Monday, December 03, 2007

Date rape - not legal but safe and rare?

A lot of time we hear people argue that they agree that something is wrong, e.g., abortion, teen sex, drug use, but that we need to do something that facilitates it. e.g., make it legal, provide contraceptives, offer needle exchanges, because it's "going to happen anyway" and we should make sure that it is undertaken in the safest way possible.

I think this argument only works when you don't think that the thing to be facilitated, e.g., abortion, teen sex, drug use, is a serious moral wrong. My law school classmate Robby George offers an illustrative hypothetical to the good folks at Mirror of Justice:

Crimes involving the use of date rape drugs are increasingly common on campuses and elsewhere. The overwhelming majority of such crimes are committed by men on women. Evidently, the drugs are widely available and easily obtained. There doesn't seem to be much that can be done to prevent men who want the drugs from obtaining and using them.

Rape is in itself a horrible crime--always and everywhere. It is, in my opinion, an intrinsically--and gravely--evil act. Where date rape drugs are used, the offense has additional dimensions. Often the drugs are themselves harmful and dangerous. Victims can suffer lasting injuries and even die as a result of ingesting the drugs.

Now, imagine that a date rape drug is synthesized which is just as effective as the ones sold on the street, but (in itself) considerably less dangerous to victims. The risk of injury and death is substantially lower. The cost, however, is higher.

How should we respond to a proposal to make the new, safer drug available through the University Health Center on a subsidized and confidential basis? (Let us stipulate that there is no legal impediment to doing so. Imagine that the drug is sometimes legitimately distributed over the counter as a "sleep aid.") The argument is that, though we don't want to encourage date rape and the use of date rape drugs, we need to be realistic. Date rape happens and will continue to happen despite our ongoing efforts to discourage it; date rape drugs are going to be used; we are not going to be able to turn back the clock and makes these drugs cease to exist. Let's at least lessen the potential harm to women who are victimized.

Speaking for myself, I would firmly say no to this proposal. But, then, I am a moral conservative. I don't think we should subsidize and facilitate immoral behavior, even for the sake of preventing injuries and deaths a certain number of which will surely occur as a result of date rapists using unsafe drugs instead of the safer drugs they would have been using had we subsidized them and made them available.

What I don't know is whether liberals would agree with me as to whether the proposal should be rejected. My sense is that most liberals do not share the general principle on the basis of which I myself would reject the proposal. But, perhaps other grounds are available to them for rejecting it. I don't think they would want to say that by subsidizing and distributing safer date rape drugs we are tacitly approving date rape. They might, however, say that the policy of subsidizing and distributing the drugs would result in more date rape by contributing to a cultural climate in which date rape comes to be regarded by potential perpetrators as acceptable conduct. But, then, liberals generally don't reason this way about, say, promiscuity when considering whether to subsidize and distribute contraceptives on campus. Most liberals I talk with seem to believe that the policy of distributing birth control pills, placing condoms in jars in student lounges, etc. doesn't affect students' beliefs about sexual morality or alter their conduct. The amount of promiscuous sex will remain the same, they say, whether or not condoms are subsidized and distributed; the only difference is whether the sex will result in unwanted pregnancies and venereal diseases that might have been prevented had condoms been used.

In any event, let's assume, just to test the principle, that we have reliable studies to show that easy access to cheap safer date rape drugs does not increase the number of date rapes in general or the number of date rapes in which date rape drugs are used. It does not turn non-rapists into rapists. The rate of date rape snd the use of date rate drugs will remain the same. The only difference will be that victims will have a lower incidence of injury and death from the drugs themselves.

On this assumption, what is the correct answer from the liberal point of view? Should a University Health Center subsidize and distribute the safer date rape drugs or not


How do you respond other than by arguing that these other things are not as morally repugnant as date rape? If that's your only response, then you can see how the "safe, legal and rare" argument won't work with people who think that abortion is a moral wrong on the level of date rape.

20 comments:

Dad29 said...

Perhaps the Left will understand, but I seriously doubt they will accept the validity of a logical argument about abortion.

To the Left, abortion is a matter of faith (and they deride people who believe in God)...

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

That's a very interesting thought experiment.

"How do you respond other than by arguing that these other things are not as morally repugnant as date rape? If that's your only response, then you can see how the "safe, legal and rare" argument won't work with people who think that abortion is a moral wrong on the level of date rape."

I can't speak for people on "the left" but I would say that another difference, besides the difference of degree you mention, is that the only (or at least primary) negative aspects of sex are prevented with condoms (most STDs and pregnancy). Obviously there's an argument that there are other harms caused by teen sex -- emotional harms, "degredation of society" or whatever -- but those are a lot less measurable than the negative effects of date rape that go beyond the dangers of the daterape drug itself.

That said, if ALL of the assumptions in the hypothetical are true, I WOULD support such a proposition. (Or at least I would for practical/moral reasons. I still might oppose it for small-government/libertarian type reasons).

elliot said...

Feeling feisty, today?

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"In any event, let's assume, just to test the principle, that we have reliable studies to show that easy access to cheap safer date rape drugs does not increase the number of date rapes in general or the number of date rapes in which date rape drugs are used. It does not turn non-rapists into rapists. The rate of date rape snd the use of date rate drugs will remain the same. The only difference will be that victims will have a lower incidence of injury and death from the drugs themselves."

Actually, the more I think about this, I actually find it a little sick that you would not support such a program on "moral" grounds when, given ALL of the assumptions put forward by the author, it would save lives.

Rick Esenberg said...

Well. yeah, if you're a utilitarian. But then you'd do a lot of things that might make many of us blanche.

Elliot

I'm on Christmas vacation. It's not that I get to work any less but the point is the feeling.

Danish Wench said...

I take umbrage to dad29 who says "to the left, abortion is a matter of faith and they deride people who believe in God". Dad29 would be better off not making such blanket assumptions.

I am a Christian, I believe in God, and I also believe that a woman has a right to choose abortion if she believes that is the best possible solution for her. That is something that she needs to deal within her own faith and her relationship to God. Neither she (or the other women) nor I, want the government telling me (us) what we can and cannot do with our bodies. The same can be said about hospitals or pharmacies--I do not want a "holier than thou" denying me what is legally available to me.

Whether the woman becomes pregnant through date rape or not is not the case. All women should have access to obtaining a safe and legal abortion when they believe it becomes necessary whether it be a result of date rape, rape, or simply an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"Well. yeah, if you're a utilitarian."

Um, how else would I measure whether or not something is a good idea?

"But then you'd do a lot of things that might make many of us blanche."

All ethical doctrines lead the subscribers to other ethical doctrines to blanch at some point or other. Isn't this thought experiment essentially asking what ethical doctrine those "on the left" subscribe to?

Anonymous said...

danish -

Christian doctrine is that we are bought with a price and that we no longer are our own.

Are you making up your own doctrine or what doctrine are you relying on to justify your position?

Dad29 said...

I take umbrage to dad29 who says "to the left, abortion is a matter of faith and they deride people who believe in God

Umbrage-ate away, DW. Seems to me that for Christians and Jews, Old #5's prohibition of killing (the innocent) is conclusive.

Obviously, your mileage varies.

CrazyEcho said...

Because in a date rape there is no competing right of the rapist, but in abortion there is a competing right of the woman?

Seems like a pretty simple differentiation.

Rick Esenberg said...

Crazy E

That goes to whether abortion is a moral wrong.

Anonymous said...

Dad29-

Show me again where "Old #5" makes the distinction between the "innocent" and the culpable.

For clarification, consider Rom 3:23

Dad29 said...

Anony--read the long version in the OT

CrazyEcho said...

Rick,

You're correct that it does go to whether abortion is a moral wrong, or at least how great of a moral wrong abortion is.

So, I would change my response to say that someone who considers date rape (with no competing right of the perpetrator) to be akin to abortion (with a strong competing right of the perpetrator) is just wrong and assuming they are morally equivalent "arguendo" is a pointless exercise.

CrazyEcho said...

"Let's assume, arguendo, that killing in self-defense and murdering are equal moral wrongs"

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"So, I would change my response to say that someone who considers date rape (with no competing right of the perpetrator) to be akin to abortion (with a strong competing right of the perpetrator) is just wrong and assuming they are morally equivalent "arguendo" is a pointless exercise."

Crazy,
That doesn't make sense. You obviously didn't read the whole post. He stated:

"How do you respond other than by arguing that these other things are not as morally repugnant as date rape?"

Emphasis mine. He freely admitted that they may not be morally equivalent. He wants to know if you see a difference other than a difference of degree.

CrazyEcho said...

Jesus,

His post first compared handing out condoms with handing out date rape drugs . . . which is what the quote you emphasized deals with.

I'm responding to this part of his post:

"If that's your only response, then you can see how the "safe, legal and rare" argument won't work with people who think that abortion is a moral wrong on the level of date rape."

I'm saying that those people that consider date rape and abortion to be equivalent moral wrongs are incorrect because date rape doesn't have the competing concern of the right of the perpetrator.

Therefore, since the two things are so different, it's a fruitless exercise to assume, or even worry about someone who thinks they're moraly equivalent.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"I'm saying that those people that consider date rape and abortion to be equivalent moral wrongs are incorrect because date rape doesn't have the competing concern of the right of the perpetrator."

But pro-lifers (which I am not) argue that the perpetrator in abortion doesn't have a competing right to kill her baby either. If we're talking about things like personal freedom and the harm principle, the two examples are only really different in terms of degree. The argument would go: I have the right [or freedom] to do whatever I want unless it harms another person. Therefore, I do NOT have the right to drug my date and have sex with her because it harms her and she is a person. The pro-lifer would argue that I also don't have the right to terminate my pregnancy because doing so would harm the fetus, who they see as a person. In fact, the way they see it, abortion is probably morally worse than date rape. But again, I don't think Rick is looking for definitions of degree.

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