Faith & Reason: Suzi Leather and the Corruption of the Search for Moral Truth ; the Language of Consumerism Isn't Right, the Public Says, When It Comes to Choosing a Baby's Sex. So Why Is It Unquestioned in So Many Other Spheres of Life?
Vallely, Paul, The Independent (London, England)
THE DELICIOUSLY named Suzi Leather came in for a bit of criticism this week when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which she heads, ruled that couples may choose the sex of their offspring only for medical and not social reasons. Research shows more than 80 per cent of people concur, she said. Is public opinion, rather than sound science and considered ethics, a proper basis for such a decision, the critics asked?
There was, however, more to it than that. For she said that the language and values of choice are specifically rejected by most people in this area. There is "a deep- seated belief that children are gifts and not consumer commodities", she added.
It would be foolish to suggest that consumer choice has not been a great blessing in modern life. It means that individual decisions can be made according to individual wants and needs, respecting certain aspects of human freedom, and encouraging competition which can improve both products and services. In one sense market forces are simply the measure of consumers' making choices.
But there has been a tendency for this thinking to creep into areas of human activity where it is inappropriate - areas where our highly developed sense of private indulgence or personal fulfilment can threaten more profound - but in modern discourse more poorly formulated - truths about our existence as "persons in community".
Abortion offers an illuminating example. You do not have to be anti-abortion to see that there is something dubious about the label "pro-choice". The tag epitomises a tendency to absolutise the notion of choice. The task of morality is to determine which choices are humanising. But "pro-choice" elevates the business of being able to choose over the grounds which make any particular choice good or bad, according to the circumstances. It makes right and wrong secondary to the idea of choice itself.
This is but one example of how consumerist thinking corrupts. It infects our psychology, teaching us to want more rather than to be more. It infects our politics; the electorate are "only interested in shopping and videos" as one British politician lamented. It infects our attitudes to fertility. Because the language of "rights" lies at the heart of a humanist faith in betterment and has become our dominant way of talking about how to be happy - and because we live in a world where money buys most things - it has become impossible to grasp that there may be some things to which no one has a right. Suzi Leather has previously provoked controversy by challenging the growing orthodoxy that every woman must be a mother. "There is more to life than having children," she observed. …