I’m opposed to prenatal abortion, but Richard Dawkins provides a strong argument in favour of the postnatal variety.
Wouldn’t it be nice, I catch myself fantasising, if some 50 years ago, when he first started to spout his malignant drivel, his parents had decided belatedly that their attempt at childbirth had failed miserably.
They could have agreed that obviously their 23-year-old progeny was deeply flawed, but not to worry. With qualified medical help they could nip that little genetic error in the bud. A simple procedure, and both they and the world would be spared further misery.
Then I pinch myself and realise I am daydreaming again. The law is unequivocal on the distinction between prenatal and postnatal abortion.
That the latter is regarded as murder strikes one as just, even taking Dawkins into account.
However, the former is incomprehensibly seen as a legitimate way of correcting God’s (or nature’s, if you’d rather) mistakes or, for that matter, undoing rubber manufacturers’ shoddy work.
A condom bursts, a woman gets pregnant when she has other plans – no problem, at least none that can’t be solved with a scalpel or, push come to shove, coat hanger.
Alternatively, a woman may not mind having a baby, but only one without defects. Thanks to the technological advances of which modernity is so justly proud, she can find out in advance whether or not the baby she’s carrying is up to scratch.
Anything falling short of her exacting expectations can then be cut out faster than you can say “a woman has a right to dispose of her body as she sees fit”.
Of course saying that sort of thing invalidates 2,000 years of our civilisation, branding the enunciator of such views as a savage. But nobody minds that.
Richard Dawkins certainly doesn’t. That’s why he mouthed yet another barbarian idea, one among so many that we should get accustomed to it by now.
Foetuses with Down’s syndrome should be aborted, says my friend Richard. The unhappy parents should shrug their shoulders, abort, then “try again”.
This method of treating the condition is, according to Richard, “very civilised. These are foetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings.”
Exactly the same thing can be said about Richard, though I hope you realise it was only in jest that I used this observation as a justification for postnatal abortion.
But Richard isn’t joking. He insists that “the question is not ‘is it human?’ but ‘can it suffer?’”
A brighter man than Richard, regardless of his feelings on the matter, would easily spot a flaw in this argument.
‘Can it suffer?’ is a rhetorical question. People always suffer, as I do when, say, reading Richard’s effluvia. Suffering is an essential part of the human condition, certainly more so than ‘happiness’, the pursuit of which is sanctified by American founding documents.
We all know many people, manifestly not afflicted with Down’s syndrome, who lead a life of pure anguish. Some, like the fully developed comedian Robin Williams, kill themselves.
Conversely, I know two men suffering from that condition who don’t strike me as particularly unhappy. I met one of them a few years ago, at a village wedding in Italy. The whole village looked after him, and he gave every impression of a chap enjoying life.
There he was, nattily dressed in blazer and flannel trousers, beaming ear to ear as he kissed the blushing bride. All the guests would shake his hand and talk to him, exchanging laughter and pats on the shoulder. No one seemed to think he ought to have been scraped out of his mother’s womb bit by bit.
The other man is looked after by the friars in our local Burgundian village. He’s their altar boy, ably assisting at Mass every Sunday and telling “La paix du Christ” to the parishioners. I’d say he has made more of his life than Dawkins but, my opinion aside, he certainly doesn’t look as if he’s in the throes of horrible suffering.
I’m not presuming to offer my limited experience as corroborative proof, and I haven’t polled a representative sample of Down’s syndrome sufferers. Neither, I’m sure, has Richard.
Yet his view is even more subjective than mine. Richard himself wouldn’t be happy if he had Down’s syndrome – therefore all those who do must be suffering. But then solipsism is modernity’s chosen religion, and Dawkins is its prophet.
Conversely the question that Richard dismisses out of hand, “Is it human?”, is the only one worth asking, for any argument about abortion, pro or con, has to hinge on the answer.
If we accept that life begins at conception, then abortion is, not to cut too fine a point, homicide. As such, it’s definitely immoral and should be illegal.
If, on the other hand, we see a foetus as only a part of the woman’s body, then abortion is an innocent surgical procedure, like, say, appendectomy.
Anyone, Christian or atheist, who possesses the faculty of sequential thought, should see that the first idea is infinitely more sound than the second on a purely rational level.
For conception is the only moment to which the beginning of human life can be pinpointed with any confidence.
What other point is there? Three months (generally accepted as the cutoff point for abortion)? What about three months minus one day? Or two days? Or ten? Can you be sure that human life began precisely on that last day (two, 10, 29 days) of the first trimester?
Obviously, no logical person can answer this question affirmatively. Then he’ll have to admit it’s possible that a foetus is a human being at 2.5 months, or three weeks. Consequently there’s a risk that aborting any foetus constitutes the arbitrary taking of a human life – something generally frowned upon in our civilisation.
As to deciding which human being deserves to live and which doesn’t, this thought process was widely practised and discredited by regimes I doubt even Richard would like to imitate.
He’s living proof of my oft-expressed belief that atheism leads people into intellectual blind alleys. The intelligent atheists among my friends know this and avoid the impasses by steering clear of touchy subjects.
Richard lacks such wisdom, which is why he ploughs in with nary a thought on how strident and idiotic he sounds.
If I were inclined towards atheism, Richard would turn me off it for life. Those who doubt their faith should thank him for making a powerful, if unwitting, argument in its favour.
Who’d want atheism if it makes one talk such gibberish?