Did you catch this week’s episode of House, M.D.? There was a pregnant woman having deadly complications that would have easily been solved by aborting the pregnancy. House referred to the “fetus” as a parasite getting in the way of his real patient–the mother, who was a real person. Cuddy, a woman, referred to the “baby” as a patient too that should be saved by any means if at all possible. She took charge of the case and, thus, went about trying to save the lives of both the mother and child. House, at every step, recommended removing the fetus. They end up opening up the womb to do surgery on the 21-month-old baby, which will in turn heal the mother. It turns out this procedure was successful and both lives were saved.
I thought the episode was good, thought-provoking and entertaining. What I was curious about after were viewer reactions. So I went to the website. I found a poll asking “Who did you think was eventually going to be right about saving Emma (the mother)?” As of right now, sixty-two percent said House. On the message boards the first night, people were talking about how touched they were and how, even though everything turned out okay, Cuddy should not have let her emotions get in the way of her objective judgment as a doctor.
I’m beside myself here! WHY IS TRYING TO SAVE THE LIFE OF A MOTHER AND CHILD LABELED AS EMOTIONAL, OUTSIDE THE CATEGORY OF RATIONAL AND OBJECTIVE? It is because many people see this as a choice between science/medicine and emotion/opinion. I see it as a question of ethics/morality. Without going into details now, Morality is as objective as Beauty, Logic and bare facts. For example, the human body is a beautiful work of art; 2+2=4; I just ate a banana. All of these statements are objectively true.
The statement that “a fetus is a person” is in the realm of objective ontology (either he is or it isn’t; just because scientific inquiry cannot shed light on the matter does not mean we cannot know). If the fetus is a full human person, and if a doctor’s duty is to save people’s lives, then the fetus should be treated equally; this is an objective question of morality and ethics. I’m not ignoring the fact that people differ in their assessment of the nature of a human fetus. Nevertheless, it is an ontological and ethical question for which a reasonable case can be made on either side of the argument. Whether Cuddy treated the baby is not a question of emotion but of ethics. Her actions simply must follow from her understanding of the facts: that the baby is a person. If the baby is a person, it is only right to treat him and morally detestable not to. (Emotion may accompany reason, but is not the basis of the course of action; compassion, by the way, is both ethical and reasonable).
Now, House was also acting on his understanding of the facts: that the fetus is not a person until it is born. Was he being emotional? Maybe, but I think not. What this shows is a disagreement about a factual question.
What is implied in the viewers’ responses is really a preference for “science” as a source of knowledge over other ways of knowing. They assume all scientists and doctors agree that we are not people until our birth day. Of course, this is not the expertise of science, but of philosophy and religion. Science can only descriptively tell you about the physical development of a human being, not about its personhood (note: fetus is a term denoting a stage of physical development, like embryo, toddler, or teenager). Calling Cuddy emotional is unwittingly admitting to a simplistic and unhealthy disrespect (or, charitably, ignorance) for philosophy, morality and religion and a dangerous worship of science.
My next, related question is, “WHY IS IT OKAY FOR THE HISTORY CHANNEL TO AIR SHOWS BASED PURELY ON SPECULATION AS LONG AS THE TOPIC IS CHRISTIANITY OR RELIGION?” I don’t watch the history channel a lot. But earlier there was a show about Rome filled with reliable facts and reasonable explanations of certain episodes in history. You can tell the writers of the show knew their stuff and tried to be as accurate as possible, while maintaining a certain entertainment value. But all night they have been airing fanciful tale after fanciful tale about the suppression of information in Christianity. They say things like, “after much heated debate many documents did not make the final cut of the New Testament” (which is patently false). They interview “experts” who are only really experts in being creative with historical facts. They blatantly compete to be the first, best, most inventive re-teller of religious history. They look for a twist. Why is rampant speculation allowed on the History Channel? What if all they ever aired was their best attempt at presenting the facts? I think such a show would look so much like the truth and power of the gospel that they would fear they’ve produced “religious,” even evangelistic, programming, or at least a show that portrays Christianity in a positive light. I don’t know if anyone is ready to do such a thing. I mean, can you imagine if history showed Christianity were actually true?
Again, the “sciences” of historiography, aarchaeology anthropology and the like are seen as authorities, and anything outside of science fanciful. So when religion turns out to be cold hard fact, people with such a bias toward scientism are forced to either seriously consider the implications or recast reality as mythically and fancifully as possible. Since, in their minds science and religion are somehow analogous to fact and fiction, they stunt their imagination by never allowing the two to meet, even by testimony of the facts. Talk about “in the box” thinking!