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Friday, May 22, 2015

The necessity of natural law for medicine

Lydia McGrew: The necessity of natural law for medicine

As I was musing on Steorts's cavalier treatment of natural law and wondering what sort of response might be effective with someone this dismissive, ...

Steorts's dismissal of natural law arguments against homosexuality purports to be based on the difficulty or impossibility of deriving an "ought" from an "is." But no one is saying that one can take any random "is" statement and derive an "ought" from it. For example, no one is saying that, from the fact that male lions tend to kill the cubs of other male lions, it is good for male lions to kill the cubs of other male lions.

What Steorts and others who dismiss the natural law tradition en toto really need is the much stronger statement that no teleological understanding of the human body has any normative force whatsoever. What the shrugging rejection of natural law arguments implies is total skepticism about the proper goods of the human body.

I submit that such a premise completely destroys the medical profession.

If we have no way of looking at the human body and telling how it ought to be functioning based on teleology, then on what basis do we say that it is good for eyes to see, ears to hear, and legs to walk? Why should a doctor commit himself to healing an infection rather than encouraging the infection? Why should physical therapists help people to regain muscle tone in a weakened limb?

We could of course back everything up to the mere fact of human desire. People want to be able to see, to use their limbs, or not to have a fever, so physicians should help them attain these personal goals. But that would completely trivialize the profession. It would remove entirely the distinction between cosmetic or even harmful surgery and the healing arts. On such a view it would be no more a good medical act to re-attach a detached retina (if that is what the patient wants) than to gouge out a working eye (if that is what the patient wants). That view of medicine is ethically insane. And there is no reason in any event why doctors should use their skill to be mere robotic technicians actualizing arbitrary patient desires.
The practice of medicine requires the assumption that there is such a thing as healing and physical proper function.
There is a psychological pathological condition whereby the afflicted person falsely believes that a perfectly normal limb "doesn't belong" to himself, isn't a proper part of his body. Frequently, these people will try to get a doctor to amputate the limb -- until recently, no doctor in the world would consent to be so used (*) (**) -- and, failing to get that "help", they may do things to injure themselves, so as to force a doctor to amputate the limb to save their lives.

(*) I became aware of this condition several years ago following news reports that some so-called doctor (in Britain, as I recall) was putting forth the claim that doctors *should* do the amputations, rather than to seek to get the person the mental-and-spiritual help he really needs.

This is a perfect example of what Mrs McGrew is talking about.

(**) I expect that Gentle Reader can see the similarity to "sex reassignment" surgery for (as Kathy Shaidle calls them) "mentally ill castration fetishists", such as Bruce Jenner.


K T Cat said...

I would argue this is not a philosophical argument, but a religious one.

The important thing is to worship the crotch as the centroid of existence, the pivot upon which all turns.

Ilíon said...

I sometimes put it a bit more crudely, but I agree, most of the people in our culture worship their crotches.

Nick said...

When someone doesn't believe in "something more" to existence, what is left but their genitals?