Jack Marshall at Ethics Alarms has maintains a list of Unethical Rationalizations and Misconceptions. It’s a wonderful list for understanding human (mis)conduct and for striving to be better. Much of it applies to the debate over non-therapeutic child genital cutting. (See below.) Recently, Mr. Marshall posted a revision to his list. He added Rationalization #23, The Dealerâ€™s Excuse. or â€œIâ€™m just giving them what they want!â€. This is the rationalization “that conduct becomes justifiable and benign if there is a market for it.” He further explains:
Those who employ the Dealerâ€™s Excuse arenâ€™t providing a service out of altruistic motives, but out of the profit motive. They want the money they can make by doing unethical things that make society uglier, dysfunctional and dangerous, and they really donâ€™t care if their customers come to a bad end or bring miseries to others.
This is true of a subset of practitioners who circumcise infant males, for sure. That it happens is self-perpetuating. “That doctor is doing it, and making quick money doing it, and it makes the parents happy, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t participate.” It’s ugly and harmful.
In my experience from talking to doctors who circumcise (and some who don’t), there is a related factor. They’re cowards. I perceived many of these doctors to be ambivalent or opposed to non-therapeutic infant circumcision. But they feel obligated to appease the parents at the expense of their patient. From Mr. Marshall’s list, it’s Rationalization 15, The Futility Illusion: â€œIf I donâ€™t do it, somebody else will.â€ If one individual doctor refuses, the outcome for the child is likely no different. But change doesn’t happen if we refuse to speak out and reject what we know to be wrong.
Related, this post from 2015, Ethics Quiz: â€œFixingâ€ â€œElf Earsâ€, has relevance. A 6-year-old boy’s ears stuck out like an elf’s, basically. Dr. Tracy Pfeifer, a plastic surgeon quoted in the news article, defended it by saying, â€œThe surgery is relatively simple and it is life-changing in a positive way for these young children.â€ Someone told me that about circumcision yesterday. Like Mr. Marshall, my response is essentially “so what?”. As he said in his post:
The surgery is also premature, and thus unethical from a medical ethics standpoint, because at six no childâ€™s adult appearance can be accurately predicted. Nor can a six year old make an informed decision about surgically changing his or her appearance at that age, though The Daily News found some dubious expertsâ€”as in â€œflacks for the plastic surgery tradeâ€â€”to claim otherwise. Except in a case of serious deformity, the choice to radically change a childâ€™s appearance should be made after the child has gained some understanding of the issues involved.
Exactly. Protruding ears, “big” nose, or foreskin, the analysis is the same. Science is necessary and relevant, but the application of that science requires ethics. What we can do is not the same as what we should (be allowed to) do to another.
(See also: The Slippery Slopes of Religious Freedom and Female Genital Mutilation, especially on the potential outcome if Alan Dershowitz’s expected defense strategy in the Detroit FGM prosecution succeeds. I wrote indirectly about the case. The latest version of the complaint is here (pdf).)
From the Ethics Alarms list of Unethical Rationalizations and Misconceptions, at a minimum the following rationalizations apply to the defense of non-therapeutic genital cutting on minors. I’ve encountered each at least once in my activism, some as recently as yesterday:
1. The Golden Rationalization, or â€œEverybody does itâ€
1A. Ethics Surrender, or â€œWe canâ€™t stop it.â€
2A. Sicilian Ethics, or â€œThey had it comingâ€
3. Consequentialism, or â€œIt Worked Out for the Bestâ€
4. Marion Barryâ€™s Misdirection, or â€œIf it isnâ€™t illegal, itâ€™s ethical.â€
6. The Biblical Rationalizations
9. The Reverse Slippery Slope
13. The Saintâ€™s Excuse: â€œItâ€™s for a good causeâ€
13A. The Road To Hell, or â€œI meant wellâ€ (â€œI didnâ€™t mean any harm!â€)
14. Self-validating Virtue
17. Ethical Vigilantism
22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: â€œThere are worse things.â€
23. The Dealerâ€™s Excuse. or â€œIâ€™m just giving the people what they want!â€
24. Juror 3â€™s Stand (â€œItâ€™s My Right!â€)
25. The Coercion Myth: â€œI have no choice!â€
27. The Victimâ€™s Distortion
29. The Altruistic Switcheroo: â€œItâ€™s for his own goodâ€
29A. The Gruber Variation, or â€œThey are too stupid to know whatâ€™s good for themâ€
32A. Imaginary Consent, â€œHe/She Would Have Wanted It This Wayâ€
34. Success Immunity, or â€œThey must be doing something right!â€
38. The Miscreantâ€™s Mulligan or â€œGive him/her/them/me a break!â€
41. The Evasive Tautology, or â€œIt is what it is.â€
42. The Hillary Inoculation, or â€œIf he/she doesnâ€™t care, why should anyone else?â€
43. Vinâ€™s Punchline, or â€œWeâ€™ve never had a problem with it!â€
44. The Unethical Precedent, or â€œItâ€™s Not The First Timeâ€
45. The Abuserâ€™s License: â€œItâ€™s Complicatedâ€
46. Zolaâ€™s Rejection, or â€œDonâ€™t point fingers!â€
48. Ethics Jiu Jitsu, or â€œHaters Gonna Hate!â€
49. â€œConvenient Futility,â€ or â€œIt wouldnâ€™t have mattered if I had done the right thing.â€
50. The Apathy Defense, or â€œNobody Cares.â€
50A. Narcissist Ethics , or â€œI donâ€™t careâ€
51. The Underwood Maneuver, or â€œThatâ€™s in the past.â€
57. The Universal Trump, or â€œThink of the children!â€
57A. The Utilitarian Cheat or â€œIf it saves just one lifeâ€
58. The Golden Rule Mutation, or â€œIâ€™m all right with it!â€
59. The Ironic Rationalization, or â€œItâ€™s The Right Thing To Doâ€
63. Yooâ€™s Rationalization or â€œIt isnâ€™t what it isâ€
64. Irrelevant Civility or â€œBut I was nice about it!â€
64A. Blutoâ€™s Mistake or â€œI said I was sorry!â€
The whole list is worth reading and understanding, in general, both to notice when you encounter them and to be diligent about not offering them.