Why basic philosophy should be offered in high school

Whenever I consider any ethical issue dealing with health care, I always refer back to my days in various philosophy courses, especially Bioethics. It helps to clarify a lot of issues, including ones that happen to be topical. For instance, some conservatives have said Sandra Fluke would have us all pay for her to have sex. This is a mischaracterization of the issue. Requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptive care for women is good public policy. Countries with poor birth control tend to do poorly in neonatal, infant, child, and maternal health indicators. Just look at the trends.

I recently did a little research on Nicaragua, the second poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Some of the stats I found were much better than expected. They were still awful, especially as compared to Sweden, but I figured I would see worse. For instance, whereas Haiti and Tanzania have a maternal mortality rate of 652 and 497 per 100,000 live births respectively, Nicaragua ‘only’ has 103. That’s incredible. (Sweden has 4.6 and the U.S. has 17.) There are a number of factors which contribute to this, including a relatively high number of births attended by medical professionals, but one major factor is certainly high contraceptive use. The nation finds itself in league with developed nations at around 72% use. This lowers the birth rate (2.6 per woman in Nicaragua, 1.9 in Sweden), and makes medical care much more available. It is clearly good policy to lower birth rates. (Again, watch the video I posted.) The more population growth is controlled, the better off most nation’s will be.

So, to go back to Fluke, we aren’t paying for her or anyone else to have sex. What we’re doing is making a smart investment in the future. Such an investment will pay off especially well for minorities and poorer people – which, in turn, pays off well for everyone else because once a nation raises up its poor, it improves everyone’s lot in life. (Don’t you think employers would like to fill the 2 million job openings in the U.S. that Americans aren’t educated well enough to perform?)

Another argument in favor of requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptive care is that there are other health issues which birth control address. For instance, a woman may be given the pill for the control of cysts. Few people seem to have a problem with this, thus making this a much more popular argument than my first one (though I believe my first one is far stronger). Seeing the popularity of this argument, however, one conservative lawmaker from Arizona has a monumentally stupid idea:

The current law states that birth control is covered under health insurance plans for women in Arizona for contraceptive purposes as well as health concerns. However, the new birth control bill, House Bill 2625, states that women who want their birth control pill to be covered by their insurance plans must verify its purpose to be solely for medical reasons and not to prevent pregnancy. The bill would grant employers to deny female employees the right to be covered based on religious beliefs.

Our old friend Roxeanne (who is currently getting embarrassed in the comments) has thrown in her 2 cents:

The return volley is from [lawmaker] Debbie Lesko: woman, office-holder, Majority Whip, survivor of domestic violence, and totally against forcing Catholic institutions and small businesses to pay for the sex lives of their employees, but understanding that woman with PCOS shouldn’t be penalised because her disease is often treated with a pharmaceutical that is used for recreation, not medicine. The solution? Enable religious institutions to not pay for contraception qua contraception, but allow them to require proof of use for non-contraceptive purposes.

From the freak-out, you would have thought that she asked women to join brothels. The freak-out is all they have left.

It’s stuff like this from conservatives like Lesko and Roxeanne that inspire titles like the one I have for this post. Let’s examine this all just a little bit more.

First, these people are mischaracterizing the argument. It’s just good public policy to require insurance companies cover contraceptive care. Second, even if we only consider the argument that birth control has other uses, this just boils down to an invasion of privacy. Telling women that they must disclose their health issues to employers runs directly counter to the idea that one’s medical history is between one’s self and one’s doctor. Saying, “If you want this pill, you must tell a third, non-medical party why” is hardly in line with modern Western thinking.

If people like Roxeanne, Lesko, and other conservatives had any sense about them, they would have dug deeper into the arguments. Instead they have all just stopped at addressing one concern without paying any attention to the consequences of their ‘solution’. That’s like playing chess and not looking ahead to the next move because the immediate move puts your opponent in check.

Being a person who frequently gets into debates, I see this sort of thinking all the time. Time and again, people who aren’t familiar with philosophical thinking will get in over their heads and make bad arguments. “We should do X!” might seem to fly at first, but chances are there’s something wrong with it when Y and Z haven’t even been considered. If more high schools required students to become familiar with how philosophy works, that would translate into a smarter populace that would be able to debate intelligently.

This stuff just isn’t that hard.

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The Second Amendment

My recent post about the ridiculous state of Arizona was mostly about a dumb birther bill the Republicans there were using to embarrass themselves, but the article I used also mentioned a gun control issue. As a result, that topic took off more than the birther topic. Here is my take from that comment section.

The Second Amendment was clearly intended for two main purposes. First, as Nate points out, it was meant to allow citizens to have guns should the government become oppressive. Second, it was meant to secure the government against attacks from foreign nations (or insurrection). Given the specific wording of the amendment, it is clear that the latter reason was more the point than anything.

What we have from the Supreme Court over the years are a series of rulings, many of which rely upon preceding rulings. This is common enough, but it is also political enough. What’s more, we have people like Scalia who – despite all the lies claiming the constitution is a static document – will ignore the original intention of the Second Amendment. (Sticking by his beliefs would be inconvenient to his purely political style of ruling.) This debate is not well-grounded in history.

So what we have is an amendment which does not guarantee what those on the right claim it guarantees. Both of the original primary reasons for the amendment are largely irrelevant today. What’s more, if those on the right were honest and took the Second Amendment to its conclusions, then we would be living in a very different world. That is, our Bill of Rights is based upon the idea of natural rights. While we only legally apply them to Americans and those on American soil (with some exceptions), the underlying principle is that it is an inherent right for everyone to bear arms (among our other rights). If that is the case, then it is a right for North Korea to have nuclear weapons. But we stop short of taking the principle that far. Or at least the right does. (The left isn’t operating on ahistorical principles in the first place.) And the same goes for American citizens: If someone argued to the Supreme Court his right to have an atomic weapon, it would never fly. This flagrantly violates the arguments being put forth by the right.

That said, I’m not against gun ownership. As always, we have to take a pragmatic point of view. While much of Europe has overwhelmingly superior statistics to the U.S. when it comes to not dying from guns, it is unlikely America will ever achieve such a state. We have to deal with the fact that there are millions and millions of guns out there, many in the hands of criminals. We should control ridiculous weapons that serve no real purpose outside a military setting (a point, incidentally, where the right will agree with me – when we’re talking about nuclear weapons; the point goes out the window for most other weapons), but it probably isn’t going to help anything if we prevent law-abiding citizens from getting guns. Sure, let’s curb gun show purchases and force waiting periods – that will be effective in keeping guns from some criminals – but complete bans have to be questioned.

So I do favor allowing law-abiding citizens to purchase weapons. It’s just that the Second Amendment does not get us there.

Arizona redeems itself. Slightly.

In one of its few intelligent moves, the state of Arizona has not passed a stupendously stupid bill into law:

Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer on Monday vetoed two controversial bills, one mandating proof of U.S. citizenship to run for president, the other allowing guns on college campuses, in a clear setback for conservatives who control the state legislature.

Brewer, who grabbed headlines a year ago when she signed a get-tough state law cracking down on illegal immigrants, vetoed the bills in an announcement late on Monday.

The so-called “birther bill,” would have made Arizona the first state in the nation to require presidential candidates prove U.S. citizenship by providing a long form birth certificate, and other forms of proof including baptismal or circumcision certificates, to be placed on the state ballot.

“I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for president of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit their ‘early baptism or circumcision certificates’ … This is a bridge too far,” she said..

This is a watershed moment: Republicans are finally realizing that they ought to be embarrassed about the crack-pottery they keep promoting.

Arizona: Now more embarrassing than the deep south!

America has a new laughing stock:

The state of Arizona has moved onto contentious political territory once again with the legislative passage of a bill requiring President Barack Obama and other presidential candidates to prove their U.S. citizenship before their names can appear on the state’s ballot.

With states like Arizona maybe Maine can avoid appearing on Comedy Central quite so often.

Good news from Senator Jon Kyl

This may be the first good thing he has ever said.

Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona is expected to announce his retirement Thursday, David Catanese and Jennifer Epstein report for Politico, opening up a seat he’s held for three terms and complicating Republican efforts to hold it.

Kyl will make his official announcement at a press conference this afternoon in Phoenix.

A question from Michael Moore

In regards to the recent shooting in Arizona:

If a Detroit Muslim put a map on the web with crosshairs on 20 pols, then 1 of them got shot, where would he be sitting right now? Just asking.

I think it’s a fair question.

Catholic Church: Double Effect is wrong

Well, they didn’t really say that. But they effectively stated as much when they stripped an Arizona hospital of its affiliation with the church.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix stripped a major hospital of its affiliation with the church Tuesday because of a surgery that ended a woman’s pregnancy to save her life.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted called the 2009 procedure an abortion and said St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center — recognized internationally for its neurology and neurosurgery practices — violated ethical and religious directives of the national Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In fact, the woman was virtually guaranteed to die if she continued to carry the 11 week old fetus much longer. Now keep that in mind:

Double effect is the ethical principle which says something is ethical so long as it conforms to these four conditions:

1. The nature-of-the-act condition. The action must be either morally good or indifferent.
2. The means-end condition. The bad effect must not be the means by which one achieves the good effect.
3. The right-intention condition. The intention must be the achieving of only the good effect, with the bad effect being only an unintended side effect.
4. The proportionality condition. The good effect must be at least equivalent in importance to the bad effect.

This case in Arizona is textbook. The first condition is satisfied because the act was to save the mother’s life. The second condition is satisfied because the means is the removal of a physical condition, not the explicit murder of another person. The third condition is satisfied because the doctors only want to save the mother’s life, not destroy the fetus. The fourth condition is satisfied because even if the fetus is a human, the mother’s life must be equally considered.

In fact, double effect isn’t really important here because the fetus is not a human being, but I digress.

The church stripped the hospital of its status (and, really, that’s a good thing anyway) because it thinks the woman should have risked certain death (which isn’t really a risk, now is it?). We know the end result would be the death of her and her fetus. How that is considered good is a mystery.

And that raises another point, doesn’t it? What methodology, what guidelines, what anything does the Bible (or any holy book) offer in this situation? One person unfamiliar with basic, classic philosophical examples couldn’t come up with an answer. (In fact, he might say the problem here was just logistics.) It doesn’t look like the Catholic Church has an answer either.

It’s unfortunate that the hospital says it will still follow Catholic Church guidelines (not Biblical guidelines…since they do not exist), but this is an overall good incident. While I hate to see the sort of irrational arguments that say the saving of one life is really just abortion of another, it’s fantastic that the Church has severed its formal ties with an institution committed to actually helping people. I hope that whenever necessary the hospital will not hesitate to continue saving living humans.