I recently had the pleasure of doing a short interview with Dr Calum Miller, a doctor, bioethicist and pro-life advocate. Dr Miller graduated from the University of Oxford in 2015 with degrees in Medical Sciences (Neuroscience) and Medicine and Surgery. He practices medicine part-time while also researching abortion ethics and policy.
I began by asking Dr Miller what he thinks has driven the shift towards pro-choice beliefs among doctors. Is it the same set of factors as in the wider population, or are there different reasons?
It’s a good question and a little bit difficult to answer. In general, doctors are not always very critical and tend to go along with whatever the wider population thinks, so I’m sure there is a very large element of that. We know that more powerful people in higher classes of society tend to be more pro-abortion as well, so that factors in as well. And it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the medical profession is generally targeted by pro-abortion activists, because of the sway they have in public debates like these. And once there is a critical mass of pro-abortion sentiment in the medical field, the large majority, who never really think about it but are more pliable, tend to just go along with the status quo. Doctors who are repeatedly told that abortion is healthcare – regardless of the lack of evidence – are hardly going to want to cause trouble by looking like they are against healthcare.
As a young doctor, were there any pro-life medical professionals (past or present) who particularly influenced or inspired you?
Definitely! I owe a lot of my enthusiasm and what boldness I have to people like John Wyatt, Emeritus Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics, Ethics & Perinatology at University College, London, who has been a formidable voice defending early human life while at the very top of the profession. Trevor Stammers, a doctor-turned-medical ethicist and lecturer likewise had a significant impact. It shows that even when you are alone in your field, being bold and speaking out is still crucially important as a model to those around you, especially those who are younger.
In your own work as a pro-life advocate, what way of approaching the question have you found most likely to change people’s minds?
I think there are probably two main arguments: one is about human equality, showing that you simply can’t believe in human equality for anyone unless you have some basis for it that is common to all humans. Since we’re all different in virtually every respect, and the only thing we really have in common is being human, being human is the best explanation for why we are all equal. And human equality means we have to give the same protection to small, young, undeveloped humans as to big, old and mature ones. At the same time, showing that we support both mother and child is crucially important. Pro-lifers don’t want anyone to prioritise the child over the mother or value them more highly. They are both equally valuable – and this means that we have a duty to protect both of them from the harm of abortion.
Following on from that, what are your thoughts on the pros and cons of pro-life arguments based on foetal development, versus more philosophical ones based around personhood (such as the Equal Rights Argument)?
I think they go together. Human equality means that all humans are equal and have the same fundamental, inviolable rights, like the right to life. This is ultimately a philosophical claim. But the question then arises: is the foetus a human? And that is a question which is straightforwardly answered by basic biology: yes, a foetus is a human, and has been since conception. The philosophical challenges are really mostly objections to this basic argument: they might deny that all humans are equal, for example, because they think that having more sophisticated cognitive abilities is the basis of human value. To insist on human equality – as most of us want to do – is likewise a philosophical stance. But that goes hand in hand with a scientific premise to form a logically and scientifically unassailable argument for the protection of unborn humans.
As someone who is perhaps a step removed, have you any advice for the Irish pro-life movement going forward?
Keep going! You never know what historical currents are around the corner which might suddenly change the mind of a nation, and you need to be ready for that. Every little bit you do for the pro-life movement will save real babies and real women from abortion, and to those individuals your work literally means everything. That is enough to keep going even in the midst of so much destruction of unborn life.
Finally, where do you think the abortion debate is currently going? How do you expect the contours of the debate to change over the next ten years?
We are seeing a worrying trend towards authoritarian censorship of pro-lifers, so a significant part of the debate will just be retaining the right to speak. I think the reason for this is obvious. If the abortion lobby could win on the merits of their arguments, they wouldn’t need to silence us. But they know that when we speak, hearts and minds change, because hearts and minds usually respond to the truth. That frightens them, and so censorship is really the only option they have at the end of the day. So it is critically important that you keep speaking, and vote only for candidates that will support your right to do so. Life is too precious a cause to give up.
For more information go to calumsblog.com. You can also follow Dr Miller on Twitter @DrCalumMiller