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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.

Image modified slightly from '2 Ladies' by 'sol one' (Linden Laserna), copyright 2006Sean Doherty's blog goes by the unprepossessing title "Welcome to Sean's Blog." More telling is what one might call the sub-title -- a phrase he's chosen to appear, beneath the title, at the top of every page. The phrase: "green happyclappy christian ethics blog."

It's important, I think, to note that Doherty is not writing from a USA-centric perspective. He's a curate at St Gabriels, Cricklewood -- a Church of England congregation in northwest London. And as such, when he uses the word "Christian," you needn't worry that the issues he considers will be considered from a hotbutton perspective. (It's a sad commentary on civic life here in the USA that when you couple the word "Christian" with the phrase "beginning of human life," you will hunker down in either eye-rolling dread or hearty anticipation, depending on your own perspective.) This is also reflected in his unqualified linking of the word "green" with the word "Christian"; so much of the left in the USA (wrongly) equates "Christian" with "conservative" that a "green Christian" may sound like a contradiction in terms.

Doherty has a particular interest in medical ethics. His blog devotes an entire category to the subject; and he's the author of Foundations for Medical Ethics, available from Grove Books. (You should decidedly not confuse Grove Books with the USA-based Grove Press.) Here's what the Grove Books site says about the book:
Current discussions about medical ethics often focus on who can make decisions and why—but fail to address the more fundamental question of the purpose of medicine.

This study looks at key theological themes from the Old and New Testaments to provide a framework for ethical reflection—not simply reconfiguring the questions.
Refreshing, isn't it?

In a recent entry, "Embryos: people like you and me," Doherty tackles the core question addressed by this blog here on Excerpts:
Conception is the beginning of something. Before conception, sperm and eggs do not become anything else. They just are what they are. So their meeting at conception changes them, and begins something. The only really relevant question is, what begins? Is it the beginning of human life as we commonly recognise it in one another (in which case its arbitrary ending could not be justified), or only the beginning of something which will subsequently become human life? (Even if it were the latter, it would still not be at all clear that it would be acceptable to destroy something that if left undisturbed would become human life.)
There is no way to exclude human embryos from the category of human life which does not exclude other human beings whom we would regard it as wrong to kill. In particular, if one believes that a human embryo only subsequently becomes human, one must consider when this might be said to happen. If one says one cannot know when it does because it is so gradual, one is stuck back at the point I made above about caution. If one says one can know when this happens e.g. quickening, or viability, one must explain why one does not also on that basis exclude human life which does not possess the extra characteristics e.g. indepdent movement, ability to exist without being plugged into something else. This makes all such points identified subsequent to conception seem rather arbitrary, adopted for convenience rather than because there is any genuinely good reason for them.

Unless there is therefore some form of convincing evidence to the contrary, we must treat the human embryo as a human at a very early stage of development. The burden of proof falls on those who wish to show that it is not a human life, in the same way and for the same reasons that if someone was about to demolish a building using explosives, and they thought that someone might still be inside, the responsibility would fall upon them to make sure there was nobody inside before pressing the plunger.
I'm not myself sure that I buy the blowing-up-the-building analogy. The main problem with it, in my view, is the logical fallacy known as the negative proof:
The fallacy of appealing to lack of proof of the negative is a logical fallacy of the following form:
"X is true because there is no proof that X is false."
It is asserted that a proposition is true, only because it has not been proven false.
The reason this is a fallacious sort of argument might be summed up as: the absence of one thing does not imply the presence of its opposite. In this case, what's missing -- as Doherty is correct in pointing out -- is evidence that an embryo is not human. It's a fatally flawed step from that to, "Without evidence of the non-humanity of an embryo, it must be the case that an embryo is human."

That objection aside, I found Doherty's post to be quite thoughtful and provocative -- a rare combination of attributes in discussions of this all-too-often explosive subject.

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