abortion: when does life begin?

This post by Daniel Florien links to a revealing video where anti-abortionists are perplexed by the question: If abortion were against the law, what should be the penalty for those convicted?

In the comments, an anonymous person counters this with, “HOW TO STUMP AN ABORTIONIST WITH JUST ONE QUESTION – When does [human] life begin?” Though I’m one who supports the legalization of abortion, I don’t find this question difficult to answer:

My response:

Life begins sometime during fertilization. I don’t know when exactly…but sometime in the middle of that process. Clearly, at the very start of fertilization, life has yet to begin. But life has started once the fertilization process has ended.

The value/significance of life is dependent upon mental development. If a human life has yet to become a person, I don’t see any problem with the mother exercising her right to destroy it. Clearly, an embryo/fetus is not a person and therefore, abortion rights should be protected. On the other hand, personhood begins sometime soon after birth. But because personhood is an emergent process that occurs over time (like life during fertilization), we cannot determine *exactly* when personhood begins. Therefore, society should play it safe and simply make infanticide illegal.

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39 Responses to “abortion: when does life begin?”

  1. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    Why is personhood separable from being a human being? I suppose you don’t have a belief in human rights then, only person rights. Isn’t that a bit subjective? Most human rights violations we’ve witnessed have been a result of segment of the human population being denied personhood (women couldn’t vote because they weren’t persons, first nations weren’t considered persons in the west, slavery was permitted because blacks weren’t persons under the law, etc…)… though, I supposed that wouldn’t bother you if you only believe in person rights anyways
    “We cannot determine exactly when personhood begins. Therefore, society should play it safe and simply make infanticide illegal.” Why should be play it safe after birth, but not before? If you’re going to demolish a house and you’re not sure if anyone’s in there, you don’t demolish it until you’re sure there’s no one in there; we err on the side of caution with human life always, it’s considered negligent to do otherwise. If you don’t know when exactly a new person comes into being, why would you suggest such a brazen approach before birth, but a cautious one afterwards?

  2. Peter Says:

    Hi Blaise. You ask,

    Why is personhood separable from being a human being?

    The word ‘separable’ is not quite right as personhood is dependent upon being. But simply being versus being with personhood is very different, obviously.

    I suppose you don’t have a belief in human rights then, only person rights.

    You are implying that I am substituting the word ‘human’ out with the word ‘person’ when in fact, it is clear that I am substituting the word ‘being’ out with the word ‘person’. Clearly, an embryo is a human being but not a human person.

    Most human rights violations we’ve witnessed have been a result of segment of the human population being denied personhood (women couldn’t vote because they weren’t persons, first nations weren’t considered persons in the west, slavery was permitted because blacks weren’t persons under the law, etc…)… though, I supposed that wouldn’t bother you if you only believe in person rights anyways

    I don’t understand what you are saying. When people are denied human rights of course that bothers me.

    Why should be play it safe after birth, but not before?

    Some argue that personhood actually begins during late pregnancy. I don’t agree but I could tolerate that extreme point of view and be open to some points. In actual practice, the banning of late term abortions may not have much of a real negative impact anyway. Most women choose to have an abortion before the 3rd trimester.

    If you’re going to demolish a house and you’re not sure if anyone’s in there, you don’t demolish it until you’re sure there’s no one in there; we err on the side of caution with human life always, it’s considered negligent to do otherwise.

    Yes, though what’s irrational is when this ‘demolish a house’ metaphor is used to argue that an embryo might be a person so not having an abortion is ‘playing it safe’. I have heard that some Catholics and their Church argue this way. The ‘play it safe’ metaphor makes sense in and of itself (in fact, I use it to suggest banning infanticide) but is often unreasonably applied with regard to abortion. In fact, such application implies that the speaker rejects the notion of personhood. That is, while one might feel compelled to use the word ‘person’, to them a ‘human being’ is the same as a ‘human person’.

    If you don’t know when exactly a new person comes into being, why would you suggest such a brazen approach before birth, but a cautious one afterwards?

    I don’t think personhood begins until after birth so I don’t see anything ‘brazen’ about allowing women to choose to have an abortion. After birth, yes I am conservative. I think coming out of a womb and into the world is quite an experience and makes a newborn significantly different than a 3rd-trimester fetus. Personhood is clearly around the corner so I could support a law that protects infants.

    So what is your take, Blaise? I gather from your questions you feel abortion should be avoided. Do you support the legalization of abortion?

  3. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    Hi Peter,

    Let me phrase the personhood / human being bit. I don’t think it makes sense for the set of persons to be a subset of the human species. I don’t think it makes sense to be a member of the human species and not to be considered a person.

    That is the common denominator behind so many atrocious human rights violations. A segment of the human population is denied the status of personhood under the law, and thus denied the rights associated with it.

    In order for human rights to be meaningful, they must be unconditional. Slapping an arbitrary, legal definition of a person on top of being biologically a member of the human species is a condition.

    How can you justify that condition? Look at how many times it’s changed just over the past couple centuries, and how wrong we now think it was before. It seems to be naive that people use the same rhetoric of choice and denying personhood to defend abortion as was used to defend slavery.

    Denying a segment of the human population the status of personhood — distinguishing between human beings and human persons — is the material of human rights violations.

    I think coming out of a womb and into the world is quite an experience and makes a newborn significantly different than a 3rd-trimester fetus.

    Why? There only seems to be four differences to me: size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency. None of these things are criteria for personhood anywhere else. You don’t become more or less of a person as you grow, mature, change locations or become more independent. I mean, even if you believe in a distinction between human beings and human persons, you don’t believe that personhood is a continuum, do you? It seems most people believe that you either are or aren’t a person.

    Personhood is clearly around the corner so I support laws that prevent killing newborns.

    Or… do you think the new born isn’t necessarily a person, but it’s close enough to being a person? That seems like an even weaker argument — who’s decide what’s close enough?

    My take is that (1) it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being, and (2) elective abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being; so elective abortion is wrong. It’s certainly psychologically complex and emotionally complex, even practically complex, but it’s not morally complex. (Plus, I don’t think it’s the compassionate response to a crisis pregnancy, but that’s another conversation.)

    I don’t support the legalization of elective abortion.

  4. Peter Says:

    Blaise, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic. You state:

    I don’t support the legalization of elective abortion.

    So if elective abortion were illegal, what penalty would you recommend for those who break the law?

  5. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    I don’t think there’s any point in establishing penalties for women who seek abortions (they need our support), but for physicians providing abortions there are a variety of options… I’m not too familiar with other legislative precedents, but a physician could face jail time, a criminal record, loss or suspension of their license, etc…

    It seems to be somewhat analogous to how many countries treat suicide (for the sake of not complicating this argument, let’s talk about suicide in the case of depression, not those with terminal illness or with sound mind who want to die)… Suicide isn’t illegal in many places, as it’s pretty heartless and pointless to treat someone who needs help and support as a criminal. But assisting suicide or ending someone’s life is another matter.

    But I’m sure there are other options. Penalties are not the point, there are multiple ways to construct the law.

  6. Jesse Says:

    Peter,
    Why is it that the value of life is dependent on mental development? Does this imply that those with greater mental development have more of a right to life than those who have less mental development?

  7. Peter Says:

    Blaise,

    You say,

    I don’t think there’s any point in establishing penalties for women who seek abortions

    I’m not talking about a penalty for seeking an abortion. I’m talking about the penalty for going through with an abortion. So let’s say a woman has elected to have an abortion. It’s done. Now, what should her penalty be?

    If I assume you meant “have” instead of “seek”, your reason is that such women “need our support”. What do you mean? If the abortion went without complication (as most of them do) then what support does the woman need?

    If you make performing an abortion illegal, access will be extremely hard to come by. Many women will then try to perform the abortion upon themselves. This can be very dangerous for the woman. How do you feel about your legislation causing such scenarios?

  8. Peter Says:

    Jesse,

    Why is it that the value of life is dependent on mental development?

    What else can you value life upon? The only other option is to include physical development but that’s too superficial. The only other “option” is to use religious beliefs. For instance, some anti-abortionists apply their beliefs about “souls” and claim that destroying an embryo destroys a “soul”.

    Does this imply that those with greater mental development have more of a right to life than those who have less mental development?

    Close. But “more of” is inaccurate as it implies that an embryo has a little bit of a right to live. “Closer to” a right to live is better. The greater the mental development, the closer the human being is to earning the right to live. And as I said in the post, personhood is emergent over time. We can’t pin down an exact moment. So, I suggest that after birth be the point where we grant personhood (and thus rights) to a human being. I don’t think an infant becomes a person until a while after birth but since we can’t know, we shouldn’t play with that slippery slope.

  9. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    Yes, I meant “have” more than “seek.” Laws should target abortion providers, not women in crisis pregnancy situations.

    If you make performing an abortion illegal, access will be extremely hard to come by. Many women will then try to perform the abortion upon themselves. This can be very dangerous for the woman. How do you feel about your legislation causing such scenarios?

    You’re assuming what needs to be proven. If the unborn are not human (persons/beings), no justification for elective abortion is necessary, but if they are, no justification is adequate. The question is what is the unborn?

    Unless you begin with the assumption that the unborn are not human, you are making the highly questionable claim that because some people are harmed attempting to kill others, that the state ought to make it safe and legal for them to do so.

    If the unborn are human and we shouldn’t kill them, yes, some women will still seek abortions. That’s where “they need our support.” We should do our best to provide support services around crisis pregnancies, daycare facilities, adoption services, etc etc… rather than help facilitate killing.

    Your logic seems strange to me…

    If we decide it’s wrong for boyfriends to coerce their girlfriends into ending unwanted pregnancies, some may try to perform an abortion on their unwilling girlfriends anyway. They might throw their pregnant girlfriend down the stairs, drug her or assault her, rather than take her to the abortion clinic. That doesn’t mean we should make it safe and legal for boyfriends to force their girlfriends to have abortions.

    If we decide it’s wrong to murder someone and we make it illegal, some people will still murder others, but it will likely be much more brutal than if murder were safe and legal. People might use knives, rope or some other crude means, rather than using some sort of safe and legal lethal injection. That harder means we should make murder safe andlegal.

    The unintended foreseen consequences of a law require our attention (and maybe even further laws), but they don’t automatically make a law unjust.

    The real question is, what is the unborn?

    “Why is it that the value of life is dependent on mental development?” What else can you value life upon? The only other option is to include physical development but that’s too superficial.

    Wait… physical development (i.e. biology) is “too superficial,” but mental development, which is hardly as concrete or quantifiable, isn’t? So, do you think that an adult human being with a mental disability is not a person, or less of a person? What about an elderly person with dementia? Shouldn’t those with more highly development mental faculties have more value then?

    I suggest that your problem is that you’re trying to define personhood based on some sort of “development.” That’s necessarily a gradient, yet, I’m not sure that you want your definition of personhood to have that same property. Or, do you think personhood is a gradient? I mean, how can personhood slowly emerge, but still be a boolean thing? You must have some criteria for a threshold, a point at which mental development reaches causes one to gain the title of a person… but if that’s the case, why that point? And why is one “close” enough to being a person two seconds after birth, but not two seconds before birth? Why does the slippery slope argument stop at birth? And what if someone falls behind that threshold again later in life, even if only for a period of time?

    If anything seems arbitrary or “too superficial,” it would likely be your criteria for personhood.

  10. Peter Says:

    You’re assuming what needs to be proven.

    I think it fair to assume that outlawing abortion won’t stop abortion. It will simply drive it underground which will make it more dangerous for the women who seek one.

    The question is what is the unborn?

    We have various names for it depending on the stage. There is “zygote”, “blastocyst”, “embryo”, and “fetus” at least. There might be more, I don’t recall. These are all human beings during the earliest stages of life.

    Unless you begin with the assumption that the unborn are not human

    That would be silly. Of course the unborn are human.

    If the unborn are human and we shouldn’t kill them

    Of course they are human. What else could they be? What is wrong with “killing” humans in that state?

    yes, some women will still seek abortions. That’s where “they need our support.”

    I don’t understand. You just said you meant “have”, not “seek” but then say “seek” again. Of course women who seek an abortion need support. The support they should get is a doctor who can give them the safest procedure to successfully abort their pregnancy. Anything less is inhumane.

    If we decide it’s wrong for boyfriends to coerce their girlfriends into ending unwanted pregnancies, some may try to perform an abortion on their unwilling girlfriends anyway. They might throw their pregnant girlfriend down the stairs, drug her or assault her, rather than take her to the abortion clinic. That doesn’t mean we should make it safe and legal for boyfriends to force their girlfriends to have abortions.

    You’ve completely lost me. Assaulting someone isn’t an abortion. An abortion is when the potential mother chooses to terminate a pregnancy. Why would we decide it is OK for a potential father to do this? I’m sorry, I don’t understand.

    If we decide it’s wrong to murder someone and we make it illegal, some people will still murder others, but it will likely be much more brutal than if murder were safe and legal. People might use knives, rope or some other crude means, rather than using some sort of safe and legal lethal injection. That harder means we should make murder safe and legal.

    Again, I’m lost. I’m not sure what your point/analogy is here. It is wrong to murder someone and it is illegal. I don’t understand.

    Wait… physical development (i.e. biology) is “too superficial,” but mental development, which is hardly as concrete or quantifiable, isn’t?

    Yes, you got it. Personhood cannot be quantified. It’s qualitative and can only be described.

    So, do you think that an adult human being with a mental disability is not a person, or less of a person? What about an elderly person with dementia? Shouldn’t those with more highly development mental faculties have more value then?

    No, I’m speaking of the presence of personhood. Your examples are comparing how intelligent one is to another. It would be silly to say someone is less of a person than another because of – for example – an IQ score. A 30-year old genius is no more or less a person than a daft 5-year old. However, an embryo is a non-person as it lacks any mental requisites to even come close. Many in a PVS on life support are non-persons as well. I don’t see anything wrong with destroying (“killing”) human beings in such states if it is determined that recovery is beyond possible.

    do you think personhood is a gradient?

    Yes, of course it is. I think I made that clear in my post.

    Why does the slippery slope argument stop at birth?

    To me, it is clear a human being in utero is not yet a person. I don’t know when exactly a person comes to being after birth but I don’t suggest society try to make a time-line and draw up legal boundaries for infanticide. Birth is a significant event for a human being, for obvious reasons. It is a significant step toward personhood and I think a society that doesn’t recognize that is playing with matches. I’m not sure why you are so puzzled by the claim that a human being soon after birth has taken a significant step (through experience) toward personhood relative to one just before birth. Personhood comes about via experience and birth seems pretty significant, no? It is quite a shock to go from womb to breathing on your own.

    And what if someone falls behind that threshold again later in life, even if only for a period of time?

    People who have a reasonable chance of recovering from a PVS state deserve the right to live. Otherwise, I think letting them die is what should happen.

  11. Jesse Says:

    Peter,
    Kudos to you for being one of the few pro-choicers I have met who has spent considerable time thinking through the issue.

    Let me make sure I’ve understood you properly. You’re advocating that there are two classes of human beings: those with rights that deserve protection under the law, and those without rights. Is this an accurate summary?

  12. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    I think it fair to assume that outlawing abortion won’t stop abortion.

    Sorry, I guess I wasn’t clear. By “assuming what needs to be proven,” I meant that your consequentialist argument about illegal abortions rests entirely on the belief that the unborn is not a human person.

    I don’t understand. You just said you meant “have”, not “seek” but then say “seek” again. Of course women who seek an abortion need support. The support they should get is a doctor who can give them the safest procedure to successfully abort their pregnancy. Anything less is inhumane.

    I’m not obsessing over the have/seek distinction because it doesn’t require a women to successfully have an abortion to need support (well, at that point, it’s a different kind of support — post-abortion counselling — for many woman, at least). “Seek” includes women in crisis pregnancy scenarios who may be evaluating abortion as an option, as well as those women who have had one.

    Though, I find it ironic that you suggest the only “humane” option is to dismember, mangle or otherwise destroy another human body.

    Sorry if I didn’t explain the analogies well. They were summarized by the paragraph that followed them: “The unintended foreseen consequences of a law require our attention (and maybe even further laws), but they don’t automatically make a law unjust.” In other words, it is a serious problem that women are harmed when they seek/have illegal abortions and that requires our attention, but that does not make a law against abortion unjust. The question of whether or not we should have a law on abortion should be based on the question of whether or not the unborn are human persons.

    <strongBirth is a significant event for a human being, for obvious reasons.

    Birth is a significant event, but it doesn’t change what something is. As I said earlier, it seems to me there are only four ways in which one is changed through birth: size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency.

    Personhood comes about via experience and birth seems pretty significant, no?

    Now we’re making some progress in isolating our disagreement. I couldn’t disagree more with that statement!

    Personhood is about what you are, not what you experience. What you are involves the capacities for various experiences, but experiences depend on so many external factors other factors.

    What experiences do you suggest transform a human being into a person?

    The value placed on life (i.e. the basic dignity that serves as the basis for “don’t kill,” respect, etc) is dependent on what a being is, not what it has experienced.

    There’s a difference between functioning as a person and being a person. The value of human life is inherent in all human beings, because — among other reasons — we are all capable of having those same experiences, but not because of some particular experiences we have had.

    It is quite a shock to go from womb to breathing on your own.

    Really? Do you think that experience contributes to one’s personhood? Do you remember that experience? Do young children remember it? Somehow, I don’t think that shock makes someone more or less of a person.

    I’m curious as to why you think it’s wrong to kill a human person. Is it because they’ve had some experiences in the past? Or is it because you are depriving them of future experiences (as Don Marquis argues)? Or is it some other reason?

    I’m curious as to what you think about Marquis argument that abortion is wrong because it deprives the unborn of a future like ours. He believes that this is the wrong-making feature of killing in general. I’m not sure I agree with him, but I’m curious as to what you believe.

    People who have a reasonable chance of recovering from a PVS state deserve the right to live. Otherwise, I think letting them die is what should happen.

    At risk of opening another debate, do you mean letting die as in starving them to death by removing feeding tubes, or are you talking about more complicated forms of life support being removed?

  13. Jesse Says:

    Also, can you please justify the distinction between mental development and physical development? Is not mental development a form a physical development, the connection of synapses and so on? Unless you’re going to propose something along the lines of an immaterial mind or soul or whatever, it’s hard to say that mental development is not a form of physical development.

    in your terms, physical development is too superficial a distinction to determine the worth of a human life.

  14. Peter Says:

    Jesse,

    You’re advocating that there are two classes of human beings: those with rights that deserve protection under the law, and those without rights.

    I’m stating that human rights are dependent upon personhood and that human beings at the earliest stages of life (i.e. in utero and likely the neonatal stage) are not persons. However, because I don’t know when exactly personhood comes into being, I think the best course of action is to consider humans beings that have reached the neonatal stage as persons.

    can you please justify the distinction between mental development and physical development?

    I’m not understanding. Obviously, there is a huge difference between the physical and the mental. While they are certainly related, the difference is enough that it seems odd to even be asked to “justify” making the distinction. Why do some practice physiotherapy while others become psychologists?

    Is not mental development a form a physical development

    Thought functions through physical development but is clearly very different. Thought is an energy process that occurs through matter. A zygote doesn’t have a will, any self-awareness, or desire. It is void of these types of thought processes and therefore, void of personhood.

  15. Peter Says:

    Blaise,

    the belief that the unborn is not a human person.

    A belief is something that cannot be rationalized as it offers no evidence. I’ve already stated why the unborn are not persons. If you disagree, that’s fine. State so and your reasons why but don’t label my argument as a “belief”. A zygote doesn’t exhibit any of the mental requisites to be a person. That’s simply a fact, not a belief. You apparently believe a zygote *does* possess the mental requisites to be a person. However, you cannot offer any evidence. You simply say it is so – as if on faith. So who is the believer here?

    The question of whether or not we should have a law [against] abortion should be based on the question of whether or not the unborn are human persons.

    I agree completely. Not whether they are human beings, but whether they are persons. So, what is a person? What does it mean for a human being to have personality? I don’t see any personality in a zygote.

    What experiences do you suggest transform a human being into a person?

    All of them do. Without experience, a person cannot come to be.

    Do you think th[e experience of being born] contributes to one’s personhood?

    Of course. As does every experience leading up to personhood. And as I’ve said, I think being born is significant. That shock is going to change the state of a human being and drive them closer to personhood.

    I’m curious as to why you think it’s wrong to kill a human person.

    Because they want to live. They have desires. They are aware. Because of this, it is their right to live.

    Is it because they’ve had some experiences in the past?

    No, it is because of what they are in the present.

    Or is it because you are depriving them of future experiences (as Don Marquis argues)?

    No, I think it is wrong because when you kill a person, you are ending who they are when they desire to be who they are.

    abortion is wrong because it deprives the unborn

    Who are the unborn? I don’t feel sorry for depriving an abstraction of anything. If someone kills you, we can explain who Blaise was. We can talk about him and his hopes, his dreams, his desires, his will. This is why we would be sad if Blaise was unjustly killed. That is simply not possible with the unborn as they are void of personhood. To worry over depriving the unborn is neurotic.

    do you mean letting die as in starving them to death by removing feeding tubes, or are you talking about more complicated forms of life support being removed?

    How that death should happen should involve the best science we have. The point is, I think it is wrong to sustain a human being who has lost their personhood and is clearly not going to get it back. I assume you disagree with this as you seem to be of the opinion that personhood simply means being alive. So in your eyes, it is impossible to lose personhood yet be alive. Is this correct?

  16. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    A belief is something that cannot be rationalized as it offers no evidence.

    Where did you get that definition? I didn’t realize the word “belief” was so offensive. I use it in a sort of Platonic sense. You can have true beliefs or false beliefs, and you can have rational or irrational reasons for beliefs. You can have reasons for beliefs. I just opted for a term like doxa or belief in place of episteme or knowledge because we disagree on it.

    I know you’ve put forth reasons for your belief, and I’ve been addressing them. I just don’t understand the point of pursuing a consequentialist argument about illegal abortion when it’s ethical status rests entirely on a separate question, whether or not the unborn are human persons.

    What does it mean for a human being to have personality? I don’t see any personality in a zygote.

    So… now your criteria for personhood is personality? It seems like you keep changing your mind… mental development, experience, personality… Is it all of these things? Are there any other things you’ve yet to mention?

    And it seems pretty misleading to use only a zygote as an example when you think we can kill a zygote just as easily as a baby seconds from birth.

    Also, your thoughts on partial birth abortion?

    Without experience, a person cannot come to be… As does every experience leading up to personhood.

    This is more complicated than I thought. So, we have experiences before we’re a person, and those experiences lead us to become a person… How do we become a person then? You say it’s through experience (well, and mental development, and personality too…)… but one can have experiences, and still not be a person yet…

    What is your rationale that some unspecified amount of experience acquired at some point not at the time of birth but “close enough” afterwards transforms a non-person into a person?

    What is it about experiences that make life valuable anyways (and, only after some unspecified, aggregate amount of experience)?

    Because they want to live. They have desires. They are aware. Because of this, it is their right to live…. it is because of what they are in the present.

    That seems very future oriented to me. Do we want to live in the present? Or in the future? The present leaves us very quickly. The whole point of wanting to live in the present is so that we continuing living to the future, into another present. The present isn’t exactly stationary.

    And… how can you possibly talk about desires in only the present tense? A desire necessitates a consideration of the future; to desire something in the present means to hope to obtain it in the future.

    Again, I fail to see how these criteria make birth a rational line to draw. What’s the difference between awareness a second before birth and a second after? What’s the difference in desire?

    Who are the unborn? I don’t feel sorry for depriving an abstraction of anything. If someone kills you, we can explain who Blaise was. We can talk about him and his hopes, his dreams, his desires, his will…. To worry over depriving the unborn is neurotic.

    But, the second a human being is born, we ought not to kill them? What hopes, dreams, desires and will does the freshly born child have that he or she didn’t have a second ago? Are these dreams and hopes produced through the soon-to-be-forgotten shock of birth?

    Your criteria seems to be ever-changing (first mental development, experience, personality… now hopes, dreams, desires and will… any others?) and inconsistent with your rationale for choosing birth as the limit.

    You apparently believe a zygote *does* possess the mental requisites to be a person. However, you cannot offer any evidence.

    (1) I don’t believe that mental requisites are appropriate criteria for personhood.
    (2) I’ve made an indirect argument that to make a distinction between human beings and human persons is to disavow a belief in human rights and favour rather, person rights, which is a position that doesn’t have a proud history, but rather a history of rationalizations and excuses that most of the civilized world has come to be ashamed of.

    I’ve hinted at my position more directly and I’ll try to state it more clearly.

    All human beings are human persons because they all have the capacity for ever-growing list of criteria you’ve been mentioning.

    When we list a group of powers and activities (e.g. desires, will, hopes, etc.), we then need to say what it is that performs those powers and activities. What thing is it that hopes and dreams? Yet, a person we try to make into a thing, when it isn’t. Personhood isn’t a thing in the same way that adulthood or parenthood or being a teacher isn’t a thing.

    When you use the word parenthood, your just taking a list of activities, powers, statuses and assigning it to a thing. A parent isn’t a thing in and of itself, nor is an adult or a teacher or a person.

    The confusion with all of this is our willingness to use nouns when we’re really talking about activities.

    What we’re calling a person are activities of, in our case, human beings. A human being is the one who performs all activities you list, who has all the powers you list, etc.

    Now, you’ll likely argue that the unborn doesn’t possess them yet, or cannot perform those activities yet. This is related to the difference between can and could.

    Could means can, if certain conditions are met. In “could” cases, you have a capacity with missing conditions. For example, I could ice skate if I had skates and was near ice, or, a baby could reason if he were mature, or a person could read if they had a book, or a person could talk if they weren’t unconscious, or a baby could have a personality if they had time to develop or express it, etc.

    What are valid conditions to consider? Location, time, growth and education are all conditions which can restrict a being from doing something in the present. Is location relevant? It is for skating. Is time a valid condition? It must be in some cases, like sleep — a sleeping person could talk, once they wake up. Is education relevant? It is for a being who’s yet to learn language enough that they can apply reason at a high level. Is growth a valid condition? It must be in some cases, like your view on the newborn, who is “close enough” to being at the “can” stage with the various criteria you list.

    I think our real point of disagreement is about which conditions are morally relevant for life to have value, for one to have the right to live.

    I believe that growth is a morally relevant condition. What distinguishes a zygote from ever other species on earth is that, if it continues to grow (i.e. you don’t kill it), it will develop into an adult human being capable of exercising whatever powers you wish to enlist as criteria in your next comment. What other beings have the capacity for reason? For consciousness? For hopes and desires? It is human beings who engage in these activities.

    Does the moral value you ascribe to an infant really depend on the present, or does it not depend on a recognition that growth will fulfil the conditions needed for it to exercise the powers and engage in the activities that you ascribe to personhood? You admit growth as a relevant condition here with your use of “close enough.” Why isn’t “close enough to close enough” morally relevant? How can growth be relevant after birth, but not seconds before it? Clearly, the value you ascribe to infants or slightly older humans is related to their development into adult human beings.

    I suggest that it’s entirely arbitrary and inconsistent with all of your criteria for personhood to use growth as a morally relevant condition after birth, but not beforehand. If growth is a morally relevant condition, it’s a morally relevant condition!

    The point is, I think it is wrong to sustain a human being who has lost their personhood and is clearly not going to get it back. I assume you disagree with this as you seem to be of the opinion that personhood simply means being alive. So in your eyes, it is impossible to lose personhood yet be alive. Is this correct?

    My beliefs around euthanasia and assisted suicide and the like only intersect somewhat with my beliefs on abortion. The notion that all human beings are persons comes from a similar place, I guess, but it’s really a very different issue (e.g. think of the future of someone in a PVS).

    So, yes, I believe it’s impossible for a human being not to be a human person. But what that means at the end of life is dependent on a whole bunch of other factors. I don’t support starving people to death though (I wouldn’t support starving animals to death either!).

  17. Peter Says:

    Blaise,

    So, yes, I believe it’s impossible for a human being not to be a human person.

    OK, now we’re getting somewhere. So, I say a zygote is not a person because it lacks the mental complexity required to consider it a person. You say a zygote is a person because…

  18. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    … because mental complexity isn’t a valid criteria for personhood, but if you want to talk mental complexity, than a zygote has the same capacity for mental development that any other human being has, setting it apart from all other known species, it’s just at a different level of development. The only condition prevent that zygote from exercising it’s mental faculties is a bit of growth.

  19. Peter Says:

    … because mental complexity isn’t a valid criteria for personhood, but if you want to talk mental complexity […]”

    Blaise, the question. Can you address it? I’m already quite aware that you don’t agree with my point of view. While “because it isn’t” is a counterargument void of any substance, I’m not interested in pursuing that for now. I’m not interested in us spinning our wheels once again.

    So, one more time…

    You believe a zygote is not just a human being but also a person because…?

  20. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    Peter,

    I addressed it at length a couple comments ago.

    (1) I don’t believe mental complexity is a valid criteria for personhood because it’s a power or activity, and you still need to say what is is that has this power or performs an activity. To say, “it is a person” who has the powers of personhood is like saying “it is a parent” who has the role of parenthood; the confusion is in using nonus when we’re really talking about activities, etc etc… see the previous comment.

    (2) A zygote is not just a human being but also a person because it doesn’t make any sense to say that anything is a human being and not a person; all the powers of personhood are powers of human beings. A person has mental complexity or whatever else because it is a human being. The only different between a zygote an adult is a level of development, not the essence of what that thing actually is.

    You’re mistaking functioning as a person with being a person (see mistake #4). One can fail to function as a person but still be a person (e.g. people under anesthesia or in a deep sleep). One must first be a person in order to function as one. “A person is one with the natural, inherent capacity to perform personal acts, even if that capacity is currently unrealized. One grows in the ability to perform personal acts only because one already is the kind of thing that grows into the ability to perform personal acts, i.e., a person.”

    So, how can I answer the question any more directly? A zygote is a human person because to be a human person is to be a human being. I don’t see the rationale for the distionction; every reason you’ve given that some human beings are not human persons rests on some activity or power, mistaking functioning as a person with being a person. All human beings have the capacities from which we call someone a human person.

    I think the burden of proof is on you to make a distinction between human beings and human persons: (1) Your criteria for personhood is constantly changing (mental complexity, experience, etc…); (2) you can’t even accurately distinguish between a human non-person and a human person, i.e. you can’t define the point at which a human being becomes a human person; (3) you have arbitrarily chosen birth as a “close enough” point without any rationale beyond “it seems pretty significant” (I bet the real rationale is that you just don’t want to support infanticide).

    Question’s you’ve been dodging: (a) What exactly is your criteria for personhood? (b) Do you have any other reason that birth is “close enough” besides that it “seems significant?” Can you address these questions?

    You seem to be insisting on a line between persons and non-persons that you can’t even accurately draw or define.

  21. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    I suppose that wasn’t very concise. The core is really the quote.

    I believe a zygote is not just a human being but also a person because “a person is one with the natural, inherent capacity to perform personal acts, even if that capacity is currently unrealized. One grows in the ability to perform personal acts only because one already is the kind of thing that grows into the ability to perform personal acts, i.e., a person.”

  22. Peter Says:

    It is senseless to claim that because something has the potential to become something more then it is already something more.

    The criterion to even consider the possibility of personhood is a brain. And even then, there are obvious cases where personhood is not present.

  23. Stand Up to Stand to Reason Says:

    Mistake #4” at the site holds an inherent belief that Peter just revealed. It says it is a mistake to:

    “Confuse functioning as a person with being a person.”

    But that is based on the belief that to be a human being = personhood. There is a conflation here with no coherent reason why (I agree with Peter that it is “senseless” to say that because something has the capacity to become something else it is something else).

    Anti-abortionists really hate the word “person” because it is clearly more than simply being human. It is easy for them to defend the idea that the unborn are human beings but they can’t defend the idea that they are persons. Why? Because all reasonable people agree that personhood is a property of brain function. And because a fetus doesn’t have a functioning brain, it cannot be a person. So the best they can do is try and state that because a fetus has the “capacity” to grow a brain and become a person, it is a person. Which is irrational.

    What the anti-abortionists should do if they had any self-respect, is be honest and say that they believe that God doesn’t want abortion instead of pretending that they have thought the issue out for themselves. I have more respect for people who honestly admit that they would rather give their religious beliefs precedence over reason than people who pretend that they are using reason to prop up their religious beliefs.

  24. Peter Says:

    And because a fetus doesn’t have a functioning brain, it cannot be a person

    Actually, a fetus does have a functioning brain before birth. I recall reading that a functioning thalamus is present in a fetus around 7 months (I might be mistaken – I’m not sure). However, I would agree that more criteria would be needed for personhood. The ability to relay sensory input is significant, however.

  25. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    It is senseless to claim that because something has the potential to become something more then it is already something more.

    That’s a misrepresentation of what’s being said. What kind of thing are you referring to when you say “something more?” A person isn’t a kind of thing in and of itself. A human being is the kind of thing that displays the characteristics you attribute to personhood. It doesn’t need to become anything else.

    Why do we treat persons with such respect? Clearly, we think that persons are different from all other forms of life because of the vast and varying criteria for personhood you’ve been mentioning. Do you honestly believe that the difference between human person and other forms of life is utterly disconnected from being a human being?

    Human beings are set apart from all other known forms of life in that they alone have the capacity to develop and use these powers and abilities. The state of development doesn’t change what a thing is.

    Peter, you seem to believe that a human being must become something different in order to be considered a human person, but you’ve still yet to outline your criteria for what a person is, and your criteria for “close enough.” When does the one thing — a new human being — become this other, utterly different thing, suddenly deserving of rights, and why?

    And what of partial birth abortion?

    @Stand Up to Stand to Reason:
    But that is based on the belief that to be a human being = personhood. There is a conflation here with no coherent reason why

    You have to read the article. There are four arguments given against the idea that all human beings are not persons; that was the whole point of including the link. I mean, you can disagree with the reasons why, but you’d have to have a bit of a reading comprehension problem to miss that that’s the whole point being argued (i.e. are all human beings persons?).

    So the best they can do is try and state that because a fetus has the “capacity” to grow a brain and become a person, it is a person. Which is irrational.</em

    You put capacity in quotes as if you disagree that the unborn have the capacity to grow a functioning brain… ? Or were quotes used for some other reason?

    The argument isn’t that the fetus has the ability to become a person so it should be treated as such, but that the fetus is a person. The disagreement is over criteria for personhood (not whether potential persons deserve protection). You don’t seem to think that the kind of thing one is is morally relevant, nor do you think that a condition of growth is morally relevant (though, Peter does, because being “close enough” to a person warrants protection).

    What the anti-abortionists should do if they had any self-respect, is be honest and say that they believe that God doesn’t want abortion instead of pretending that they have thought the issue out for themselves.

    You may have had trouble reading the fourth section of that document, but you’re certainly well rehearsed in mistake #2 (ad hominem attacks).

    So, do you support birth as the line, or is your criteria actually something other than brain function? Last I checked, moving a few inches down the birth canal doesn’t turn the brain on.

    Anti-abortionists really hate the word “person” because it is clearly more than simply being human…

    If you researched your ad hominem attacks a bit better, you’d realize that the Catholic Church quite likes the word “person.”

  26. Peter Says:

    A human being is the kind of thing that displays the characteristics you attribute to personhood.

    As a rule, this is clearly false. For example, a zygote is a human being but it doesn’t display any characteristics of personhood. In fact, it can’t since it doesn’t even have a working brain.

    you’ve still yet to outline your criteria for what a person is

    I’ve already stated what the minimum criterion is. A working brain. Zygotes and embryos don’t have a working brain. Therefore, they are not persons. We could discuss further criteria but since you don’t accept the fact that a zygote/embryo is not a person, then there is no point.

    Peter, you seem to believe that a human being must become something different in order to be considered a human person

    A human being must become a person in order for me to consider it to be a person and not simply a human being, yes.

    When does the one thing — a new human being — become this other

    Becoming a person doesn’t occur instantaneously. This is a common misunderstanding put forth by both pro-life and pro-choice advocates. However, a working brain is required for this change to take place so anytime before this is clearly OK. I would discuss further criteria with you if you didn’t hold that a human being is a person even without a working brain.

    And what of partial birth abortion?

    I don’t accept that term unless you specifically mean an abortion that occurs during birth. Do you mean a late-term abortion? I’m not convinced late term abortions are wrong – but it’s possible I could be convinced. A fetus typically has a working brain around the 7th month so I understand why some are hesitant to accept late term abortions without seeing what the science has to say about it.

  27. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    “A human being is the kind of thing that displays the characteristics you attribute to personhood.”

    As a rule, this is clearly false. For example, a zygote is a human being but it doesn’t display any characteristics of personhood.

    A human being is the kind of thing that displays the characteristics you attribute to personhood. What other kind of thing does? The claim isn’t that human beings always display those characteristics.

    I guess what I find most difficult about your position is that you seem to think a human person is a different kind of thing than a human being, yet that change is gradual. You don’t change from one kind of thing to another gradually. (And I guess I’m using “kind” in a fairly strong sense, like a sort of natural kind, what a thing is.)

    And if you don’t think a human person is a different kind of thing than a human being, but that human beings can merely attain a state of personhood, I would argue that human beings are worthy of respect because they are the only kind of thing that is capable of attaining a state of personhood. We don’t afford rights to something because the state it is in, but because of what it is.

    “I’ve already stated what the minimum criterion is. A working brain.”

    You hadn’t mentioned the phrase “working brain” before your last comment. I’m still interested in your other criteria, even though we’re not going to agree on the status of a zygote or an embryo. I’m having trouble understanding your rationale for birth as a logical stopping point, based on your criteria. The decision seems based on a hesitance to supporting infanticide rather than your actual criteria. I have trouble believing that the moral character of the act changes on account of a few hours, based on moving a few inches down the birth canal (e.g. the recent investigation in Florida over a botched abortion wouldn’t be news at all if the child had been killed moments before birth, but moments after birth we see it as horrific).

    I’m referring to late term abortions in general when I ask about your rationale for drawing the line where you do, but in asking about partial-birth abortions, I literally mean an abortion than occurs during birth (e.g. intact dilation and extraction). I’m curious because this might provide some clarity on your view that a human being is “close enough” to becoming a person at birth that we shouldn’t kill it.

    “A fetus typically has a working brain around the 7th month so I understand why some are hesitant to accept late term abortions without seeing what the science has to say about it.”

    What do you mean? I’m just unsure as to what you’re alluding to. What more does the science have to say about it (i.e. something more than when a fetus has a working brain)?

  28. Peter Says:

    A human being is the kind of thing that displays the characteristics you attribute to personhood

    If you said, “A human being is the kind of thing that could display the characteristics you attribute to personhood” then I would agree.

    You don’t change from one kind of thing to another gradually.

    Of course you do. You change from an infant to a child gradually. You change from a child to a teenager gradually, and so on.

    human beings are worthy of respect because they are the only kind of thing that is capable of attaining a state of personhood.

    This is too shallow and anthropocentric. Human rights are important in order to safeguard the well-being of those whose will may otherwise be oppressed. You can’t oppress a human being who is not a person.

    We don’t afford rights to something because the state it is in, but because of what it is.

    One could list numerous examples (with human beings or other things) of why this is not true. We don’t give someone in the state of childhood the right to drive a motor vehicle on public roads, but we might if they had reached the state of teenagehood and most certainly if they had reached the stage of adulthood. We don’t grant human beings the right to drive simply because they are human beings.

    What more does the science have to say about it

    I would like to know more about the fetus and its response to sensory input once the thalamus begins to relay it.

  29. aNDy Says:

    Is there still room for one more comment?

    Why is killing a human being / person wrong? I cannot myself dissociate abortion from capital punishment, euthanasia, or any other debatable “life ending” practice. I am not saying they are all alike, I am only saying that the logic one uses to justify/legalise or condemn/outlaw is.

    If one endorses capital punishment or euthanasia, I cannot see how one can use the same logic to condemn abortion, and vice versa.

    On the other hand, children are the sole responsibility of parents. All laws put the parent legally and financially (as well as psychologically, religiouisly and socially) responsible for the well being of the child and legally and financially (as well as psychologically, religiouisly and socially) responsible for the child’s (at least when still a minor) actions. Now why then the law doesn’t give the parents the right to chose whether they want this responsibility or not BEFORE they become forced to accept it?? They are the only people who will have to deal with it, and yet they are denied any decision making in that regard.

    I have to admit that my post isn’t much about abortion as about hypocrisy and double standard, but I also have to assert that when it comes to abortion, there can be no general consensus. It must be looked at on a case by case basis because every law has a loop hole and every right will be abused. This is unfortunately how we proudly stand out as humans!!

  30. Peter Says:

    aNDy says:

    If one endorses capital punishment or euthanasia, I cannot see how one can use the same logic to condemn abortion, and vice versa.

    I agree. I’ve always been told by such minds that state killing is justified on “eye-for-an-eye” reasons. However, I see no logic or sanity in supporting a barbaric, vengeful state. And on the other hand, the same minds often say that abortion is wrong because it is killing “innocent” human beings. But of course, a human being in utero cannot be innocent (or guilty). Only a person can be worthy of such a label.

  31. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    Wow, sorry I’ve taken so long to respond. Been extremely busy over the past month.

    @aNDY: I can see how these issues can be handled separately, though they’re certainly related. Elective abortion is the killing of an innocent human being (even though Peter doesn’t think they can be innocent, let’s at least agree that it’s not because of some action they’re responsible for). The goal is to terminate the pregnancy, so that the human being in question ceases to exist. Capital punishment, on the other hand, is a response to human action, a punishment for a certain crime. The goal is punishment, maybe safety by prevented that person from committed further crimes. Euthanasia is ending someone’s life, presumably out of mercy, to end their pain and suffering, often because that person is dying anyways.

    Now, I don’t support any of those practises, but they are different situations which require different arguments, though they are certainly related.

    Why then the law doesn’t give the parents the right to chose whether they want this responsibility [of caring for children] or not BEFORE they become forced to accept it??”

    That falls squarely into the category of “assuming what needs to be proven.” You assume the child doesn’t already exist. I’d argue it does. It’s too late to choose, like it’s too late to choose when you have an infant. The choice element is only completely absent in cases of rape (and adoption is a way to pass on the responsibility). The real question is “what is the unborn?”, the question Peter and I have been debating, because, if the unborn is a person, it’s too late to choose the responsibility or not.

    @Peter:

    First, I think there’s some confusion over what I mean when I use the word “kind” (i.e. natural kind).

    ” “You don’t change from one kind of thing to another gradually.”

    Of course you do. You change from an infant to a child gradually. You change from a child to a teenager gradually, and so on.”

    We’re no longer talking about a natural kind when speaking of various stages of development (i.e. teenagers don’t give birth to teenagers).

    ” “We don’t afford rights to something because the state it is in, but because of what it is.”

    One could list numerous examples (with human beings or other things) of why this is not true… We don’t grant human beings the right to drive simply because they are human beings.”

    Fair enough, that was a sloppy statement. But, surely, a license to drive is a privilege and not a right. And, even a right to vote is a different sort of thing than a right to life. Fundamental, inalienable human rights (such as the right to life) are granted not because of the state one is in, but because of the kind of thing one is.

    “If you said, “A human being is the kind of thing that could display the characteristics you attribute to personhood” then I would agree.”

    Ok, I can agree with that. The question returns to what are morally relevant conditions for when ‘could’ matters. I mentioned this earlier, but some quick examples… X could exercise his free will, if X were awake (condition: consciousness). Y could skate, if Y had ice skates and was near a skating rink (material conditions). Z could read, if she were taught how (condition: knowledge). The unborn could display the characteristics you attribute to personhood, if it were allowed to mature a bit more (conditions: growth, time).

    We don’t think someone is less of a person when they are asleep, yet there’s disagreement over whether or not the unborn is a person. The disagree is over whether growth and time are morally relevant conditions, like most people agree that consciousness is.

    I think growth and time are morally relevant conditions. You seem to think they are after birth (“close enough”), but not before birth. That seems inconsistent to me.

  32. Peter Says:

    Blaise to aNDy:

    You assume the child doesn’t already exist.

    I won’t speak on aNDy’s behalf but of course a child doesn’t exist. For a child to exist implies birth. We are discussing abortion, not infanticide.

    Blaise to me:

    Fundamental, inalienable human rights (such as the right to life) are granted not because of the state one is in, but because of the kind of thing one is.

    Could you source this? I don’t know what you are referring to. It is implied that human rights are for persons, not all human beings. Even the UHDR refers to humans with “reason” and “conscience” which clearly, the unborn have not developed as they lack the mental requisites.

    The question returns to what are morally relevant conditions for when ‘could’ matters.

    Of course. That’s always been my question, but you’ve made it clear that “could” isn’t relevant in regard to abortion as you believe that a zygote is a person.

    We don’t think someone is less of a person when they are asleep, yet there’s disagreement over whether or not the unborn is a person.

    Of course. A person who is asleep hasn’t lost their personhood while a zygote has never had it to begin with. The difference is obvious.

    I think growth [is a] morally relevant condition […].

    Eh? You believe that that once fertilization has taken place, that human being is a person. In your mind, even if there isn’t a brain present in the human then it is still a person. How can you claim this yet claim that “growth” is important to you? Of course growth is a relevant condition – that’s what I’ve been saying this entire time – that the mental development (i.e. growth) is key. How can you defend that you care about growth? Or are you to claim that the presence of a DNA structure is the only condition of “growth” that matters to you?

    You keep quoting my “after birth” condition as if I’ve stated that birth is when someone becomes a person. But I’ve made it clear (in the post and my comments) that determining exactly when personhood begins isn’t possible and that I suggest birth to be a reasonable cut-off point as I think a human becomes a person soon after. That is, putting the cut-off point after birth is dangerous in my mind.

    Now, if you are trying to argue that personhood begins late in pregnancy, I’m all ears. In fact, a fetus has a working brain around the 7th month so I can understand why some may wish to ban late-term abortions. I’m not sure I agree but at least a discussion around this is reasonable and I may be swayed. However, thus far your position is that a person is present after fertilization. So far, you’ve not made an argument that gives that position any coherent sense.

  33. Blaise Alleyne Says:

    Again, sorry for the slow response.

    Regarding fundamental and inalienable human rights, if rights are based on what you are (i.e. the kind of thing you are), but merely your current status (which is subject to change), then they simply are neither fundamental nor inalienable. That’s not a reference or a citation, it’s an argument. Insofar as any declaration of human rights does not have its foundations in fundamental and inalienable rights (but rather, changing rights based on one’s status), I am criticizing it.

    Regarding growth as a morally relevant condition… I haven’t phrased this very clearly. The key is the ‘could’ argument…. Let me try again

    You tend to talk about personhood as a serious of powers and activities. If someone can reason, they are a person. If someone can be conscious, they are a person. So, the question arises of a ‘conditional can’ (i.e. “could”). Hence the sleeping example, being asleep clearly isn’t a barrier for personhood, even though there’s a “could” involved (e.g. a human H could do X, if they were not sleeping).

    I think growth and time are morally relevant conditions, which qualify all human beings as persons. In other words, an embryo could exercise all the powers you ascribe to personhood, if it were allowed to grow a bit more (i.e. a human H could do X, if it grew a bit). The embryo is quite unique in this way, it’s not like there’s any other sort of living thing that could (and would, if not killed) develop a human brain or whatever other faculties are required to exercise said activities.

    Growth is morally relevant for me, not in the sense that it disqualifies, but that it qualifies the unborn as a person. If growth is all that’s required to exercise those powers which you ascribe to personhood, then I argue the unborn is a person. It’s the kind of thing to exercise those powers, it just needs to grow.

    Taking growth into account reconciles our concept of personhood as a series of powers and activities, with an ethic of human rights that is actually fundamental and inalienable.

    Regarding late term abortions, I’m not going to pretend that I believe a human being suddenly becomes a person somewhere around 7 months. That you say it “isn’t possible” to determine when personhood begins, I suggest, calls into question the very notion that there’s a transition from non-personhood to personhood.

    I question your choice of birth as the cut off point though, because I don’t understand what’s morally relevant about birth. Birth doesn’t change what the child is (“child” doesn’t not imply “born”, just that it is offspring), but only where it is, and the degree of dependency on the mother. I don’t understand how it could be a non-person in the womb, and a trip of several inches down the birth canal makes it close enough to personhood to warrant a right to life. If your criteria is a working brain, and that comes in the 7th month, why isn’t the unborn close enough to warrant protection toward the end of pregnancy?

    I think you’re rationale for considering one to be close enough to being a person that we shouldn’t kill them places a right to life somewhere in the third trimester of pregnancy, if it’s a working brain, and maybe the second trimester, if fetal pain is at all morally relevant to you. We’re very unlikely to agree from an ethical standpoint on whether or not the unborn is a person, but from the standpoint of public policy, I think we both might agree that birth is an inadequate cut-off point.

  34. Sara Says:

    What’s wrong with the pro-choice position as a moral argument? Be specific.

    Also, What’s wrong with the argument that: 1) it is wrong to kill innocent human beings and 2) the fetus is an innocent human being, therefore, 3) it is wrong to kill the fetus?

    Thanks.

  35. Peter Says:

    Sara, I don’t see anything wrong with the pro-choice position. I think it is the ethically sound position.

    1) it is wrong to kill innocent human beings and 2) the fetus is an innocent human being, therefore, 3) it is wrong to kill the fetus

    Premise #1 is too vague. More accurate is:

    1) It is wrong to kill another human person.
    2) A human fetus lacks the mental development to be considered a person.
    3) Therefore, it isn’t necessarily wrong to kill a human fetus.

    As well, the idea of “innocent” is a red herring. First, a fetus cannot be innocent or guilty. Second, it implies that it is ethical to kill guilty human beings. So long as the human being is a person, it is unethical to kill them – regardless of innocence or guilt. This is why the death penalty is wrong.

  36. Sara Says:

    What is it to have a ‘future like ours’ (FLO), and why can a fetus not have a FLO? (Don Marquis)

    Thanks.

  37. Ester Says:

    Hmm…On the topic of abortion, Why should we not think that the ‘wrong-making feature of murder is that it deprives someone of a future of possible meaningful experience’?

  38. Peter Says:

    Ester, killing someone who has the desire to live is essentially what is wrong with murder. However, an embryo/fetus hasn’t the mental development to have (or ever had) the desire to live. So when you say, “someone”, who is it you are referring to? In the case of an embryo/fetus, there is no “someone” there yet.

  39. Peter Says:

    Sara, as for “Don Marquis” – I addressed it in an earlier comment as (coincidentally), Blaise brought it up.

    I think the idea of depriving a human being of a future when that human being hasn’t experienced personhood is absurd.

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