PBA455Y: Consistent Life Ethic: The Ethics of Killing

What are we to make of a Consistent Life Ethic? How should we approach the ethics of killing on issues such as capital punishment, war, euthanasia, non-human animals?

FIXME interesting: “New Pro-Life Movement” Manifesto https://medium.com/@newprolifemovement/the-10-pillars-of-the-new-pro-life-movement-e924728d839c

FIXME need more Socratic structure to talk through this, more like burning IVF lab

Apologetics: Ethics of Killing

Capital Punishment

Decent overview of the debate:

:?: So, what's the pro-life position? (trick question)

Real question is, can the pro-death penalty be consistent with the anti-abortion position? (Yes: difference between guilty and innocent) Can the anti-death penalty be consistent with the anti-abortion position? (Yes: respect for life, or other concerns about the death penalty)

FIXME other notes

  • different perspectives on justice: retributive, reconciliation, mercy, punishment, deterrent, etc.
  • empirical data:
    • cost of death penalty
    • wrongful convinctions
  • different perspectives
    • just punishment for capital offences when there is certainty of conviction
    • err on the side of mercy when not necessary for public safety (e.g. CCC)
    • FIXME questions about government, power, should the government have the power to kill its own citizens?
      • vs. gov't obligation to protect people (deterrence argument)
      • do you forfeit your right to life if you commit a heinous crime?
  • abortion: difference between killing innocent and guilty people

Non-Human Animals


  • Moral Status of Non-Human Animals: Are they persons?
    • Peter Singer: incompatible with pro-life view (utilitarian, ageist, abliest) FIXME summarize
    • Tom Regan: quite compatible with pro-life view (rights-based, “subject of a life”)
    • Mary Midgley: This is the wrong question, there has to be more than just person versus non-person
  • ConsiderVeganism.com: a question of unnecessary suffering
  • :?: Key question: Is there a veganism that's incompatible with an anti-abortion view? Is there a veganism that's compatible with the anti-abortion view?
  • abortion: pro-life position is EHP1)


FIXME simplify this: Just War / Pacifism (is there a priority of peace?), Obama Doctrine distinctions, etc

Key question: Which view is compatible with the pro-life position? Which view is incompatible? (e.g. pro-lifers need to care about civilian deaths in a coherent way)

  • FIXME realism, holy war
    • FIXME policy: interventionsim, non-interventionism, realism, pacifism?
  • Just War Tradition
    • Commonly held criteria
      • jus ad bellum
        • just case
        • competent authority
        • right intentionExternal Link
        • reasonable probability of success
        • proportionality
        • last resort
        • etc.
      • jus in bello
        • proportionality
        • discrimination
    • Thick concept of justice as character, virtue (incl. prudence, love, mercy, reconciliation, etc.)
    • Public Policy Checklist
    • limits/concerns
  • Pacifism
    • Creative non-violent direct action
    • reasons for concern
      • collateral damage
      • technological change
      • psychological cost of killing
    • limits
  • Levels
    • War / societies
    • Police / communities
    • Individual / self-defence

Different perspectives on foreign policy (have nothing to do with different perspectives on “right to life”), from the Obana Doctrine:

One day, over lunch in the Oval Office dining room, I asked the president how he thought his foreign policy might be understood by historians. He started by describing for me a four-box grid representing the main schools of American foreign-policy thought. One box he called isolationism, which he dismissed out of hand. “The world is ever-shrinking,” he said. “Withdrawal is untenable.” The other boxes he labeled realism, liberal interventionism, and internationalism. “I suppose you could call me a realist in believing we can’t, at any given moment, relieve all the world’s misery,” he said. “We have to choose where we can make a real impact.” He also noted that he was quite obviously an internationalist, devoted as he is to strengthening multilateral organizations and international norms.


  • The question of how you stop an aggressor is different than directly killing an innocent child, and even those who accept just war tradition don't accept directly killing innocents
  • Violence is never acceptable for a pro-life movement, even those who accept the possibility of just war reject vigilantism

Consistent Life Ethic

FIXME use Klusendorf and Camosy audio

On Killing: Internal Movement Debate

The consistent life ethic is a challenge to pro-lifers to evaluate the consistency of their opinions on the ethics of killing more broadly. There are moral distinctions that can be made, and differing coherent stances that can be taken. One position does not imply all the rest. But there is a challenge: do we consistently value the right to life in the way that we should across a wide variety of separate issues?

Beyond Killing: Rationalization

Among Pro-Lifers

When we move to health care or immigration, the argument because more tenuous if it's being used as an excuse to overlook the violation of the right to life. The right to life is a fundamental prerequisite for all other rights. The notion that a pro-abortion politician would save more human lives because of other policies on health care or immigration so therefore can be excused on killing babies (1) is probably empirically false on straight numbers, (2) does not excuse the gross violation of justice in condoning abortion.

Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B.

  • As a moral challenge to pro-lifers to defend human rights broadly, yes
  • But public policy questions of how people should get food or health care (to what extent its government or other sources) are different debates than the moral question of whether or not we need to provide food and health care, etc
  • And the right to life is a necessary prerequisite and starting point, even if it's clearly not the end of human rights
  • Also: For CLE organizations, there's the question of the effectiveness of trying to address a wide variety of issues
    • Ex. Rehumanize International: “we oppose all forms of aggressive violence, including but not limited to: abortion, unjust war, capital punishment, euthanasia, torture, embryonic stem cell research, assisted suicide, abuse, human trafficking, etc.”
      • admirable to want to stop, say, nuclear warfare. Extremely important cause for obvious reasons. But wouldn't the tactics to stop it be very different from the tactics needed to stop abortion?
        • Questions of when you're lobbying the public in order to change public opinion (most support abortion, we need to change that) vs. lobbying the public to action in order to stop nuclear warfare, lobby them so that they'll in turn petition the gov't, etc. (with assumption that most of the public are in agreement that nuclear warfare is really bad)
        • And political question of the very high-level political advocacy needed to prevent nuclear warfare, because the decisions are made by a few powerful people; vs. the possibility of advocacy at all political levels to advance pre-born human rights (can have provincial and federal, sometimes even municipal, laws that help prevent abortion in various ways)
    • FIXME does this belong here or under idea bundling in PBS200Y? Or under other strategy discussions?

From Pro-Choicers

There's a lazy slander to pro-lifers are not pro-life but only pro-birth and don't care about people after they're born:

First, it's rarely true that pro-lifers don't care about people after birth. http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/01/2380/

Second, there's a difference between an issue like abortion where some people are arguing that pre-born children are not human persons and shouldn't have any rights, and something like a water crisis where there is a failure to provide the basics of life to children whom we all agree are human persons with rights. Step 1 is being recognized as a person with human rights. Pre-born children don't even have that yet. That doesn't mean it's the end point, but it's an important start.

FIXME Klusendorf: Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing https://townhall.com/columnists/scottklusendorf/2018/01/22/the-essential-prolife-argument-keep-the-main-thing-the-main-thing-n2437702

In Conversation: “Burning Orphanage” Analogy

Maria: this is an analogy that has worked really well for me and my friends in dialogue, when people bring up that either a) we as pro-lifers should be focusing on other after-birth issues, or b) that children should be aborted if they can't be guaranteed to have suffering-free lives, etc….similar to Klusendorf's story, forest fire analogy, etc.

“Imagine that there is an orphanage that is on fire, and the children are inside. What would your first response be to this crisis? Do we first make sure that we have adoptive parents lined up for all the kids, since without parents they may not have happy lives? Do we first make sure that we have health insurance in place for all them? No, we first have to save the children from the fire. Taking care of kids, making sure that they get all their basic needs met, is really important–but that good care isn't much use if the kids are already dead.”

Every Human being is a Person), not OHP((Only Human beings are Persons