Thursday, June 05, 2008

Okay, here's a tough one...

Should terminally ill people (ie. people who will die in less than 9 months) have sex (of the good, ol' fashioned, non-safe, un-protected, could-make-babies kind)? Or more specifically, should terminally ill women do this?

I simply ask because I was intrigued by a comment by Joseph Bottum on the First Things blog about the season finale of Grey's Anatomy (they must be ahead of us over there). Apparently it:
included a tryst between two supposedly terminal brain cancer patients in their late teens, with their brain surgeons guarding the door. It’s okay if she gets pregnant, right? She’s going to die anyway.
So... leaving aside all other moral problems here, what about the child who would possibly be conceived in such a situation...

I know it's a silly scenario, but playing hypothetical usually throws up some interesting ideas...


At Friday, June 06, 2008 11:16:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

OK. To focus this thought-experiment -

Let’s assume that the couple are married, so that we are not debating the ethics of pre-marital or extra-marital sex.

Le’s also assume that there is no effective contraceptive method, so that we are not debating the ethics of contraception in extreme or marginal cases.

And I think we also need to identify and clear away two red herrings.

First, David’s more specific version of the question is whether a terminally ill [i]woman]/i] should have sex. In fact, though the moral question arises when it is the woman who is terminally ill, it is a question for both of the couple. We could equally ask whether a man should have sex with a terminally ill woman. Or perhaps it is better to acknowledge that this is a mutual act, and ask whether a couple should have sex when the woman is terminally ill.

Secondly, it is obvious that a couple in this situation might wish, and for very good reasons, not to conceive. They face great burdens already, without putting themselves in the situation of knowing that the child they have conceived is doomed to an early death, and dealing with the grief, pain and loss that flows from that knowledge. But the question is not whether conceiving a child, or being open to the conception of a child, is a good idea, but whether it would be morally wrong.

And the answer, I suggest, is no, it would not be morally wrong. A natural death may be sad, painful, etc, but it is not inherently evil. In this case it will be said and painful for the parents, but not for the child, who will not suffer. To say that it would be morally better if such a child were never conceived is to deny the inherent value in the life of every child, including every unborn child.

We can extend the thought-experiment slightly. Suppose the problem is not that the woman is terminally ill, but that there is a moral certainty that any child this couple bears will suffer from a genetic condition which means that, although born alive, it will die prematurely – perhaps after days, perhaps after months, perhaps after years, but prematurely. Would we say that a couple in this situation should not conceive? That it would be morally preferable that such children be never conceived? No, I think is the answer, we would not say this.

Then is a natural death in utero somehow worse than a natural, but premature, death of somebody born alive? Again, I think the answer is no.

The moral problem with abortion is not that a child dies; it is that a child is killed. Having a child that you know will die prematurely is not the equivalent of abortion, and it does not become the equivalent of abortion even if you know that it will die in utero.

At Saturday, June 07, 2008 8:52:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Well done, Peregrinus. The Gordian Knot sliced by a 1000 cuts!

I concur with your conclusion.

At Tuesday, June 10, 2008 10:45:00 pm , Blogger LYL said...

Excellent hypothetical and I agree with the analysis of Peregrinus.

OTOH, the TV show's script writers are morally bankrupt.


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