Friday, January 20, 2012

The Consistent Abolitionist: The Extreme Case of Dr Gisella Perl (Part 2)

Having set the stage and described the context of Dr Gisella Perl's controversial actions in Part 1 of this series, let us proceed to their multifaceted analysis.

The Nazi butchers bear the most blame

Abolitionists of human abortion have made it clear from the beginning that the principal reason to oppose human abortion is that it is nothing less than an assault on the image of God in human beings. It is murder. It is a refusal to submit to God's commandments with respect to how we are to treat other humans; namely, to love them as we love ourselves. Murder is in fact the exact opposite of loving others as we love ourselves.

This is what makes the Nazis' actions so horribly detestable, and this is why modern abortionists' attitudes toward very young humans mirror so closely the Nazis' attitudes toward humans of Jewish ethnicity. (We are oversimplifying the scope of the "Final Solution" for the sake of argument. We are fully aware that other people-designations were singled out for elimination.)

The Nazis arbitrarily ruled out of full humanity a specific segment of human beings. Simply by virtue of their being Jewish, they were no longer to be considered human. Similarly, modern pro-choicers arbitrarily rule out of full humanity a specific segment of human beings. Simply by virtue of being very young and not looking like you and I do, they are not to be considered human. They are "clumps of cells", "products of conception", "uterus contents" etc.

The Nazis carried out an organised assault on the image of God in Jewish people on a scale and with a pointed ferocity that had never before been seen in human history. While modern abortionists have killed ten times that many human beings in the USA alone, it has also required a larger population and geographical area (and thus less population density) and around ten times as much time.

And even aside from the direct murders for which the Nazis are responsible, to reduce human beings made in the image of God to the point of basic survival mode, to withhold from them even the most basic decencies of human treatment, to surround them with death, decrepitude, and violent indifference, is to shoulder a great deal of the responsibility for whatever desperate measures those oppressed people might take. To oppress them for no other reason than their ethnicity is that much worse, in terms of the Nazis' own guilt as well as the provocation of what more "civilised" people (ie, people who have never been in that situation) might call sub-human behavior.

Dr Perl bears some blame

Step inside Dr Perl's shoes, living in Auschwitz, among squalor and death, having seen a terrible and nearly-infallible pattern emerge - pregnant women either burn to death or endure vivisection.
Perl's motivation is defensible - she knew with high probability that the babies and mothers would be experimented upon and the final outcome would be much worse than otherwise.
It was once rightly said of Perl and the situation: "Everyone did things that in normal situations they would never do."

Perl's nearly uniform experience was that pregnant women got especially brutal attention, such that their pregnant status meant their deaths were nearly certain. If they were not pregnant, their death probabilities returned to around the same level as the other death camp prisoners.
Thus, average death camp prisoner's probability of death = elevated.
Average pregnant death camp prisoner's probability of death = extremely high.

Balance that, however, against the fact that it is better to suffer evil than to do evil. The moral dilemma thus arises from the conflict of two prima facie moral duties:
D1:  One ought to help those who are very likely to be killed in the near future, and take measures to prevent their death.
D2:  One ought not to purposefully kill innocent human beings.

The dilemma in this context arises from the problem that to fulfill D1, Dr Perl had to purposefully kill innocent human beings, which violates D2.  In order to fulfill D2, Dr Perl would have had to stand by and watch pregnant women be tortured and killed at the hands of Josef Mengele, which violates D1.  Obviously, this is not an easy choice.  This raises the question of whether or not a solution can be found to the dilemma, on the abolitionist position.

It is important to note that both D1 and D2 are predicated upon the value of human life, and the importance of preserving it.  This is especially true in the context of Judeo-Christian ethics, which was a part of Perl's ethnic and cultural heritage.  Thus, D1 and D2 are expressions of a more fundamental duty, D0.

D0:  One ought to preserve innocent life.

However, it is a violation of D0 to attempt to fulfill D1 by purposefully taking an innocent life.  Thus, the scope of D1, as stated, is too broad for D1 to be coherent with D0.  If D1 is to be kept consistent with its fundamental life-honoring purpose, then it should be reformulated in a manner such as D1', to eliminate these kinds of self-defeating scenarios:

D1':  One ought to help those who are very likely to be killed in the near future, and take measures to prevent their death, short of purposefully killing innocent human beings.

D1' and D2 are not in conflict in the Perl scenario, as D1' does not mandate an action that violates D2, and neither does D2 mandate an action that violates D1'.  As holding D1' and D2 together would have resulted in Dr. Perl refusing to perform abortions, the combination of holding D1' and D2 as an expression of D0 is consistent with the abolitionist position.

One might complain, however, that this is unsatisfactory in the context of Auschwitz.  After all, if Dr Perl had refused to perform abortions, what else could she have done?  The answer is that she probably could not have done much.  She certainly could have refused to tell the camp doctors that the women were pregnant, and perhaps tried to hide the signs of their pregnancy.  But in an environment such as Auschwitz, there was not much that could be done to escape Nazi brutality.

This brings us back to the question of moral responsibility: would Dr Perl have been morally responsible (or culpable) in any sense, if she had refused to perform the abortions?  If there had been no other means available to her (or to her knowledge), short of performing abortions, for sparing the pregnant women of Auschwitz horrific torture and death at the hands of Mengele, would she have been morally culpable to have refused to act (by performing abortions)?  The answer is no.  The moral responsibility of the deaths of both the mother and child lay solely at the hands of the Nazis.  They were the ones seeking the deaths of these innocent Jews.  They were the ones who had no respect for innocent life.  To put it more generally:

C1: It is not a morally culpable act to refuse to purposefully kill an innocent person in order to try to prevent a murderer from murdering another innocent person.

The moral culpability for the deaths lies with the murderer intent on killing both, not the person who could try to foil the murderer's plans by killing one of them ahead of time.  Thus, we conclude that Dr Perl was not morally obligated to perform the abortions.

This brings us to the other side of the issue: was Dr Perl morally culpable for performing the abortions?  Was there any sense in which her actions were morally justified?  To answer these questions, one must consider the intent of Dr Perl's actions, and then the actions themselves.  Dr Perl is to be commended for her desire to save life and prevent the pregnant women of Auschwitz from experiencing further pain and suffering.  While there is something in the intent of Dr Perl's actions that is commendable, that does not mean that the actions themselves are commendable.  A particular type of act may be morally unjustified, but that does not mean that all instances of that type of act bear equal moral culpability.

For example, the legal system distinguishes between acts causing the death of human beings that are intentional and unintentional.  In the case of unintentional deaths, the degree of negligence on the part of the defendant determines the degree of his culpability, and sentences are meted out accordingly.  In the case of intentional deaths, the intent of the defendant determines his culpability, and sentences are meted out accordingly.  Murder committed in the passion of the moment is considered a lesser offense than a premeditated murder committed in cold blood.  So also would we consider that purposefully killing another human being out of a desire to save life (especially in an environment of such death and suffering, where thinking straight would have been practically impossible) bears less moral culpability than purposefully killing another human being out of a rage, or in cold blood.

Thus, there are strong mitigating circumstances that reduce Perl's culpability in performing these abortions, but that does not mean that the abortions themselves are morally justified.  Inasmuch as D2 holds, then there is no circumstance in which abortion is justified.  More generally: 

: By D2, it is a morally unjustified and culpable act to purposefully kill innocent human beings.

In summary, C1 and C2 state the abolitionist position on the moral culpability of abortion in different contexts, and this is grounded on the combination of moral duties D0D1', and D2.  To recap:

1) There is no situation where abortion is morally obligatory, including Dr Perl’s situation in Auschwitz.
2) There is no situation where abortion is morally permissible, though there may be mitigating circumstances that reduce moral culpability in rare, extreme situations.

Principle (2) is especially applicable, as we observed in Part 1, when the surrounding environment is as bad as it was for Dr Perl. We balance the clarity of God's command not to murder against the unimaginable difficulty she must have undergone to think straight even about the most basic of issues when encircled by death and horror on every side.

Two analogies to consider

1) The example of a pregnancy that is extremely hazardous and is days from killing both the mother and the baby. In that case the surgery to save the mother's life is not an abortion; rather, it is a lifesaving procedure with the motivation of saving life. Cf Stand to Reason's excellent analysis.

2) A man hands you a loaded handgun and brings a person with a black bag over their head into the room. He instructs you to shoot this person. If you refuse, he informs you that he will kill not only that person but also that person's mother, and not quickly with a round to the head, but slowly with a knife and a blowtorch.

Some things to note:

-What if some of these babies were aborted mere days before the liberation of the death camp by Allied forces and the relief of these women's suffering? The problem with the business of predicting the future is that we humans cannot do so. How does the doctor know that the high-risk pregnancy will kill the mother and the child? And how did Dr Perl know that any individual pregnant woman would without question be put to death by the Nazis? She did not, and modern doctors do not know until much later than many would like to admit.

-One major difference between the two scenarios is the potential reaction time. In a high-risk pregnancy, a woman who is determined to do all she can to carry her baby to term and give him the best chance at life may put herself under close medical supervision. If the situation becomes unsustainably dangerous to the point that the mother's life will be lost within a matter of hours (or less) and an operation must be performed to save the mother's life, yet the life of the child cannot be preserved, then we would say it is justifiable to save the mother's life, and we mourn the loss of the child as a de facto miscarriage.

On the other hand, taking it upon oneself to commit the murder that another was going to carry out does not excuse the deed. Someone in Dr Perl's position must balance on the one hand:
  • the culpability of killing an innocent person to prevent the probable, more painful death of that person and another, versus, on the other hand:
  • the culpability of obeying God's command not to murder and thus doing nothing to prevent the probable two murders by someone else's hand and leaving the consequences to God.
-In #1 the motivation is the same as Dr Perl's - to save one life rather than seeing two lost.  We must remember, however, that such a surgical procedure is not designed to purposefully kill the unborn baby (whose death is an undesired consequence), while the act of abortion is purposefully designed to kill the unborn child.  Purposefully killing an innocent human being, even for such a noble end as saving human life, is something that is not morally justifiable (per the previous analysis).

Thus we conclude our analysis of the morality of Dr Perl’s actions. Yes, it is very complicated, and that’s part of the point. We have the benefit of the Internet, advanced education, email, cell phones, and freedom of movement and association with which to analyse in depth such questions as these. Dr Perl had some dirty towels and her bare hands.

Dr Perl's idea of God was faulty

That said, Dr Perl did not trust God to be sovereign, as He has revealed Himself to be.
One of the Ten Commandments is: Thou shalt not murder. No mitigating circumstances are named. No "...unless someone pushes you really, really hard".

Let's be honest - we here in the modern West, we modern Christians fail all the time. The tests and trials we experience are nothing like Dr Perl's trials. We fail to trust God.

Dr Perl also failed to trust God. Ultimately, we can trust God to do what brings Him glory, above anything else. Along the way, He will do and let happen many things that are difficult for us to understand. God knows everything. Even such evil as the Holocaust occurred for God's purposes, and will result in His glory. If we are inclined to argue, when we stop and soberly consider, what % of all knowledge do we possess? Can we hope to achieve 0.1% of all that there is to know?

Further, God is perfectly good and knows best what is perfectly good. We trust Him to define good for us. With what moral standard will we judge God? Can we talk back to Him, inform Him that He really didn't know how bad a situation we were in when we decided to violate the commandment not to murder (cf Job 38:1-7 and Job 40:7-14)?

God owes nothing to any of His creation. Yet in her post-Holocaust obstetrics career, Dr Perl made a habit of saying, as she prepared to deliver another baby: "God, you owe me a life - a living baby."

This is understandable, but it is wrong. The Bible clearly describes human beings as guilty, rebel sinners, who routinely spit in God's face and refuse to obey His law. Every second we live, every breath we draw, all is because of God's grace.

Rather, let us give thanks in all things to God for any blessing. What we fallen sinners actually deserve, outside of God's grace, is an eternity of Holocausts.

Dr Perl regretted the necessity of her actions, whereas most modern pro-choicers do not

The statements we have highlighted from her interviews illustrate the vast difference between her attitude toward what she thought she had to do and the general attitude of modern Western people toward abortion. Some are radically supportive of a "woman's right to choose" and celebrate it to a sickening degree. Some set their jaws and harden their gaze when the issue is brought up, ready to defend women from what they consider the oppression of carrying out one of their bodies' God-given, God-designed, and frankly quite amazing functions - that of assembling a new human inside their own bodies. Some shrug away the responsibility, figuring that women are going to have sex, and that it's probably better to go ahead and trim off some societal dead weight rather than allow everyone the chance to be born.

Dr Perl knew and confessed that the Nazis were ending two lives when they sent those pregnant women to the crematorium, and added:
No one will ever know what it meant to me to destroy those babies, but if I had not done it, both mother and child would have been cruelly murdered.

1) Dr Perl was aborting these babies before their mothers' pregnancies became visible, which means that Dr Perl believed that what some call "fetuses" or "products of conception" - very young babies at a very early stage of development - were babies, which she was destroying.
2) One does not murder an appendix, a part of the mother's body. Nor does one murder a non-person or a non-human.

65 years later, busy professionals earn $6-7 figures per year from women who, for the most part, don't want to alter their lifestyles just because they've gotten pregnant. Compare the environment of these women by looking around yourself right now. Is any element of your surrounding context comparable to Auschwitz?

The consistent abortionist's response

This question, while horrible to consider and yet important for a test for consistency, is quite answerable from within the abolitionist framework. The proponent of legalised baby murder, however, if s/he is to be consistent, should respond to this with a shrug. If the modern abortionist gets to arbitrarily choose to remove humanity from a given class of people (the very young), then so do the Nazis. What was so bad about the Holocaust, again? Those weren't humans in those death camps. Their society decided they weren't, so they weren't, just like those aren't humans inside the womb. Aborted babies' society has decided they aren't.

Nobody on the pro-choice side will accept this conclusion, but remember that this subsection is entitled "the consistent abortionists' response". The pro-choice position is fundamentally internally inconsistent.

The consistent abolitionist's response

When pushed to the extreme in probably the most awful, terrible situation that humanity has ever put itself outside the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, what what would any of us do? We'd like to think we would fulfill in our actions what we know to be right, but our own failings given far fewer challenges must give us pause and make as beg for God's mercy.

Yet we must not make hard and fast moral standards out of the most extreme cases. At most we can subject our moral compunctions to the scrutiny of an extreme situation and see if we are able to act our morality out consistently.

And the abolitionist position can do that, even in this case, which is thankfully exceedingly rare and extreme. We do not know how much suffering any life will hold in the future. We trust God to take care of that; we hold to and obey His command not to murder as well as His commands to love our neighbor as ourselves and to protect the weak and helpless.

What else can we learn?

That the exigencies of the 0.0001% of most extreme cases are not well-suited for creating normative ethics for the remaining 99.999% of cases.
That abortion is unjustifiable even if committed by someone many regard as a hero or angel. This is at its base nothing more than an argument from authority.

That the dissimilarities between Dr Perl's situation, motivations, and moral assessment of her actions versus that of the modern pro-abortion movement are so vast as to make her case far more powerful a defense of the abolitionist position than of modern abortioneering.

That a robust abolitionist position can deal consistently with the worst horrors of human existence and emerge with its moral authority and prophetic admonition intact.

(Please leave any comments at the cross-post at the Abolitionist Society blog.)

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