Friday, March 26, 2010

Parental Choice: Abortion and Blood Transfusions

Over drinks at our weekly "Atheists In The Tav" meeting, I shocked my fellow non-theistic brethren by mentioning that I consider abortion to be wrong. I am of course open to criticism and to having my mind changed but I have yet to hear of a convincing justification which permits social abortion. (Social abortion defined as being abortion for financial, personal, cosmetic reasons, etc.) I do not consider this position to be emotionally driven, nor dogmatic. Having said this, I understand that life is messy and would consider it problematic to outlaw, prohibit or criminalise abortion and therefore the solution should be to develop sound approaches (based on empirical methods) to reduce abortions.

The rationale behind my stance is unlikely to be new, however I don't believe I have heard it before in religious circles because of its implications. It happens to be personal to me, given that there was a time in my life in which a similar circumstance may have had deadly consequences.

For those who do not know, my parents became Jehovah's Witnesses and my dad was even baptised. Naturally as a young child around a decade old, I followed and was drawn into the message and lifestyle. I was always a "good boy" so adopting a religious lifestyle wasn't too much of a stretch. I was drawn into that world so much that I remember giving a talk in Year 7 in front of my classmates about how evolution was a lie. I was convinced I was not going to go to university (witnesses strongly object to universities) and that my "career" would revolve around witnessing full-time.

Based on two verses in the bible, Jehovah's Witnesses forbid blood transfusions. The real life effect of this rule is that some adults refuse and children are denied life saving blood transfusions and as a result, many die. The question naturally becomes, should the religious beliefs of the parents trump the right to life saving treatment for the child?

Before I address this questions - it might be pertinent to ask - What is the mentality behind those who subscribe to these beliefs? How could any parent allow their child to die when there is treatment available? The answer is simple and lies in the ultimate fatalism which is fundamentalist religious belief. If you really believe that this world isn't that significant and that after you die you will be reunited with all of your loved ones in a new Eden on Earth - then it should be no big deal to "sacrifice" you child, knowing that by doing so they will be guaranteed acceptance into the new paradise. In fact, for one not to do this would be illogical and would perhaps indicate that they don't really believe it. What more to prove to God that you really believe than to sacrifice your children by following His commands?

So on one side we have parents who believe that letting their children die is the correct thing to do and on the other you have the secular state or hospitals who wish to ensure the child does not die a needless death. What is the solution to this age-old paradox?

Well, maybe we should ask the child? This sounds good in theory but looking back to my childhood - I remember carrying a card around which said that I was not to take blood! If I was in a situation where I needed blood to stay alive and I was a "believer" at the time I would have said NO BLOOD - and I would have died. Yet here I am today - an atheist who does not believe in that God nor wish to follow those arbitrary religious commands. I can unequivocally state that I am pro-blood and would have been really bummed out dying young (as only a dead person can) from something I no longer believe to be true.

The other obvious problem with asking the child is that they are very likely to mirror their parents beliefs and are unable to make an informed judgement on the issue (one could also mention that many adults do not make informed judgements before doing religious things like flying planes into buildings). How easy would it be for the parent to tell their child that death is favourable, because they will see them soon in the new Earth where all the experiences they might miss in this world, they can do in the next.

The real theoretical question we should be asking is what would the child want if the child had the life experiences and knowledge of an adult. Given that the child may possibly chose a life which is contrary to the decision at hand - no adult should force this decision on them. At first glance this seems reasonable, it's nothing more than fulfilling the wishes of a considerate individual. It should be obvious that no religious adult could possibly accept this and would still deny treatment. It therefore should be on the state to ensure the safety of the child purely on the grounds that the childs wishes (projected as a knowledgeable adult) have not been taken into consideration.

Some astute thinkers might have noticed the flaw in my previous question - it is impossible to know what the child might chose if they were a knowledgeable adult! Although we could apply general statistical considerations for example the extremely low teenage retention rates for Jehovah's Witnesses, it cannot tell us what one particular individual may do as an adult. Does this destroy my argument? No! The fact that we may not know what one might chose as a knowledgeable adult should give us reason to err on the side of caution. If you deny the opportunity for the child to become a knowledgeable adult, you are taking their future choice away from them - and quite frankly, those are the only choices worth having - ones based on sound knowledge.

I'll illustrate this in a table:

JW True + No Blood = Happy! (Lucky not to have chance to lose faith?)
JW False + No Blood = Wasted life - might have lost faith as adult
JW True + Blood (forced) = No blame on individual as intolerant state (run by Satan [seriously]) forced the decision. Good for child who grows up and has choice to be either JW or not.
JW False + Blood (forced) = Life not wasted - Good for child who grows up and has choice to be either JW or not.

There are still two potential problems/objections with what I have presented!

1. Parents should be allowed as the knowledgeable adults, to make the choice for their child.

I believe such an attitude is unhelpful. We should not allow parents to force children into many life affecting situations such as what career to have, who we should or shouldn't marry and which religion we believe in. These should be free will choices the individual makes (for it to be genuine) , and we should not accept someone else telling us what is effectively a preference. Of course the parent has a role in education and guidance, but the child will eventually become their own individual who will like different things and may even believe in different things. Children are not property nor are they our clones!

2. Parents would rather their children die than lose faith.
Given that the child may potentially lose their faith in the future, the adult would feel even more obliged to forbid treatment in the fear that their son/daughter may not join them in the new Earth. But this is the same as I mentioned before - the adult is not allowing the child to have their own free will knowledgeable decision, they are telling them what to believe! I believe only beliefs and opinions which are formed using knowledge and free will are worth having.

If you apply these same principles to abortion...what do you get?
To be continued...

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