Rows over conscientious objection, at least in the Anglosphere, have revolved around reproductive rights and euthanasia. What about LGBT rights? Do healthcare workers have a right to object to providing procedures like IVF to LGBT individuals?
In a provocative article in Bioethics Abram Brummett, of St Louis University (Missouri), concludes that their claims would be very weak. It is a challenging contribution to a new battleground over conscientious objection.
What kind of people would seek refuge in conscientious objection? Brummett seems to believe that they would all be Christians who contend that “God has decreed the LGBT lifestyle to be sinful”. This pits what he calls a “naturalized metaphysic” against a Christian metaphysic. He believes that the validity of conscientious objection arguments crashes because the Christian metaphysic cannot prove that dignitary and material harms to LGBT individuals are bad:
Of course, as it is expressed in the article, the success of Brummett’s critique – which is widely accepted in popular debates about moral issues – hinges on his understanding of a “Christian metaphysic”. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy points out, “The word ‘metaphysics’ is notoriously hard to define.” Some Christians, especially those who accept a natural law ethic, would not recognise Brummett’s antithesis as valid. On the one hand, they would agree that an analysis of conscientious objection should include “naturalistic harms”; on the other, they would say that notions such as sin and salvation are theological and not metaphysical at all.Naturalism provides a broader context within which to define what harms should constitute the threshold by which we constrain behaviour. Naturalistically construed harms are those harms that occur within the world we find ourselves as opposed to supernatural harms that are claimed to result in such things as ‘sin’, or the violation of ‘God's will’ or a threatened ability to achieve ‘salvation’ in some other worldly realm. A naturalistic construal of harm is to always take priority over supernatural views of harm ...Naturalism gives us the basis from which to say what many have thought all along; that denying religiously based claims of conscience that would bring harm to others is all right because such claims are grounded in metaphysical beliefs that are highly unlikely to be true.
Sunday, May 27, 2018
Ireland, which was once Europe’s most socially conservative nation, has voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to its constitution in order to permit abortion. The vote was roughly 2 to 1 in favour of change, with nearly the whole country supporting it. Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar reassured No voters. “Ireland will still be the same country today as it was before, just a little more tolerant, open and respectful.”
The legalisation of abortion comes hard on the heels of the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2015. Together they suggest that Ireland is not the same country, at least not compared to 1983, when the Eighth Amendment was passed by a 2 to 1 margin. It is obvious that the country has “changed, changed utterly” in a single generation – although people will differ on whether this signals a “terrible beauty” or a terrible shame.
What is responsible for the turnabout? The decline in the prestige and power of the Catholic Church, which once was synonymous with Irish culture, surely has something to do with it. But there must be other reasons as well, as Ireland is simply treading the well-worn path towards secularisation which has swept across Western Europe. It’s worthwhile trying to understand the dynamics of the change, as the rise of bioethics itself is part of that secularisation. Otherwise we – Ireland and the rest of us – will fail to understand ourselves.
One example of the narrative which is being used to explain the referendum result is the image of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian migrant who died after asking for an abortion in 2012. It was used to show what happens to women who are denied their reproductive rights. However, abortion had nothing to do with her tragic death, a government investigation concluded in 2014. Instead, it was a perfect storm of medical negligence.
“We have voted to look reality in the eye and we did not blink," says Mr Varadkar about the referendum result. If he meant by these self-congratulatory words that Ireland is no longer living in a world of delusion and lies, he has obviously spoken too soon.
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