Pharyngula

Bye bye, RA

I suspect that soon there will be at least one religious person who will claim he converted from atheism who I will believe. The Raving Atheist is getting ripe: he’s been ramping up the irrationality for some time now, precessing like a top slowing down, and I expect that soon enough he’ll flop over for Jesus. I’m not questioning his sincerity—he is an atheist, all right, and there is no doubt about it—but his sympathies are getting weirder and weirder.

This is not a new development. I’ve discussed his radical pro-life position before, and now Punkassblog and Amanda bring to my attention his latest post, in which he foreswears saying an unkind word about Christianity ever again, and in which I learn that he’s been actively working with one of those ghastly dishonest “crisis pregnancy centers” that offer no services other than propaganda (and, apparently, free teddy bears) and exist only to mislead women worried about pregnancy.

You know, I think I’d forgive an open conversion to Christianity far more easily than I can his irresponsible affiliation with those charlatans and fanatics.

His rationalizations for pro-life extremism simply don’t make sense: he seems to think something special happens at fertilization that unambiguously and unarbitrarily defines a human being. Diploidy is not the scientific term for ensoulment. Genetic specification is not sufficient to specify an individual. Potential is not a synonym for actuality. Fertilization is not a switch that triggers an ineluctable program towards individuality. The combinatorial uniqueness of an individual’s genome is inadequate to define the individual. Amanda notes that most opposition to abortion comes from either religious convictions, a commitment to a sexist social order, or I’d add, a rather primitive and unthinking desire to tightly control reproduction in potential mates and kin. I don’t know which of these apply to RA, but his weak excuses clearly rule out that it might have been an intellectual decision on his part.

He’s welcome to his convictions about abortion, but he needs to face it: they aren’t reasonable, and they’re as batty as Dawn Eden.

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    June 23, 2006

    It is interesting to notice how gradual his slide was. I wrote this in an APPROVING commentary of one of his posts written in October 2004.

  2. #2 Fox1
    June 23, 2006

    Huh… I’ll take you guys word for his past statements. To me, without historical context, the material currently on his front page reads like… like a christian construct of a “good,” possibly convertible athiest. Or a christian posing as an athiest, the comments like saying you could take the money from the collection plate at the end of the service because there’s “no god to stop you” seem… off.
    Again, this is just without any past reading of the site, but that was my intuition never having visited the site before.
    I could be way off base, but I think it’s still interesting that that’s how it appeared to me.

  3. #3 Fox1
    June 23, 2006

    Please excuse my rambling repetition above, it’s been a long shift.

  4. #4 Sexy Sadie
    June 23, 2006

    I can barely stomach TRA. I don’t agree with his anti-choice stance, and he largely comes off as an arrogant asshole. I also find it ironic how he labels believers as “godidiots” while it’s a very safe bet that the people he works with at a PCC are by and large “godidiots.”

  5. #5 NatureSelectedMe
    June 23, 2006

    he seems to think something special happens at fertilization that unambiguously and unarbitrarily defines a human being

    So you want to leave defining a person arbitrary. Shouldn’t there be some hard and fast definition? Well no:

    I say that humanity is something that emerges gradually and is far more complex than having the right number of chromosomes and a certain set of genes: information is added continuously during development, and it’s a serious mistake to think everything that defines you is already present at conception. It’s worse than a mistake; I think it trivializes what it means to be a human being, reducing it to cartoon genetics

    You slay me with your moral high ground crap. You have no morals if you leave defining a human as arbitrary and ambiguous.

  6. #6 Gerry L
    June 23, 2006

    PZ,
    I find it interesting that you repeatedly use the term “pro-life” instead of anti-abortion or anti-choice. You seem to have adopted their language. What gives?

  7. #7 cm
    June 24, 2006

    TA’s argument against abortion would work better if time travel existed. If my mother decides to travel back in time to her first trimester so that she could abort that pregnancy, we’d expect I would have something to say about it. I might even try to get a court injunction preventing her from doing it, as it would mean I would never exist. I might even be said to have a right to my existence now that it has been established, now that I am extricated with this world, with those I love and love me, etc. But embryos–potential persons–are not typically seen as meriting such rights.

    TA’s granting of rights to potential persons is like a teenager trying to use a college library or gym when he is not yet enrolled at that college, and, on being turned away, complaining, “but I am a potential student here!”

  8. #8 Caledonian
    June 24, 2006

    You have no morals if you leave defining a human as arbitrary and ambiguous.

    Illogical. Not all morality requires explicit and precise definitions of a human being. Defining a thing as human does not make it a human being. Finally, although it is certainly possible that PZ has no clear criteria for determining whether a thing is a human being, the absence of a statement from him clarifying those criteria does not in itself constitute evidence that he has no such criteria.

  9. #9 Zeno
    June 24, 2006

    Earlier this year I noticed that the Raving Atheist was approaching my limit for exasperation, so I dropped his site from my Bloglines roster. It particularly perturbed me that he was willing to embrace the fringe position of some of the more extreme Protestant sects that Catholics aren’t Christians. Excuse me? That was just too silly, although merely another straw on the camel’s back. His rantings on “pro-life” issues, however, were a veritable haystack (and good luck trying to find the needle of reason therein).

    RA is on some weird trajectory where the emphasis appears to be more on the “raving” than on the “atheist”. A few more turns of the wheel and chances are he’ll be groveling before a crucifix.

  10. #10 NatureSelectedMe
    June 24, 2006

    Defining a thing as human does not make it a human being

    For example? I’ve got some mathematical background where definitions are important.

  11. #11 Caledonian
    June 24, 2006

    Easy: a tissue sample that comes from a human being is human, in the sense that it is a human tissue sample. It is not human in the sense that it is a human being. I do not commit mass murder when I vacuum up my own skin flakes, nor do I when I comb my hair.

    The ambiguity in English blurs the two meanings of ‘human’ together. Nevertheless, they are separate and distinct.

  12. #12 Ian H Spedding
    June 24, 2006

    P Z Myers wrote:

    His rationalizations for pro-life extremism simply don’t make sense:

    That depends on what you mean by “pro-life extremism”. They do not justify criminal behaviour. Otherwise, they make good sense.

    he seems to think something special happens at fertilization that unambiguously and unarbitrarily defines a human being.

    He thinks, as I do, that fertilization is the point at which the event we recognise as an individual human life begins. As he points out, it makes at least as much sense to place it there as at an arbitrary number of days or weeks later – more so, in fact.

    Diploidy is not the scientific term for ensoulment.

    Neither he nor I have suggested that it is.

    Genetic specification is not sufficient to specify an individual.

    No one is suggesting that the entirety of a human life is written in the genes. But without that initial genetic specification there is no individual human life at all.

    Potential is not a synonym for actuality.

    That depends on how seriously you take the physical concept of “timescape”. If the past and the future are as real as the present then the difference between “potential” and “actual” is simply a matter of temporal perspective.

    Fertilization is not a switch that triggers an ineluctable program towards individuality. The combinatorial uniqueness of an individual’s genome is inadequate to define the individual.

    But without it there is no individual. How much more essential can it be?

    An architectural blueprint does not describe a structure atom-by-atom nor does it encode a complete history of the building from construction to demolition. But without it, the particular building it specifies would not exist.

    A human being is many things over his or her lifetime: a fetus, a newborn, an infant, a child, an adolescent, a young adult, a middle-aged adult, an old person and, ultimately, a corpse. Each, in its time, appears to be a distinct object. Each differs, in varying degrees, to what went before and what comes after; the newborn baby looks very little like the old person it will become in the fullness of time. But they are all part-and-parcel of the whole individual life. They are all simply stages in one continuous event. If that life has value – is entltled to basic rights – at some stages of its existence, why not at all?

  13. #13 NatureSelectedMe
    June 24, 2006

    The ambiguity in English blurs the two meanings of ‘human’ together.

    I see your point. It still doesn’t answer at what point tissue becomes a human being endowed with unalienable rights. The only liberal stance on that point is… Do we really have to decide? It’s so hard. We might hurt someone’s feelings.

  14. #14 Mumon
    June 24, 2006

    There’s a special kind of troll out there in the blogosphere, one that pretends to be an atheist or agnostic, …and then… over time gets Jesusified.

    It’s a total charade of course, and I cannot believe that I’ve actually read posts from people with little more time on their hands than that.

    But I have.

    This guy sounds like one of them…

  15. #15 Daryl McCullough
    June 24, 2006

    Ian H. Spedding writes: If that life has value – is entltled to basic rights – at some stages of its existence, why not at all?

    I think that a very good question for people to get straight, at least in their own minds, is why we value the life of a human so much more than the life of, say, a mouse or an octopus. I’m not going to try to give a definitive answer, because I’m sure everyone who has thought about it has a different answer, but I would like to ask you whether you really think that your own reasons for valuing human life over that of other animals applies equally well in the case of a one-day-old embryo.

  16. #16 Ichthyic
    June 24, 2006

    “…a reckless disregard for truth and accuracy, an intellectual laziness, a distaste for open discourse, and an abandonment of basic principles of decency which I just don’t understand. I’ve never experienced anything close to it in my interactions with believers.”

    ??

    he’s kidding, right? that statement alone would immediately make me think this guy hasn’t got a clue. Heck, it’s typically been the creobots that I’ve found fit his description of uncivil discourse to a proverbial “T”:

    reckless disregard for truth: check
    intellectual laziness: check
    distaste for open discourse: check

    I find creobots to exhibit these behaviors continually.

    After reading the first paragraph of TA’s blog, and seeing this statement, his credibility on just about anything else would take a big nosedive in my book.

  17. #17 Ichthyic
    June 24, 2006

    ” A few more turns of the wheel and chances are he’ll be groveling before a crucifix.”

    more like stuck in therapy!

    like you said, the “raving” part seems to be gaining dominance.

    as in “stark raving mad”.

  18. #18 Sexy Sadie
    June 24, 2006

    If that life has value – is entltled to basic rights – at some stages of its existence, why not at all?

    Not everyone agrees that a fetus is entitled to basic rights.

  19. #19 Left_Wing_Fox
    June 24, 2006

    He thinks, as I do, that fertilization is the point at which the event we recognise as an individual human life begins. As he points out, it makes at least as much sense to place it there as at an arbitrary number of days or weeks later – more so, in fact.

    Not particularly. A large number of fertilized eggs never implant. Even after it does, there’s the liklihood of a natural sponteneous abortion, where the implanted fetus is washed away. Roughly half of all fertilized embryos never make it to the “pregnancy” stage. Then there’s the issues of twins: there are many more twins that form during pregancy than are actually born. The second child is often “discarded” by the body before long in the developmental process.

    If you place the status of “human life” at fertilization at the moral equivalent of “human life” at birth, then you have to accept that the reproductive system is an abattoir under the most normal and natural of circumstances.

    I personally think “birth” is a much more appropriate dividing point. Roe vs Wade places it at the third trimester, where survival and self-sufficiency of the fetus is at least possible apart from the mother. Leviticus in the Bible places it at Birth+1 month.

    No one is suggesting that the entirety of a human life is written in the genes. But without that initial genetic specification there is no individual human life at all. [...]
    But without it there is no individual. How much more essential can it be?

    So a genetic clone is not an individual human? Identical twins are not individual human life?

    That depends on how seriously you take the physical concept of “timescape”. If the past and the future are as real as the present then the difference between “potential” and “actual” is simply a matter of temporal perspective.

    I’m not sure whether to sing “Every Sperm is Sacred” for the billions of “potentials” fired into my gym sock, or start raving about the TIME CUBE.

    A human being is many things over his or her lifetime: a fetus, a newborn, an infant, a child, an adolescent, a young adult, a middle-aged adult, an old person and, ultimately, a corpse. Each, in its time, appears to be a distinct object. Each differs, in varying degrees, to what went before and what comes after; the newborn baby looks very little like the old person it will become in the fullness of time. But they are all part-and-parcel of the whole individual life. They are all simply stages in one continuous event. If that life has value – is entltled to basic rights – at some stages of its existence, why not at all?

    Most people know the difference between a child and a corpse, and which one has more in the way of basic rights. =/

    But on the actual point, we understand that children are not adults, and children do not have the same rights and privaleges as adults. It’s why we have “Age of Consent”, “Age of Majority”, and similar laws, which gradually give children the full rights we give adults. We understand that the unique phase of their development requires them to be protected to a greater extent, and thus have less freedoms as a result. And a child isn’t even as truely different as a fetus.

    The major difference between a fetus and any other stage between birth and death is that the fetus is not an individual organism. While genetically different, it is completely dependant on the body of the mother to survive. So in the case of a conflict, which should have more rights: a partially developed being that cannot survive apart from the body of the mother, or the adult human being which has a potential human being inside her? I think the choice is perfectly clear, especially if it means a better quality of life for all of those already born.

  20. #20 Zarquon
    June 24, 2006

    The only liberal stance on that point is… Do we really have to decide? It’s so hard. We might hurt someone’s feelings.

    No, the liberal stance is that it’s the pregnant woman’s choice. Anti-abortionists always hate the idea of women having a choice.

  21. #21 Kristjan Wager
    June 24, 2006

    Raving Atheist have always seen a bit odd to me, and this just goes on to justify my initial feelings.

    And PZ, please don’t use the anti-choice crowds’ double-speak. They are certainly not pro-life in any meaningful sense.

  22. #22 bernarda
    June 24, 2006

    The anti-abortion crowd claims to have concern about the sanctity of life, yet for them that only seems to concern the fetus. Once the child is born, they wash their hands about its life.

    They oppose aid programs to poor families in city ghettos or rural backwaters. They are happy with a world where 80% or more of the inhabitants live at subsistance level or less. Where is the sanctity of life then?

    As a saying goes, god so loved the poor that he made a lot of them. The former Pope could go down in history as the greatest mass murderer of all time for his opposition to family planning and the use of condoms to help prevent Aids. He did have help though from the Bush administration’s refusing aid for the same things.

  23. #23 ConcernedJoe
    June 24, 2006

    Right on Bernarda, KW, Z, and many others above.

    To speak personally:

    First I am a father who began loving all his potential children from the second we became aware of the pregnancies. However, I didn’t fall all to pieces when one pregnancy failed after several weeks. I knew we’d have other chances and that helped. But I also rationally knew that those aborted cells — cells that we were treating as the most important thing in our lives just prior to the miscarriage — were NOT a real person by any rational criteria!

    I always felt during all of our pregnancies that I would have an extremely hard time deciding to abort if a problem was detected. At the time, in private mental “practice scenarios,” I always decided NO unless the problem was very profound! Who knows what WE’D have actually done. BUT also I NEVER NEVER felt that anyone – State or person – had any right whatsoever to restrict choices we might have needed and wanted to make. To us it was and it is an INalienable right to control your own body and private life.

    Yes yes I know you ANTI-CHOICE people will give examples of restrictions on our right to control our own being. BUT WHAT MAKES THOSE RIGHT!! Maybe just tradition or some moralistic superimposition!?! I don’t buy using examples of restrictions to justify MORE restrictions, so save your breath!

    No give me FREEDOM any day. Rational people with FREEDOM eventually come to the best NET positive value. FREEDOM allows societies to come to true positive moral equilibrium for themselves. To EVOLVE to more perfect beings if I may be so bold as to mention the “E” word.

    Thus, I see the motto on our money as counterproductive to both freedom and to gaining a HIGHER moral and just society. IN GOD WE TRUST is a bloody cop-out; it actually sets the bar TOO LOW! FREE humans will eventually make BETTER decisions than a god fixated and modeled after some ancients’ pipe dreams, and who is represented on Earth by some of the most neurotic, needy, controlling, irrational, dangerous, and fanatically inclined blokes god could have ever created! I don’t want them in any way controlling our bodies, our thoughts, our actions, our lives!!

    Ok said my piece. Thanks for the forum. Pace.

  24. #24 HumanistFireman
    June 24, 2006

    Hi all,

    New person to the group. Yes, I am an atheist, and no, I am not on the route to Christianity….

    Mr. Spedding (above) and even the RA make some good points. A human being begin at conception. A sperm or an egg alone will not develop into a human being. A fertilized egg, barring a natural abortion or a man-made one, will. One poster mentioned that some embryos are aborted naturally. This is true, but there is certain difference between life ending due to natural causes and life ending due to the intervention of mankind.

    Another poster mentioned tissue coming from other parts of the body also being human. But you cannot take a piece of your skin and put it into a woman’s womb and expect a human being to develop.

    I think the science is behind Mr. Spedding. A human being begins at conception and continues throughout its life cycle- however long that life cycle may be. It may only be a few minutes, hours, days, or years. But from conception until death is the life cycle for that particular human being (or human beings in the case of twins).

    Now, having said all that, I am not an anti-choice advocate. We live in a world in which human life is, unfortunately, destroyed all the time. So-called “collateral damage” during war is an example. I think we must, as a society, determine when a developing human being can be given the “right” of “personhood.” RA seems to make the case that the right of personhood should be given to the oocyte. Others think that right comes just as the fetus exits the vaginal canal. I don’t agree with either of these examples, because I don’t think a group of cells necessarily should be given the full rights of personhood, but neither do I think that a baby just suddenly becomes a person deserving of rights only as it is born. Was it not a baby just a few minutes prior to birth?

    This is a not an easy issue, in my opinion. But it is one that we as a society must struggle with. Given the differences of opinion about when a developing human life deserves full “personhood”, my personal opinion is that Roe v. Wade had it right.

  25. #25 BrianT
    June 24, 2006

    It seems like grasping at straws for anti-abortionists to claim there is some underlying biological basis for their opposition to abortion. That an embryo is a “potential” human being just means that it isn’t one now. Does the anti-abortionist mourn the demise of genetic material every time they skin their knee, because some day it could be used to clone a new human being?

  26. #26 HumanistFireman
    June 24, 2006

    By the way, PZ, I love your posts about Mr., oops, I mean Ms. Coulter…..

  27. #27 Carlie
    June 24, 2006

    If I may shill, Bitch PhD has a couple of really good posts about abortion rights. They take the focus off of the exact minute a group of cells becomes human with rights, and place it back on the woman in question. Her main point is that the argument is really about whether women are smart enough to take all of those factors into consideration for themselves, or if it has to be legislated for them.

    http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/2004/10/abortion.html

    http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/2005/04/do-you-trust-women.html

  28. #28 maha
    June 24, 2006

    A human being begin at conception.

    So if ten days later the product of conception divide into twins, when did THEY begin? Or does that amount to an existential reboot?

    Looking at the question of when a human being “begins” from another angle (and realizing that I’m treading on perilous ground here, as I’m not a scientist) — seems to me that any organism, including a human being, is a stage in a process stretching back to the beginning of life on this planet — 4 billion years, give or take, I believe. And if life got here on asteroids from another planet, one could argue that the beginnings of this process are beyond the reach of our current understanding.

    Anyway, consider that over that four billion years, from the earliest prkaryotic cells, through the countless couplings and gene combinations, through unfathomable numbers of cytokinesis and mitosis and whatever else living things go through to be living things, if at some point in the mists of the unknowable past so much as an enzyme had gone astray, today you might be a blowfish.

    But there you are, as you are. Considering that what you are is the culmination of that long process, seems to me that pointing to any one moment and calling it a “beginning” is a bit arbitrary.

  29. #29 Phil
    June 24, 2006

    The best discussions on Raving Atheist take place not on the front-page blog but in the forums. Many of us do not read RA’s blog at all …

    Re conception: Even after fertilization, an egg takes a few days to travel into the womb and implant. At implantation the hormone Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (hCG) starts to be produced. (It’s this hormone that early-pregnancy test kits measure.) The process takes 3-5 days. So, “conception” is no rubicon — at what point in the 3-5 days does the clump of cells become “human”? The answer is necessarily arbitrary, and in the case of Raving Atheist it is based on magical thinking.

  30. #30 Caledonian
    June 24, 2006

    Given the right conditions, it would seem that it is indeed possible to take a skin sample and grow a new body. Biological knowledge advances every day, and I see no reason why the above should not be theoretically possible.

    But why should that be a defining issue? It’s simply irrelevant. I consider actions that cause harm to the fetus that impact the later life (smoking, drinking, and so on during pregnancy) to be harms to the person, but if the fetus is going to be aborted, I really don’t care.

    Biology forces an unequal burden upon women when it comes to the gestation of children. Until we manage to build safe and effective uterine replicators, we’re stuck with that. As far as I’m concerned, women who will be carrying a pregnancy to term do necessarily give up some of their rights because their actions necessarily affect another body than their own. People are not obligated to take care of themselves (with only the rarest of exceptions), but they *are* obligated to care for their children within specific bounds. When the two princples conflict, the active principle overrides the passive one; thus, women have a responsibility not to (for example) induce Fetal Alcohol Syndrome even though they normally have the right to trash their bodies with alcohol as much as they like.

    (If, as some research suggests, behaviors such as drug use can cause harmful changes to men’s sperm that affect fetal development, these principles apply to men as well.)

    But even I don’t think that the fetus has any rights in itself. If it is the woman’s intention to carry the fetus to term, then and only then can the needs of the future person be factored into the equation. If the woman doesn’t wish to carry it, it’s simply a small collection of cells — genetically unique, yes, but so are cancers. The cells do not have the properties that I consider worth protecting. They represent neither a successful attempt at reproduction (as newborns are) nor thinking beings in their own right (as two-year-olds are).

    In short, people who insist that collections of cells be protected because they could hypothetically one day gain the properties that we feel are worth protecting are making a category error with regard to future probabilities. That simply is not a useful way to deal with things that might happen — the ability to possibly meet a set of criteria is not equivalent to actually meeting those criteria.

  31. #31 HumanistFireman
    June 24, 2006

    maha wrote: “So if ten days later the product of conception divide into twins, when did THEY begin? Or does that amount to an existential reboot?”

    They began at concpetion as well. Where else did they come from? If it were not for conception they would not be in existence…

    I think some of the arguments here are missing the point: it doesn’t matter if “life” itself began billions of years ago through some kind of chemical process. What is being discussed is when a developing human being (or even twins) deserves the right to “personhood” (in which that developing human can no longer be legally killed). Many pro-choice arguments mention natural phenomena (spontaneous abortions, for example), but what is at issue is the intentional ending of life committed by mankind.

    Given that the abortion argument comes down to whether we humans should be ending the life cycle of developing humans, I think the primary question is when does a developing human acquire the right of “personhood.” At the first sign of brain waves? At conception? At birth? This is the question, I believe, that we struggle with.

  32. #32 Paul W.
    June 24, 2006

    But you cannot take a piece of your skin and put it into a woman’s womb and expect a human being to develop.

    But you can, pretty much… or soon you will be able to.

    That’s how Dolly the sheep was created. You take a nucleus from a skin cell, put it in a denucleated egg, zap it to jump-start it into activity, and you have a clone.

    There are billions of nuclei in your body that could develop into human beings. And like a fertilized egg, they already have the genetic “blueprint” in the same sense that a fertilized egg does—the full “unique” complement of chromosomes that “specifies” a particular human being. They all have the same blueprint, but then so other clones like identical twins, triplets, etc.

    Are twins any less persons because they’re not genetically unique? No. Combinations of chromosomes are not people.

    If discarding a fertilized egg is homicide, why isn’t scraping off a skin cell homicide?

    I don’t think it makes sense to say that “human life” in the moral sense begins at conception. A fertilized egg, which could develop into a person is no more a person than a skin cell, which could likewise develop into a person under the right circumstances.

    Or if it is somehow a person, that needs some very serious explaining.

    A fertilized egg is mostly a blueprint, or something rather less than a blueprint. (“Blueprint” sounds like a precise specification; genetics and development are much weirder than that.) It’s more like rough floorplan sketch, in a sense.

    A blueprint or floorplan sketch is not a building, much less a person.

    Suppose I have a random floorplan generator, and can push a button to generate a new floorplan for a building, by randomly combining 23 elements from a menu of 23 binary choices.

    If I push the button and generate one of the 2**23 combinations, and print it out on a sheet of paper so that it’s “real,” have I built a house? I don’t think so. I think I’ve generated a random floorplan sketch, not a building.

    And there’s nothing special about that particular floorplan sketch—or rather, nothing more special than the next one I might get by pushing the button again.

    Maybe each random combination of 23 pieces has its own unique specialness, and in some sense that’s probably true, but on average there’s nothing morally special using about a randomly-generated floorplan sketch that I have in hand, vs. discarding it, pushing the button again, and building that house. The floorplan sketch in hand is not more deserving of being used to guide construction than the next one I might generate, just because I’ve already generated it. (If I decide to burn the sketch, that’s not arson.)

    I concede that a fertilized egg is “a human being” in some uninteresting sense. It’s a particular one-celled organism, of the human species, but one-celled organisms are not persons. Yes, it has the ability to develop into a human person with a particular combination of chromosomes—as most unicellular organisms don’t—but so what? There are zillions of already-combined sets of chromosomes hanging out in the cells of our bodies that could develop into people, too.

    And each is just as deserving of a full human life as a fertilized egg.

    If a woman is morally obligated to gestate such a unicellular organism because of its precious chromome combination, why is she NOT likewise obligated to save her other cells, plop their nuclei into denucleated eggs, and gestate those, too? She’s typically got a zillion spare eggs lying around, so why not create that many clones, anyhow, rather than “aborting” all those poor defenseless cells by failing to use them for cloning?

  33. #33 Carlie
    June 24, 2006

    Here’s another argument:

    Basically, outlawing abortion means that right of the fetus to live trumps the right of the pregnant woman to have a say in what happens to her body. By that logic, not only should organ donation be mandatory, but living organ donation as well. Everyone should be tissue typed for possible matches to people needing liver, bone marrow, or kidney transplants and forced to provide if a match is found, because the right of the sick person needing it to live trumps that of another person who would just suffer a short inconvenience to his/her body. Same argument.

  34. #34 Caledonian
    June 24, 2006

    Precisely, Carlie. We must distinguish between moral/ethical obligations and legal ones.

    I would say that everyone has an ethical obligation to donate useful organs when they die in order to help others, but no one has the right to force others to make that choice, whether they are part of the legal system or not.

    The legal system permits us to do many things that we really have obligations not to do, and it does not force us to do many things that we really have an obligation to do. That is precisely how things should be.

  35. #35 Russell
    June 24, 2006

    HumanistFireman writes, “Mr. Spedding (above) and even the RA make some good points. A human being begin at conception. A sperm or an egg alone will not develop into a human being.”

    Does that mean a selected egg and sperm, put together in vitro, the sperm ready to fertilize the egg, is a human being? At what point does a human being begin using nuclear cell transfer? If biologists develop a technology for creating an embryo by adding chromosomes, one at a time, to a denucleated egg, are you going to say a person pops into being when there are 46 there?

    “A fertilized egg, barring a natural abortion or a man-made one, will.”

    As has been pointed out repeated, about half of all oocytes fail to implant in the womb. Naturally. That’s not an abortion, which is what happens after an implanted zygote is somehow removed or ejected. An egg fertilized in vitro certainly won’t develop into a person, barring considerable more coaxing.

    The folks here who are defending the pro-life views are reifying the same things the religious right does: the distinction between natural and artificial, genetic identity in one biological package, what happens if things are “left alone,” ignoring the fact that they weren’t left alone to get to where they were, and most of all, the pretense that making a definition somehow changes the nature of what is discussed, rather than just the way people talk about it.

  36. #36 The Amazing Kim
    June 24, 2006

    I say it isn’t a person ’til I can have a conversation with it, but that’s just me. Anyway, yes, RA has been pretty useless lately.

  37. #37 wolfa
    June 24, 2006

    The problem with the “everyone should be obliged to donate organs” idea is that I do not have the same obligation to a random stranger as I do to my own child. If we take as a given that it is a person as of the moment of conception and this person’s right to live outdoes their parents’ right to bodily autonomy, then this should be true indefinitely. In particular, parents should be legally obliged to give blood, or donate organs, or donate marrow, or anything, regardless of the personal risk to themselves. But somehow, no one is pushing for that, either.

  38. #38 maha
    June 24, 2006

    They began at concpetion as well.

    You should have read the rest of my comment. My argument is that “beginning” is an artificial, cognitive construct that denies much about the nature of life, reproduction, “self,” and even “beingness.”

  39. #39 maha
    June 24, 2006

    Given that the abortion argument comes down to whether we humans should be ending the life cycle of developing humans, I think the primary question is when does a developing human acquire the right of “personhood.” At the first sign of brain waves? At conception? At birth? This is the question, I believe, that we struggle with.

    Yes, and that’s a question that cannot be answered scientifically, but socially and legally. Any answer to that question will be arbitrary. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing; a great deal of what we consider to be “reality” is a social construct.

  40. #40 Ken Cope
    June 24, 2006

    Ian H Spedding employs the argumentum ad Tralfamadore:

    That depends on how seriously you take the physical concept of “timescape”. If the past and the future are as real as the present then the difference between “potential” and “actual” is simply a matter of temporal perspective.

    In such a timescape, the pregnancy always was, always is, and always will be terminated. Choice is a null concept.

    And so it goes…

  41. #41 Monado
    June 24, 2006

    There is a basic principle at stake: the right to integrity of the person. It is a basic principle that other people don’t get to use my body without my consent, not even to save their lives. So it doesn’t matter if the fetus is a legal person; a human being; or merely a potential that requires time, effort, and materials to become an actual person. I still have the right to refuse to have my body used as another’s life support.

    And late abortion is not an issue except in anti-choice rhetoric. A woman who wants an abortion wants it yesterday. Late abortions result from barriers against abortion or from medical diagnoses about the health or viability of the fetus or about the health or life of the mother.

  42. #42 RickD
    June 24, 2006

    maha wrote: “So if ten days later the product of conception divide into twins, when did THEY begin? Or does that amount to an existential reboot?”

    HumanistFireman wrote: “They began at concpetion as well. Where else did they come from? If it were not for conception they would not be in existence…”

    Gotta love a circular definition.

    There is no biological seriousness to this argument at all. At the moment of conception, there was one fertilized egg cell, not two. That’s the point maha is aiming at.

    The “life begins at conception” argument is predicated on some notion that “a soul” is inserted into a fertilized egg at the moment of conception. Personally, I disagree with that attribution. If you want to be scientifically serious about this question, you need to say what a “soul” is and how it gets into the fertilized egg. Maha’s point illustrates the ridiculousness of this line of argument. If “a soul” arrives at the moment of conception, then the explanation for twins who form after conception would either have to be “a second soul” arrives at the point of division or “two souls” actually arrived at conception.

    Given that the pre-split egg is identical in all respects to an egg that does not split, that would seem to rule out the second explanation. And the former explanation seems entirely jury-rigged. At some point we have to concede that this line of argumentation is desperately grasping for straws from thin air.

    NatureSelectedMe said:
    “You slay me with your moral high ground crap. You have no morals if you leave defining a human as arbitrary and ambiguous.”

    Whether an entity is an independent “human being” or not is not a fit subject for “definition”, but for “recognition”. There is need for terms to be defined when laws are written, but that is a different matter than the development of a moral sense.

    The fundamental flaw of fundamentalism is that it fixes itself to a finite list of rules and laws, and then collapses into panic mode whenever the reality of our existence becomes more complicated than the simple rules. Given that many of these laws and norms are millenia old, it should hardly come as a surprise that they fail to adequately understand life as we currently understand it. A person of true faith would be humbled by this realization, by dogmatic fundamentalists take the opposite approach, retreating from reality into self-absorbed anger.

    You claim to have some background in mathematics. If so, then you are surely familiar with Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem, the most profound result in logic in the 20th century. For the uninitiated, the Incompleteness Theorem says (something like) no finite set of axioms can completely capture the notion of truth.

    The problem with “defining human” is that we are trying to match the definition with a physical reality, rather than trying to force physical reality to match are tiny set of axioms. Insisting on the “an independent human life begins at conception” axiom has absolutely no support in the physical world. Moreover, the traditional law codes do not even require this kind of stringent rule. Indeed, this interpretation is nearly impossible to maintain.

    The questions surround abortion do not merely treat with the question of whether a fertilized egg has a “right to live”, but also with the question whether the state should compel a woman to serve as the host to that fertilized egg. The answer to that question would be fairly obvious, when phrased in a non-traditional way. Indeed, if a person who ran a fertility clinic went around forcibly implanting embryos willy-nilly in women who had indicated no desire to get pregnant, his actions would be viewed as horrific. Only the most ardent pro-lifer would then require the pregnant woman to carry the fetus to term.

    Generally speaking, the problem then appears to not be the requirement that every fertilized egg must be brought to term by some woman, but rather that a woman who has intercourse has somehow forfeited her right to not be pregnant. Pro-choicers deny that proposition.

    Seinfeld had a wonderful episode where this issue was debated in the context of a pizzeria. Is it a pizza when it goes into the oven, or when it comes out? Does it happen when the sauce is put on, or the cheese? Or is twirling dough in the air the decisive moment?

    From my standpoint, militantly arguing that “a life” begins at conception makes as much sense as militantly arguing that “a pizza” begins at the moment a pie is put in an oven.

  43. #43 s9
    June 24, 2006

    PZ writes: “Amanda notes that most opposition to abortion comes from either religious convictions, a commitment to a sexist social order, or I’d add, a rather primitive and unthinking desire to tightly control reproduction in potential mates and kin.”

    I would add to that, in the case of irreligious opponents to abortion rights, a rejection of the philosophy of Pragmatism. An awful lot of the wankage over fertilization as the magic point in the development of human individuals, particularly with the folks not motivated by religious convictions on the subject, is just a stubborn refusal to accept an argument from pragmatism.

  44. #44 NatureSelectedMe
    June 24, 2006

    Carlie: Basically, outlawing abortion means that right of the fetus to live trumps the right of the pregnant woman to have a say in what happens to her body.

    And that’s bad, why? How about at 35 weeks? Your argument that fetus = kidney is not very good. One point is that a fetus is not part of a woman’s body because of different DNA. Although, there are human chimeras that may have kidneys with different DNA.

  45. #45 sdanielmorgan
    June 24, 2006

    So has RA actually advocated making abortion illegal, or does he just find it unethical?

    Obviously, if the latter, he is receiving much undo criticism.

  46. #46 s9
    June 24, 2006

    Though, I should note that I have never encountered an atheist opponent of abortion rights that I knew to be a female. It’s just that most of the atheist opponents of abortion I have encountered were all crazy American anarcho-libertarians, and their rejection of Pragmatism seemed to be a motivating factor in much of their thinking.

  47. #47 Torbjörn Larsson
    June 24, 2006

    Nature says:

    “So you want to leave defining a person arbitrary. Shouldn’t there be some hard and fast definition?”

    Many demarcations are simply hard to do, not least in biology. The fact that we have a hard time to define “life”, “species”, and “personality”, doesn’t stop me from being a living human person.

    But defining “alive” is easier if the above is granted. I’m still confounded when US shows says someone is dead while the heart is momentarily stopped and alive while the brain is irreversibly dead. Why is braindead a poor hard and fast definition? Is it because then an early foetus isn’t yet alive? (Note that I don’t think that is enough to be a person. It is merely an argument against anti-abortionists.)

    “please don’t use the anti-choice crowds’ double-speak. They are certainly not pro-life in any meaningful sense.”

    Indeed. They are certainly devaluating life generally since their policies means lower life values (more pain, sickness, handicaps (not a defensible position, perhaps), and powerty) and that a whole lot more ‘humans’ are killed in natural spontaneous abortions, and women specially since their policies mean women don’t own their bodies. Also ironically since it’s not a zerosum game in defining “alive” their definitions means more ‘dead’. “Anti-life” would be a more meaningful naming.

  48. #48 Dr. Pretorius
    June 24, 2006

    If the past and the future are as real as the present then the difference between “potential” and “actual” is simply a matter of temporal perspective.

    I just have to call attention to this comment, because of how revealing it is – notice that this is only true if you do, in fact, think that there is absolutely no difference between potential and actual.

    In real life, of course, they are quite different and even if the past and future are as real as the present (already there I think it’s a little confused – what could that possibly mean?) they would still be quite different. All you need to do to catch that is to remember that “Possible but not actual” is a valid description of something.

    Also I think it’s about time people stopped letting anti-choice advocates use the “once conception happens, barring miscarriage/etc, you get a baby” argument to arrive at the result that conception is something special. This only works if you assume, as an implicit premise, the conclusion. (In other words, the various ways of getting to ‘conception is an important moment’ are more or less irrelevant – it is a deeply bad argument.)

    For example, we could run the same argument as follows:
    Sperm are human lives, and should be taken very good care of – A sperm, barring an inability to get laid or being beat out by another sperm, will fertilize an egg and develop into a human being. This makes it conclusively different from testicles, which do not have the moral status of human beings, and very important to boot. People refusing to treat sperm like actual living moral agents are fooling themselves.

    Notice that the same argument is being made here as in terms of a fertilized egg: you just pick one particular step in the incredibly complicated and involved procedure that has to take place if someone is to give birth to a viable baby and declare it to be the most specialest part. Then you pretend nothing happened before it (that was important, at any rate), and note that “barring …(where here you insert a brief hand wave at the amazing number of ways that procedure might not be realized)… you will inevitably have a human being.” From this you conclude what you started with: that whatever point you picked is the most importantest point there could be. And from that you conclude that whatever is true of the end result (actual living human being with a certain moral status) must be true of the thing you were pointing to. (This is, of course, equally flawed and stupid as far as points go: of course arguing that if something or other is true of an entity of some sort (say, a person) than it must have always been true of that entity (right up until the already identified magic point) is as invalid a claim as the argument in total.

    Finally, RickD, Godel’s Incompleteness theorems do not actually say that, in any useful way at least. (And I think, to boot, you meant to refer to Tarski.)

  49. #49 Torbjörn Larsson
    June 24, 2006

    “One point is that a fetus is not part of a woman’s body because of different DNA. Although, there are human chimeras that may have kidneys with different DNA.”

    I think your DNA argument is null and void anyhow. If I yank out an hair with the root containing DNA, did I perform an amputation?

    Conversely, do you have the right to say that a transplant or a mechanical heart “is not part of” a body? A foetus is a part of a womans body until it is developed enough to make do on its own. It is not a moral or legal right for you to try to have a womans foetus removed any more than original organs or transplants. It is entirely the persons decision.

    On another note, I liked the pizza analogy. One of the problems with defining the start and end of life is that it is processes, not especial moments or things. Even the concept of braindeath means that there is still living cells in the body.

  50. #50 Graculus
    June 24, 2006

    Great, then all anti-choice advocates are invited to adopt a blastocyst/zygote/fetus. Obviously if it isn’t part of a woman’s body it is viable outside of her body, right?

  51. #51 Jethro Gulner
    June 24, 2006

    And that’s bad, why? How about at 35 weeks? Your argument that fetus = kidney is not very good. One point is that a fetus is not part of a woman’s body because of different DNA. Although, there are human chimeras that may have kidneys with different DNA.

    A woman has as much DNA in common with an unfertilized egg as with a fertilized one. Does this mean that an unfertilized egg is not a part of a woman’s body? I would say no, and instead would say that, as others have pointed out, DNA alone does not an individual make. The extensive connections between the fetus and the mother are what make the fetus a part of the mother until birth.

    That being said, I agree that birth is not a particularly good time for when abortion becomes illegal, with some exceptions. But it is not, for me, a matter of personhood. It is a matter of when does the fetus’s right to exist overrule the mother’s right to self determination.

    In the case of the mother’s health (even if health is not a particularly well defined term) the “dividing line” probably should be birth. Likewise for severe birth defects. Otherwise, I think that “viability” (also a poorly defined term) is probably the best place to draw the line because that is when the fetus actually could live as an independent being, as opposed to being dependent on the connections with the body of the mother. A newly fertilized egg is purely potential. A 35 week fetus actually could be a separate individual right then and there.

  52. #52 Ebonmuse
    June 24, 2006

    PZ, you read my mind – I’ve been wondering for a while when RA was going to convert to Christianity. His pledge to never again criticize Christianity for any reason is a huge step in that direction, but I think the seeds of that eventual conversion were laid right from the beginning with his anti-choice stance. As I wrote, though in a different context:

    When believers are not taught how to reason logically or critically analyze evidence, one delusion will look as good as another… When a religious meme enters the mind through the loophole created by a lack of critical thinking skills, it naturally tries to seal that gap behind itself so that no other can enter the same way and oust it… But that gap can never be entirely closed. There is always the possibility that another meme will gain entrance the same way, and that is what we are now seeing.

    That was actually a review of The Da Vinci Code, but it strikes me as quite appropriate to RA’s situation. When you suspend critical thinking and allow even one irrational idea to take roost in your brain, it makes it much easier for others to follow.

    Just to be clear, I’m not saying that being anti-abortion is intrinsically an irrational position. I’m sure a reasoned argument could be made for it, although I think the pro-choice arguments are better. But what really gets me about RA is that it seems like he’s not even trying to defend that belief rationally. His arguments offered in defense of it are some of the most poorly thought-out ones I’ve ever seen. It’s like the religious anti-abortion stance without the religion, and if that seems contradictory and vacuous, well, so does his position.

  53. #53 "Q" the Enchanter
    June 24, 2006

    “A human being begin at conception.”

    Even if it were true it would be irrelevant: Being a “human being” is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for being a moral patient. (Cf. your pet dog; cf. a “human” anacephalic.)

  54. #54 Torbjörn Larsson
    June 24, 2006

    “Finally, RickD, Godel’s Incompleteness theorems do not actually say that, in any useful way at least. (And I think, to boot, you meant to refer to Tarski.)”

    I belive Rick made his point in that Gödel incompletness means that sufficiently powerful formal models that want to capture the knowledge it encounters must be forever extended. That is the case if we use them to describe the facts of observations and theories that describes observations.

    I didn’t know about Tarski’s work. According to Wikipedia Tarski’s Indefinability Theorem generalizes to the assertion that “no sufficiently powerful language is strongly-semantically-self-representational”. Informally, it seems to say that “Roughly, a sufficiently rich interpreted language cannot represent its own semantics. It follows that, generically, the meta-language must be richer than the object language.” (Now I understand why Mark on the “Good Math, Bad Math” blog insists that a model for the semantics is necessary to show that a formal theory is consistent. Well, IIRC he prooved the necessity by showing the inconsistency otherwise on a specific case. Tarski says more, though.) I don’t see that this is supportive of what Rick wanted to say on facts. It may have something to do with describing Truth, though.

  55. #55 BrianT
    June 24, 2006

    For every living organism, life appears to have begun a few billion years ago, so I think it’s delusional to discuss when life begins for any particular individual. Ditto for when human life begins (unless you think there was another species involved in your parentage – but then that would be another, more interesting discussion). We’re the result of an unbroken procession of organisms that haven’t yet stopped being alive. Any given individual may be a unique combination of genetic traits, but in a universe populated by almost nothing but uniqueness, that’s not particularly special.

    So, let’s cut right to the chase. If you believe that there’s some critical defining point in human development, you’re probably envisioning a reality where free-floating, immaterial “souls” are plugged into flesh-and-blood receptacles. If you’ve got some real evidence for this, please let us know.

  56. #56 Torbjörn Larsson
    June 24, 2006

    “capture the knowledge it encounters must be forever extended”

    capture the possibility to knowledge it encounters must be forever extended, I mean. As in the new theorems it is envoked to prove where the old axioms aren’t enough.

  57. #57 Chris Clarke
    June 24, 2006

    Fertilization is not a switch that triggers an ineluctable program towards individuality.

    As the posters at Little Green Footballs demonstrate handily.

  58. #58 Caledonian
    June 24, 2006

    For the uninitiated, the Incompleteness Theorem says (something like) no finite set of axioms can completely capture the notion of truth.

    It would be more accurate to say that no set of rules that can represent arithmetic can be both consistent and complete. No sufficiently powerful system can produce a complete list of all the statements that follow from its premises unless that system contradicts itself.

  59. #59 Torbjörn Larsson
    June 24, 2006

    Maybe it is due to the great midsummer feasts this yiear, and it is OT, but Rick and Pretorius took my thougths to waxing poetically. The infinity of rules and the nonrigidity necessary when developing them that is needed to describe nature, morals, politics is why religions and their claims ultimately fail. So on the power of nature:

    Nature is more powerful than any religion – religious claims that contradicts facts fail.

    Nature is larger than any religion – religious claims that tries to restricts facts fail.

    Nature is more complex than any religion – religious claims will always loose directions and stand confused among the infinity of facts.

    I am a simple man, I like nature better.

  60. #60 Carlie
    June 24, 2006

    Nature,
    How many 35-week abortions are there? That entire line of thought is trying to legislate a hypothetical. Third trimester abortions are exceedingly rare, and a high percentage of second trimester abortions (“late”) are only done because the woman didn’t have adequate access to do it earlier. There’s a straw woman out there who decides a week before her baby is due that she doesn’t want to go through the effort and aborts it, and that’s what anti-abortion advocates pin everything on. Doesn’t happen. Again, do you trust that women can make the ethical judgement not to abort so late? Then leave them alone.

  61. #61 Rey Fox
    June 24, 2006

    This is a bit tangential, but I liked your last post, Tobjörn. It reminded me of the way I felt when I was reading this book on the search for extrasolar planets a few weeks ago, and the potential for life on them. It was a very grand, sweeping view of the universe and the strange vistas therein, and I remember feeling that the grand morality play of religion (Christianity, at any rate) as I know it seemed rather trite next to it.

  62. #62 thwaite
    June 24, 2006

    I say it isn’t a person ’til I can have a conversation with it, …

    Hear, here! AmazingKim amazes again (sorry, couldn’t resist). ‘Q the Enchanter’ is apt also.

    You’d think the soul would be more central than the body for the religious, since they’re prone to emphasizing any such distinction. Infants *as such* are just like non-humans. Nobody even remembers much of their ‘selves’ before age 3-4. Infants babble, mostly … but even early conversation leads down some pretty strange paths since it takes a while for the young mind to comprehend that others have minds and feelings like their own (and that most other objects *don’t* have minds and intentions).

    Didn’t the church universal (er, the Catholic church) once have some doctrine about the age of emergent reason – about age 7 years or more?

    Research like Uta Frith’s work on development of autism and the complementary understanding of how we non-autistics develop is pertinent here. http://www.icn.ucl.ac.uk/dev_group/

    But I’ve always had my doubts about the Bene Gesserit’s use of the pain box in their search for ‘humans’, which the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam explained presumed that “animals would chew off a leg to escape a trap … a human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper…” The role of human foresight is apt but I don’t think all animals are so totally S/R. More to the point, the Bene Gesserrit applied this test to candidates well into their teens! At least that’s how Herbert wrote it up in Dune.

  63. #63 Sexy Sadie
    June 24, 2006

    So, let’s cut right to the chase. If you believe that there’s some critical defining point in human development, you’re probably envisioning a reality where free-floating, immaterial “souls” are plugged into flesh-and-blood receptacles.

    Very well said. From where I’m standing, anti-choice arguments as a whole only make sense within a theistic (or at the very least metaphysical) viewpoint.

  64. #64 Chance
    June 24, 2006

    - I’ve been wondering for a while when RA was going to convert to Christianity. His pledge to never again criticize Christianity for any reason is a huge step in that direction, but I think the seeds of that eventual conversion were laid right from the beginning with his anti-choice stance.

    RA was religious in his early years and comes from a religious family. In an interview I listened to once he said he shook it off. Perhaps he did, perhaps he didn’t.

    I have a hard time seeing though, even if he does find some religious ideals good and we all do, a fellow like him buying into all the supernatural ideas presented in religion.

    Is it even possible to start accepting things minus any evidence when one has so long relied upon it without eventually seeing the holes again?

  65. #65 Caledonian
    June 24, 2006

    But I’ve always had my doubts about the Bene Gesserit’s use of the pain box in their search for ‘humans’, which the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam explained presumed that “animals would chew off a leg to escape a trap … a human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper…” The role of human foresight is apt but I don’t think all animals are so totally S/R. More to the point, the Bene Gesserrit applied this test to candidates well into their teens! At least that’s how Herbert wrote it up in Dune.

    That’s not quite the point. The Bene Gesserit were testing for the ability of the frontal lobes to override instinctual behaviors and emotional desires. Their definition of humanity centers around the ability to inhibit or counter associational responses. The test is not one of altruism, but self-control.

  66. #66 Dr. Pretorius
    June 24, 2006

    Torbjörn –

    What Rick said, or at least the small bit that I was responding to, as opposed to the large bit that’s quite good, is “the Incompleteness Theorem says (something like) no finite set of axioms can completely capture the notion of truth.”

    This is, actually, pretty much a quicker way of stating how you described Tarski’s Indefinability Theorem –
    According to Wikipedia Tarski’s Indefinability Theorem generalizes to the assertion that “no sufficiently powerful language is strongly-semantically-self-representational”. Informally, it seems to say that “Roughly, a sufficiently rich interpreted language cannot represent its own semantics. It follows that, generically, the meta-language must be richer than the object language.”

    A language that was strongly-semantically-self-representational (which is, I believe, a fancier way of saying semantically universal), would be one which could talk about itself. (Ie, it could give names to sentences of the language – English, for example, can do this.) Any language that can do this can represent its own semantics (as put above), which amounts to saying that any language that can talk about itself can talk about what makes sentences in that language true (again, in english, we can do this by saying things like ” “The cat is on the mat” is true.”, or “”The cat is on the mat” is true when the cat is on the mat.” Semantics, here, means dealing with truth.)

    The problem, as with Godel’s work as well (the two are very similar), is that if you can name sentences and say that they’re true, you can also say that they’re false, and very easily you end up with things like “This very sentence here is false”, which is a nasty paradox indeed. The result that Tarski arrived at using this is that no (formal) language can have a well defined predicate “..is true in this language”, because you would run into that problem. To define truth in any particular language you have to use a different (and as it turns out, more powerful – because it has to be able to say everything the previous language did, in addition to the truth predicate – language).

    So no formal system can give a complete account of truth (or semantics), because it will always be unable to give an account of its own semantics.

    What Godel did is approximately the same sort of thing, only with “is provable in this formal system” (or perhaps, if you like, “is a theorem”). In fact you can perform the same sort of trick with any number of predicates, but truth and provability are two of the more interesting ones.

    (To link this to what Caledonian said about Godel, take “Arithmetic” to mean the complete set of sentences (in language mumbletymumble) which are true under what is called the Standard Interpretation (ie, the one under which numbers mean numbers, + means addition, etc). Then any axiomatic theory (meaning the set of sentences that are either axioms or consequences of those axioms) will fail to be identifiable with Arithmetic (the set of sentences true under the standard interpretation), for the above reasons. (Since, in other words, you can make the language of arithmetic talk about proof, you can’t come up with a way of capturing it completely in a theory – that theory would have to either include or not include “This sentence is not a theorem of the theory.”)

    Neither Godel’s theorem, nor Tarski’s apply quickly or easily to discussions of things that are not formal systems.

  67. #67 Caledonian
    June 24, 2006

    Neither Godel’s theorem, nor Tarski’s apply quickly or easily to discussions of things that are not formal systems.

    Rather fortunately, there are no such things. Everything’s a formal system.

  68. #68 RavenT
    June 24, 2006

    Neither Godel’s theorem, nor Tarski’s apply quickly or easily to discussions of things that are not formal systems.

    Dr. Pretorius, would it at least be fair to say that (since formal systems are so constrained in contrast to things that are not formal systems) if a finite set of axioms is insufficient to describe something as relatively constrained and “well-behaved” as a formal system, it would be even that much more insufficient if it were applied somewhere where all of those constraints are off? So you could have an ordinal assessment of how more or less deficient the axioms are for each application?

  69. #69 Amanda Marcotte
    June 24, 2006

    Since we need an arbitrary definition of when life begins, may I humbly suggest we stick with the one we have now? You are a member of the human race when you’re born, given a birth certificate, are breathing on your own, have a name, have an identity, etc. The nice thing about this cut-off point is that it fits all the criteria people demand in terms of being recognizable. Best part is it’s not even arbitrary, since it’s the first time that the fetus/baby is not actually inside another person’s body and subsisting completely on that person’s food and oxygen intake.

    That said, the reason I like the birth day definition is it’s the one that maximizes human rights and minimizes cruelty. That’s the best we can hope for.

  70. #70 Chris
    June 24, 2006

    It would be more accurate to say that no set of rules that can represent arithmetic can be both consistent and complete. No sufficiently powerful system can produce a complete list of all the statements that follow from its premises unless that system contradicts itself.
    Not quite. *Any* formal system can produce a complete list of all the statements that follow from its premises (and rules of inference) – that’s what it *means* for them to follow from its premises. But a system is only *complete* if *every true sentence* expressible in the system is provable in the system – i.e., every true sentence actually does follow from the axioms of the system.

    What Godel proved is that for formal systems with a sufficiently complex object domain, if the formal system is consistent, there must be some true statements about the object domain (which are *expressible* in the formal system) that *don’t* follow from the premises of the formal system – even though they are true. That’s what makes it an incomplete system – there are true statements that are expressible in its language, but not provable according to its rules. (There are also false statements that are expressible and not refutable.)

    The definition of completeness *requires* an independent method of determining which statements are true. Otherwise you just get “a system is complete if every provable sentence is provable”.

    Tarski’s Indefinability Theorem is even more misunderstood, mostly hinging on the specific meaning of “represent”. Representation in this sense requires the existence of a specific finite formula that can examine any statement and determine its truth value – the way that “p>1, and there do not exist m,n>=2 such that m*n=p” expresses “p is prime”. You can take any number p, and see if the individual parts of that statement are true, and put them together, and see if p is prime – and if you followed the formula correctly, your answer will be right *every time*. Tarski’s theorem says there’s no formula that does that for truth.

    Again, in order to say that a property is defined or not defined by a given formula, you need an *independent* way of verifying the property – a formula F defines a property P if and only if “x satisfies F” < -> “x actually does have property P”. Therefore we can’t evaluate F unless we already know which things have property P and which don’t. (Note: every formula does define *some* property, namely the property of satisfying that formula. But in any given formal language, there are some properties not defined by any formula.)

    Mathematicians are accustomed to defining terms (such as “prime”) in terms of that type of formula, thus “indefinability”, but it’s not quite the same as the ordinary sense of “define”.

    Incidentally, I think this refutes Caledonian’s claim that everything is a formal system; most natural languages are not formal systems. They are languages that can express a wide variety of statements, but they have no rigorous decision procedure for determining which statements are provable; furthermore, natural-language terms are often not “defined” in the mathematical sense, where the definition is clear and explicit and any object could be examined and determined *unambiguously* to belong or not belong to it.

    This discussion, among others, makes it clear that the English language is not such a formal system. “Person” is not well defined any more than “true” is.

  71. #71 thwaite
    June 24, 2006

    Caledonian,

    My appraisal that “the role of human foresight is apt”, seems consonant with your “frontal lobes to override [instinct & emotion]” and with self-control. Although Science Magazine recently (5/19) had this, which I’ve not yet read critically:

    Foresight and Evolution of the Human Mind – Thomas Suddendorf
    Summary: Planning for the future is a fundamental human survival strategy. New results suggest that great apes can anticipate future needs and that this ability has roots more ancient than previously thought.

    Was your mention of ‘altruism’ meant to contrast with self-control?

    Frank Herbert’s Dune is fiction, and while he was a gifted writer and had a focused imagination, his definition of and test for ‘humanity’ was speculative.

    My overall intent was attempting to refocus the thread (heh!) to defining the emergence of human lives by using our mental attributes rather than embryonic sequences – which latter we share with most infant mammals. Psychologists studying autism, and non-human primates, and now equipped with neural imaging techniques, are learning lots new about maturation of various components and levels of cognition. The new perspectives are less focused on forebrain inhibition of reflexive responses (tantric sex, anyone?) than the ability to comprehend another person’s knowledge (or appreciate their lack of knowledge, as per the “Sally/Ann” test now ubiquitous in child-development labs), and to empathize and perhaps sympathize with another’s emotional response – these are broadly referred to as “Theory of Mind” studies. en.wikipedia.org has a summary.

    Of course the relationship of mind to “soul” remains speculative.

  72. #72 Caledonian
    June 24, 2006

    *Any* formal system can produce a complete list of all the statements that follow from its premises (and rules of inference) – that’s what it *means* for them to follow from its premises.

    Quite correct — my error. I should have said “all statements which are true given the system’s premises”.

    Incidentally, I think this refutes Caledonian’s claim that everything is a formal system; most natural languages are not formal systems.

    The neural programs running the natural languages are. There are always formal systems equivalent in every way to any given system.

  73. #73 Spike
    June 24, 2006

    I’m with HumanistFireman. However, not everyone who thinks the human with rights begins at conception wants abortion outlawed.

    There’s so much magical thinking on the part of the pro-abortion crowd, it’s hard to know where to start:

    1. “Zygotes and fetuses are just tissue like a liver or your skin.” Not so. My skin cells and liver will never be anything else, unless I apply sufficient technology to transform them into -reproductive cells- and start them down the path towards becoming a human.

    2. “Natural abortions happen all the time.” So what? So do other natural disasters. We try to mitigate them. But just because “nature” kills people doesn’t mean humans should.

    3. “Amanda notes that most opposition to abortion comes from either religious convictions, a commitment to a sexist social order, or I’d add, a rather primitive and unthinking desire to tightly control reproduction in potential mates and kin.” None of which apply to me, or HumanistFireman, or Ian as far as I can tell. So you pro-abortionists are going to have to figure out another category for those of us who think abortion is wrong: People who believe human lives should be protected, especially if they cannot protect themselves.

    4.”There is a basic principle at stake: the right to integrity of the person. It is a basic principle that other people don’t get to use my body without my consent, not even to save their lives.” It’s also a basic principle the we don’t get to kill people just because they are inconvenient, at least not without trial.

    5. “Generally speaking, the problem then appears to not be the requirement that every fertilized egg must be brought to term by some woman, but rather that a woman who has intercourse has somehow forfeited her right to not be pregnant. Pro-choicers deny that proposition.” Most of the posts on this thread were pretty pointless, because like this quote, it was addressed at the pro-life crowd (those who object to abortion on religious and political grounds).

    A few of you, like Dr. Pretorius, did make the attempt to deal with those of us who are non-believers and who do not want the government to force women to carry babies to term. But the Dr.’s argument is fails because there is a big, big difference between natural abortions and human-induced ones, as I noted above.

    But the Dr. did not really address Ian’s comment at the start of the thread. Which I restate as follows: If the third trimester fetus should be treated as a human, what’s the difference between it and third trimester minus 1 week? minus 1 month? minus three months? And don’t whine “viability,” there are many post-birth humans who are not “viable” and we protect their lives. The science is not really relevant anyway, because, as we always argue against the creationists: Science does not deal with moral and philosophical issues.

    The discussion of when a human has the right to not be killed by others is a moral and philosophical one. What moral right do we have to pick a point in the development of a human’s life and say, “On this side: you are protected. On that side: sorry!”

    Let me rephrase: At the end of a human’s life, when the emotional cost becomes so great that it outweighs the benefits of prolonging her life, we let them go. Each person in the family decides for themselves when that should be, and they eventually agree that the patient should be taken off of artificial support. We say, “Let nature take its course.”

    But, when a baby is conceived, if “nature” is allowed to take its course, we get a human – unless we other humans interfere. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this human-to-be, their existence just seems to be troublesome for the other people. What standard can we apply that allows the life of the person inside the womb to be ended so that the people outside don’t have to be bothered any more?

  74. #74 Steve LaBonne
    June 25, 2006

    But, when a baby is conceived, if “nature” is allowed to take its course, we get a human – unless we other humans interfere.

    This is blatantly faalse, as most conceptions lead to spontaneous abortions (most of the time the woman never even realizes she had conceived an embryo).

  75. #75 Chance
    June 25, 2006

    The science is not really relevant anyway, because, as we always argue against the creationists: Science does not deal with moral and philosophical issues.

    I think this statement is a false canard. I think there is no reason science can’t make deep inroads into either field as both are products of biological organism.

    This is an oft repeated thought and frankly one that needs to be questioned. And for the record I am against abortion but have a hard time thinking making it illegal is a good idea either.

    And for what it’s worth I find the atheist arguments against abortion more compelling than any religious argument for the same.

    Having said that I do think their is a difference in aborting a 1st term embryo as compared to a later stage for the simple fact that their quite literally is no real comparison between the two.

  76. #76 Owlmirror
    June 25, 2006

    What moral right do we have to pick a point in the development of a human’s life and say, “On this side: you are protected. On that side: sorry!”

    I think it is honestly fair to point out that we can indeed pick such a point if what is under discussion is not a human. Indeed, I note that such definitional ideas pervade the argument – you, and others on one side of the argument consistently use the word “human” and “person” as if they are always applicible; and those on the other side avoid such words as much as possible.

    Is it possible to define what a human is? I think it must be, and although there are some grey areas, and transitional definitions, I suspect that there’s a definition that most people might find reasonable.

    When a human dies, the usual accepted proof that death has indeed occurred is brain death. When that happens, the body that is lying there is no longer considered a human being with rights, but rather a thing that is the property of the heirs, to dispose of how they see fit.

    If the end of brain function is used to define the end of an individual person, the cessation of one instance of humanity, is it not reasonable to define the beginning of personhood, the start of an instance of humanity, as being concurrent with the start of human brain function?

    I haven’t read enough in neuroscience or embryonic development to be able to say with confidence when exactly that occurs, especially since what exactly is a “human brain” can be further argued about, and what “function” means is also debatable. And for that matter, whether brain function is something that can be easily tested in utero.

    But with this definition, the argument for a fertilized egg being a “human” goes away. A blastocyte isn’t a human yet, and the fact that it will “naturally” develop into a human — will develop a functioning human brain — isn’t relevant if it isn’t a human at the point when the mother wishes to terminate it.

    Those in the medical profession have been struggling with such ethical issues for a while now, and I always thought that the guidelines that they were using did already involve brain function. I wonder why that hasn’t percolated down to the general populace? Is there something objectionable or impossibly difficult to understand about defining a human as being a human organism with a functioning brain?

  77. #77 Daryl McCullough
    June 25, 2006

    Spike writes: 1. “Zygotes and fetuses are just tissue like a liver or your skin.” Not so. My skin cells and liver will never be anything else, unless I apply sufficient technology to transform them into -reproductive cells- and start them down the path towards becoming a human.

    And why is that relevant? Why does the distinction between what would happen naturally and what would happen with advanced technology make any moral difference?

    2. “Natural abortions happen all the time.” So what? So do other natural disasters. We try to mitigate them. But just because “nature” kills people doesn’t mean humans should.

    In the case of natural disasters we have a moral obligation to try to prevent the loss of innocent life. So is there a corresponding moral obligation to prevent spontaneous abortions?

    It seems to me that both of these points have a common thread, which is to make a moral distinction between what would happen naturally and what would happen with human intervention. Why does that distinction matter? Why is there a moral difference between a fertilized egg, which could turn into a human without technological intervention, and a skin cells that could be turned into a human with technological intervention (assuming advances in cloning technology)?

    Why does the fact that a clump of cells might eventually become a human have any relevance to what rights it has now?

    I have a hard time making any sense of either the religious or the atheist arguments against abortion.

  78. #78 Steve LaBonne
    June 25, 2006

    In the case of natural disasters we have a moral obligation to try to prevent the loss of innocent life. So is there a corresponding moral obligation to prevent spontaneous abortions?

    To me this is the question anti-abortionists need to be embarrassed with over, and over, and over again. It follows unavoidably from their stated premises that spontaneous abortions are BY FAR the greatest cause of the loss of innocent “human life”. Where is their emergency campaign for medical research to prevent this holocaust?

    To be blunt, the “life begins at conception” crowd is lying, even if the lie may not be fully conscious. They do NOT draw the logical consequences of that supposed belief (all those variants of the “rescue child or freezer full of embryos” thought experiment demonstrate the same thing.) Therefore they do not truly believe any such thing, and it’s the imperative for control of women’s sexual behavior that is really driving these people.

  79. #79 Ian H Spedding
    June 25, 2006

    Sexy Sadie wrote:

    Not everyone agrees that a fetus is entitled to basic rights.

    True, but if you deny basic human rights to fetuses you are saying, in effect, that they are less than human. How many mothers would agree that their unborn child is less than human?

  80. #80 Kristjan Wager
    June 25, 2006

    True, but if you deny basic human rights to fetuses you are saying, in effect, that they are less than human. How many mothers would agree that their unborn child is less than human?

    Most mothers I know are quite willing to say that a fetus is less than human. And most pregnant women are quite willing to do that as well.

    You are trying to cast the debate into anti-choice termology – we are not talking about “mothers” until they have given birth, and we are definitely not talking about “unborn children”. Instead we are using the correct words – ‘pregnant women’ and ‘fetus’.

    A fetus is not a human – they are a potential human, but that’s certainly not the same. Much like an egg isn’t a chicken. Hence basic human rights (whatever that is to you) does not apply.

  81. #81 Jillian
    June 25, 2006

    There are a lot of issues brought up by twinning that I don’t often see addressed by the anti-abortion crowd.

    Twinned embryos will often cannibalize one another – one embryo will absorb the other one go right on with its regular cell division.

    This can’t really be detected when the embryos in question were monozygotic (would have produced identical twins), but it can be detected in the case of dizygotic twins (when two separate sperm fertilize two separate ova at the same time).

    I think it was The Learning Channel that had a show about this on not too long ago…about a woman who had, in utero been one of two dizygotic twins. The material which would have been her twin ended up getting incorporated into her adult ovaries. This came to light when doubts about the paternity of one of her children arose. After genetic testing, it was determined that her partner was in fact the father of her children…but she was not the mother. It took another pregnancy and more testing to figure out that the cells which produced her ova did not share her DNA, but that of her (nonexistent) twin.

    Here’s a question I’d really like an answer to: if life really does begin at conception – why is this woman not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, at the very least? Her twin was a separate person, with separate DNA and its own, individuated body. She ended this other life when she absorbed it into her own body – a crude form of cannibalism, if you like. She ate her own sister.

    If embryos are entitled to legal protection, then how is what she did not a crime? I’m even willing to grant that it wouldn’t be fair to consider it a premeditated murder (seeing as embryos lack brains and therfore cognition), but I don’t see how it isn’t manslaughter. Anybody want to answer this one?

  82. #82 Dr. Pretorius
    June 25, 2006

    Spike, first off I fear that you have not actually read my first comment: I did not particularly mention spontaneous natural abortions, though they are an important fact. Rather I was arguing against the exact argument you restated.

    Secondly, I think if you reread what you’ve written you’ll find that you’re managing to ask “What moral right do we have to pick a point in the development of a human’s life and say, “On this side: you are protected. On that side: sorry!”“. You’re also saying that life starts at conception. Are we to then take you to be saying, implicitly, that we do in fact have quite a significant moral right to pick a point in the development of a life and say that on one side it is protected and on the other not?

    If not, you’re going to have to abandon the notion that conception is in any way important. If so, what are your reasons for picking that point, and how are they different from other people’s reasons for picking other points?

  83. #83 Ebonmuse
    June 25, 2006

    I haven’t read enough in neuroscience or embryonic development to be able to say with confidence when exactly that occurs, especially since what exactly is a “human brain” can be further argued about, and what “function” means is also debatable. And for that matter, whether brain function is something that can be easily tested in utero.

    Carl Sagan wrote an essay (I believe it was titled “Is It Possible to Be Both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice?”) in which he proposes this very standard. It is possible to test fetal brain function in utero, and as I recall, the point at which characteristically human brain waves begin to appear is around the end of the second trimester – the same place the line is currently set in the US, though for different reasons. Before that point, he writes, large-scale linking-up of neurons in the brain has not yet occurred, and so regardless of how superficially human its appearance may be, the fetus cannot feel or think.

  84. #84 Ian H Spedding
    June 25, 2006

    Left_Wing_Fox wrote:

    Not particularly. A large number of fertilized eggs never implant. Even after it does, there’s the liklihood of a natural sponteneous abortion, where the implanted fetus is washed away. Roughly half of all fertilized embryos never make it to the “pregnancy” stage.

    The fact that the human reproductive system is wasteful hsa no bearing on whether or not viable fetuses are entitled to the right to life. If anything, it could be argued that, since so many potential human beings are lost to natural causes, we should value those that survive all the more.

    I personally think “birth” is a much more appropriate dividing point. Roe vs Wade places it at the third trimester, where survival and self-sufficiency of the fetus is at least possible apart from the mother. Leviticus in the Bible places it at Birth+1 month.

    The problem with placing the dividing point at birth is that there is little difference between the fetus before birth and the newborn after. The newborn is no longer directly connected to the mother’s ‘life support system’ it is true, but it is still entirely dependent on the mother or other adults for its survival and will be so for some time to come. As a boundary, it is as arbitrary as the legal age of consent.

    So a genetic clone is not an individual human? Identical twins are not individual human life?

    Any individual fetus, regardless of how the process of development was initiated, should be granted the basic right to life.

    But on the actual point, we understand that children are not adults, and children do not have the same rights and privaleges as adults. It’s why we have “Age of Consent”, “Age of Majority”, and similar laws, which gradually give children the full rights we give adults. We understand that the unique phase of their development requires them to be protected to a greater extent, and thus have less freedoms as a result. And a child isn’t even as truely different as a fetus.

    I am only arguing that a fetus should be granted the basic right-to-life. As you point out, others are irrelevant at that stage of development.

    The major difference between a fetus and any other stage between birth and death is that the fetus is not an individual organism. While genetically different, it is completely dependant on the body of the mother to survive. So in the case of a conflict, which should have more rights: a partially developed being that cannot survive apart from the body of the mother, or the adult human being which has a potential human being inside her? I think the choice is perfectly clear, especially if it means a better quality of life for all of those already born.

    I have always argued that abortion should be allowed where there is a threat to the life of the mother. Where you have a direct conflict between the mother’s right-to-life and that of the fetus then that of the mother should prevail on the grounds that it is the lesser of two evils.

  85. #85 Ian H Spedding
    June 25, 2006

    maha wrote:

    So if ten days later the product of conception divide into twins, when did THEY begin? Or does that amount to an existential reboot?

    Twins begin at the point of conception. However many individual fetuses result from the intitial fertilization they shoul deach be entitled to the right to life.

    Looking at the question of when a human being “begins” from another angle (and realizing that I’m treading on perilous ground here, as I’m not a scientist) — seems to me that any organism, including a human being, is a stage in a process stretching back to the beginning of life on this planet — 4 billion years, give or take, I believe. And if life got here on asteroids from another planet, one could argue that the beginnings of this process are beyond the reach of our current understanding.

    From the perspective of the course of human evolution this could be viewed as arbitrary, but it is important when it comes to deciding at what point individual human beings become entitled to the right to life.

  86. #86 Ian H Spedding
    June 25, 2006

    Carlie wrote:

    Basically, outlawing abortion means that right of the fetus to live trumps the right of the pregnant woman to have a say in what happens to her body. By that logic, not only should organ donation be mandatory, but living organ donation as well. Everyone should be tissue typed for possible matches to people needing liver, bone marrow, or kidney transplants and forced to provide if a match is found, because the right of the sick person needing it to live trumps that of another person who would just suffer a short inconvenience to his/her body. Same argument.

    That argument only stands if you regard a fetus as equivalent to any other organ or appendage of the normal human body like a liver or kidney. If the fetus is, as I argue, a separate individual in a very early stage of development then the mother’s undisputed right to control of her own body does not apply. She has no right to decide the fate of another.

  87. #87 Ian H Spedding
    June 25, 2006

    Graculus wrote:

    If that life has value – is entltled to basic rights – at some stages of its existence, why not at all?
    Posted by: Ian H Spedding

    Why are they entitled to rights? Such rights as we recognize as “basic” or “inalienable” are confered by mutual agreement, not magically zapped to us. The existance of the death penalty demonstrates that “life” is not a “basic right” in those countries that allow it to exist.

    I agree that rights are conferred by mutual agreement and the right to life is not unqualified or absolute. The debate is about how far the right to life should be extended to individuals. My argument is that setting the boundary at conception is the simplest, most rational and least arbitrary solution.

  88. #88 Ian H Spedding
    June 25, 2006

    monado wrote:

    There is a basic principle at stake: the right to integrity of the person. It is a basic principle that other people don’t get to use my body without my consent, not even to save their lives. So it doesn’t matter if the fetus is a legal person; a human being; or merely a potential that requires time, effort, and materials to become an actual person. I still have the right to refuse to have my body used as another’s life support.

    I agree that you, as an individual, have a right to life and a right to your physical integrity. But if a fetus is also a human individual, albeit at an early stage of development, then it should have those same rights, which means that neither you nor anyone else are entitled to infringe on them in any way under normal circumstances. The only exception is where continuing the pregnancy would threaten the life of the mother.

  89. #89 Chris
    June 25, 2006

    As a boundary, it is as arbitrary as the legal age of consent.
    That will remain true no matter where you draw it. There is no “most natural” place. Birth, the beginning of brain function, conception or any other line are all equally arbitrary.

    If the fetus is, as I argue, a separate individual in a very early stage of development then the mother’s undisputed right to control of her own body does not apply. She has no right to decide the fate of another.
    At that point, any decision affecting one unavoidably affects the other. Pregnancy is not just inconvenient – it ALWAYS poses a serious health risk, and women who survive it still usually have some wear and tear on their bodies as a result. Just as the “right to eat” entails the “right” to make someone else feed you if you can’t feed yourself, the “right” of a fetus to life entails the “right” to enslave its mother as a life-support system. That’s why it doesn’t work.

    Just like you have no right to demand someone undergo a kidney transplant to save your life, you have no right to demand someone undergo a pregnancy to save your life. Therefore, neither does a fetus.

    But then, all discussion of rights is necessarily arbitrary. Rights don’t have an observable objective existence.

  90. #90 Ian H Spedding
    June 25, 2006

    Jillian wrote:

    I think it was The Learning Channel that had a show about this on not too long ago…about a woman who had, in utero been one of two dizygotic twins. The material which would have been her twin ended up getting incorporated into her adult ovaries. This came to light when doubts about the paternity of one of her children arose. After genetic testing, it was determined that her partner was in fact the father of her children…but she was not the mother. It took another pregnancy and more testing to figure out that the cells which produced her ova did not share her DNA, but that of her (nonexistent) twin.
    Here’s a question I’d really like an answer to: if life really does begin at conception – why is this woman not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, at the very least? Her twin was a separate person, with separate DNA and its own, individuated body. She ended this other life when she absorbed it into her own body – a crude form of cannibalism, if you like. She ate her own sister.
    If embryos are entitled to legal protection, then how is what she did not a crime? I’m even willing to grant that it wouldn’t be fair to consider it a premeditated murder (seeing as embryos lack brains and therfore cognition), but I don’t see how it isn’t manslaughter. Anybody want to answer this one?

    This is really for a lawyer to answer but my understanding is that the offence of manslaughter involves causing the death of another through recklessness or criminal negligence. In other words, although there was no intent to kill, the offender acted in such a way that any reasonable person would have known was likely to have caused the death of another but chose to ignore the risk.

    In the case you have cited, the surviving twin could not be said to have acted negligently because at that stage of development she could have had no knowledge of her actions or their consequences on her twin.

  91. #91 Dr. Pretorius
    June 25, 2006

    Except of course that any reasonable person would have known that eating her twin would be likely to cause it’s death. There was no intention of such on the surviving twin’s part (or any intention of anything, for that matter, unless of course you happen to believe that fetuses are, you know, moral agents with rights and all that), but that is as you pointed out, not relevant when it comes to manslaughter. Did you even read the description that you provided?

  92. #92 Paul W.
    June 25, 2006

    Daryl writes:

    It seems to me that both of these points have a common thread, which is to make a moral distinction between what would happen naturally and what would happen with human intervention. Why does that distinction matter? Why is there a moral difference between a fertilized egg, which could turn into a human without technological intervention, and a skin cells that could be turned into a human with technological intervention (assuming advances in cloning technology)?

    I think that one thing that’s going on is that most people make a pretty big and basic moral distinction between actively making something happen and passively allowing it to happen. Libertarians, in particular, tend to think that there are no positive moral obligations, only negative ones; you’re not supposed to hurt people, but you’re not obligated to help them, either.

    I’m not one of those people. I do believe in positive moral obligations. (I also think that distinctions between “actively doing” and “passively allowing” often end up begging deeper questions—we set up situations with defaults that determine what counts as active or passive, and we are responsible for the consequences of the set-ups.)

    A deep problem with this is that there’s no general agreement on what makes a right a right, or more importantly, what rights are for, and most people have conflicting intuitions about rights, even if they don’t realize it.

    Many people, at least when reasoning in a certain mode, take rights as basic, irrespective of the consequences. If what you do is “within your rights,” you are not at fault, no matter what happens and no matter how bad and how predictable the results are.

    Other people, or people reasoning in a different mode, think that rights are heuristics for promoting the good—they are justified in something-like-Utilitarian terms. If a given set of rights has systematically bad outcomes for lots of people, there’s something wrong with at least one of those rights; we need to amend or abridge certain rights so that we can expand others, and adjust the tradeoffs so that the system works, overall, to promote well-being and happiness, or something like that.

    Almost everybody actually does that, when it suits them. Some libertarians often switch from one mode to the other, first justifying a strict and strictly hierarchical set of rights by some seemingly non-Utilitarian principle, and then switching to Utilitarian mode to make a slippery slope argument about how limiting a right would destroy the right and all kinds of nasty consequences would follow if we didn’t have that right at all.

    I, for one, don’t buy the argument some people have made here that forced pregnancy is like forced organ donation and therefore obviously unjustifiable, because (1) bodily integrity is an absolute right and (2) nobody has a positive obligation to make a bodily sacrifice for anyone else, ever.

    I do believe in positive moral obligations, and I don’t think absolute bodily integrity is an absolute trump card.

    Suppose, for example, that many people were suffering and dying because of a shortage of easily donated tissues—say, small amounts of blood or epithelial cells with useful genes or antibodies or something. Imagine that most of us had friends and/or family that were dying because some random other person selfishly wouldn’t let doctors take a crucial blood sample, or rub the inside of their cheek with a cotton swab, even to save the life of a stranger. And suppose our entire society might collapse because of it.

    (I realize this is a farfetched example, but it’s an admittedly extreme scenario to refute an extreme, absolutist position about bodily rights.)

    I think that in this case it would be reasonable to require people to donate blood or cheek swabs, to save other people’s lives—by force if absolutely necessary. I do think it would be reasonable for cops to haul people in for a cheek swab to save my wife’s life, or haul me in for a blood sample to save your child’s life.

    (Of course, less coercive incentives are preferable, usually work, and are less prone to abuse, so we don’t usually need such heavy-handed tactics. They’re scary to even think about, and since there are usually better alternatives, we don’t. But if there were no such alternatives, I think physical coercion of a bodily sacrifice would be justified in this extreme case.)

    In making this analogy, I do not mean to trivialize the physical damage that pregnancy does to a woman, or the quite serious risk of great damage or death, or the enormous psychological cost of a forced pregnancy. I only mean to refute the idea that the crucial issue is that it’s requiring a “bodily” sacrifice. To me, that’s missing the point. It’s not a matter of whether pregnancy is a bodily sacrifice, but whether it’s a major one, and it is. What matters is not that there’s some absolute rule that we can never demand a bodily sacrifice of any sort; bodily integrity is not an absolute trump-card right that makes anybody else’s interests absolutely moot. What matters is that pregnancy is really very serious business; the conflicting interests must be weighed, and trump cards rights and slippery-slope arguments don’t cut it.

    If I believed that a zygote or fetus was actually a person with interests and rights in the same sense as a woman, I’d have to agree with the anti-abortion crowd that the “child’s” right to life outweighed the mother’s right not to be pregnant. Pregnancy is a very big deal, but a whole life is an even bigger deal.

    I do believe that society has the right to demand that some people make some sacrifices for others’ greater good, sometimes, including bodily ones if necessary.

    That’s why I think the abortion question must hinge on the personhood of the zygote or fetus, and a weighing of interests. That’s a big hairy subject, but it’s unavoidable.

    What I come up with is this: for moral purposes, a zygote or fetus is mostly a possible person, and it does have a big “interest” in becoming an actual person.

    But so, too, is a pair of an unfertilized egg and a sperm. Preventing the egg and sperm from getting together—by using birth control, or even abstinence—renders a possible person impossible. We prevent their existence as a later, actual person who thinks, feels, loves, etc. We’re making the same kind of choice, and we’re just as responsible for the consequences.

    It doesn’t make any difference to the egg/sperm pair whether they get together to make a zygote, but are then allowed to die or actively killed, or if they are kept away from each other and allowed to die separately. Germ cells and zygotes don’t have experiences or wants, any more than skin cells do. If it doesn’t make any difference to them, why should it make any difference to us, the actual people worrying about it?

    It shouldn’t. The significance of a zygote is in its potential to be a person, but that potential is there in the egg and sperm as well, before fertilization.

    In general, we can’t and shouldn’t grant all those potential people the opportunity to develop into actual people. There are far too many of them, and none of them has done anything that makes it especially deserving of a full human life.

    Antiabortionists make it sound as though a fertilized egg has somehow achieved something that makes it morally superior to an unfertilized egg and a sperm that could fertilize it. Once the egg and sperm get together, the corresponding possible person magically deserves food, shelter, nurturing, and maybe a college education.

    But if so, why are other egg-sperm pairs any less deserving? What did they do wrong, to deserve to be consigned to non-personhood? Did the sperm in question fail to win a race with the next sperm? Did it run into latex barrier, or end up dripping down somebody’s chest after masturbation, or soaking into the sheets after an abstinent person’s wet dream?

    Is that the poor sperm’s fault? No. Is it the fault of the possible person who’d have developed from that sperm and egg? No. Is that what makes it okay not to gestate that possible person? No way.

    Birth control and abstinence prevent possible people from becoming actual just as surely as abortion does.

    The real problem is that there are vastly more possible people than we can afford to make actual. Most people are not going to get to exist. And we already have more actual people than we should—the world is overpopulated. (Or headed toward it, depending on how you want to talk about it; the trend is not good, and that’s what matters.)

    That means that each person brought into the world is terribly, terribly expensive. On average, each additional person does about as much harm to others as its existence benefits itself. Its existence or nonexistence is morally neutral, if you take everybody’s interests into account along with theirs.

    That’s something we don’t like to think about. We don’t like to think about the fact that the world would be better off without so many people, or which ones we could eliminate to make the world a better place overall. We don’t want to kick anybody out of the club, and we don’t want to grant anybody the incredibly dangerous power of removing some people from the club just for the benefit of the rest. We don’t want to live in that kind of world, where actual people have to worry about who gets offed, and whether it’s them.

    That means that society has a huge interest in keeping people who aren’t yet in the club of actual people out of the club. That’s not just a selfish interest on the part of current actual people—it’s the only sane policy, to ensure that being in the club is worthwhile for whoever gets to be in it. We have to have an admissions cap.

    Abortion is good. Sure, birth control is better, but if it’s too late for that, abortion is good. We may unquestioningly think that “life is good,” and maintain that comforting fiction when dealing with actual people, but too much of a good thing is bad, and at this point, the average abortion is a net plus for society, taking everyone’s interest equally into account, including the abortee.

    That’s the moral significance of overpopulation. The average additional person’s existence degrades the quality of others’ existence—by competition for resources, jobs, mates, etc.—about as much as it’s worth for the postive effects on itself and others, or a little more. Its net utility is slightly negative on average.

    How incredibly sad.

    That’s the elephant in the room. “Pro-lifers” like to talk as though life is very good, which by and large it isn’t, it’s just pretty good. And it’s good, sure, but not to the extent that more is better and each new baby is a bundle from heaven that makes this a better world.

    Motherhood’s not so hot, either, on average. On average, it does a bit more harm than good. We should not thank accidental moms for making the sacrifice of bringing extra kids into the world. Their sacrifice is only the beginning of the sacrifices everybody must make to accommodate another person.

    Left/green liberals like me don’t generally like to talk about it, because it’s a PR disaster, but we don’t really think motherhood’s all it’s cracked up to be.

    And that matters in individual abortion decisions. On the one hand, the possible person who doesn’t get to become actual does lose big, like all the other wasted eggs and sperm. But there’s an almost exactly counterbalancing interest on the part of everybody else who is or will become actual.

    The zygote you don’t gestate could have been the next Einstein, sure. Or the next Hitler. But far more likely, it’d just be another person with a pretty average life, which is not bad and likely fairly good—but whose net costs to others would pretty much match the net benefit to itself.

    I think that’s sad but true, and it’s one of the best arguments that there is no God who set all this up, and has a Perfect Plan for us.

    If there was such a God, resources and opportunities would not be limited. We wouldn’t have to worry about this kind of shit, consigning vast numbers of possible people to nonexistence, and fretting over when it’s okay and when it isn’t to say “the more, the merrier.” Nooooo, God had to go set things up so that we have to make Sophie’s choices between possible people all the time, not just when considering abortion.

    As I said above, I think each possible person has “an interest” in becoming actual. But society has a counterbalancing interest in that person not becoming actual, which is about equal. That’s one reason why the mother’s interest, which is very large but not necesssarily overwhelming, should end up being decisive.

    Besides that, the various possible people are pretty much interchangeable, morally. The particular possible person a woman is pregnant with is not morally superior to the vast numbers of possible people waiting in the wings. If society needed more people, that still wouldn’t justify forcing a particular pregnancy on some particular person—there are vastly less coercive ways of increasing population, such as subsidizing people who want to bear children.

  93. #93 Keith Douglas
    June 25, 2006

    Torbjörn Larsson et al: Tarski’s theorem says roughly that semantics outstrips syntax in a sufficently powerful formal system, or alternatively that such a system cannot be used as its own metalanguage. (See, e.g., Machover’s Set Theory, Logic and their Limitations pp. 236-237.) What this has to do with the ethics of abortion, I don’t know.

  94. #94 Owlmirror
    June 25, 2006

    Ian H Spedding:

    The debate is about how far the right to life should be extended to individuals. My argument is that setting the boundary at conception is the simplest, most rational and least arbitrary solution.

    How is the argument for using the beginning of brain function as the boundary less rational and more arbitrary? I grant that it’s less simple, but then, life in general is not simple.

    Arguing that a fetus is always functionally different from a cancerous tumor or some random cells from a random body part because the fetus can develop into a person ignores that until that point when the brain develops and turns on (at the end of the second trimester, citing Ebonmuse above citing Carl Sagan), what a fetus, a tumor, and random cells all have in common is a lack of sensation and memory formation — which is only possible when an organism has a functioning brain.

    Perhaps this should be called the Scarecrow Metric.

  95. #95 grendelkhan
    June 25, 2006

    There’s a difference between life, and human. A fertilized embryo is alive. A tree, an octopus, a bacterium, an adult human; all of these things are alive. But only one of them is human. Is this so hard to wrap one’s head around? Do pro-lifers not squash mosquitos because they contain precious, delicious life?

    Yes, a fertilized egg is alive. But no one would mistake it for a human without attending a lot of church. Eliding this distinction doesn’t make pro-lifers more convincing; it makes them fools.

  96. #96 Chance
    June 25, 2006

    Morality is a human construct that is highly relative to different individuals and different situations; scientific reality is reality regardless of human conditions.

    I think your misunderstanding the process of science. ‘Morals’ ie ideas that help form a social order originate in human thought and behaviour. These ideas come from biological sources. No reason science couldn’t penetrate the how and why given enough research and the proper questions.

  97. #97 Daryl McCullough
    June 25, 2006

    Chance says: hese [moral] ideas come from biological sources. No reason science couldn’t penetrate the how and why given enough research and the proper questions.

    But understanding why we view some things as moral and some things as immoral does not tell us what we should view as moral or immoral.

  98. #98 Chance
    June 25, 2006

    But understanding why we view some things as moral and some things as immoral does not tell us what we should view as moral or immoral

    Fair enough but I think to some degree this is just playing with language. If we understand the reasons behind the idea the ‘should’ part almost becomes meaningless. We just do based on the biological interactions of the system.

  99. #99 Sexy Sadie
    June 25, 2006

    There’s a difference between life, and human.

    Exactly. The potentiality for an individual human life may technically arise at conception, but this fact does not in any sense (morally or otherwise) imply that a fertilized embryo has the rights of a human. Potentiality does not equal actuality.

  100. #100 Loren Petrich
    June 25, 2006

    I’m not particularly interested in fetal-personhood arguments; instead, I find interesting the prospect of The Raving Atheist converting to some Xian sect. It is hard to find any such people; the best-known examples I know of are Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s son William and Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad. The latter gentleman had been very famous half a century ago in Britain, when he’d answer questions asked by listeners in the BBC’s “Brains Trust” radio program. He became famous for saying “It all depends on what you mean by…”

    But C.E.M. Joad suffered various setbacks, notably being caught riding a train without a ticket. This created a big scandal, and he was dismissed from the BBC. He got religion some time after that, even writing a book, “Recovery of Belief”, which contained arguments that in earlier years he would have dismissed as lame. And when Bertrand Russell debated him about religion, he reportedly lost rather badly.

    This asymmetry has been discussed at length by Steve Locks in his Asymmetry of Conversion pages and Brian Holtz’s Atheist Deconversion pages. They’ve tried to find some advocate of atheism who has converted to Xianity as a result of purely rational arguments — and they have failed.

    So will The Raving Atheist follow William Murray and C.E.M. Joad and convert out of irrational reasons?

  101. #101 Graculus
    June 25, 2006

    Ian H Spedding: My argument is that setting the boundary at conception is the simplest, most rational and least arbitrary solution.

    It can be equally asserted that the time of natural birth is the simplest, most rational and least arbitrary solution.

    Firstly, “simplicity” is not a virtue.

    Secondy, neither of these assertions are demonstrably the “most rational”.

    Thirdly, all solutions are arbitrary, and both of these positions are propably the most arbitrary of all possible solutions, being based on events that do not consider the actual development of the fetus/zygote/blastocyst.

    Chance: ‘Morals’ ie ideas that help form a social order originate in human thought and behaviour. These ideas come from biological sources.

    Not really. Some may, but seems more that it is actually the construct of “morals”, not the individual morals themselves, that have a biological basis. Morals are actually quite changable within the human species.

  102. #102 Chance
    June 25, 2006

    that have a biological basis. Morals are actually quite changable within the human species.

    Correct. They are as variable as the individual biological organisms that create the idea. The idea is a product of various brain cells firing and connecting various ideas that have been implanted into our brains based on experiences.

  103. #103 Ian H Spedding
    June 26, 2006

    Steve LaBonne wrote:

    To me this is the question anti-abortionists need to be embarrassed with over, and over, and over again. It follows unavoidably from their stated premises that spontaneous abortions are BY FAR the greatest cause of the loss of innocent “human life”. Where is their emergency campaign for medical research to prevent this holocaust?

    I am sure there is research being conducted into the prevention of spontaneous abortion. What is at issue here, however, is the question of whether or not the fetus has a right to life, given that rights exist to regulate human behaviour not that of nature.

    If a fetus aborts spontaneously no right has been breached, just as if you and I eventually die of natural causes there will have been no infringement of our right to life.

    If, on the other hand, we were to be shot to death unlawfully by another human being then our right to life would have been breached. By the same token, if fetuses are granted the right to life then abortion at the hands of a doctor, except where it becomes necessary in order to save the life of the mother, is also a breach of that right.

    To be blunt, the “life begins at conception” crowd is lying, even if the lie may not be fully conscious. They do NOT draw the logical consequences of that supposed belief (all those variants of the “rescue child or freezer full of embryos” thought experiment demonstrate the same thing.) Therefore they do not truly believe any such thing, and it’s the imperative for control of women’s sexual behavior that is really driving these people.

    That may be the motive for some people but not for me. I have no interest in controlling women’s sexual behaviour. As far as I am concerned, they – like men – are fully entitled to have sex where, when and with whom they choose.
    My only caveat is that if, for whatever reason, they subsequently become pregnant, they have no right to abort the fetus simply because it is an embarrassment or an inconvenience. It is not simply another organ or appendage of the woman’s body, nor is it a disorder like a tumour. It is another human being in the early stages of development which should have as much of a right to life as the mother.

  104. #104 Ken Cope
    June 26, 2006

    It is another human being in the early stages of development which should have as much of a right to life as the mother.

    Why should society bestow rights to a blastocyst that trump those of the egg and sperm donors, whether said donation is willing or accidental? A pregnancy resulting in live birth is a delicate economical balance not universally achieved by mammals, especially among humans.

    Participants in the emotional and biological trauma involved in any pregnancy learn, sometimes rudely, that live birth is a luxury afforded by contingency alone.

    Soulless Western medical science has distributed that luxury far more widely these days, but life is an achievement, never a gimme.

  105. #105 NatureSelectedMe
    June 26, 2006

    Paul W, your rant sounds like something from the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Are you a founding member?

  106. #106 Paul W.
    June 26, 2006

    Paul W, your rant sounds like something from the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Are you a founding member?

    Perish the thought. Your snark sounds like something from the Missing Basic Distinctions society. Are you the president?

  107. #107 NatureSelectedMe
    June 26, 2006

    Ah, but does Missing basic distinctions have a website?
    I just got that impression from your comment because of some of your rhetoric.

    … I do not mean to trivialize the physical damage that pregnancy does to a woman,…
    …Antiabortionists make it sound as though a fertilized egg has somehow achieved something that makes it morally superior to an unfertilized egg and a sperm that could fertilize it…
    On average, each additional person does about as much harm to others as its existence benefits itself…But society has a counterbalancing interest in that person not becoming actual…
    …Abortion is good…
    the average abortion is a net plus for society, taking everyone’s interest equally into account, including the abortee…Motherhood’s not so hot, either…If society needed more people…

    Emphasis mine. Taken together these sound so anti-people.

  108. #108 Paul W.
    June 26, 2006

    NSM,

    What part of “overpopulation” don’t you understand? It seems to be the “over” part.

    Being against overpopulation isn’t at all the same as being against population. I’m against underpopulation, too; I just don’t see it as a big problem for the foreseeable future. (And even so, I brought up non-coercive ways of avoiding it, which I think are preferable to forced pregnancies.)

    I want there to be lots of people, just not so many that the total happiness goes down because they’re competing for ever-thinner slices of pie.

    Are you maybe the president of the Taking Things Out of Context club?

  109. #109 Jillian
    June 26, 2006

    Glad to see that Mr. Spedding agrees with me that when there is evidence that a person is a chimera (the technical name for a person who contains the genetic material of a missing twin), they should be charged with manslaughter. After all, as Dr. Pretorius observed, just because the embryo that cannibalized the other didn’t realize it was causing the death of another person does not remove culpability in the eyes of the law.

    Here’s another question I really struggle with from an anti-abortion point of view…..

    If I were to break into your house nightly and inject you with a syringe full of hormones that raised your blood pressure to the point where movement became difficult for you and you had to modify your diet drastically (removing sodium) to avoid serious health complications, impaired your kidney function, made a life threatening case of diabetes a real possibility, permanently altered the structure of the connective tissue in your body, and put you at vastly elevated risk of serious forms of blood poisoning…….what would your rights be toward me under the “self-defense” clause that most state laws concerning murder have?

    Would you have a legal right to kill me as a form of self defense, if there were no other way to get me to stop doing this? I’m not particularly interested in whether or not you *personally* would kill me to get me to stop – I want to know if you would have a legal right to do so.

  110. #110 ConcernedJoe
    June 26, 2006

    Ian H Spedding wrote: “[pro-abortion speaking]..It is another human being in the early stages of development which should have as much of a right to life as the mother [emphasis mine]

    Yes one could cast the issue in that way: The right of a TRUE person vs. something in development (capital TRUE hints to my leaning up to a point). On a personal level many atheists (including myself) may be uncomfortable with aborting as development progresses, so it is a worthy debate tactic.

    But for the manipulators of the fundies it has nothing really to do with protecting human life. Developed or not. They fight so hard because they see these things at stake:

    (1) The concept of SOUL and the “breath of life” from god. Abortion weakens these notions. If we begin to put aside the concept of soul here, we will evenually put it aside in a broader sense.. and without soul there is no “music” with which the manipulators can get the flock to dance. It is really basic to their whole bag of tricks. And they are defending it here, and elsewhere. Their game is at stake.

    (2) The concept of control. Abortion weakens one more hold over people. It lessens their control on sexual behavior. They know that their ability to control sex and attitutes about it is key to their power over the flock. Make it dirty and you have a ready rallying cry to fight progress toward secular societies. Make people guilty and to feel dirty and you have control over their minds. Control it (attitudes, etc.) and you have a focal point to control women the world over. Conversely sexual freedom helps tear down the UNreasonable guilt and shame religion needs to control people.

    (3) Freedom to make your own choices. They know giving people freedom to make choices like this makes them irrelavant. And they are deathly afraid that people will see that if they act rationally that they can live and manage life quite well for themselves and that other rational secular supports actual work and people thrive if they can live free. As I said before above: “.. Rational people with FREEDOM eventually come to the best NET positive value. FREEDOM allows societies to come to true positive moral equilibrium for themselves. To EVOLVE to more perfect beings if I may be so bold as to mention the “E” word.” The manipulators deathly fear that people will find that the “volcano will erupt or not erupt” regardless of their worship and sacrifices to the god(s).. and that the only true way to “save” yourself is to rationally think through what is situationally best for yourself, your family, and for society at large.

  111. #111 Graculus
    June 26, 2006

    Pregnancy automatically violates the right to bodily integrity. It’s one thing to agree to have a right abrogated for a given end (the same as kidney donation), it’s another to have no choice.

    That’s why the position is called “pro-choice”.

    Ian: My only caveat is that if, for whatever reason, they subsequently become pregnant, they have no right to abort the fetus simply because it is an embarrassment or an inconvenience.

    OK, here’s where the rubber hits the road, Ian. What about rape?

  112. #112 Ian H Spedding
    June 26, 2006

    chris wrote:

    As a boundary, it is as arbitrary as the legal age of consent.
    That will remain true no matter where you draw it. There is no “most natural” place. Birth, the beginning of brain function, conception or any other line are all equally arbitrary.

    Obviously, we can draw a line anywhere we choose and designate it as a boundary, but it is arbitrary where it marks a change only in the minds of those who set it. In the case of the age of consent, there is no abrupt change of physical or psychological state; the person (usually) is not suddenly transformed from feckless adolescent to mature and responsible adult the instant they turn eighteen – or whatever the age is. It is a legal definition not a natural boundary.

    Birth, on the other hand, is a distinct natural transition for the baby from one state to another. It moves from being inside the mother’s womb and entirely dependent on her body for life support to being outside the womb and able to function independent of the mother’s body. That is, arguably, a more natural boundary.

    Even so, how much has really changed? For a normal healthy baby, it is physically unchanged beyond the fact that some of its ‘systems’ come ‘online’ after birth. It is one more stage along the long process of development that hopefully will lead to a healthy and fully-independent adult.

    Fertilization, on the other hand, is arguably the most significant boundary because it marks the point at which the development begins of what, barring any mishaps, should eventually become a fully-realised human individual. Before fertilization, the separate sperm and egg will not of themselves grow into a human indvidual. After fertilization, if everything works normally, the fuzed sperma and egg will. And the transition from non-existence to existence is about as major a boundary as you can get.

    If the fetus is, as I argue, a separate individual in a very early stage of development then the mother’s undisputed right to control of her own body does not apply. She has no right to decide the fate of another.
    At that point, any decision affecting one unavoidably affects the other. Pregnancy is not just inconvenient – it ALWAYS poses a serious health risk, and women who survive it still usually have some wear and tear on their bodies as a result. Just as the “right to eat” entails the “right” to make someone else feed you if you can’t feed yourself, the “right” of a fetus to life entails the “right” to enslave its mother as a life-support system. That’s why it doesn’t work.

    The fact that pregnancy involves a degree of risk and imposes physical and emotional demands on the mother is not, of itself, sufficient to override the right of the fetus to develop into an adult human being entitled to live as the mother is entitled to live. Only where the risks involved in the pregnancy grow to the point where the mother’s life is threatened are we forced to make a choice between the life of the mother or the life of the fetus.

    Just like you have no right to demand someone undergo a kidney transplant to save your life, you have no right to demand someone undergo a pregnancy to save your life. Therefore, neither does a fetus.

    The two situations are not analagous. There is no question of the mother suffering permanent loss of an internal organ. All that is asked of her is that she suffer a few months of inconvenience after which, if the child is so repugnant to her, it can be taken away for adoption. If the fetus has a right to life then that must trump the temporary physical and psychological stresses which pregnancy causes the mother to suffer.

    But then, all discussion of rights is necessarily arbitrary. Rights don’t have an observable objective existence.

    I agree, but as abstract as it is, I doubt that you would be any more willing to forego your right to life than I would.

  113. #113 Ian H Spedding
    June 26, 2006

    Owlmirror wrote:

    How is the argument for using the beginning of brain function as the boundary less rational and more arbitrary? I grant that it’s less simple, but then, life in general is not simple.
    Arguing that a fetus is always functionally different from a cancerous tumor or some random cells from a random body part because the fetus can develop into a person ignores that until that point when the brain develops and turns on (at the end of the second trimester, citing Ebonmuse above citing Carl Sagan), what a fetus, a tumor, and random cells all have in common is a lack of sensation and memory formation — which is only possible when an organism has a functioning brain.

    As I understand it, the human brain is in a plastic state for months before and years after birth. At what point along that process of development can the brain be described as “fully functional” – sensitivity to pain, consciousness, ‘sentience’? I would argue that, in this case, simplicity is a considerable virtue. Besides, what is of greater significance: progressing from one stage to another along a lengthy process of development or the start of that whole process in the first place?

  114. #114 Ian H Spedding
    June 26, 2006

    Jillian wrote:

    Glad to see that Mr. Spedding agrees with me that when there is evidence that a person is a chimera (the technical name for a person who contains the genetic material of a missing twin), they should be charged with manslaughter. After all, as Dr. Pretorius observed, just because the embryo that cannibalized the other didn’t realize it was causing the death of another person does not remove culpability in the eyes of the law.

    Perhaps I did not express myself clearly enough. I was arguing that the surviving twin should not be charged with manslaughter because that offence involves a reckless or negligent disregard of the known risks or possible consequences of certain behaviour. The zygote or fetus has no knowledge of such risk or consequences.

    Besides, there is the small question of the fact that in most if not all countries zygotes and fetuses are held to be somewhat below the age of criminal responsibility.

    Here’s another question I really struggle with from an anti-abortion point of view…..
    If I were to break into your house nightly and inject you with a syringe full of hormones that raised your blood pressure to the point where movement became difficult for you and you had to modify your diet drastically (removing sodium) to avoid serious health complications, impaired your kidney function, made a life threatening case of diabetes a real possibility, permanently altered the structure of the connective tissue in your body, and put you at vastly elevated risk of serious forms of blood poisoning…….what would your rights be toward me under the “self-defense” clause that most state laws concerning murder have?
    Would you have a legal right to kill me as a form of self defense, if there were no other way to get me to stop doing this? I’m not particularly interested in whether or not you *personally* would kill me to get me to stop – I want to know if you would have a legal right to do so.

    I believe that, if I could satisfy a court that I felt my life was in imminent danger and I had no reasonable alternative but to kill my attacker, then my action would be excused as justifiable homicide.

    In the case of a pregnancy where the life of the mother is not threatened there is a reasonable alternative to killing.

  115. #115 Ian H Spedding
    June 26, 2006

    Graculus wrote:

    Pregnancy automatically violates the right to bodily integrity. It’s one thing to agree to have a right abrogated for a given end (the same as kidney donation), it’s another to have no choice.
    That’s why the position is called “pro-choice”.

    A woman has the right to choose what to do with her own body but not that of another. If the fetus is regarded as a separate individual with as much of a right to life as the mother then the woman has no right to harm it any more than she would after it was born.

    Ian: My only caveat is that if, for whatever reason, they subsequently become pregnant, they have no right to abort the fetus simply because it is an embarrassment or an inconvenience.
    OK, here’s where the rubber hits the road, Ian. What about rape?

    Obviously, this is a very difficult situation. The woman is the victim and her suffering should be minimised in any way possible. The rapist is the offender and should suffer any punishment. The fetus is innocent. It did not ask for its life to be started in this way and should not have to pay with that life for something it did not do.

    I think that if the doctors judge that continuing the pregnancy will pose a serious risk to the life of the woman then abortion should be allowed. If not, the woman should be encouraged and supported to carry the child to term after which it can be taken away immediately for adoption if that is what she wants.

  116. #116 Dr. Pretorius
    June 26, 2006

    I was arguing that the surviving twin should not be charged with manslaughter because that offence involves a reckless or negligent disregard of the known risks or possible consequences of certain behaviour. The zygote or fetus has no knowledge of such risk or consequences.

    So, Ian (just to be clear), what you’re saying is that fetuses are not moral agents with rights/responsibilities and the like? I mean, that’s certainly what I’d say in this case, and why I don’t think the surviving twin could be charged, but then again I’m pretty firmly pro-choice as well. I don’t know that you can coherently say the above and hold that fetuses have moral status.

    Secondly, and more importantly really, when you say: “My only caveat is that if, for whatever reason, they subsequently become pregnant, they have no right to abort the fetus simply because it is an embarrassment or an inconvenience.

    I want to know, specifically, how common you think this sort of situation is. Does this happen (1)regularly nowadays; (2) frequently; (3)occasionally; (4)in principle but for all intents and purposes not really; what?

    I ask because, in seriousness, the closest thing to a decent argument that I’ve seen for the anti-choice position has been just that caveat – namely the statement that “having an abortion just because it’s more convenient (in the serious sense of convenient here, that is, not the sense in which it is convenient for me to work because then I can eat food), or because hey why not, etc is morally wrong”. And that statement is true – it is a bad thing to do to have an abortion for reasons which are both selfish and which do not treat the decision as a serious matter (this same point holds for many many other sorts of things too). But this is not a point which really bears on the issue unless you think that most abortions are for this sort of reason (and that women are basically foolish things that can’t be trusted to seriously reason through their decisions and be proper moral agents – this is, I think, the root of a lot of the opposition to abortion).

    So, in all seriousness, how much do you think you are carving out when you make that caveat?

  117. #117 Daryl McCullough
    June 26, 2006

    Ian H Spedding writes: Personally, I would argue it is wrong to kill anything beyond necessity, although that raises the awkward question of how “necessity” is defined.

    I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but can you put into words why killing is wrong? My reasons have to do with empathy: I know what it is like to feel pain, I know what it is like to feel fear, I know what it is like to feel despair. I don’t wish those on anything.

  118. #118 Daryl McCullough
    June 26, 2006

    Ian H Spedding writes: …if you deny basic human rights to fetuses you are saying, in effect, that they are less than human. How many mothers would agree that their unborn child is less than human?

    I believe that’s a product of the hopes and expectations for the child that is to come. The unborn child represents those hopes and expectations. The loss of the pregnancy (to someone who wants to become a parent) represents the dashing of hopes and plans. So of course it is an emotional experience. But that doesn’t imply that the unborn child is morally equivalent to the child that she hopes to have one day.

  119. #119 Carlie
    June 26, 2006

    “All that is asked of her is that she suffer a few months of inconvenience after which, if the child is so repugnant to her, it can be taken away for adoption.”

    Spoken like someone who has never been pregnant, nor known anyone who had a difficult pregnancy, nor known anyone who works in an obstetrician’s office or maternity floor of a hospital, nor studied the types and rates of complications in pregnancy that affect both fetus and woman involved, not to mention maternal death rates in childbirth. “A few months of inconvenience” is granted to a very small proportion of pregnant women.

  120. #120 Steve LaBonne
    June 26, 2006

    Carlie, I admire your restraint in responding to such a loathsomely igmorant comment.

  121. #121 Steve LaBonne
    June 26, 2006

    And it was “ignorant” too. Sorry for the lousy proofreading.

  122. #122 Nymphalidae
    June 26, 2006

    It’s a good thing we’ve got men like Ian to tell us little ladies what to do if we’re raped. I’m super glad that somebody who can’t get pregnant with his rapist’s fetus is around to be the arbiter of morality for those of us who can or who have been in that situation.

  123. #123 Kaethe
    June 26, 2006

    I notice that everyone who was anti-choice took a similar position to the “few months of inconvenience” and the idea that a woman would abort “because it is an embarrassment.” No wonder they’re so eager to take away the right to choose. I had no idea that women were so trifling and shallow.

    I’ve always said that I wouldn’t wish hyperemesis on my worst enemy. But I’ve changed my mind, I want everyone who thinks pregnancy is “a few months of inconvenience” to spend nine months vomiting every two hours, if not more often.

  124. #124 RavenT
    June 26, 2006

    Heh, if Ian’s so convinced that potentiality is the same as actuality, I wonder if he’d be willing to lend me a large sum of money right now, based on my future earning potential once I finish my PhD as collateral?

    I suspect–and if I’m wrong it’s easily disproved; I’ll get you that mailing address right away, Ian–that in practice he applies his “potential = actual” rule somewhat selectively.

  125. #125 Owlmirror
    June 26, 2006

    Ian Spedding wrote:

    As I understand it, the human brain is in a plastic state for months before and years after birth. At what point along that process of development can the brain be described as “fully functional” – sensitivity to pain, consciousness, ‘sentience’?

    I think “human brain waves” is a good point. I tracked down part of Sagan’s essay, and found the precise quote:

    But brain waves with regular patterns typical of adult human brains do not appear in the fetus until about the 30th week of pregnancy–near the beginning of the third trimester.

    Ian Spedding wrote:

    I would argue that, in this case, simplicity is a considerable virtue.

    Why is simplicity a virture when the issue is exceedingly complex? A fertilized egg is obviously not a person. At the end of fetal development, the resulting baby is a person. Insisting that the fertilized egg is a person is an oversimplification.

    Ian Spedding wrote:

    Besides, what is of greater significance: progressing from one stage to another along a lengthy process of development or the start of that whole process in the first place?

    If “the whole process” is defined as “human brain activity”, then that point is very significant indeed, and is therefore a much more reasonable point to define personhood than fertilization.

  126. #126 Graculus
    June 26, 2006

    b>Ian:
    If the fetus is regarded…

    That’s a big if, and you haven’t demonstrated any reason why we should accept it.

    The fetus is innocent.

    I thought we had agreed that the fetus was not a moral agent. If it can’t be guilty than it can’t be innocent, either.

    The woman is the victim and her suffering should be minimised in any way possible.

    And forcing her to carry a reminder of her violation to full term minimizes this suffering is what way, exactly? It is apparent that in your world women don’t actually have minds and psyches, as any consideration of non-physical suffering is completely absent from your arguments.

    If not, the woman should be encouraged and supported to carry the child to term after which it can be taken away immediately for adoption if that is what she wants.

    And what if what she wants is an abortion? Are you going to lock her up for the duration? Keep her away from razor blades and coat hangers?

  127. #127 Spike
    June 26, 2006

    Sorry, Raven, are you being ironic? You attendee of a government-supported school who (like most of us on this thread) used/are using federal grants and aid to develop our potential into the actual – you.

    Kaethe, the trouble with your rant is that it makes you seem like you would rather just kill the thing than have to puke one more time. (I don’t believe that. I’m just commenting on your particular post.) The alternative is to not get pregnant in the first place – something entirely within your control.

    Dr. P, LaBonne, Graculus and the rest: Ian and I are not anti-choice. False dichotomy: “If you aren’t pro-abortion you are anti-choice and anti-woman.” That’s a logical fallacy. Stop wasting time with it and try to address the fact that there are some people who do not support abortion and who DO NOT want to force women to bear children.

    What I want is for us to discuss the idea that, perhaps children in the womb ought to have some rights, that, perhaps, the father might want to be considered when the issue of abortion comes up, and perhaps there ought to be some sound moral reasons for where, in time, we draw the line. You could try and put me in the same camp as the anti-choice religious right, but it’s not true – no matter how many times you say it.

    Every child should be wanted. Abortion should be viewed as a stop-gap, a necessary evil, until we can figure out how to help postpone pregnancies until the parents are ready, or help them never get pregnant in the first place.

    Actually, we can do those things right now, but liberals seem unwilling to pay the social costs. It seems ironic to me that encouraging people to have abortions is more palatable than providing effective birth control – including sterilization, when the “good of society” arguments are taken into consideration. Pretending for a moment that what benefits “society” really matters, we should convert all abortion clinics into abortion-and-sterilization clinics. When a woman comes in for an elective abortion, make the man come in too, afterwards, the woman gets a tubal ligation and the man gets a vasectomy. If/when they want to have kids, they can CHOOSE to reverse the procedures. Saves money for “society,” because abortions are a lot more expensive and have a lot more potential complications than not getting pregnant. Deals with the overpopulation problem pretty handily as well.

    Here’s my take on “where the rubber meets the road:” I agree with Ian, and want to take it a little farther –
    If my wife were the victim of rape, I would help her prosecute the rapist to the extent that she sees fit (because -she- is the victim, not me). But I would ask her if she would be willing to carry the baby to term and raise it as our own. We take the baby into our lives, love it, treat it with respect and help it develop its future. I can think of no other action that would invalidate the rape more effectively than this.

  128. #128 RavenT
    June 26, 2006

    Sorry, Raven, are you being ironic?

    No, I am following Ian’s logic with the utmost seriousness.

    You attendee of a government-supported school who (like most of us on this thread) used/are using federal grants and aid to develop our potential into the actual – you.

    Ah, by “federal grants and aid”, you must be referring to Mr. Raven’s paycheck and my paycheck. I don’t currently have any grants or aid.

    My point is this:

    1) Currently, I’m not a PhD. I am a potential PhD.

    2) According to the NSF, the median salary for a recent PhD graduate (1-3 years after graduation) in CS in the private sector is $82,000. (1999 figures). Therefore, I have the potential of earning a lot more money than I do now, once I finish my PhD.

    3) So I am proposing that Ian lend me $10,000 right now on my say-so. I can potentially pay Ian back a nice return on his investment–say $100,000 over the course of my lifetime. That represents a potential 900% return on his investment.

    Since Ian argues that potentiality = actuality, I am just pointing out that I can realize an actual $10,000 gain at the same time he realizes a potential $90,000 gain. But for him, that qualifies as an actual $90,000 gain, since he considers them the same thing.

    Frankly, I can’t understand why he hasn’t leapt on this.

  129. #129 Spike
    June 26, 2006

    Raven, After watching “Memoirs of a Geisha” [movie by an American author, screenwriter, director, producer, starring 3 Chinese actresses about Japanese women] last night, your post makes me think about patronage and the investments individuals and governments make in others’ educations.

    In the case of Fed Aid, scholarships, research grants etc. the decision has ben made that “potential = actual”.

    *****

    Which demographic of women most often uses abortion services? When I hear abortion defended by the liberals, they seem to point to “poor women of color” as needing access to abortion, else they will have too many unwanted births and those children will be a “burden to society” (a la “Freakonomics”). I have a feeling that it’s actually “white middle-class” women who use abortion services as or more often. My conjecture is that women with less money (correlated to being women “of color” in America) use abortion services at public medical facilities, and the visits are reported to state agencies that collect the data, wherease “white middle-class” women are more likely to use private clinics, from which data may not be reported.

    Does anyone know where on the web I can look to find out if this is so?

  130. #130 peep
    June 26, 2006

    Ian claims:

    “After fertilization, if everything works normally, the fuzed sperma and egg will [grow into a human indvidual].”

    But that also assumes that a woman consents to letting the fetus gestate in her body. Since you mean to be arguing that a woman should consent to that, you don’t get to assume that she should as part of your argument.

    I really haven’t seen an attempt at an anti-abortion argument that doesn’t apply equally well to, I guess, every egg in every human ovary. If any of those eggs meet the right sperm, and are provided a comfortable place to let nature take its course, a baby human will be the result. There’s certainly no shortage of sperm, so I don’t see why we should consider that to be a big if. The only problem is finding warm places to gestate…but if we think the rights of potential people outweigh the rights of actual women, then I can think of about 3 billion uteruses that will work quite well, and they could be kept busy for about 9mos. out of every 13 of their adult (i. e., about 13yrs. and older) lives, right?

    Really, though, I think a woman has a stronger right to, say, not be punched in the face, than a fetus has to mature into a person. And of course, I imagine that the physical and psychological effects of 9 months of an unwanted pregnancy followed by a delivery are worse than being punched in the face.

    Spike claims that he’d gladly raise his wife’s rapist’s child as his own. Some of us can’t afford the luxury; if my (hypothetical) wife got pregnant through rape, I’d MUCH rather she abort that one so we can put our effort into a child of our own. And besides, rape does not grant the rapist rights to a woman’s uterus for 9 mos., period. (frighteningly like Bill Napoli all but claiming a rapist should be punished by having to marry his victim if he gets her pregnant)

    Also on the subject of rape, what if the woman is raped, but the evidence is lousy? If the prosecutor advises that she not press charges? Should a rape exception for abortion bans require that there be proof of rape?

    And the last peep from me for now: though it seems to me that all non-superstitious attempts at anti-abortion arguments lead to absurdities, the claim that potential people don’t have rights also seems to have a problem. We think we owe future generations some things, e. g. a habitable Earth, don’t we? Aren’t they potential people, too? They can’t reciprocate morality any more than a fetus can. I think empathy applies here, not to any specific potential person, but to whichever people happen to be (there certainly will be some).

  131. #131 Spike
    June 26, 2006

    After re-reading Graculus and LaBonne, I have to put them in the category of “Argues like a DI Fellow.”

  132. #132 Spike
    June 26, 2006

    Thanks peep, you sent me down the path I was trying to get to. I’m going to modify your comments to my own use:

    What difference does it make where the kid comes from? Why should your genetic material be given more rights to your love and affection than anyone else’s?

    Same with “7th generation” stuff. If the zygote in the womb has no right to not be terminated, then what rights do unknown lives not even conceived of yet have to “quality of life”? The liberals of the pro-abortion crowd believe being a real zygote is not enough to stay the hand of the abortion clinician, yet they want the rest of us to change nearly everything about our lives for the sake of future generations.

    Please answer either or both without resorting to magical thinking or absurdities. Anyone? Anyone?

  133. #133 RavenT
    June 26, 2006

    Raven, After watching “Memoirs of a Geisha” [movie by an American author, screenwriter, director, producer, starring 3 Chinese actresses about Japanese women] last night, your post makes me think about patronage and the investments individuals and governments make in others’ educations. In the case of Fed Aid, scholarships, research grants etc. the decision has ben made that “potential = actual”.

    I’m not quite sure where you’re going with your analogy, Spike. Research grants pay for actual work. The hope is that the work which is being actually carried out and paid for will result in potential advancement of knowledge, but the grant still pays for work that is being carried out. Researchers earn their paychecks. In fact, when grants come up for renewal, one of the criteria looked at is what was actually accomplished in the previous stages–a performance review, in other words.

    Scholarships are less tied to performance objectives than federal research grants are, so I guess you could say that that is more of a case of investing in potential. But those are typically from private institutions and individuals, not from taxes, so the funders can choose whether they want to invest in the potential of an individual.

    And in any case, the per capita investment in biomedical research is about $97 per capita (defense spending, by contrast, is about $1600 per capita). I think there’s a huge difference between an involuntary expense of $97 on average (symmetrically distributed across the population), and an involuntary risk of seven deaths for every 100,000 live births (not even to mention permanent side effects and other morbidities), concentrated uniquely on women.

  134. #134 Daryl McCullough
    June 26, 2006

    Spike writes: The liberals of the pro-abortion crowd believe being a real zygote is not enough to stay the hand of the abortion clinician, yet they want the rest of us to change nearly everything about our lives for the sake of future generations.

    And exactly why do you have a problem with this? I don’t think that a two-week old embryo is capable of suffering, but those future generations certainly will be.

  135. #135 RavenT
    June 26, 2006

    Same with “7th generation” stuff. If the zygote in the womb has no right to not be terminated, then what rights do unknown lives not even conceived of yet have to “quality of life”? The liberals of the pro-abortion crowd believe being a real zygote is not enough to stay the hand of the abortion clinician, yet they want the rest of us to change nearly everything about our lives for the sake of future generations.

    There are no easy answers to this, Spike, because rights are directly in conflict. Someone’s rights have to come first, by the nature of the issue. But pro-choicers (not “pro-abortion”, no one here is advocating forcible abortion like in China) believe the right of the actual individual woman to make decisions about her bodily integrity have to be privileged over the rights of the potential person in her uterus, who exposes her to nontrivial risks of death and injury, or the father, who does not assume all the same risks she does.

    And if you are seriously going to argue that there is no “society” (as I think you are going with the “future generations” idea; please correct me if I misunderstand) for which we make trade-offs, then does that not *strengthen* the pro-choice position? After all, if there is no bigger aggregate which we should take into consideration in making laws and deciding how to live our lives, then the individual is indeed paramount, and therefore the woman’s individual right to make decisions about her bodily integrity are even more justified through your argument.

  136. #136 Caledonian
    June 27, 2006

    If the zygote in the womb has no right to not be terminated, then what rights do unknown lives not even conceived of yet have to “quality of life”?

    Easy: It’s pretty much guaranteed that there are going to be human descendents at any arbitrary point in the forseeable future. The exact origin of those future people is uncertain, but we don’t need to know who has how many children and so on.

    It is not inevitable that a given zygote will ever become a person, but it is inevitable (more or less) that there will be people who have to live in the world we’re creating right now. They’re two different scales: specific and individual versus probabilistic and global.

  137. #137 Carlie
    June 27, 2006

    “The alternative is to not get pregnant in the first place – something entirely within your control.”

    Spike, did you honestly write this? And no one has smacked you down for it yet? Without even discussing rape, unless you think that all reproductive-aged women should be on hormonal birth control just in case they get violently assaulted, do you actually believe this? Pregnancy often happens despite our best efforts to control it. Condoms still have over a 10% failure rate even when used correctly. Hormonal birth control still has over a 5% failure rate even when used correctly. I’ve known a woman who got pregnant after having a tubal ligation because of an errant egg still floating around. There’s still a risk of pregnancy for a few months post-vasectomy, too. I managed to have an unplanned pregnancy even while on (correctly taken) hormonal birth control, breastfeeding another baby at the same time, and with two biology degrees’ worth of knowledge about reproduction. And I was lucky to have the access to the hormonal birth control in the first place. See PZ’s prior post about emergency contraception and all the pharmacists who are preventing women from having the matter “entirely within [their] control”, not to mention that there are still some pharmacists who won’t hand over regular birth control pills either. Possibly the “best” reversible method in terms of lowest risk of pregnancy is a hormonal IUD, but those can’t be prescribed for women who haven’t already had one child. (No, I don’t know exactly why, something about uterine stretching or something.)

    Pregnancy is only entirely within the woman’s control if she is afforded any means needed to keep it from happening, and that includes abortion.

  138. #138 Ian H Spedding
    June 27, 2006

    Dr Pretorius wrote:

    So, Ian (just to be clear), what you’re saying is that fetuses are not moral agents with rights/responsibilities and the like? I mean, that’s certainly what I’d say in this case, and why I don’t think the surviving twin could be charged, but then again I’m pretty firmly pro-choice as well. I don’t know that you can coherently say the above and hold that fetuses have moral status.

    As I understand it, our legal systems hold that an offence has been committed only where there is an intention to do so or where there is a reckless disregard of known risks to others of a particular act. Underlying both cases is the assumption of a conscious and rational ‘agent’ who is aware of the nature of his or her actions and is able to predict the possible consequences of those actions. A fetus is, as far as we can tell, neither conscious nor rational so cannot be held responsible for what may happen to its twin in the womb.

    As for the question of rights entailing responsibilities, I would point out that we grant the right to life to children who are below the age of criminal responsibility.

    Furthermore, setting birth as the point at which an individual becomes entitled to the right to life leads to the absurd position where the deliberate killing of a newborn baby is held to be murder but the deliberate killing of an unborn fetus, which is little different in form from the newborn, is no crime at all.

    Secondly, and more importantly really, when you say: “My only caveat is that if, for whatever reason, they subsequently become pregnant, they have no right to abort the fetus simply because it is an embarrassment or an inconvenience.”
    I want to know, specifically, how common you think this sort of situation is. Does this happen (1)regularly nowadays; (2) frequently; (3)occasionally; (4)in principle but for all intents and purposes not really; what?

    I have no idea.

    I ask because, in seriousness, the closest thing to a decent argument that I’ve seen for the anti-choice position has been just that caveat – namely the statement that “having an abortion just because it’s more convenient (in the serious sense of convenient here, that is, not the sense in which it is convenient for me to work because then I can eat food), or because hey why not, etc is morally wrong”. And that statement is true – it is a bad thing to do to have an abortion for reasons which are both selfish and which do not treat the decision as a serious matter (this same point holds for many many other sorts of things too). But this is not a point which really bears on the issue unless you think that most abortions are for this sort of reason (and that women are basically foolish things that can’t be trusted to seriously reason through their decisions and be proper moral agents – this is, I think, the root of a lot of the opposition to abortion).
    So, in all seriousness, how much do you think you are carving out when you make that caveat?

    What reason for abortion, other than protecting the life of the mother, is not trivial relative to the act of killing another living individual?

  139. #139 Ian H Spedding
    June 27, 2006

    Carlie wrote:

    Spoken like someone who has never been pregnant, nor known anyone who had a difficult pregnancy, nor known anyone who works in an obstetrician’s office or maternity floor of a hospital, nor studied the types and rates of complications in pregnancy that affect both fetus and woman involved, not to mention maternal death rates in childbirth. “A few months of inconvenience” is granted to a very small proportion of pregnant women.

    I did not mean to suggest that there are no risks involved or to trivialise the discomfort or suffering experienced by some women during pregnancy. I am simply arguing that they are not in themselves sufficient justification for killing another human being.

  140. #140 Ian H Spedding
    June 27, 2006

    Nymphalidae wrote:

    It’s a good thing we’ve got men like Ian to tell us little ladies what to do if we’re raped. I’m super glad that somebody who can’t get pregnant with his rapist’s fetus is around to be the arbiter of morality for those of us who can or who have been in that situation.

    I am not telling you what to do nor am I setting myself up as an arbiter of morality. All I am doing is giving my views on the question of abortion. That includes posing the question of whether being the product of rape is sufficient to kill a fetus.

  141. #141 Daryl McCullough
    June 27, 2006

    My reasons are much the same as yours, which are basically a corollary of the Golden Rule, in other words, ‘Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto yourself’.

    Okay, but the question is what sorts of entities can we have empathy for. As to the application of the Golden Rule to an embryo, I don’t see how to do it. If I were an embryo, would I have a desire to continue living? I don’t know whether embryos have desires. I don’t see that much difference with asking whether a lump of iron ore desires to become an automobile. I think that a certain amount of awareness is necessary before an entity can be considered to have desires or needs.

  142. #142 Daryl McCullough
    June 27, 2006

    Ian H Spelling writes: What reason for abortion, other than protecting the life of the mother, is not trivial relative to the act of killing another living individual?

    Personally, I think that the rights of an embryo are completely trivial compared with that of a woman who does not wish to be pregnant. Any reason for wishing not to be pregnant is enough to overcome the rights of the fetus, because I don’t think the fetus has any rights. I don’t think it is an individual in the sense that the word means anything. It is matter plus information (the genetic code).

  143. #143 Caledonian
    June 27, 2006

    My reasons are much the same as yours, which are basically a corollary of the Golden Rule, in other words, ‘Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto yourself’.

    Exactly. Fetuses are not others. They lack the capacity for suffering that rats possess. While I am somewhat sympathetic towards the animal rights movement, are you? Do you object to medical research upon rats?

  144. #144 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    There are two major categories of abortion:

    Natural/spontaneous and human-caused.

    In the same way that hurricanes kill people and we cannot legislate against hurricanes nor use hurricanes as an excuse for humans to kill others, natural/spontaneous abortions kill people and that does not make their occurrence a reason to legislate against them or to excuse human-caused abortions. BTW: Some people DO use extraordinary measures to try to prevent or circumvent natural/spontaneous abortions: Fertility clinics do this work every day.

    Human-caused abortions can be divided into two categories: 1) Abortions that save the life of the mother. 2) Abortions for the convenience of the mother and/or society. (I just include society here for completeness – I don’t really believe that “society’s needs” are a factor at all).

    “Convenience” is a loaded word, I know, but all the rational for abortion hinges on it. People try to get around it by pointing out the rights of the mother supersede the rights of the fetus up to time point X. I agree.

    Where is time point X?

    “Birth” No way. There is not enough difference between the human organism just after birth and the human organism just before to make this an argument worth considering.

    “Viability” The ability of the fetus to survive outside of the womb. Been there, dealt with that. Non-argument because it is only a matter of technology. Once technology is sufficiently advanced, then the viability time point moves closer and closer to conception. Does that mean that human rights are dependent on technology?

    “Brain waves” This is a better argument, but again, suffers from the application of technology. Why choose brain waves? Is there no other detectible electro-magnetic pattern that could be used? What if a new kind of wave was discovered that was more fundamental to the personality than brain waves? Would human rights be dependent upon technology? No, of course not. Human rights are more fundamental than the application of technology.

    “Conception” When egg and sperm meet, the thing that is formed is completely different than what existed before. No other cells in your body are ever going to transform into a zygote-embryo-baby without deliberate intervention. And that is what makes the difference, that deliberate intervention. There are no spontaneous births. Two or more humans have to deliberately get together to make conception happen. Even “accidental” pregnancies are not accidental – my willie doesn’t have a mind of its own. It doesn’t detach itself and run around the neighborhood, looking for places to hide.

    Carlie is right, no technological birth control chemicals or devises are fool proof. But birth control devises and chemicals do not cause people to have sex. People have sex of their own free will, unless, of course they are raped, and I addressed how a family could overcome the trauma of rape without using abortion. Abortion is not a requirement after rape (and nobody here said it was). It’s not even a necessity – it is an option.

    But choosing conception as time point X has its problems as well, one could argue. What if the mother doesn’t want to carry the baby to term? How we stop her from having the abortion? We can’t. We shouldn’t. The best we can do is give people alternatives to getting pregnant in the first place, as I mentioned, and give people reasons to hope for their children’s future.

    Until we want to deal with that, I will maintain my personal animosity towards the act of abortion, but support the legal protection for it at the beginning of the third trimester.

  145. #145 Steve LaBonne
    June 27, 2006

    I will maintain my personal animosity towards the act of abortion

    Oh, you think there is somebody who LIKES “the act of abortion”? Spare us the prim piety, Spike.

  146. #146 Dr. Pretorius
    June 27, 2006

    I can’t help but notice that the operating strategy for the people arguing that abortion is morally pretty iffy in most all cases seems to be “throw things that look like arguments against the wall until they stick”.

    For example, Ian, you seem to be arguing that fetuses have a right to life just like adult human beings do, but are not only not adult human beings but nothing like them to boot. They lack any sort of mentality, personality, or proper sense of self. Really, when it comes down to it, on your account they’re basically nothing more than little globby rights to life. This is certainly a useful position when it comes to defending their right to life, but it’s hardly a convincing one. I mean, I can give plausible arguments why human beings generally have a right to life – say, that it stems from the value of human autonomy – but these are always going to be based on other considerations. And those precise considerations are the ones that you’re doing your best to remove because, frankly, they make the position awkward since fetuses really, when it comes down to it, are in no way persons.

    Spike, on the other hand, keeps trying to argue by throwing out demands in the hopes that people will try to address them as opposed to noticing that they’re basically irrelevant. For example, this:
    Same with “7th generation” stuff. If the zygote in the womb has no right to not be terminated, then what rights do unknown lives not even conceived of yet have to “quality of life”? The liberals of the pro-abortion crowd believe being a real zygote is not enough to stay the hand of the abortion clinician, yet they want the rest of us to change nearly everything about our lives for the sake of future generations.

    Please answer either or both without resorting to magical thinking or absurdities. Anyone? Anyone?

    The sad bit about this is that the question could be answered by anyone, very very easily. Future generations are defined as people in the future. Fetuses are things that may or may not (chances are they won’t) be people in the future. People have rights. So since we have a duty to people we have a duty to people in the future. Fetuses, however, are not people. So we don’t have that duty towards them. Again, and I’m amazed that this is a point of contention, potential and actual are different things. Deal with it.

    Finally, I still have yet to see any good argument for why the moment of conception is particularly special. The fact that we may figure out something better in no way counts against the suggestion that brain waves may be useful: we may find out that something really important happens a couple seconds before conception. If this is an objection to the brainwaves account it is an objection to every possibility you mentioned, and in fact an objection to pretty much anything anyone has ever said ever.

    Secondly, viability is fairly easy to define: can survive by itself more or less. Will there be cases where it’s questionable? Yes, but this is not an objection: human biology is messy any way you put it, and as noted above this is true of any account you could give at all. Has it changed somewhat with new technology? Perhaps, to a limited extent but since viability actually means something as opposed to what you seem to want it to be this is not as substantive an objection as you think (meaning, not at all).

    And despite all the wonderful things you said about conception, you don’t seem to notice that (1) they’re really in no way shape or form relevant to the discussion, and (2) they’re equally true of all the other possible options. The one exception, however, is the notion that the deliberate actions of various people involved are important. (Of course, to a more limited extent this is still true of the other steps – women are not gestation machines, and pregnancy is hardly something that goes on in the background of their lives.) Of course, in no way is it argued why exactly this intention is relevant at all, since it is not unless you happen to believe that either the man’s contribution to making babies is at least as the important as the woman’s (it is not), or alternatively that pregnancy is and must remain a punishment for people who have sex (it is not, and the notion is ridiculous).

  147. #147 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    Still taking your cues from the DI playbook, LaBonne? You ought to come up here to Seattle and join in with Bruce Chapman and friends.

    I never said anyone on this post likes abortion.

    But there may well be people who do. Perhaps some racists are happy to believe that non-white women have lots of abortions, since it means fewer of -those- kind to deal with. And mybe there are some misguided folks who like abortion because they see it as the ultimate act of choice on the part a woman. And myabe there are some people who like abortion because those prevented births lessen the “burden to society.” But I’ll doubt it until I see proof.

    So, yet again, LaBonne, your attempt to do my thinking for me has failed.

  148. #148 Steve LaBonne
    June 27, 2006

    Not as dismally as your own attempts, buddy.

  149. #149 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    Dr. P:

    Which person is more likely to become a reality: The person who will develop from the zygote in a womb right now, or the one in your mind?

    If those potential people who -may- come into exstence one hundred years from now have rights, then certainly the person who -will- come into existence seven months from now has rights. Then follow it backwards. If that person will have rights seven months from now, why not two months from now? Why not one month? Why not now?

    How could intention not be a factor? There are no spontaneous pregnancies. No woman ever becomes pregnant without the co-efforts of a man or medical science. Pregnancy is a deliberate act. It’s not a punishment for sex, but it is a known result. Maybe the right-wing anti-abortion crowd thinks pregnacy is a punishment, but you seem to think pregancy is a disease, as easily done away with as swollen tonsils.

    But if pregnacy is a disease, it is a preventable one, like mumps or measels. Actually, it’s even more readily preventable, because you might not know if you are about to catch measels, but you always know if you could become pregnant.

    If you want to throw out ad hominems in the manner of DaveScot, I suppose you can, but what I think is sad is how desperately you want to cling to the idea that so long as you define away a person’s rights, you can kill them without batting an eye. Maybe you’ve given me the proof that -you- are the kind of person who likes abortion.

  150. #150 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    Actully, I -am- throwing out arguments to see if they stick. This is a blog forum, we can say whatever we want. It’s not a freakin’ public policy think tank or government agency. Nothing I say here is going to affect the law in any way shape or form. I will never vote for an abortion ban in the current state of society and technology – the costs outweigh the benefits.

    But, I still don’t like abortion, I would like to figure out a way to end it, just like I’d like to figure out how to end war, poverty, hunger and religion. I have an emotional bias against abortion, becuase I can imagine that the kids in the womb deserve the same protection and have the same rights as kids (not adults – Dr. P is wrong again) outside of it. At this point that may be all it is, pure imagination. I bring up my ideas here to test them. I’m not trying to change your minds at all – I’m trying to change mine.

    When people continue to try to put words in my mouth or attribute to me intentions that are not mine, after I repeatedly show them they are not, then they are just flaming me, so I flame them back.

  151. #151 Daryl McCullough
    June 27, 2006

    Spike writes: Which person is more likely to become a reality: The person who will develop from the zygote in a womb right now, or the one in your mind?

    I think you are misconstruing the argument. Neither a zygote nor a hypothetical future descendent has any rights based on the potential for coming into existence. A hypothetical future human has no rights at this moment.

    The motivation for making the future hospitable for the people who will be living in that future is not because potential people have rights. They don’t. It’s because we want to prevent tragedy and suffering in the future. That applies to a fetus or to just a hypothetical future descendant. I don’t consider it any kind of tragedy for a fetus not to be brought to term, but I consider it a tremendous tragedy for a baby to lack basic human needs. Giving birth is a morally significant act, much more so than having an abortion.

  152. #152 Owlmirror
    June 27, 2006

    “Brain waves” This is a better argument, but again, suffers from the application of technology. Why choose brain waves? Is there no other detectible electro-magnetic pattern that could be used?

    My argument, like Sagan’s, is that brain waves are an indicator of a human brain that has begun to function. No other organ in the body is associated with being a person more than the brain, so it makes sense to define personhood in terms of a functioning brain.

    What if a new kind of wave was discovered that was more fundamental to the personality than brain waves?

    This question makes very little sense. Any new “kind of wave” that was “fundamental to the personality” would have to be something that occurs in the brain anyway. Perhaps there might be something more subtle than what is now detectable, but it would still be a type of brain wave.

    If such a thing were discovered, it depends on when it becomes detectable in a fetus. If it occurs later than the currently defined set of human brain waves, I would recommend that the metric remain with the earlier detectable stronger waves. In the unlikely event that it occurs earlier, then (going with the assumption that this was indeed “fundamental to personality”, whatever that means) I would agree that the definition of “personhood” ought to be pushed back to when this hypothetical new brainwave can be detected.

    Would human rights be dependent upon technology?

    They already are.

    The EKG is a diagnostic tool used by doctors to figure out if someone has a functioning brain, along with various types of brain scans. If there is sufficient brain function, then the person is considered alive, and additional medical treatment is called for to help maintain the person in the hope that recovery can take place, because the person is considered to still have the right to live.

    If there is not sufficient brain function, then the former person is now considered to be brain dead, and is, for all practical purposes, a corpse, even if it is still breathing with a heartbeat.

    Of course, to those people who don’t understand modern physiology, there may be some bizarre confused idea that there is more to a person than just the brain, so they would reject the above metric and go by their own feelings on the matter, rather than with everything modern medical science has found.

    Human rights are more fundamental than the application of technology.

    Why? Technology, in this case, is used to extend the senses so as to detect something that can’t be detected by unaided human senses.

    It’s a logical progression from trying to tell if someone is alive by looking for breathing or listening for a heartbeat.

  153. #153 Owlmirror
    June 27, 2006

    Sorry, I meant “The EEG is a diagnostic tool” above, not “EKG”. An EKG detects heartbeats, not brain waves.

  154. #154 Carlie
    June 27, 2006

    “But if pregnacy is a disease, it is a preventable one, like mumps or measels. Actually, it’s even more readily preventable, because you might not know if you are about to catch measels, but you always know if you could become pregnant.”

    Which would be just about any time, since women don’t come into visible estrus like most mammals, and most don’t have very predictable and punctual ovaries, either. What you’re saying is that no one should ever have sex except for procreative purposes. Why didn’t you just say so in the first place? I assume you’re living by that standard, then, as well. As soon as everyone is done with their baby quota, no more sex. Thanks for playing. That idea never did catch on very well, even with the whole weight of the Catholic church behind it.

  155. #155 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    So, I’ve painted myself into a corner. There is no scientific point I can think of that would show there is a person deserving of rights prior to the advent of the brain waves we associate with consciousness.

    Time point X is at the start of detectible brain waves.

    As Owl points out, deciding when human rights apply is entirely dependent on technology.

    I’ll still maintain my belief that abortion is a necessary evil, and I will still work on figuring out how to end it in a positive way. But, like all my other beliefs, I can separate the ones that are unsupported from the ones I can support.

    Oh, no! I hope this doesn’t mean I’m going to become a liberal. That would be almost as bad as becoming a christian. :)

  156. #156 Ian H Spedding
    June 27, 2006

    RavenT wrote:

    Heh, if Ian’s so convinced that potentiality is the same as actuality, I wonder if he’d be willing to lend me a large sum of money right now, based on my future earning potential once I finish my PhD as collateral?
    I suspect–and if I’m wrong it’s easily disproved; I’ll get you that mailing address right away, Ian–that in practice he applies his “potential = actual” rule somewhat selectively.

    Would that I had the money. Alas…

    On a more serious note, this interview with physicist Paul Davies discusses the concept of “timescape” or “block time”:

    http://www.abc.net.au/science/bigquestions/s460740.htm

    As a PhD student, you may be better qualified than I am to comment on it but it is the basis form my belief that the life-cycle of an individual human being should be viewed as a single entity or event in spacetime.

    We were all, at one time, zygotes, blastocysts, embryos and fetuses. Each of those stages was, in its time, a “present”, from which perspectives all subsequent stages, including the present one we now occupy, were “potential” futures. Do we have any reason for claiming that any particular “present” is privileged over any other?

    It seems absurd to me that the early developmental stages of an individual human life-cycle should be arbitrarily denied the right life that is granted to the later stages. None of us would exist as individuals entitled to the right to life had we not passed through those earlier – and essential – stages.

    I believe it is for those who advocate elective abortion to justify treating the fetus as less worthy of the right to life than the adult since none of us adults would be here if we had not once been one.

  157. #157 Steve LaBonne
    June 27, 2006

    Yep, Carlie, that’s what it’s all about. That’s been clear to me for a long time. The rest is bullshitting.

  158. #158 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    Can’t let this one go, though: “I assume you’re living by that standard, then, as well.”

    Not in the least, just the opposite, in fact. I’m pointing out that if people do not -want- children, not having coitus is the “best effort” they can rely on to prevent it. There are lots of ways to have sex without sending the “eel” into the “cave.” It’s up to you to decide what combinations of methods will most efficiently prevent pregnancy – if you really don’t want children. All you grownups that want to have rights also have responsibilities and choices.

    I’ve already pointed out that not getting pregnant in the first place is a much better option than having an abortion: Much cheaper, much less emotional stress, no guilt.

    So explain to me, if you can, how it follows that I’m only in favor of sex for reproduction?

  159. #159 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    And LaBonne is full of it.

  160. #160 Steve LaBonne
    June 27, 2006

    Right, sling the invective when your arguments are shown to be crap. That’s the “pro-life” movement in a nutshell.

  161. #161 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    Slinging invective is all you’ve done since you came trolling in here, LaBonne. You keep trying to put me in with the “pro-life movement” when I’ve pointed out time and again what I think and feel.

    It was Owl’s rational argument that I could no longer develop counterarguments to that changed my mind – certainly nothing -you- wrote.

    Why don’t you go back to UD where you belong?

  162. #162 Steve LaBonne
    June 27, 2006

    Oh, calling me a troll, I’m so hurt. As it happens I’m a regular reader and a frequent commenter on this blog, and (not that it’s particularly relevant, but this IS a biology blog after all) an actual biologist. And you are?? (Other than being an idiot who by his own admission is just throwing arguments against the wall, and has painted himself into a corner. Out of the mouths of babes…)

  163. #163 Carlie
    June 27, 2006

    “I’ve already pointed out that not getting pregnant in the first place is a much better option than having an abortion: Much cheaper, much less emotional stress, no guilt.”

    Spike – I actually agree with you, believe it or not. I don’t think that anyone likes the presence of abortions, myself included. Sure as hell the women I know who have been through them didn’t like the experience. I used to have the same opinion you do on preventing pregnancies, but society, culture, people are more complicated than that. You can’t just say “don’t have sex”. It’s too integral to humanity, to what we are. I think it makes much more sense to concentrate on preventing pregnancies in the first place. I’d be ok with limiting abortions to medically necessary reasons after the first trimester or so, IF (and this is a mighty big if) women had adequate access to birth control, pregnancy tests, and adequate access to quick abortions when necessary. One or two Planned Parenthood clinics per state just doesn’t cut it, insurance companies that cover Viagra but not IUDs don’t cut it.

  164. #164 Steve LaBonne
    June 27, 2006

    Of course, present non-Xtian “pro-life” company I very much hope excepted, most “pro-lifers” are also quite opposed to contraception. What does that tell you?

  165. #165 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    Wow! An Actual Biologist – Which makes you imminently more qualified than me to discuss moral issues such as abortion.

    For An Actual Biologist, you ought to be able to do better than divide everyone into “us and them” like they do over on Uncommon Descent.

    With your Actual Biologist training, I’d like you to rationally describe to me how everyone who is against abortion is automatically part of the “pro-life movement.” Since I’m no longer against abortion prior to the advent of consciousness-indicating brain waves, I’m no longer part of that movement. But Ian is still out there, stumping for the rights of the un-conscious.

    Make the link for us, LaBonne, Mr. Actual Biologist: Show us something that Ian said that makes him part of the “pro-life movement.”

  166. #166 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    LaBonne spewed: “Of course, present non-Xtian “pro-life” company I very much hope excepted, most “pro-lifers” are also quite opposed to contraception. What does that tell you?”

    Uh, nothing, since I’m not against contraception.

    Carlie, What do we do to make the change for the better?

  167. #167 Steve LaBonne
    June 27, 2006

    Oh, I don’t know, could it be- the fact that he, and you, think (on the basis of no coherent argument whatsoever) that abortion, tout court- even prior to any possibility of fetal consciousness- is somehow actually wrong, rather than merely unpleasant and preferably avoided. That’s more or less the definition of a right-to-lifer, you know. But then, I wouldn’t expect someone who doesn’t know the difference between “imminent” and “eminent”, and who thinks everybody who disagrees with him is somehow an IDer, to understand basic English.

    Sad.

  168. #168 Steve LaBonne
    June 27, 2006

    I did say “present company hopefully excepted” (can you read at all?), and I’m glad I was right. At least you aren’t THAT insane.

  169. #169 Daryl McCullough
    June 27, 2006

    Ian H Spedding writes: It seems absurd to me that the early developmental stages of an individual human life-cycle should be arbitrarily denied the right life that is granted to the later stages.

    It seems absurd to me that you would grant the same “right to life” to all stages of development.

    None of us would exist as individuals entitled to the right to life had we not passed through those earlier – and essential – stages.

    So what? If my father had joined the Navy three weeks earlier, he never would have met my mother, and I wouldn’t have existed. Life is contingent.

  170. #170 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    Hey, if it’s a word, the type checker still passes it.

    Smoking is wrong, and unpleasant and preferrably avoided, so is abortion.

    I don’t think everyone who disagrees with me is an IDer, I just think you act like one when you label everyone who disagrees with you a “pro-lifer.”

  171. #171 Steve LaBonne
    June 27, 2006

    And don’t forget, Daryl, if my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle. ;)

  172. #172 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    See, you’ve changed what you’re saying. You went from “pro-life movement” to right-to-lifer. (Common tactic of trolls, when someone calls on you to defend, change what you are saying.)

    The “pro-life movement” is a group of people trying to legally ban abortion, usually on religious grounds.

    Neither Ian nor I -ever- advocated for a ban on abortion, and certainly never opposed it on religious grounds. Ian’s still trying to make a philosophical argument against it, I can’t go down that path any farther than I have.

    By the way you define “right-to-lifer” in such broad terms, you’re talking about something completely different than “pro-life movement,” which is wehre you started.

  173. #173 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    Damn that sepll chekcer!

  174. #174 Steve LaBonne
    June 27, 2006

    I consider those terms synonymous, and will go on doing so. Anti-abortionists themselves commonly use them interchangeably. And I don’t take lexical lessons from those who don’t know the difference between “imminent” and “eminent”.

    Free clue for Mr. “I’ve painted myself into a corner”: when you’re in a hole, diging faster is not the way to get out.

  175. #175 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    So, rather than continue emulating PZ and Rev. Lenny on the “Ron Numbers” thread and PT, I’ll bow out of the invective business against LaBonne.

    If I hadn’t come to this thread, I wouldn’t have changed my mind. I still have the feelings that I feel, and I hope they are worth no less than other people’s feelings.

  176. #176 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    So, rather than continue emulating the crew on the “Ron Numbers” thread and PT, I’ll bow out of the invective business against LaBonne.

    If I hadn’t come to this thread, I wouldn’t have changed my mind. I still have the feelings that I feel, and I hope they are worth no less than other people’s feelings.

  177. #177 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    Don’t know why it posted twice, sorry.

  178. #178 Spike
    June 27, 2006

    Timing is eveything! It looks like my post at 04:02 was in response to LaBonne’s post immediately above.

    Can’t let him think I actually care about what he wrote! :0

    I came in here trying to defend the right to life all the way back to conception, not as a member of the “pro-life movement” (only LaBonne treats them as synomyms, Humpty-Dumpty style) and leave as one who can only support the rights of the living back to brain function.

    That means I stopped “diging” before the eminent Mr. LaBonne made his appearance today.

    Ciao!

  179. #179 Ken Cope
    June 27, 2006

    Ohfergobsake, Spike recants but we’re still stuck on Tralfamadore…

    On a more serious note, this interview with physicist Paul Davies discusses the concept of “timescape” or “block time”:

    Paul Davies? Ew: a Templeton Prize winner. That’ll be 50 points from Slytherin, Ian.

    That dialogue reads like the pitch for the DevilmasterTM by Infermco.

    My favorite line: It raises tantalising possibilities for the punter, doesn’t it? Do you think we are about to have one of those paradigm shifts that you’ve been describing, in regard to time?

    Get out the gyro-stabilizers, it’s gonna be a paradigm shift!

    As a PhD student, you may be better qualified than I am to comment on it but it is the basis form my belief that the life-cycle of an individual human being should be viewed as a single entity or event in spacetime.

    Such geeky abstractions are factored into the cold equations involved in a pregnancy by, well, nobody, certainly by none of us marooned in real time.

    Davies sums up your belief by quoting Einstein:

    Paul: Einstein himself wrote that ‘the past, present, and future, are only illusions, however persistent’. Curiously enough, he put that in a letter to the widow of his friend Michel Besso after he died.

    Phillip: To console the poor woman?

    Paul: Yes.

    Phillip: It doesn’t sound as though it would have been particularly efficacious.

    Paul: Quite. Einstein was implying that in some sense her husband hadn’t really passed on, or passed away, because time doesn’t pass. So the physicist treats time in much the same way as the Greeks treated space; that is, as a dimension. There are three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. Like space, time is simply there. It’s laid out before us.

    As a point of view, it doesn’t support the question you’re begging anyway. If you need some help thinking about why, I recommend this little essay about Kurt Vonnegut’s Tralfamoderean view of the timescape as described in the book Slaughterhouse 5.

    During one episode of his life, Billy is abducted by aliens from the planet of Tralfamadore. On this planet, there are four dimensions, with the additional one being time. The aliens explain to Billy that time is different for Tralfamadorians and earthlings because in the fourth dimension time is spatial, and one can visit a moment in time like earthlings visit locations. Here is the first major clash of ideas; Linear time vs. Spatial Time. While ridiculous sounding, Vonnegut builds an argument for spatial time through Billy’s story. By advancing each story in pieces, he creates the effect that each story is happening simultaneously. This agrees with the Tralfamadorian view that all time exists in the present (Harris). Vonnegut also undercuts the reliability of linear time; all attempts to piece together one part of Billy’s life fail, due to conflicting facts and vague references. Vonnegut also uses this technique to deny the “pastness” of Billy’s past and the “futureness” of his future, thus making all events present (Harris). The many stories of Billy Pilgrim also serve another purpose for Vonnegut. These “chopped up” stories lose their rational explanations and values, and portray the chaos and senselessness of war (Reed).

    By creating this idea of “spatial time,” Vonnegut has relieved some of the sting that is associated with death. It is impossible to remove death all together from his novel because death is so real to him, so instead he creates a new dimension where no one really dies because they are forever alive and well in many other moments of time (Harris).

    In a static, deterministic universe where all events are simultaneous, every zygote is achieving its own perfect bliss forever. An abortion would only be a location in spacetime that you’d want to avoid if you intended to Billy Pilgrim around a bit. There isn’t any choice in the matter, because everything is always just that way. There was never going to be any moment where an alternative “potential” was “actualized.”

    Tralfamadorianism is the philosophy held by Billy’s alien friends, which teaches that each moment in time is pre-structured with no purpose, but is totally random. But, despite the randomness of the moment, it cannot be changed because it simply exists the way it is.

    You may prefer the many worlds Wheelerisms where the universe branches all the time, and in one of them I’m still married to the anti-wife with a daughter who’s hating life, who will probably murder us in our sleep having found out how lame we are. I’m glad that in this branch, I’m living here in Northern California with a boy about to enter kindergarten and baby girl in her ninth month who can sit up and smile about anything. That other guy in West Hollywood would have made a lousy parent, and he did in another part of the multiverse. By now, the love of this life and I have made a pretty happy home for a couple of happy, well-adjusted kids.

    Neither employment of woo woo physics helps you to support the conclusion you’re working so hard to justify.

    And so it goes.

  180. #180 Ian H Spedding
    June 28, 2006

    Daryl McCullough wrote:

    It seems absurd to me that you would grant the same “right to life” to all stages of development.

    If we, as a society, grant a right to life to each individual member then the assumption is that it shall apply to the whole of that individual life unless otherwise stated. (We call it the “right to life”, remember, not the “right to some bits of life but not others”.) I have argued that it is reasonable to define the entire life-cycle of an individual human being as beginning at conception and ending at death. Thus, in my view, anyone wanting to limit the extent to which the right to life applies is bound to justify the claim that the early stages of human development do not qualify as life.

    None of us would exist as individuals entitled to the right to life had we not passed through those earlier – and essential – stages.
    So what? If my father had joined the Navy three weeks earlier, he never would have met my mother, and I wouldn’t have existed. Life is contingent.

    Yes, your existence as a child of your parents was contingent on their meeting, but your current existence as an individual is not just contingent on previous stages of development but contiguous with them. They are an inseparable part of the whole you and for an individual to deny that a part of him or herself has no right to life is, on the face of it, absurd.

  181. #181 Ian H Spedding
    June 28, 2006

    Owlmirror wrote:

    My argument, like Sagan’s, is that brain waves are an indicator of a human brain that has begun to function. No other organ in the body is associated with being a person more than the brain, so it makes sense to define personhood in terms of a functioning brain.

    I have agreed with everything Spike has written – except where he concedes that this argument concerning brain function has any force.

    In the first place, we can use an EEG machine to detect brain function in many animals other than human beings. Does that mean they are persons? Presumably Sagan, and those who support his argument, would say not, their brain function is significantly different from that of humans. What distinguishes human beings from other animals is the nature and quality of their brain activity.

    And here, as I understand it, an EEG is of no help. Using surface electrodes, the machine can detect the gross electrical activity in a brain but it cannot, for example, distinguish the firing of individual neurons nor tell us whether the signal was excitatory or inhibitory. Most certainly, it tells us nothing about the nature of the mind associated with the brain’s electrical activity. We cannot read in the traces details of the hopes, fears, rational arguments, pleasure, love, hates, inspirations, intuitions, sense of wonder or other traits which are part of an individual’s experience and ‘personhood’.

    In the second place, ‘person’ or ‘personhood’ is hopelessly ill-defined. If you assume it to be the composite of mental or psychological traits which we call ‘personality’ then that is of little help since it is no more of a fixed entity than the physical body. The personality, if you can call it such, of a fetus is different from that of a newborn, which is different from that of a 5 year-old, which is different from that of a 10 or 15 or 20 year-old, which is different from that of a mature 40 year-old and so on.

    Again, this raises the question: if you are going to peg the limit of the right to life to the onset of what must be primitive brain activity in the fetus, why not extend it a little further back to the onset of the individual’s physical development at conception?

    To me, this smacks of a misguided desire to privilege a woman’s right to choose over all other considerations, a position which can only be defended if the fetus is denied the right to life by what is really an arbitrary definition.

    Yes, a woman has a right to privacy and to control over her own body but, as one of Dr Pretorius’s “moral agents”, she also has a duty and responsibility to respect the rights of others. And that, in my view, includes the right to life to which a fetus should be entitled if the right is applied consistently rather than arbitrarily.

  182. #182 Ian H Spedding
    June 28, 2006

    Dr. Pretorius wrote:

    As far as Ian’s attempt goes, I still fail to see how this is even worth seriously discussing. Look, the reason that in one stage of the life one is treated differently than at another is because at one stage one is in fact quite a different sort of thing than at the other stage (the fact that we can look back at the thing and say “ok, this was all the same thing undergoing a lot of really extraordinary changes …” doesn’t undercut the notion that at two different times the thing was in fact very very different).

    Yes, it is trivially true that the fetus is very different from the adult individual into which it might eventually develop. But that development is a continuous process and what we, somewhat arbitrarily, identify as distinct stages in that process are nonetheless entirely contiguous with their immediate neighbours. In fact, it is at least arguable that our perception of fetuses or babies or adults as discrete objects is simply an artefact of our temporal perspective.

    More important, however, is the fact that we are discussing the limits of applicability of the right to life. And note that the term is “right to life”, not ‘right to some life’. In effect, it asserts that, in the context of human society, living individuals are entitled not to be deprived of that life, although exceptions are allowed in certain narrowly-defined circumstances. Since a fetus is, by any definition, alive and, in my view, a distinct individual, albeit in the very early stages of development, it should be granted the right to life. Anyone arguing for a limit to that right is bound to justify that claim and, so far, the reasons for denying that right seem to be arbitrary to say the least.

    As far as viewing people as static determined entities stretched out over time goes, it undermines any attempt to argue against abortion – and this is even if we grant, as there is no reason yet provided for doing so, that a fetus gets to be part of that entity in the first place (does a sperm? how about the nutrients the body used to assemble that sperm? where is the principled distinction here?).

    As I have argued repeatedly, society grants rights to its individual members. The rights, therefore, only apply from the point at which an individual comes into existence as such and the starting-point of an individual, in my view, is at conception.

    In fact, if this is the case, it is hard to see how abortion could in any way be wrong – if we look at a case where there is an abortion, the thing in question is a static entity for a relatively short temporal-length and at no point in time is an actual person. If we look at a case where there is no abortion, then the thing is quite a bit longer and for a good portion of that length is a person. In neither case, however, is there any trouble: the only problem would be if something which was at some point in its temporal length a human being was killed before, from our perspective, it became that human being. But this is, on the view, precisely what is not possible. So I don’t see how bringing any of this up could count as a relevant argument in any way shape or form.

    Ken Cope makes the same point and I agree that if the concept of “timescape” or “block time” implies a purely deterministic universe then it poses a serious problem for part of my case. Nonetheless, it seems difficult to escape from Paul Davies’s – and Einstein’s – view of it.

  183. #183 Dr. Pretorius
    June 28, 2006

    As I have argued repeatedly, society grants rights to its individual members. The rights, therefore, only apply from the point at which an individual comes into existence as such and the starting-point of an individual, in my view, is at conception.

    Yes, but why?

    Again, you’ve said this and it’s certainly very convenient for you but there’s no justification in place. In fact, you seem to be presenting a picture entirely devoid of things that can be said for it.

    Also, and more importantly, I don’t think you’ve bothered to think through your metaphysical picture, well, anywhere near what you need to let’s say.
    1. You want to say that certain things that are true of someone are true of that thing throughout its entire existence. To do so you suggest that we’re temporally extended things (so that all moments at which we exist present and future count as part of what we are proper (and so, then, right now)). But the goal here is clearly false, or at any rate deeply suspicious. First off it’s not at all obvious that it is true, and secondly it’s very obvious that when it comes to the vast majority of things we might say of someone it’s extraordinarily false (any physical trait, or anything dependant upon a physical trait, for example, cannot be that sort of thing).

    So (a) you have to make plausible the notion that it’s even a sensible thing to ask for, and (b) then you have to make plausible the notion that moral status is one of those things that carries through, even though the characteristics upon which that status supervenes do not, and (c) then you’ve got to present an argument showing that the same above two points do not apply to the other end of life (unless you wish to argue that corpses have a right to their own autonomy and shouldn’t just be buried willy-nilly).

    2. You want to hold some view on which it makes sense to say that we’re static (unchanging) entities extended over time, this extension creating the appearance of change. However you don’t want to hold a serious bit of determinism. There may be a middle ground that lets you hold the first but not the second: you have not found it (in fact, no one has to my knowledge).
    Your use of examples of things that have happened in the past (someone’s entire life once they have died, looking back at myself ‘when I was a fetus’, etc) is an attempt to make this conflict less apparent. After all, when those things happened there was no need to see them as determined, and remembering them we do not remember them as having been fixed any more than we do the present. However, this is not going to work for you – as you really should have realized. The past, after all, is determined – it does not change and now that it is the past it is fixed in place barring some very odd time travel movies.

    So the only reason your view looks plausible in the first place is that you’re using an example of something that is determined (and in a way completely unthreatening to anyone) and saying that the present and future are just like that. Except that you can’t say that the present and future are determined, because that eliminates any point you have. And, let’s be honest here, if your view is “the present and future are just like the past in this respect, except completely different in this respect” then there’s little reason to take it at all seriously.

  184. #184 RavenT
    June 28, 2006

    If it helps save you any time, Dr. Pretorius, we’ve already been through prior and posterior probabilities repeatedly with Ian, and he doesn’t accept the distinction.

  185. #185 peep
    June 28, 2006

    Ian, fetuses don’t suddenly aquire all the moral rights and responsibilities of an adult human at conception any more than you think they could when the brain starts working, or at birth. Their moral status matures with time (linear, causal time…the very concept of morality assumes causality, and doesn’t apply to a static picture of the universe with symmetry between past and future–that’s a good picture for doing some physics, but 2nd law of thermo, natural selection, etc don’t apply in such a picture), from basically no moral status at conception to full moral status when they are able to fend for themselves in society. As children, for instance, they share moral status with, and are granted moral status because of, the values of their parents.

    Fetuses don’t have any “right” to life, though it’s parents have a right to its life. A fetus might start aquiring a bit of right to life if the mind turns on in the womb, but it’s not much of one, and easily trumped by the most trivial rights of the mother. However, a viable fetus can be removed from the womb without being killed, respecting the rights of the mother and any interests of the fetus. I hesitate to call those interests rights at this point–that kind of situation is charitable, but hardly obligatory.

    Another example, a fetus does have a right not to suffer, when it can. A blastocyst can’t suffer, and thus can be dismembered in the name of science, for example. A more mature fetus, or an infant, shouldn’t be treated that way, though.

    Does this help?

  186. #186 Owlmirror
    June 28, 2006

    Ian Spedding wrote:

    What distinguishes human beings from other animals is the nature and quality of their brain activity.
    And here, as I understand it, an EEG is of no help. Using surface electrodes, the machine can detect the gross electrical activity in a brain but it cannot, for example, distinguish the firing of individual neurons nor tell us whether the signal was excitatory or inhibitory.

    My point is that such activity means that there is actually a brain being detected, with active neurons and glial cells, and so on, which at least theoretically can transmit sensations and form memories.

    Until that brain develops, then there is nothing that indicates that an “individual” exists at all.

    While I am indeed unsure how aware or sapient a fetus is when the first brain waves are generated, your point that the fetal brain still has a lot of developing to do is irrelevant – until the brain exists, it can’t possibly develop further.

    Ian Spedding wrote:

    Again, this raises the question: if you are going to peg the limit of the right to life to the onset of what must be primitive brain activity in the fetus, why not extend it a little further back to the onset of the individual’s physical development at conception?

    Because a brain is essential to individuality, and no other organ is. If there’s no brain, there’s no individual to refer to – only an organism that is still developing, forming tissues that are, at first, only weakly differentiated from one another. Only after the third trimester have the tissues differentiated and organized to form a brain that works; only then can words like “individual” and “person” be used to refer to the fetus in an honest way. There’s nothing arbitrary about that.

    I still don’t understand your insistence that a person begins at conception. There is no other case where the potential end result after a long period of development is treated exactly the same as the starting condition.

    If you bought what you thought was a bushel of apples, and received only a few apple seeds, and were told “Oh, just plant them – they’ll naturally grow into trees, and you’ll get a lot more than a bushel” – would you think that you had been dealt with honestly, that you had received exactly what you had paid for?

  187. #187 Paul W.
    June 29, 2006

    I have to agree with Dr. P that Ian’s metaphysics seems awfully naive and messed up. (I’m using “metaphysics” in the philosophy sense, not the woo-woo New Age sense.)

    If it were worth it—speaking counterfactually here—it might be good to go through some warm-up exercises about

    1. individuation and identity in general, i.e., what makes a “thing” a thing, what makes it that particular thing.

    2. kinds, i.e., what makes a kind of thing a kind of thing, and an individual thing a thing of that kind

    3. supervienience and levels of description, especially how a high-level pattern and especially a high-level process may be made out of material things or causally connected events at a lower level, without being the same thing.

    I’ll skip over that, so what I say next may go nowhere, but I’ll try to suggest those things with a computer analogy.

    A person is not a physical object in the obvious sense. It’s not a piece of hardware. An artificially intelligent person residing in a computer would not be that computer. The computer and the person are different things, with the latter supervening on the former. They’re both material, but they’re material in very different ways. Hardware and software are very different things, even though there are some cases where the distinction is blurry, the relationships are complex, and you need a more refined set of distinctions.

    And serious software is very complex; high-level software is made out of lower-level software, but is not identical to the aggregate of the low-level software it’s made out of.

    A person is not a piece of software, either. A person is mostly a high-level computational process, which supervenes on the software (among other things) but is not identical to it.

    Consider a playing a video game such as Doom. While you’re playing “a game of Doom” that game is a very different thing from Doom. It’s a running instance of Doom; it isn’t Doom. We use the same word, “game,” but they’re different things.

    A person is like a running of instance of a game. It’s a running instance of a very, very sophisticated piece of software running on some very weird hardware.

    To get that software running requires a whole lot of “bootstrapping.” The hardware develops (under firmware control) and at different stages of development it starts running different software processes—by and large, higher- and higher-level processes. Successive levels of software set the stage for higher-level software to run. (This is all interleaved and in some cases mixed together with modifications of the hardware, but I think the point stands.)

    Going back to our video game example, suppose we’re interested in a particular instance (playing) of Doom, say, the next game of doom that you will play. And suppose that your computer is set up with Doom installed and an autorun file that will start up Doom automatically after the operating system boots. All you have to do is hit the power switch, and (eventually) your next game of doom will begin.

    Before you hit the power switch, does that game of Doom exist? No. You might not hit the switch, and it will never exist.

    Does it exist as soon as you hit the switch? No. The operating system isn’t even running yet. The firmware has to start running, doing low-level software setup (detecting some installed hardware, etc.) and setting the stage for a running of the operating system. Then it has to activate the operating system, which goes through several levels of bootstrapping itself—loading and initializing device drivers, kernel modules, etc. before activating the high-level software that really makes it an operating system.

    After billions of instructions and levels and levels of bootstrapping, Doom isn’t running and your (next) game of Doom still doesn’t exist. If you hold down the right key(s) to tell the operating system not to run the autorun file, as it does by default, Doom won’t start running and that particular game of Doom will not exist.

    In that situation, does it make sense to say that you destroyed a game of Doom? No. You simply overrode the default setup, and chose not to create one.

    Now, suppose that instead of game software, we had some very sophisticated AI software, the running of which would be a person, and the software is set up to autorun.

    If you hit the power switch, and then pull the plug before the operating system finishes initializing, have you killed a person? No.

    If you hold down the function key, to prevent the AI software from loading at all, much less running at all, have you killed a person? No.

    If you forget to do that, and notice that the AI software is loading and initializing its low-level pieces, but abort the bootstrapping process before the high-level software is activated, have you killed a person? No. The low-level software processes are not the same as the person.

    (In fact, some of the low-level processes and the hardware are shared with the video game. If simply activating some low-level parts of the AI software constituted creating a person, running the video game and not the AI program would count as creating a person. That can’t be right. Personhood can’t depend on such details as whether low-level libraries are shared.)

    The fact that certain low-level parts of what could be a person exist does not mean that a person exists. The fact that some of those parts are running doesn’t mean the person exists, either. (E.g., the low-level neural functions of a brain-dead person do not constitute a person, even if under other circumstances they could be part of the functioning of a person, hence part of the person.) The existence or the functioning of some parts does not constitute the existence or function of the whole.

    Now suppose we buy a computer that has both video game software and AI software installed. If we run the video game software, we get a game of Doom 2080; if we run the AI software, we get a person.

    Suppose we don’t want to create a person by running the AI software. Are we obliged to run the software and bootstrap a person into existence? No. Not without some very good argument that it’s justified and desirable to create that artificial person.

    Now suppose that the computer was shipped by the manufacturer with an autorun file that will run the AI software and bootstrap a person into existence, automatically, if we simply turn on the power and don’t intervene after that.

    Does turning on the power in order to have a little fun playing a video game entail a responsibility not to override the default that would bootstrap a person?

    I really don’t see how it could. A default is just a default. It is not a divine command that must be obeyed.

    Maybe the manufacturer thinks that we shouldn’t have fun with our computer without bringing new persons into the world. If so, screw the manufacturer. Hold down that function key, and prevent the person-generating program from starting. Or use the process-killing feature of the operating system to abort the AI program in the boot phase, before the high-level person software starts running.

    If the manufacturer didn’t supply such a feature, fake it. Unplug or destroy some piece of subsidiary hardware, which the AI program depends on but nothing else you want does—that way the AI software can’t get past its bootstrapping phase and into the phase where there’s a new person.

    That’s essentially the situation we’re in with respect to abortion. There are some strong defaults, so that you can’t use the hardware for fun without risk of creating an accidental person, too. And those defaults are so strong that sometimes you have to take extraordinary measures—such as destroying a piece of otherwise-useless hardware, to prevent the running of the software that creates a person.

    Big deal. Those defaults are not sacred. They were put there by evolution, which is completely amoral. There is no God who limited your choices, such that you shouldn’t resort to clobbering a little bit of hardware you don’t need. (And even if there were, he’d have a whole lot of explaining to do.)

    Either you’re obligated to create a person, or you’re not, for completely different reasons we don’t need to go into here. It can’t be the case that the evolutionary defaults linking sex with conception or conception with personhood create an obligation not to override the default before conception, or after conception, while low-level boostrapping is underway but no person has been brought into existence.

    Suppose evolution had done things differently, giving us menu choices at each step. When you have sex just for fun, you push the button that says “initiate nonprocreative sex”; if you want a baby, you push the “initiate procreative sex” button. And at each step of fetal development, you have to push a button to continue the pregnancy, and the default is to automatically abort (“Do you still want to create a baby? (Y/N)… Are you sure? (Y/N)… ) unless the user certifies that they do want want a baby, have read the software license, accept massive liability, etc.

    That’s the way it should work. The fact that it doesn’t is morally irrelevant; we are not responsible for those aspects of evolution’s bad and amoral user interface design. We are morally allowed to abort default processes that could create persons at any point before the actual person is up and running.

  188. #188 Ian H Spedding
    June 29, 2006

    RavenT wrote:

    If it helps save you any time, Dr. Pretorius, we’ve already been through prior and posterior probabilities repeatedly with Ian, and he doesn’t accept the distinction.

    So how do you imagine time? If not a “timescape”, possibly because of the implied determinism, is the future not there at all until it winks into existence as the present which then vanishes into nothing as the past? If so, then are both the future and the past are nothing but probabilities, with the only difference between the two being that there is a higher degree of probability of the past being true? In other words, if you had a time machine and went back into the past to see the Battle of Gettysburg, for example, would you actually see the fighting in Pennsylvania or not?

    One other point, the impression I get from what I assume are the women who have posted to this thread, is that pregnancy is a period of great discomfort or suffering which is to be avoided at all costs. From what they have written, I infer that if, by some extreme misfortune, they were ever to become pregnant, they would try to rid themselves of the painful and parasitical encumbrance of a fetus as soon as possible. They also suggest that this is the view of most women, which means that, if true and women had unqualified control over the fate of fetuses, those few that actually made it out through the birth canal to where they have a right to life could count themselves as extremely fortunate.

  189. #189 RavenT
    June 29, 2006

    So how do you imagine time? If not a “timescape”, possibly because of the implied determinism, is the future not there at all until it winks into existence as the present which then vanishes into nothing as the past?

    That’s a fairly decent phenomenological description. Do you experience it in a different way from that, then?

    If so, then are both the future and the past are nothing but probabilities, with the only difference between the two being that there is a higher degree of probability of the past being true?

    I wouldn’t say “nothing but probabilities”. The past is the union of everything material that has existed before now, and it has a posterior probability of 100% as well. The future is indeterminate and immaterial.

    In other words, if you had a time machine and went back into the past to see the Battle of Gettysburg, for example, would you actually see the fighting in Pennsylvania or not?

    For all I know, I would. But I’d take this example a lot more seriously if you could really produce a time machine the way I can produce the actual yearly stats on mortality and morbidity in pregnancy.

    One other point, the impression I get from what I assume are the women who have posted to this thread, is that pregnancy is a period of great discomfort or suffering which is to be avoided at all costs. From what they have written, I infer that if, by some extreme misfortune, they were ever to become pregnant, they would try to rid themselves of the painful and parasitical encumbrance of a fetus as soon as possible. They also suggest that this is the view of most women, which means that, if true and women had unqualified control over the fate of fetuses, those few that actually made it out through the birth canal to where they have a right to life could count themselves as extremely fortunate.

    Wow, overwrought much? You can postulate elaborate fantasies about time machines, but you can’t grasp the simple concept that an individual woman should take into account the risks and rewards of pregnancy and make her own decision on that basis? And that one woman’s choice can differ from another’s?

    If you really do think women here expressing individual choices over whether to get pregnant mean women everywhere are just slavering to abort, given the whiff of an opportunity, and that restricting their choices is the only thing preventing that, I frankly don’t see why you’d trust any woman with a child under the circumstances.

  190. #190 Ian H Spedding
    June 29, 2006

    Dr. Pretorius wrote:

    As I have argued repeatedly, society grants rights to its individual members. The rights, therefore, only apply from the point at which an individual comes into existence as such and the starting-point of an individual, in my view, is at conception.
    Yes, but why?
    Again, you’ve said this and it’s certainly very convenient for you but there’s no justification in place. In fact, you seem to be presenting a picture entirely devoid of things that can be said for it.

    Why what? Why assume conception to be the starting-point of the individual? What other point can you suggest that has any better justification?

    1. You want to say that certain things that are true of someone are true of that thing throughout its entire existence.

    No, I am not. I am arguing specifically that the right to life be extended to cover the entire life-cycle – let me emphasise yet again life-cycle – of the individual. To put it as simply as possible, I am saying that any living human individual should not have that life taken without sufficient cause. It is trivially true that a fetus is not the same as an adult human being but it is unquestionably alive and, if left alive, will develop into an adult human being.

    The only thing I am saying is true of someone throughout their life is that they are alive. The right to life is about protecting that life, nothing more.

    To do so you suggest that we’re temporally extended things (so that all moments at which we exist present and future count as part of what we are proper (and so, then, right now)). But the goal here is clearly false, or at any rate deeply suspicious. First off it’s not at all obvious that it is true, and secondly it’s very obvious that when it comes to the vast majority of things we might say of someone it’s extraordinarily false (any physical trait, or anything dependant upon a physical trait, for example, cannot be that sort of thing).

    Are you denying that the universe has a temporal dimension and that we, as beings inhabiting that universe, are also temporally extended?

    As for my “goal”, it may be misconceived – it may even be unattainable – but it cannot be false.

    So (a) you have to make plausible the notion that it’s even a sensible thing to ask for, and (b) then you have to make plausible the notion that moral status is one of those things that carries through, even though the characteristics upon which that status supervenes do not, and (c) then you’ve got to present an argument showing that the same above two points do not apply to the other end of life (unless you wish to argue that corpses have a right to their own autonomy and shouldn’t just be buried willy-nilly).

    I do not understand why you are having such a hard time with the concept of the right to life being extended to cover the whole life-span of the individual. However, I think we can agree to ignore nonsense about corpses having a right to life.

    2. You want to hold some view on which it makes sense to say that we’re static (unchanging) entities extended over time, this extension creating the appearance of change. However you don’t want to hold a serious bit of determinism.

    I have already acknowledged that the deterministic universe implied by the concept of a “timescape” is a problem but I am not yet satisfied it is an insuperable obstacle.

  191. #191 Ian H Spedding
    June 29, 2006

    peep wrote:

    Ian, fetuses don’t suddenly aquire all the moral rights and responsibilities of an adult human at conception any more than you think they could when the brain starts working, or at birth.

    I agree, although stating it the way you have is, I think, misleading.

    Rights are not acquired. Rights are permissions or privileges or entitlements or freedoms which a society, by general agreement, grants to its individual members.

    Not all rights are unqualified. A society may decide, for example, that all its members are entitled to a state pension but, not suprisingly, it will only be paid to people over certain age.

    The one right that is universal, in the sense that virtually all human societies now recognise it and it is embodied in all formal declarations of human rights, is the right to life. It is hardly surprising, of course. How many of us would agree that we could be killed with impunity by anyone who wanted to do so? The only debate, which is what is happening here, is over how far back in an individual’s lifespan it should be extended.

    Their moral status matures with time (linear, causal time…the very concept of morality assumes causality, and doesn’t apply to a static picture of the universe with symmetry between past and future–that’s a good picture for doing some physics, but 2nd law of thermo, natural selection, etc don’t apply in such a picture), from basically no moral status at conception to full moral status when they are able to fend for themselves in society. As children, for instance, they share moral status with, and are granted moral status because of, the values of their parents.

    I would like to see an explanation of what you mean by “moral status” before I comment on this.

    Fetuses don’t have any “right” to life, though it’s parents have a right to its life.

    No, fetuses do not have the right to life at present but that is hardly a fundamental constant of the universe. It would be easy enough for society to accord fetuses that right if it chose. And if it were, who would be harmed?

    A fetus might start aquiring a bit of right to life if the mind turns on in the womb,…

    We are talking about the right to life, not the right to sentient life. The fetus is, by any definition, alive.

    …but it’s not much of one, and easily trumped by the most trivial rights of the mother. However, a viable fetus can be removed from the womb without being killed, respecting the rights of the mother and any interests of the fetus. I hesitate to call those interests rights at this point–that kind of situation is charitable, but hardly obligatory.
    Another example, a fetus does have a right not to suffer, when it can. A blastocyst can’t suffer, and thus can be dismembered in the name of science, for example. A more mature fetus, or an infant, shouldn’t be treated that way, though.

    Remember we are discussing ‘ought’ not ‘is’ here. The current status of the various human rights is not set in stone. They can be changed if society so chooses and, in the case of the right to life of a fetus, I believe it can and should be changed.

  192. #192 Ian H Spedding
    June 30, 2006

    Owlmirror wrote:

    My point is that such activity means that there is actually a brain being detected, with active neurons and glial cells, and so on, which at least theoretically can transmit sensations and form memories.
    Until that brain develops, then there is nothing that indicates that an “individual” exists at all.

    I think we may be talking slightly at cross-purposes. I use the word “individual” to refer to the entire human being – both mind and body. In that sense, the individual – or, at least, the physical component – does arguably begin at conception.

    What you mean by “individual”, as I understand it, is what I would call “personality”: the form or structure of the mind which is unique to each individual.

    I agree that what you call the “individual” and I call the “personality” does not begin to emerge until the onset of electrical activity in the nascent brain.

    However, my view is that, while personality is what distinguishes us from one another and from other animals, it is not all that an individual is. To me, the conscious mind is an epiphenomenon of the physical brain which an organ of the body. Life is, first and foremost, a property of the body. The body can live without the presence of a conscious mind or personality, but there is no evidence that consciousness can exist apart from the physical matrix of the brain. When we grant the right to life, therefore, we are saying that the physical body should not be deprived of life without good cause. This, in addition, automatically protects the personality.

    Personally, I fail to see why this should be such a problem for some people. The right to life of human beings after birth is not in dispute. In some countries, abortion after a certain period of gestation is already illegal. Why not simply extend the right to life back to conception?

    The main objection seems to revolve around a misconceived notion of a woman’s “right to choose”. I would accept as axiomatic the principle espoused by John Stuart Mill in his monograph “On Liberty”, which is that individuals in society should be free to do whatever they choose up to the point at which they infringe on the rights and interests of others. By that principle, a woman is as free as a man to have sex when, where and with whomsoever she chooses. What women are no more free to do than men is kill other individuals at will after birth. I am arguing that they should not be free to kill them before birth either.

  193. #193 Ian H Spedding
    June 30, 2006

    Paul W wrote:

    A person is not a physical object in the obvious sense. It’s not a piece of hardware. An artificially intelligent person residing in a computer would not be that computer. The computer and the person are different things, with the latter supervening on the former. They’re both material, but they’re material in very different ways. Hardware and software are very different things, even though there are some cases where the distinction is blurry, the relationships are complex, and you need a more refined set of distinctions.

    A person is not a piece of software, either. A person is mostly a high-level computational process, which supervenes on the software (among other things) but is not identical to it.

    A person is like a running of instance of a game. It’s a running instance of a very, very sophisticated piece of software running on some very weird hardware.

    This, like intelligent design, is an argument by analogy and, like any such argument, depends for its force on how close is the correspondence between the two cases being compared.

    I agree there are tempting similarities between the mind/body relationship and the software/hardware relationship. One that should be borne in mind in the context of this debate, however, is that neither mind nor computer software can exist in a void, so far as we are aware. Both can only exist and run within the physical matrices of the body in one case and hardware in the other. And both mind and sofware appeared after the body and hardware on which they are dependent.

    There are also differences. No current software is considered to be an autonomous, conscious, self-aware living personality. No current software is accorded the right to life for any portion of its existence. The day may come when a society of HAL 9000s or Mr Datas decides that its members should be entitled to the right to indefinite existence, but it is not here yet.

  194. #194 Ian H Spedding
    June 30, 2006

    RavenT wrote:

    So how do you imagine time? If not a “timescape”, possibly because of the implied determinism, is the future not there at all until it winks into existence as the present which then vanishes into nothing as the past?
    That’s a fairly decent phenomenological description. Do you experience it in a different way from that, then?

    No, my experience is the same as yours but common-sense explanations of that experience do have problems. For example, your concept of an indeterminate and immaterial future seems to require that matter be created from somewhere to form the present. Are you aware of being continuously created from moment to moment?

    In other words, if you had a time machine and went back into the past to see the Battle of Gettysburg, for example, would you actually see the fighting in Pennsylvania or not?
    For all I know, I would. But I’d take this example a lot more seriously if you could really produce a time machine the way I can produce the actual yearly stats on mortality and morbidity in pregnancy.

    Yes, there are annual statistics of mortality and morbidity in pregnancy but we have no way of verifying that any of the events recorded in the tables actually occured. And if there is no timescape – if there is no physical reality to which we could return, at least in principle – what does it mean to say that they “actually occured”?

    Wow, overwrought much?

    I prefer hyperbole – exaggerating for effect.

    You can postulate elaborate fantasies about time machines, but you can’t grasp the simple concept that an individual woman should take into account the risks and rewards of pregnancy and make her own decision on that basis? And that one woman’s choice can differ from another’s?

    I have no problem with women choosing who to have sex with or if and when to have chidren or being entitled to decide what happens to their own body. What I do have a problem with is the notion that a woman has a right to kill another individual simply because it causes problems to have it living in her womb for nine months. She does not have the right to kill it after birth, she should not have the right before, either.

    If, however, fetuses have no right to life and the mother can do with it what she chooses, what about third parties? Suppose a woman becomes pregnant with a child she wants to have but another person takes exception to it, slips the mother an abortifacient in her coffee and induces a miscarriage. If the fetus has no right to life, is that other person guilty of anything other than, possibly, an assault on the mother?

    If you really do think women here expressing individual choices over whether to get pregnant mean women everywhere are just slavering to abort, given the whiff of an opportunity, and that restricting their choices is the only thing preventing that, I frankly don’t see why you’d trust any woman with a child under the circumstances.

    Given some of the previous comments in this thread, I am inclined to agree.

    Seriously, though, I have no problem with contraception or women choosing their sexual partners or deciding if and when to have children. All I am asking is that, once fertilization has occured and the development of a new individual has begun, it be given the chance to have a life of its own just as we have. I accept that pregnancy is risky, uncomfortable and even painful but, unless there is a serious threat to the mother’s life, the fetus should have a right to life which overrides other considerations.

  195. #195 D
    June 30, 2006

    Ian, I think you’d be much better served simply by saying you think an angel stuffs a super special soul into every zygote that must be protected at all costs. Your current attempt at justification using selective application of bits of complex ideas and trying to string them together doesn’t add up.

    I’ll start with your rather bizarre idea of a “right to life”. Normally a person’s right to life means that another person is not allowed to kill them without just cause. Just cause of course being debatable and ranges from “looking at me funny” to nothing. The latter being an absolute pacifist stance. What you seem to be espousing however goes even beyond absolute pacifism. You want a person to go out of her way to preserve the life of another, suffering for another’s benefit. If you really believe this, you’re allowed, but it isn’t going to convince anyone that doesn’t already share your ends. From what I understand most people think it’s perfectly reasonable to kill someone who is hurting, especially if that is the only way to get them to stop. I very much doubt you do follow such a philosophy however, as you are spending your resources on the internet instead of going out of your way to prevent people from dying. Then again, you’ve repeatedly demonstrated that you have little to no respect for what women go through by bringing a new person into the world, which at best can be expected to be 9 months of “inconvenience”. I wonder if you also think someone should allow themselves to be stabbed and robbed so another person can buy some food and continue living.

    Whether or not you actually hold the above philosophy, the question arises as to why you would apply such a “right to life” to an embryo. Your answer seems to have two inter-reliant parts, the uniqueness of the zygote and the eventuality that it will become a unique adult. The premise necessitates the tying of these things together. The uniqueness of the embryo is only important if it will eventually become an adult. That it will eventually becomes an adult is only important if there can be a cut off point made by the uniqueness of a zygote. As such, any way that disconnects the two, nullifies your point.

    As it happens, abortion does disconnect the two. The embryo of an aborted early pregnancy will never become an adult human. Its existence is confined to a zygote through whatever stage it was at when the pregnancy was aborted. Because you’re using timescapes, saying it could have is irrelevant, because it won’t or didn’t. Could haves are the same as impossibilities. So now you’re left with having to justify why an embryo is worth being granted the “right to life” on its own merits. Uniqueness will no longer suffice, because such a quality is shared by other bits of the human life cycle; sperm, eggs and placenta, as well as human life outside the cycle; tumors, cell culture lines, explanted organs, etc. If you can do this without relying on magic, I’ll be rather impressed.

    The cut off at zygotehood is also troublesome because it is a step along the cycle, not a definitive starting point. Designating it as the beginning is just as arbitrary as designating the meiosis that created the egg and sperm that fused. Such will always be the difficulty with trying to pick a starting place on an infinite loop. Every step along the way has its own claim to uniqueness and will become a new adult human unless of course it doesn’t. Relying upon being a part of the life cycle in and of itself is also troublesome, because it excludes people that have become removed from it, mainly post-menopause women.

  196. #196 Owlmirror
    June 30, 2006

    Ian Spedding wrote:

    I agree that what you call the “individual” and I call the “personality” does not begin to emerge until the onset of electrical activity in the nascent brain.
    However, my view is that, while personality is what distinguishes us from one another and from other animals, it is not all that an individual is. To me, the conscious mind is an epiphenomenon of the physical brain which an organ of the body. Life is, first and foremost, a property of the body. The body can live without the presence of a conscious mind or personality, but there is no evidence that consciousness can exist apart from the physical matrix of the brain. When we grant the right to life, therefore, we are saying that the physical body should not be deprived of life without good cause. This, in addition, automatically protects the personality.

    While I accept most of the above, I think I see a fatal flaw in the next-to-last sentence: When we grant the right to life, are we really saying “that the physical body” (in and of itself) “should not be deprived of life without good cause?” I would instead argue that the de facto standard of both society and of reason itself is to consider the brain proper to be what is granted the right to life. The remainder of the body, in that it is the life-support system for the brain, is protected only because it belongs to the brain; it is the brain’s vital property — not because it has any specific rights of its own.

    In fact, I think this is a fundamental assumption of the pro-choice arguments being made: The body of the woman hosting the fetus belongs to her brain, and is thus hers to decide how to use.

    The developing fetus is not even a body at first, just a mass of cells. Until it develops a functioning brain of its own, there is therefore nothing that can actually be considered to have rights.

  197. #197 Ian H Spedding
    July 2, 2006

    Owlmirror wrote:

    When we grant the right to life, are we really saying “that the physical body” (in and of itself) “should not be deprived of life without good cause?” I would instead argue that the de facto standard of both society and of reason itself is to consider the brain proper to be what is granted the right to life. The remainder of the body, in that it is the life-support system for the brain, is protected only because it belongs to the brain; it is the brain’s vital property — not because it has any specific rights of its own.

    I agree that functionally the body could be viewed as a life-support system for the brain, even though our large brains seem to have grown long after our bodies had evolved to something like their present form.

    Where we differ is that your view defines a living human being by its conscious life whereas I see a human being as a whole, both the physical and the mental. A conscious mind is one of the things that distinguishes us from other animals but it is not all that we are. Just as computer software only exists and runs within computer hardware so the mind, as far as we can tell, only exists within the physical matrix of the brain. The two are inseparable.

    In fact, I think this is a fundamental assumption of the pro-choice arguments being made: The body of the woman hosting the fetus belongs to her brain, and is thus hers to decide how to use. The developing fetus is not even a body at first, just a mass of cells. Until it develops a functioning brain of its own, there is therefore nothing that can actually be considered to have rights.

    It does come down to this basic difference in perception.

    The woman sees the fetus, particularly in its early stages, as no more than an outgrowth of her own body, in some ways little different from a tumour. As such she is entitled to dispose of it as she sees fit, just as she is entitled to decide what happens to any other part of her body.

    To me, in pregnancy the woman’s body is playing host to an individual human being in the very early stages of development. To view the fetus as no more than a tumour or diseased organ, to be surgically excised as soon as possible, misses the point. A tumour or diseased organ will never grow into another human being whereas a fetus will. That is the difference and, to me, it is crucial in deciding whether abortion is both ethical and moral. It has nothing to do with “ensoulment” or any other religious concept, it is simply taking the right to life of an individual to its logical conclusion.

  198. #198 Ian H Spedding
    July 2, 2006

    D wrote:

    Ian, I think you’d be much better served simply by saying you think an angel stuffs a super special soul into every zygote that must be protected at all costs.

    It might be easier but for me, as an agnostic and atheist, it is not an available option.

    What you seem to be espousing however goes even beyond absolute pacifism. You want a person to go out of her way to preserve the life of another, suffering for another’s benefit.

    Hosting the fetus after conception is a function of the female human body so arguing that a woman is going out of her way to preserve the life of another is stretching things a bit.

    From what I understand most people think it’s perfectly reasonable to kill someone who is hurting, especially if that is the only way to get them to stop.

    …and I have said before that abortion should be allowed if there is a threat to the mother’s life. That exemption could include intolerable suffering of the mother.

    Then again, you’ve repeatedly demonstrated that you have little to no respect for what women go through by bringing a new person into the world, which at best can be expected to be 9 months of “inconvenience”.

    If I was not aware before of the fact that pregnancy can involve considerable discomfort and risks for the mother, I am now.

    I wonder if you also think someone should allow themselves to be stabbed and robbed so another person can buy some food and continue living.

    The two situations are not analogous. The fetus is not a responsible adult committing a criminal assault on the person of the mother.

    Whether or not you actually hold the above philosophy, the question arises as to why you would apply such a “right to life” to an embryo. Your answer seems to have two inter-reliant parts, the uniqueness of the zygote and the eventuality that it will become a unique adult.

    Yes.

    The premise necessitates the tying of these things together. The uniqueness of the embryo is only important if it will eventually become an adult.

    No. The embryo is already unique. It already has the unique “DNA profile” that it will continue to have if it is allowed to develop into an adult. And, like everyone else, it is unique in the broader sense that no one else has ever, or will ever, occupy the same point in time and space.

    The embryo of an aborted early pregnancy will never become an adult human. Its existence is confined to a zygote through whatever stage it was at when the pregnancy was aborted. Because you’re using timescapes, saying it could have is irrelevant, because it won’t or didn’t. Could haves are the same as impossibilities.

    I agree that the implied determinism of the “timescape” concept is difficult to reconcile with free will but there may be a way round it.

    So now you’re left with having to justify why an embryo is worth being granted the “right to life” on its own merits. Uniqueness will no longer suffice, because such a quality is shared by other bits of the human life cycle; sperm, eggs and placenta, as well as human life outside the cycle; tumors, cell culture lines, explanted organs, etc. If you can do this without relying on magic, I’ll be rather impressed.

    If we take separate sperm and eggs, a fertilized egg, placentas, tumours, cell culture lines, explanted organs, etc., only one of them will grow into an adult human being if implanted in the womb and allowed to develop without interference.

    The cut off at zygotehood is also troublesome because it is a step along the cycle, not a definitive starting point. Designating it as the beginning is just as arbitrary as designating the meiosis that created the egg and sperm that fused.

    Designating the union of sperm and egg as the starting-point of the individual is plainly troublesome to some, although the reasons why some people find it troublesome are suspect. It sounds very much as if they are simply trying to define away what is otherwise a thorny moral issue.

  199. #199 Ken Cope
    July 2, 2006

    To me, in pregnancy the woman’s body is playing host to an individual human being in the very early stages of development.

    To a woman who hopes to give birth to a healthy child with no birth defects, that is indeed one of the potential outcomes of a pregnancy. But until a woman can ascertain that that is the case, she is a pregnant woman in need of medical care and genetic counseling, whose most responsible choice may be to terminate the pregnancy.

    To view the fetus as no more than a tumour or diseased organ, to be surgically excised as soon as possible, misses the point.

    Ian, statements like that made in your outside voice will severely limit the nature of the interactions you are likely to have with any non-hypothetical living, breathing, actual woman of reproductive age. Your characterization of all pregnant women as mindless Medea wannabes who should just dummy up and incubate does not make you look like good father material to any prospective mate.

    A woman who misses a period, even when trying to concieve, has a number of hurdles to overcome before she begins to think of herself as a potential mother, not just somebody experiencing an extremely dangerous medical condition. Ignoring economic considerations, like being able to care for a child or take care of herself during and after the pregnancy, there are plenty of questions she needs to answer. Was she taking any prescription drugs that might cause birth defects? Is she sufficiently healthy to deal physically with the demands of a pregnancy? Is pregnancy, due to her age and/or genetic history, high-risk? Does she have a history of miscarriage or stillbirth? Will the child be born with Down’s syndrome, or require heroic intervention, cardiac surgery? Only after such questions are decided can a woman responsibly consider a careful choice that can ethically be hers alone.

    A responsible adult knows the answers to many of those questions already, but some of them have very specific, narrow windows in which genetic testing can be performed, which is, so far, still legal. The earliest test carries a non-negligible risk to the fetus, and many opt for a later test of the amniotic fluid, which still does not eliminate every possibility for genetic anomaly unless the most expensive tests are performed, which insurance seldom covers.

    Our 9 month old daughter was conceived unexpectedly when her mother was 42, and with prior history, was a very high-risk pregnancy. Sonograms indicated a hollow space in the back of her neck in the ninth week called a cystic hygroma that is associated with severe learning disabilities, facial anomalies, and severe cardiac problems: Noonan Syndrome.

    Noonan syndrome had not been genetically tested for. The only thing to do was wait and see if any other symptoms detectable by sonogram showed up, particularly cardiac.
    This would be my wife’s last pregnancy, and only chance to have a daughter. The only responsible course was to treat the situation as a dangerous pregnancy that would have to be intensely monitored at every phase. As it happened, the odds of Noonan’s decreased at every pre-natal sonogram, a cardiac specialist found no problems, and we hoped for a live birth, rather than responsibly terminating the pregnancy.

    The day after a healthy, vigorous kick test 4 weeks before her due date, she was troublingly quiet, and labor was induced. Her umbilical was tangled, she left a lot of fluid behind, there was some vigorous work on the part of the pediatric team to get her breathing, but after a week she was able to come home. At six months, she came close to dying from a viral cold that went to her lungs and made her fight for every breath. No potential contains any inherent right to be actualized.

    My point, Ian, is that not very long ago, people expected miscarriages and stillbirths and cribdeath, and the strategy was to pump babies out as fast as possible so that one or two children might survive. My father was the eleventh of twelve children. There does not appear to be any shortage of human beings at present.

    A tumour or diseased organ will never grow into another human being whereas a fetus will.

    That depends on the definition of human being, and on the decision of the person experiencing the pregnancy. I don’t care if you’re the father, you have no say in the matter beyond expressing your opinion.

  200. #200 D
    July 2, 2006

    Hosting the fetus after conception is a function of the female human body so arguing that a woman is going out of her way to preserve the life of another is stretching things a bit.

    Having a function speaks nothing to the ease at which that function is carried out. And you claim to know that now…

    If I was not aware before of the fact that pregnancy can involve considerable discomfort and risks for the mother, I am now.

    … even if you understate it.

    …and I have said before that abortion should be allowed if there is a threat to the mother’s life. That exemption could include intolerable suffering of the mother.

    A standard pro-choice position since being pregnant for nine months and then giving birth is often barely tolerable when one wants to do them and all the worse when one doesn’t.

    The two situations are not analogous. The fetus is not a responsible adult committing a criminal assault on the person of the mother.

    Not a perfect analogy, but still analogous in that one “individuals” survival depends upon another’s suffering. And you are the one that wishes to convey attributes to fetuses from adults, so why would you abandon that here?

    I agree that the implied determinism of the “timescape” concept is difficult to reconcile with free will but there may be a way round it.

    It’s not about free will. It’s about the sum of the individual’s existence. See…

    If we take separate sperm and eggs, a fertilized egg, placentas, tumours, cell culture lines, explanted organs, etc., only one of them will grow into an adult human being if implanted in the womb and allowed to develop without interference.

    …is irrelevant by the timescape philosophy you are applying. That an embryo can only matters if it does, regardless of the reason, free will or otherwise. As such, the conveyance of rights you wish to apply would work only for embryos that fully develop and make it to being born. If their existence never includes such, there are no rights to convey to them. So again, if you want an embryo to have a right to life, you have to argue by the merits of the embryo, not what it won’t become.

    Designating the union of sperm and egg as the starting-point of the individual is plainly troublesome to some, although the reasons why some people find it troublesome are suspect. It sounds very much as if they are simply trying to define away what is otherwise a thorny moral issue.

    As apposed to defining in to make it a thorny moral issue when it otherwise wouldn’t be? Either way, the motives are irrelevant if you don’t counter the logic. Your logic here is countered by demonstrating that other stages along the cycle are also unique in their own ways and that there are cases where that point does not result in a unique individual, both of which others have already done. I and others have also attempted to show you that your timescape philosophy is at best irrelevant, to which you have admitted it to be problematic. Yet you do not fix your chain of thought that leads you to your conclusions, nor re-evaluate your conclusion. This type of inflexibility is what I associate with religious beliefs, thus my introductory suggestion.

  201. #201 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 2, 2006

    The midsummer holiday was long and eventful, apparently so was this thread.

    Pretorius says:

    “What Rick said, or at least the small bit that I was responding to, as opposed to the large bit that’s quite good, is “the Incompleteness Theorem says (something like) no finite set of axioms can completely capture the notion of truth.”

    This is, actually, pretty much a quicker way of stating how you described Tarski’s Indefinability Theorem”

    RickD said first “The fundamental flaw of fundamentalism is that it fixes itself to a finite list of rules and laws, and then collapses into panic mode whenever the reality of our existence becomes more complicated than the simple rules.” So when he mentions Gödel’s IncT which says that no finite set of axioms are enough to capture the facts the formal theory may encounter, it seems correct. Tarski’s IndT is about being consistent, which is another obstacle to capture facts. (I use facts instead of truths, since the initial observation was about using formal theories on facts about the world.)

    “Any language that can do this can represent its own semantics (as put above), which amounts to saying that any language that can talk about itself can talk about what makes sentences in that language true”

    If I understand Mark on “Good Math, Bad Math” correctly, the ability of selfreference isn’t enough. He says that one needs to have a verified, correct and consistent model for the semantics, not merely a description. I don’t think selfreference can guarantee that. It seems to me Tarski’s IndT state the first obstacle towards the goal of a correct semantics.

    Thank’s for the input, and the same goes to Chris!

  202. #202 Owlmirror
    July 2, 2006

    Ian Spedding wrote:

    To view the fetus as no more than a tumour or diseased organ, to be surgically excised as soon as possible, misses the point. A tumour or diseased organ will never grow into another human being whereas a fetus will.

    Granted. But how are they distinct otherwise?

    At the point that the decision is being made — that is, by the brain argument, before the third trimester — they all have the same quality of being non-sapient masses of cells.

    Designating the union of sperm and egg as the starting-point of the individual is plainly troublesome to some, although the reasons why some people find it troublesome are suspect.

    It’s not troublesome, but rather unreasonable. The best that we’ve been able to discover, using all the tools of scientific investigation that we have available to us, have found that a functioning brain is both necessary and sufficient to determine humanity. It therefore makes no sense to arbitrarily assert that a fertilized egg, in and of itself, is exactly the same as a full human being, with the same rights as a nine-months-developed infant.

    Just out of curiosity, how do you view the multiple embryos created in vitro in fertility clinics? Since they are not created in the womb, they cannot naturally develop into full human beings.

  203. #203 Ian H Spedding
    July 4, 2006

    Ken Cope wrote:

    A woman who misses a period, even when trying to concieve, has a number of hurdles to overcome before she begins to think of herself as a potential mother, not just somebody experiencing an extremely dangerous medical condition. Ignoring economic considerations, like being able to care for a child or take care of herself during and after the pregnancy, there are plenty of questions she needs to answer. Was she taking any prescription drugs that might cause birth defects? Is she sufficiently healthy to deal physically with the demands of a pregnancy? Is pregnancy, due to her age and/or genetic history, high-risk? Does she have a history of miscarriage or stillbirth? Will the child be born with Down’s syndrome, or require heroic intervention, cardiac surgery? Only after such questions are decided can a woman responsibly consider a careful choice that can ethically be hers alone.

    These issues break down into three broad areas: the health of the mother, the health of the fetus and the capacity of the mother to care for the child after birth.

    By general agreement here, I think, the survival of the mother takes precedence over that of the fetus where a choice has to be made. Short of that there are often fine medical judgements to be made as to what is an acceptable risk to the mother and I have no objection to doctors and the mother erring on the side of caution. But mothers are often not doctors and they have to rely on information and advice from medical professionals when deciding what is their best course of action. Like any other patient, they are entitled, I believe, to accept or reject doctors recommendations – but only where it affects themselves. They should not have absolute power of life or death over the fetus.

    I would hope the any decision on the fate of the fetus would be the outcome of a process of negotiation between the parents and the doctors, but, in the final analysis, it should be for the doctors to decide. If, in their view, the mother wants to abort a viable fetus that poses no serious threat to her life, they should be entitled to refuse, if only on the grounds that to do otherwise would be a violation of the Hippocratic oath.

    The question of the health of the fetus is no easier to answer. Given that medical science has made it possible to diagnose a number of disorders in the fetus, how do we decide whether or not they justify abortion? In my view, it is for each individual to decide for themselves whether or not their quality of life is such that it is worth continuing to live. If the doctors believe that a fetus with a particular disease can be born and grow to a point at which it is able to make conscious choices about its future then it should be allowed to do so. If not, then it should be aborted.

    The ability of the parents to care for the child after birth should not influence any decision about abortion. If the parents are unable and/or unwilling to take on the burden of raising the child it can be taken away and put up for adoption.

    No potential contains any inherent right to be actualized.

    I agree. I do not believe there are any inherent or natural or God-given rights. Such rights as we accord ourselves are, in effect, social conventions. They are, at best, a consensus view of what are the common interests of all human beings.

    My point, Ian, is that not very long ago, people expected miscarriages and stillbirths and cribdeath, and the strategy was to pump babies out as fast as possible so that one or two children might survive. My father was the eleventh of twelve children. There does not appear to be any shortage of human beings at present.

    That depends on the context. Six billion individuals may be more than the planet can sustain or it may simply be more than can be organised and supplied by our existing social structures. Either way, we have no way of predicting, as yet, which fetus might be the next Darwin, Einstein or Newton or their equivalent who could provide the solution to some of our problems.


    A tumour or diseased organ will never grow into another human being whereas a fetus will.

    That depends on the definition of human being, and on the decision of the person experiencing the pregnancy. I don’t care if you’re the father, you have no say in the matter beyond expressing your opinion.

    The woman has the right to choose only where it concerns only her body. Where it concerns the fetus then both parents should have a say.

  204. #204 Ian H Spedding
    July 4, 2006

    Owlmirror wrote:


    To view the fetus as no more than a tumour or diseased organ, to be surgically excised as soon as possible, misses the point. A tumour or diseased organ will never grow into another human being whereas a fetus will.

    Granted. But how are they distinct otherwise?

    Do you doubt that the capacity to develop into an individual human being is a crucial distinction between two otherwise indistiguishable masses of cells?


    Designating the union of sperm and egg as the starting-point of the individual is plainly troublesome to some, although the reasons why some people find it troublesome are suspect.

    It’s not troublesome, but rather unreasonable. The best that we’ve been able to discover, using all the tools of scientific investigation that we have available to us, have found that a functioning brain is both necessary and sufficient to determine humanity. It therefore makes no sense to arbitrarily assert that a fertilized egg, in and of itself, is exactly the same as a full human being, with the same rights as a nine-months-developed infant.

    I am not asserting that a fertilized egg is exactly the same as a full human being. My claim is that they are different stages of the same process and if we grant the right to life to some stages of that process then why not to all, given that all stages of the process are dependent for their existence on all those that preceded them?

    To me, the attempt to set the boundary of individuality at the onset of brain function confuses distinction with definition. While you can argue that it is our brains that distinguish us from other animals, I would argue that they are not sufficient to define us. Other animals such as dolphins, elephants and whales have large and capable brains. We are not just animals with big brains, we are an ape with a big brain and our ape bodies begin developing before our brains. It is the point at which the body begins to develop that should mark the starting-point of the individual.

    Just out of curiosity, how do you view the multiple embryos created in vitro in fertility clinics? Since they are not created in the womb, they cannot naturally develop into full human beings.

    To be consistent, I would have to say that if those embryos are true embryos, in that they would develop into a normal human being if implanted in a womb, then they should have the same right to life that I believe any other embryo should have.

  205. #205 Owlmirror
    July 4, 2006

    Ian Spedding wrote:

    Do you doubt that the capacity to develop into an individual human being is a crucial distinction between two otherwise indistiguishable masses of cells?

    Not in the least. However, the point of such a comparison is not in what they might be after several months, but in how we deal with them before any such development has taken place.

    I am not asserting that a fertilized egg is exactly the same as a full human being. My claim is that they are different stages of the same process and if we grant the right to life to some stages of that process then why not to all, given that all stages of the process are dependent for their existence on all those that preceded them?

    This argument seems to hinge on the observation that all full humans were at one point in their existence just a fertilized egg — which I fully grant — and then turning it around and saying that every fertilized egg must be allowed to develop into a full human.

    Is the above a fair summary?

    To me, the attempt to set the boundary of individuality at the onset of brain function confuses distinction with definition. While you can argue that it is our brains that distinguish us from other animals, I would argue that they are not sufficient to define us.

    Why not? What else is there about being alive other than that which requires some function of the brain?

    Other animals such as dolphins, elephants and whales have large and capable brains. We are not just animals with big brains, we are an ape with a big brain

    I would never argue that mere brain size alone is what makes us human. It is brain function (which is, of course, determined during the course of development by the genetic code) that I am arguing for; the ability to perceive, sense, feel, remember and analyze. Until the components of the brain exist and have begun to function, there is nothing of the body that actually does any of those things.

    [...] and our ape bodies begin developing before our brains.
    It is the point at which the body begins to develop that should mark the starting-point of the individual.

    Why? What makes a body so special, in and of itself? I’ve already argued this a bit, and I still don’t grasp why a body without a brain, in and of itself, ought to be treated ethically.

    Ultimately, the question of whether an action is ethical depends, as a starting point, on there being someone who is affected by those actions. Unless brain function has begun, all that is affected by the action to terminate are a group of cells which have no ability to perceive anything, in and of themselves.

  206. #206 Ian H Spedding
    July 4, 2006

    D wrote:


    Hosting the fetus after conception is a function of the female human body so arguing that a woman is going out of her way to preserve the life of another is stretching things a bit.

    Having a function speaks nothing to the ease at which that function is carried out. And you claim to know that now…

    I also know that the discomfort of pregnancy is not, of itself, sufficient justification for killing another human being in the form of the fetus. The only escape from that position is to deny that the fetus is human enough to be entitled to the right to life.


    If I was not aware before of the fact that pregnancy can involve considerable discomfort and risks for the mother, I am now.

    … even if you understate it.

    For some, yes, but not for all. They may be the lucky few but some women are barely aware they are pregnant. Others, as you have pointed out, experience various degrees of discomfort while yet others suffer agonies.

    And while you can make an emotional appeal on behalf of the last group for their suffering to be relieved by abortion, what of the first group? What of the woman who is experiencing very little discomfort but decides, for example, that a child would be inconvenient at this stage of her career? If you are going to grant the mother absolute control over the fetus then, presumably, you would have no objection to an abortion being carried out for such a selfish reason?


    The two situations are not analogous. The fetus is not a responsible adult committing a criminal assault on the person of the mother.

    Not a perfect analogy, but still analogous in that one “individuals” survival depends upon another’s suffering. And you are the one that wishes to convey attributes to fetuses from adults, so why would you abandon that here?

    In the case of the assault, it is a crime because it is committed deliberately by a responsible adult in the full knowledge that it is an unlawful act. None of these conditions apply to a fetus.

    The fact is that a fetus is a foreseeable consequence of sexual intercourse, even where contraception is used, since no method is absolutely foolproof. Even if a woman becomes pregnant by accident, her relationship to the fetus is in no way comparable to that with an assailant. The fetus has neither intention nor choice nor responsibility for what happens and should not suffer for the mother’s misjudgement or for simply being the consequence of an accident.


    If we take separate sperm and eggs, a fertilized egg, placentas, tumours, cell culture lines, explanted organs, etc., only one of them will grow into an adult human being if implanted in the womb and allowed to develop without interference.

    …is irrelevant by the timescape philosophy you are applying. That an embryo can only matters if it does, regardless of the reason, free will or otherwise. As such, the conveyance of rights you wish to apply would work only for embryos that fully develop and make it to being born. If their existence never includes such, there are no rights to convey to them.

    The only reason for introducing the concept of timescape was to highlight the point that a human being is temporally as well as spatially extended. Although we perceive each other as three-dimensional objects existing in the present moment, that could just be an artefact of our temporal perspective. We have no reason to privilege any one “present moment” over all the others. The ‘you’ or ‘I’ that existed five minutes ago is no more or less significant that the present ones or those that, hopefully, will exist five minutes from now. They are all arbitrary divisions of what is are seamless continuous events.

    Granting a right to only part of such an event requires that we make an arbitrary distinction between the part of the event that is worthy of the right and the part that is not.

    This is because, as I see it, human rights are themselves arbitrary rules agreed upon by human beings as a means of regulating human behaviour towards one another in society. Such rules are, by nature, general prescriptive statements to which only a limited number of exceptions can be allowed. It is usually assumed that the burden of proof rests with any claim for exemption from the stated right. In the case of a stated general human “right to life”, I am arguing that it is for those who want to exclude the fetus from entitlement to the right to justify that claim.

    So again, if you want an embryo to have a right to life, you have to argue by the merits of the embryo, not what it won’t become.

    Human rights are not awarded for meritorious conduct. Human beings merit human rights by virtue of being human, nothing more. If the right to life is a human right, the only way that the fetus can reasonably be denied that right is to deny that the fetus is human.

  207. #207 D
    July 5, 2006

    Ian, your desire to simply define a fetus as a human being, and as such deserving of human rights, remains unsupported. A human fetus is human and exists, and by this definition is a human being. That such criteria are adequate for the conveyance of human rights is unproven. You now respond by “why not?” placing the onus of defending the position upon those you disagree with. However, you are the one wishing to redefine human being so that it does not need include being a human person with self-consciousness and agency. You’ve given your reason to back your position, which essentially boils down to potentiality, and that has in turn been refuted. So now you’re only left with “why not?”?

    The answer to that is that its worth doesn’t merit it. It’s human and exists, but that isn’t valuable. The only thing it has going for it is potential. That potential cuts both to good and bad though, and as we’ve already laboriously demonstrated is only important if and when it is realized, so it’s not really a selling point. So we’re left with an absence of any real intrinsic reason to grant it a right to life. That leaves us with personal whimsy. Which is no more a reason to grant a fetus a right to life than it is to grant any animal a right to life. And certainly not enough for society to grant something a right to life.

    I also know that the discomfort of pregnancy is not, of itself, sufficient justification for killing another human being in the form of the fetus. The only escape from that position is to deny that the fetus is human enough to be entitled to the right to life.

    You “know”? Does this mean you’re claiming deityhood to have knowledge of what every woman goes through when pregnant and giving birth and recovering? Or would it just be a divine revelation? Or maybe its just one of those perks/curses of being an atheist and agnostic?

    What of the woman who is experiencing very little discomfort but decides, for example, that a child would be inconvenient at this stage of her career? If you are going to grant the mother absolute control over the fetus then, presumably, you would have no objection to an abortion being carried out for such a selfish reason?

    You think that not wanting to suffer pain is unselfish? And really, what of a few straw women? And no, I wouldn’t object because I trust people, including women, to make decisions regarding their own lives and those they are immediately trusted with.

    I would hope the any decision on the fate of the fetus would be the outcome of a process of negotiation between the parents and the doctors, but, in the final analysis, it should be for the doctors to decide. If, in their view, the mother wants to abort a viable fetus that poses no serious threat to her life, they should be entitled to refuse, if only on the grounds that to do otherwise would be a violation of the Hippocratic oath.

    Funny that doctors can do that now. They don’t even need to appeal to their oath. Your statement begs the questions though, why do you think doctors are in a better position than the woman to judge how much suffering is adequate?

    The fact is that a fetus is a foreseeable consequence of sexual intercourse, even where contraception is used, since no method is absolutely foolproof. Even if a woman becomes pregnant by accident, her relationship to the fetus is in no way comparable to that with an assailant. The fetus has neither intention nor choice nor responsibility for what happens and should not suffer for the mother’s misjudgement or for simply being the consequence of an accident.

    But it’s ok for a woman to suffer because of an accident… So if you in any way shape or form contributed to a situation where someone’s was in need, that absolves that someone of having to respect your rights in order to meet their needs ? Fascinating philosophy.

    It’s rather telling that you feel you are in a better position than every woman in the world to judge what is moral in their specific situation.

  208. #208 peep
    July 5, 2006

    Ian, may I attempt to summarize your argument?

    Since a fertalized egg is one thing (as opposed to an unfertalized egg + sperm) that can, by itself, hijack a woman’s physiology enough that it can turn itself into 2 things, then 4 things, then 8 things, and so on til it’s enough things that it’s all one (or 2 in the case of twins!) thing again (btw, does can imply ought?); using nothing but it’s intrisic properties (oh, and remind me, does is imply ought?) and, of course, the nutrients it takes from it’s mother, and by making some space in her body and requiring her to lug it around everywhere she goes, and don’t forget the other physiological changes, such as the frequent morning sickness, etc., that i’m not at all familiar with since i haven’t lived with a pregnant woman since i was 13 months old; and very importantly, that the fetus does all this without any volition whatsoever, since if it had volition it would presumably be expected to consider it’s burden on the mother, and in some instances you would then surely agree a fetus should be expected to abort itself, in analogy to the mugging scenario that was considered earlier; and since it has 46 chromosomes of human DNA; you are arguing that we should extend to fetuses the right to gestate into a baby and from there grow into a full person.

    By pointing out how trivial the burden on the mother is, I assume you are implying that society should take on the medical expenses of all pregnant mothers, or at least that very good, free, pregnancy insurance is available to all women. Since you claim that adoption should be the expected end of unwanted pregnancies, I assume you are implicitly arguing for the improvement of the adoption/foster care system, especially for special needs children, and very special needs like the example Ken gave above with Noonan Syndrome. You presumably also criticize men who might be less attracted to a pregnant, single woman than to a woman who is not currently pregnant. And when you claim that both parents should have a say in determing what happens to the fetus, I’m assuming you mean that each should have a say roughly proportional to, what, the production time of the sperm times the mass of the sperm for the father versus the mass of the fetus times 9 months for the mother?

    O, I also notice you claim a woman should have rights over what happens to her own body…where do you consider the break between something that is her own body; and something that is made entirely of material that she consumed, that is inside her body, that affects her physiology, and that is, well, entirely dependant on her, but not part of her own body? I gotta say, from the woman’s perspective, that fetus has gotta seem an awful lot like part of her boby.

    Is this an accurate summary of your position? And can you elaborate your position on the rights and responsibilities of the rest of us to pregnant mothers and their fetuses?

  209. #209 peep
    July 5, 2006

    O, and I forgot, Ian, since:

    “To be consistent, I would have to say that if those embryos are true embryos, in that they would develop into a normal human being if implanted in a womb, then they should have the same right to life that I believe any other embryo should have.”,

    Do you consider the efforts of fertility doctors to help parents have one child a violation of the rights any other viable and non-viable (cuz you don’t know til you try, do you?) embryos created in the process, both those who are aborted in utero for the health of the survivors and those cryopreserved, or discarded? So that parents with fertility problems, who use, say 10-20 eggs to have 1 child should be obliged to try to give all of the resulting embryos a chance? Supposing woman decides she doesn’t want to go through up to 20 pregnancies, so decides she won’t have any? Is that a more moral decision to you?

    And please don’t quibble about my use of the word “rights”, it’s a perfectly respectable usage that “ought to have a right” can mean the same thing as “has a right.”

  210. #210 stevie_nyc
    July 5, 2006

    Goes to that whole argument…

    In a burning fertility clinic… Save the 3 year old child or the petri dish full of embryos?

  211. #211 Ian H Spedding
    July 6, 2006

    Owlmirror wrote:


    I am not asserting that a fertilized egg is exactly the same as a full human being. My claim is that they are different stages of the same process and if we grant the right to life to some stages of that process then why not to all, given that all stages of the process are dependent for their existence on all those that preceded them?

    This argument seems to hinge on the observation that all full humans were at one point in their existence just a fertilized egg — which I fully grant — and then turning it around and saying that every fertilized egg must be allowed to develop into a full human.
    Is the above a fair summary?

    Yes, although I would prefer to express it in terms of a socially-conferred right: the fertilized egg should be allowed to develop into full human unless there is a good reason for preventing it.


    To me, the attempt to set the boundary of individuality at the onset of brain function confuses distinction with definition. While you can argue that it is our brains that distinguish us from other animals, I would argue that they are not sufficient to define us.

    Why not? What else is there about being alive other than that which requires some function of the brain?

    Brain and body are interdependent. Under normal circumstances, one cannot function without the other. The conscious mind cannot emerge unless the brain has formed and the brain does not form until the body forms on which it depends. Equally, the body cannot function if the brain does not.


    Other animals such as dolphins, elephants and whales have large and capable brains. We are not just animals with big brains, we are an ape with a big brain.

    I would never argue that mere brain size alone is what makes us human. It is brain function (which is, of course, determined during the course of development by the genetic code) that I am arguing for; the ability to perceive, sense, feel, remember and analyze. Until the components of the brain exist and have begun to function, there is nothing of the body that actually does any of those things.

    I agree entirely and I am not trying to diminish the significance of our brains or the fact that our conscious lives do not begin until the brain has developed to a certain point.


    [...] and our ape bodies begin developing before our brains. It is the point at which the body begins to develop that should mark the starting-point of the individual.

    Why? What makes a body so special, in and of itself? I’ve already argued this a bit, and I still don’t grasp why a body without a brain, in and of itself, ought to be treated ethically.

    Nothing is special in and of itself. Worth or value are not attributes of an object – or person – they are judgements we make about them.

    At present, society agrees with you and other people here that the zygote or blastocyst or embryo or fetus does not have the same value as a human after birth. In effect, society has decided they are less than human and are not, therefore, entitled to the right to life.

    I disagree. Although it is probably true that neither the fertilized egg nor the early fetus have sensation, let alone consciousness, these ‘higher’ functions would not appear without these physical precursors. For that reason alone, they should be protected from unnecessary abortion. I also happen to believe that we should not kill anything without good reason, that the presumption should be that every living thing is entitled to its own existence except where it becomes a threat to our own.

    To go back to the computer analogy raised by another poster, you can argue that what is important about the computer is what can be done with the software, without it the machine is just an assembly of components. But, if workers in the electronics factories were allowed to throw away the microchips and circuit boards whenever they felt like it, how many computers would there be? The fact is that both the software and the hardware are equally important to an operational machine.

    Ultimately, the question of whether an action is ethical depends, as a starting point, on there being someone who is affected by those actions. Unless brain function has begun, all that is affected by the action to terminate are a group of cells which have no ability to perceive anything, in and of themselves.

    Yes, and my argument is that someone is affected: the individual human being who will develop if that group of cells is left alone. It is not only those actions which have immediate effect that can be unethical. If someone were to try to murder another by administering a slow-acting poison that would not actually kill the victim for several years, that would still be a crime.

  212. #212 Ian H Spedding
    July 6, 2006

    D wrote:

    Ian, your desire to simply define a fetus as a human being, and as such deserving of human rights, remains unsupported. A human fetus is human and exists, and by this definition is a human being. That such criteria are adequate for the conveyance of human rights is unproven.

    Moral or ethical codes and rights are not ‘proven’ in any scientific or legal sense. They are rules which a consensus of opinion in society agrees are necessary to regulate human behaviour. That consensus in British and American society agrees with your view. I cannot ‘prove’ you are wrong or that I am right. All I can do is to argue my case that, as a society which tries to be just and humane, we would be better served by extending the right to life to the whole of the individual’s lifespan.

    You now respond by “why not?” placing the onus of defending the position upon those you disagree with.

    I am arguing that the presumption should be in favour of the right to life.

    The answer to that is that its worth doesn’t merit it. It’s human and exists, but that isn’t valuable. The only thing it has going for it is potential. That potential cuts both to good and bad though, and as we’ve already laboriously demonstrated is only important if and when it is realized, so it’s not really a selling point. So we’re left with an absence of any real intrinsic reason to grant it a right to life. That leaves us with personal whimsy. Which is no more a reason to grant a fetus a right to life than it is to grant any animal a right to life. And certainly not enough for society to grant something a right to life.

    The value or worth of anything is not an intrinsic property but a judgement we make about it. And unrealised potential can be just as valuable as any that is realised. The money we are paid as wages is only paper rectangles with printing on them or embossed metal discs or numbers in a computer. Their value is only potential until they are exchanged for goods and/or services with people who place the same value on them that we do. I assume you would not want to do without money simply because its value is only potential.


    I also know that the discomfort of pregnancy is not, of itself, sufficient justification for killing another human being in the form of the fetus. The only escape from that position is to deny that the fetus is human enough to be entitled to the right to life.

    You “know”? Does this mean you’re claiming deityhood to have knowledge of what every woman goes through when pregnant and giving birth and recovering? Or would it just be a divine revelation? Or maybe its just one of those perks/curses of being an atheist and agnostic?

    I am accepting as true what I have been told here and elsewhere. Have I been misled?


    What of the woman who is experiencing very little discomfort but decides, for example, that a child would be inconvenient at this stage of her career? If you are going to grant the mother absolute control over the fetus then, presumably, you would have no objection to an abortion being carried out for such a selfish reason?

    You think that not wanting to suffer pain is unselfish? And really, what of a few straw women? And no, I wouldn’t object because I trust people, including women, to make decisions regarding their own lives and those they are immediately trusted with.

    The majority of men and women will not commit murder or rape. Does that mean we should abandon the laws against those crimes?

    Your statement begs the questions though, why do you think doctors are in a better position than the woman to judge how much suffering is adequate?

    It is not a question of whether the suffering is ‘adequate’ but whether it has become intolerable and a serious threat to the mother’s health. Generally, that is decided by the doctor in consultation with the patient, which is as it should be.


    The fact is that a fetus is a foreseeable consequence of sexual intercourse, even where contraception is used, since no method is absolutely foolproof. Even if a woman becomes pregnant by accident, her relationship to the fetus is in no way comparable to that with an assailant. The fetus has neither intention nor choice nor responsibility for what happens and should not suffer for the mother’s misjudgement or for simply being the consequence of an accident.

    But it’s ok for a woman to suffer because of an accident… So if you in any way shape or form contributed to a situation where someone’s was in need, that absolves that someone of having to respect your rights in order to meet their needs ? Fascinating philosophy.

    It is not ‘okay’ for anyone to suffer but that suffering has to be measured against the right to life of another individual where the two rights have to be reconciled.

    It’s rather telling that you feel you are in a better position than every woman in the world to judge what is moral in their specific situation.

    I do not consider myself better than every woman in the world but I have the same right as they do to form and express a moral opinion. Do you think every woman in the world disagrees with me?

  213. #213 Ian H Spedding
    July 6, 2006

    stevie_nyc wrote:

    Goes to that whole argument…
    In a burning fertility clinic… Save the 3 year old child or the petri dish full of embryos?

    I do not understand why that should be thought to pose a serious moral dilemma for pro-lifers. The child is able to experience fear and suffering and its death would cause suffering to those who knew and loved it. The same is not true of the embryos. Applying the rule of ‘the lesser of two evils’ means that the child should be saved.

  214. #214 stevie_nyc
    July 6, 2006

    Oh but they do.

    http://www.callingallwingnuts.com/2006/03/02/wilkow-when-in-doubt-shout/

    Why are there no prolife protests outside fertility clinics?

    Thousands of embryos are tossed every single day.

  215. #215 Ian H Spedding
    July 6, 2006

    peep wrote:

    Since a fertalized egg is one thing (as opposed to an unfertalized egg + sperm) that can, by itself, hijack a woman’s physiology enough that it can turn itself into 2 things, then 4 things, then 8 things, and so on til it’s enough things that it’s all one (or 2 in the case of twins!) thing again (btw, does can imply ought?); using nothing but it’s intrisic properties (oh, and remind me, does is imply ought?) and, of course, the nutrients it takes from it’s mother, and by making some space in her body and requiring her to lug it around everywhere she goes, and don’t forget the other physiological changes, such as the frequent morning sickness, etc., that i’m not at all familiar with since i haven’t lived with a pregnant woman since i was 13 months old; and very importantly, that the fetus does all this without any volition whatsoever, since if it had volition it would presumably be expected to consider it’s burden on the mother, and in some instances you would then surely agree a fetus should be expected to abort itself, in analogy to the mugging scenario that was considered earlier; and since it has 46 chromosomes of human DNA; you are arguing that we should extend to fetuses the right to gestate into a baby and from there grow into a full person.

    Broadly speaking, yes.

    And I am aware of the naturalistic fallacy so I do not try to infer “ought” from “is”.

    By pointing out how trivial the burden on the mother is, I assume you are implying that society should take on the medical expenses of all pregnant mothers, or at least that very good, free, pregnancy insurance is available to all women. Since you claim that adoption should be the expected end of unwanted pregnancies, I assume you are implicitly arguing for the improvement of the adoption/foster care system, especially for special needs children, and very special needs like the example Ken gave above with Noonan Syndrome.

    I am in favour of a national health service such as we have in the UK which is accessible and free to all at the point of delivery. This includes adequate care during pregnancy and the provision of good child care services. There is some evidence to suggest that this has led to a better general standard of health in the UK.

    You presumably also criticize men who might be less attracted to a pregnant, single woman than to a woman who is not currently pregnant.

    Personal relationships are a matter for the individuals concerned.

    And when you claim that both parents should have a say in determing what happens to the fetus, I’m assuming you mean that each should have a say roughly proportional to, what, the production time of the sperm times the mass of the sperm for the father versus the mass of the fetus times 9 months for the mother?

    That would depend. The mother plainly invests a lot of her physical resources and nine months of her time in gestation and birth. She can also spend many more years caring for and raising the child. The father, if he is committed to his child, can also spend a large amount of money and time and effort for eighteen years or more to the raising of that child. In that situation, both parents should have an equal interest in the child.

    O, I also notice you claim a woman should have rights over what happens to her own body…where do you consider the break between something that is her own body; and something that is made entirely of material that she consumed, that is inside her body, that affects her physiology, and that is, well, entirely dependant on her, but not part of her own body? I gotta say, from the woman’s perspective, that fetus has gotta seem an awful lot like part of her boby.

    The fetus is hosted by the woman’s body but is a separate individual that is the product of both parents’ genetic material. The mother’s kidney or arm will not grow into another human being. The fetus will.

  216. #216 peep
    July 6, 2006

    Ian,

    “All I can do is to argue my case that, as a society which tries to be just and humane, we would be better served by extending the right to life to the whole of the individual’s lifespan.”

    I think we all agree with that, sorta, but specifically you are making the case that women should always (try to) carry every conception to term, regardless of the reality of her circumstances; when what really follows from your desire to be just and humane is that we should make every effort to sustain a large, satisfied population of humans for the longest time possible. I still see no reason to extend that to any *specific* future person, and just because they have already been concieved doesn’t cut it, for many of the reasons that have been discussed, and for other reasons that haven’t come up yet. Perhaps what you mean to argue, though, is some or all of the following: that birth control should be easily available, easy to use, 100% effective; that no woman should ever be in such poverty that having 1 more child would be a burden; that people are socialized so that they fall into families around a pregnancy very easily, instead of retaining lusts, jealousies, greed, other baser emotions that can tear couples apart (for example, perhaps social acceptance of open, multi-partner relationships would help accomplish this? or other relationship dynamics); perhaps schools, for instance, need to provide maternity services, recognizing that pregnancy creates special needs and stresses on women; the US is a looong way from the adequate, free healthcare you have in the UK, btw, so maybe you should be arguing for that before arguing against abortions; etc, such that unwanted pregnancies would be freakishly rare. Til that happens, each woman should be trusted to decide what is best for her in her situation–they don’t need the rest of us telling them that society will be better at their expense, do they? Would punishing them for violating a future person’s rights make society better?

    Also,

    “That would depend. The mother plainly invests a lot of her physical resources and nine months of her time in gestation and birth. She can also spend many more years caring for and raising the child. The father, if he is committed to his child, can also spend a large amount of money and time and effort for eighteen years or more to the raising of that child. In that situation, both parents should have an equal interest in the child.”

    This all occurs after the birth, and over the next 18 or more years, and thus after the mother has to decide whether to abort. It’s pretty easy for a father in the US, for instance, to skimp on child support, or to not be able to really afford it. The investment to consider in the case of abortion is egg, food, and time in the womb, from the woman, and sperm, from the man.
    Yes, by the way, unwanted pregnacies can contribute to poverty, which seems pretty obviously to count against the good of society.

    And in regard to where a woman’s body ends and a fetus’s begins:

    “The fetus is hosted by the woman’s body but is a separate individual that is the product of both parents’ genetic material. The mother’s kidney or arm will not grow into another human being. The fetus will.”

    and related to that:

    “Yes, and my argument is that someone is affected: the individual human being who will develop if that group of cells is left alone.”

    If a fetus is removed from a woman’s body, and left alone, it will *not* develop into any individual human being. “Left alone”, the way you are using it, implies a large investment from the woman. Therefore, it *is not* an individual, it is entirely a part of the woman’s body, except that maybe some original DNA might be left in some of 23 chromosomes of one cell somewhere, from the male. That it would develop into an individual after enough time in the womb does not imply that it is an individual now. Haven’t we been over that?

    And seriously, thanks for your patience throughout this ridiculously long thread, even though I at least am getting pretty exasperated, and I think I see others who are too. But from here all your arguments look like they are circular; non sequiturs; conveniently gloss over swaths of relevant information with little euphamisms or understatements, or even outright mis-statements; quibbles over insignificanlty ambiguous word choices; or abuses of the naturalistic fallacy.

  217. #217 D
    July 8, 2006

    You continue to dodge Ian. I’ll ask again, as plainly as possible. Why should I grant a right to life to an embryo that will never develop past 3 months?

    I am arguing that the presumption should be in favour of the right to life.

    If that is your answer, then would ask if you are one of those that only eats fruiting bodies, but not seeds, of plants after they have matured and fallen off the plant on their own. If you aren’t, then I ask why your presumption doesn’t hold through in cases other than with an embryo.

    The value or worth of anything is not an intrinsic property but a judgement we make about it. And unrealised potential can be just as valuable as any that is realised. The money we are paid as wages is only paper rectangles with printing on them or embossed metal discs or numbers in a computer. Their value is only potential until they are exchanged for goods and/or services with people who place the same value on them that we do. I assume you would not want to do without money simply because its value is only potential.

    Actually currency has a very real value that has nothing to do with potential. Even though we are no longer on the gold standard, one dollar or pound or peso or whatever has a very specific value. It is a representative value, not a potential value. Even so, if one were to simply accept your premise, your example counters your assertion that unrealized is equal to realized. The value of money by its potential is only valuable if and when it is realized. Having a lot of money that is never spent is of no value. If instead that money is used, then it was of value, but only because its potential was realized. If money only had potential, then I could happily do without it. This is not to say potential conveys no value, but I certainly know of no case where it is equal the value of the realized potential. And again, potential cuts both ways, it is not always good.

    I am accepting as true what I have been told here and elsewhere. Have I been misled?

    I don’t know what you’ve been told elsewhere, but given that you continue to think pregnancy and giving birth can normally be described as a discomfort, then yes you have been misled. Any woman that only experiences discomfort due to being pregnant and then giving birth to a child is a very rare and lucky exception. Here, you seem to be the only one with such misconceptions however. Even though you wish to grant a fetus a right to life, you have allowed that at some threshold of pain that right is justifiably violated. Your claim would indicate you would be able to tell if a woman had passed that threshold or not, something quite unbelievable as you have no way of objectively knowing how anyone else experiences something beyond their own accounts.

    The majority of men and women will not commit murder or rape. Does that mean we should abandon the laws against those crimes?

    If murder and rape were subjective in the manner you are presenting abortion and the laws against them did as much if not more harm to those innocent, then yes.

    It is not a question of whether the suffering is ‘adequate’ but whether it has become intolerable and a serious threat to the mother’s health. Generally, that is decided by the doctor in consultation with the patient, which is as it should be.

    It’s very much a question of adequate, if there is some level of pain that must be suffered before you’ll say its ok for a woman to abort. And yes, doctors can decide such things by consultation with the patients because the patients tell them whether the pain is tolerable, it is not some objective observation. So unless you’re expecting doctors to in general ignore patient feedback, I don’t know why you think any doctor who would normally perform an abortion would deny one to a woman on the grounds you want to apply. It would be no different than having a doctor refuse to prescribe an allergy drug because they didn’t think the patient had a bad enough case of the sniffles.

    It is not ‘okay’ for anyone to suffer but that suffering has to be measured against the right to life of another individual where the two rights have to be reconciled.

    And this confuses me more. How could you ever make that judgment unless you were the one suffering?

    I do not consider myself better than every woman in the world but I have the same right as they do to form and express a moral opinion. Do you think every woman in the world disagrees with me?

    I know that some women do agree with you. The problem remains that your moral opinion is dependent upon a subjective judgment that only the involved woman is in a position to know the truth about. So while those women can make the judgment for themselves, they are still in no position to make it for any other woman.

  218. #218 Owlmirror
    July 8, 2006

    Ian Spedding wrote:

    I would prefer to express it in terms of a socially-conferred right: the fertilized egg should be allowed to develop into full human unless there is a good reason for preventing it.

    This is the crux of the matter, then, I suppose.

    Really, any situation where the pregnancy is not willed by the woman is a good reason. Since a developing fetus has a great deal of real, physical needs (much more than a basic and abstract “right to life”), it is unfair to both the woman and the potential resulting child to require an unwilling woman to bear an unwilled pregancy to completion.

    After all, the woman either has reason to believe that she will not be able to provide for a child, or she really does think that bearing a child is an “inconvenince”, as you’ve put it. In the first case, she is exercising her judgement of her resources; do you want to second-guess her? In the second case – do you really think that a woman who thinks that way can possibly be a good mother to a child?

    You’ve already conceded that endangerment of the mother’s health is a “good reason”. Pregnancy is always an endangerment of the mother’s health. Not necessarily a certain danger, but still a danger of death or injury.

    Ian Spedding wrote:

    Although it is probably true that neither the fertilized egg nor the early fetus have sensation, let alone consciousness, these ‘higher’ functions would not appear without these physical precursors.

    So? Precursors are not the things themselves. If the precursors are terminated, especially if they are terminated as early as possible in development, then there cannot be a resulting full human who will exist to be harmed.

    There might be grey areas where we could debate whether what was there was actually human or not, but I don’t think that would be useful at this point.

    I think I’m done arguing the matter, for now. I want to read more about embryonic and fetal development, and the statistical risks of death and injury resulting from pregnancy.

    Since you seem to have a rather romantic and idealistic view of pregnancy and birth, I strongly recommend that you do the same.

  219. #219 Ian H Spedding
    July 11, 2006

    Owlmirror wrote:

    Ian Spedding wrote:
    I would prefer to express it in terms of a socially-conferred right: the fertilized egg should be allowed to develop into full human unless there is a good reason for preventing it.

    This is the crux of the matter, then, I suppose.
    Really, any situation where the pregnancy is not willed by the woman is a good reason. Since a developing fetus has a great deal of real, physical needs (much more than a basic and abstract “right to life”), it is unfair to both the woman and the potential resulting child to require an unwilling woman to bear an unwilled pregancy to completion.

    Again, this comes back to the question of balancing rights. If we grant the right to life to the fetus, are the unfair burden of pregnancy and the mother’s unwillingness to put up with it sufficient to override that right? Bear in mind that the mother also enjoys the right to life which means, amongst other things, that should she become an unfair burden to others for some reason, that is not, in itself, grounds for them killing her.

    After all, the woman either has reason to believe that she will not be able to provide for a child, or she really does think that bearing a child is an “inconvenince”, as you’ve put it. In the first case, she is exercising her judgement of her resources; do you want to second-guess her? In the second case – do you really think that a woman who thinks that way can possibly be a good mother to a child?

    I believe that one measure of a humane society are the provisions it makes for the care of those of its members who are least able to take care of themselves. They should include caring for children who have no parents or whose parents are unable, for whatever reason, to provide for them adequately. Given such provisions, the inability of the mother to care for the child after it is born could not be sufficient reason to justify abortion.

    You’ve already conceded that endangerment of the mother’s health is a “good reason”. Pregnancy is always an endangerment of the mother’s health. Not necessarily a certain danger, but still a danger of death or injury.

    The risk would have to be a clear threat to the mother’s survival such that the doctors would be forced to choose between the life of the mother and that of the fetus.

    Ian Spedding wrote:
    Although it is probably true that neither the fertilized egg nor the early fetus have sensation, let alone consciousness, these ‘higher’ functions would not appear without these physical precursors.
    So? Precursors are not the things themselves. If the precursors are terminated, especially if they are terminated as early as possible in development, then there cannot be a resulting full human who will exist to be harmed.

    Surely that is like saying that because growing crops are what matter to us as food, we can destroy the seeds at will.

    I think I’m done arguing the matter, for now. I want to read more about embryonic and fetal development, and the statistical risks of death and injury resulting from pregnancy.
    Since you seem to have a rather romantic and idealistic view of pregnancy and birth, I strongly recommend that you do the same.

    I am sure human biology is as messy and icky as the rest of the field and I have no problem with statistical data concerning the risks of pregnancy. What I would suggest is that you also look up discussion about the nature of human rights and how they might apply, if at all, to the unborn.

  220. #220 Ian H Spedding
    July 11, 2006

    peep wrote:

    …each woman should be trusted to decide what is best for her in her situation–they don’t need the rest of us telling them that society will be better at their expense, do they? Would punishing them for violating a future person’s rights make society better?

    I suspect that making abortion illegal would do more harm than good so I would prefer to rely on persuasion and education to change the consensus view.

    As for the burdens of pregnancy and the difficulties of raising a child I still contend they are not sufficient cause to set aside the right to life if we grant it to the fetus. We are not allowed to ignore the rights of others whenever it suits us.

    As I see it, a right is a general statement of a freedom, entitlement or privilege to which only a limited number of exceptions can be allowed before the right is fatally undermined. In the case of the right to life, killing in self-defence or defending others from imminent threat can be permitted without affecting the right. But if anyone were allowed to kill another person whenever, in the first person’s judgement, the other became a problem, the right to life would effectively cease to exist. Thus, if a society agrees to confer a given right on its members, it is for those proposing exceptions to the right to justify that claim.

    It’s pretty easy for a father in the US, for instance, to skimp on child support, or to not be able to really afford it. The investment to consider in the case of abortion is egg, food, and time in the womb, from the woman, and sperm, from the man.
    Yes, by the way, unwanted pregnacies can contribute to poverty, which seems pretty obviously to count against the good of society.

    Both the mother and the father should be held equally responsible for the child’s upbringing. In traditional societies, the mother stayed at home to care for it while the father went out to work to provide for the family. Today, the parental roles are no longer divided so clearly along sexual lines but the expectation is that – ideally – each parent commits a roughly equal amount of resources to raising the children. The fact that some men – and women – are delinquent in that respect should not change that expectation.

    If a fetus is removed from a woman’s body, and left alone, it will *not* develop into any individual human being. “Left alone”, the way you are using it, implies a large investment from the woman. Therefore, it *is not* an individual, it is entirely a part of the woman’s body, except that maybe some original DNA might be left in some of 23 chromosomes of one cell somewhere, from the male. That it would develop into an individual after enough time in the womb does not imply that it is an individual now. Haven’t we been over that?

    Yes we have and, so far, we have been unable to agree on a definition of what we mean by an individual human being. Most contributors to this thread seem to reject the argument that the individual life begins at conception but disagree over where the starting-point should be placed. To my mind, this disagreement only serves to emphasise how arbitrary the various current starting-points are. That is why I return to the argument that the starting-point of an individual life should be placed at conception, my grounds being that the right to life, as stated, is a general right which, like any such agreed right, should not be limited without good cause.

    Life, in general, is a continuous process which, on Earth, began possibly as much as 3.8 billion years ago. An individual human life is unquestionably a part of that overall process but it would be absurd to argue that individuals today are 3.8 billion years old. Each individual human life is also a process but one which is started by a much more recent event, namely, the union of sperm and egg at the conception of each.

    I would like to add that I have also found this discussion useful and it has been encouraging to see it conducted, for the most part, in such a civilized manner.

  221. #221 D
    July 11, 2006

    Care to explain how fetuses are members or society Ian? Is it another case of, “someday they might be so why not consider them so now?” And why convey the rights of being members of society without the responsibilities, like respecting the rights of others?

    Your assertion that we aren’t allowed to kill people just because they bother us is rather dishonest. You continue to trivialize what women and their families go through with an unwanted pregnancy. Also, while we aren’t allowed to simply kill people on a whim, we have other methods to prevent or stop them from violating our rights. Killing is more of last resort. We can ask a person to stop, rely upon our legal system to remove them and eventually if all else fails kill them. Normally all else will not fail, so we don’t have to worry about taking a life. In the case of a fetus, killing happens to be the only resort, or at least a side effect of the only resorts, unless the fetus is far enough along to survive outside of the womb. This may be sad if you think a fetus is a full human being, but it still fully falls into our normal societal workings. As I’ve said before, only an absolute pacifist stance or beyond would hold otherwise.

    I believe that one measure of a humane society are the provisions it makes for the care of those of its members who are least able to take care of themselves. They should include caring for children who have no parents or whose parents are unable, for whatever reason, to provide for them adequately. Given such provisions, the inability of the mother to care for the child after it is born could not be sufficient reason to justify abortion.

    If reality reflected your ideal, you’d have a point. But it doesn’t, so you don’t. Same goes for your ideal expectation of parents.

    Yes we have and, so far, we have been unable to agree on a definition of what we mean by an individual human being. Most contributors to this thread seem to reject the argument that the individual life begins at conception but disagree over where the starting-point should be placed. To my mind, this disagreement only serves to emphasise how arbitrary the various current starting-points are. That is why I return to the argument that the starting-point of an individual life should be placed at conception, my grounds being that the right to life, as stated, is a general right which, like any such agreed right, should not be limited without good cause.

    Yes we have and, so far, we have been unable to agree on a definition of what we mean by an individual human being. Most contributors to this thread seem to reject the argument that the individual life begins at birth but disagree over where the starting-point should be placed. To my mind, this disagreement only serves to emphasise how arbitrary the various current starting-points are. That is why I return to the argument that the starting-point of an individual life should be placed at birth, my grounds being that the right to life, as stated, is a general right which, like any such agreed right, should not be limited without good cause.

    I suspect that making abortion illegal would do more harm than good so I would prefer to rely on persuasion and education to change the consensus view.

    I’ll end with a suggestion in response to that statement. If you’re being honest, your efforts would better be spent campaigning for better sex education, readily available contraceptives, better and cheaper health care, support for parents and negating any other reason women would choose to abort a pregnancy. Such things actually have an effect on reducing abortions. Calling women murderers, not so much.

  222. #222 Ian H Spedding
    July 13, 2006

    D wrote:

    Care to explain how fetuses are members or society Ian? Is it another case of, “someday they might be so why not consider them so now?” And why convey the rights of being members of society without the responsibilities, like respecting the rights of others?

    A fetus is a member of society only if society says it is. My argument is that a fetus should be considered a member of society because it is genetically, spatially and temporally a distinct individual, albeit in an early stage of development.

    And we grant rights – such as the right to life – to newborns, infants and young chidren who are too young to be held as responsible as they will be when they become adults.

    Another point, if you set the boundary between being human and not-human at birth you have the absurd situation that if some psychopath were to kill a newborn baby one minute after birth he or she would be guilty of murder but if that person killed the same baby one minute before birth they would not be guilty of murder.

    Your assertion that we aren’t allowed to kill people just because they bother us is rather dishonest. You continue to trivialize what women and their families go through with an unwanted pregnancy.

    Whether or not I have trivialized the problems women face in pregnancy makes no difference to the question of whether those problems are sufficient to justify killing the fetus, especially if it is regarded as a distinct individual.

    Also, while we aren’t allowed to simply kill people on a whim, we have other methods to prevent or stop them from violating our rights. Killing is more of last resort. We can ask a person to stop, rely upon our legal system to remove them and eventually if all else fails kill them. Normally all else will not fail, so we don’t have to worry about taking a life.

    My understanding is that even in the case of a persistent nuisance or violation of your rights you are not allowed to kill the offender unless your own life is in imminent danger. In the case of pregnancy at least the woman knows that it will end in nine months at the most.

    In the case of a fetus, killing happens to be the only resort, or at least a side effect of the only resorts, unless the fetus is far enough along to survive outside of the womb. This may be sad if you think a fetus is a full human being, but it still fully falls into our normal societal workings. As I’ve said before, only an absolute pacifist stance or beyond would hold otherwise.

    I agree that the current situation is that elective abortion is legal and I have said that do not want to change that. What I would prefer is that attitudes are changed by education and persuasion. I suspect that most women would be prepared to carry the child to term if they could be assured of adequate medical and social support.

    As for being pacifist, I have previously made clear that I do not regard the right to life as being absolute. We are allowed to kill in self-defence or to defend others if there is an imminent threat to life and limb, we are entitled to execute murderers and we are justified in killing those who take up arms against us in time of war.

  223. #223 D
    July 13, 2006

    Ian:

    My argument is that a fetus should be considered a member of society because it is genetically, spatially and temporally a distinct individual, albeit in an early stage of development.

    A sperm or an egg is also a genetically, spatially and temporally distinct individual, so those criteria seem insufficient, less you would argue society should also grant them membership.

    And we grant rights – such as the right to life – to newborns, infants and young chidren who are too young to be held as responsible as they will be when they become adults.

    We hold them responsible as well, though often in proxy through their guardians. Conveying that to a fetus would be an interesting quandary as it would be hurting the one responsible for making sure it didn’t hurt anyone.

    Another point, if you set the boundary between being human and not-human at birth you have the absurd situation that if some psychopath were to kill a newborn baby one minute after birth he or she would be guilty of murder but if that person killed the same baby one minute before birth they would not be guilty of murder.

    That is no more absurd than considering it murder to remove an embryo from a woman and allow it to die but not considering it murder to kill the sperm that would create the embryo with an egg.

    Whether or not I have trivialized the problems women face in pregnancy makes no difference to the question of whether those problems are sufficient to justify killing the fetus, especially if it is regarded as a distinct individual.

    It makes all the difference in the world. As you admit, killing someone for simply being a nuisance isn’t right, but killing someone to prevent bodily harm to your person is ok. You mischaracterize pregnancy and childbirth as the former so you can easily dismiss justification for killing, when it is in fact the latter. In the few instances where you’ve allowed they are serious you have even admitted that the killing is justified, though you pretend such occurrences are exceptions and rare. You are being dishonest.

    My understanding is that even in the case of a persistent nuisance or violation of your rights you are not allowed to kill the offender unless your own life is in imminent danger.

    Well, there’s quite a bit of variation on that. Some places you can kill someone simply for accidentally being on your private property. What you seem to be missing though are alternative options and escalation. If someone is being a nuisance, we have means of stopping them aside from killing them. If they don’t work, the offense becomes greater, to the point of violating our freedom if not our life, and we do allow people to kill to protect their freedom as you pointed out with your war example.

    In the case of pregnancy at least the woman knows that it will end in nine months at the most.

    That is a perverse justification for allowing someone to be harmed, or even as you put it “inconvenienced”.

    I agree that the current situation is that elective abortion is legal and I have said that do not want to change that. What I would prefer is that attitudes are changed by education and persuasion. I suspect that most women would be prepared to carry the child to term if they could be assured of adequate medical and social support.

    Evidence would support such suspicions. Two questions are begged however: Why would you wish to see something you thought of as murder to be allowed to continue and what are you doing to see that final ideal become reality? I also would question what you would call education given your comments thus far being highly opinion oriented.

  224. #224 Ian H Spedding
    July 16, 2006

    D wrote:

    My argument is that a fetus should be considered a member of society because it is genetically, spatially and temporally a distinct individual, albeit in an early stage of development.

    A sperm or an egg is also a genetically, spatially and temporally distinct individual, so those criteria seem insufficient, less you would argue society should also grant them membership.

    No, neither sperm nor egg alone are individual human beings or able to become individual human beings. The process which is an individual human life is normally started by a specific event, namely, the fusion of sperm and egg at conception.

    And we grant rights – such as the right to life – to newborns, infants and young chidren who are too young to be held as responsible as they will be when they become adults.

    We hold them responsible as well, though often in proxy through their guardians. Conveying that to a fetus would be an interesting quandary as it would be hurting the one responsible for making sure it didn’t hurt anyone.

    Although the age varies from country to country, children below a certain age are not held to be criminally responsible. Yet they may not be killed with impunity; they are still entitled to the right to life. The fact that parents or guardians may be held accountable for failing in their duty to supervise children properly has no bearing on that.

    Another point, if you set the boundary between being human and not-human at birth you have the absurd situation that if some psychopath were to kill a newborn baby one minute after birth he or she would be guilty of murder but if that person killed the same baby one minute before birth they would not be guilty of murder.

    That is no more absurd than considering it murder to remove an embryo from a woman and allow it to die but not considering it murder to kill the sperm that would create the embryo with an egg.

    An offence such as murder can only be committed against an individual, not just a part of them. You do not commit murder by cutting off someone’s arm and allowing the limb to die (unless the individual dies as a result of the amputation). Again, neither sperm nor egg alone are individual human beings so allowing them to die or even deliberately killing them does not constitute murder.

    Whether or not I have trivialized the problems women face in pregnancy makes no difference to the question of whether those problems are sufficient to justify killing the fetus, especially if it is regarded as a distinct individual.

    It makes all the difference in the world. As you admit, killing someone for simply being a nuisance isn’t right, but killing someone to prevent bodily harm to your person is ok. You mischaracterize pregnancy and childbirth as the former so you can easily dismiss justification for killing, when it is in fact the latter. In the few instances where you’ve allowed they are serious you have even admitted that the killing is justified, though you pretend such occurrences are exceptions and rare. You are being dishonest.

    No one is denying that pregnancy is a risky business but that risk is not normally sufficient to justify killing the fetus. Where it is, as we have agreed, abortion is permissible. Characterizing normal pregnancy as causing “bodily harm” to the woman is an exaggeration. Undoubtedly, it causes significant physical and psychological changes in the woman which, according to testimony, can range from uncomfortable to downright painful. But, like it or not, it is a natural function of the female body. Being natural does not make it right but neither does it make it wrong. It also means that the physical changes caused by pregnancy are not equivalent to the pain and damage caused by an assault.

    My understanding is that even in the case of a persistent nuisance or violation of your rights you are not allowed to kill the offender unless your own life is in imminent danger.
    Well, there’s quite a bit of variation on that. Some places you can kill someone simply for accidentally being on your private property. What you seem to be missing though are alternative options and escalation. If someone is being a nuisance, we have means of stopping them aside from killing them. If they don’t work, the offense becomes greater, to the point of violating our freedom if not our life, and we do allow people to kill to protect their freedom as you pointed out with your war example.

    I think that, in most places, killing someone because they are a nuisance, even a persistent one, is not usually considered a justifiable response. Of course, if the nuisance escalates to the point where there is a threat to life and limb then killing may become justifiable. But we have already agreed on that.

    I agree that the current situation is that elective abortion is legal and I have said that do not want to change that. What I would prefer is that attitudes are changed by education and persuasion. I suspect that most women would be prepared to carry the child to term if they could be assured of adequate medical and social support.

    Evidence would support such suspicions. Two questions are begged however: Why would you wish to see something you thought of as murder to be allowed to continue and what are you doing to see that final ideal become reality? I also would question what you would call education given your comments thus far being highly opinion oriented.

    I do not regard abortion as equivalent to murder. Although it involves the deliberate killing of what I regard as a very young individual human being, it is not done out of malice or for profit or gain. It is often done out of a misguided belief that it is in the best interests of the mother and society. If it were to be made illegal, the effect might well be to drive these women back into the hands of “backstreet abortionists” if there were no alternative.

    As for me, I am simply doing what you and everyone else here is doing, exercising my right to express my opinion on the matter.

  225. #225 D
    July 19, 2006

    Repeating your opinion does not make it true Ian, no matter how many times you do so. Nor does your fundamental believe in your opinion invalidate others. The only thing you seem to be able to provide for you stance that an embryo is a person is your belief in your stance. Your argument of potentiality is not definitive, as it can apply to previous stages of the human life cycle. The constraints you’ve tried to apply to those previous stages to exclude them also apply to an embryo or fetus. The only differences are quantitative, not qualitative. You have yet to provide any answer to what definitive qualities convey a worth of a right to life, nor given any quantitative threshold and reason for such a cut off point. You are using the same type of circular argument that so many use to “prove” their deities existences.

    For your weighing of rights arguments, you continue to rely upon your arrogant stance that you are in an infallible position to judge the experiences of others that you have never and can never experience. Your stance is just another misogynistic and self-righteous sermon. You need to learn to respect women and the reality of their experience. (And only respecting women that agree with you doesn’t count.)

    I do not regard abortion as equivalent to murder. Although it involves the deliberate killing of what I regard as a very young individual human being, it is not done out of malice or for profit or gain. It is often done out of a misguided belief that it is in the best interests of the mother and society. If it were to be made illegal, the effect might well be to drive these women back into the hands of “backstreet abortionists” if there were no alternative.

    Motive does not factor into whether a killing is murder or not as such, only whether the person gets sent to prison or an asylum. Motive only matters in as much as it can be a valid reason for the killing. If by that standard they disqualify abortion from being murder, then the reasons for abortion are valid and not simply a “misguided belief”, a phrase again indicative of your arrogance and misogyny. This is another example of your disconnect with reality that you use to try to evade actually addressing points raised.

    Unless you can actually come up with something unrepetitive that does not rely upon redefining reality to fit your opinions I’m done here. You’re allowed your own opinion, but passing it off as the truth is and will forever be dishonest, regardless of your right to do so.

  226. #226 peep
    July 19, 2006

    Thought experiment for Ian:

    Imagine a hypothetical U.S. college student, partly paying her way with a $7 an hour part-time job. When she realizes she’s pregnant, perhaps with her beloved boyfriend’s child, the father reveals he’s been sleeping around on her and wants nothing to do with the child. No father, who couldn’t afford child support anyway, probably, and she couldn’t afford a child even with child support. No medical insurance. No time to raise a child, it seems reasonable to me that she’d want to finish college, get a decent job, before starting a family. Can’t afford maternity leave from work (part-time job probably wouldn’t pay for it). The details of course aren’t that important, it’s easy to imagine a woman who is suddenly put in a desperate situation by finding herself pregnant.

    Now, how would you explain:

    -the importance of the difference between the potential potentiality of an unfertilized egg vs. the actual potentiality of a foetus (btw, i’m unclear just *why* it’s such a big deal to expect some man to do his duty to the egg…it’s hardly more work than a woman goes through with pregnancy)

    -the path of the whole person in the timescape, and it’s importance to the right to life of the potential person

    -how it’s a natural function of her body, which means that, well, it doesn’t mean that it’s right or that it’s wrong, so why it’s even worth bringing up in the discussion (and again, i don’t understand…part of the purpose of a woman’s vagina is to be penetrated by the male genitalia…would you argue that rape isn’t a seperate crime from any battery or kidnapping that goes on during the rape? It doesn’t seem you would consider the risk of pregnancy resulting from the rape, natural functions and all…)

    -how a foetus that is *part of her body*, that eats only what she eats, only what she does the work of digesting first, and that has no desires, no values, is an individual, that she is completely responsible for, and which has no responsibilities at all; how such a foetus is an individual with rights besides those that she chooses to grant it

    -and please, how would you explain how trivial her situation is compared to the ending of a particular potential life-that is, how her *actual life* and *actual rights* are less important than the rights a potential life should have in the best of all worlds

    We’ve seen your, uh, theoretical arguments, I’m particularly interested now in how they should be presented and applied to practical situations, to real women who are in desperate situations that compel them to get an abortion. It seems to me that it’s always easier to know what you’ll do in a situation when you know you’ll never be in that situation.

  227. #227 Ian H Spedding
    July 22, 2006

    D wrote:

    Repeating your opinion does not make it true Ian, no matter how many times you do so. Nor does your fundamental believe in your opinion invalidate others.

    I agree.

    The only thing you seem to be able to provide for you stance that an embryo is a person is your belief in your stance. Your argument of potentiality is not definitive, as it can apply to previous stages of the human life cycle. The constraints you’ve tried to apply to those previous stages to exclude them also apply to an embryo or fetus. The only differences are quantitative, not qualitative. You have yet to provide any answer to what definitive qualities convey a worth of a right to life, nor given any quantitative threshold and reason for such a cut off point. You are using the same type of circular argument that so many use to “prove” their deities existences.

    We are discussing rights here, specifically the right to life. As an agnostic, I do not believe rights are God-given. They are – as mentioned previously – entitlements, freedoms and privileges which a human society agrees should be granted to its members. I believe any justification for them is best found in “interests theory”. There are certain interests which all human beings have in common: personal survival, the opportunity for personal development, the means to provide for a family, a secure situation in which to raise children and so on. Rights are, in one sense, guarantees made by society that these basic needs shall be met.

    The right to life is the most fundamental of all the rights since without life all other rights are worthless. My argument is that the lifespan of a human individual begins at conception and ends at death and that the right to life should apply to the whole of that period. It seems to me absurd that society guarantees a right to life after the individual has reached a certain stage of development but all the stages leading up to it are unprotected. Yes, an infant is not the same as a fetus which is not the same as an embryo which is not the same as a blastocyst which is not the same as a zygote. Agreed. But children are not created ex nihilo. The infant does not exist unless it has previously been fetus, embryo, blastocyst and zygote. It is akin to arguing that, because we like apples, we will protect the trees that bear them but the seeds from which the trees grow are unimportant and can be discarded at will.

    And, yes, I am aware that I am repeating previous arguments but there is little else to say. Rights apply to individual human beings. This discussion is about how much of an individual’s total lifespan should be protected by the right to life. In my view, setting the boundary any later than conception is arbitrary and leads to largely futile debates about when the ‘person’ can be said to begin.

    For your weighing of rights arguments, you continue to rely upon your arrogant stance that you are in an infallible position to judge the experiences of others that you have never and can never experience. Your stance is just another misogynistic and self-righteous sermon. You need to learn to respect women and the reality of their experience. (And only respecting women that agree with you doesn’t count.)

    This is not a question of respect for women but of respect for all human beings, including those as yet unborn. Pregnant women deserve all the comfort and support that society can provide, but their condition does not relieve them of the obligation to respect the right to life of others.

    Unless you can actually come up with something unrepetitive that does not rely upon redefining reality to fit your opinions I’m done here. You’re allowed your own opinion, but passing it off as the truth is and will forever be dishonest, regardless of your right to do so.

    I thought I was clear that all I am expressing here is my personal opinion not some transcendent Truth. And my view is that that the position of pro-choicers, in giving priority to the needs and rights of the woman, involves them in unnecessary philosophical and moral contortions.

  228. #228 Owlmirror
    July 22, 2006

    I said I would drop it, and I probably should stick to that, but I feel compelled to comment on this:

    It is akin to arguing that, because we like apples, we will protect the trees that bear them but the seeds from which the trees grow are unimportant and can be discarded at will.

    You know, we do do exactly that. Millions (billions?) of apple cores with the seeds inside them are discarded, never to grow into trees. Almost no-one thinks they are important.

    The only ones who concern themselves over the seeds are those who want apple trees, and who have the time and inclination and resources of land and water to grow apple trees, and care for them until they reach maturity.

    The same goes for wheat, which you also mentioned above. Most wheat seeds are ground into flour and made into dough, eventually to be eaten. Only those who actually want to invest the resources into a new crop care about them.

    Really, the analogy only serves against your own argument. Plants are too obviously used and viewed pragmatically, not idealistically.

    In my view, setting the boundary any later than conception is arbitrary and leads to largely futile debates about when the ‘person’ can be said to begin.

    You think them futile because you’ve rejected them.

    The arguments are important because the human gestation cycle is a gradient, from cell to infant human. A cell is obviously not a person, the infant obviously is. So analyzing the gradient to figure out when “personhood” happens is actually meaningful.

    But obviously, I’m not going to convince you of that. I’m still thinking about things, though.

  229. #229 Ian H Spedding
    July 23, 2006

    peep wrote:

    Thought experiment for Ian:

    Experiments are good.

    Imagine a hypothetical U.S. college student, partly paying her way with a $7 an hour part-time job. When she realizes she’s pregnant, perhaps with her beloved boyfriend’s child, the father reveals he’s been sleeping around on her and wants nothing to do with the child. No father, who couldn’t afford child support anyway, probably, and she couldn’t afford a child even with child support. No medical insurance. No time to raise a child, it seems reasonable to me that she’d want to finish college, get a decent job, before starting a family. Can’t afford maternity leave from work (part-time job probably wouldn’t pay for it). The details of course aren’t that important, it’s easy to imagine a woman who is suddenly put in a desperate situation by finding herself pregnant.

    My immediate response to the situation you describe is that it is an appalling indictment of one of the richest countries in the world that a young woman could find herself destitute as a result of being pregnant. While I am all in favour of people being as free as possible to pursue their own lives and fortunes, one of the advantages of being a member of a society is the communal support that should be available in time of need.

    Second, as I understand it, under current legislation she would actually be able to choose abortion as a solution to her problems.

    Third, if society were to change its view and ban abortion, except on medical grounds, I would hope that there would be parallel legislation that would ensure appropriate and adequate support for women compelled to carry their child to term.

    Now, how would you explain:
    -the importance of the difference between the potential potentiality of an unfertilized egg vs. the actual potentiality of a foetus (btw, i’m unclear just *why* it’s such a big deal to expect some man to do his duty to the egg…it’s hardly more work than a woman goes through with pregnancy)

    An unfertilized egg does not lead to an individual human being, a fertilized egg does.

    As for the man’s “duty” I would hope he would accept his responsibilities in such a situation, although I recognize that the hard reality is that some men do not.

    What I find sad, though, is the way that some pro-choice advocates portray pregnancy, and presumably the unborn child, as a painful and unwelcome burden. There seems to be little, if any, acknowledgment that the parents might actually have some feelings for the child as being something more than a tumerous growth or appendage.

    -the path of the whole person in the timescape, and it’s importance to the right to life of the potential person

    A human being is an event that can span several decades. The process of development that leads from the zygote to the adult is a seamless progression. Granting the right to life to part of that event while leaving the early stages unprotected seems to me to be arbitrary and absurd.

    -how it’s a natural function of her body, which means that, well, it doesn’t mean that it’s right or that it’s wrong, so why it’s even worth bringing up in the discussion (and again, i don’t understand…part of the purpose of a woman’s vagina is to be penetrated by the male genitalia…would you argue that rape isn’t a seperate crime from any battery or kidnapping that goes on during the rape? It doesn’t seem you would consider the risk of pregnancy resulting from the rape, natural functions and all…)

    I think it is better to say that our sexual organs have a function rather than a purpose in order to avoid any teleological connotations.

    Rape is clearly both a breach of a woman’s rights and a crime. If a pregnacy results it is bound to be a traumatic experience for the woman. Against that, the fetus is in no way responsible for what happened and should not have to suffer as a result. We do not punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty. There should be no question of the rapist having any involvement with the child, however, since it is a basic principle of justice that an offender should not profit in any way from the offence.

    -how a foetus that is *part of her body*, that eats only what she eats, only what she does the work of digesting first, and that has no desires, no values, is an individual, that she is completely responsible for, and which has no responsibilities at all; how such a foetus is an individual with rights besides those that she chooses to grant it

    The fetus is only a part of her body for nine months after which it develops into a progressively more independent individual. Given that, it would be better to say that the woman’s body is a host to the fetus. The fact that she may be unwilling to play host in some situations has to be set against the right to life of the fetus, if society grants the right.

    And it is only society that can grant such rights not individuals, not even a mother. If any individual were allowed to grant or withdraw “rights” at will, or even on a whim, the concept of rights would be meaningless. You might bestow the right to life on someone but I could then decide to withdraw it and kill them. What would a “right” be under those circumstances?

    -and please, how would you explain how trivial her situation is compared to the ending of a particular potential life-that is, how her *actual life* and *actual rights* are less important than the rights a potential life should have in the best of all worlds

    The zygote/blastocyst/embryo/fetus are not potential life, they are alive by any accepted measure. They are also human. A human zygote will not lead to the development of a cow, for example. If they have the right to life it trumps all others, except where to set it aside would be the lesser of two evils. Whatever the suffering of the mother, unless it threatens her own life, it should not be sufficient to allow her to kill what is really another human being.

    We’ve seen your, uh, theoretical arguments, I’m particularly interested now in how they should be presented and applied to practical situations, to real women who are in desperate situations that compel them to get an abortion. It seems to me that it’s always easier to know what you’ll do in a situation when you know you’ll never be in that situation.

    As I mentioned above, I would support a ban on abortions on anything other than medical grounds but that support would be contingent on the state fulfilling its duty to provide adequate and appropriate support for the mother and child.

  230. #230 Ian H Spedding
    July 24, 2006

    Owlmirror wrote:

    I said I would drop it, and I probably should stick to that, but I feel compelled to comment on this:

    It is akin to arguing that, because we like apples, we will protect the trees that bear them but the seeds from which the trees grow are unimportant and can be discarded at will.

    You know, we do do exactly that. Millions (billions?) of apple cores with the seeds inside them are discarded, never to grow into trees. Almost no-one thinks they are important.
    The only ones who concern themselves over the seeds are those who want apple trees, and who have the time and inclination and resources of land and water to grow apple trees, and care for them until they reach maturity.
    The same goes for wheat, which you also mentioned above. Most wheat seeds are ground into flour and made into dough, eventually to be eaten. Only those who actually want to invest the resources into a new crop care about them.
    Really, the analogy only serves against your own argument. Plants are too obviously used and viewed pragmatically, not idealistically.

    Okay, I have to agree with you that it was not the best analogy, but it does touch on a couple of relevant points. First, are you saying human beings are of no greater worth than plants, at least in their very early stages of development, and second, are you acknowledging that killing a human embryo is not the same as discarding an apple core, that it is much more.

    In my view, setting the boundary any later than conception is arbitrary and leads to largely futile debates about when the ‘person’ can be said to begin.
    You think them futile because you’ve rejected them.
    The arguments are important because the human gestation cycle is a gradient, from cell to infant human. A cell is obviously not a person, the infant obviously is. So analyzing the gradient to figure out when “personhood” happens is actually meaningful.

    I would be interested to hear your definition of “personhood” in view of the fact that the US Constitution avoids any such thing.

  231. #231 Owlmirror
    July 24, 2006

    No, I’m not going to debate you further at this time. I’ve made some reasonable arguments above from general knowledge of the brain and fetal development, and from that one specific essay by Carl Sagan. At this point, I think I could only reword my earlier arguments, which you’ve already rejected.

    I doubt that arguments from more specific knowledge would sway you, but I still want to understand more about the details of gestation and neurology.

    One last meta-level comment, and then I’ll shut up. I’ve noticed that some of your arguments involve definitional confusion, that is, assuming that a word in one sense is synonymous with that word in another sense, and arguing from that. Since this is to some extent an argument over definitions, it’s understandable, but it’s part of why your arguments aren’t being accepted.

    Which is why I suggest that you might do some study as well.

  232. #232 lisa
    July 28, 2006

    But I do believe that my genetic, mathematical identity was set at conception.

    Pure superstition. DNA is not enough to distinguish an individual human being. One need only speak with a pair of identical twins to see that.

    To have destroyed that clump of cells would have destroyed me, forever, and my only chance at existence.

    One could say the same of the sperm that fertilized the ovum that created him: if it had been harmed or stopped, then that would’ve been the end of his one chance at existence. Does that mean that men shouldn’t be allowed to use condoms? Should women not be allowed to use birth control? Should rape be legal?

    It makes absolutely no sense to protect some imaginary, non-existent person’s future “right to exist” over the REAL bodily rights of a REAL woman who DOES exist right NOW.

    What complete and utter foolishness.

  233. #233 Lya Kahlo
    August 8, 2006

    “It makes absolutely no sense to protect some imaginary, non-existent person’s future “right to exist” over the REAL bodily rights of a REAL woman who DOES exist right NOW.

    What complete and utter foolishness. ”

    Bingo. This is something that anti-choicers can’t seem to wrap their heads around. They cry for the “right to exist” of people who don’t exist, but have no trouble crapping all over the rights of women who do exist.

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