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Three “ethicists” miss the boat in NY Times column

by | Mar 25, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

QuestionMarks88reSo the headline to the column in the New York Times is “Must I drive my Friend to Have an Abortion?” (It actually is a preview of what will appear in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday.)

The format is that three “ethicists” discuss the question presented by an anonymous person—in this case, “Must I Drive My Friend to Have an Abortion?”–among themselves and perhaps reach a rolling consensus—or not. The “panelists” are an author with a psychotherapy practice; a media columnist; and an author/law professor.

The question, which is very different than what the headline conveys, comes at the end of the inquiry. Referring to her closest friend, who is 18 and pregnant, “Is it ethical for me to drive hours away [the abortion would be out of state], without her parents’ consent, for an abortion, when that is regarded as very shameful in my church?

The panel zero in on the writer’s hesitation—bad, they agree, because it means the abortion will take place later—the fact that she says she would ask her friend to do the same for her, were the positions reversed–and her religious objections.

The consensus (sort of) seems to be, as the media columnist puts it, her decision is ethical whether she takes her friend or not, provided she doesn’t “procrastinate” in telling her friend.

Let’s think about this for a few minutes.

First, one of the trio turns the question around. What if it was the pregnant girl inquiring and she asked “Is it unethical for her [the best friend] to put me on hold and not immediately respond and immediately drive me based on my need?” But to be fair he grasped that regardless of whether the inquirer said she would make the same request of her friend, if the tables were turned, the pregnant girl might be asking too much of her friend. Ah, yes.

Second, there are at least two other parties involved—the baby and the pregnant girl’s parents—who are not even mentioned. Not a syllable. “The rights and wrongs of abortion are not the question,” the trio might retort,” nor is the advisability of evading your parents [and, perhaps, state law requiring parental involvement].”

However those other concerns were part of the inquirer’s moral/ethical calculus, not her church’s position on abortion alone. They—cutting the parents out of the decision making and high-tailing it across state lines–needed to be addressed rather than condescendingly chastising the friend for perceived “dithering and delaying.” (See below.)

Third, and finally, it was, of course, the author/psychotherapist who offers another way of looking at the situation.

She can ethically not do it and tell her friend the truth immediately, or drive her and in the process either rethink her religious stance or recognize that one of her concerns seems to be the subject of shame and adult disapproval rather than her own religious beliefs. But that’s reading into the question, so I would say that the unethical thing is dithering and delaying and making it more difficult for the friend to get a ride

This is wrong on about nine different levels. She is shaming the friend who is trying to be a friend yet hold her own personal integrity intact. She may even have reservations about abortion.

And if that were a cheap enough shot, the agony the inquirer is going through is reduced to fear of ‘adult disapproval.’ And, for good measure, why not use this occasion to jettison those “religious beliefs” that are making this a difficult decision to make?

I think she should turn in her ethicist card at the nearest Planned Parenthood.

Categories: Abortion
Tags: abortion