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Rev. Reese and the Fallacy of the Mean

March 8, 2009

Rev. Thomas Reese, sj, after proposing ways to limit research on embryonic human beings, admits that his suggestions “will not satisfy those who find any use of embryos ethically objectionable, but it will indicate that the Obama administration is trying to find some middle ground that gives some respect to the many Americans who find such research repugnant.” Emphasis added.

Well, Reese is certainly right about one thing: his proposal won’t satisfy anyone who sees how perfectly, indeed almost literally, his suggestion commits the “Fallacy of the Mean”.

The “Fallacy of the Mean” holds that when faced with choosing between two opposed options, a middle course is best. Sure, if I’m trying to decide between having two scoops of ice cream, and having none, I might choose to have just one. But that’s about as far as “the mean” approach gets a bloke.

Example, some folks believed that no Jews should be gassed. Hitler thought that they all should be gassed. Should one offer to split the difference, and gas just half of them?

Don’t like Nazi analogies? Okay. . .

Some Founding Fathers thought slavery should be protected throughout the country, others thought it should be made illegal everywhere. So they compromised, and made half the States slave, half free. We all know how that one turned out, don’t we?

I believe that no embryonic human being should be experimented upon, let alone killed. The Obama administration believes that they all can be treated so. Reese suggests we settle our differences by only experimenting on and killing “the extra ones”. How one squares Reese’s compromise with the absolute prohibition against deliberately taking an innocent human life (Evangelium vitae, 57) I have no idea.

And yes, I know they’re (almost certainly) “going to die anyway”, and not like you or I are “going to die anyway.” But that does not mean that these tiny people should die by my hand, or with my dollars.

As we look for a way out of Complication No. 658 that follows in the wake of separating sex from procreation, we’re going to need better options than ‘just-kill-some-of-them’.

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