Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Margaret Somerville responds

I recently wrote about Margaret Somerville's article in the Ottawa Citizen, called The profound complexities of informed consent to abortion.

This prompted a response by letter writer Michelle Dewar in Unbiased debate needed.

Dr. Somerville then sent in this (unpublished) letter to the Ottawa Citizen:

The Ottawa Citizen
Dear Editor,

In response to Michelle Dewar’s criticisms ("Unbiased debate needed", Ottawa Citizen March 26, 2012) of my article, (“The profound complexities of informed consent to abortion”, Ottawa Citizen March 23, 2012), I agree the article is “one woman’s story” (its original title). But, contrary to Dewar’s view, we need to listen to such stories. They are a valid basis, although certainly not the only one, for doing ethics – an approach called “narrative ethics”.

And, of course, facts are important, but the facts in my article are how Anna perceived and experienced what happened to her. If that was a rare event, as Dewar implies, so much the better, but Kathleen Gray’s comments, which are quoted in the article, indicate otherwise. And it’s clear that pro-choice supporters don’t like such facts.

Dewar argues that “one anonymous, anecdotal story … cannot be taken as scientific evidence for what is the typical experience of women in Quebec” and that we need  “evidence based, reasoned argument”. While very important, “scientific evidence” is not the only evidence relevant to ethics. It’s often said in ethics that “we  ignore our feelings at our ethical peril“. What that tells us, and scientific research is now confirming, is that examined emotions and moral intuition can guide us ethically, but, of course, our conclusions on those bases need to be checked out with reason.

As to the criticism of the story being “anonymous”, surely Dewar wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise from an ethical perspective. Anna was very brave in allowing it to be told at all. As she said, she felt that doing so might help other women and, if so, that was the only good that could come out of this situation.

And regarding Dewar’s criticism of not mentioning the “social assistance” available, why didn’t the abortion clinic tell Anna about this? One could argue that it, too, should be disclosed as part of obtaining informed consent to abortion as “information that would be material to a reasonable person in the same circumstances”.

Margaret Somerville

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