Category Archives: Bioethics

Further Ethics Observations On The Planned Parenthood Videos

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1. The fourth in a series of surreptitiously obtained videos depicting Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal body parts for research has been released. The Center for Medical Progress is the anti-abortion group that has created these videos: it defines itself as a “citizen journalist” project. Since these videos have been made using deception and without the safeguards of established journalism ethics by untrained and non-objective journalists, Ethics Alarms has consistently held that they are the result of unethical conduct, regardless of the motives behind them or what they show.

I am, reluctantly, reversing that verdict. The reason is the now undeniable refusal of the mainstream media and professional journalists to do their duty regarding the abortion issue in general and Planned Parenthood in particular. Despite the significance of these videos, the attack on Planned Parenthood and the fact that abortion is the most contentious and least resolved moral-ethical issue of our time, the news media, broadcast and print, have intentionally and unconscionably avoided covering the Center for Medical Progress videos and the issues they raise. The average American who does not monitor the news over the internet probably isn’t aware of the videos at all, and certainly has no sense of their content.

Journalism ethics codes state that deception and surreptitious means are only justified as investigative methods of reporting when more open and transparent reporting cannot obtain the facts. When professional journalists shrink from their duty to obtain the facts and report the truth, citizen journalists must take over, because democracy requires truth and transparency. Journalists should have made these videos. Because reporters abdicated their duties, those who picked up the dropped banner of probing investigative journalism regarding vital national issues should not be condemned. They should be praised, and by everyone, including journalists. If a fire fighter refuses to enter a burning building to rescue a child, and a citizen knocks down a door to do the job, I don’t want to see that citizen charged for the cost of the door, or criticized for acting. The videos are a public service, and necessary perspective on our society’s war against the unborn. Continue reading

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“I think abortion is evil, but it is a necessary evil.” Discuss.

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This blog doesn’t discuss evil very often because it is not a term appropriately associated with ethics. Evil is a concept related to morality. In an ethics discussion, I would take evil to mean something extremely, irredeemably unethical by any ethical analysis or system. The statement “I think abortion is evil, but it is a necessary evil” appeared parenthetically in a comment by Beth, a frequent commenter on Ethics Alarms who is a mother and a lawyer, regarding the Planned Parenthood videos. Though the news media appears to have successfully distorted that story by focusing only on whether the videos were evidence of illegal “trafficking in body parts” by Planned Parenthood, that was not the reason I posted the essays, and it is not the reason those videos are significant in the ongoing debate over abortion rights. Two high ranking individuals in the organizations casually discussed the crushing and crunching of the heads and torsos of living and helpless individuals with the sensitivity I would associate with stepping on a roach. If this doesn’t disturb you, it should. If it does disturb you, as it did Beth, what does that mean?

Abortion is one of the most important and difficult ethics issues in the culture, indeed in world culture. It involves millions of lives and millions of deaths, law, bioethics, religion, social policy, science, human rights and feminism, as well as society’s ultimate respect for life itself. I have written about the ethics of the abortion debate frequently (you can find most of the relevant posts here), but to summarize the Ethics Alarms views on the topic:

1. Abortion is an ethics conflict, meaning that there are ethical principles in opposition to each other, requiring society to set priorities.

2. The absolutist position on the anti-abortion side is that abortion involves the taking of innocent human life, which begins from conception, and is thus unethical in all cases. It is a strong position if one accepts the underlying assumption.

3. However, no absolute position is really absolute. Every ethics absolute has an exception, or several: there must be some circumstances when abortion is necessary and right. (This is not true of moral absolutes, since moral absolutes are self defining. If the power dictating a moral precept says it is absolute, it is so.)

4. The absolutist position on the abortion side of the argument holds that a woman’s right to have complete dominion over her body, reproductive activity and health justifies abortion in all cases. This is not a strong position, and in fact is one that cannot be honestly argued or sustained. It supports abortion on demand for any purpose or preference, entirely at the mother’s discretion.

5. To make that argument, extreme pro-abortion advocates have had to deny the humanity and human rights of unborn children, even to the point of arguing that they are not individuals at all, but mere “parasites,” or “tumors.” The removal of a second life from the equation that is at the core of the abortion problem makes the abortion decision easy and guilt-free; it also settles the debate by pretending the central issue doesn’t exist. That issue is that there is another life involved, not just the mother’s.

6. The debate over the ethics of abortion has been handicapped by the tactic of both sides to pretend a legitimate interest championed by the other doesn’t exist. A woman’s ability to control her own life, career and what happens to her body is an important societal issue, yet the term “pro-life” ignores it entirely. It is not the only important interest involved in the abortion decision, however, as the term “pro-choice” suggests.

7. Neither absolute position, whatever its theoretical virtues, is practical from a policy perspective. Desperate women who are pregnant will seek abortions, people will help then (or exploit them, or kill them), and public policy cannot pretend otherwise. Society will not tolerate punishing women for aborting their unborn children, whether they deserve to be punished or not. Yet allowing mothers to have unborn children killed on a whim leads to the callous, ugly, dangerous attitude toward innocent life on display in the Planned Parenthood videos. Callousness toward any human life, history has shown us, is a slippery slope with the potential of doing terrible harm to the culture.

8. Roe v. Wade was a premature Supreme Court decision and a badly reasoned one. Until and unless it is overturned, abortion is a right. That does not mean, and never meant, that abortion necessarily is right.

9. Because absolutism fails here, abortion is a problem that demands utilitarian analysis–balancing of interests and values, in the best interests of society, long and short-term, and everyone in it, according to the facts as we understand them.

10. Balancing requires an honest acknowledgement that there is something to balance. The “pro-choice” and “pro-life” dichotomy doesn’t acknowledge that in their most extreme incarnations, and since abortion is currently a right, the pro-choice lobby detects no reason to yield to logic, science and reality. Continue reading

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Comment of the Day: “A Single Mother’s Irresponsible Defense of Single Motherhood”

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Coming in on a four month-old post, first time commenter Amanda Bonarrigo’s Comment of the Day describes how she was pushed toward single motherhood by a system that operates in willful ignorance of the personal and societal problems the condition creates. These are some of the best and most enlightening comments that Ethics Alarms receives, when an individual with a personal experience related to the topic of an essay here reveals a relevant personal experience in frank and passionate term.  Opinions are great, but this is the most helpful of all.

Here is Amanda’s Comment of the Day on the post, A Single Mother’s Irresponsible Defense of Single Motherhood:

Continue reading

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Planned Parenthood’s Callousness Toward Life On Video, ACT II

In her op-ed for  USA TODAY, Kirsten Powers, one of the token liberals (she’s a moderate conservative, really) on Fox News, does an excellent job of compiling the inadequate and indeed damning responses of Planned Parenthood and the pro-abortion establishment to the video evidence of its executives’ stunning lack of respect for  unborn human life. (I covered much of the same territory here and here.) There is now a second video, and that means that the “this is just an aberration and one woman’s mistake” rationalization for Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, Deborah Nucatola casually talking about crushing the heads of living human beings to preserve their organs for medical research. Powers quotes her “friend and former Obama White House staffer Michael Wear” as tweeting “It should bother us as a society that we have use for aborted human organs, but not the baby that provides them.”

Well said. Does it bother us? It certainly doesn’t bother Democratic presidential candidates, none of whom have breathed a word about the videos. Neither have they been asked about them, because with the exception of the evil Fox News, none of the news organizations have treated the first video as anything but a one day story. Writes Powers, accurately,

It’s a measure of how damning the video is that Planned Parenthood’s usual defenders were nowhere to be found. There was total silence from The New York Times editorial board and their 10 (out of 11) pro-abortion rights columnists. Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi — both recipients of Planned Parenthood’s highest honor, the Margaret Sanger Award — have been mum.

They want the story to go away, and the reason is that the ethics of abortion is extremely vulnerable to facts and honest discussion. Shouldn’t the news media be promoting both? Let me rephrase that: wouldn’t objective, unbiased, ethical journalists have a duty to examine the issue in the light of the videos, and not shrink from them?

Of course. Continue reading

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More On The Planned Parenthood “Sting” Video: A Fake Apology, The News Media Embargo, Misdirection, Another Dishonest Defense…And New Rationalization #38 A : “Mercy For Miscreants”

Side issue: Newsbusters used this photo of Petula Dvorak. Is that unethical, as in gratuitously mean? There are nicer ones. (Of course, I'm using the photo to raise the issue. Honest.)

Side issue: Newsbusters used this photo of Petula Dvorak. Is that unethical, as in gratuitously mean? There are nicer ones. (Of course, I’m using the photo to raise the issue. Honest.)

The surreptitiously filmed video of a Planned Parenthood official talking about butchering babies like Ed Gein talking about how to make lampshades out of a human face presented anti-abortion advocates with smoking gun evidence of the callousness and disregard of fetal life the pro-abortion movement has cultivated. One cannot think about fetuses, even advanced fetuses, as living, human beings and blithely encourage their destruction. The recorded comments of Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, released in the shortened version of a three hour video, should inform a national debate regarding abortion, a debate that the pro-abortion forces desperately want to avoid. The video itself makes it clear why.

Thus the news media is determined to bury the story, just as it barely covered the abortion House of Horrors of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. The ugly reality of abortion is not supportive of abortion, just as the reality of slavery was rejected and avoided by slavery proponents until Uncle Tom’s Cabin shocked the culture out of its denial. Abortion advocates focus on the beneficial results of abortion– freedom for women, workforce flexibility, family planning, personal power—and it is the equivalent of slavery advocates pointing to the Old South’s agricultural affluence and pleasant lifestyle to justify keeping hguman beings in chains. The news media shouldn’t be picking winners in this cultural debate. It has a duty to report facts, especially facts that might shock the public out of ignorance and apathy on such a vital issue involving law and ethics.

As activists are wont to do in their passion, the Live Action-affiliated group that released the video over-reached in its interpretation of it, thus giving the news media, Planned Parenthood and the pro-abortion lobby an easy path to deflection. The video doesn’t prove, or even strongly suggest, that Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts for research. By making that accusation, the group opened the door to attacks on the legitimacy of the video. Every media report says that it is “heavily edited,” a phrase intended to suggest that it is deceptively edited. The video is heavily edited because the raw video, which is available to view as well, is three hours long and watching it is like watching paint dry while being hit in the face by an occasional rock.

Unless the media defenders of Planned Parenthood think that the unedited video contains moments when Nucatola says, “Oh, by the way, I didn’t mean what I just said, even though I sounded like I did,” the woman displayed a callous, core attitude that killing a human embryo is as ethically significant as stepping on a cockroach. That’s what is so disturbing about the video, why it is important, and why abortion foes should make certain it is viewed by as many U.S. citizens as possible. Political figures, candidates for office and elected officials should also be forced to confront the video, with “well, that’s heavily edited” being immediately called what it is: a dodge.

On the topic of dodges, we have Planned Parenthood’s apology for Nucatola. Cecile Richards, the group’s president, stated in a video:

“Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide. In the video, one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion. This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member’s tone and statements. As always, if there is any aspect of our work that can be strengthened, we want to know about it, and we take swift action to address it.”

On the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale, this is a solid #9,“apologizing for a tangential matter other than the act or words that warranted an apology.” Compassion toward whom? The issue in the video is the disgusting lack of compassion for the unborn who are being reduced to body parts for medical research, not lack of compassion for the mothers of those little bundles of body parts.

As with the Slate’s attempted defense of the indefensible, Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak was propelled by the perceived threat to Planned Parenthood and abortions galore into a near hysterical condemnation of the video, one that, also like the Slate column, nicely illustrated the ethical and logical deficits in the pro-abortion position.

She begins by defining the latest addition to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List with her very first sentence: “Planned Parenthood has become one of the most attacked groups in America.” The simple rejoinder to that is, “So what?” Either the group deserves a particular criticism, or it doesn’t. The fact that some criticism is unfair or excessive does not invalidate legitimate criticism, or suggest that it is unfair or cruel to offer it.

Nonetheless, we see this rationalization often. It is favorite dodge of Hillary Clinton’s supporters: “There they go, attacking Hillary Clinton again!” they say, as if the frequency of criticism can only be attributable to the unfair zeal of her critics, and her conduct has nothing to do with it. I call this rationalization “Mercy For Miscreants.”

Its theory is that it is only fair to assign a criticism quota to groups and individuals: at a certain point, no more criticism is allowed, because nobody should have to be criticized that much. It is so darn mean to keep heaping abuse on someone, even if they deserve it. This new rationalization  is #38 A,  classified as a sub-rationalization under rationalization number 38. The Miscreant’s Mulligan or “Give him/her/them/me a break!”  “Mercy For Miscreants,” or “Why don’t they pick on someone else?is arguably more sinister and illogical that its parent, because it is based on the Bizarro World theory that the more someone is criticized, the less they should be criticized. On occasion, this rationalization also appeals to #21. Ethics Accounting, on the batty theory that if someone, or a group like Planned Parenthood, has been unfairly criticized in the past, that should count in their favor and relieve them of being legitimately criticized later.

Petula is just getting started, however. Here next two paragraphs are about how unfairly Planned Parenthood has been attacked in the past, and what wonderful things it does, neither of which are even faintly germane to the current controversy, which involves a high-ranking executive saying things like…

“We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver. . . . So I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact…”

…about unborn children. That’s what she is crushing. And she is crushing the life out of them, beyond question. Continue reading

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Pro-Abortion Ethics: Amanda Marcotte’s Defense Of The Planned Parenthood Fetal Organ-Harvesting Video Is Even Uglier Than The Video Itself

Planned Parenthood is hustling to deal with the public relations embarrassment of a sting video (above) by an anti-abortion group, catching a PP executive enthusiastically discussing the harvesting of tiny livers and other fetal organs.

Over lunch at a Los Angeles restaurant, two of the group’s activists, posing as employees from a biotech firm, met with Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research. They made a surreptitious video capturing Nucatola over a three-hour span as she chatted about Planned Parenthood’s work providing fetal tissue to researchers. The hit job—these stings are per se unethical, no matter what they reveal, no matter who they target, and no matter how virtuous their motives—emerged as a shortened, edited version of the session featuring the most disturbing  of Nucatera’s comments. The group responsible, the Center for Medical Progress, is accusing Planned Parenthood of illegally trafficking in aborted fetal organs.What is more significant from an ethical perspective, however, is the stunning callousness of this executive’s attitude toward unborn human beings.

She casually describes “crushing” fetuses so that their internal organs remain usable for research. “I’d say a lot of people want liver,” she as she munches on a salad. ( I wonder if she a vegan, since it’s, you know, unethical to kill animals for food, and we’re so cruel to cattle and chickens. ) “And for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance so they’ll know where they’re putting their forceps.”

Nucatera later boasts, “We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”

I continue to believe that a tipping point may lie ahead for the abortion controversy. When a cultural equivalent of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” cuts through the deceit and fantasy, forcing the public to confront the ethical and moral depravity of the most extreme pro-abortion position, civilization may come to view the current period with shame akin to how we now look at the slavery era.

Maybe not, however. I don’t understand how the ghoulish rhetoric of abortion advocates hasn’t already had this effect. Perhaps the ethical corruption of the culture on the topic of destroying innocent human life in the womb has already proceeded too far. Perhaps groups like Planned Parenthood have succeeded in imbedding the factually untenable concept that the welfare and life of only one individual is at stake in an abortion choice, rather than two. Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: Hillary And Margaret

Making Ayn Rand seem like Shirley Temple...

Making Ayn Rand seem like Shirley Temple…

Many organizations find themselves conflicted when they accord proper respect and gratitude to their founders. The older an organization is, the more likely that its founder, however brilliant and accomplished, had scary skeletons in his or her closet, and worse, espoused views that modern minds find repugnant. The United States is awash in such founding dilemmas, beginning with Thomas Jefferson, whose private life, and some of his public life too, hardly met the high ideals and aspirations that lit the way for our nation’s creation. Revolutionary hero and “Father of the American Navy” John Paul Jones was an infamous pederast, and the man who built the F.B.I, J. Edgar Hoover, was a racist and extortionist who would have been right at home, perhaps more at home, with the KGB (except for his hatred of communists). There are many more, founders and creators of institutions in every sector of American life.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), however, is an especially hard case. The founder of the predecessor of Planned Parenthood openly and vigorously espoused beliefs that would make her a pariah today, and an embarrassment to the pro-choice movement. She was a racist, a white supremacist, a believer in eugenics, forced sterilization, and government prevention of the proliferation of the “unfit.” It is true that many of her most repulsive beliefs were considered acceptable and even progressive among intellectuals and activists of the time. It is also true that she was vocal in espousing them, and the work she is most honored for as a birth control advocate and an early feminist cannot be easily separated from her other, less admired positions.

Here are some of her more alarming quotes; you can research her writings and speeches more deeply here. Personally, I think she makes Ayn Rand look like Shirley Temple: Continue reading

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