix the economy through stimulus, regulation, and redistribution. The government has now stepped into (and in some cases, taken over) broad swaths of the private economy, instituted new, far-reaching regulations, and spent almost five trillion dollars ($5,000,000,000,000) it didn’t have in only three years. The effect of all of this has been a complete lack of recovery. This year we need to resolve to move the country in the other direction. We tried big-government solutions, and they have failed, as they have failed in the past. Today, we need free market, pro-business, small government solutions. That means we need to elect real conservatives this year, leaders that have pledged to undo the regulations, shrink the government, and allow businesses to flourish and hire.

Three: Finally, America should resolve to stick together. It’s so easy–especially in an election year–to feel like our political adversaries are enemies to be destroyed, or that anyone who disagrees with us must be deeply evil, or a blithering idiot, or whatever. Today, those who seek to divide the country have extra help from the White House and groups dedicated to an Occupation. People seeking power want to convince us that we are all up against each other; that if your neighbor has things you don’t have, he must have taken them unfairly. America must resolve to stand firm against these ideas. At the end of the day, there is far more that unites us than divides us. Never forget the conservative wisdom that we all rise or fall together.

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Lies, and Why People Hate Politics

I’m on the road, on the job. And the things I just heard the President say disgusted me enough to stop my day and respond.

President Obama just gave a press conference in which he called on House Republicans to pass the Senate bill extending the payroll tax holiday for eight weeks. He trotted out several stories about real people who won’t be able to order pizza because the Republicans are playing politics and refusing to compromise. And he ended by lamenting that this mess the Republicans have made is why Americans are disgusted with politics today. I would give exact quotes, but I can’t find a posted transcript yet.

I generally try to keep things on a positive and rational level here, but sometimes a spade is a spade. What utter tripe. The President kept claiming that he was trying to save the average American $1000 a year, and House Republicans are preventing him. Lies. These are outright lies. The eight week extension passed by Democrats saves the average American around $166. The House, on the other hand, did pass a bill extending the tax cut for a full year, which would save people that $1000 he says he wants.

What happened to that bill? The Senate said no. Harry “CEOs-are-like-unicorns” Reid refused the Republican bill to save Americans that money and allow businesses to plan for the future, and passed their own version that will, instead, allow the Democrats to continue to hold this tax over the heads of Republicans and working Americans as a threat. Republicans have been literally waiting in a conference room for Senate Democrats to come work out a compromise, but Reid said, “my way or the highway,” passed this ridiculous eight-week extension, and sent the Senate home. And President Obama just gave a speech claiming that Republicans are raising your taxes by refusing to work together!

Then, since he had no rational argument to make for his position, the President supported the lies by telling stories about poor people that will freeze unless Republicans get in line. This kind of thing, for future reference, should always send up red flags. Notice that the argument of the left is not “here’s our rational position,” but “if you don’t do what we say, you want poor people to die!” That is nearly always a sign that you’re losing the argument. If you have a logical defense, you don’t have to resort to this kind of thing.

This is a main difference between the left and the right, of course. Conservatives base their positions on logic, reason. We want what works. Liberals are all about feeling. Logic is a lower priority–facts may be overlooked, because emotions are what drive liberal policy. It doesn’t matter if your ideas don’t work, as long as you know you’re not one of those evil, uncaring Republicans.

And this is why people are disgusted with politics. It’s speeches like the one the President just gave. It’s lies presented as facts, and the knowledge that large portions of the American public will simply believe them. It’s the fact that I would like to see changes to help more people get out of poverty, but because of people like Reid and Obama and speeches like this, so many people will continue to think that I personally want poor people to freeze, because I support Republicans.

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My wife and I were talking about political conversation a couple of weeks ago.  She observed that political conversations, regardless of where they begin, often end up in the same place—a re-hashing of the same ideas, or, repetitive laments on how the opposition is ruining things.

If this is generally true for political conversations, it’s especially true for political arguments.  Debates are sparked by current events, about which people can, and sometimes they even do, have real conversations in which they listen and respond to others.  Soon, however, that spark ignites a flame of ideology.  Often, people then end up running quickly from the cool, rational debate into fiery shouting matches.

So this all got me to thinking about the fact that, as far as I can tell, many people never bother to actually understand most others’ positions.  I might be generous in assuming that people even care why other people believe what they do, but that’s another matter.  I was recently accused of being a “blind fool” for my conservative beliefs.  Modesty aside, I think I’m more informed than most, and I have rational reasons for everything I believe.  I’m not saying I’m never a fool (nobody’s right all the time), but I’m certainly not the type to simply agree with those around me without thinking or reason.  If I were, I never would have held on to my political ideals through four years at a state college and three years in Los Angeles.  I held on to them because, after listening to both sides of the argument, the conservative solutions generally made more sense to me.

In my experience, both conservatives and liberals can be patriotic, selfless, thoughtful, and logical.  Both camps—despite what each says about the other—want what’s best for us all, including (and specifically), a better life for the poor.  And I mean it when I say both can think logically and rationally, though some individuals on either side may demonstrate this skill better than others.  The problem, and where people close their ears and start locking antlers, is that we start with vastly different premises.  Most of us can agree that 2 + 2 = 4, certainly, but if I’m adding 3 and 6 when you think I’m adding 2 and 5, and vice versa, we each reasonably think that the other is an idiot for coming to a different conclusion.  And we almost never talk about the premises.  They’re the source of the disagreement, and they get woefully overlooked.  People don’t talk about the deep, theoretical differences.  We liken each other to Hitler and Stalin and make commercials saying the other party wants to KILL YOUR GRANDMA!  Righteous anger is so satisfying.

But this doesn’t get us anywhere.  This, in fact, sucks.

Hence, this blog.  I want you to know my reasoning, starting from first principles.  My conservative manifesto, if you will.  I want to help people understand why conservative solutions really make the most sense.  It’s my hope that even those who disagree with me will at least, seeing my reasoning, understand it and know that it exists; and know that, though we disagree on the means, we all want a better world for everyone.

Well, deep down, it’s my hope that those who disagree with me will read this and say, “Holy crap, I’ve been wrong all these years, I’m actually a conservative,” but I’ll take what I can get.


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