Pharyngula

The manimal will have a British accent

Well, not really—but the UK government will tolerate and support research into human-animal hybrids. No one is interested in raising a half-pig/half-man creature to adulthood, but instead this work is all about understanding basic mechanisms of development and human disease.

Scientists want to create the hybrid embryos to study the subtle molecular glitches that give rise to intractable diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cystic fibrosis. The researchers would take a cell from a patient and insert it into a hollowed out animal egg to make an embryo, which would be 99.9% human and 0.1% animal. Embryonic stem cells extracted from the week-old embryo would then be grown into nerves and other tissues, giving scientists unprecedented insight into how the disease develops in the body. Under existing laws, the embryos must be destroyed no later than 14 days after being created and cannot be implanted.

(I don’t care for how they phrased it: these will be a collection of animal-derived cells that contain human nuclear DNA. They will not be human.)

This is precisely the kind of useful biomedical research our American president called one of the “most egregious abuses of medical research” in his state of the union speech last year. Essentially, the only people who oppose it are confused wackos with delusions about the ‘sanctity’ of human life who think a few cells in a dish should have more rights and privileges than an adult woman—a substantial chunk of the Republican base.

We see once again where the so-far eminently successful American scientific machine is stymied by the religious twits who have looked at the possibilities of 21st century biology, and turned away, allowing other countries the opportunity to pass us by.


I should have included a link to this other article, in which government ministers declare that they will no longer oppose the research.

Comments

  1. #1 iain
    February 28, 2007

    I’m afraid you didn’t read the article very carefully, PZ.

    While Prof King (the chief scientific adviser) thinks that the govt should allow this kind of research, the last time anything official was said about it they were planning to ban it:

    “Government plans to outlaw the research were announced in December by the public health minister…”

    At best we can hope that Prof King’s remarks will prompt a rethink, but I wouldn’t bet on it, or at least not while Tony Blair’s in charge.

  2. #2 Crudely Wrott
    February 28, 2007

    This is the very best evidence available for useful, functional science education in all schools from K to 12 and beyond. Also an excellent reason for anyone to make an attempt to read just one or two “popular science” book a year. Just a little bit of understanding can go a long way. And the appeal to a young mind? Who can guess?

  3. #3 SteveF
    February 28, 2007

    Lets hope that King has sufficient influence to sway certain utterly clueless ministers.

  4. #4 abeja
    February 28, 2007

    It’s absurd to me that politicians are the ones making decisions as to what kind of research scientists will be allowed to do. I’m not saying scientists shouldn’t have checks and balances–but I think the checks and balances should come from within the scientific community, not from clueless politicians whoring themselves for votes. We’ve seen tremendous good come from science, of course, but it kills me to think of all the progress that has been squelched (or greatly delayed) by idiot politicians.

    Of course, their attitude is that if even one human “soul” is harmed in the name of scientific progress, progress that can better the lives of the 6 billion humans already on this planet, then it’s not acceptable. And the voters think that way too. Depressing.

  5. #5 Gray Falcon
    February 28, 2007

    I keep envisioning a science fiction story featuring such creatures… not quite human, but not beasts either… trying to find a place in the world… a purpose, if you will.
    Of course, such a story would really be a thinly veiled social commentary. In other words, another “Blade Runner”.

  6. #6 iain
    February 28, 2007

    I don’t think I can agree with you there abeja. The checks and balances you mention must ultimately be backed by the law, and so legislators have to get involved. Bad cases make that a frustrating system, but I’d be worried about self-policing.

  7. #7 CalGeorge
    February 28, 2007

    I can hear the pens scratching out those screenplays now…

    Hideous Experiment Gone Awry! America Under Siege! Manimal Hordes from Europe Invade the Heartland! Run for Your Lives!

  8. #8 King Aardvark
    February 28, 2007

    At the very least, having government legislators providing the checks and balances prevents the appearance of all scientists being mad scientists doing whatever the hell they feel like.

    But the other important part is that the government people involved in the policing shouldn’t be scientifically illiterate braindead creationist nitwits. They would have to do their homework and get knowledgeable about science, and not just be pandering for votes like in the US and UK.

    In an ideal world, I’d want the government involved, but in the current climate, I’d be much happier if they weren’t.

  9. #9 Ian H Spedding FCD
    February 28, 2007

    Gray Falcon wrote:

    I keep envisioning a science fiction story featuring such creatures… not quite human, but not beasts either… trying to find a place in the world… a purpose, if you will.

    Chimera?

  10. #10 iain
    February 28, 2007

    Thanks for the update and the Times link, PZ.
    That’s good news – and a nice example of politicians listening to what their advisers tell them. I feel some chagrin that you’re better informed about what’s going on over here than I am, though…

    I’ll be interested to hear what Caroline Flint has to say tomorrow. On reflection, I’m still a bit worried despite the Times article. If the re-think was a sure thing, Prof King would know it – so why would he feel the need to make the remarks quoted in the Guardian article? I wonder if there’s still some internal wrangling at the Dept of Health.

  11. #11 MorpheusPA
    February 28, 2007

    Gray Falcon Said:

    I keep envisioning a science fiction story featuring such creatures… not quite human, but not beasts either… trying to find a place in the world… a purpose, if you will.

    “Humting Mother” in Not of Woman Born covers this pretty well, and it’s a pretty thoughtful, wonderful story.

    It seems, of course, to be out of print. Amazon.com lists it here.

    Morph

  12. #12 umilik
    February 28, 2007

    I don’t know who added the sentence in parentheses about these cells being animal cells despite having a human nucleus. That is a very interesting statement and one that is debatable. One might argue that the embryo after activation of its own genome (at the 8/16-cell stage) would be making largely human proteins, that would then form the basis for everything from cytoskeleton to membrane components, not to mention the thousands of enzymes used for everything the cell needs and does. The only animal (and I presume they’re planning on using bovine oocytes)proteins that would be produced would be those made by by the mitochondria. But even those (i.e. the mitochondria) couldn’t function without some of the nuclear (i.e. human)-derived proteins. Besides if one assumes that the purpose is to study HUMAN diseases in stem cells derived from such hybrid/chimeric enbryos, one might safely argue that these cells are, in fact, human.

  13. #13 abeja
    February 28, 2007

    I really didn’t do a good job expressing my thoughts in my previous comment. I made it sound like I think that scientists who aren’t in lawmaking positions should decide what is acceptable research, and that there shouldn’t be laws and punishments for breaking those laws. That wasn’t the intent of my comment. I want legislators who don’t understand the science in question to stop making the decisions as to what kind of research scientists can do. I don’t know what the solution is. But there’s 2 extremes here–letting scientists do anything they want, no matter how unethical, or letting uneducated (at least in science) legislators have free reign to restrict any research they perceive as unethical. We seem to be at the latter extreme here in America. And that’s what I call absurd. It would be great if the people making those laws were actually scientists (ahh, if wishes were horses!), or if our legislators would at least take the time to get a better understanding of the sciences which they regulate. I’m a pessimist (or a realist, take your pick), and I don’t see that happening. But seeing politicians who don’t know anything about science making decisions that scientists should be making is infuriating to me.

    Of course, it’s the science-ignorant public who elected these yahoos in the first place, and the politicians are keeping the people ignorant by restricting the science education available to them. So it’s a never-ending cycle.

  14. #14 PZ Myers
    February 28, 2007

    The problem is that “human” has multiple meanings. There is the purely mechanical sense that the scientists are using — it’s derived from human tissues, it contains the human genetic sequence — and then there is the sense that the godbags use — it is an autonomous, sentient being with purpose, and to their mind, god-bestowed rights. The conflation of these two meanings is the root of some serious conflict.

  15. #15 Clancy
    February 28, 2007

    “Essentially, the only people who oppose it are confused wackos with delusions about the ‘sanctity’ of human life who think a few cells in a dish should have more rights and privileges than an adult woman–a substantial chunk of the Republican base.”

    Exactly. Thank you for cutting to the heart of this issue with such clarity. It does amount to precisely this.

  16. #17 linnen
    February 28, 2007

    Paging Dr Moreau. Will Dr Moreau please report to Room 101. Paging Dr Moreau.

  17. #18 John Angliss
    February 28, 2007

    “No one is interested in raising a half-pig/half-man creature to adulthood”

    I feel unfairly victimised… “No one”, indeed!

  18. #19 Rey Fox
    February 28, 2007

    “I can hear the pens scratching out those screenplays now…”

    Paging Michael Crichton, those durned signtists are at it again!

  19. #20 Steve Sutton
    February 28, 2007

    If the religious folks are so concerned about the “sanctity” of human life, why do they want to ban research that will, most likely, result in medical treatments that can cure terminal illnesses, saving lives and easing suffering? They seem to see that as something objectionable and immoral.

  20. #21 Bob O'H
    February 28, 2007

    No one is interested in raising a half-pig/half-man creature to adulthood,…

    Huh? I thought a lot of parents would like to see their sons become adults.

    Bob

  21. #22 Umilik
    February 28, 2007

    Half pig/half man ? Dr Moureau ? Paging Michael Crichton ?
    Yawn.
    Using the nucleus from one species and transfer that into an egg of another species has been done in several animal species. Some of it right here in the Big Easy. It seems to work fine, although you will note that generally the nucleus and egg species were closely related. A human to other animal transfer might pose a few more challenges.

    http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=313521

  22. #23 El Christador
    February 28, 2007

    Essentially, the only people who oppose it are confused wackos with delusions about the ‘sanctity’ of human life who think a few cells in a dish should have more rights and privileges than an adult woman–a substantial chunk of the Republican base.

    Aren’t they being just as rational as people who think adult humans should have any rights or privileges? By what logic can you conclude that the life of an adult human being — a fairly large number of cells, typically not found in a dish — should be accorded any more ‘sanctity’ than that which you accord a few cells in a dish? Is it the number of cells, or the being in a dish part?

    That is, isn’t the whole ‘oh, you can’t kill people’ thing just as much magical superstitious woo as the ‘you can’t kill embryos’? Neither one is logically defensible.

  23. #24 Sonja
    February 28, 2007

    To understand the reason that we thinking people can never get on the same page as religious people on these issues, you have to understand the root values of the 2 groups.

    Thinking people value human consciousness.

    Religious people value human innocence.

    Religious people will get their undies in a bundle about a Terri Schiavo, not because she has consciousness, but because she is without sin (comas prevent sinning). And of course, unborn babies are innocent, but the second they pop out of the womb, look out. Almost everything a conscious human is doing is the world is some sort of sin against God.

    And what could be more innocent than a clump of human/animal hybrid cells?

    If we could first convict the clump of cells of a crime, then we could give them the death penalty and everyone would be happy.

  24. #25 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    El Christador,

    That is, isn’t the whole ‘oh, you can’t kill people’ thing just as much magical superstitious woo as the ‘you can’t kill embryos’? Neither one is logically defensible.

    I suspect you’re a species of concern troll, but assuming you’re asking in good faith, no it’s not magical superstititious woo, and it is logically defensible on the basis of empirical differences between embryos and persons to which we attach moral significance.

  25. #26 dorid
    February 28, 2007

    Jason (and others) can we go there?

    “it is logically defensible on the basis of empirical differences between embryos and persons to which we attach moral significance.”

    First off, let me start with a disclaimer. I’m one of the science ignorant. I don’t have a degree in science, I do have an interest, but I can’t for the LIFE of me follow a discussion that involves genetics at this point. To me this whole thing sounds like the stuff of nightmares, and I have no doubt some of you will be sniggering at me from behind your screens on this one.

    I AM trying to keep an open mind, but am not terribly sure how to distinguish between a bunch of living cells in a petri dish, a human being, and an animal. (e gads, I hope my daughter isn’t reading this!)

    First off, I’d say that human beings ARE animals, and if we have no “soul” or some intangable thing that makes us different then it would only seem ethical to apply the same rules to ourselves as we do with other animals. My understanding (please feel free to correct me here!) is that identification of animals relates to their DNA or genetic make-up. That it isn’t appearance (a three legged dog is still a dog) or anything like that which identifies them as what they are. Can the same be said of the cells in the petri dish? How much of something can be missing before it’s no longer that thing?

    I know my own personal lines are very arbitrary and based on my own (little bit of) knowledge and experience. IS there a widely accepted line drawn by the scientific community? Where is that line?

  26. #27 BigHank53
    February 28, 2007

    Not to deflate anyone’s sense of outrage here, but this sort of research is still legal in the good ol’ USA, despite Bush’s SOTU speech. (I do not know if the feds have stopped funding it, which may well be true.)

    There’s a company in my town that’s trying to splice enough human DNA into pigs to fool immune systems, so the pigs can be mass-produced for organ transplants.

    Real scary, huh?

  27. #28 Dave Godfrey
    February 28, 2007

    Gray Falcon wrote:

    “I keep envisioning a science fiction story featuring such creatures… not quite human, but not beasts either… trying to find a place in the world… a purpose, if you will.”

    First Born a BBC miniseries from 1988 perhaps? More of an emotional drama than the Chimera was.

  28. #29 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    dorid,

    People have bodies, brains, thoughts, feelings, experiences. Embryos do not. We hold these differences to be morally significant. That is one reason why it’s legal to flush your embryo down a sink at the fertility clinic but not legal to kill your child.

  29. #30 tacitus
    February 28, 2007

    Imagine, if you will, a freezer full of 14-day old human-animal hybrid embryos all waiting to be destroyed. What is a right-wing Christian fundamentalist to do? Let an “innocent baby” die, or demand to adopt it (a “wintry mix” baby?) and bring it to term?

    Hmm…

  30. #31 dorid
    February 28, 2007

    Jason– am pro-choice (felt I had to lead with that, and I think you will understand where I am going with this) and I know this isn’t a thread about abortion, but am not clear at what point an embryo becomes a fetus becomes a child. At what point does life begin to have experiences. How much of a brain do you need to be “alive” How much of a body?

    You can see where for non-scientists these can seem pretty arbitrary.

    I have premature twins. What is the difference between their “humanity” at birth and what they would have had inside the womb? Now, perhaps this is a merely emotional argument, and I know it’s one used by pro-lifers and I risk sounding like one of THEM when I ask this question.

  31. #32 Colugo
    February 28, 2007

    “Essentially, the only people who oppose it are confused wackos with delusions about the ‘sanctity’ of human life who think a few cells in a dish should have more rights and privileges than an adult woman — a substantial chunk of the Republican base.”

    That statement ignores the bio-Luddite left, which I have discussed (with several links) in my comments in previous threads. Some names: Claire Nader (sister of Ralph), Jeremy Rifkin, Stuart Newman, Marcy Darnovsky …

    I understand that it is much more satisfying to go after the “godbags” than to criticize those on one’s own side of the left-right divide. Left bio-luddite circles partially overlap with left anti-euthanasia activists (those on the left – including Ralph Nader – who opposed pulling the plug on Schiavo), animal rightists, and radical greens.

    On the other side, David Barash and Richard Dawkins have discussed the salutary results of the creation of a human-chimp hybrid; namely, the living refutation of outmoded theological and philosophical essentialist notions about the divide between humans and animals. (In the case of Dawkins, it’s just an idle thought experiment, but Barash may be serious; I’m not sure.)

  32. #33 Christophe Thill
    February 28, 2007

    “No one is interested in raising a half-pig/half-man creature to adulthood.”

    Quite true. We’ve already seen all there is to see in this direction. Such creatures are not very interesting, although they’ve proven that they can have successful political careers.

  33. #34 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    Dorid,

    In most contexts, a person legally begins to exist at birth. Embryos and fetuses are not persons. In humans, an embryo is generally considered to become a fetus at about 8 weeks. Depending on what definition of “life” you are using, sperm cells, embryos, fetuses and persons are all forms of life. Experience requires some kind of brain or neural machinery. The difference in the “humanity” of your twins before and after they were born depends on how you define “humanity.” They obviously had human genes even before they were born, but they weren’t fully human in the sense of being persons until they were born.

  34. #35 SEF
    February 28, 2007

    Anyhow, although any such “manimal” may be British in having a token bowler hat or something, it’s quite likely that many of the actual workers will be foreign (either long-term immigrants or merely on the job). Thus the fictional critter could have almost any accent.

  35. #36 Neil
    February 28, 2007

    El Christador:
    If the logic behind defending sentient life poses that much of a problem for you, the simplest solution would not be to debate you, but for you to simply shoot yourself. Immediately, please.

  36. #37 coffeedryad
    February 28, 2007

    Gray Falcon and others: you might also try Cordwainer Smith, with stories like “The Dead Lady of Clown Town” and “The Ballad of Lost C’mell”.

  37. #38 Kagehi
    February 28, 2007

    I can hear the pens scratching out those screenplays now…

    Sorry, been there, done that. Dark Angel, a show about a teen girl how has a lot of “enhancements”, including some cat DNA, which gives her hyped up reflexes, hyphed up strength, etc. She escapes a government research lab for a military project to make super soldiers, along with some others, then soon after some twit sets off a EMP device, plunging the US in the a third world country status. She ends up working as a part time theif, part time delivery girl for the new version of the post office (bike deliveries) and one day tries to steal from a guy that does still have money and technology, and is using them to broadcast information about corrupt cops, gangs, slave runners, and various other nuts. Meanwhile, the now independent military organization that was the military lab also badly wants to get back its super soldiers.

    They ran most of it, except the last TV movie episode, or something, a while back on Sci-Fi. They even had, in later episodes, the lab getting destroyed and all the “failures” who where more animal than human, getting loose and taking up residence in a section of the city that was contaminated with things that would cause normal human immune systems serious problems, so no one else wanted to go there (including what amounted to the local cops).

  38. #39 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    And let’s not forget Mr Spock – half human, half vulcan, and totally cool.

  39. #40 dorid
    February 28, 2007

    I guess what I’m getting around to is why do we have seperate ethical standards for dealing with humans and other life? Maybe I’m just getting at it in a round about way. It seems to me that if we have different standards, than there must be some fundamental difference between humans and other forms of life.

    Jason wrote:

    Depending on what definition of “life” you are using, sperm cells, embryos, fetuses and persons are all forms of life. Experience requires some kind of brain or neural machinery.

    See, this is exactly where this breaks down for me. I know “learning” studies have been done with nudibranchs and other inverts. That behavior is altered by environmental changes. I would say that is experience, unless someone can give me a better definition.

    And it seems to me that I’ve also seen video of even simpler animals reacting to stimuli (and I guess plants too for that matter)

    My impression of all this is that sentience, which seems to be the agreed upon difference between man and animal, is not a cut and dried thing, but a spectrum, and where we draw lines in determining where we apply these ethical judgments seems to me to be very arbitrary.

    I would say, in the case of talking about the preborn, that they learn and have experiences in the womb, but I’m not willing to say when those experiences start, or at what point the ethical judgments we apply to born humans should apply (or not apply) in any absolute sense.

    If we are discussing whether this is a right or wrong thing to do, or whether the British government is being influenced by right wing religious zealots or some other ethical concerns, I guess I’d feel better in knowing what these judgements are based on… besides the law. If we are saying only that it’s legal (or illegal) to create these embryos for experimentaion, than having the discussion is rather pointless.

    Now, I personally don’t see anything wrong with all this, so long as the embryos are destroyed at 14 weeks. Why? Because in my unscientific and unknowledgeable opinion I don’t think that embryos that age, while undoubtedly alive and undoubtedly human, to have whatever quality it is that makes them more valuable than the purpose they serve in potentially curing serious illnesses.

    …As long as they aren’t MY embryos 😉

  40. #41 stogoe
    February 28, 2007

    Kaeghi@38:

    Dark Angel was originally on Fox in the mid 90s. And Jessica Alba is the one cat-girl who I’m remotely attracted to. At least she doesn’t have cat-ears.

  41. #42 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    My impression of all this is that sentience, which seems to be the agreed upon difference between man and animal, is not a cut and dried thing, but a spectrum, and where we draw lines in determining where we apply these ethical judgments seems to me to be very arbitrary.

    arbitrary indeed.

    actually, Jason thinks you can in fact get some ojective measure of sentience and sensation that applies to all animals, therefore they all have rights (IIRC, he cuts it off at plants though).

    the fact that this ISN’T a logical argument has failed to reach him.

    In fact, I think the reason we separate the unborn from the born, and animals from humans (when we do), is for a very simple reason:

    empathy.

    once born, an attachment is made to the baby that simply doesn’t exist in the same way prior. this is perfectly explicable from an evolutionary standpoint (read any ten papers on the evolution of parental care). Moreover, the simple reason we think killing babies abhorrent is because we empathize directly with those whose babies have been killed (IOW, the pain the death of a baby causes is readily understandable). No empathy, no immediate sense that there needs to be protection.

    It’s a natural reaction, but trying to say there is some scientific basis to it based on some arbitrary measure of “sentience” is just hogwash.

    to continue into the animal realm, many of us get emotionally attached to pets, so we can immediately empathize with someone whose pet has been killed.

    …and going outwards from there…

    baby seals are the reason why there was a strong reaction to killing fur seals; had nothing to do with conservation biology, or any attempt to apply sentience to the seals, it was displaced empathy simply because the baby seals have big eyes and look “cute” (perhaps some of you might recall the posters of baby seals that were used by the anti-fur activists – awww, those big, dark eyes and cute pug-nosed faces).

    really, that’s all it is, projections of empathy.

    that said, I see nothing inherently wrong in applying empathy (there is no reason to deny what one feels), but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it has anything to do with some directly measurable aspect of “snetience” or whatnot. that’s not and shouldn’t be the role science plays in these things, though it can be used to argue for restraint in an overly exhuberant application of emotional projection (like explaining why culling deer is necessary when they are severely overpopulated).

    as to the rest, like the laws created in Roe V Wade, these are merely pragmatisms created to balance any number of conflicting interests, which take into account biology as just one factor.

    so, getting back to the topic of the thread, it’s projected empathy that causes people to think that creating “manimal” would be “wrong”.

    …and Jessica Alba does have that “cute” thing going for her, even if her acting is abysmal. I mean, did you see “Fantastic Four”?

    ugh.

  42. #43 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    Icthyic,

    actually, Jason thinks you can in fact get some ojective measure of sentience and sensation that applies to all animals, therefore they all have rights (IIRC, he cuts it off at plants though).

    I don’t think all animals are necessarily sentient. I do think that all beings that have the capacity to suffer or to experience pleasure or happiness have interests, and therefore also have rights.

    the fact that this ISN’T a logical argument has failed to reach him.

    It’s your mispresentation of my beliefs that isn’t logical, not my argument.

  43. #44 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    Ichthyic,

    Moreover, the simple reason we think killing babies abhorrent is because we empathize directly with those whose babies have been killed

    This hypothesis is obviously false, since we think the killing of babies by their parents is abhorrent.

  44. #45 Colugo
    February 28, 2007

    “I do think that all beings that have the capacity to suffer or to experience pleasure or happiness have interests, and therefore also have rights.”

    This is an example of one those non-objective truth beliefs that cannot be wholly defended by science and rationality.

  45. #46 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    This hypothesis is obviously false, since we think the killing of babies by their parents is abhorrent.

    huh?

    duh, the bottom line there is really that we think the killing of babies abhorrent to begin with, othewise, what on earth would we care what the parents did?

    you have a genuinely bizarre way of applying logic.

  46. #47 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    Colugo,

    Yes, it’s not a claim of objective truth. I’m not a moral realist. It’s the expression of a preference, just like all other ethical claims. I don’t know what it means to “defend” a preference.

  47. #48 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    It’s your mispresentation of my beliefs that isn’t logical, not my argument

    here’s what I said:

    …sentience and sensation that applies to all animals, therefore they all have rights (IIRC, he cuts it off at plants though).

    can someone else point out where I have misinterpreted Jason’s argument?

    I rather think jason doesn’t believe this to be a fair interpretation of all the drivel he posted in the other thread.

  48. #49 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    I don’t know what it means to “defend” a preference.

    LOL. remarkable, given that that is exactly what you’ve been doing for days now.

    you have a preference for thinking that “sensation” is relevant to the issue of “rights”, and have vehemently defended that preference.

    I see… the problem is you have no ability to actually examine your own arguments.

    got it.

  49. #50 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    Ichthyic,

    the bottom line there is really that we think the killing of babies abhorrent to begin with, othewise, what on earth would we care what the parents did?

    Right. We think the killing of babies is abhorrent whatever the feelings of their parents. We think it’s abhorrent even if the parents hate their baby and kill it themselves. That’s why your hypothesis that “the simple reason we think killing babies abhorrent is because we empathize directly with those whose babies have been killed” is obviously not true.

  50. #51 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    Ichthyic,

    can someone else point out where I have misinterpreted Jason’s argument?

    No one else needs to. I’ve already pointed out where you misrepresented my beliefs. Contrary to what you said, I do not believe that all animals are necessarily sentient. I’ve never said I believe that. I’ve never said anything like it.

    you have a preference for thinking that “sensation” is relevant to the issue of “rights”, and have vehemently defended that preference.

    No, I don’t have a “preference” for thinking that. I do think it.

  51. #52 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    That’s why your hypothesis that “the simple reason we think killing babies abhorrent is because we empathize directly with those whose babies have been killed” is obviously not true.

    right, so obviously a parent killing their babies is the norm to apply in your standard?

    Moreover, how do you know that in your hypothetical case, the parents who killed their babies were not in the same pain anybody else would have been?

    Using an outlier like that is like saying we should use a schizophrenic to analyze what represents normal human behavior.

    If you argue from outliers, you will tend to miss the actual picture, don’t you think?

    oh no, wait, you don’t think.

    sorry.

    why anybody bothers debating you about anything is beyond me at this point.

    ever think you would be better off trolling some other site?

  52. #53 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    No, I don’t have a “preference” for thinking that. I do think it.

    LOL

    you’re an idiot.

    now you know why I stopped debating you in the other thread.
    you apparently have no comprehension of what you are saying most of the time.

    I’ll wait for someone who isn’t learning disabled to comment.

  53. #54 Alex Whiteside
    February 28, 2007

    It seems that the manimal specifically has a Somerset accent.

  54. #55 Colugo
    February 28, 2007

    Jason cannot give an objectively defensible, rock-solid explanation why anyone should support animal rights (outside of his own unique experiential development of animals rights beliefs), any more than some others who have appeared in these threads cannot give a convincing explanation why they believe in (or at least have a powerful yearning to accept) the divinity of Jesus.

    But I’m inclined to be charitable towards them rather than call them names or consign to the outer darkness of unreason. The same is true of Barack Obama and Professor Ken Miller, who some more judgmental than I might label “faith-heads.” I’m even inclined to be generous towards bio-Luddites left and right. Even as I disagree with all of them. (It’s not as if they’re evil; they’re not Falangists nor members of the Shining Path, for Pete’s sake.)

    Call it being respectful, having humility about one’s own beliefs, whichever you prefer.

    After all, surely all of us have unexamined or under-examined beliefs, idiosyncratic but unprovable sentiments for which we would rather blaspheme Carl Sagan or read The Fountainhead in its entirety than give up.

  55. #56 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    Colugo,

    I know you think you’re saying something significant but you’re not. No one can give an “objectively defensible, rock-solid explanation” why anyone should support ANY rights, not just animal rights. Rights are matters of ethical preference. Preferences are not claims of objective truth. That’s why your comparison of religious claims of truth with ethical preferences is specious. Scott Hatfield’s belief that “Jesus is divine” is a belief about objective truth, not a preference.

  56. #57 jiggavegas
    February 28, 2007

    No one can give an “objectively defensible, rock-solid explanation” why anyone should support ANY rights, not just animal rights

    Well, in the simplest sense, if we all don’t support each others’ rights not to be beaten or murdered, then none of us are safe from harm. So our rights to be free from bodily harm are pretty objectively defensible, no?

  57. #58 Colugo
    February 28, 2007

    Jason:

    I knew that your response would be along those lines. And, as Jebus would have me do, I forgive you.

    But you are correct that objective truth claims are – in principle, at least – a different category of belief than beliefs (or “preferences” if you prefer) about politics, ethics, and aesthetics. Or do these categories overlap?

  58. #59 Ian H Spedding FCD
    February 28, 2007

    PZ Myers wrote:

    The problem is that “human” has multiple meanings. There is the purely mechanical sense that the scientists are using — it’s derived from human tissues, it contains the human genetic sequence — and then there is the sense that the godbags use — it is an autonomous, sentient being with purpose, and to their mind, god-bestowed rights. The conflation of these two meanings is the root of some serious conflict.

    That’s right, “human” has multiple meanings, not just two.

    Yes, we are biological machines – I have no problem with that – and the more detailed our understanding of the way we work the better.

    But as one of those biological machines I have an interest in my own survival, I have an interest in being free from want and being able to live my life as I choose, for example. I also recognise that my fellow machines have similar interests so it makes sense to prevent those interests from being harmed, at least by fellow machines. We can do that by agreeing that we are entitled to have those interests protected as of right.

    And, apparently unlike some here, I didn’t pop into existence as a fully-formed “sentient” adult. To get to here I had to go through being a fertilized egg and all the stages in between. If the stages after birth are protected, why not the stages before?

    Someone kills a baby a little after birth it’s murder but kill a fetus shortly before birth and it’s not?

    Sentience? Just how much more sentient is a newborn than a late-term fetus? How do you measure it and just where do you draw the line? And if sentience is the measure, what about PVS patients? Are you free to plunder their bodies for whatever you need from them for experiments?

    You can’t just sidestep all these ethical problems by filing them away in a little drawer marked “Religious nonsense”. I am a “whimp” – sorry “Chamberlainite” – sorry, agnostic, but I also believe the unborn should have the right to life.

  59. #60 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    Well, in the simplest sense, if we all don’t support each others’ rights not to be beaten or murdered, then none of us are safe from harm. So our rights to be free from bodily harm are pretty objectively defensible, no?

    Not at all. Some shared notion of rights may be necessary for us to survive and function effectively as a community, but if so that’s just an empirical fact, not a moral one. It doesn’t demonstrate as objectively true that we ought to survive and function as a community. Indeed, there may be other beings who think we should not–the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica, to pick a fictional example. How would you show that it is objectively true that the Cylons are wrong?

  60. #61 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    Colugo,

    What overlap do you see between preference and truth? A propostion such as “I prefer chocolate to vanilla” has a truth value (it’s true if you really do prefer chocolate, and false otherwise), but the preference itself is neither true nor false.

  61. #62 Colugo
    February 28, 2007

    Abortion, animal rights, chimeras, Moreau-style manimals, euthanasia … we’re on our own. Science can’t decide these for us.

    Hell, science can’t even divine whether or not there is a God. (Maybe for some God is little more than an aesthetic preference anyway.)

  62. #63 gotaku
    February 28, 2007

    I got a question for everybody.

    Who deserves more rights under the law and why, a severely mentally disabled child or a chimpanzee?

    Think about your answer.

  63. #64 Colugo
    February 28, 2007

    That’s easy: a severely mentally disabled child.

  64. #65 gotaku
    February 28, 2007

    I also asked for you to tell me why you think that.

  65. #66 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    Colugo,

    Hell, science can’t even divine whether or not there is a God.

    We’re back to this silliness, are we? Yes, science cannot prove or disprove the existence of an entity that is defined in such a way as to be beyond the power of science to prove or disprove. Why you think this trivial observation is relevant to the merits of religious claims of truth or religious belief I have no idea.

  66. #67 Colugo
    February 28, 2007

    “I also asked for you to tell me why you think that.”

    Like I said, it’s easy. Self-evidently so. A child is a human being – biologically, legally, morally. Can I justify it with hifalutin philosophical propositions? Not really. But that doesn’t bother me.

  67. #68 Jason
    February 28, 2007

    Colugo,

    Abortion, animal rights, chimeras, Moreau-style manimals, euthanasia … we’re on our own. Science can’t decide these for us.

    Yet another nonsequitur. The question here isn’t whether science can tell us everything there is to know (perhaps it can’t), but whether religion can tell us anything at all. I say it cannot. Science and reason produce knowledge. Faith and revelation produce only beliefs. Many of those beliefs are demonstrably false, or demonstrably harmful, or both, and all of them are unjustified.

  68. #69 abeja
    February 28, 2007

    Ian H Spedding FCD,

    You wrote: You can’t just sidestep all these ethical problems by filing them away in a little drawer marked “Religious nonsense”. I am a “whimp” – sorry “Chamberlainite” – sorry, agnostic, but I also believe the unborn should have the right to life.

    There’s one thing you’re forgetting–a huge difference between a late-term fetus and a newborn is that the fetus is inside it’s mother’s body. This would probably be a no-brainer for many (most?) people if a fetus was growing in an inaminate container somewhere, but it’s not. I’ve argued the abortion issue so many times now that I’m pretty sick of it, but at least the people I argue with are arguing the point of whether the mother’s choice overrides the interests of the fetus. You’re not even arguing that. Your comment conveniently leaves out all mention of the fact that the fetus is inside it’s mother. So you’re making this an issue only about when life begins,
    how do we measure it, etc. And you say pro-lifers are sidestepping ethical issues. We certainly are not–most of us consider abortion to be a very serious issue, and we have weighed the ethics of the issue carefully. We weigh the interests of the mother against the interests of the fetus. If anything, it’s the anti-choice people who don’t take ethics into consideration (at least some of them). They just decide that abortion is murder and they don’t even consider the mother’s interests.

    Abortion isn’t just an issue of whether a fetus is a human yet. Debating the ethics of abortion isn’t the same as debating the ethics of killing a newborn. You can’t simply ignore the fact that the fetus is inside the mother. If you’ve considered the mother’s interests carefully and still come to the conclusion that abortion is wrong, then that’s your choice (gee, nice to have a choice, isn’t it?), but from the way your comment sounded, you didn’t even consider the mother.

  69. #70 gotaku
    February 28, 2007

    Colugo, it was also self-evident that black people were inferior to whites.

    Would you like to try again?

  70. #71 Azkyroth
    February 28, 2007

    I’ll wait for someone who isn’t learning disabled to comment.

    This sort of blithely callous commentary does very little to establish you as a credible anything, and that would be true even if 2/3 of my nuclear family didn’t have some form of learning disability. I’ll chalk it up to ignorance, I guess.

  71. #72 Azkyroth
    February 28, 2007

    Abeja:

    Back up a little. Mr. Spedding hasn’t yet made it clear whether he falls into the “mother? What mother? We’re talking about a BABY here” camp of anti-abortionists, rather than the “women are livestock. Says so in the [insert holy book here]” camp. (Yes, I do think contempt is appropriate for people whose philosophical positions blithely disregard the rights and interests of a sentient, thinking, autonomous person [Lawrence Fishburn impression]in order to turn a human being into this[/LFI].)

    Gotaku:

    When it comes to quote-mining, a round of prevention is equal to a whole magazine of cure. Where are you going with this question?

  72. #73 gotaku
    February 28, 2007

    Azkyroth: Quote mining? What are you talking about?

    As for where I’m going with the question, I would like someone to think about it rationally and not just claim that it’s self-evident, end of discussion.

    The reason I like asking this question is that it makes a lot of self proclaimed secular and rational people give the same sort of irrational answer that religious people are known for.

  73. #74 Azkyroth
    February 28, 2007

    Pattern recognition error, then. I’ll hold off on an answer, though.

  74. #75 abeja
    February 28, 2007

    Azkyroth,

    I thought I was clear in stating that I wasn’t sure which camp Mr. Spedding fell into, but I see that my last sentence leaves my clarity up to debate. So, to be clear: I don’t know which camp of pro-lifers Mr. Spedding falls into. However, I still hold to my opinion that any argument about the ethics of abortion must take into consideration the interests of the mother. Mr. Spedding failed to mention the interests of the mother in his comment. His argument stems from the assertation that there isn’t much more sentience in a newborn than a late-term fetus. But there’s more to the issue than sentience, and that’s what I was pointing out.

  75. #76 dorid
    March 1, 2007

    OK, Gotagu, I’ll bite on that, because it’s kinda what I am trying to get at when you wrote:

    I got a question for everybody.

    Who deserves more rights under the law and why, a severely mentally disabled child or a chimpanzee?

    Think about your answer.

    I’d say the severely mentally disabled child. Why? Because I have one. I have a, to use someone elses word, preference… and a personal stake in this. BUT I know that is a purely personal emotional response, and I don’t think it has any rational supporting basis.

    I’d say that we aren’t different from animals except perhaps in the complexity of our behaviors as a species, and of course INDIVIDUALLY we can’t even say that.

    The one benefit we as humans have are that we MAKE the laws, and have the ability, if not the right, to limit the rights of others, human and non-human.

    Someone mentioned self interest earlier…

    Well, in the simplest sense, if we all don’t support each others’ rights not to be beaten or murdered, then none of us are safe from harm

    we CHOOSE who we kill, in wars, by failing to provide medical treatment, and in many other ways. We seem to only adhere to the interests of society when we believe that it is in our individual best interests. I again don’t know if it’s defensible, but I can personally live with that, even while continuing to question it.

  76. #77 Sustainable Sean
    March 1, 2007

    So, has anybody on here read “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn. He brings up the issue that humans are now able to ‘play god’ (that would be ‘god’ in a general sense, not necessarily the Judeo-Christian or any other definded ‘God’) since we – through medicine and other technological advances – have the ability to decide who lives and why dies as opposed to nature in which other factors determine which animal lives and which animals die. Another message is that we should be messing too much with nature. Now, I have a degree in Psychology (Behavioral Ecology) and Environmental Studies (Conservation Biology) so totally understand and respect that we can do some of these things, but there really does have to come a point when we have to decide…SHOULD we do these things? Even if they do benefit humans in some way? And if we (say Union of Concerned Scientists for example) decide not to, who’s to stop other scientists from doing it? I tend to be from the Jane Goodall (read reason for hope when/if you get a chance) group of scientists who may not identify with a paricular religion, but do have some spiritual bones in our body (I personally seem to find myself connecting with Native American thoughts and philosophies on spirituality alot these days). So what I’m saying is, can’t really tell you why, but I do have some issues with us starting to screw with DNA too much. I’m kind of torn I guess. Same with some of the nanotechnology too. Really cool and valuable developments happening, but are we starting to mess with stuff that we shouldn’t?

  77. #78 Russell Blackford
    March 1, 2007

    Recommended reading for all concerned: Peter Singer’s provocatively titled Unsanctifying Human Nature.

    Singer is on the money, as he often is.

  78. #79 Russell Blackford
    March 1, 2007

    By the way, I was sure that this was going to be another thread about Richard Dawkins – it was what first came to mind when I read the words “British accent”. Maybe I’ve been watching too many videos relating to Dawkins of late.

  79. #80 Azkyroth
    March 1, 2007

    Sean: How do you define “too much” and why do you draw the line there?

    Arguing that genetic experimentation and nanotechnological experimentation should be undertaken with caution, stringent oversight, and strict accountability is an intelligent position. Arguing that there is an arbitrary point at which science has gone “too far” really isn’t. It’s not clear to me that this argument (other than the lack of direct religious framing) is too different from the “screwing too much with the weather” criticisms leveled at lightning rods.

  80. #81 dorid
    March 1, 2007

    “The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking…the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.”

    ~Albert Einstein

  81. #82 iain
    March 1, 2007

    Just in case anyone is still interested in the original topic, the new proposals from the UK govt are laid out here:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article1454609.ece

  82. #83 Ranger Jay
    March 1, 2007
  83. #84 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 2, 2007

    Let me just clarify my position since there seems to be some confusion.

    I see rights as entitlements we agree to grant each other which are intended to protect our common interests in such things as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. In other words, they apply to individual human beings.

    Pretty obviously, the most basic of these is the right to life since without that the others are a bit pointless. Given that, it seems reasonable that the right to life should apply to the whole of an individual’s life, not just part of it. So where can we say that the individual’s life begin?

    As has been pointed out before, from a gene’s perspective – assuming they ever had a perspective – individual human beings could be seen simply as temporary vehicles which convey them down the centuries. I get the impression that there are some humans who have a similarly lofty perspective.

    Speaking as one of those individual ‘vehicles’, however, I take a different view. Frankly, I really couldn’t give a toss what happens to my genes because, as far as I’m concerned, there won’t be anything to worry about nor anyone to do the worrying after I’m gone . What happens in whatever lifespan I am lucky enough to have is what’s important.

    My life, like that of everyone else here, is unique. Chopping it off at any point without good reason is just wrong and I don’t give a damn whether I’m “sentient” enough to be aware of the chopping at the time.

    So where did I begin AS AN INDIVIDUAL? I began where and when my parental gene lines merged to initiate the process that formed me, when the egg from my mother and the sperm from my father fuzed. Left to themselves, eggs and sperm alone don’t form anything. The fact that a lot of conceptions fail is also neither here nor there.

    If there had been a merger of parental egg and sperm on another day it might have formed another individual but it wouldn’t have been me. Like every other human being on this planet, I am an utterly unique object and event in space and time. And that’s important to me if to no one else.

    Let me hammer this home again: rights apply to individuals on the basis of common interest. If I have a right to survive and develop, then so do you all and so do all your children – born or unborn.

    And to take up the question of the mother’s rights in the case of abortion, yes of course she has the same right to life as the child she carries and, as an adult human being, she has additional rights too. The problem only arises where there is a direct conflict between those rights. What the mother does not have the right to do, any more than the rest of us, is to kill just because it would be more convenient or relieve her of a lot of discomfort.

    We acknowledge that the right to life is not absolute but the exceptions are strictly and narrowly defined. Killing to defend oneself or another where there is no reasonable alternative is allowed but not much else.

    I have no problem with abortion on medical grounds based on the lesser-of-two-evils argument. Just how much of a threat to the mother’s life and health there has to be to justify abortion is a grey area which is best judged medically on the circumstances of each particular case.

    What I have no time for is this nonsense which treats a fetus as no more than an appendage of – or cancerous growth in – the mother’s body. An unborn child, either conceptually or morally, is most certainly not equivalent to a limb or a disease.

    I’m not trying to minimise the problems or the suffering women have to put up with when carrying a child – they’ve been described to me quite graphically before – but the fact is pregnancy is not a disorder but a natural function of the woman’s body. I entirely agree that in this area of reproduction women get the short end of the stick – so to speak – but the Universe is not a fair place.

    Given that, as a society, we have a duty to make pregnancy as safe and as bearable for the mother as we possibly can and ensure that the child is properly cared and provided for after birth.

    And if a woman doesn’t want have children, that’s fine. That’s her choice. There are plenty of ways available now to prevent that happening.

    But if for some reason she does become pregnant then I’m afraid, like it or not, that new life she carries has a right to survive too.

  84. #85 windy
    March 2, 2007

    I see rights as entitlements we agree to grant each other which are intended to protect our common interests in such things as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. In other words, they apply to individual human beings.

    You completely ignore the “human being” part in the rest of your sermon. A fertilized egg is not a human being, for example. Drawing the relevant line is not as easy as you would want it to be.

    If there had been a merger of parental egg and sperm on another day it might have formed another individual but it wouldn’t have been me. Like every other human being on this planet, I am an utterly unique object and event in space and time. And that’s important to me if to no one else.

    *tiny violins*

  85. #86 windy
    March 2, 2007

    And, Ian, how do you feel about the excess embryos created for fertility treatments? Are they unique human beings?

  86. #87 David Marjanovi?
    March 2, 2007

    So where did I begin AS AN INDIVIDUAL? I began where and when my parental gene lines merged to initiate the process that formed me, when the egg from my mother and the sperm from my father fuzed.

    I’d say a bit later. There is no telling how many individuals even a blastula can become — it can easily grow into identical twins. At that age mammalian individuals can split and merge.

  87. #88 David Marjanovi?
    March 2, 2007

    So where did I begin AS AN INDIVIDUAL? I began where and when my parental gene lines merged to initiate the process that formed me, when the egg from my mother and the sperm from my father fuzed.

    I’d say a bit later. There is no telling how many individuals even a blastula can become — it can easily grow into identical twins. At that age mammalian individuals can split and merge.

  88. #89 BennyP
    March 2, 2007

    No one is interested in bringing a Man/pig to adulthood…?!

    You need to read up on the wacko theories, dude. Many Americans are convinced that our government has been making pig-men for years….

  89. #90 PZ Myers
    March 2, 2007

    Wait…so this must explain Karl Rove!

  90. #91 Jason
    March 2, 2007

    Ian H Spedding FCD,

    The term “human being” is generally used as a synonym for “person.” Although I agree that there is a technical, scientific sense in which embryos and fetuses qualify as “human beings” (they are “beings” in that they are living organisms, and “human” in that they have a human genome), I do not believe that they are persons. The reason I don’t consider them to be persons is that they do not possess the characteristics I consider necessary for personhood, such as the capacity to think and feel. That doesn’t mean I think fetuses have no rights at all, just that I don’t believe they have the rights of a person.

    I also reject your claim that abortion is an act of “killing,” at least in anything like the sense that a woman drowning her baby is an act of killing. In the state of pregnancy, the pregnant woman’s body acts as a physical life support system for a developing embryo or fetus. Abortion represents the removal of this physical life support system, and as such is more comparable to the refusal to provide a life-sustaining donation of blood or tissue than to the act of killing a born human being. This idea was developed further by the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson in her famous unconscious violinist analogy.

  91. #92 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 3, 2007

    windy wrote:

    You completely ignore the “human being” part in the rest of your sermon. A fertilized egg is not a human being, for example.

    Sure it is, it’s just not fully developed. That doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t entitled to the right to life, though.

  92. #93 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 3, 2007

    windy wrote:

    And, Ian, how do you feel about the excess embryos created for fertility treatments? Are they unique human beings?

    I don’t see any way around that, I’m afraid.

  93. #94 windy
    March 3, 2007

    Then to be consistent, you need to call it murder if someone takes an emergency contraceptive that works by preventing an egg from implanting. (If it works by preventing ovulation, everything is fine.) Pharmaceutical companies should be charged with accessory to murder.

    Getting rid of excess embryos at fertility clinics is also murder. You should call for IVF to be forbidden altogether. (And the classic question: if there’s a fire at a fertility clinic, will you rescue a freezer full of embryos instead of a two-year-old child?)

  94. #95 Azkyroth
    March 4, 2007

    I’m not trying to minimise the problems or the suffering women have to put up with when carrying a child

    1) *carrying a pregnancy
    2) how is arguing that they don’t matter not minimizing?

    they’ve been described to me quite graphically before – but the fact is pregnancy is not a disorder but a natural function of the woman’s body.

    Is this phrased poorly or is it an actual endorsement of the view that a woman’s “purpose” is to bear children?

    Incidentally, it being a “natural function” neither makes it desirable nor is relevant to the moral issue. I would suggest you review the concept of “naturalistic fallacy”, used broadly as described in the intro of the article.

    I entirely agree that in this area of reproduction women get the short end of the stick – so to speak – but the Universe is not a fair place.

    The universe is not fair. This is true. What’s your point?

    Murders happen. Does this mean it would be ok for me to shoot you? (Speaking as the father of a beautiful little girl who you would apparently be quite willing to force to carry a pregnancy against her will, with a sizable number of adult female friends, that’s a transiently appealing notion). Somehow, I don’t think you would like this idea very much.

    The fact that a condition exists does not make it right. The fact that things could be worse does not excuse them not being better. The fact that injustice exists in a general sense does not excuse acts of injustice on the part of any individual.

    Your statements strongly suggest that you would indeed support essentially enslaving women (being forced to carry a pregnancy against her will is a de facto instance of “deprived of their personal freedom and compelled to provide their labour or services”). You claim that you are “not trying to minimise the problems or the suffering women have to put up with when carrying a child” yet it is obvious that you consider both the suffering involved–the physical discomfort, social stigma, possible employment difficulties, potentially fatal medical complications (you yourself admit that you would not necessarily permit abortion in some cases where the mother’s health was in danger, describing it as a grey area), and mental anguish that come with carrying an unwanted pregnancy–and the violation of the woman’s individual rights to be irrelevant. You also completely ignore what will happen to the mother and child both after the child is born. While I’ve never liked this particular line of criticism, I am quite certain you would not hold this position if you had any chance of becoming pregnant yourself…

  95. #96 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 5, 2007

    Jason wrote:

    The term “human being” is generally used as a synonym for “person.” Although I agree that there is a technical, scientific sense in which embryos and fetuses qualify as “human beings” (they are “beings” in that they are living organisms, and “human” in that they have a human genome), I do not believe that they are persons. The reason I don’t consider them to be persons is that they do not possess the characteristics I consider necessary for personhood, such as the capacity to think and feel. That doesn’t mean I think fetuses have no rights at all, just that I don’t believe they have the rights of a person.

    “Personhood” is too poorly-defined to be useful as a measure of worthiness of entitlement to rights. In common usage it seems to carry connotations of having developed a suite of distinguishing attributes which are characteristic of a developed human personality. But that raises the inevitable question of at what point is the personality sufficiently developed to be granted rights.

    I agree, though, that fetuses are not necessarily entitled to all the rights of an adult human if for no other reason than that a lot of them, such as the right to free expression, are simply irrelevant at that stage of development.

    I also reject your claim that abortion is an act of “killing,” at least in anything like the sense that a woman drowning her baby is an act of killing. In the state of pregnancy, the pregnant woman’s body acts as a physical life support system for a developing embryo or fetus. Abortion represents the removal of this physical life support system, and as such is more comparable to the refusal to provide a life-sustaining donation of blood or tissue than to the act of killing a born human being. This idea was developed further by the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson in her famous unconscious violinist analogy.

    Air is part of your and my life support system. Depriving us of it would kill us just as surely as the fetus is killed by being removed from the mother’s support system. In both cases, those who were alive before the act are dead after it and you can reasonably describe them as being killed. In what context it might qualify as murder depends on the actions of the people responsible for the killing and their intentions.

    It seems to me that this sensitivity about referring to abortion as “killing” is an indirect admission that you are also concerned about the morality of the procedure.

    Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “Unconscious Violinist” tale is a nice little analogy as far as it goes but it is clearly weighted to support the case she is making. For example, we are asked to consider the plight of the victim forced to act as “life support” for the unconscious violinist but not the thoughts and feelings of the violinist or his or her family and friends. Do they count for nothing in balancing out the various ethical and moral demands? Since Thomson is prepared to vary the conditions of her scenario to make a stronger emotional appeal – such as imagining if the “life support” would be a lifelong requirement – there is nothing to prevent us doing the same to make a quite different point. Suppose, for example, the victim had volunteered to act as “life support” because he or she was in love with the violinist or hoped by this unselfish act to win the love of another? Not all pregnancies are the result of accidents or rape.

  96. #97 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 5, 2007

    windy wrote:

    Then to be consistent, you need to call it murder if someone takes an emergency contraceptive that works by preventing an egg from implanting.

    You can’t murder someone who does not yet exist. If individual existence only begins after fertilization then preventing it does not constitute murder because there is no victim.

    (And the classic question: if there’s a fire at a fertility clinic, will you rescue a freezer full of embryos instead of a two-year-old child?)

    That’s not a problem. You save the 2-year-old on the lesser-of-two-evils grounds. The loss of the embryos causes less grief, pain and suffering to all concerned than would the loss of the child.

  97. #98 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 5, 2007

    Azkyroth wrote:

    2) how is arguing that they don’t matter not minimizing?

    I wasn’t arguing that they don’t matter, only that such considerations are not necessarily sufficient to override the fetus’s right to life.

    Is this phrased poorly or is it an actual endorsement of the view that a woman’s “purpose” is to bear children?

    I think both of us know that “purpose” does not come into evolution. The fact is the female human body has evolved the function of carrying and supporting a human child during the first nine months of its development. Designed or not, rightly or wrongly, that’s the way it is.

    Incidentally, it being a “natural function” neither makes it desirable nor is relevant to the moral issue. I would suggest you review the concept of “naturalistic fallacy”, used broadly as described in the intro of the article.

    I’m well aware of the naturalistic fallacy but my argument against abortion doesn’t depend on any notions about motherhood being somehow innately right or good because that’s the way it is, only on the claim that the unborn should be entitled to the same right to life as those that have been born.

    The universe is not fair. This is true. What’s your point?

    Pro-abortionists sometimes point to the fact that it’s women not men who have to suffer pregnancy almost as evidence that women are being oppressed by the natural order of things as well as the opposite sex.

    Murders happen. Does this mean it would be ok for me to shoot you? (Speaking as the father of a beautiful little girl who you would apparently be quite willing to force to carry a pregnancy against her will, with a sizable number of adult female friends, that’s a transiently appealing notion). Somehow, I don’t think you would like this idea very much.

    I’m no more in favour of forcing “a beautiful little girl” to “carry a pregnancy against her will” than you are. But that’s not what we’re talking about.

    We’re talking about adult women and whether or not they are entitled to have the fetus they are carrying killed for any reason other than protecting their own lives.

    But if you want blatant appeals to sentiment, consider what a fetus might say, if it were able, about the notion that it was so unwanted and worthless that it was considered just a cancerous growth or appendage to be cut out and tossed in the waste bin as soon as the mother decided she’d had enough of being pregnant.

    Your statements strongly suggest that you would indeed support essentially enslaving women (being forced to carry a pregnancy against her will is a de facto instance of “deprived of their personal freedom and compelled to provide their labour or services”).

    If a woman is “enslaved” by being denied the right to kill for any reason other than protecting her own life then we are all so “enslaved”, although personally I don’t feel oppressed by the fact that others are prohibited by law from killing me and I am similarly prohibited from killing anyone else.

    You claim that you are “not trying to minimise the problems or the suffering women have to put up with when carrying a child” yet it is obvious that you consider both the suffering involved–the physical discomfort, social stigma, possible employment difficulties, potentially fatal medical complications (you yourself admit that you would not necessarily permit abortion in some cases where the mother’s health was in danger, describing it as a grey area), and mental anguish that come with carrying an unwanted pregnancy–and the violation of the woman’s individual rights to be irrelevant.

    As I’ve said before, neither the problems of pregnancy nor the rights of the woman are irrelevant but neither are they necessarily sufficient to overwhelm all other considerations, in particular the right to life of the unborn.

  98. #99 minikperi
    October 17, 2007

    -The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking…the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker. A. Einstein-

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