In a free-wheeling discussion with a friend the other day, I was broadsided by a comment that did not seem to fit with his libertarian views. The subject had wandered around to the controversy about the Tebow ad during the Super Bowl. And he asked me what I thought about very late term abortions.
I said that I had real moral issues with that, because I could not imagine a situation in which delivery could not be attempted, with the hopes of saving the life of both mother and child. And I had looked but found no information that contradicted my conclusions. I pointed out that I had developed severe pre-eclampsia late in my pregnancy with the Boychick, a condition that required induction of labor in order to save my life and that of the Boychick. Fortunately for me, it was not a difficult decision because the delivery would be less of a risk for me than continuing the pregnacy would have been, and we were so close to term, the Boychick and I, that delivery was not likely to be risky for him either. As it turned out, with the help of modern medicine, we came through the delivery fine, both of us and the neonatal team that was standing by filed out of the room without making any interventions. That said, I told my friend, I would not have wanted a government official interfering with such a potentially life-altering decision. I would not want some bureaucrat to require me to undergo an induction of labor. However, I would expect that doctors would be rightly reluctant to perform late-term abortions.
With this as a jumping off point, my friend commented that he wondered if a murder should be prosecuted if no one cared about the death of the person who had been killed. After all, he said, the dead person would be dead, and if no one was left to be devasted, then it was if the life of the person was unimportant.
I was speechless. One can know a person reasonably well and still be surprised.
I probed. I asked, then does that mean if the parents of a six-month infant murder him, and there is no one else to be outraged, does this mean it is not murder? He said he would have moral concerns about such an action, but that it should not be illegal since no one was injured by the action except the child--who would now be dead.
Immediately, images of concentration camps and gas chambers began to roll across my mind's eye. My argument was that certainly someone has been harmed, and that is the person whose life had been taken unjustly. My friend argued that people die all the time.
Of course, we are mortal, I argued, but there is a difference between dying of disease or accident, and the purposeful taking of a life. Certainly, the person who is murdered values his life. And as we were speaking, I realized that my friend had wandered into a collectivist view of the value of a life. His value of liberty was not completely based on the principle of individual rights. Because if his values were firmly rooted there, he would realize immediately that the value of a life is not based on how useful to society, or how precious that person is to another. The value of a life is the ultimate value to person himself.
I was so disturbed that I stopped the discussion when I realized that all of my attempts to elucidate the principle had not penetrated my friends mind; that to him this had become a sophist's argument--made for the sake of continuing the discussion.
For me, the inheritance of the Holocaust makes these discussions more than argument for the sake of argument. As we spoke, the biblical injunction about the responsiblity of the nearby towns to adjudicate the death of a stranger on the road kept coming to mind.
Even the taking of the life of a stranger for whom no one cares must be treated with justice.