Friday 25 June 2010

The irrelevance of pain

I don't have an axe to grind in the abortion debate, except perhaps to agree with Bill Clinton (it should be legal, safe and rare). But anyone who puts human scale and human values at the heart of their politics, as I try to do, might have been as irritated as I was this morning by the interview on the Today programme.

This is the problem, I suppose, of asking scientists to rule on something when they have no philosophical training - but how, exactly is, pain relevant to the morality of abortion after 24 weeks?

Well, if abortion was painful to the foetus at that stage, that would rule it out - but not because of the pain. We don't decide really important moral issues because of the pain they do or don't cause - we go ahead with operations despite pain if it is the right thing to do. It is because, if a foetus can feel pain, then it is more evidence that it is a human being with the full rights as such.

Equally, would we put a human being to death because we could prove it would be pain free? Of course not. Because abortion is pain-free is, in itself, irrelevant to its morality.

It is pretty damn important that we insist on this principle too. Because otherwise there might be some utilitarians out there who might feel, for reasons of the greatest good, that maybe a few painless lethal injections might be a good idea.

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