Legal philosophy must use right reason to defend rights of innocent
BY C.S. MORRISSEY
A new television program celebrates a doctor who is secretly killing people. Her devotion to euthanasia is not shown to be something horrific. Instead, to elicit our sympathies, she is portrayed as an overworked single mother.
It is dismaying to see such propaganda. By submitting themselves to such blatant emotional manipulation, viewers will come away with no good reasons not to be in favor of euthanasia.
But now we have a doctor who is passionate about euthanasia. To make her the hero of a television program, and to depict her sympathetically, is a deeply sinister cultural development.
Aristotle would have no quarrel with lawyers who, in order to do good things, tap into the power of the emotional side of human nature. After all, in his famous ethical treatise, the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argued we cannot be truly moral unless our desires harmonize with right reason.
Yet euthanasia is supported by a philosophy that is deeply irrational. We need to harness the power of right desire, but this means our desires must be in accordance with right.
Doctors who, in order to do bad things, tap into the power of emotion, are morally bad. In order to oppose them, we need lawyers who, like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, are passionate defenders of laws that are in accordance with right reason.
In his brilliant book, Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach, the philosopher David Oderberg supplies solid arguments on behalf of traditional moral philosophy.
Oderberg subjects to rational scrutiny the grave moral evil of those who, with deliberate intent, would take away innocent human life. This eminently reasonable book concludes with a stirring defense of the doctrine of the sanctity of life.
In a companion volume, Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach, Oderberg applies this traditional moral philosophy, recognizing that the purpose of justice is always and everywhere to defend the rights of the innocent.
Concerning euthanasia, he writes it would be “a mistake to claim that we are at the edge of a slippery slope to mass murder.” What he means is our situation is even more disturbing: “We are on that slope,” he writes. Moreover, because we can make people live longer and then harvest their organs, “we have technology and expertise far in advance of anything available to the Nazis.”
Since they never learn a fully rational medical ethics, doctors are now “becoming servants of the state hired to maximize utility,” rather than defenders of the lives of the innocent.
What is most disconcerting about this development is the fact that, as Oderberg writes, “the state and the judicial system, which give implicit and progressively explicit support to euthanasia, have far greater powers, both to persuade and to execute policy, than those possessed by the Nazi state.”
Oderberg quotes Dr. Leo Alexander, a psychiatrist who was consulted by the U.S. Secretary of War at the Nuremberg trials for war crimes. In 1949, Dr. Alexander observed about the Nazi crimes that it “became evident to all who investigated them that that they had started from small beginnings.”
“The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians,” said Dr. Alexander. “It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.”
Again today we are being subjected to blatant propaganda about some lives not being worth living. “This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely handicapped and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans.”
Dr. Alexander warned, “it is important to realise that the infinitely small wedged-in lever from which this entire trend of mind received its impetus was the attitude toward the non-rehabilitable sick.”
As Oderberg demonstrates in his books, while this attitude has considerable emotional appeal, it is deeply irrational. There are such things as inalienable rights, and the legal profession should be passionately devoted to defending them.
Now more than ever, the right to life needs philosophically informed defenders.
Dr. C.S. Morrissey cultivates classical tradition by teaching the Greek and Latin classics. Learn more about the classics at moreC.com.