my current views on capital punishment and abortion

A recent dialog with another got me thinking to write as clear a statement as I could on two issues: abortion and capital punishment.

1) An abortion isn’t necessarily morally wrong. If the case is that the fetus is unwanted, it should be destroyed as soon as it is safely possible. That is, before it is born and becomes a person.

2) Death penalties are unethical because they are the premeditated execution of an incarcerated person. Killing a person under such circumstances is wrong because that person (presumably) wants to live.

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20 Responses to “my current views on capital punishment and abortion”

  1. Kathy Says:

    This is interesting. Can you tell me how you arrived at these conclusions? Thanks.

  2. Peter Rock Says:

    Sure.

    First, I found out what abortion and capital punishment are. Then I contemplated the two issues while asking, reading, and listening to what others say. Then through a combination of reason and conscience, I arrived at these conclusions.

    Have you formed a view on these two issues? If so, how would you describe it?

  3. Eric Hoefler Says:

    “before it becomes a person”

    I’m curious: at what point does an embryo become a person, and what source are you using to support your claim?

  4. Peter Rock Says:

    Eric, I don’t see how determining a “point” is possible as personhood isn’t determined in an instant.

    Here is what I do know. An embryo is clearly not a person while a baby clearly is. I think those who claim that a human organism acquires personhood sometime shortly after birth do so reasonably. But at what point does this occur? Can a specific, measured point in time be authoritatively claimed (i.e. applicable to all cases)? I don’t think so.

    What do you think?

  5. Tobias Says:

    Makes sense to me.

    There are two extreme alternative views. One is that the human is not a person until they are born – even if they are 8+ months old and about to pop out of the oven. The other is that the person exists at the time of conception.

  6. Peter Rock Says:

    Tobias,

    Usually the latter extreme doesn’t say “person” at all because

    A) an embryo clearly isn’t one and

    B) they don’t even want to deal with personhood. They don’t want to think in those terms because it forces them to consider each case individually. To them, that reality is Pandora’s box when it comes to abortion. It tears down the line easily drawn by “conception”. Instead they say things like “human life begins at conception” or “the human being is present at conception”….which is true but then take it for granted that this “life/human” form is worthy of protection based on the premise that ALL human life is worthy of protection no matter its form.

    How they feel they can justify this overgeneralization when dealing with an embryo is beyond me. I’ve never heard a compelling argument as to why. In fact, when it gets down to this point I invariably receive silence or nonsensical religious/biblical arguments about “souls” and/or what “God” or “Jesus” wants. I’d like to hear an alternative view if anyone has one.

  7. Kathy Says:

    What is your reasoning for saying that an embryo isn’t a person?

  8. Peter Rock Says:

    My reasoning for saying that an embryo is not a person is that the mental development of an embryo is not yet significant.

  9. Kathy Says:

    My problem with a “mental development = person” stance, is that it opens the “Pandora’s Box” for killing those who are mentally disabled. Also, defining “not yet significant” holds significant problems. That standard is way too movable — maybe you would say that a newborn has crossed the line into “significant mental development” — enough to qualify for “personhood”; but another may say that “significant mental development” doesn’t happen until the first year of life, or at the age of 3, or 12, or 18. In fact, there are some adults whose mental development I question! :-) But if this be the case, then one may lose his “personhood” if he loses his mental acuity. That also has some scary future consequences.

    You asked me earlier about my views — I believe that the death penalty is moral because life is precious — there are things that people can do for which death is the only just punishment. I believe that abortion is immoral because life is precious. From the moment of conception, the zygote as it is called then is a unique individual from a genetic standpoint. It’s human; it’s alive. The color of the baby’s hair, eyes and skin, as well as its sex and any genetic defects (and probably a lot of other things we’re currently unaware of) are permanently fixed at that moment. If you’ve not yet read The South Dakota Task Force Report on Abortion I would recommend it to you. While all of it has merit, of particular interest to this discussion would be sections B1 & B2.

    Since you don’t know when “personhood” can be claimed/applicable for all cases, I would suggest that the best and safest course is “the earlier the better.” Better to err on the side of caution and allow all “human organisms who are not yet persons” to become persons, than to risk that you kill “human organisms who are persons.” All that the child is or will become exists in the zygote from the moment of conception — all it needs is food and shelter and *time*.

  10. Peter Rock Says:

    My problem with a “mental development = person” stance, is that it opens the “Pandora’s Box” for killing those who are mentally disabled.

    How so? We are talking about abortion, not what to do with babies, children, and adults.

    there are things that people can do for which death is the only just punishment

    Every criminal has the right to live no matter their crime. Arguing for the state to carry out the death penalty as “justice” is to support a savage state. Furthermore, if your goal is to punish, how do you know death does what you desire?

    From the moment of conception, the zygote as it is called then is a unique individual from a genetic standpoint. It’s human; it’s alive.

    So? It’s not a person. Not even close if you’re talking about a zygote.

    Since you don’t know when “personhood” can be claimed/applicable for all cases, I would suggest that the best and safest course is “the earlier the better.

    Yeah. That’s why I said: “as soon as it is safely possible to do so” – An abortion is always better the earlier it happens. As well, an embryo is clearly not a person so the ethics are not in question anyway. If there were no other factors involved, I would agree with you to play it safe. To state that the “safest course” is always choosing to bring unwanted babies into the world boggles the mind.

    All that the child is or will become exists in the zygote from the moment of conception

    Sure, the zygote has the information to grow upon, but having the information itself has no significance. You make it sound like we should define a person on simply having genes. That’s ridiculous.

  11. Kathy Says:

    You misunderstood my “the earlier the better” comment — I was referring to considering a human organism as a person the earlier the better, not having an abortion the earlier the better. Since you claim you don’t know when a thing becomes a person, how do you know that abortion doesn’t take the life of a person?

    You seem not to understand my problem with your stance on mental development making a human organism a person. If it is mental development only that marks the change between a human person and a human nonperson, then if a baby is born mentally disabled, or an adult experiences brain trauma and becomes mentally disabled, then he or she becomes a nonperson, according to your definition of personhood. If he or she is a nonperson, then I would have no moral or legal reason not to kill him or her. This also puts us on a slippery slope — what keeps us from changing the definition of “person” to include only those with an IQ greater than 50 or 70 or 150? If mental development only is the distinction between persons and nonpersons, then what keeps only the most mentally developed people from being declared persons, while others who are not so mentally developed from being declared nonpersons? You and I would be safe, I’m sure, but what about others not so smart? And also, what would keep “mental development” from being defined in such a way that would keep babies of less than a year old as being declared nonpersons. Certainly the mental development of a 1-year-old is much greater than that of a newborn! No, it’s a slippery slope.

    You may declare that an embryo is “clearly” not a person, but it is not so clear to me. I just as easily declare that a zygote clearly is a person because of aforementioned reasons.

    We’ll have to disagree about the death penalty. I argue that allowing vile criminals to live is what is truly a savage state.

  12. Peter Rock Says:

    Kathy,

    I don’t think “IQ” has anything to do with this. This “IQ” argument is irrelevant as one can be a person with a low IQ. The development that moves toward personhood is thought complexity – not a measurement of how well thought performs.

    Alongside the IQ red herring, you bring up irrational fears of legalized abortion leading to legalizing the killing of babies and mentally disabled persons. This is a continuum fallacy. You are arguing that if we accept that a zygote is not a person, then we can always argue that a person never exists. This “slippery slope” claim is fallacious.

    Kathy, you then claim:

    I argue that allowing vile criminals to live is what is truly a savage state.

    How does incarcerating criminals and caring for them make a state “savage”? How do you argue this?

  13. Kathy Says:

    Peter,

    “Slippery slope” may or may not be fallacious, but it is exactly what has happened in very many areas of our society. This article shows exactly that the “slippery slope” of legalized euthanasia (at patients’ request) has changed so that even those who have not requested to die are still being killed — one case in which a woman refused to enter the hospital because she was afraid of being euthanized. Her doctor assured her that he would admit her and she would be fine. She was, until her doctor went off-duty; by the time he came back, she was dead by euthanasia.

    I just responded to this same question on another blog — a commenter had said that “self-awareness” (which would be the same thing or the same type of thing as mental development) was what made a person; he said that babies of 18 months are “self-aware”, so that those even of very low mental development would be above that cut-off, because they are “self aware.” In a previous post, he said that killing those who are not self-aware (i.e., those who have become not “self aware” due to injury, etc.) is not murder. So, if self-awareness is the criteria, and 18 months is the cut-off, then (although he didn’t say this) by his logic we could kill babies up to the age of 18 months without it being murder, since they are not self-aware. So, in one step, the argument moves from “abortion is okay because fetuses are not self-aware” to “ending the life of post-born fetuses up to the age of 18 months is okay because they are not yet self-aware.” That’s the slippery slope I’m talking about. And the thing is, this guy isn’t even arguing for the legalized killing of post-born babies, but that’s the logical progression. In China, not only is abortion legal, but it is state-mandated, and frequently performed on women against their wills. Why can that not happen here? Before Hitler began exterminating Jews, he started small — on children that were (or seemed to be) mentally or developmentally delayed. We are already at the state of prenatal extermination of those with known birth defects — how many babies prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome and other genetic defects or physical anomalies are born, and how many are aborted? It only seems a small step to me to go from keeping these babies from being born by means of abortion, to allowing their legal murder after they’re born by means of euthanasia.

    Regarding the death penalty — justice is served when those who commit certain acts forfeit their lives. It is an overthrow of justice to allow these people to live. It is savagery to the victims of the crimes (whether it’s murder or rape or especially child rape) that they die while the murder lives, or they have to live every day with the effects of the assault while their attacker lives. Further, if the death penalty were actually strictly enforced (none of this waiting 20 years on death row, or one execution every three years), there would be a reduction in crime. First, there would be no repeat offenders; and secondly, others would think twice about committing such a crime in the first place. The death penalty is a very effective deterrent — which is why when someone holds a gun to your head, you will do just about anything they tell you to. But it is also a just punishment. Allowing murderers and rapists to live and get back out on the streets so they can murder and rape again is savage — maybe not to the criminals, but it is to the victims and potential victims (which is everybody on the street). You cannot convince me that the scum that kidnapped that little 9-year-old girl in Georgia, raped her repeatedly, and then buried her alive deserves to live. What happened to her was savage, and allowing the perp to live is equal savagery.

  14. Peter Rock Says:

    “Slippery slope” may or may not be fallacious, but it is exactly what has happened in very many areas of our society.

    Then the problem is the slippery slope fallacy, not legalizing abortion. Perfectly acceptable law shouldn’t be abandoned because some extrapolate absurd conclusions.

    You’ve argued that the death penalty is an effective deterrent. There is no proof of this. No conclusive studies can be corroborated to support that claim. Some even indicate that the exact opposite may be true. That the death penalty helps contribute to a more psychosocially violent society. The argument that the death penalty “protects” society has no validity.

    Your pro-death penalty stance is clearly based on an emotional reaction to abhorrent crimes. Just because murder and rape makes us angry, it doesn’t follow that laws should be written with the intent of carrying forth that anger in the form of revenge. You’re not fooling anyone when you couch that anger in terms of “justice”.

  15. Kathy Says:

    Then we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  16. Peter Rock Says:

    Yes. It appears that way. Ultimately, if you want to force me to draw a legal line where a human being becomes a person, I think it makes the most sense to draw it at birth. The pregnant woman’s choice must be paramount. It is immoral to force the woman’s choice of action in any way. In the case where the coercion forces birth, the immorality is double. That is, not only has the woman’s choice been denied, an unwanted baby is intentionally forced into the world.

  17. Kathy Says:

    Ok, just one more thing — I found this article written in 1970 by a doctor that contrasted the traditional humanitarian ethic of all life being valuable and the new “utilitarian” ethic in which the well-being of others is paramount. (I was motivated to look for this article after it was mentioned here.) Both articles are quite interesting — the first is an editorial that seems to be advocating for doctors to follow the “new ethic,” but says, “In defiance of the long held
    Western ethic of intrinsic and equal value for
    every human life regardless of its stage, condition
    or status, abortion is becoming accepted by society
    as moral, right and even necessary. It is
    worth noting that this shift in public attitude has
    affected the churches, the laws and public policy
    rather than the reverse. Since the old ethic has
    not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary
    to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of
    killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent.
    The result has been a curious avoidance of the
    scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that
    human life begins at conception and is continuous
    whether intra- or extra-uterine until death.
    The very considerable semantic gymnastics which
    are required to rationalize abortion as anything
    bu’t taking a human life would be ludicrous if
    they were not often put forth under socially impeccable
    auspices.”

    The second article talks about the validity of the “slippery slope” argument in regards to euthanasia in the Netherlands, and how that a large percentage of cases of euthanasia are done without the patient’s request, and at least one known case which was done against her explicit wishes.

    I agree that it is immoral to force a woman to have sex; but since the overwhelming super-majority of abortions are due to consensual sex, the woman made her choice then. Her choice then becomes subordinate to the right of the child to live.

  18. Peter Rock Says:

    From the article:

    The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death.

    Kathy, I don’t dispute the “scientific fact” that life begins at conception and ends at death. When life begins however, that life is nowhere near being a person (the argument that the presence of a zygote and DNA constitutes a person is absurd as a person can’t be present without significant mental development). Therefore, I see nothing wrong with the woman killing that life if that is what she wants to do. What part of this is not clear?

    Your last paragraph indicates to me that you may feel abortion to be OK in the case of rape. If so, go talk to Ricky about that. Ricky is “positive” that women who are raped and then as a result are forced by law to give birth will be happy.

    Although I’m not asking you to stop commenting on this post, I want you to be aware that if you continue to bring up the same old argument that – Because Life Begins at Conception, Abortion is Wrong – I don’t see why I shouldn’t block you from commenting.

  19. Kathy Says:

    I don’t think I could have an abortion were I to be raped. However, since that is the “exception” that everyone always points to as a reason for keeping liberal abortion laws, I would not oppose a law that made abortion illegal except in cases of rape or to save the life of the mother. “What about incest?” Generally, incestuous sex would be classified under rape — very few women and girls choose to have sex with their uncles, fathers, or brothers. While I certainly wouldn’t promote incest, the majority of babies born to close relatives are perfectly normal (iirc, the South Dakota Task Force document I referenced earlier stated that 97% of such babies would be normal).

  20. Peter Rock Says:

    I don’t think I could have an abortion were I to be raped.

    A woman desiring to bring a child into this world who was a product of rape is beyond my comprehension. Though I don’t understand that desire, I support the right of the woman to make that choice.

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