Monday, November 20, 2006

Hyman's Master Class in Fallacy

Recently, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Britain suggested that there be a wider discussion about how to best handle cases of severely premature and/or disabled infants, and that this discussion should include consideration of if and when it was the moral and ethical thing to do to allow such children to die, and even if in some cases, it might be best to practice active euthanasia.

In his commentary on this suggestion, Hyman predictably takes an important and complex topic and reduces it to distorted talking points.

First, we have a combination of red-herring and guilt-by-association when he begins his commentary by talking about Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood, linking her to Nazism.

Sanger’s views on eugenics have nothing to do with the debate going on in Britain, but Hyman brings them in as a way of slamming Planned Parenthood, always a popular move among conservatives (despite the fact that Hyman has stated that he himself is pro-choice).

Then we have a distortion of the facts. Hyman says the RCOG, “recommended an element of eugenics -- euthanasia to dispose of disabled and other unwanted babies.”

This is wrong on a number of counts. First, the College specifically did not recommend any particular action; they simply said that discussion of medical ethics involving newborns should take up this topic. Second, Hyman’s characterization of the position suggests the college was talking about “disposing” of any disabled or unwanted baby.

In fact, the conversation primarily involves extremely premature infants who have little to no chance of survival, or those who, if they do survive, will likely live extremely brief lives with profound mental and physical disabilities. Hyman paints a picture of British doctors practicing infanticide on any newborn who is less than perfect, but that grossly and perversely misrepresents the discussion.

Hyman then offers us another red herring in the example of Stephen Hawking, and example that “being disabled doesn't make one's life worthless.” Of course, no one has said that. The question is whether infants with little to no chance of a life of any length without pain or the mental ability to understand, feel, and think should be kept alive at all costs. Stephen Hawking doesn’t this example.

Then we have the classic slippery slope argument:

“Where would such barbarism end? Sorry hon, we didn't get the
blue-eyed, blond haired, button-nosed baby we wanted. So, let's dispose

That’s an absolutely textbook example of one of the most elementary argumentative fallacies there is.

Now, to put all my cards on the table, I *do* have a great deal of sympathy with the argument that human life is inherently precious and should be protected even when many might say it’s not worth it. So I’m not necessarily disagreeing with the idea that euthanasia of newborns, even those too premature to live anything approximating a normal life, is morally wrong.

What I *do* disagree with is Hyman’s cheap trivialization of a profoundly important discussion. Not that this should surprise us. Hyman likely doesn’t care that much about the issue or have deeply philosophical or religious beliefs in the sanctity of all human life. Remember that this is a guy who is pro-choice himself, but happily jumps on the pro-life bandwagon, at least rhetorically, when it suits his political purposes.

No, what we have here is yet another wonderful example of the fact that it’s not so much Hyman’s views themselves that are objectionable, but the infantile way he argues. By polluting the public sphere with dishonest, cheap-shot arguments, Hyman makes it all the more difficult for reasonable, respectful arguments to be heard above the din.

At least we only have a few more days until this particular sewer pipe is stopped up.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.31


At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

tech note: broken link to "the point" on your "worst of" voting page!


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