Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Pro-choice and pro-life

At first sight, the use of the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” to represent opposing ethical viewpoints seems a little strange. Are “choice” and “life” necessarily opposed to each other?

When they first came into general use I assumed (on no evidence) that people settled on those terms in order to avoid negative stereotyping in debate. Saying someone is “anti-” something sounds so negative, and it is generally better to say what one was for rather than what one was against.

The illogicality of the implication that “choice” and “life” were antithetical was regarded as the price one had to pay to avoid negative stereotyping.

Or at least so I assumed thirty years ago when “pro-choice” and “pro-life” first began to be bandied about in public debate.

But now I am not so sure.

It seems from recent debates that they really are antithetical. There’s this US Senator Ron Paul. I know nothing about him except that American libertarians (or at least those American libertarians whose blogs I sometimes read) seem to like him.

Now if there is one thing that seems to characterise American libertarians, it is that they are pro-choice. They seem to elevate choice to a supreme value. The essential freedom is the freedom to make choices (provided, of course, that you are rich — but that is an unspoken condition).

And in a recent TV debate, it seems that “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are indeed antithetical. GOP Tea Party Debate: Audience Cheers, Says Society Should Let Uninsured Patient Die:

“What do you tell a guy who is sick, goes into a coma and doesn’t have health insurance? Who pays for his coverage? Are you saying society should just let him die?” Wolf Blitzer asked.

“Yeah!” several members of the crowd yelled out.

Paul interjected to offer an explanation for how this was, more-or-less, the root choice of a free society. He added that communities and non-government institutions can fill the void that the public sector is currently playing.

This has led to an interesting discussion in the Progressive Orthodox Christianity forum on Facebook, where I first learnt about the incident.

And in that discussion I suggested that if Christians were to adopt the “let them die” attitude, then the story that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) would have to be modified to the effect that the rich man, in Abraham’s bosom, seeing Lazarus burning in hell, would say to him “it’s all your fault — you didn’t have health insurance.”

I’ve written about that aspect of it in more detail in other blog posts, so I won’t repeat all that here.

But what I have discovered from this recent incident is that pro-choice and pro-life are indeed antithetical, and that “pro-choice” is mainly about the inalienable right of the rich and powerful to choose when those poorer and weaker than they are should die.

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