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10/27/2010

On Pro-Life Bioethicists

Rarely do I ever find myself reading USCatholic.org, but in this particular case, I could not help but be drawn in the train wreck of bad argumentation put forth by “Guest Blogger Father Joseph Tham, L.C., M.D., Ph.D.” in his post “Pro-life academics means pro-life ideas“.

In and of itself, the title seemed non-controversial and rather unobjectionable. Of course, pro-life academics would espouse pro-life ideas in their writings–particularly in the areas of bioethics. It would be hard to see how one would NOT engage in such an activity.

But that is where my agreement with Dr. Father Tham ends. At the title.

The subtitle reads: “In addition to activists and volunteers, the pro-life movement needs intellectuals.” Personally, were I a pro-life academic I would have been offended. Is the assumption that if you are a pro-life activist or part of the “movement” that you are not already or cannot be too an intellectual? Or merely that their “movement’ lacks enough intellectuals?

In either case, the wheels truly fell off the cart for Tham when he began to attack perhaps the easiest target, the furthest from pro-life (at least where the unborn are concerned, never mind his positions on environmentalism and saving the planet–because that’s not pro-life): Peter Singer. The irony was so thick you could cut it with a butter knife: in describing Singer’s recent conference on abortion entitled “Open Mind, Open Heart, and Fair Minded Words” Tham proceeds to employ none of the three in slamming Singer for embracing abortion and infanticide, as well as being part of the Ivy League establishment which makes pro-lifers feel so unwelcome.

Wait, I’m sorry–but who is engaging in ad hominem, one-sided arguments and who is holding an open, balanced conference engaging all sides on perhaps the most contentious political and intellectual topic of our time? Not you, Father Tham. Peter Singer did.

The reason why pro-lifers will fail in being respected in academia is not because they are not intelligent or do not hold positions worth defending but because of idiotic and myopic claims like these that unfortunately claim to defend the entirety of American Catholicism or pro-life academics in ridiculous ways.

Conservatives, pro-lifers, and others who fall right of the middle on the political spectrum are under-represented in academia. This is true. But there is also significant self-selection bias that has contributed as much to this as anything else. But for those other factors for which those of us on the other side of the red-blue/conservative-liberal divide might be aware and/or responsible, I think one could hardly blame the likes of the Peter Singers of the world for it. If anything the existing pro-life and conservative bioethicists already in academia should step to the plate to recruit and retain young scholars in the field if this were truly of concern.

So look in the mirror, pro-life bioethicists, before pointing the finger at anyone else and you may just see the reason why your numbers are so few among the throngs of liberal bioethicists has much more to do with the reflection staring back at you than anything else.

Summer McGee, PhD

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