Thursday, September 11, 2008


When Quizzed by the preacher he stuttered, stumbled then said the question was above his pay grade. It is not above mine! The question he was really asking was: WHEN, IF EVER , IS IT OK TO TERMINATE A PREGNANCY?
Having studied theology, biology and ethics I composed this answer which was published on the front page of The Santa Fe New Mexican, July 31,1994. Here's a summary of the article entitled:


Hidden beneath the abortion and euthanasia debate is a value judgment society is being forced to make: Does human life “pop” or “taper” into significance? Does it “pop” or taper out of significance. Oddly, the welfare of humanity hinges on our choice.

Under the pop theory, human life springs into full significance at conception and retains full importance until the instant of death. The “pop” group wants us to treat with equal respect and resources the newly fertilized egg, the newborn baby, the full grown adult and those very near death. The “pop” group are pro-lifers. They believe a fertilized egg, smaller than a dot, should never be destroyed, not for rape, incest, deformity, inconvenience or population control. This is like believing that acorns are as important as oak trees. Forbidding all abortions, they would spend millions of tax dollars on deformed babies and the comatose dying, depriving the broad middle of humanity of medical care. Preserving that dot of human tissue is more important to them than the good of the world. They would likewise forbid doctor assisted suicide regardless of the patients wishes or suffering. They are wild extremist. They will wreck our world if we let them.

The “taper” group holds thatl LIFE TAPERS INTO AND OUT OF SIGNIFICANCE; that an acorn is not as important as an oak tree. Both human and oak life grow gradually into significance through a long series of organic steps–A newly fertilized egg is not as important as a 27 week old fetus. Likewise, we should not spend as much on folks near death as on our children.

The taper group believes in LIMITS OF EXPENDABILITY–points beyond which even human life is expendable for the greater good. Most societies have limits of expendability whether they acknowledge it or not. Poor societies tend to have narrow limits and wealthy ones broader limits. Nomadic tribes, for example, will abandon anyone permanently crippled. (Often respectfully and with food and thorn fences for protection, but left to die none the less)
wealthy societies can afford much broader limits, caring for the mentally and physically challenged.

What no society can afford, however, is to totally abolish ALL limits of expendability. We cannot afford to extend full legal and resource protection to the infinitesimal extremities of life. Medical cost skyrocket at the extremities of life. We will quickly bankrupt the nation and overpopulate the earth. We cannot take seriously the pro life position that all human life is equally important. Their position is cruel, fanatical, unrealistic and destructive.

So what should be our society”s limit of expendability? The current limit for oak trees is is five inches in diameter (city ordinance–Tampa Fla) and for human embryos up to 26 weeks development. Beyond these points, society prohibits the destruction of oaks or embryos because it offends our sensibilities.

26 weeks is admittedly a somewhat arbitrary limit. Why not 25 or 27. Perhaps that is when an embryo is potentially viable outside the womb. Nevertheless it is an arbitrary line AND OUR SOCIETY WAS COURAGEOUS TO HAVE DRAWN IT!

We have not similarly established limits of expendability for dying and suffering people. Our failure to do so is causing enormous waste and pain. Almost a third of our medical expenditure is for end-game treatment. Our children and working citizens are outrageously neglected by this crazy misallocation of resources. The health care industry profiteers on our sentimentality.

America must draw a line at the south end of human life as we have done at the north. We must boldly establish limits of expendability–limits that are as fair and humane as we can afford.

To those who shrink from drawing lines, I point out that ESTABLISHING CLEAR BUT SOMEWHAT ARBITRARY LIMITS IS WHAT DEFINES A CIVILIZATION. How fast shall we drive on the interstate? Why not 69 or 71? How much theft shall constitute a felony? At what age shall we allow the vote, marriage or consumption of alcohol? These limits are societies “best guesses”. They are all somewhat arbitrary, but absolutely necessary. We must guess, draw lines, set limits. The alternative is chaos.

Often we reset the limits as when we increased the speed limit. We might yet move the abortion limit back to 22 weeks or so. But to move it back to zero as the pro lifers advocate would be dangerous and cruel sentimentality.

Fanaticism, idealism or sentimentalism can wreck a nation. Fanaticism is wrecking Iran, Idealism wrecked the Soviet Union. I fear sentimentalism may wreck America.

CHALLENGE TO PRO LIFERS: Here's a question no pro lifer on earth can answer honestly :

Suppose a fire breaks out in a fertility clinic and you have only enough time to save a 6 year old child or a petri dish containing 10 fertilized eggs. Which would you save? (yeah--I thought so--
you really do believe that life TAPERS into significence)


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, Randy

Anonymous said...

I used to really enjoy reading your blog before I found out that you are just another delusional , self involved, nihilistic "critical thinker" who thinks he is so much better than others.

Just a guess, but I bet you couldn't maintain a working relationship with another human being for more than a year or two.

Best of regards to you though, I hope that you do reach some level of actualization and diminish some of your superiority towards the majority of humanity.

Randy said...

When this article ran it provoked some responses like this. I may well be all the bad things you say. It doesn't matter! What matters is whether women have the right to safe and legal abortions. Show us how wise and "actualized" you are by honestly answering the question at the end of the article.(yeah--I thought so--one more true believer--embarrassed to face the cruelty you impose on the world.)

Anonymous said...

Obama needs a lot of help on almost any topic, that's why he's now using a teleprompter at his rallies so he knows what to say word for word. God help us all if he ends up in the White House. In fact, that is my one consolation if he does: God is still on His throne and ultimately in control.

But regarding your question, it is a hypothetical one with far too few stated variables.

For instance, where is the six-year-old child in proximity to the person you are asking the question, and where is the petri dish with the ten babies in it? If both were right there in front of the person, what is preventing the person from saving both the 6yo AND the ten babies in a little petri dish? The 6yo can easily walk/run on her own. Grab the child's hand in one hand, the dish in the other, and RUN.

If they are NOT in the same location in the building, then it is a no-brainer. If the babies are closer, grab them. If the 6yo is closer, grab her. If there is still time after saving the first, then go back in for the other.

And don't go back now and add variables. It's too late. You've already published the question as being ready for someone to answer it.

Randy said...

I'm surprised that you answered the challenge and stunned at your answer.
I'll keep this comment as proof positive of the moral blindness that doctrines impose on believers. But I don't think for a moment that given the hard choice you would save the pitri dish of eggs and leave the 6 yr old to burn up. Not even the Taliban are that cruel. For one thing the eggs feel no pain. The kid would suffer terribly. I believe that in your heart you're a decent person. Think again and answer honestly.

Anonymous said...

Sir, I did indeed answer honestly. You are the dishonest one for twisting my words for your own agenda.

Since I must repeat myself, please read this again: I would NEVER leave the 6yo to burn to death if he/she were able to be saved - i.e. one could get to him/her. But, again, repeating myself, what is to prevent one from ALSO saving the babies, if they are equally accessible? There's no reason to have to choose between the two.

I find it hightly insulting and arrogant of you that you assume that my beliefs are a result of doctrines "imposed" on me. I am an intelligent deep-thinking person of my own right and what I believe is a result of my own convictions and conclusions, while I also humbly acknowledge the many wise and intelligent people who I have known, read, and gleaned from their knowledge and wisdom. However, *I* am the one who decides in the end what are MY beliefs and convictions. You don't know me at all to assume that I am a thoughtless follower.

I find you astoundingly arrogant to assume that the way YOU think and believe is right on track, and anyone who believes anything differently believes that way because they have blindly allowed someone else to impose their beliefs on them! You are truly not the only deep-thinking intelligent and wise person in the universe!

Don't think for a minute that the way YOU think and believe has come from a vacuum - that you haven't been influenced deeply by people you know and meet, by the things you read, and so forth. You might consider yourself a maverick, but your thoughts have all been thought and expressed before. Sorry to disappoint you.

Again, I find your arrogance and elitism truly astounding.

Randy said...

I feel you squirming and well you should. Read the challenge again: you have only enough time to to save the child OR the eggs. ONE OR THE OTHER. The question is clear and you are dodging it. YOU HAVE TO MAKE A CHOICE. You said "if the babies (eggs) are closer, grab them". That's the lie that you are embarrassed to face.
Even if the pitre dish were closer, you would go get the girl. You know that the girl is more important than 10 fertilized eggs. Show some courage and admit it. I have dragged you before the court of reason and you are being compelled to admit my premise: LIFE TAPERS INTO SIGNIFICANCE.
Forget me and my "arrogance" and Obama's teleprompter and focus on the issue that divides our nation: Are fertilized eggs so important that we should FORCE a woman to carry a pregnancy to term? I say no!
Come on now! Show your humanity and admit that 10 fertilized eggs are not as important as a 6 year old girl.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Randy, I cannot and will not "admit" that the 10 unborn babies are less important than the 6yo girl, nor do I agree with your premise that "life tapers into significance."

The significance of a life cannot be determined by any mere human being, nor by simple things like where they fall on the spectrum of age or development. Your life could appear to many to not be very significant. After all, they may ask, what significant value are you contributing to society traveling alone in isolated places and living in a tiny mobile trailer?

But, little that I know about you, I do know this: your life DOES have significance because I know your Creator, and I know that He designs and creates with purpose. No one else can judge the value of you or your life and you cannot judge theirs.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Randy.
Great article and great argument.

Randy said...

To Anonymous: Everyone who reads this can see that you're still dodging the question. It's simple, clear and fair:WHICH WILL YOU SAVE, THE EGGS OR THE GIRL?
Religious doctrine has made you morally blind. Reasonable people would not find this a hard choice at all.
Soon, I'm going to confront a Mormon Bishop with an equally clear dilemma. In the waffling I expect from him, you can see yourself.
I challenge you again: Answer the question forthrightly and learn something about yourself. Better still, consult your fundamentalist minister and ask his help in answering the question. You'll learn something about the religious mind.

Anonymous said...

I valiantly answered as best I could your unrealistic hypothetical question, but you didn't like the answer.

The bottom line is this: all 11 lives are equally valuable.

I am very much at peace with my beliefs and convictions and view of human life. I'm very sorry, for your sake, that you are not.

Randy said...

Question still unanswered: Save the eggs or the child? Proof positive that religious doctrine can skew ones moral compass. Just like the Taliban. Unless we are eternally vigilant they will take our freedom away.

Randy said...

Final note to anonymous: Thank you for engaging. Most believers don't have the intellect or courage to do that. I've deleted your last comment because it was long, rambling, defensive, off point and ad hominem. You raise one point I will address: "on what do I base my moral compass". I guess I base it on my intuition- what seems right to me. I admit that my views have been shaped by by education, parenting, life experiences etc. I've modified my views many times. Thankfully so has humanity as a whole, disavowing slavery, racism, sexism, ageism etc. At almost every step forward, thes advances were resisted by religious people.
BECAUSE THEY WERE EXTRAPOLATING THEIR ETHICS FROM "HOLY BOOKS". I strongly suspect that is where you get yours EXCEPT that you are embarrassed by the harsh ethics God supposedly revealed in Leviticus: (kill homosexuals, unruly kids, adulterous women etc) The truth no Christian will admit is that they CHERRY PICK biblical ethics, disregarding what they intuitively disagree with.
My personal choice for a an ethical philosophy is called CONSEQUENTIALISM (modified) Look it up and while you're at it read the ethics of Pete Singer--the formost ethicist in the world. He makes the case for abortion and even infanticide in certain cases.

Anonymous said...

A few days ago I downloaded a movie called "You Don't Know Jack." Al Pacino does a fantastic job of playing Dr. Jack Kevorkian. HBO movie. It argues both sides. Hit kind of close to home.