“Ethicists” Without Ethics: The Collapse of the Moral High Ground

If you are disturbed by the rapid progress of the homosexual lobby – with even Pres. Obama favoring same-sex marriages – let me tell you: you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.

A recent article in the British Journal of Medical Ethics suggests that it should be permissible to kill newborn babies – because they do not have the status of full human beings. Here are their actual words, couched in opaque academese: “After-birth abortions (i.e., killing new-born babies: EF) are matters of moral indifference because newborns, like fetuses, do not have the same moral status as actual persons; and the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant.” Therefore, killing them “should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is permissible, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” (Note the sanctimonious use of the term “moral” by these people who claim to inhabit the moral high ground of society, but who in the name of morality would justify infanticide.)

Here is revealed, in all it obtuseness and perversity, the moral blindness of the pro-abortion mind-set. Having established that a fetus has no right to life and that pre-birth abortions are permissible, they are now going after actual, post-birth human life itself, referring to it by the euphemistic “after-birth abortions.” The logic is impeccable: For If one can end the life of a fetus in the third trimester, then indeed, why not be able to end its life after it is actually born ? Why should the killing be stopped just because the fetus exited the womb? Why allow an arbitrary boundary like that to stand in the way of ending its life, if ending its life serves a larger purpose – with “larger purpose” to be determined by a committee of ethicists? It is not, after all, murder, but only a matter of “moral indifference” and therefore permissible, or, in academic jargon, “morally irrelevant.”

The ethicists do not answer one question: At what point does “after-birth abortion” become actual murder? At what point does the newborn baby enter the “moral status of being an actual person” and become morally relevant? One day? One week? One year? And what is a “larger purpose” for which infant life can be ended?

The proponents do not say. But whatever the limitations, it is inevitable that a future generation of medical ethicists will come along soon enough and claim that it is morally irrelevant if we kill a child of two weeks or two years – or twelve years, since he has not yet attained legal majority. Ultimately, we should not be shocked if even ordinary classic murder of an ” actual person” should be considered “morally indifferent” when the ethicists consider the victim’s life to be “morally irrelevant.” Once embarked on the slippery slope, it does not take an energetic imagination to find scenarios where wholesale murder is appropriate. It was not very long ago when the lives of six million Jews were considered to be morally irrelevant and their subsequent murder to be morally indifferent since murdering them was being done for a higher purpose.

So it is when human beings – operating without the grundnorm of Gd on which all law is based- decide on their own to establish the limitations of their actions. The limits are fungible, stretchable, elastic. They are inevitably adapted to the personal foibles and predilections of the mortal authors of the rules. In such a godless system, human life has little value, and anything goes.

These are ethicists without ethics, moralizers who are themselves indifferent to morality and who are in fact morally irrelevant.

Since we already have an American president in favor of legalizing gay marriages, can legalized pedophilia and bestiality lag far behind – to be followed by legalized infanticide (all, of course, with sanitized names similar to “after-birth abortion”)?

Stay tuned. Better still, do not stay tuned.

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25 Responses

  1. Gail says:

    This is sad, aweful, but unfourtunately, not news. Peter SInger has been saying the same thing for years now. We have to hope and pray that “ethicists” will have no say when it comes to law making, because if they do, we will no longer be on the ‘slippery slope’ but rather drowing in the ice cold water of indifference to human life an all else that matters. rabbi Feldman, as usual, really hit the mark with this line “So it is when human beings – operating without the grundnorm of Gd on which all law is based- decide on their own to establish the limitations of their actions. The limits are fungible, stretchable, elastic. They are inevitably adapted to the personal foibles and predilections of the mortal authors of the rules. In such a godless system, human life has little value, and anything goes.”

    May we live to see a wold going up rather than sliding down with no control.

  2. Yitz Greenberg says:

    Rabbi Emanuel,
    With respect to you, don’t you think you are surrendering some of the moral high ground yourself with parts of this article?
    The comparison of killing children to legalizing gay marriage is a stretch to me. The secular world does not believe there is anything immoral about homosexuality. Killing children, on the other hand, is absolutely seen to be immoral, the authors of this paper notwithstanding.
    What really bothered me was your final line:
    “..legalizing gay marriages, can legalized pedophilia and bestiality lag far behind..”
    As frum Jews we believe all 3 of those actions are immoral for the same basic reason, namely that the Torah tells us, rather than our own opinions. But again, in a secular society that does draw a clear and basic, it seems intellectually dishonest to make that comparison.

  3. Sarah Elias says:

    Yitz Greenberg, a few decades ago even secular society considered homosexuality (and abortion) immoral. Today they don’t. What’s to stop infanticide from following the same path? Secular society has no permanent morals.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    It would be a major departure for an academic ethicist to have what we regard as ethics.

  5. Tal Benschar says:

    I once heard second hand a derasha that R. YB Soloveichik gave on parshas Noach. (Strage that it has not been published anywhere.) He compared the Dor ha Mabul with the Dor Haflagah, and analyzed how each was an archetype for human society. The Dor Haflagah, acc. to the derashah, was exemplified in the modern world by totalitarian states, such as the Soviet Union, while the Dor ha Mabul, which was a Dor of Haschasah, was exemplified by the increasingly decadent West.

    We are very much living in a Dor of Haschasah — all norms are being eroded until there is nothing left but impulse and appetite.

    In response to Yitz Greenberg, I think you are missing the point. when I started college 25 years ago, the vast majority considered homosexuality to be abhorrent. If you told someone then that five states(including New York), would adopt same-sex marriage and that there would be a serious move to find a right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution, and that such would be promoted by the President of the United States, you would have been viewed as utterly delusional. In one generation, all that has changed. Why shouldn’t abhorrence of infanticide change? After all, we allow abortion, even “partial birth” abortion, so it is not far to go to permitting that. Some ancient societies allowed infanticide, why not us?

    That’s the thing about “anything goes.” Anything includes anything.

  6. koillel nick says:

    No Yitz Greenberg has it correct. Just because last generation considered it immoral, doesn’t make it correct. The correct difference bet the 2, is that homosexuality is bet man and God and if a person’s religious conscience allows it, then it is moral. Pedophelia, and murder is bet man and fellow man. You cannot use your own understanding of morality when affecting others.
    Orthodox Judaism maintains that homosexuality is wrong. To convince others, who do not believe in Torah the way we do, to agree, will not work without converting them. The assumption that everyone with proper morals must agree, is incorrect.

  7. YS says:

    I agree with the response of Yitz Greenberg. From a perspective of morality and ethics, it’s not fair to equate homosexuality with ‘after-birth’ abortions. There are plenty of halachic authorities who’ve argued that the Torah prohibits the homosexual act, calling it an abomination, while not necessarily vilifying the people involved. One might argue that this is a relatively new approach but it makes some sense and the fact that the argument can even made highlights the difference between homosexuality and murder.

    Tal – While it’s certainly true that there has been significant change over the last quarter century or so, if I’m not mistaken, almost all states in the US and other democracies have been ignoring the anti-homosexuality they’ve had on their books for way longer than that.

  8. YS says:

    That’s anti-homosexuality laws they’ve had on their books

  9. Nachum says:

    Tal: It was published in one of the “Rav Thinking Aloud” volumes, on B’reishit.

  10. aharon haber says:

    Rabbi Feldman quotes an article with a truly scary proposition as a proof that without G-d secular man eventually drifts towards having no absolute ethics. I am curious why Rabbi Feldman believes that religious man succeeds any better. I could quote many modern day Rabbis (or priests or imams) that say things equally abhorrent – to religious or non-religious ears. History is filled with horrible “crimes against humanity” caused by people believing they were acting in the name of G-d.

    In addition any religion itself is full of laws that seem unethical to outsiders. The truth is that in the absence of G-d’s direct guidance (an absence of thousands of years) we all find ourselves drifting to extremes.

    One more thing. It strikes me as a fallacy that we (western world) are becoming more and more unethical. The truth is that eugenics has been argued by philosophers for a long time. In addition there are many ethical trends that counter that proposition. The movement away from spouse and child abuse, the movement away from discrimination and slavery, etc. points in the opposite direction. Even the equitable treatment of homosexuals in my mind is ironically (in light of this post) a move in the right compassionate ethical direction. I wish more frum people agreed.

  11. Bob says:

    According to Rabbi Feldman and some of the comments here, it is the task of yidden to tell goyim what is moral for them.

    So why isn’t Rabbi Feldman outraged that American law protects a person’s right to curse Hashem publicly or worship idols?

    It gets worse, even the frum yidden have been corrupted. Thus the RCA (of which Rabbi Feldman was a vice-president) issued a statement in which it affirmed that “he Rabbinical Council of America stands united with Americans of all faiths in supporting freedom of religion.”

    Rabbi Feldman– I suspect a double standard here.

  12. DF says:

    “The secular world does not believe there is anything immoral about homosexuality.”

    Maybe so, but the “secular world” is only a tiny fraction of the United States, let alone the world. As the commenter above noted, there are only 5 states that permit homsexual marriage, all of them in the same tiny corner of the Northeast. By contrast, 32 states outlaw it, including so-called progressive states like Oregon and, just a few months ago, North Carolina. The empirical fact are that the homosexual lobby is loud and well-funded, but the vast majority of Americans, depending upon their own degree of religiosity, see it as either immoral, repulsive, or simply wrong.

  13. Mike S. says:

    I have forgotten where (probably the bcbm website) but I found one of the shiurim of the Rav addressing that theme ( he addressed that theme more than once) on the web and listened to it recently.

    Closer to the point, in fact when I was a young man abortion, or at least late-term abortions, were widely regarded with the same horror that infanticide is now regarded. Not so much now. The authors of the paper in the British Journal, which I read in its entirety, are deliberately trying to push society in the direction of extending that tolerance to infanticide. Of course, society doesn’t accept that now, and may or may not ever reach that point. I find it frightening enough that a journal of medical efforts would publish an article trying to encourage infanticide.

  14. Gail says:

    Q: Halachicly: Is homosexuality forbidden for non-jews? There must be a straightforward answer. Is it included in the 7 commandments of Bnei Noach?

    [Ed. Male homosexual conduct is.]

  15. yehudis says:

    Rabbi Feldman,
    Since you wrote an opinion piece based on the article in BMJ’s Journal of Medical Ethics, I think that it’s important to also note that not a single comment supported their proposition; in fact, in subsequent issues the journal felt the need to defend the principle of publishing opinion drastically out of step with the norm on the basis of freedom of inquiry.
    Many readers must have shared my first reaction as I read through the article: Is this a satire of a Modest Proposal type? It was really that ridiculous.
    The team of “ethicists” (hard to write that with a straight face) are proud protoges of Peter Singer and go along with his theories in lock-step. (While Singer is seated at Princeton, he still holds a chair in Melbourne, where one of the “researchers” teaches.) Their argument is purely utilitarian, which has–as most realize–nothing to do with what is conventionally considered morality. It is just the appropriation of the language of morality to justify a utilitarian worldview.
    The issue of homosexual marriage is not a utilitarian one; it is a civil rights issue–simply, should a less common form of consensual adult association deny one the privileges of legal marriage standing?
    American non-Jews have an obligation to observe the sheva mitzvos and maintain legal systems to see that they are observed. And if they choose not to? They lose by it. If they do not see that it is not healthy for their society to embrace homosexual marriage (although we don’t seem perturbed that they stun their animals and eat live oysters, or don’t give each other the death penalty for theft of a shaveh perutah…), then the worse for them. If the ever-expanding acceptance of homosexuality is challenging the American frum community, why not take it as a heavenly sign to bail out?
    And we all know that it has, and will have, its effects. It cannot but have its effects.
    A great tzaddik once said, “Hashem promised that he would not bring another deluge, but He only promised to desist from flooding the world with water. A deluge of fire is entirely possible.” Hashem yishmereinu.

  16. Daniel says:

    How do we all explain what is wrong with homosexuality, without saying “the torah says so”?

  17. Liora says:

    DF, that is simply no longer true. The majority of Americans are now in favor of gay marriage.

  18. Allan Katz says:

    The Ga’on on mishle makes a distinction between acts that are agrresive and those that are not.

    What has changed is that homosexuals are not seen as acting out of choice , but this is the way they have been created. If not for divine intelligence it would be hard to deny someone the right to love also in an emotional sense and have a partner. I feel a lot of sadness and empathy for frum homosexuals who are struggling with this issue. I recall a fairly empathic cross currents article on this issue

  19. koillel nick says:

    See Rambam hilchos Melochim 9:5. vedovak be’ishto – velo bezachor.

  20. Bob says:

    Rabbi Feldman:

    Were you consistent you would be agitating against not gay marriage (which the torah doesn’t directly address), but rather for the introduction of sodomy laws (which, by the way, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 2003).

  21. Moshe Schorr says:

    Yehudis wrote: The issue of homosexual marriage is not a utilitarian one; it is a civil rights issue–simply, should a less common form of consensual adult association deny one the privileges of legal marriage standing?

    That’s putting the question the wrong-way-round.
    Why does society _give_ privileges to married couples? Why not let them continue as before with just one address instead of two? The answer is that “society” is made up of many different “building blocks”. These are called “families”. And the “noral” way that families are created is through the marriage of a man and a woman. So society, in order to perpetuate itself, _encourages_ the creation of families.

    It’s difficult to raise children. There is a reason we are “hard-wired” to love our spouses and progeny. A homosexual “marriage” _could_ raise adopted children, but the basic goal of creating a “family” is absent. It’s all about “how do _I_ feel”. So why should society encourage that?

  22. DF says:

    Liora – look at the facts, not propaganda. California, the “left coast” the most populous and most reliably liberal state in the country, voted in November 2008 to ban homosexual marriage. You honestly think in just three years that has magically changed?? North Carolina, home of the research triangle and home to many who work in Washington D.C., only a few months ago also voted to ban it. And these are liberal states we’re speaking of. This is not a subject of debate or opinion. The FACTS – as proven by elections where the people [not Judges] actually vote their minds – prove the point clearly: this country does not approve of homosexual marriage.

  23. Bob Miller says:

    Whenever enough Americans favor enough abominations, we ought to leave.

  24. Baruch Gitlin says:

    The Torah certainly has what to say about these issues, and Orthodox Jews have what to say about absolute standards of morality vs. moral relativism. But as long as the frum world fails to take sexual abuse of children in its own domain with at least the same degree of seriousness with which it takes, for example, the “threat” of the Internet, the rest of the world will more and more see Orthodox Jewish preaching about morality to be hypocrisy.

  25. Liora says:

    DF-California is much more politically diverse than it is often given credit for, but regardless, Proposition 8 passed in large part due to massive mobilization of Mormon voters, and misinformation that was widely spread among Hispanic and African American voters about the impact same-sex marriage would have on children educated in public schools .
    I say this not because I support gay marriage; although I am hard pressed to find a “secular” reason to oppose it, clearly it is something all frum Jews should be deeply troubled by, if only due to the harsh reality that whatever immoral scourge takes hold in American society at large will eventually seep into our own communities as well. Rather, I think that we need to be willing to accept that despite the number and influence of right-wing Christians in this country (I live in an area that is heavily populated with Evangelical Christians), America just does not share our value system, and we do ourselves no service by pretending that our objective standards of morality are also considered to be objective by the majority of our fellow citizens.

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