“Doubt is Our Product”

In 2008, David Michaels published his book, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.

The title of the book references an infamous 1969 memo sent by an executive at Brown & Williamson tobacco which was in turn owned by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

The original quote is as follows:

“Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

As far as tactics go; it was superb. For decades Big Tobacco successfully created sufficient amounts of confusion among the general public regarding the ‘allegedly’ adverse impact of smoking on people’s health.

Smoking was sold as simply one ‘lifestyle choice’ among others, each with their own attendant risks.
Without labouring a pun; can any one of us doubt that something directly parallel to this approach is currently being adopted with respect to the abortion debate?

One need only observe the continuing and tragic manipulation of the death of Savita Halapanavar to see that this is the case.

Despite the unambiguous conclusions of the various official Reports that found it was the gross mismanagement of her medical care that resulted in her untimely death, and not the presence of the Eighth Amendment, doubt still exists in the public mind as to whether this is really the case.

The Joint-Oireachtas Committee of the Eighth Amendment has in its turn created a cloud of doubt on so many issues that were once fundamentally accepted as basic scientific fact.

For starters, let us take the supposedly vexed question as to whether anyone, scientist or layperson, can determine when human life begins.

From an embryological and biological point of view it is simply a matter of fact to state that human life begins at the moment of conception.

Indeed, upon the successful fusion of the male and female gametes a new centrally organized unity is established:

“In that fraction of a second when the chromosomes form pairs, the sex of the new child will be determined, hereditary characteristics received from  each parent will be set, and a new life will have begun.”

  (G. Kaulger and M. Kaulger, Human Development: The Span of Life – The C. V. Mosby Co,  2000 – p. 28.)

 

Despite this, some members of the Committee have treated the question as inherently relative, full of doubt, and none of the laws business in any event!

We might also suggest that an egregious level of doubt has been created around the safety of our maternal health care system.

Again, to listen to some members of the Joint Committee, and the indeed the apparently impartial expert witnesses, every pregnant woman in the state is actively threatened by a dangerous and dysfunctional maternal health care system.

Any evidence which disproves this, such as Irelands consistently high international ranking in the quality of our maternal care system is ignored, side lined or damned with faint praise.

This is to say nothing of the frankly absurd ‘evidence’ provided by Prof Veronica O’Keane that the Eighth Amendment is harming the mental health of every citizen in the state.

Given her professional stature, some might be inclined to doubt their initial rejection of this absurdity and defer to her ‘expert judgement.’

Another tragic example we can give regarding the deliberate manufacturing of doubt, is with regard to the question of foetal pain. Yesterday the the UK’s largest abortion provider, the British Advisory Pregancy Service (BPAS) circulated its Brochure to the Joint Committee.

In the Frequently asked Questions section of that document is the following pathos laden question:
“Q: Will the baby feel pain?
A: Current research shows that the necessary sensory structures are not developed enough for a fetus to feel pain before 28 weeks’ gestation.”

This is manifestly false and scientifically indefensible. Nevertheless, doubt has now been created around whether or not killing an unborn child at 28 weeks involves barbaric levels of intolerable pain. According to this logic, there is no rationale to administer as much as an anaesthetic for pain relief to the unborn child.

Let us recall again our opening quotation:

“Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

To combat this we must proclaim centrally important truths. Abortion ends the life of an innocent human child. It harms and often destroys the physical and mental well-being of the mother. There is no such thing as ‘limited provision for abortion.’

As Edith Stein once advised:

“Do not accept anything as truth if it lacks love. Do not accept anything as love if it lacks truth.”

 

 

Author: David Mullins

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David Mullins is a bioethics commentator who did his postgraduate work on Catholic bioethics at the Pontifical University, Maynooth.

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