Friday, February 15, 2008

Philosophy of Human Pain

Life News reports how new developments in fetal pain analysis have led first to this interesting paradox:
Scientific and medical acceptance of fetal pain would require, at a minimum, the use of some form of anesthesia in abortions beginning at eighteen weeks. Women would have to be informed that their unborn children likely feel pain beginning at around 20 weeks and maybe earlier.
Anesthesia while killing the unborn fetus. And then also to these interesting conclusions:
Annie Murphy Paul quotes Elizabeth Nash, a public-policy associate with the Guttmacher Institute, a special affiliate of Planned Parenthood, “By personifying the fetus, [pro-lifers are] trying to steer the woman’s decision away from abortion.”

Paul writes, “In their use of pain to make the fetus seem more fully human, anti-abortion forces draw on a deep tradition. Pain has long played a special role in how society determines who is like us or not like us (‘us’ being those with the power to make and enforce such distinctions.) The capacity to feel pain has often been put forth as proof of a common humanity. . . .Over time, the charmed circle of those considered to be alive to pain, and therefore fully human, has widened to include members of other religions and races, the poor, the criminal, the mentally ill—and, thanks to the work of Sunny Anand and others, the very young. Should the circle enlarge once more, to admit those not yet born?”
I didn't know we were running an exclusive club here. The argument is not so interesting to me as what it reveals. I would be interested in knowing for whom pain is one of the identifiers of human identity. Animals experience consciousness of pain. It is self-consciousness that is often considered specifically human. Whether a fetus has this self-conscious awareness I don't know, but just the feeling of pain is not what makes it human. What is interesting is the fear noted in the voice, and the desired exclusivity and elitism underlying the statement. If we let more in, there will be less for all. The utilitarianism underlying the philosophy here just smacks you in the face.

Markel, SJ

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