This day, fifty years ago

This day, exactly 50 years ago, the Abortion Act, introduced as a private bill by David Steel MP, received its Royal Assent. It came into effect in the following April. In 2016 there were 190,406 abortions in England and Wales, of which 38 per cent were to women who had had one or more previous abortions. Over eight million human beings have been aborted since the Act.

We might date the modern view towards abortion from the Rex v. Bourne case of 1938. The law already allowed abortion where the mother was in danger of death; the case extended this to a qualified doctor who in good faith removed a pregnancy for the purpose of preserving the mother’s life. The distinction between danger of death and the preserving of the mother’s life introduced a broader level of judgement with particular emphasis on the good faith of the doctor. I happened in the 1950s to be privy to the records of an expensive West End doctor from which I concluded that a chequebook might be helpful too. As Roy Jenkins (then Home Secretary) described it, it was one law for the poor and another for the rich.

So it was no surprise in the 1960s, when the prospect of more liberal legislation was in sight, that much was made of the frequency and the dangers of illegal abortion, to which the poorer class was vulnerable. The picture of knitting needles, old hags and backrooms in the slums was vivid. At the emotional level the issue became one of proletarian danger and death. But big round numbers are powerful in emotional debate and much was made of the claim that 100,000 illegal abortions took place every year. The number, estimated at that time by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists at some 15,000, could not cut the mustard by comparison.

Fortunately there was another level of debate. I got involved in this as a result of a letter I sent to the Spectator. I was a very young man and I must have assumed that the simple case I laid out was so incontrovertible that the issue would be abandoned: the forces of evil would retreat to their holes. They did not. The initial positions that the foetus was either a human being and thus sacrosanct, or that it was not yet a human being and thus had no rights, never changed. The Anglican bishops lay in between: the foetus was a potential human being and thus had a secondary right to life which should be protected unless the mother’s life was in danger.

It was in this context that I found myself meeting with the Abortion Law Reform Association. I believed that brief exchanges in the Press could never resolve the question, and that it required a written debate which would lay out the arguments in extenso. ALRA, with whom I had several meetings, appeared to be open to this but said they were unable to find the time. I was less keen on the offered alternative which was a public debate and would be more dependent on the quality of the speakers than the quality of the argument.

In the Act a fundamental condition for a legal abortion was that the risk to the mother’s life was greater than if the pregnancy were terminated. And thereby hangs an irony. The amendment which led to this was introduced in the House of Lords at the behest of a strong opponent to abortion who believed that that it would exclude most abortions. The members of ALRA present in the gallery could not believe their luck. It was a sound medical opinion that medical abortion would always be safer than continuing to term. A key condition in the Act, arguably legalising virtually all abortions, was in effect written by the anti- abortionists.

Of course ALRA and their friends won. Nowadays abortion can be obtained with little difficulty even when it is no more than a convenience for the mother. Two doctors are required to approve an abortion and we read newspaper reports which suggest that the process can be effectively nominal. (See CH Letters, October 13, Dr Dermot Kearney.) Yet we should have compassion for those for whom pregnancy is a life-changing moral dilemma. Their choice may be an agonising one.

One group suffers in a different way: doctors and medical staff. The Act contains a conscience clause which protects those who refuse to take part in the treatment. It does not apply to indirect activities which contribute to abortion. Certainly every would-be Catholic doctor or nurse should be aware of how their prospects may be affected in a profession ostensibly devoted to human life. In 2012 two Catholic nurses who were required to delegate, supervise and support staff who carried out abortions were refused the protection of conscience because their involvement was indirect. We might contrast this with Reinhold Hanning, an administrative guard at Auschwitz, who was found guilty under German law as an accessory in the death of 170,000 people.

It is now broadly accepted that the rights of the foetus, if any, must give way to the choice of the mother irrespective of other issues. And there is an outstanding controversial question about whether the conceptus can be regarded as an individual human being before the “primitive streak” at 14 days. This is morally significant to the “morning after” pill and the coil. The Church, while prohibiting abortion from conception onwards, does not claim that individual human life necessarily starts at that point.

The emphasis nowadays is on the rights of the mother, although, this is inconsistent with the key United Nation’s documents. It is beginning to be claimed that opponents of abortion are extremists and, in the case of Catholics, indoctrinated by a Church which has sometimes been shown to be wrong on moral doctrines derived from faulty science.

Some recent incidents illustrate the sign of the times. The Royal College of Midwives, the BMA and the RCOG argue that abortion should be decriminalised. The President of the RCM believes that the normal time limit (40 weeks) should be removed, but here she appears to be going against the public grain . She compared the medical status of the operation to removing a bunion.

The recent British Attitudes Survey tells us that 61 per cent of Catholics approve of legalised abortion. We do not know how many of these are nominal. But it may be that our emphasis on the Church’s prohibition is counterproductive. We might instead explain that it is our conscience which tells us that every individual human being has a fundamental right to life. We do not have to look far back in political history to see the dangers of abandoning that principle.

Finally, on a more cheerful note, it is clear that the British public, as a whole, do not want the right to abortion to be extended. A large poll, taken this year, demonstrated this comprehensively. Gratifyingly, only one per cent favoured abortion being allowed up to birth. No room for more details here, but is a starting point.

To review arguments on both sides, try Moral Maze on BBC IPlayer (14 October). This was a well- balanced programme, and naturally ended with disagreement.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Catholic Herald columns, Church and Society, Moral judgment and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to This day, fifty years ago

  1. tim says:

    Of course, Quentin, not all your readers are Catholics – but I doubt if 61% of the comments you get will be in favour of ‘liberalising’ the UK law or of maintaining it as it is. We will expect it of one or two regulars – giving the opportunity to understand – and perhaps rebut – how they see it.

    On a peripheral issue – I have never been able to understand the ‘primitive streak’ argument. Up to 14 days from conception you can kill someone because you’re not sure that they might not be twins?

  2. Quentin says:

    Tim, your second para. It’s tricky stuff, and I’m no expert. But basically before the primitive streak there are loosely organised cells with potential functions. Then there is a point at which some start to harmonise and to form the physical entity of the embryo. (Or, in rare cases, two embryos). Until then no human structure has been initiated. So the argument is that we cannot speak of an individual human being until that structure has been differentiated (forming the primitive streak). The opposing argument is that the potential of the human being is there from the beginning and must so be regarded.
    No one disagrees about what happens physically since this is a matter of fact. The disagreement is philosophical: whether the potential to form the structure of the embryo is sufficient to identify it as an individual human being, or whether this cannot occur until the various ‘parts’ have harmonised into an individual structure. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

    • twr57 says:

      Thank you< Quentin – that clarifies the argument. It is not (as I thought) whether one rather than two persons are present, but as to whether what is present (up to 14 days or so) is an individual human person at all. I say that it is clearly a human being (or at least one such). Furthermore, it is clearly individual Its combination of genes make it so (except in the exceptional case of identical twins). It is at a very early stage of development. |t is clearly human (if not, what?). If you wish, you can argue it isn’t a person. This is however unattractive, when we see how often in the past such arguments have been misused.

      All this, however, is largely beside the point, as all of the 8 million or so abortions resulting from the 1967 Act have been of significantly more advanced pregnancies.

  3. Hock says:

    I have a vague memory of reading somewhere of Pope John Paul 2 saying something to the effect that if he was the last Catholic alive in the world because every other Catholic had left the Church over abortion that the Church could never alter its teachings on the protection of the unborn.
    I realise this may be a misquote but it nevertheless remains true in the sense of the teaching so whether the figure is 61% or 99.9 % of Catholics who no longer believe the Church teaching on abortion it makes no difference to the stance that the Church must take.

    The fact that so many express doubts only adds to the horror that to support abortion is somehow seen as a liberal attitude to be applauded, when it is the opposite.

    It grieves me to write it but the fact remains that the bigger the crime, the more widespread it is, then the easier it is to acquiesce to it, and support it. The prime example of this was the holocaust where a nation stood by as the persecution of Jews grew from verbal attacks to the wholesale killing of millions of men women and children as a matter of State policy and was widely supported; even though deep down it was known to be wrong and indefensible. Why else try to hide the horror of the camps as the Allies advanced on them?

    Hence the current moves , which I fear will soon be reality, to have abortion on demand up to the point of being born, and for any reason. This will inevitably mean sex selection abortion ( which we have now even though it is illegal,) and the end of any conscience objection being recognised.The question will soon arise as to what is the difference between killing on the day and killing a day later? The more numerous the killing, the more we dehumanise the child in the womb over semantics, then it becomes all the easier to commit.

    • John Thomas says:

      Well, I don’t know about John Paul II, or the Catholic Church, but if I end up being the last Christian on earth who believes abortion is evil – so be it, I’ll not bend. You’re right about the larger scale of horrors making them more acceptable, and about people/nations, knowing “deep down” that what they do/support is wrong – why is not abortion treated just like verucca removal, if that is really all that it is? They KNOW it’s not, so they should come clean! And what about karma? I’m no Buddhist (or is it Hindu?), but think of the terrible, enormous long-term effect that mass-killing will have on our former-civilisation! Germany/the Germans will be “paying” for the Holacaust for many, many decades – how much more will we be paying for the Megaholacaust?

  4. John Thomas says:

    Good piece, Quentin, as usual.
    When I (reluctantly, I don’t force my views on people) say that I am strongly pro-life, people sometimes say: “I didn’t know you were a Catholic!”, or “Have you become a Catholic since we last met?”. I then, generally, tell them that in the US there are apparently not one, not two, but three organisations of atheists, agnostics, or non-theists of one kind or another who oppose abortion – so you don’t have to be a Catholic, or a Christian, or any other kind of religious person, to believe in the value, and valuing, of human life (that pro-abortion people can not, logiclly, ‘believe in the valuing of human life’ goes without saying, I consider).
    The idea that any Catholics, or other Christians, actually believe in this horror is appalling – and I do believe that there are two or three things – we debated another, on this site, very recently – of which abortion is one, which divide us, and will do so totally, in time, into those Christians who are “in the world, but not OF the world”, and those who are definitely “in the world and very much OF the world” – dedicated to purely-this-worldy values (I call the latter “the Church Compliant”). What God will do with ‘Compliant’ Christians in the Hereafter is … well, an interesting question …

  5. Iona says:

    Fortunately, we can leave that question to God’s judgement rather than having to decide it for ourselves.
    I was brought up in a non-religious home, and don’t remember ever hearing abortion discussed. Nevertheless, when I first knew what it was (early teens, maybe, or mid-teens) I was horrified to think that anyone might do such a thing. I didn’t become a Catholic until my late 30s, and one of the factors inclining me towards the RC Church rather than (for example) C of E, was that the RC Church was uncompromising on the abortion question.
    Incidentally, Quentin, – fourth paragraph from the end – “40 weeks” – don’t you medan 24 weeks? Or have I misunderstood the sentence?

    • Quentin says:

      Thank you. Iona. You are quite right: 24 weeks is the period during which the Act allows abortion. However some reasons allow abortions after this, for example, if the mother’s life is at risk or the child would be born with a severe disability.. What I had in mind of course was that the RCM plea was pushing for legalised abortion up to birth – which is counted as 40 weeks. I should have been clearer.

      • tim says:

        Abortion is legal up to birth for ‘disability’. Is that for any disability or serious (life-threatening or unsurviveable) disability?
        A further example of ‘irony’ is that this exception for abortion up to birth resulted from efforts by pro-lifers to restrict rights to abortion – but the legislature took advantage to loosen the law.

      • tim says:

        My comment below (or above – who knows?) about ‘disability’. I should have looked this up before posting. The requirement is for “a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped” (Current Ground E). So not quite as bad as I feared. But allows those with Down Syndrome to be killed at any time up to birth. Note also the terminology used by the government’s statistical reports “the child if it were born”.

  6. John Candido says:

    In a perfect world, there would be no need for any abortions. We do not inhabit such a place. Although I can see that those who are opposed to abortion feel very badly that there have been so many since they were legalised 50 years ago. Might it not be a little better for those who feel very badly about the 8 million aborted fetuses, to conceptualise or look at this issue in a different way?

    What I am getting at is that there is an area where both opposing sides do not have points of view in common with each other, and on the other hand there might be something, anything that might be common to either side of this debate.

    When you first try to answer this question it can evoke difficulty or frustration because those who are opposed and those who are for abortions are poles apart. One can look at this problem as a partisan and feel that there is a unbridgeable gulf between sides and that any talk of commonality is farcical, improbable or impossible.

    If both sides could meet together with the understanding that the purpose of this meeting will be very different to what usually occurs when people of opposing viewpoints get together.

    A few rules might be appropriate. Firstly, an agreement that there is to be no judgementalism, obscenities and abuse etc. towards each other. Secondly, that there be an acceptance that this meeting will consist exclusively of the use of creative thinking. Creativity will be used by both sides at this very unusual meeting instead of opposing arguments that normally occur in debates. This approach requires discipline.

    Why engage in creative thinking rather than vigorous debate? Normal debates have their place and I am not trying to prevent normal discussion and debates where there are opposing points of view.

    A multitude of debates would have been conducted on radio, television or in newspaper articles. They have been done.

    It may prove fruitful if another method was used without it raising hopes that any solution can immediately be found. There may well be something that can be found through a more creative approach, especially if such a method was used with a dedicated group of people that meet annually or every six months, for example.

    There may be a need for a compare. Our host could firstly say that we are here for a unique exercise in creative thinking using people from both sides of the issue in this process.

    All people will continually ask themselves and share with each other any answers that they can think of to the question, ‘what are the things that we have in common?’.

    Initially, there are very broad commonalities between the two antagonists. We are concerned people who want to find answers or bring something new even if answers are impossible, to the dilemma before us, we both value justice, law and order, civility extended between people who may not agree on some issue, etc.

    Given time these common generalities will move towards more specific but commonly held ideas such as a concern for the mother’s health, that the first 14 days of a conceptus is jointly considered to not be a human being, the need for sex education in schools, the acceptance of contraception without spelling out what types of contraception that people from both sides would prefer, etc.
    It may turn out that the group was able to present one or more ideas that were commonly held. More ideas may come from other meetings in future.

  7. tim says:

    John, I must commend the respectful tone of your proposal. Such discussions, if undertaken, might help to clarify difficulties and disagreements. However, the problem is how to map out the common ground.

    “We both value justice, law and order, civility extended between people who may not agree on some issue”. Indeed. But we may have very different ideas of justice, and what laws are proper and demand respect.

    So what will be profitable to discuss? We’d better start with terminology. Is ‘mother’ an acceptable term for a pregnant woman? I’d hope so, but cannot assume it.. ‘Child’ presumably will not be, as begging an important question (ditto ‘unborn child’). For the present, then, I put both ‘mother’ and ‘child’ in inverted commas, to show that the terms are not necessarily accepted.

    We need to discuss (among other things) whose interests are involved and whose (if anyone’s) should have priority. This will certainly cause disagreement. Perhaps we can put on one side the interest (in some cases) of the ‘child’ in being aborted. It is sometimes said that “every child should be a wanted child” and therefore abortion of a ‘child’ whom its’ mother’ does not want is in the ‘child’s’ best interest. A more plausible case is where the ‘child’ is damaged (slightly – cleft palate? – or so severely as to be capable of independent life?). These are still special cases, and (whatever their merits) will not shed much light on the argument for complete freedom for the ‘mother’ alone to choose what to do.

    But both sides must surely agree that the interests of the ‘mother’ are important, if not necessarily paramount? Can this be built on to extend agreement? Unfortunately, this may be difficult. For one side, the choice of the woman involved must control – outcomes are secondary. Against this, the other side will say that the effect on society in general is relevant, and – what will certainly not be easily accepted – that abortions are bad for ‘mothers’ as well as their ‘children’. There is substantial evidence to this effect – for example, of risks to subsequent pregnancies, and to mental health of ‘mothers’ (shown for example by higher suicide rates). Such evidence will be strongly challenged (convincingly or otherwise). And any challenge (successful or not) will still be supplemented by the contention that the ‘mother’ must be allowed freedom of choice, even when it damages her (or interferes with the legitimate choices of others – or ‘dehumanises’ society?).

    So progress along these lines seems unlikely. Where else might we start? More suggestions, please!

  8. John Candido says:

    There is one possible specific commonality that I forgot to mention in my first post. It is a very small part of what Tim has previously described as the central issue in these sorts of meetings involving creativity.

    ‘…the problem is how to map out the common ground.’ (Tim)

    Thank you for that well thought out post and reply, Tim!

    Keeping on the issue that Tim has described as central to creative meetings, which is mapping out the common ground. I would imagine that before people on both sides of this question meet together for a hoped-for productive creative discussion, they each would probably have to do a lot of homework beforehand, i.e. generate as many ideas as possible by themselves that may or may not be a commonality between the two groups.

    Once every person has done their part by applying themselves to ‘finding’ specific potential commonalities between the two antagonists, they are ready to participate in a mutual discussion involving the group as a whole, moderated by a host or compare.

    Of course, this is in one sense a ‘leap into the dark’ by any person on either side to attempt to find specific potential commonalities between the two sides. It is not an easy task. However, it is my firm belief that the more any person tries this form of creative thinking, the easier it will become for them over time.

    One clue is that creative thinking must be joined to one’s imagination. Any person involved with this process by definition has been given ‘permission’ to fully use their imaginative faculty.

    One’s imagination will be used where the task is to find specific, potential future scenarios, that may or may not be considered a potential commonality between sides.

    A part of ‘mapping out’ the common ground, is when someone offers to provide one or more hypothetical scenarios that form a part of each person’s homework undertaken before the group meets together.

    Admittedly, a lot of these points are vague thought bubbles at best in helping to determine what can be potentially used to map out the common ground. I have not read any book that directly relates to these ideas because I am postulating them.

    Going back to my opening point in what I think may or may not be a commonality that I had forgotten to include in my previous post.

    Can both sides agree that in an abortion which meets every requirement as defined by an act of parliament to make that abortion legal, that while a potential human has lost their life, the abortion cannot be conceptualised as ‘medical murder’?

    On the grounds that the most important questions surrounding anyone’s death, are

    1. The intentions of the person ‘ending the life of the other person’.

    2. The specific circumstances that mitigate a judgement of ‘murder’ and will allow society to call that person’s death an ‘accident’, ‘manslaughter’ or a ‘murder’.

    For example, a soldier in a war kills an enemy combatant.

    A soldier on weekend leave has a fight in a bar and kills one or more people.

    A person kills an intruder in his house thinking that his or her life is imperilled by his or her presence.

    A policeman shoots a masked man running towards him only to be horrified by the fact that he had an imitation handgun.

    Ad infinitum.

  9. Hock says:

    In response to John Candido and Tim there are endless questions that cannot be resolved. For example who exactly are the two sides representatives going to be? Who would decide this to the satisfaction of both sides? What level of compromise can there possibly be ?
    A good try but in the end a nonsensical one. Pro abortionists who have a financial interest in the practice are well on their way to getting abortion on demand and under any circumstances so are never going to settle for anything less. Why would they?
    Those who see abortion as a killing of the innocents that cannot be tolerated can never accept some kind of ‘half way house’ that allows it to continue unchallenged.
    One small story among millions is that of one of my relations . She is a married woman and became pregnant at a slightly later age than ‘normal.’ She was pestered by an endless list of NHS personnel to have an abortion on the grounds her unborn child could be ‘Down’s. The pressure continued despite her ( and her husband’s ) continual denials to acquiesce to an abortion.
    She went on the have a son who has no medical issues whatsoever and would have been aborted/ killed if the ‘professionals’ had got their way. (Incidentally the parents had made a firm decision that even if their child had been Down’s then it was still their child to love and care for.)

    NB Nothing in this brief account is to suggest that the healthy child is more worthy of life than an unhealthy child and this is where John and Tim’s attempt at defining some kind of middle ground
    would be bound to fail before it ever got started.

  10. John Nolan says:

    Whether we like it or not, abortion has become a political issue; unfettered access to it is an essential part of the ‘women’s rights’ agenda. This makes life difficult for those on the political Left who might be opposed to abortion on principle, since they are committed to an ideology which stridently demands it, again on principle. The Right can afford to be more pragmatic.

    I get the impression that fifty years ago the issue was less of a party political one than it has since become.

    The USA is even more polarized. Catholic Republicans refer to the Democrats as the ‘Abortion Party’.

  11. John Candido says:

    Part one.

    ‘…who exactly are the two sides representatives going to be? Who would decide this to the satisfaction of both sides? What level of compromise can there possibly be?’ (Hock)

    There may be a formal way of assessing people through psychological tests, given firstly that they espouse abortion or not. The tests help to determine their general flexibility, use of their imagination, communication skills, their capacity to think ‘outside the square’, etc.

    Thinking in terms of a compromise is misleading.

    I think that if we examine the euthanasia debate on SS it can be somewhat instructive to the abortion debate.

    If we go back to February 2011 to ‘Dealing with Dad’. A very interesting discussion was had on euthanasia that envisioned a time when euthanasia will simply no longer be a practical or an acceptable alternative to a well-funded number of palliative care beds, and increasing the research funding for palliative medicine.

    The number and efficacy of drugs that a specialist palliative care doctor can administer in order to relieve pain and suffering for any dying patient, will increase through research and will eliminate pain for every person admitted to a palliative care bed, or even if they have decided to die at home they will be taken care of as well through home visits by doctors and nurses.

    This qualitative and quantitative advance may even do away with the need to use the principle of double effect, where the primary intention of any physician is to relieve pain, but may have the effect of inducing a loss of consciousness as well as causing an inadvertent or unintended death.

    Euthanasia as an issue has been solved by the discussion on SS.

    What is needed is a similar approach to the abortion debate although it may indeed be more difficult to resolve and take more time to resolve than the euthanasia issue.

    We need to ‘envision a time’ when abortion will no longer be a practical or an acceptable alternative for people in future and work towards its future realisation.

    Appart from the potential use of creative thinking by a group of people meeting annually to find what is in common between both groups, we can simply ask what are the essential parts of this issue that need to be in place so that at some time in future abortion will no longer be acceptable, and the tipping point for change will flow to a change in the law that would prohibit abortion.

    The solution to the euthanasia debate was the use of government funds directed towards two main ends. Palliative care beds with an adequate number of very well-trained palliative care nurses and increased funds for research in palliative medicine.

    What needs to be explored are the practical alternatives that will completely replace the practice of abortion.

    The biological parents of a child that is not going to be aborted do not want this child. Society needs to come up with who, what, where, when and why of alternatives to the child’s biological parents.

    Government and private philanthropy will have to increase funding for a set of alternatives that will work for every child that is born an unwanted child. Hence, adoption agencies will have a much greater role than they presently have of finding homes for unwanted children. Adequate funding for this alternative is absolutely critical to induce a change of mind over abortion in society.

    Apart from dealing with children who are unwanted, there must be a stepped-up role for sex education and the use of contraceptives in order to prevent children from being unwanted in the first place.

    • tim says:

      John – “Euthanasia as an issue has been solved …”?
      That is good news, but I must express some scepticism. Is there not a poll on this issue – fiercely contested – going on in Australia at present?

      That highlights the practical problem. Suppose we assemble these teams of reasonable people, set the ground rules, have the discussion and reach (within the group) agreed conclusions, to which (perhaps) all contributors to this blog might subscribe. A splendid advance! – but is anyone else going to take any notice? I fear not.

      • John Candido says:

        ‘John – “Euthanasia as an issue has been solved …”? (Tim)

        ‘Solved’ in the sense that substantial advances in palliative care medicine and the church’s and/or the government’s funding of much more palliative care beds with an adequate number of very well trained palliative care nurses, will eventually have a devasting effect on euthanasia statutes anywhere they are in operation around the world.

        Horace is one of SS’s regular contributors over many years, and for those who do not know, he is a retired consultant neurologist.

        On the 2nd March 2011, at 11:29 pm he wrote the following in the post called, ‘Dealing with Dad’.

        ‘My own experience of this problem (palliative sedation) is limited to a single case when I was a young doctor in the early 1950’s.’

        ‘A patient was dying of cancer and in severe pain; I prescribed 4 hourly injections of Morphine (there were no other useful drugs available at that time) and I had to explain to Matron, who was worried about the effect that this would have on her nurses, that the object was simply to alleviate his pain. There was no question of ‘killing’ or even trying to hasten death – although this was indeed inevitable.’

        ‘I am impressed by John Candido’s long post on ‘palliative care’ above.’

        ‘This surely is the answer to Quentin’s question. Everything possible must, and I am sure will be, done to alleviate the patient’s suffering but the decision simply to end life is to take the easy (indeed callous) way out.’

        ‘Is there not a poll on this issue – fiercely contested – going on in Australia at present?’ (Tim)

        Yes, there is, Tim. It is being finally thrashed-out in the Legislative Council or upper house of the Victorian state parliament. I am completely against euthanasia.

        ‘That highlights the practical problem. Suppose we assemble these teams of reasonable people, set the ground rules, have the discussion and reach (within the group) agreed conclusions, to which (perhaps) all contributors to this blog might subscribe. A splendid advance! – but is anyone else going to take any notice? I fear not.’
        That is an important point, Tim. The result of creative discussions may or may not become newsworthy and may require some sort of push. Certainly, ‘word of mouth’ is not an impossibility.

  12. John Candido says:

    Part Two.

    For young mothers who are still in secondary schools or at a university, they must be given adequate support as both a mother and a continuing student.

    Shaming any woman because she has courageously kept her child and has continued to take advantage of social programs that help young mothers who are students not to drop-out, is absolutely verboten!

    The same can be said of shaming any child who has a mother but may or may not have a father, as a ‘bastard’. I think that this attitude has faded through time. In any case, this is also absolutely verboten!

    I am completely shocked by historical cases of shaming women or families who have children outside of marriage, or shaming innocent children by referring to them as ‘bastards’. This is utterly unacceptable to me as a liberal Christian. Judging, bullying and shaming other people is the same as judging, bullying and shaming Christ himself.

  13. Hock says:

    I still cannot see anything in your further explanation that alters what I wrote above and I am not sure that we can compare euthanasia with abortion as though they were parallels.
    I sense a desire for compromise on your part, although you do not like the word, and it suggests it is achievable. I beg to differ. There can be no ‘meeting of minds’ on this issue. The next step , as I wrote above, is the killing of babies who have been born but do not meet some criteria. It is already happening!

    Incidentally I have never heard of any child who has been referred to as a ‘bastard’ because of its status outside of wedlock. It may still exist in some cultures of which you are familiar but I have never heard it used, as above , in the UK.

    Children born outside of wedlock are now more numerous ( year on year,) that those born to a wedded couple. Or so the stats say, I think.

  14. John Candido says:


    There is no compromise at all with abortion. You either accept it or you don’t. What I was trying to do was to explore the possibility that there might be commonalities acceptable by both sides, without any hope that there is any ‘compromise’ or any solution to the issue.

    Of course, there are conundrums and difficulties in attempting an exercise like creative thinking on the abortion issue.

    The advantage of such a group is as Tim said, you are inevitably going to clarify your own and each other’s thinking, and you will attempt alongside others to try to map out what the common ground is on this issue, assuming there is one to be found at all.

    I used the euthanasia debate we had on SS as an example of what may occur when a group of people try to find an answer to a thorny problem. One was found based on what the government and society valued and was prepared to fund.

    To that end,

    ‘We need to ‘envision a time’ when abortion will no longer be a practical or an acceptable alternative for people in future and work towards its future realisation.’ (me)

    There is a very hard and long road ahead for anyone trying to make abortion illegal again. Of course, none of this is for the faint of heart. I am not trying to hide this from anyone.

    Even if one was to provide every rational alternative to abortion in a debate, there is so much ‘bad blood’ between the protagonists that it would not surprise me if there is ‘nothing to discuss’ between them.

    The key to winning this argument is if you can convince the rest of society that there is no need to abort any fetus because the government and adoption agencies can always find families to take any number of unwanted children and nurture them in a loving environment to adulthood.

    You must be able to satisfactorily demonstrate to the whole of society that every particular related to such an approach, whether economic, social, legal, ethical or moral has been attended to and worked through vigorously. Particular attention needs to be given to any privacy issues that need addressing for the life of both the mother and her unwanted child.

    A very great deal of sensitivity is involved to secure the confidence of society. That you know what you are talking about and can summon not only the technical expertise required but possess the wherewithal needed to attend to a multitude of difficult issues with aplomb.

    The side espousing abortion can always say and irrelevantly in my view, that the church has been found guilty of child molestation on a global basis and therefore has completely lost all moral credibility or authority as a teacher on abortion.

    The church has a perception problem with its authority as a moral guardian in a secular society, due to the worldwide clergy sex abuse scandal.

    It also has issues with the rest of society on excluding women from the priesthood or making celibacy optional for the diocesan priesthood and in reviewing its teaching on sex.

    I see that Francis is having issues with clergy who argue that the Eucharist must be restricted to those in their first marriage. Failing this, there is to be no consensual sex between those who have remarried without obtaining an annulment so that they may properly receive the Eucharist. Crazy stuff, but if you are into it, good luck to you.

    Fortunately, there is a group of moral theologians that have been quietly working on these issues over several decades. Whether or not the church feels any inclination to countenance any review of its sexual teaching is another matter altogether. This may get resolved in a century or two.

    It does look all too difficult, doesn’t it?

    Judging, bullying and shaming other people has been the story of history alongside warfare, torture, corporal and capital punishment. The church and its members have an all too human and dichotomous record when it comes to these matters, unfortunately.

    • John Nolan says:

      John Candido

      Where your argument falls down is that you assume that abortion is still a matter for debate. It is not. All western societies (with the exception of Northern Ireland) have liberal abortion laws. There are some ideologues who see abortion solely in the context of women’s rights and take no account of the rights of the unborn child – and as a supporter of the feminist agenda you are not unaware of this, and unless you say otherwise, may be presumed to endorse it.

      At the other end of the spectrum there are those who oppose abortion under all circumstances since they believe human life begins at conception. Their position is also an ideological one, but to the extent that it is the immutable doctrine of the Catholic Church I would not expect you to endorse it, since it is clear from your comments over the years that you have little time for Catholic teaching, regarding it as ‘crazy stuff’.

      The vast majority of people have no ideological axe to grind; they see abortion through a pragmatic and utilitarian lens. If they have an ethical position on the subject it is relativistic, in other words a version of what is called ‘situation ethics’ which some would question as being ethics at all. I would suspect that you find yourself in this group. If I am mistaken, feel free to enlighten me.

      • John Candido says:

        John Nolan.

        Yes, the debates are ‘done and dusted’ and abortion is available in most nation-states.

        Does that mean that it is all over and that nothing can change people’s mind on the issue even after eight million abortions? Who knows?

        I reluctantly support the legal availability of abortion, that doesn’t mean that I cannot re-examine my point of view every now and then by making it either more conservative or more liberal.

        If you want to view my posts as too late in the day, well fine. I am replying to Quentin’s post as best I know how.

        It is a caricature and a grotesque exaggeration to say,

        ‘…to the extent that it is the immutable doctrine of the Catholic Church I would not expect you to endorse it, since it is clear from your comments over the years that you have little time for Catholic teaching, regarding it as ‘crazy stuff’.’

        Sorry JN, doctrines are not ‘immutable’ as much as you would like them to be, and like all things are subject to change over time. In any case, everyone is entitled to their point of view on one matter or another and they are also entitled to freely change their point of view over time as well.

        As a marker of change, the Second Vatican Council referred to the church’s desire to place itself in the service of everyone, and most refreshingly, keeps referring to the dignity of humanity and the inviolacy of an informed human conscience.

        Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) refers to the freedom and the inviolacy of an informed conscience.

        As for situational ethics, you don’t know what you are talking about, dear boy. There have been a number of prominent theologians who have little problem with situational ethics.

        Stick to Latin, liturgical studies and leading a choir. You seem to be out of your depth with philosophy and theology.

        ‘Specifically Christian forms of situational ethics placing love above all particular principles or rules were proposed in the first half of the twentieth century by Rudolf Bultmann, John A. T. Robinson, and Joseph Fletcher. These theologians point specifically to agapē, or unconditional love, as the highest end.’

        ‘Other theologians who advocated situational ethics include Josef Fuchs, Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Paul Tillich. Tillich, for example, declared that “Love is the ultimate law.”’

  15. Hock says:

    It is disappointing but hardly surprising that you have taken the ‘opportunity’ to utilise this debate for a ‘scatter gun’ attack on the wider teachings of the Catholic Church. None of the issues you raise , have any relevance whatsoever to the subject of the abortion debate. Opposition to abortion is not the sole preserve of the Catholic Church, it is one voice among many.

    • John Candido says:

      Hock, refer to my reply to John Nolan above your comment.

      ‘None of the issues you raise, have any relevance whatsoever to the subject of the abortion debate.’ (Hock)

      I never said that they were relevant, only that the Roman Catholic Church has a perception problem with the wider society that it finds itself in.

      Funnily enough, I also said that opponents of the Church’s position on abortion may say that it’s moral authority has been sullied and compromised, but that I said that this was ‘irrelevant’ for them to mention it.

      ‘The side espousing abortion can always say and irrelevantly in my view, that the church has been found guilty of child molestation on a global basis and therefore has completely lost all moral credibility or authority as a teacher on abortion.’ (me)

      To be fair, I did say that the need for couples who have remarried without successfully obtaining an annulment, and who want to receive the Eucharist, need to abstain from sex before receiving the Eucharist, was ‘crazy’.

      But this is also a perception issue for the Catholic Church.

  16. G.D. says:

    If i have an opinion, and consider that opinion should be held by the other there is no chance of an exchange.
    If i am in a position to convince, or force others into accepting my view then i will. (By whatever means). For self justification.
    If that ‘power’ happens to be the ‘legislation’ of a country/institution then others must obey, or be punished/sanctioned in some way. But not for the sake of accepting a moral correctness.
    The other doesn’t accept any moral rightness that might exist, just avoid the punishments; or not as many overcrowded prisons witness to.
    People just become hardened against the impositions; and more entrenched in their own views. And so the cycle of imposition (via enforced power) continues. And swings from one extreme to the other.

    If one is to cherish a correct moral obligation, and make it a part of self, it can not be a matter of law or force under whatever guise or argument.
    Sure law can and does safeguard, under threat of punishments, in a practical sense. But that doesn’t change anyone’s moral stance.

    When it comes to matters of a personal nature, ‘such as the child i am carrying’ or ‘the life i wish to end’ even less so.
    Moral education (as in “educere,” meaning to lead out rather than educare) and so moral truths, can only come about by freedom of choice when matters are not obviously amoral.
    By the way, i don’t agree with abortion. But if someone wants euthanasia to end the God given life they have …?? i’m not clear about it.
    But am sure neither subject will be reconciled in society by legislation, for or against.

    • G.D. says:

      immoral – not amoral!

      • John Nolan says:


        There are two Latin verbs here, both derived from ex+duco; ‘educo, -ere, -uxi, -uctum’ and ‘educo, -are, -avi, -atum’. The latter has a more specific meaning, namely to bring up, rear or nurture, and this is from where we derive our word ‘education’.

  17. G.D. says:

    Yes, John if you say so. ……. Educere is from the same root? Reckon it should, within an education of a morals, be primary meaning.
    To lead out the morality that is already placed deep in the soul of each living entity. But ignored by most. As in – the presence of God’s Spirit that gives life.

  18. John Nolan says:

    John Candido

    Let’s take Joseph Fletcher, the father of ‘situational ethics’. He was a leading academic proponent of the benefits of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, eugenics and cloning. Ordained as a Protestant minister, he later professed himself to be an atheist. You keep some dubious intellectual company.

    I understand situational ethics; I happen to disagree with it, as do most Catholic theologians. Even the Protestants whom you listed (e.g. Bonhoeffer) would not unconditionally sign up to it.

    I do not claim to be a philosopher or a theologian, but then neither are you; so you cannot argue that I am out of my depth. In fact I admit to being in the shallow end, and I don’t see you at the opposite end of the pool under the diving board.

    It’s a rather puerile attempt on your part to be patronizing, and I can assure you it won’t work.

  19. tim says:

    I have a practical suggestion (well, maybe it’s practical). Consumers, it is widely held, have the right of choice. They have the right not to be poisoned by what they eat, and they have the right to make up their minds about what they think might poison them. So they are entitled (if they so wish) to know if the food they eat is ‘organic’, ie, has been grown without the use of modern pesticides from seed that has not been ‘genetically modified’. This right does not depend on whether such food actually does them harm – though most of those in favour of it believe that it does, or might.

    Why should health consumers not have a corresponding right? I would like to be confident that my medical advisers were similarly ‘organic’ in that they believed in the right and duty of their profession to save life, and never deliberately to take it. Such beliefs (or the lack of them) seem bound to influence the way they practise their professions. So, as a matter of justice and equity I should have such information about my medical advisors’ beliefs.

    As the medical profession is at present organised, this is clearly impractical. Doctors have a wide variety of views, probably changing over time and according to circumstances, and may reasonably object to being cross-questioned. The only way forward is to split the profession in two. After first year of med school (at latest) all trainees must select choose between two avocations: the traditional one, whose devotees will continue to recite the Hippocratic oath, and undertake always to seek to cure and never to kill; and the progressive one, who will take a more relaxed view of their role. These will be distinguished by their labcoats – the former will continue to wear white, while the latter will wear some other colour (black? – tendentious – maybe purple or pink). Then patients would know where they were.

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