In Part 2 of the New York Times editorial board’s examination of the ethical and legal complexities of conflicting laws protecting the right to kill a fetus, the rights a fetus does have, and the mother’s rights, the question is posed:
Katherin Shuffield was five months pregnant when she was shot in 2008. She survived, but she lost the twins she was carrying. The gunman, Brian Kendrick, was charged with murdering them. Bei Bei Shuai was eight months pregnant and depressed when she tried to kill herself in 2010. She was rushed to the hospital and survived, but her baby died a few days later. Ms. Shuai was charged with murder.
Both cases are tragedies. But are Ms. Shuai and the man who shot Ms. Shuffield really both murderers?
It is an ethical question, a legal one and a logical one. Unfortunately, and typical of the entire series, the Times cannot play straight, or begin with basic principles. No, the questions is asked with an assumption in hand: the right to abortion must trump everything, even logic and justice The editors go on:
“Ms. Shuai is one of several hundred pregnant women who have faced criminal charges since 1973 for acts seen as endangering their pregnancies, according to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which has completed the only peer-reviewed study of arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women in the United States. In many cases, the laws under which these women were charged were ostensibly written to protect them. Ms. Shuai, for instance, was charged under a law that was stiffened after the attack on Ms. Shuffield.
These criminal statutes are results of a tried-and-true playbook, part of a strategic campaign to establish fetal rights, reverse Roe v. Wade and recriminalize abortion. The sequence begins with anti-abortion groups seizing upon a tragic case in which a woman loses her pregnancy because of someone else’s actions. Public outcry then helps to strengthen a state feticide law that recognizes such lost pregnancies as murder or manslaughter. It’s a backdoor way of legally defining when life begins.”
In other words, the Times relies on ideology to duck an ethics conflict that points in a direction that radical abortion advocates don’t like, and thus refuse to acknowledge, because they don’t have a good answer for it. Here’s my answer: Yes, they are both murderers. If a mother who is gestating a child that she and her husband intend to have, and the child is killed by the act of a third party, a human being has been murdered, and charges are just. In the Sheffield case, her twins were within the protection of abortion limitations, though I would hold that this doesn’t matter, if they were both going to be delivered. If you don’t call this a murder, then a manic could perform an involuntary abortion on a 9 month’s pregnant women, ripping her fetus out of her with murderous intent, and still face no murder charges as long as the mother recovered. Were it not that all obstacles to abortion must fall, even logical ones, no woman, no human being would call such an act anything but murder. Once any rights are assigned to the unborn at all, however, such logic is impolitic.
A law cannot reasonably make the same act on the part of one individual murder that is not even considered homicide when performed by another. The woman who killed her viable fetus in a failed suicide attempt is a murderer for the same reason the twin killer is.
In the6th and latest installment of the series, the Times returns to a real ethical mess, one that is akin to the suicidal mother problem. I discussed the case extensively in 2014. What happens when a pregnant woman’s legal end of life decision will result in the death of her unborn child? More important for Ethics Alarms, what should happen? In twelve states, pregnancy-exclusion laws prohibit doctors from following a pregnant woman’s wishes to remove life support from her own body.. In 19 others, laws limit women’s rights to dictate their own end-of-life decisions if it will kill or risk killing a viable fetus.
Again, the Times writes with its pre-baked viewpoint obvious and unyielding. Of course a viable unborn child’s life should be rendered inferior and disposable by the mother’s right to, for example, avoid pain. But saying the solution to an ethical conflict is obvious doesn’t make it so.
In the fall of 2013, Marlise Muñoz was 14 weeks pregnant with her second child when she collapsed in her North Texas home. She had suffered a pulmonary embolism from a blood clot, and it was essentially fatal. Brain scans showed no activity. She was clinically dead, being kept alive by artificial means. Marlise Muñoz was a paramedic, and had seen what being kept alive on life-support meant. Her mother said that she had once told her, “Under no circumstance do I ever want to be on life-support.” (Was she thinking about the situation where life support would allow her child to live?) Muñoz also had a bright orange D.N.R. sticker on her paramedic name badge—but resuscitating her wasn’t the issue now. She hsdn’t thought of having a “Don’t let my child be born” sticker on her badge. How do we know she would have wanted one?
The Times writes, misleadingly and manipulatively,
“So when Ms. Muñoz’s heart would not keep beating on its own in Fort Worth’s John Peter Smith Hospital that November day, it was obvious to everyone — her relatives and her medical team — what the patient’s wishes were.”
False. How could they possibly know her wishes regarding a horrible choice that she may never have considered. My guess, and it is a guess only, would be that Muñoz, like most mothers, would be willing to suffer great pain to allow her child to live. To painlessly allow her child life—the mother was dead, after all, and not even being inconvenienced—would be an obvious choice, would it not? A real no-brainer. (Sorry.) It seems to me that the father and the family didn’t want the burden of a motherless child.
A lawyer for the hospital, , however, maintained that the state’s end-of-life law applied, noting that the Texas Penal Code’s definition of a human being had been updated in 2003 to include an “unborn child at every stage of gestation” and the hospital could be charged with criminal homicide if it caused the death of a fetus. Muñoz’s life support remained connected to allow the fetus to continue gestating.
The family sued the hospital to cut off life-support, and in late January 2014, a judge ordered the hospital to discontinue life-sustaining measures, and his orders were carried out, killing the five month old fetus.
I am not at all sure this was an ethical decision (I have no opinion whether it was a legal one.) The Times editors, however, rig the argument and prevent fair consideration of the issues involved. They note that it was ultimately determined that the fetus was not viable. That’s moral luck, and irrelevant to the ethical issue. They tell us that demonstrators outside the hospital harassed the family, and that the family received death threats. What does that have to do with whether the unborn child’s life should be accorded higher priority than the condition of the mother’s corpse or the uncertain wishes of the deceased?
“People would say, ‘How could you pull the plug on your daughter?’” the Times quotes the woman’s mother as saying. “You weren’t walking in my shoes. And we knew her wishes.” Again, no, they really didn’t and the issue wasn’t killing the daughter, who was dead. The issue was, if the Times pro-abortion advocates posing as journalists would allow it printed, pulling the plug on another life, the unborn child’s. The Times concludes,
“The Muñoz case illustrates what’s at stake when the distilled ideology of the anti-abortion movement makes its way into the laws of the land. Statutes that give fetuses more rights than the women who carry them are bound to lead to heartbreaking outcomes when applied in the real world, however infrequently.”
Again, this false, and dishonest analysis to preserve a desired position. The editors are the ones distorting the issue with a “distilled ideology.” Apparently an unborn child dying in the womb when it could be born and allowed to have a life isn’t heartbreaking, because, you see, it doesn’t matter. It can’t be allowed to matter, because once we start thinking of it as a human being, the ethics get complicated.