Nostreculsus Writes

This letter was in the comments thread. I thought it worth emphasis:

Unlike Mr Wright, who is at home in the world of abstract thought, I am so constituted that I must rely on examples. And his article reveals an example that rivals “The Picture of Dorian Grey” for imaginative horror.

There are two women. They both are involved in modern medical care. The first is named Francesca Minerva. She is a medical ethicist, pursuing postdoctoral studies in philosophy. Medical ethics is a growing field, as governments assume control of medical decision-making. Even her critics admit that Francesca looks nice and has a nice smile.

The other woman involved in medical care is Amie Osborn. Amie is a physician in Houston, treating children. Amie also has a nice smile, but Amie herself admits she does not look “normal”. But let me quote Amie’s blog.

In most every way, I am your typical, garden-variety human being. I’m married with two cats. I am a physician…

I have Treacher Collins syndrome. Treacher Collins syndrome is a genetic, craniofacial birth defect that is characterized by a range of distinctive facial anomalies. The main characteristics of TCS are downward slanting eyes, small lower jaw, and malformed or missing ears. These anomalies can cause hearing, breathing, and eating problems.

Treacher Collins syndrome is a lot more than a pile of statistics and facts. It is about the person below the surface. People tend to give wide berth to the things and people that they perceive as a threat to them – those people who are “different” or who they don’t understand. In some situations, this defense mechanism can be good. In excess, however, it breeds ignorance and heartache and leads society to shun those that aren’t “normal.” Thus, society does not take the time to see what lies beneath the outer shell of a person and never sees that below the surface these “different” people are just as “normal” as anyone else. It is part of my goal as a doctor-in-training to educate people about Treacher Collins syndrome and to prove to them that looks can be very deceiving. I hope to start a new trend in society where society reads the book before discarding it because the cover looks a little odd.

Ah, you say, two women working in the field of medicine. Amie is quite odd looking on the outside, but seems quite nice. And Francesca looks nice in all the externals, but, inside, something is…not quite right. Because Francesca, the ethics expert, wants to kill Amie. Or rather, she wants someone else to have killed Amie as a child. But, let’s quote Francesca’s own words.

A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth…One example is the case of Treacher-Collins syndrome (TCS)…Usually those affected by TCS are not mentally impaired and they are therefore fully aware of their condition, of being different from other people and of all the problems their pathology entails. Many parents would choose to have an abortion if they find out, through genetic prenatal testing, that their fetus is affected by TCS.

Well that seems quite definitive. Amie, how ever do you cope with the painful awareness that you can never look as nice as nice Francesca? What say you?

Given the chance to live my life over again without Treacher Collins, I would have to politely decline. I believe that the experiences in my life as a result of Treacher Collins have molded me into the person that I am today. Like anyone else, I’ve had many ups and downs, and to give up the lessons I’ve learned on the roller-coaster ride of life would be to give up part of myself. Having Treacher Collins syndrome, or any other medical condition, does not make someone “abnormal,” it only makes him human.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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33 Responses to Nostreculsus Writes

  1. Nostreculsus says:

    I am flattered that you should thus elevate my post.

    But also slightly flattened that you should slightly modernize the French in my name. Ah, well, as Michel de Montaigne wrote, “Au plus esleve throne du monde si ne sommes assis que sus nostre cul.”

  2. WyldCard4 says:

    Quite seriously, fuck this. Even on the must utilitarian grounds it is bullshit. People live long, full, and healthy lives with these kinds of abnormalities. They live long and full lives with much worse abnormalities (I am one, cleft lip and pallet).

    If you look at it on the economic grounds, anyone who contributes more to the world than they take shouldn’t be “aborted” so such a murder would be bad for society. Those who “suffer” from such conditions live happy lives, so a utilitarian ground is also ridiculous. Even if a human infant is has the same moral value as a chicken after being born it is still of tremendous cost, having been in a womb for at least seven months and having various hormones pulsing through the mother that would make killing the child traumatic. This is all assuming little or no humanity in the child, which is itself questionable even outside of a Christian paradigm.

    So at best the woman is possessed and being forced/tricked into saying these words be a demon. Better, she might be incredibly stupid. Worst, she is evil. Perhaps she just wants attention and says evil things to draw it. The concept has no merit.

    • If you look at it on the economic grounds, anyone who contributes more to the world than they take shouldn’t be “aborted” so such a murder would be bad for society.

      Without saying that economic grounds are the correct ones for judging the matter, I think you have this wrong. You need to think on the margin. The question isn’t whether someone contributes more than she takes, but whether she is the strongest contributor we could get in exchange for the resources used to produce her. If you view humans strictly as economic assets, then you don’t want a positive return on your investment, you want the maximum return. To put it differently, if you have a dollar you want to invest, you don’t put it in a ‘savings’ account at 0.1% interest (not making that up, that’s literally what my bank is offering right now), you buy stocks or bonds and beat inflation. And in this calculation, the fact that the savings account has a positive return is quite irrelevant.

      • Fabio P.Barbieri says:

        But we don’t view humans as economic assets. People are goals, not tools; or as Some Bloke put it a coupla thousand years ago, Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for Man.

        • WyldCard4 says:

          Rolf Andreassen is right here. This is a discussion assuming these specific axioms. I claimed it was internally inconsistent.Rolf Andreassen disagreed with that fact. All of this is independent of the truth of the matter. I am currently considering his point, seeing if it does make sense or not. I may have put too much weight to the cost of creating a human as opposed to raising a human. I need more time to think.

      • deiseach says:

        But we can’t even make that decision on economic grounds, because the maximum return baby might grow up to be healthy and well-educated, then be paralysed by being hit by a car or some other accident.

        What then? Is all the return on the investment in bearing, raising and educating that child wasted, because now they cannot maximise our investment and indeed may even be euthanised (for their own good)?

        If we’re going to treat people like tins of beans, fine, but please remember, Ms. Ethicist, you too are only a tin of beans and not any better.

        • Dude, expected value. By that logic you can’t invest in an industrial venture because the company might go bankrupt. You can’t do any better than playing the odds as far as you can estimate them; it doesn’t follow that you can’t do worse.

      • Patrick says:

        “If you view humans strictly as economic assets, then you don’t want a positive return on your investment, you want the maximum return.”

        What’s the ROI on a person who loves you? Is this time-dependent?

        If humans are strictly economic assets, then the Chinese have it absolutely right by regulating sex, and we have it absolutely wrong by plentifying contraception.

        As a corrollary, I think humans are too stupid to economize one another effectively. The very best person-objectifying systems can’t help but produce death cults in the end. We don’t know what we’re worth, so we waste each other.

        • Tom Simon says:

          What’s the ROI on a person who loves you? Is this time-dependent?

          Silly person! People aren’t your property, they’re the State’s property. And the State does not care whether anyone loves or not. Love is inefficient and time-consuming, and detracts from rational decision-making. It is only to be allowed by administrative fiat in the second week of February, in order to increase sales for the sentimental-gift manufacturing and retailing industries.

        • What’s the ROI on a person who loves you? Is this time-dependent?

          I believe in law school they refer to this as “fighting the hypothesis”. I said, “If X, then Y”, and took pains to make it clear that I was not advocating X. You respond, “X is a bad idea!” Yes, yes, fine. I never said otherwise.

      • Mary says:

        Since it’s completely uncertain where the resources would be spent in her absence — or after her death — it’s meaningless to ask whether she is the strongest contributor, because you have no way to figure it out.

        • Sure. A really classic case of the calculation problem. Worse, the total economic return to society of a given person is probably not going to be concentrated in the ones making the main investment, ie the parents; so you get externality effects as well. Nonetheless, I stand by the abstract statement that, provided you want to do a purely economic calculation, you should look for maximum rather than positive return. That the calculation is difficult is no excuse not to make it, any more than you should avoid investing in the stock market because there’s no guarantee of a return.

          • Tom Simon says:

            Worse, the total economic return to society of a given person is probably not going to be concentrated in the ones making the main investment, ie the parents; so you get externality effects as well.

            Ah, but it is the Almighty State that is making, not only the main investment, but the only investment. Remember, every dollar that you spend on the State’s children (which the State generously allows to be billeted in your house, and which you therefore erroneously call ‘yours’) is a dollar that the State has generously left to you instead of collecting it in the Treasury where it belongs. This is the exact and literal meaning of the words politicians use when they speak of ‘spending’ money on tax cuts.

      • docrampage says:

        Before entering this conversation, it’s probably prudent to point out that I, too, am not advocating that people be judged by their economic value. But there are people who do believe that, so a debate from that premise is worthwhile.

        If you view humans strictly as economic assets, then you don’t want a positive return on your investment, you want the maximum return.

        This is only relevant if you have to chose between investments. If you can follow all investments, then you get the maximum overall profit by following all investments with a positive expected return.

        However, your point overall is sound and it has a consequence that would (hopefully) not be acceptable to most people who want to follow the economic theory of human value. The consequence is this: if the cost of raising and training kids becomes high enough, then this theory of human value entails that you should kill perfectly healthy and mentally competent children who are below some level of fitness based on the distribution of intelligence.

        For example, if you really follow this policy, then under some circumstances you would want to have as many kids as you can, raise them until they are five years old, then give them a test and kill 9 out of 10 of them, allowing only the top 10% to live.

        • Your point is an excellent one. Once you start talking about economic return, the argument is only over where to place the line; and indeed, one might create an actual Lake Wobegon by shooting all those who are below average on some metric. (Of course this creates a new average, and by the bell-curve distribution more than half the survivors will be below it, but this is a quibble – obviously the unmodified average is what is referred to when we say “all the children are above average”.)

          I would modify your point slightly, however: In a world full of Einsteins, it may be that the maximum economic return is from someone best suited to be a janitor. Just how much do we really need yet another goddam brilliant theoretical physicist? But it might be nice to have someone take out the garbage without moaning about having a brain the size of a planet. Then we get Brave New World, with some calculation of how many Deltas are needed to support one Alpha, and so on. (More generally, some calculation of the optimal intelligence distribution – a bell curve is what arises naturally, but we might want a completely different shape.) It is not obvious to me that you actually need any Betas and Gammas, but this can no doubt be adjusted on the fly, assuming of course that we can overcome the calculation problem. Perhaps one could create a sort of futures market in children? Thus, if there were fewer Gammas than were needed, their price would rise, and Gamma-producing parents would on the margin have fewer abortions, or use less contraception, or whatever. Automatic feedback, no central committee required. But this does assume some prediction technologies which we don’t have at the moment; and it’s not completely obvious that one can make a functioning market on such long timescales.

          As for following all the investments, I suggest that we cannot do so; we can support only so many children at any one time. So you are correct about how to get the maximum return in the ideal case, but that’s not the case we actually have. (I realise you didn’t say we did; I’m just pointing this out for completeness.)

  3. Fabio P.Barbieri says:

    Actually, we ought to thank Francesca Minerva. Few people have written a more complete and convincing argument against any excuse whatsoever for abortion and euthanasia; it is an intellectual carpet bombing. Just as I said during the last presidential elections, when it turned out that Senator Obama had voted for partial-birth abortion, his reasoning being that unless abortion was a right in every circumstance, it was not a right at all. Quite right, Senator (Mr.President). I couldn’t agree more.

  4. momofthree says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the gist of this repost, but the following words struck me, “Thus, society does not take the time to see what lies beneath the outer shell of a person and never sees that below the surface these “different” people are just as “normal” as anyone else. ” I have heard these very same words uttered by homosexual persons who are attempting to explain why we should accept their orientation. How does one make a distinction?

    She claims she would not want to be born without her condition if offered a choice, thus, her condition brought her to new heights of understanding and truth, which would have otherwise remained distant for her. How can we distinguish that from a gay person asserting that their condition also affords them new avenues of understanding and love that would otherwise have remained unknown?

    I would disclose that I remain utterly baffled and undecided about the morality of homosexual behavior.

    • Sylvie D. Rousseau says:

      …I remain utterly baffled and undecided about the morality of homosexual behavior.

      A physical condition has per se nothing to do with morality, nor with defining who is and who is not human. A human fetus is human, an unconscious, or infirm, or dying human is human, and what it has to do with morality is in how the other humans regard them. Homosexual tendency is not a physical (as some would have us to believe) but a psychopathological condition and it can be treated.

      Homosexual behavior, on the other hand, has everything to do with morality. Persons with homosexual tendency are not obliged, and indeed are morally forbidden, to indulge in homosexual practices exactly as heterosexual persons are morally forbidden to indulge in sexual practices outside of marriage (I mean real marriage, not mock marriage).

    • Nostreculsus says:

      There is an interesting parallel here. In the near future…

      A mother is holding her newborn son when the grave senior doctor enters the room. He clears his throat. “We have the genetic screening of your son back, and…” He removes his spectacles. “I’m afraid he has what we call the ‘gay’ gene. We can’t be certain but there is a good chance he will turn out to be…homosexual.”

      Mother sobs, “Is there a cure? Can anything be done?”

      “Well, yes. New HHS regulations, based on the latest medical ethics research, permit a simple and effective cure. It’s call…hmm…a ‘post-natal time-displaced afterbirth abortectomy.’”

      Mother smiles, “Whatever it is, do it now. I’m so afraid my son might catch that horrible AIDS disease and die young.”

    • Patrick says:

      “How can we distinguish that from a gay person asserting that their condition also affords them new avenues of understanding and love that would otherwise have remained unknown?”

      Christians don’t want gay people to die.

      This is a matter of life and death – literally – and you bring up homosexuality as a corollary?


      Do you actually think these things are related?

    • The OFloinn says:

      And people who are kleptomaniacs ought to refrain from theft.

      We were once told to love our neighbors and in the context no exceptions were noted. It is not wrong for a male to love another male. It is mandatory that he do so. But the Late Modern world cannot imagine love independently of sex. So if you love another person, it is unimaginable that you would not proceed to insert Mr. Johnson into whichever orifice is most convenient, be it virgin, man, neighbor’s wife, or a golden Labrador retriever. That is, the supreme good is shifted from love to self-pleasure.

      • Mary says:

        And even those who advocate it realize the folly inherent in that. I saw a bumper sticker arguing that “Love is a civil right,” because they want to cover up the nature with cooing sentimentality about “love”.

        Anyone who even remotely begins to love someone would refrain from infecting them with an incurable disease. More love is exactly what they need.

        • lotdw says:

          Love can’t (and shouldn’t) be legally defined. So I told the student who had heard age of consent laws didn’t matter if the two people really loved each other. That was a tragic revelation…

  5. Nostreculsus says:

    A Note On the Above

    The grotesque elements in my satire above are all taken directly from the Giubilini and Minerva paper. They advocate using absurd nomenclature rather than the accurate word “infanticide”. And they explain that infanticide is permissible in cases of Treacher Collins because of its “potentially life-threatening respiratory problems”. I don’t deny the burden and stress such diseases place on a family but what can be more absurd than to kill someone because they might die later?

    When I review a paper for publication, I often do a bit of research myself. Any reviewer could have taken ten seconds to realize that these rare genetic diseases all have their support groups, where they share coping methods. A moment’s search would be enough to refute Giubilini and Minerva’s claim that these lives are “unbearable”. Doctors and the families have seen kids with these diseases. But these philosophers of ethics can’t even be bothered to click on someone’s website before pronouncing him “unfit”. What the hell is going on in “Medical Ethics”?

    Like Treacher Collins kids, those with homosexual tendencies might be mocked in junior high school and they might die untimely deaths. Perhaps these ethicists are preparing their next paper on the desirability of exterminating gays via “after- birth abortions”

    • Tom Simon says:

      What the hell is going on in “Medical Ethics”?

      Publish or perish. Since there is nothing new and valid to say about the moral law, to get tenure and preferment, you have to say new and invalid things. The more shockingly and grossly invalid, the more ‘original’ the ‘research’ is, and therefore the better for your career.

    • Mary says:

      “Hume, and other sceptical innovators, are vain men, and will gratify themselves at any expence. Truth will not afford sufficient food to their vanity; so they have betaken, themselves to errour. Truth, Sir, is a cow which will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull.”

      subsitute names as needed

  6. Malcolm Smith says:

    A few months ago ago I watched a documentary originally made in England a year or two ago. It involved two people: a local beauty queen who was obsessed with personal appearance, and a man who suffered from TCS who, for reasons not so difficult to discern, had never had a girlfriend. As a Christian, he was doing his best to persuade her that outward appearances are not everything.

  7. partywhipple says:

    Some of the things I read in the replies in your journal, John, are so disturbing it makes me never want to return to the internet ever again.

    I wish I was kidding.

    • The disturbing part is that there is nothing so nakedly evil that some intellectual does not get his jollies by leaping to its defense. Even more disturbing, the number of vermin and nutcases and hellions and adorers of pure evil before the advent of the internet must have been about the same, but they could not make anonymous public announcements of their innermost thoughts.

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