Smith’s reply simply ignores all of the main points that I made. He’s mostly sore that I did not discuss two specific cases from his original essay, of people who faced great physical suffering but overcame it to live long and meaningful lives. I did not discuss those cases because they were entirely irrelevant to the points I was making.
I had two main points. One was that everyone has the right to personal autonomy and dignity. The other was that it is possible to reach a state of such physical debilitation that everything that gave your life meaning has been permanently taken from you. When a mentally competent person decides he has reached that point, it is immoral to deny him the right to die.
How are specific cases of people who overcame suffering relevant to either of those points?
If you would care to read Smith’s piece, you will find that the two people he discusses were both in far better condition than was John Rehm, the subject of the profile to which Smith was responding. But let’s imagine two people facing precisely what Rehm was facing. Further imagine that one decides to live until he dies naturally, while the other decides he cannot take it anymore and requests the means to end his life peacefully. My point is that the law has no business interfering in either one of those decisions. Moreover, I would not find either one of those decisions to be inherently worthy either of praise or of criticism. People have to make these decisions for themselves, in conjunction with whoever’s opinion they value, and with respect to the specific circumstances they face.
Klinghoffer’s reply is far more interesting. Dispensing with trivial points first, we need to clear up something about the genetic fallacy. You see, in his first post Klinghoffer wrote this:
Whether the context is biology or cosmology, the ultimate issue at stake in the controversy over origins is the picture we carry around in our mind of what a human being is, what a human life is worth. There are two paradigms. They are mutually exclusive and separated by a vast gulf.
Either your life is of ultimate value, possessing unique dignity, potentially cast in the image of a transcendent designer and thus awesomely precious.
Or human life is not special, hardly more valuable — or indeed not one bit more valuable — than animal or plant life. Why? Because all life is equally the product of blind, uncaring forces, tossed up from the mixing of materials at random, to be “selected” by dumb, callous nature for survival and propagation, nothing more.
I described this as a clear-cut illustration of the genetic fallacy, and it is. One of my commenters, however, demurred. He wrote: “Jason, ”the genetic fallacy” is judging an argument based on who first made it.” Klinghoffer, unsurprisingly, endorses this comment in his new post.
But as I pointed out to my commenter, and apparently must now point out to Klinghoffer, the genetic fallacy is not simply judging an argument based on who first made it. That’s a specific, very common, manifestation of the genetic fallacy, but it is not the whole thing. Courtesy of the ever useful Wikipedia:
The genetic fallacy, also known as fallacy of origins, fallacy of virtue, is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone’s origin rather than its current meaning or context.
That’s precisely what Klinghoffer did. If life arose from blind, uncaring forces then it has no special value. That’s the genetic fallacy.
As I said, that’s the trivial point. Here’s the important point. In my post, I wrote this:
Answers about our origins have no implications at all for questions of meaning and value. Arising through blind, uncaring forces in no way implies that life is not awesomely precious, and being made in the image of a transcendent designer in no way implies that it is.
Now this I find very strange. Jason Rosenhouse wrote a book called Among the Creationists which I didn’t read but that is evidently an account of his experiences meeting and talking with people who doubt Darwinian theory, sloppily classed together as “creationists.” I wonder, has he not noticed even the sociological reality that very different values, on the exceptional preciousness of a human life, are widely upheld among Darwin skeptics as compared to among Darwin defenders?
Oh, for heaven’s sake. If Klinghoffer had at least read as far as the table of contents, he would have discovered an entire chapter devoted to distinguishing between young-Earth creationism and intelligent design. (That chapter bears the subtle title “Intelligent Design Vs. Young-Earth Creationism.”) In that chapter I go on for several pages about the distinctions, both scientifically and culturally, between the two schools of thought. Sloppy classification indeed. Granted, the conclusion of that chapter is that the similarities between the two schools are more important than the differences, but still.
If you polled his colleagues in the Darwin-defending community, you don’t think you would find broad agreement with his stance in favor of assisted suicide, and probably significant disagreement if you talked to folks inclined to sympathize with intelligent design?
Obviously, that doesn’t tell you anything about whether either view, upholding the sacredness of life or not, is valid.
That last sentence is doing a lot of work! Klinghoffer was getting perilously close to adding argumentum ad populum to his list of fallacies. He is, however, guilty of providing a non sequitur.
Klinghoffer’s reply here is based on a grotesque bait and switch. He simply equates support for assisted suicide with a low opinion of the value of human life. But it was the latter, not the former, that was at issue in the quotes under discussion. As I made clear in my post, it is precisely because I do value human life so highly that I support assisted suicide. It is Smith and Klinghoffer who cheapen it, by forcing people to persist in lives of suffering and humiliation simply because their heart continues to beat.
So let’s review the discussion so far:
KLINGHOFFER: If we arose from blind, uncaring forces, then human life has no special value.
ROSENHOUSE: That’s absurd! Human origins have no implications for the value of human life.
KLINGHOFFER: But most Darwinists support assisted suicide and most religious people oppose it.
Do you see the problem? If Klinghoffer really wants to decide this by polls, perhaps he should try asking the “Darwin-defending community” about their opinion of the value of human life. When one hundred percent reply that it is very valuable indeed, he can then try to explain to them how they managed to miss the implications of accepting evolution.