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The Ethics of "Choice" Thirty Years On: The Microcosm of "Regime Change"   


Summer winding down, I suppose it was unfortunate that we have had to kill our animals. Two cats, a dog (actually a puppy), a miniature donkey "Roncevalles" and our beloved pet chimp "Washoe", before we moved homes.

But truth be told, we just didn't want them anymore. "Washoe" and "Roncie" will be particularly missed as they were great favourites of children in the neighbourhood; but we could no longer afford the expensive exotic vets bills and we were moving homes (across the country) and couldn't afford the time (or hassle) to find them new owners that would care for them.

Since at this point in our lives our time is limited and we wanted to give proper attention to our children and house move, having the pets killed was the most humane thing we could do in the circumstances, regrettable though that might have been. It was a wrenching experience for us all.

Some would judge us to be callous and immoral for doing this. The killing of the chimp, Peter Singer the leading ethicist at Princeton, would find truly appalling since chimps can sort of think like us and its all about the brain for Peter and his sort of ethics.

Barbara Ehrenreich, however, would find our justification for pet trimming to be based on exactly the kind of reasoning she used to justify her decision to have two abortions "during her all too fertile years." A decision she is proud to write about.

In her interesting guest column in the New York Times ("Owning up to Abortion" July 22, 2004) Ms. Ehrenreich pooh pooh's a distinction between abortions for "medical reasons" and those for reasons of "convenience." She says that basically they are all the same and that they are all completely justifiable and correct.

She then says that while the exercise of choice for reproductive freedom can be "agonizing" it is time for women to "take [their] thumbs out of [their] mouths and speak out for your rights." Get over your scruples. Be strong, be valiant! Aborters of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your shame! It all sounds strangely and eerily familiar of other times and places where the natural human sentiments of distaste and disgust were systematically suppressed in order to "get on with the job."

For some years now this "necessary killing" line has been developed. In the early days of the "pro-choice" movement, back in the 1960's and early 1970's it was denied that what was occurring was killing in a relevant sense at all. It was "developing" or "potential life" and not a morally relevant life that was being killed. It was "not a human being" but something else that was being killed and so on. In fact, that was why it was called a "pro-choice" movement in the first place — pro-abortion would have sounded too harsh, too extreme. We weren't in favour of abortion in any case, but its gentler sister — choice.

What sort of person could oppose "choice"? It was like, well, "motherhood and apple-pie" but a weird sort of "motherhood" that wished to kill its progeny, like some Greek goddess gone mad, devouring the very products of its own womb.

Then a shift began to occur. Pragmatic "every child a wanted child" rhetoric shifted the focus from the what was being killed to the why it was being killed. It was, so the logic went, better to be "terminated" than to be born unwanted. What was key was the private choice of the woman over that of the life within her. Biology was not destiny and so "choice" guaranteed the right of one person to kill another just as we had the right to kill our inconvenient pets rather than give them to a loving home.

But now all the rhetorical half-way stations have been bypassed and articles such as Ehrenrich's and one a few years ago by Naomi Wolf, make it clear that "yeah, we killed our babies, and, yeah, those babies were human beings, so what? It was necessary." Blunt as that.

One wonders where the so-called "pro-choice" movement would have got had it not obfuscated so successfully in the early years; so softened up the thinking of a generation of people who thought abortions were nasty, dirty, unacceptable and degrading things performed only by drunken doctors in back alleys.

Now it too can "come out of the closet" as the "pro-abortion" movement if it wants to. There is no reason any longer to pretend that what we are doing is something other than the selective killing of some humans by others. That is what Ehrenrich's position is. That is where the "movement" has been moving. That is what it has achieved for the world. The blunt power of some over the lives of others — "regime change" in microcosm.

We didn't kill our cats, dog, donkey and chimp as a matter of fact. We don't even have a dog, donkey or chimp and are expending considerable time on finding new homes for two aged cats who would not adapt well to the French rural setting to which we are re-locating. But for those who were shocked by our callousness in regards to pets, isn't it a bit horrifying how we as the richest nations in the world accept the destruction of the babies of our own generations just for reasons of convenience and money?

The power-based individualistic "ethics" nurtured by the women's movement are a disaster and the sooner they are seen as such the closer we shall all be to actually saving our planet from the harsh and killing "ethics" of selfish pragmatism. How can we complain of the ethics of "regime change" motivated by violence and aggression on the international scale when we practice such violence and aggression on those to whom we owe the even closer connection of love and nurture in our own homes?

The microcosm of "regime change" within abortion prepares and nurtures the larger scale regime-changes when such are not justifiable on a sound ethical basis. Ethics are connected and a whole set of metastasized wrongs emerge from erroneous claims of rights. The ecology of the planet demands a rejection of such selfish "choices" and a movement away from the disasters this twisted thinking has given and continues to give us on issues well beyond that of abortion.



Benson, Iain T. “The Ethics of "Choice" Thirty Years On: The Microcosm of "Regime Change.” CentreBlog (July, 2004).

Reprinted with permission of The Centre for Cultural Renewal and Iain T. Benson.

The Centre's blog is here.

The Centre for Cultural Renewal, a non-partisan, non-denominational think-tank with registered charitable status in Canada and the United States, has been described as “the most credible organization in Canada addressing fundamental questions about politics, culture and faith.” For the past seven years the Centre has been making a name for itself by hosting events that seek to articulate the relationship between the techniques and purposes of key areas of culture: law, medicine, politics, education and the arts. Iain Benson, a constitutional lawyer, is the Centre’s Executive Director.


Iain T. Benson, a barrister & solicitor, is Executive Director of the Centre for Cultural Renewal in Ottawa. Iain Benson lives in Lourdes, France. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Catholic Educator’s Resource Center.

Copyright © 2004 Centre for Cultural Renewal




Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved