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Misunderstanding Consent

steve godfreyMay 6, 2020, 2:56:43 AM
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I've recently come across 3 videos by Dan Ouka, Anthony Magnabosco, and SuperHumanDance (SHD) where they each discuss consent in relation to bringing people into existence.

The crux of what is put forward in each video is that as explicit consent isn't always applicable in every situation involving individual sovereignty, applying it to procreation boils down to nothing more than arbitrary preference rather than ethically principled positioning. Establishing this makes it possible for them to likewise arbitrarily reject consent as being applicable vis-à-vis procreation.

However, their objections reveal they don't understand what consent is nor why it matters when it comes to procreation ethics. These failures render their objections void.


Firstly a quick overview of what consent is and why it matters. Consent isn't an objectively universal principle. It's a legal/philosophical fiction enabling discourse and policy related to matters of societal and individual sovereignty - everything from the social contract between states and citizens thru sexual acts between individuals. When it comes to discussing how consent applies to individuals, the importance one attaches to it is determined by how sacrosanct one considers individual sovereignty to be. If you disagree more than agree with individual sovereignty, you'll be more inclined to minimize the importance of consent. However, if you lean more towards individual sovereignty being somewhat sacrosanct, you'll be more inclined to maximize its importance. Individual sovereignty, and by extension consent, has proven enormously valuable as a supporting column of the architecture of modern western civilization. Without it we'd all be living in North Korea - where violation of individual sovereignty is impossible because it's impossible to violate a nonexistent principle.


Before getting into the specifics of the 3 objections, the following 2 points need to be understood:

A) Two elements required for consent are an identifiable individual to whom consent attaches and consent being given prior.

B) There are different kinds of consent, viz., explicit, implied, and substituted:

Explicit: Consenting to act as guarantor on a loan by signing the loan documents.

Implied: Local authorities imply your consent to abide by their country's laws when traveling.

Substituted: Power of attorney for a dementia patient.

As Miyamoto Musashi famously said, “You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain”.


The 3 Objections

1 Dan Ouka 6:10 - An infant requiring medical attention: There's an identifiable individual to whom consent attaches and consent can being given prior, so consent is in play. In line with the presumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent, parental consent can be substituted in place of the child's.

2 Anthony Magnabosco 2:49 - Adoption: There's an identifiable individual to whom consent attaches and consent can being given prior, so consent is in play. The fundamental principle undergirding adoption of a minor is the best interests of the child, not forcing your will on them as AM frames it. That means a presumption s/he would want and consent to being adopted by a loving and stable family. In cases where children are old enough, their consent is in fact sought, meaning consent is explicit. In cases involving newborns, consent is implied. (This is why SHD's analysis is wrong.)

3 SHD 1:27:25 - Saving an unconscious person trapped in a burning car: There's an identifiable individual to whom consent attaches and consent can being given prior, so consent is in play. Rescuers imply consent by leaning on the presumption that the person would want to be rescued.


Each objection rests on the erroneous assumption that absence or impossibility of explicit consent means consent doesn't apply in those situations. This is wrong. It isn't that consent doesn't apply. It's that different kinds of consent apply. Their objections, and the analogies on which those objections are grounded, are thus void.


How do these analogies stack up against the idea of nonconsensually exposing someone to inevitable harm by bringing them into existence? They're disanalagous because when it comes to procreation

1 there aren't any identifiable individuals to whom consent can attach and consent can't be given prior. This means all types of consent are impossible.

2 impossibility of ascertaining consent means the exposure to inevitable harm is unethical. As Harrison & Tanner put it so well, "The fact that we cannot gain their consent does not mean that we are free to do without it (p117)."



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