Just how much of our moral stance is influenced by emotional reaction? A study has recently been published in which elderly but mentally fit people were asked to consider what sort of care they would choose if they were to be severely reduced by dementia.
All subjects were informed about the disabilities to be expected in severe dementia, but half were also shown a brief film which actually recorded a person with severe dementia, and so showing the limitations it caused. This group was significantly more likely to choose only “comfort care”. I take “comfort care” to mean allowing the patient to die by withdrawing his or her means of survival.
I am not addressing here the morality of “comfort care” but the engagement of the emotions by showing the film. I compare this with the films of scans showing babies in the womb – who are recognisably babies, and behaving in a recognisably human way. You will recall that the pro-abortion lobby (I dislike the term pro-choice because only the mother has a choice) complaining about the use of such films since they might unduly influence or distress the mother. Or, as others would put it, make them face up to the reality of their options.
It seems to me that dementia films and unborn baby films are on a par – either both right or both wrong. I wonder whether you agree. And I wonder how much emotional involvement plays its part in our decisions. For example, leaving aside the justice of the cause, is a suicide bomber killing civilians more blameworthy than a Flying Fortress crew blanket bombing Hamburg?
(If you would like to read a somewhat fuller account of the dementia experiment you can do so here. You may also be moved, as I was, by a short video interview with a mother who decided to carry her grossly disabled baby to term. Find it here.)