Abortion can be lifesaving

While I realize Joe Walsh lost his election bid, it is still worth emphasizing that his infamous statements about abortion are false, especially considering efforts like those in Ohio to pass a “heartbeat bill”. Abortion is sometimes necessary to save the life of the mother. Via the Irish Times we hear the sad story of a woman being allowed to get sicker and sicker, while a non-viable but “living” fetus kills her.

“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.

“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.

“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.

At this point the story is mostly upsetting because of the pain and distress the patient was undergoing for a nonviable fetus. But in the next sentence the story goes from describing mere horrific, dangerous medical care and patient abuse to total medical incompetence and wrongful death:

“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.

If this timeline is correct, this sounds like “rigors”, a classic sign of impending sepsis. Her collapse is concerning for impending septic shock. One of the most important factors in preventing worsening sepsis after infection, per the Surviving Sepsis guidelines, is source control. That is, if there is a source for the sepsis – a foreign body, and infected wound, etc., it needs to be removed/drained so that the condition doesn’t worsen. This, in addition to being common sense, is medically imperative to prevent the worsening of symptoms.

However, for the sake of a non-viable fetus in the midst of a miscarriage, source control was ignored, and the patient proceeded to worsen and die.

At lunchtime the foetal heart had stopped and Ms Halappanavar was brought to theatre to have the womb contents removed. “When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick. That’s the last time I spoke to her.”

At 11 pm he got a call from the hospital. “They said they were shifting her to intensive care. Her heart and pulse were low, her temperature was high. She was sedated and critical but stable. She stayed stable on Friday but by 7pm on Saturday they said her heart, kidneys and liver weren’t functioning. She was critically ill. That night, we lost her.”

This appears to be death from a critical delay in source control, in the face of septic shock. Removal of the fetus should have occurred emergently when she presented with signs and symptoms of sepsis in order to save her life. This was not done, and she almost certainly died as a result of this delay.

Maternal mortality in pregnancy is very rare thanks to modern medicine. However, when ideology trumps medically-appropriate care we turn back the clock to when women died routinely in childbirth.

Comments

  1. #1 Thomas Lee Elifritz
    http://cosmic.lifeform.org
    November 14, 2012

    Wanna Help? Boycott Ireland. Boycott Irish Products.

  2. #2 TByte
    November 15, 2012

    A horrible story Thomas, and there are secular efforts under way in Ireland to change this.
    But “Boycott Irish Products”?
    Like what? That over-perfumed white and green bath soap?

  3. #3 Julian Frost
    NOYDB
    November 15, 2012

    The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country.

    That sounds very odd to me. The Catholic Church permits abortion to save the mother’s life.

  4. #4 Hyperion
    November 16, 2012

    @Julian Frost

    Even if the Catholic Church supposedly supports abortion to save the mother’s life, the problem as illustrated here is that the Catholic Church deals with absolutes, while medicine deals with probabilities, statistics, and likely outcomes. By the time that a situation like this gets to the point where the likelyhood of death becomes sufficiently absolute for the Catholic Church, it may be too late for treatment to be effective.

    A physician would look at the case and determine that the fetus needs to be removed as soon as possible to prevent the possibility of life-threatening sepsis. A priest might say “let’s wait and see” without understanding that this amounts to a death sentence.

    And finally, my understanding is that the Irish law involved is extremely vague about what constitutes an acceptable level of risk to the life of the mother…again, because lawmakers often think risk is a binary state rather than a set of probabilities. As a result, the physicians involved may feel forced to wait rather than risk being prosecuted if a non-physician later decides that the mother wasn’t in sufficient risk of death.

    That doesn’t excuse the fact that the physicians involved failed in their primary duty to act in the best interests of their patient, the mother. Regardless of how badly written the law might be, this should have been the guiding principle in the absence of a clear directive. One could even argue that the duty to act in the best interests of the patient ought to be the guiding principle even if it is in direct contravention of the law, but that’s a suggestion I’d only dare make in a pseudonymous blog post.

  5. #5 Hemlock
    November 16, 2012

    “The Catholic Church permits abortion to save the mother’s life.”

    Irish legal precedent (not law, they’ve sat on that for 20 years or so) also permits this to save life, but in this case when she first presented her life wasn’t at risk but her health was due to risk of infection (if that wasn’t already present and caused the miscarriage in the first place). The doctors used that as an excuse for inaction, save monitoring the foetus up until the women was gravely ill. Too little, too late. That her life wasn’t at risk at the start meant instead of performing a termination straight away as would be the standard of care in more enlightened countries they waited days until foetal demise occurred and after the patient was already septic before terminating the pregnancy. This was despite that foetal death was inevitable.

    Ideology, as the OP says, trumped everything. There is a definite lack of clarity there with an abortion ban in place but nothing in legislation to clearly mandate acting for the health of the mother rather than life and death situations where the Church allows something called the “doctrine of double effect” where the mother can be treated even if the side-effect may be foetal demise. Not quite the same thing as allowing termination of pregnancy even if life at risk, I think. I wonder how many other Savita’s or near-misses are there out there in Ireland, where families didn’t know or realise that their loved one had far less than optimal care during pregnancy due to irrational policies and lack of will to get clarity in Irish law to deal with such situations.

  6. #6 R.L. Schaefer
    Ca.
    November 16, 2012

    Who’s in Denial Here?

    Fewer than 1% of abortions are necessary to protect the life of the mother.

    I note that whenever an individual who does not believe in the right to life refers to the unborn they use the words ; zygotes, fetus or simply “a clump of cells”. But you know, I have never heard expectant mothers saying things like; “My clump of cells is a girl.” or, “My zygote is due in 8 months.” nor do they say, “I feel my fetus kicking.” It seems now, it is the “wanting” that now defines the value of human life.

    These “unwanted lives” need to be depersonalized by the pro-abortionist. The invisible unborn within the womb denied their humanity. The baby becomes a “Choice”, “reproductive right” or “A woman’s health issue” , when it is unwanted, by the irresponsible. It is transformed into a “personal decision” by the vote hungry politician and a burdensome “inconvenience” to the self-centered student or career driven professional. I guess the reality of dismembering, or burning to death with acid of an unborn human is just too painful to face head on.

    A note to “Catholics for Choice” and other pro-choice Catholics. Many of you are probably intelligent, though obviously misguided and immoral. As such, you should know that you are in direct conflict with Canon Law regarding abortion … what was once called a heretic. Or, if you prefer, an apostate. You see, merely claiming to be a thing doesn’t make it so. I’m sure you must have learned that when you were a child and pretended to be Luke Skywalker or perhaps a devout Catholic.

    Since you seem fuzzy on this point I will elaborate further. To be a member of any group or organization there is a set of criteria. In the case of the Catholic Church it is required that you accept the teachings of the Church as set forth in the Catechism. Since you do not accept them it follows that you are not Catholics as you have already excommunicated yourselves from the Church by your support of abortion or any politcian who support the killing of the unborn.

    However, in the future, if you come to your senses and regain your reason, you may reconcile yourselves with the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the meantime you really should stop pretending to be something you’re not – It’s just not grown up.

    Oh, in case you have forgotten, this is the Church’s simple position on the subject – “Human life is to be respected from conception until natural death.” See, that wasn’t real hard to understand – Now was it?

    • #7 Mark
      November 16, 2012

      Fewer than 1% is still greater than 0%. It’s true instances are rare, but they do happen, as they did in this case, and in order to preserve the heartbeat of a non-viable fetus, they allowed this woman to die. In case you don’t understand, a woman who is fully dilated at 17 weeks has zero, and by zero I mean a total impossibility of carrying the pregnancy to term. This was a miscarriage that should have been unfortunate but not life-threatening, that was turned by fanatics into the wrongful death of a woman. Further, your requirement for “natural death” would conflict with other modern concepts such as brain death, which allows for things like organ donation. Organs are procured, after all, from living bodies.

      The reason many of us use the language you dislike is because it is the scientific terminology for the fetus at various stages, or more descriptive. An ovum that has been fertilized resembles a clump of cells far more than it does a “baby”, and it would be inaccurate to call it such.

      I understand you have a belief about the “beginning of life” which you have received through religious indoctrination and that belief is important to you. However, others have different beliefs and we hold them for different reasons. The belief in life at conception is actually a minority belief, and one that even the Catholic church did not use to have, previously stating that “ensoulment” occurred during quickening, a much later timepoint. Further, the idea of life “beginning” is unscientific as young earth creationism or Noah’s Ark. As we’ve stated many times here before, science does not describe a beginning to an individuals life at a discrete time point. This is because life does not begin. Life is continuous. The sperm is human, individual, and alive, the egg is human, individual and alive, the combination of the two is individual, human and alive. Even then, fully 50% of these little zygotes will never implant, and of those that do, another 10% will spontaneously miscarry as in this case. There’s a lot more obstacles to birth than just the very first step in the process. And don’t forget, there are those whose definition is that life begins when the kids move out and the dog dies.

      The question that matters to us isn’t a discrete time at which life begins because the concept is frankly silly. The appropriate question is when does the fetus become a person? But even that question isn’t appropriate here because at no point during gestation should the rights of the unborn supercede the right to life of the mother, this is not controversial even among the overwhelming majority of Catholics. Further, most people ascribe to concepts of personhood which include more criteria than “has a heartbeat”. After all, lot’s of things have heartbeats that we don’t consider people and give full rights to. Most of us in our definition of personhood include things like agency, and consciousness as important. Hence, when someone is injured and becomes brain dead, many consider the person’s life to be over, and to preserve the life of other people it becomes ethical to allow transplant of their organs to save other lives.

      So, while I respect your belief that every beating heart, and every fertilized embryo represents a person, I do not share it. Nor will I ever. Part of living in a pluralistic society is accepting these things about your fellow citizens, and not forcing your own overvalued ideas and religion onto other people.

  7. #8 Cecil
    Ireland
    November 18, 2012

    Great article. Great riposte to R.L.

  8. #9 Bob
    November 18, 2012

    Apparently, RL Schaefer find its completely acceptable to watch even one woman die to pregnancy complications per year. Of course, the numbers are about higher, close to 500 per year in the USA, and hundreds of thousands worldwide.

    But these are facts, and I am betting that RL Schaefer does not care about facts, let alone the lives of a few hundred thosuand women!

  9. [...] 2012/11/14: Denialism: Abortion can be lifesaving [...]

  10. #11 Calli Arcale
    November 19, 2012

    I know someone who, in America, could not get a doctor to remove her *deceased* fetus until she developed an infection and had to be hospitalized. This was months after the baby died. But it was in a state that is notoriously restrictive of abortion.

    I don’t think this is due to selfishness on the part of doctors, though. I’ve been reading the blog of Wayne Hale, former director of the Space Shuttle program. He’s doing a series leading up to next January’s 10-year anniversary of the Columbia accident. He had a very moving piece quoting Admiral Gehman, who headed the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, and I think Gehman’s observations maybe apply here too. It’s not that people consciously get sloppy or consciously cut corners or consciously decide that a woman’s life is less important than the risk of prosecution. It’s that if people or an organization are threatened, they will automatically act to defend themselves and the organization. It’s not even conscious, and it affects how they perceive things. The foam shedding on the External Tank on a flight of Atlantis, if it was a critical problem, would suspend the program and they’d miss a crucial deadline on the ISS program. That idea was so horrible that they did eveything in their power to have it not be that critical, without even realizing that essentially they were justifying ignoring a real problem. Maybe something similar is happening here; you see a situation where your career and possibly even liberty are threatened, and it colors your judgement so that instead of dispassionately doing The Right Thing, you adjust your interpretation of events until it is not a problem. Avoid looking at the risk of sepsis and hope nature solves the problem for you, as it has before. (Most of these cases will spontaneously miscarry. But not all, and you don’t know ahead of time which ones those are.) You’re taking a gamble in that situation, but you don’t allow yourself to realize it — until it comes up snake eyes and somebody dies.

  11. #12 R.L. Schaefer
    November 27, 2012

    “…not forcing your own overvalued ideas and religion onto other people.”

    Gee Mark, you certainly are smug, condescending and facile regarding your secularist, hedonistic view on human life.

    It was other posters who brought religion into the conversation. I was merely explaining the Catholic Churches perspective on the issue, and in general how weak the argument for killing the unborn is.

    I’ll try a different tack.

    As a progressive relativist, I’m certain you have a difficult time dealing with facts, so I will make this as simple as possible. I hope some vestige of logic and reason has survived your constantly “evolving” subjectivity…. I know that’s a long shot, but here goes.

    When two humans engage in sex “human life” is often the result – not tadpoles, hummingbirds or saber toothed cats. Now, if this human life has been created by irresponsible, hedonists, such as yourself, then they often consider this “life” unwanted. Usually, they decide that 9 months of “inconvenience” is too… well inconvenient, so they chose to kill the baby. As I said, 99% of all abortion is done for the cause of convenience after irresponsible sex, and has NOTHING to do with “women’s health issues”.

    However, the law recognizes the unborn as a living human…and all states have statutes that protect “wanted” babies as human and recognize the killing of babies in the womb as murder if done by anyone other than the baby’s mother or her abortionist. Now Mark, even in your clouded metal state, I’m sure you can understand that this situation reduces our humanity to the “wanting” of us. If the unborn are “wanted” by their mothers they are a “baby” or even “my little girl”. If the unborn are inconvenient they they are reduced to the level of a cancerous “clump of cells” or subhuman “fetus”.

    This precedent of defining our humanity on the basis of the “wanting” of us by another bodes ill for the handicapped, elderly, unproductive, sick or “unusual” among us.

    Science, logic and reason – objective truth – cry out that every member of the human family possesses an inherent and profound dignity – a right to life – regardless of the stage of development, size, sex, age, handicap, race or how little someone “wants” us.

    Now Mark, even you should be able to understand that.

    As a progressive relativist, I’m certain you have a difficult time dealing with facts, so I will make this as simple as possible. I hope some vestige of logic and reason has survived your constantly “evolving” subjectivity…. I know that’s a long shot, but here goes.

    When two humans engage in sex “human life” is often the result – not tadpoles, hummingbirds or saber toothed cats. Now, if this human life has been created by irresponsible, hedonists, such as yourself, then they often consider this “life” unwanted. Then they decide that 9 months of “inconvenience” is too… well inconvenient, so they decide to kill it. 99% of all abortion is done for the cause of convenience after irresponsible sex, and has NOTHING to do with “women’s health issues”.

    However, since the law recognizes the unborn as living human…
    s – and all states have statutes that protect “wanted” babies as human and recognize the killing of babies in the womb as murder if done by anyone other than the baby’s mother or her abortionist. Now Jay, even in your clouded metal state, I’m sure you can understand that this situation reduces our humanity to the “wanting” of us. If the unborn are wanted by their mothers they are a “baby” or even “my little girl”. If they are inconvenient they they are reduced to the level of a cancerous “clump of cells” or subhuman “fetus”.

    This precedent of our humanity being defined on the basis of the “wanting” of us by another bodes ill for the handicapped, elderly, unproductive, sick or “unusual” among us.

    Science, logic and reason – objective truth – cry out that every member of the human family possesses an inherent and profound dignity – a right to life – regardless of the stage of development, size, sex, age, handicap, race or how little someone “wants” us.

  12. #13 R.L. Schaefer
    November 27, 2012

    Mark…

    “…not forcing your own overvalued ideas and religion onto other people.”

    “…you have a belief about the “beginning of life” which you have received through religious indoctrination…”

    You have given new dimension to “smug”, “condescending” and “imperious”. Nothing unusual for a progressive, secular, relativist.

    First let’s clear the air. I am not Catholic. I wrote of that aspect because previous posters brought it up and I merely wanted to clarify the Church’s position in this regard.
    Your assumption about “religious indoctrination” is also incorrect. You wrote,
    “I understand you have a belief about the “beginning of life” which you have received through religious indoctrination and that belief is important to you.”

    However, I do suspect your educational, secularist “indoctrination” is a factor in your thinking.

    You go on.

    “..the idea of life “beginning” is unscientific as young earth creationism or Noah’s Ark.”

    Really? This fallacious appeal to ridicule is the best you can do?

    Another quote; “…at no point during gestation should the rights of the unborn supercede the right to life of the mother.”

    I agree – but as I’ve pointed out 99% of the time it is not a “right to life of the mother” issue. It’s a matter of of personal convenience – after irresponsible sex. I promote personal responsibility for our individual actions. So should you.

    Regarding the Church’s teaching on “ensoulment”. Leaving St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas out of the argument – it is sufficient to say that whether or not one agrees that humans have a soul is irrelevant to determining when their “life” begins. Life does begin at conception. That’s why there are criminal statues, in every state, protecting the fetus from everything except its irresponsible mother.

    Further, your statement; The sperm is human, individual, and alive…” is false. Have you ever read a biology book? “… matter that shows certain attributes that include responsiveness, growth, metabolism, energy transformation, and reproduction.” Sorry, egg and sperm alone don’t qualify.

    When two humans engage in sex “human life” is often the result – not tadpoles, hummingbirds or saber toothed cats. Now, if this human life has been created by irresponsible, hedonists, such as yourself, then they often consider this “life” unwanted. Then they feel that 9 months of “inconvenience” is too… well inconvenient, so they decide to kill it. As we’ve discussed, 99% of all abortion is done for the cause of convenience after irresponsible sex, and has NOTHING to do with “women’s health issues”.

    As I mentioned, the law recognizes the unborn as living human…and all states have statutes that protect “wanted” babies as human and recognize the killing of babies in the womb as murder if done by anyone other than the baby’s mother or her abortionist. Now Mark, even in your confused, subjective metal state, I’m sure you can understand that this situation reduces our humanity to the “wanting” of us. If the unborn are wanted by their mothers they are a “baby” or even “my little girl”. If they are inconvenient they they are reduced to the level of a cancerous “clump of cells” or subhuman “fetus”.

    This precedent of our humanity being defined on the basis of the “wanting” of us by another bodes ill for the handicapped, elderly, unproductive, sick or “unusual” among us.

    Science, logic and reason – objective truth – cry out that every member of the human family possesses an inherent and profound dignity – a right to life – regardless of the stage of development, size, sex, age, handicap, race or how little someone “wants” us.

    I would suggest that you and anyone else who have questions about life in the womb view the film, “Silent Scream” . Part of the film shows a 5 month “fetus” trying to shove the abortionist’s tools away from its body with its tiny hands – the mouth contorted in a “silent scream”. If every woman was made to watch that before she killed her baby abortions would drop by 90%. But I know that’s too much to expect… Killing the unseen and unheard is so much easier.

  13. #14 John Smith
    San Francisco
    November 27, 2012

    It seems to me that R.L. Schaefer was simply pointing out that only a very small number of abortions are in fact necessary to save a woman’s life. It appears that he his saying that the majority of women have abortions for the sake of their personal convenience.
    Only when a woman desires to be pregnant she considers it a baby…

  14. #15 R.L. Schaefer
    November 28, 2012

    Love the Way You Guys Pull Off Posts You Don’t Agree With I’ve always maintained that liberal progressives are only “tolerant” of those who share their opinions.

    Try again.

    Mark…

    “…not forcing your own overvalued ideas and religion onto other people.”

    “…you have a belief about the “beginning of life” which you have received through religious indoctrination…”

    You have given new dimension to “smug”, “condescending” and “imperious”. Nothing unusual for a progressive, secular, relativist.

    First let’s clear the air. I am not Catholic. I wrote of that aspect because previous posters brought it up and I merely wanted to clarify the Church’s position in this regard.
    Your assumption about “religious indoctrination” is also incorrect. You wrote,
    “I understand you have a belief about the “beginning of life” which you have received through religious indoctrination and that belief is important to you.”

    However, I do suspect your educational, secularist “indoctrination” is a factor in your thinking. On the other hand – I had no religious upbringing of any kind.

    You go on.

    “..the idea of life “beginning” is unscientific as young earth creationism or Noah’s Ark.”

    Really? This fallacious appeal to ridicule is the best you can do?

    Another quote; “…at no point during gestation should the rights of the unborn supercede the right to life of the mother.”

    I agree – but as I’ve pointed out 99% of the time it is not a “right to life of the mother” issue. It’s a matter of of personal convenience – after irresponsible sex. I promote personal responsibility for our individual actions. So should you.

    Regarding the Church’s teaching on “ensoulment”. Leaving St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas out of the argument – it is sufficient to say that whether or not one agrees that humans have a soul is irrelevant to determining when their “life” begins. Frankly, I’m surprised you would even bring the idea of a soul into the debate. Life does begin at conception. That’s why there are criminal statues, in every state, protecting the fetus from everything except its irresponsible mother.

    Further, your statement; The sperm is human, individual, and alive…” is false. Have you ever read a biology book? “… matter that shows certain attributes that include responsiveness, growth, metabolism, energy transformation, and reproduction.” Sorry, egg and sperm alone don’t qualify.

    When two humans engage in sex “human life” is often the result – not tadpoles, hummingbirds or saber toothed cats. Now, if this human life has been created by irresponsible, hedonists, such as yourself, then they often consider this “life” unwanted. Then they feel that 9 months of “inconvenience” is too… well inconvenient, so they decide to kill it. As we’ve discussed, 99% of all abortion is done for the cause of convenience after irresponsible sex, and has NOTHING to do with “women’s health issues”.

    As I mentioned, the law recognizes the unborn as a living human…and all states have statutes that protect “wanted” babies as human and recognize the killing of babies in the womb as murder if done by anyone other than the baby’s mother or her abortionist. Now Mark, even in your confused, subjective metal state, I’m sure you can understand that this situation reduces our humanity to the “wanting” of us. If the unborn are wanted by their mothers they are a “baby” or even “my little girl”. If they are inconvenient they they are reduced to the level of a cancerous “clump of cells” or subhuman “fetus”.

    This precedent of our humanity being defined on the basis of the “wanting” of us by another bodes ill for the handicapped, elderly, unproductive, sick or “unusual” among us.

    Science, logic and reason – objective truth – cry out that every member of the human family possesses an inherent and profound dignity – a right to life – regardless of the stage of development, size, sex, age, handicap, race or how little someone “wants” us.

    I would suggest that you and anyone else who have questions about life in the womb view the film, “Silent Scream” . Part of the film shows a 5 month “fetus” trying to shove the abortionist’s tools away from its body with its tiny hands – the mouth contorted in a “silent scream”. If every woman was made to watch that before she killed her baby abortions would drop by 90%. But I know that’s too much to expect… Killing the unseen and unheard is so much easier.

  15. #16 Mark
    November 28, 2012

    However, the law recognizes the unborn as a living human…and all states have statutes that protect “wanted” babies as human and recognize the killing of babies in the womb as murder if done by anyone other than the baby’s mother or her abortionist. Now Mark, even in your clouded metal state, I’m sure you can understand that this situation reduces our humanity to the “wanting” of us. If the unborn are “wanted” by their mothers they are a “baby” or even “my little girl”. If the unborn are inconvenient they they are reduced to the level of a cancerous “clump of cells” or subhuman “fetus”.

    This is incorrect. 38 states have laws protecting the unborn in this fashion, of these 23 protect the fetus at all stages of development. This is an interesting issue that extends at least to the old testament, how does one treat the unborn? Interestingly, the old-testament did not consider the fetus equivalent to a human being, and an action that leads to a miscarriage did not result in death penalty to the offender but rather a fine. If you killed the woman, however, you would also be killed. I generally would not recommend the old testament as a source for morality though, given the amount of human sacrifice, genocide, and the death penalty for things like pulling your ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath. Jesus, speaking with the Pharisees, seems to agree.

    If the unborn are “wanted” by their mothers they are a “baby” or even “my little girl”. If the unborn are inconvenient they they are reduced to the level of a cancerous “clump of cells” or subhuman “fetus”.

    That may be the language physicians use with patients, but part of that is just how we communicate about pregnancy in the examining room. When we are discussing fertility, or physiology generally or in a medical context we exclusively use more scientific terminology, including zygote, embryo, fetus depending on whether your are talking about the fertilized ovum, the multicellular eukaryote up until the 9th week post-fertilization, and from the 9th week until birth respectively. I’ve been in the room with an OB, an US tech, and a patient in which the OB was giving directions to the tech using “fetal” terminology, only to then turn to the patient and describe to the patient they were trying to get a better view of the baby’s spinal cord. It’s not meant to dehumanize but only to be descriptive. I’m sorry that scientific terms are offensive to you, but this is a scienceblog after all.

    Further the medical literature on the age at which a fetus can perceive pain suggests that this period is beyond 5 months, or 20 weeks. It’s likely closer to 26-36 weeks that the thalamic connections are generated which would allow the transmission of pain signaling to the cortex, based on our understanding of the formation and maturation of the neural pathways connecting pain receptors to the brain.

    Further, your statement; The sperm is human, individual, and alive…” is false. Have you ever read a biology book? “… matter that shows certain attributes that include responsiveness, growth, metabolism, energy transformation, and reproduction.” Sorry, egg and sperm alone don’t qualify.

    Actually I have a PhD in molecular physiology as well as a medical degree. I assure you, neither the egg or sperm are dead, and are most certainly living things. There is no non-living stage in human reproduction. That’s a pretty amazing contortion to try to avoid the fundamental biological truth that life is continuous. Saying that sperm or eggs are not alive would put you far outside of the mainstream of, say, 100% of biologists. You might find one with a tinfoil hat on his head to agree with that one, but that’s about it.

    I’m sorry I assumed your catholic, when you said, “However, in the future, if you come to your senses and regain your reason, you may reconcile yourselves with the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the meantime you really should stop pretending to be something you’re not – It’s just not grown up.”

    it suggested that you were saying we should all be getting right with the catholic church. I apologize for my misunderstanding. In general you ascribe a lot more condescension and sarcasm in my tone than I am trying to convey. I assure you it’s quite the opposite. I’m trying to explain where our moral view is coming from, and that it’s deeply held for the reasons I cite. I am not a progressive, nor do I believe in postmodern forms of moral relativism, although on threads like these I’m generally accused of such. Similarly on the GMO threads I’m usually accused of being a right wing Republican corporate shill. It’s always the context. I’m only a radical pragmatist, if I must have a label, and hate all ideology equally. I’m sorry that my explanation generated so much hostility from you, that wasn’t my goal.

    I would like to re-emphasize though, the post was about the proposition put forth by Joe Walsh that abortion is never lifesaving. This is incorrect and this case was a dramatic example. It was meant to address the extremity of the “no exception” laws advocated by the extreme of the anti-abortion movement. Heartbeat bills are being proposed in this country which, although ridiculously unconstitutional, would create situations exactly like this.

    Finally, I will restate, we exist in a pluralistic society. I have a different definition of personhood from you. One that allows me, for instance, to remove organs from a living human body, and place them in another. It comes from my belief that being human involves more than the possession of the adequate number of chromosomes, a heartbeat, and a brainstem. It means that rather than killing a person in such activity, I’m actually saving the lives of potentially dozens of living people. Now, many people don’t share this belief, and will refuse to donate a their or a loved one’s organs after brain death. I would never suggest we should then transplant them anyway. That is their belief and their body, and I respect that, even if I personally disagree and see organ donation as saving multiple lives, rather than ending one.

    Personhood in my and many others’ definition involves qualities like agency, consciousness, etc. Your definition, to me, is just as insane as mine is to yours. To me, life beginning at conception would suggest an IUD is an instrument of mass murder, that the uterus itself is a brutal organ since it fails to implant fully 50% of such “people”, it suggests at least from a biological standpoint, we’re as likely to kill a person as create one when we have sex and conceive. To me, that’s kind of nuts. I don’t share that belief. I never will. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean we have to be at war with eachother.

    I don’t expect to change your opinion. This discussion is not meant to do that as it’s not a useful exercise in blogs comment sections as a general rule. But perhaps I could convince you that our beliefs of what constitutes personhood are held for reasons that are just as important to us as your versions derived from a faith-based concept of life “beginning”. Sadly, science and biology do not support your notion that eggs and sperm are non-living though, and you should probably abandon that argument.

    **PS which of the three versions of this post would you like me to keep? I’m a busy person, and the moderation filter will often hold things for half a day before I get to check my emails and see what’s in moderation amidst the dozens of spam comments. You might want to wait more than 6 hours before railing about censorship.

  16. #17 Sk8Surfer
    San Diego
    November 28, 2012

    The extreminsm on both sides is so sickeningly blind. This woman should not have died mid miscarriage and the medical staff had knowledge it was one and should have treated it as such that much is clear.

    However, the wanton use of the “save the life of a woman” excuse for “oops I forgot my birth control” is frankly BS of the deepest and most racid type!

    Mark, just because we have gestational descriptors of which stage of cell division a child is in does not mean that we should not respect life by arguing when the baby is worthy of rights and personhood. Of course the growing infant’s life does not superceede the life of the mother but using this tired excuse to justify the millions of abortions of inconvenience each year is just as disingenuous and disgusting as that candidate who made the vile rape comments. The only difference is that we’ve been desensitized to what abortion really is in most cases due to the “rape” and “life of the woman” arguments.

    Why don’t abortion agencies have a web terminal or book that allows expectant women the option of looking at a list of pre-screened adoptive parents ready to cover the costs of medical care?

    There must be a political reason we don’t want to have a reasonable discussion and solutions about life, children, adoption, and abortion. It seems that the only option is for one side or the other to shut up and accept the other’s claimed superiority of ideas and positions.

    Statistically speaking 74% of abortions are done on women who are already mothers who find the idea of another child to be a percieved financial burden.

    The liberal argument is that rape, underage girls (only 7%) and life of the mother are the real reasons abortion happen. In the end it’s still just a selfish reason that life is treated so trivially and why the terms zygote, fetus, non-viable tissue have taken root in the discussion. It removes people from the reality that that could have been us. That perhaps, just perhaps the factors that form each person really are so unique that a little life growing inside of a woman which is not there by rape or harming her life deprived of it’s destiny, whatever that may be, might just have been the one to have cured cancer, united warring nations in peace etc… all because the financial burden might be too hard to bear?

    Sorry but the factual data on how many abortions are for children, rape and mother’s life combined is 1/4 of the real reason which is inconvenience at a staggering 75%. And you want to lecture people on indoctrination?

    • #18 Mark
      November 28, 2012

      The extreminsm on both sides is so sickeningly blind. This woman should not have died mid miscarriage and the medical staff had knowledge it was one and should have treated it as such that much is clear.

      However, the wanton use of the “save the life of a woman” excuse for “oops I forgot my birth control” is frankly BS of the deepest and most racid type!

      Umm, that isn’t even close to what we’re talking about here. I’m talking about the death of a woman over a miscarriage, heartbeat bills, and their repercussions which can be seen in countries like Ireland or in Latin America where they will let women die rather than terminate a doomed pregnancy, including ectopic pregnancies. I don’t think anyone is using “save the life of a woman” wantonly here.

      Mark, just because we have gestational descriptors of which stage of cell division a child is in does not mean that we should not respect life by arguing when the baby is worthy of rights and personhood. Of course the growing infant’s life does not superceede the life of the mother but using this tired excuse to justify the millions of abortions of inconvenience each year is just as disingenuous and disgusting as that candidate who made the vile rape comments. The only difference is that we’ve been desensitized to what abortion really is in most cases due to the “rape” and “life of the woman” arguments.

      At no point do I use rape or life of the woman to justify abortion on demand in this post. I am describing an instance in which termination of a pregnancy can be life-saving.

      Further, in the comments, I have asked at what point does a fetus deserve rights and personhood? Many of the states place this point at viability, consistent with the laws cited by RL. This would be, at earliest, 20 weeks, and closer to 26 weeks if we’re being realistic about actual survivability of premature infants. I wouldn’t disagree with that as a timepoint to begin (although the right to life of the mother should still supercede the fetus at any point), as that’s when we see the final maturation of neural pathways between the sensory pathways and the cortex. Before that you just have a body, perceiving nothing, feeling nothing. I don’t consider that a person.

      I, and many others, have a completely different view of what constitutes personhood. It’s more than a heartbeat. It’s more than “potential”. It involves things like a forebrain, and the benefits of a cerebral cortex like consciousness, perception, agency, etc. If I lost these things, I would no longer consider myself a person. I would ask to be allowed to die or become an organ donor in such a situation. My family knows this, it’s not an unusual belief, hence the functioning organ sharing network in most countries, and it protects my beliefs of what being a person is, while potentially serving a benefit to other humans if this is lost to me.

      Why don’t abortion agencies have a web terminal or book that allows expectant women the option of looking at a list of pre-screened adoptive parents ready to cover the costs of medical care?

      What are abortion agencies? There already are not enough adoptive parents for existing orphaned or foster children.

      There must be a political reason we don’t want to have a reasonable discussion and solutions about life, children, adoption, and abortion. It seems that the only option is for one side or the other to shut up and accept the other’s claimed superiority of ideas and positions.

      At no point have I said for one side to shut up and accept my claims and positions. Throughout this debate I’ve said that “I understand where you are coming from, here is where I am coming from”. At no point has anyone acknowledged that my view of personhood is equally legitimate to the conception startpoint. Instead we’ve seen some factually-questionable statements about whether or not reproduction involves living or dead cells, and a lot of blistering talk about me being condescending. I’m sorry, but on that one, I have to correct the science. That’s not me forcing you to accept my opinion, but me stating the scientific facts. Human gametes are living cells. They are not dead. There is no room for debate on this issue, and while bringing it up, laughably, I was told that I needed to read the biology textbook. Please. I’m trying in a civil way to point out that we live in a pluralistic society. I have a different view. I have it for these reasons. I’m not alone. We have to accept that people are going to think differently from us, and that’s ok.

      Statistically speaking 74% of abortions are done on women who are already mothers who find the idea of another child to be a percieved financial burden.

      True.

      The liberal argument is that rape, underage girls (only 7%) and life of the mother are the real reasons abortion happen.

      Sounds like a straw man to me. I have not made this argument in this thread, or ever, nor have I seen it made generally. I think, if anything, the liberal argument is summed up by Bill Clinton’s statement that abortion be “safe, legal, and rare”.

      In the end it’s still just a selfish reason that life is treated so trivially and why the terms zygote, fetus, non-viable tissue have taken root in the discussion. It removes people from the reality that that could have been us.

      Yes, but also every sperm, and egg, and fertilized ovum that dies, is lost, or spontaneously aborted could have been us. Shit happens. Doesn’t make every fetus a person, at least to me. And selfishness or virtue has no bearing on my view when I don’t consider a fetus to be a person.

      That perhaps, just perhaps the factors that form each person really are so unique that a little life growing inside of a woman which is not there by rape or harming her life deprived of it’s destiny, whatever that may be, might just have been the one to have cured cancer, united warring nations in peace etc… all because the financial burden might be too hard to bear?

      From a purely Bayesian standpoint, I don’t accept this argument. This kind of “lottery ticket” argument has no bearing on whether or not a 10 or 15 or even 20 week old fetus is a person.

      Sorry but the factual data on how many abortions are for children, rape and mother’s life combined is 1/4 of the real reason which is inconvenience at a staggering 75%. And you want to lecture people on indoctrination?

      Yes, but you continue to fail to see or respect that I, and many others don’t consider personhood to begin from conception, or anything close to that. I see life as continuous (which biologically it is) and that the personhood at conception argument is completely arbitrary. Even personhood from implantation would make more sense to me, as at least then the fetus has a 90% chance of making it birth rather than only a 45% chance. Conception is such an absurd and arbitrary timepoint. Yes there’s potential for birth, but it’s still pretty damn low, less than 50%. And the zygote has none of the qualities that I ascribe to personhood. To me, it is not a human person. It is human, certainly, and alive, certainly, but not a person to me any more than my skin or sperm or eggs are people. They all have potential to be people. Hell, I could take a skin cell, induce pluripotency, implant it into a blastocyst, and make a cloned person, but I don’t consider a skin cell a person even though it has potential.

      No, my definition of what a person is has more to do with the brain than the body. I don’t consider personhood to be conferred by potential, or destiny, or any of these other notions which to me are meaningless. I consider a person to be a thinking, feeling entity, capable of interacting with the environment. If I lost those abilities I would no longer consider myself “alive”. Similarly I don’t think of life forms that lack those properties as being people. They are brain dead, or brainless, etc. Just like I wouldn’t consider an anencephalic to actually be a person. It’s alive, and human, but I personally would feel no compunction to care for it, because without a brain, it’s not a person to me. I understand that others feel differently, and bully for them, but you guys at some point have to acknowledge that we hold these beliefs for good reasons, just like you hold your beliefs for reasons that are important to you.

  17. #19 Calli Arcale
    November 28, 2012

    Some things to consider:
    1) The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages decreed that life began at the time the baby first moved; the moment of quickening, which hearkens back to a older European concept of life being defined by movement. This alone makes it absurd to suggest that the Bible clearly indicates life begins at conception. In fact, it’s pretty vague on the point.

    2) The ancient Hebrews conceived of life not as movement but as breath, and this permeates their religious imagery throughout both testaments of the Bible. It’s likely also associated with the importance of spoken words*. So to them, likely a baby wouldn’t be alive until it first breathed. This is presumably why the Jewish law laid out in the Torah doesn’t consider it murder to cause a miscarriage.

    3) It is ridiculous to suggest a dichotomy between abortion to save a mother’s life and abortion because one simply can’t be bothered. The realities of pregnancy for far too many women are much more complicated than such a simplistic attitude can accommodate. In my opinion, the domestic violence statistics alone present a compelling argument. Women are considerably more likely to be abused while pregnant than at any other time, and this I think is the most heartbreaking part of this. Women need more control over their sexuality and their fate. Abortion should not need to be an option in any but the most dire of circumstances. Unfortunately, that is not yet the world we’re inhabiting.

    *Random observation: the Gospel of John speaks of the importance of the Word, which many Christians today take to mean the Bible. But in Greek, there are two words for “word”: logos and graphos. The former is a spoken word, and the latter is a written word. The word used in John is “logos”. Something for the literalists to think about; the Bible was an oral tradition originally, and the ancient Hebrews didn’t glorify writing in quite the way the peoples of Northern Europe did.

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