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February 28, 2012

Comments

By any chance, are these Austrian ethicists Peter Singer? The same guy who, in some interview, said that women are "speciest" for finding it undesirable to be forcibly raped by an orangutan?

Sometimes ethicists come up with ideas that sound fine on paper, but make no sense in the world. Other times, they can't even manage a paper tiger.

This avoids the fact that there's a spectrum of personhood from a single fertilized human egg (none) to a newborn baby (lots).

I agree that Singer's argument is nuts, but from this we can't conclude that the fetus is a "baby" worthy of protection back to a single cell.

This avoids the fact that there's a spectrum of personhood from a single fertilized human egg (none) to a newborn baby (lots).

It doesn't avoid that at all. The whole point of the post is to address that assertion.

there's no moral distinction between the fetus and a newborn. This is what happens when you define personhood functionally and assign rights that way.

Etc.

GU,

You say it "avoids the fact," but that's inserting an axiom that I don't believe the rest of us have agreed to. Exactly how is a "spectrum of personhood" assumed to be a cut and dry fact? If my IQ and athletic ability are greater, am I more of a person than you? Am I less of a person if I lose my legs or my sight?

This avoids the fact that there's a spectrum of personhood from a single fertilized human egg (none) to a newborn baby (lots).

@Galileo -- Just because you say something is a fact doesn't make it so. You gotta defend your 4-point claim that:

  1. a "spectrum of personhood" actually exists
  2. this supposed "spectrum" is appropriate to apply to all humans
  3. it is appropriate in this spectrum to attribute the value of "none" to a single fertilized egg
  4. likewise, it is appropriate for a newborn baby to be attributed the value of "lots"

To help you think through your assertion, perhaps you could answer these questions:

  1. Suppose this spectrum idea is true. What are the specific medical events/time/status at which you would "upgrade" on the "personhood spectrum"? In other words, if I'm a single fertilized egg, and have the value of "none", when do I get to move on up to the value of "some", "more", "lots", etc.?
  2. Suppose there is logical reasoning for determining these values; how do we determine when/at what status the difference between "legal abortion" and "illegal murder" kicks in, and who does the deciding? i.e., if I'm a baby who is 10 seconds away from exiting the birth canal in a normal birth, am I still eligible to be aborted? If not, then when did I "cross the line", and vice versa?

I'm reluctant to comment since I haven't read the paper.

RonH

The term, "after-birth abortion" clarifies the stark reality of what an abortion really is. It's amazing that "ethicists" could even dream up such a term without realizing that they're just trying to disguise the truth. Actually, they do realize what they're doing. Their problem is moral one, not an intellectual one.

Thanks for pointing this out--it's an interesting read. While I completely disagree with their starting point, at least they're consistent in their thinking.

Their main premise is that one must be a 'person' to have a right to life. Their definition of 'person' is "an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her."

Even curiouser, the authors assert that infants and newborns (which cannot assign value to their own lives, and therefore have no right to life) can feel pain, and therefore "have a right not to be inflicted pain."

I would tend to agree with Galileo that there is a spectrum at play here. (Although I think you guys are correct that simply asserting it as true is not the right way to go). But it doesn't seem right to say that a baby just before birth and just after birth are very different. And yet it is legal to abort the fetus before birth and not legal to kill the baby after birth. Seems odd right?

It seems to me like we do this with law all the time. When you turn 21 it is suddenly legal to drink. Is there that much difference between you the day you turn 21 and the day before that? no. But we have to draw the line somewhere.

Back to abortion, am I bothered if an abortion is performed right before it could theoretically be delivered? Yes I am. At that point is seems like a baby for all intents and purposes. But my understanding is that abortions at that stage are generally only done when the mother's life is at risk. (someone correct me if I am wrong, but this is what I have read)

So at what point is it ok? Well, I don't know, but to pull that all the way back to the point of conception doesn't seem right. I am not bothered by a single cell. Those get aborted by the body naturally fairly often anyway.

What if we try to go farther? What if you don't think something special happens when the sperm and egg get together? Does that mean birth control that somehow prevents the sperm and egg getting together should be banned as well? To me that seems crazy, but some people would argue that I'm sure.

Anyway, it seems to me that a single cell isn't a terribly big deal and a full formed baby is. And I don't think there is going to be a point where it is suddenly disturbing. It gets more disturbing as time goes on, and I'm sure if I examined it closely I could try to figure out at which point it seems wrong to me. I bet a lot of different people would pick different spots.

Is there a way to get updates when new comments are posted here? I didn't get an option when I commented and I don't see an rss feeds for comments anywhere. Does it happen automatically?

Sorry to post this here but I didn't know where else to ask. Also, sorry if the answer is just really obvious and I'm being dense.

Hausdorff,

I don't think there's a subscribe function, but Amy might know more.

On your issue of drawing arbitrary lines, the alcohol-drinking age one fails. It's morally acceptable to drink alcohol, but we generally consider that adults have more physical and mental maturity to do so without becoming drunks. So an arbitrary line is acceptable, since the issue is age, not the whole act itself.

On the other hand, murder is not acceptable. Drawing an arbitrary line in time doesn't change that murder was committed.

And incidentally, Catholic social teaching *does* prohibit contraception, including just that which would prevent sperm and egg from getting together, up to and including condom use. The reason for this are many, but they aren't "crazy." One has to do with the underlying paradigm--that we respect life best by viewing it as a good thing to conceive, rather than a 'burden' or 'inconvenience.' As soon as you hit that way of thinking, you're on the path to One Child Glory policies.

Sorry for using the term crazy. Didn't mean for it to be derogatory, but it does seems like a pretty extreme position to me.

And yes, you do make a fair point, the analogy is definitely not perfect. But I would argue that there is an arbitrary line being drawn. Unless you are going to argue the extreme position described above not allowing even condom use aren't you doing the same thing? Why is the single cell so special?

Hi Hausdorff, I hope you'll consider a challenge to this paragraph from you:

"Anyway, it seems to me that a single cell isn't a terribly big deal and a full formed baby is. And I don't think there is going to be a point where it is suddenly disturbing."

Did the person speaking here [italicized] begin as a single cell? Then, at what time did this person begin to exist? At the time of conception was there anything not present that this person needed to become the person able to deliver this thought except the normal passing of time?

At one time in the past, this single celled being had a future that brought him/her to 2/28/2012. Would it be any different to have robbed the single cell Hausdorff of his/her future than it would be to rob Hausdorff of his future days beginning at say 3/1/2011? Why? If we as a society approve of an act that unjustly takes away your future days after 3/1, have we done an immoral act? This is what is being done a million(s?) of times a year.

The assault on the person is a sin against the image of God, but what is the sin against the person but having taken their future from him/her? This is what murder is. Every survivor of the womb began as 1 cell with a future life ahead of them. The abnormal attack on these beings are not to be compared with the natural abortion, since there is not an unnatural assault on the innocent. In other words, natural death is not murder.

I'm more or less with Brad on this one. What makes that single cell special is that it's going to become a human. Unlike, say, a single cell of my toenail, or a single virus, or so on. That zygote is, in fact, an *extremely* special cell. The most special single cell in the universe, some would posit.

And by the by, I do in fact agree with Catholic social teaching. Not everyone here's an Evangelical. ;)

Those get aborted by the body naturally fairly often anyway.
Nature does a lot of things to people that it would be immoral for others to do to them.

"Anyway, it seems to me that a single cell isn't a terribly big deal and a full formed baby is. And I don't think there is going to be a point where it is suddenly disturbing. It gets more disturbing as time goes on, and I'm sure if I examined it closely I could try to figure out at which point it seems wrong to me. I bet a lot of different people would pick different spots."

Regarding personhood, the only thing we know for sure is that once an egg is fertilized, a baby will develop and eventually be born (barring any internal or external interference). That is the only thing that we or science know for sure. To claim that personhood begins at any other point in the development of the embryo is completely arbitrary.

Galileo,
By drawing a line for alcohol drinking, we are not saying that those less than 21 are not human and don't deserve protection against murder. But in the case of abortions, that is exactly what we are saying. And not every society on earth has such an alcohol drinking policy. However, to be or not to be human is not a property, it is the essence of a being.

Keep in mind, in the past the same arbitrary scheme was used to declare persons of color as non-human. In fact, the much celebrated brute of a man - Charles Darwin himself classified africans as non-human.

At one time in the past, this single celled being had a future that brought him/her to 2/28/2012. Would it be any different to have robbed the single cell Hausdorff of his/her future than it would be to rob Hausdorff of his future days beginning at say 3/1/2011? Why?

This is a difficult question, but yes, I do think it is different. One is a person and the other is a potential person. Aborting a single cell is not the same as killing a full grown person.

If the single cell that was going to be me had been aborted, is that a crime against me? No, because I never existed.

By drawing a line for alcohol drinking, we are not saying that those less than 21 are not human and don't deserve protection against murder.
The analogy wasn't supposed to be a perfect comparison between the 2 situations. The way I read the article was that people were claiming that the distinction between a baby right before birth and right after is somewhat arbitrary. I was just trying to point out that we do make these kinds of arbitrary decisions and used the drinking thing as an example. I certainly didn't mean to say if you are under 21 you can't drink and also you can be murdered.
Aborting a single cell is not the same as killing a full grown person.
This is true but beside the point. Killing an infant is not the same as killing a toddler is not the same as killing a teen, is not the same as killing and adult, etc. In fact, at several stages you would be killing an entirely different collection of cells than you would have been previously.

Nature is going to kill lots of people at each of these stags, but it is still generally wrong for us to do so.

"If the single cell that was going to be me had been aborted, is that a crime against me? No, because I never existed."

Incorrect, by your own line of reasoning against arbitrary distinctions. Had your parents never met and mated, then there is no possible world (given that premise) in which you grow, are born, and lead a natural life. You do not exist in any sense, from that point.

However, once there is even a single zygote of you, then you exist. There are many, many possible worlds in which you grow to various stages of development, live a life, etc. At that point, you exist as an object.

Now, you can argue about how many cells it takes to make you exist, but clearly many cells can be subtracted and you remain--you've probably had haircuts, donated blood, lost weight, and so on. The food you had for breakfast will shortly cease to have an identity as "breakfast" and become "Hausdorff." If I cut off your hand, I've simply "killed some cells" and if I cut off your head, I've also "cut off some cells." But one of those actions would kill you, so obviously not all collections of cells are equally important to your life and existence. The question is, which cells are both necessary and sufficient to establish your existence?

Now, I couldn't name every cell which would qualify, but I can tell you that the very first cell, from whence all the others were generated and modelled, is at least one cell which is both necessary and sufficient to generate and establish your existence.

So yes, that first cell is extraordinarily special, and to terminate it is to terminate all possible worlds in which you exist, unlike, say, eliminating a few skin cells by scratching your scalp. And thus, to destroy that cell is tantamount to murder.

So killing teenagers is less of a crime than killing adults?

Alecx,

I'm told my parents thought so, when I was a teenager. Though to be fair, that's more a "capital punishment" issue than an "abortion" one, given that I probably had it coming on account of my behavior. ;)

Some Additional Thoughts:

Monsters Among Us... Ethicists Advocate For After-Birth Abortions
http://www.pastormattrichard.com/2012/03/monsters-among-us-ethicists-advocate.html

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