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Unspeakable Conversations - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal

Feb. 15th, 2003

02:35 pm - Unspeakable Conversations

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From:ehintz
Date:February 15th, 2003 12:06 pm (UTC)
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Nice article.

My thoughts on the subject are frankly pretty simple: Stephen Hawking. A lot of folks like this Singer fellow might have thought Hawking should be put down. Had it happened we'd have lost the greatest physicist since Einstein. It's not always apparent from the beginning of the story which characters will play a role at the end, so it's best to let the story play out as it will. I think the energy is better placed figuring out new ways to apply science and technology to compensate for physical or mental problems rather than advocating euthanization.
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From:ex_thehat388
Date:February 15th, 2003 12:54 pm (UTC)
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Hawking was not obviously disabled as a baby. He ran around and climbed on trees and all over this parents' roof apparently.
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From:ehintz
Date:February 15th, 2003 01:44 pm (UTC)
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Haven't paid too much attention to his childhood. Nonetheless, the point remains; one of the greatest physicists of our time can barely talk, feed himself, move, etc. Physical health/ability !=mental health/ability, and it's unwise to make decisions of such magnitude based upon so shallow a criteria.
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From:crasch
Date:February 15th, 2003 02:29 pm (UTC)
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Physical health/ability !=mental health/ability, and it's unwise to make decisions of such magnitude based upon so shallow a criteria.


I'm not sure what I think about this issue. I'm still mulling it over. However, here's some questions I'm considering?

Healthy babies are frequently aborted for economic reasons. Why not for birth defects?

Wouldn't the appropriate comparison be between a world with Stephen Hawking and a world with the child Hawking's parents would've had, had they not had Stephen? Maybe that child would've been as bright as Hawking, but uncrippled, and therefore even more productive than Hawking as been.

Raising even a healhty child is exhausting and time-consuming. How many Hawkings were never born because their would-be parents were too exhausted caring for a child who, at best, would eventually be potty trained and count to three? How many Hawkings were born, but never had the opportunity to demonstrate their potential because their parents were too debt-ridden after paying for a disabled sibling's medical care?

What percentage of the disabled population are like Hawking and the attorney, and are on net, productive? How many are wards of the state?
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From:selfishgene
Date:February 16th, 2003 08:11 am (UTC)
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The real problem, as so often happens, is collectivist decision making. A specific parent (or pair of parents) should make their own decision on whether they wish to support a child. Some parents may want to put the child to death, and others will choose to nurture their child regardless of defect. It is not the business of the state to compel them to kill the child, nor to compel them to nurture the child, nor even to compel them to hand over the child for nurturing by others if the parents wish to kill it.
It is an enormous commitment to raise a child. To raise a child who will require extreme medical care, parental attention and who might NEVER be self sufficient is a very great commitment indeed. Who has more right to judge the pains and costs and benefits and love than the parents? Should state employees and academics and lawyers make this decision for them?
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From:ernunnos
Date:February 17th, 2003 06:49 am (UTC)
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Who has more right to judge the pains and costs and benefits and love than the parents?
Given your user name you should realize the flaw in this argument.

To raise a child who will require extreme medical care, parental attention and who might NEVER be self sufficient is a very great commitment indeed.
And no parent of a child who requires extreme medical care makes that commitment. They all demand the support of the collective. When the collective gets involved, the collective gets a say.
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From:selfishgene
Date:February 17th, 2003 04:05 pm (UTC)
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'Given your user name you should realize the flaw in this argument.'
- If by this comment you mean the parents will make a selfish decision, that is exactly what I want them to do. If you meant something else, please explain.
'When the collective gets involved, the collective gets a say'
- If the parents seek assistance from state or church or extended family then those entities can claim some say in the decision. Parents who are not asking for assistance should make their own decision.
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From:ernunnos
Date:February 18th, 2003 07:37 pm (UTC)
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If by this comment you mean the parents will make a selfish decision, that is exactly what I want them to do.
Parents should be responsible, not selfish.
Parents who are not asking for assistance should make their own decision.
Two problems with that.
  1. Parents are making decisions for another person. It is not just their decision to make.
  2. Parents of severely handicapped children who do not ask for assistance are so rare as to be non-existent.
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From:selfishgene
Date:February 19th, 2003 03:59 am (UTC)
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People have children for selfish reasons. Nobody ever asked a sperm cell and an ovum whether they wished to be united. When a child is born the parents have to support it financially, physically and emotionally for more than a decade (in the US, over 2 decades). They have every right to say we refuse this burden, especially if the child is seriously deformed. (The usurpation of parental rights by the state in the name of the child is just another statist power grab.)
The child is not in a position to make a decision nor can it support it's decision in any way since it is completely dependant on the parents for everything except oxygen.
Parents of handicapped children do usually ask for support but this would be irrelevant if it was legal to kill the child and they then chose to do so.
The whole notion that an infant has rights is derived from the religious position that it has a soul. Economically and politically it makes no sense to say an infant has rights since it has no power to even ask for it's rights, let alone defend them.
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From:pbrane
Date:February 16th, 2003 02:09 pm (UTC)
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Wouldn't the appropriate comparison be between a world with Stephen Hawking and a world with the child Hawking's parents would've had, had they not had Stephen? Maybe that child would've been as bright as Hawking, but uncrippled, and therefore even more productive than Hawking as been.

This is an interesting comparison - but if you read interviews with Prof. Hawking himself, you'll see that he feels that he would never have actually accomplished what he has if it were not for his ALS: in college, he was the prototypical slacker-nerd, more likely to drink 4 or 5 pints on a monday night then study, and barely convinced his graduation committee to give him a first-class diploma (undergrad - he got it by threatening to stay there for his PhD work, knowing fully well that they knew he was really sharp and should broaden his horizons, and thus they caved and gave him the first, instead of second, so he'd leave).

But when he was diagnosed with ALS and came to be able to see the harsh reality of what would happen (that he most likely would only live another few years [little did they know at the time that he'd still be alive in 3 decades]), and he specifically chose a subfield of theoretical physics in which he could do mostly in his head (GR, with all it's geometrical foundation, instead of QFT, which is more algebraic computation heavy), and threw himself into it completely, with *far* more vigor than he would have had he been still able to party and chase girls, for he thought that if he didn't make his mark soon, he'd never have amounted to much.

And if he'd not had ALS, he might not have. He may have had "more fun", but what is "fun" really? It seems his life has been more *rewarding* (both to himself, and to the world at large) disabled than it would have been not.
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From:ernunnos
Date:February 16th, 2003 05:07 pm (UTC)
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But we do.

When you're talking about social policies, you must make decisions based on generalities. You can't do it based on statistical outliers.

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From:ehintz
Date:February 16th, 2003 07:21 pm (UTC)
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Accidents can have most profound and unforeseen consequences. Ergo, I figure it's best to err on the side of caution, and let things play out as they will. I'm all for assisted suicide and pulling the plug on brain dead folks. But proactively taking folks out is a different story, and a slippery slope I'd prefer not to start down.
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From:ernunnos
Date:February 16th, 2003 09:05 pm (UTC)
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What constitutes "erring on the side of caution" though?

Is spending billions of dollars on medical care to prolong lives of deprivation and pain because we don't want to miss the chance of meeting the next Stephen Hawking really the cautious thing to do? I think it's as cautious as spending a thousand dollars on lottery tickets every week because we don't want to miss a chance to win the jackpot.

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From:ehintz
Date:February 17th, 2003 12:03 am (UTC)
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I already said I favor assisted suicide. If those leading the lives of deprivation and pain feel it is no longer worth carrying on, it's their decision. It's presumptuous and arrogant if I decide for them, excepting of course the brain dead. I don't want other people deciding what's best for me, it's only fair that I give them that same respect. As for the lottery analogy, well, I guess we just put a different value on life. I consider it to be far more valuable than pick-six-powerball. IMHO, putting a price tag on life is rather pointless-making a cost benefit analysis without the services of a time machine is just bizarre.

Many who live deserve death. And some who die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.  For even the very wise cannot see all ends.
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From:ernunnos
Date:February 17th, 2003 06:38 am (UTC)
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It's presumptuous and arrogant if I decide for them, excepting of course the brain dead.
Parents make all sorts of "presumptuous and arrogant" decisions for their children. They have to. The children are not capable of making decisions for themselves. Just bringing a child into the world is presumptuous and arrogant. Bringing a child into the world knowing that that child will suffer to an extra ordinary degree is even more so.

Your JRR Tolkein quote is a perfect example of what I'm talking about when I say that you cannot set public policy based on outliers. If we followed that advice, public policy would be paralyzed. we could never do anything. For example, it is possible that a robber might one day save a life. So we could never put any robbers in jail, because then that robber would be prevented from doing his good deed. And isn't life more important than any material goods they might have stolen? Isn't it worth having ten thousand robbers wandering the street if just one life is saved?

No. While we like to pretend that any individual human life is of infinite value, it's not. And while there may be a slight chance that any given robber will save a life if allowed to go free, there's an even greater chance that any given robber will take a life in the course of his career.

"The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. But that's the way to bet."

All public policy is a gamble. And a responsible gambler plays the odds, not the outliers.

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From:ehintz
Date:February 17th, 2003 08:46 am (UTC)
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No. While we like to pretend that any individual human life is of infinite value, it's not.
Well, right there is where we hit the impasse. Like I said in the last comment, I place more value on human life than you do. So it's quite reasonable that I will have a different opinion.
All public policy is a gamble. And a responsible gambler plays the odds, not the outliers.
There's a lot of public policy I don't like. I think less public policy is the best solution, not more.
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From:ernunnos
Date:February 17th, 2003 09:08 am (UTC)
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Like I said in the last comment, I place more value on human life than you do.
I highly doubt it. I suspect you're no different than most people. Claim to place infinite value on individual human life, as long as they're talking about other people's money, but are perfectly capable of making shrewd economic decisions in that regard when it's their own money at stake. They get the sense of moral superiority with little of the real cost or inconvenience.

I think less public policy is the best solution, not more.
Unfortunately, as long as there is a public, there will be public policy. As I pointed out in another reply, there are precious few parents of handicapped children who don't demand some sort of support from the public. As such, the public deserves a voice.
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From:ehintz
Date:February 17th, 2003 09:47 am (UTC)
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I suspect you're no different than most people. Claim to place infinite value on individual human life, as long as they're talking about other people's money, but are perfectly capable of making shrewd economic decisions in that regard when it's their own money at stake.
Ahh, the money where the mouth is argument. Can't say I've had the opportunity to spend wads of cash on a human, so I guess the next best is animal, eh? Some years back, when I was a college student sans cash, I spent about $2500 (roughly 20% of my years income) trying to save my cat. I think most people would have put him down for $50 or so, but I went all the way to the end. I've also been known to drop $5-600 on the dog when presented with illness. Money is replaceable, individuals are not(and I do consider my pets individuals, though I do not expect others to share that point of view). When I take on a pet, I am entering into a binding contract to care for them, and killing them because surgery is too expensive is breaking that contract. Given my track record with animals I think it's reasonable to assume that I would fork over the dough for a person.

For that matter, I'd much rather see all the damn taxes I pay going to help people rather than find new and creative ways to kill them. Not to mention the pork. Presented with 3 choices-1 no taxes, 2 taxes and strong military, 3 taxes and strong education/healthcare, I suppose I'd probably go for 1, with 3 being a close second and 2 not an option. I'd prefer an individual responsibility type setup, but if I'm going to be stuck with a government taking my money and dealing out "public policy" then option 3 is at least a noble place for the money to go.
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From:ernunnos
Date:February 18th, 2003 07:39 pm (UTC)
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Can't say I've had the opportunity to spend wads of cash on a human, so I guess the next best is animal, eh?
No indication. I think infanticide should be legalized, and I spent lots of money on my pet.
...a noble place for the money to go.
Feel-good concepts like nobility have no place in public policy. That way lies ruin.
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From:ehintz
Date:February 18th, 2003 09:56 pm (UTC)
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Public policy has no place in public policy. That way also lies ruin... There's no government like no government. ;-)

The American Heritage Dictionary defines nobility as "The state or quality of being exalted in character." While I would be the first to point out that the overwhelming majority of those involved with defining public policy are about as antithetical to that description as is humanly possible, I would argue that it's a helluva lot more desirable than money grubbing slackers whose main goal is to further the interests of those few with large wads of cash who financed their campaign.

Anyway, it looks like the only way for me to prove to you that I'm not a socialist pinko democrat is to finance some gimp's hospital bill, so if and when it happens I'll be sure to let you know.
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