The Refugee Executive Order (Part 3)

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Human Dignity

We act in ways that are consistent with human flourishing because we think there is something special about humans that ground their worth. Some ground human worth or dignity in our capacity for rational thought or in our volition. Some Christians ground dignity in the imprint of the image of God. The Catholic Encyclical Centesimus Annus says, “God has imprinted his own image and likeness on man (cf. Gen 1:26), conferring upon him an incomparable dignity.”

Professor Peter Van Arsdale and Regina A. Nockerts provide a helpful definition of dignity,

…we refer to dignity as the intrinsic quality of worth which commands respect, both by the self and by others. It suggests ennoblement in the face of adversity. It suggests the preservation of autonomy. While culturally nuanced, it nonetheless transcends cultural boundaries. In specifying “human dignity,” this quality is claimed as inherent to the human condition; it is to be conferred on the sole basis of one’s existence as a human and one’s opportunity to live autonomously.

Most people believe that humans possess dignity and they think human beings have rights. We have rights in virtue of our dignity and our dignity is inviolable.

The German Constitution puts it succinctly in Article 1:

(1) Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.
(2) The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world.

The preamble to the Charter of the United Nations appeals to human dignity by calling it’s signers to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of the nations large and small.” The US ratified the Charter of the United Nations on July 28, 1945. There are 192 countries that are members of the UN.

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Our short survey shows an international moral consensus on the dignity of human beings.

As an ethical matter, the proper response to human dignity is to act in ways that are consistent with the fact that human beings possess intrinsic worth and deserve unconditional respect regardless of age, sex, sexual orientation, health status, social or ethnic origin, political or philosophical ideas, religion, or criminal history.

Formal Arguments

It seems obvious we should not allow people to die if we have the means to preserve their life. Perhaps you are not convinced by the universal moral consensus. Another way to argue this is to make parallel arguments to arguments against abortion. Don Marquis, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kansas, advanced a now popular argument against abortion called the “future like ours” (FLO) argument. The argument is:

1. Any action which deprives an individual of a valuable future (or, a “future like ours”) is seriously prima facie morally wrong.
2. Abortion deprives the fetus of a valuable future (or, a “future like ours”).
3. Therefore, abortion is seriously prima facie morally wrong.

We can reconstruct this argument for our purposes:

1. Any action which deprives an individual of a valuable future (or, a “future like ours”) is seriously prima facie morally wrong.
2. Blanket refugee and immigration bans deprive an individual of a valuable future (or, a “future like ours”).
3. Therefore, blanket refugee and immigration bans are seriously prima facie morally wrong.

Francis J. Beckwith, a professor at Baylor University, outlines another argument against abortion:

1. The unborn entity, from the moment of conception is a full-fledged member of the human community
2. It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of that community
3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community
4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong

This argument can be modified to yield the following argument:

1. The refugee and asylum-seeker is a full-fledged member of the human community
2. It is prima facie morally wrong to allow any member of that community to die or remain destitute if you have the means to preserve their life or provide them with the necessities of life
3. Blanket bans on refugees and asylum-seekers allows a member of the human community to die or remain destitute even though we have the means to preserve their life or provide them with the necessities of life
4. Therefore, blanket bans on refugees and asylum-seekers are prima facie morally wrong

Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon senior research fellow in American principles and public policy at The Heritage Foundation. Anderson writes on a number of issues including Euthanasia. He had this to say in one of his articles on Euthanasia:

… dignity does not depend on subjective evaluations of worth, even of self-worth, or on the ability to “contribute” to society. Rather, the dignity is intrinsic. Human dignity is not based on an instrumental account of what a person can do, but on recognition of what a human being is: a person made for reason, freedom, and love. [Patrick] Lee and [Robert P.] George explain that “a human being is valuable as a subject of rights in virtue of what he or she is…. And so a human being remains a subject of rights, someone who has a right not to be intentionally killed, for as long as he or she exists.”

We must accept and aid refugees and asylum-seekers because of what they are, human beings. Refugees and asylum-seekers are made for “reason, freedom and love.” America must grant them access to the US in order to flourish as  dignified human beings.

We can continue to modify arguments like these, but I think the point is clear by now. All of these arguments are for sustaining human life and moral treatment of all human beings.

Those who make these arguments believe it is immoral to make laws that allow for abortion or euthanasia because such laws fail to recognize the dignity of human beings. They are not moved by the distinction between killing and letting die made by their opponents, both acts are wrong on their view.

Human dignity is not superseded by monetary concerns. You cannot allow a person to die because they might be a burden on your pocket. I see no reason why we shouldn’t apply these arguments to refugees and asylum-seekers. They should not be allowed to die because it would cost too much. We will have occasion to explore this objection in a future post.

People like Anderson and Beckwith don’t allow for euthanasia even in the case of those who are in a vegetative state. We shouldn’t make laws or issue executive orders barring refugees and asylum-seekers from entering the US and receiving life saving aid.

You have a moral obligation to help someone who arrived at your doorstep destitute or at the point of death. Refugees and asylum-seekers are at our doorstep. We have a moral duty to help them.

We have established the fact that we have an obligation to preserve the life, and provide for, refugees and asylum-seekers. This post rebuts EV and CEV. We will ask in future posts if there are overriding reasons that justify a universal ban on refugees and asylum-seekers.

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