On Thursday 16th May 2013 (6:00pm-8:00pm), the board of the University of Sydney Student Union met with union members to discuss general policies, and also some concerns about LifeChoice Sydney’s recent pamphlet-drop campaign about abortive drug RU486. I was there alongside several LifeChoice members taking some careful notes. In review, it seems to me that there were two major arguments put forth against LifeChoice’s pamphlet campaign:
(1) Possibly, the factual content of the pamphlets is false; therefore, LifeChoice is unjustified in their distribution of the pamphlets; and
(2) LifeChoice members are also unjustified in making propositional truth-claims about the dangers of medical drugs such as RU486, because they are not of sufficient medical expertise.
Now, being charitable to the arguments for the moment (clearly they are not well formed, but we can understand the main idea), I think it is obvious that (1) is simply unjustified, and (2) is contradictory to (1).
Consider (1). It is very hard to see how a legitimate inference can be made simply on the basis of the POSSIBILITY of LifeChoice Sydney’s pamphlets’ factual inaccuracy that therefore LifeChoice Sydney ought not to be able to promote their pamphlets. Not only was the assertion of factual inaccuracy grossly unsubstantiated by critics, but arguably LifeChoice Sydney can defend these claims and show why they are, in fact, correct. It simply is not an argument against the distribution of information that such information might be factually mistaken if a society putting forth that information really believes it to be true and substantiated. Consider everyday political discourse and argumentation. Or consider historical claims, for example. Most (if not all) major fields of enquiry utilise this kind of method every day. Even science puts forth theories which can turn out to be false and even superseded on new evidence. So this is not a justified argument.
But consider now (2). How can someone possibly hold to (2) whilst also affirming (1)? Think about it. The fundamental assumption underpinning (2) is the claim that without sufficient medical expertise, one is not justified in making propositional judgements concerning the abortive drug RU486. Therefore LifeChoice Sydney should not make the kinds of truth-claims about RU486 that it does. But wait a minute! Didn’t argument (1) point out that, possibly, the information contained in LifeChoice’s pamphlet about RU486 is FALSE? That itself, however, is a propositional truth-claim about RU486 presumably made by non-medically-trained individuals! This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. Critics would need to put forth a truth-claim about RU486 in (1) whilst also denying LifeChoice Sydney members’ right to do so on (2), even though the critics themselves fail their own test for judgments on this matter (sufficient medical expertise). This is sheer hypocrisy; an unacceptable argument.
So not only is (1) unjustified, but it is also impossible to argue (2) legitimately if you also hold to (1). We should therefore reject both arguments in criticism of LifeChoice Sydney as false. If the critics are to maintain their position, then, what they need to do is to find a way to justify (1) sufficiently (which seems impossible) and find a sufficiently informed medical expert to argue (2) convincingly (and it is not at all clear how they can do that). Unless and until they can do that, then LifeChoice Sydney’s pamphlet drop campaign about abortive drug RU486 remains justified in the fostering of discussion and open dialogue on matters concerning abortion and euthanasia in Australian society.