Pharyngula

The only thing you need to read today: the first hand account of an doctor, explaining why he does abortions: it’s because someone has to give those oppressed by circumstance a choice.

By 1967 I was a third year medical student, still with no visible means of support, and we were pregnant with our third child. It was the spring of that year and I was ending my rotation in the Ob-Gyn Service clinic. I was assigned a 40 plus year old, poverty stricken mother of several children. I think she was unmarried but I am not sure of that now. This care worn mother-of-several had a large abdominal mass that I rapidly determined to be a well advanced pregnancy. I asked my resident to come and break the news to this woman; it was very obvious to me that she was not going to be happy about the news of another pregnancy. When told that she – already unable to adequately feed and clothe her family – was again pregnant, she looked up at me and the resident. There we stood, two white males, well clothed, well feed young men with superior educations. We were, in her eyes, stunningly blessed and obviously going places in the world. She began to weep silently. She must have assumed, for good reason, that there was no way that we would understand her problems; she knew also that there was nothing that we could or would do to relieve her lacerating misery.

“Oh God, doctor,” she said quietly, “I was hoping it was cancer.”

It’s powerful stuff. Remember, the people who want to end abortion aren’t really pro-life—they are out to control women, nothing more.

Comments

  1. #1 chris rattis
    June 3, 2007

    “Remember, the people who want to end abortion aren’t really pro-life–they are out to control women, nothing more.”

    Powerfully said.I wish more people would realize that.

    Ever notice that (at least from my experience) the pro-lifers are also the pro-war chicken-hawks?

  2. #2 abeja
    June 3, 2007

    Ever notice that (at least from my experience) the pro-lifers are also the pro-war chicken-hawks?

    Yep. Also, all the “pro-lifers” I know are also strongly pro-death penalty.

  3. #3 Russell
    June 3, 2007

    PZ Myers says:

    Remember, the people who want to end abortion aren’t really pro-life–they are out to control women, nothing more.

    My own suspicion is that many of them really have bitten off on the whole notion that abortion is a sin. And sin is a very important concept to many believers. You’re trying to understand the opposition from a rational viewpoint, a viewpoint where such religious notions are as foreign as haruspexy or breathing the vapors at Delphi. But people really do believe such things, and take them very seriously.

    Of course, one can lift the criticism from the believer to the system of belief, and say that one function of religion, and one way it propagates itself, is to control women. That leads to a somewhat different discussion.

  4. #4 Mark Plus
    June 3, 2007

    Women pose a problem for the theistic world view. On the one hand theists tend to argue that their god “creates life,” and that life can’t come from any other source. Yet on the other hand we have the biological fact that we won’t get any more human life unless humans continue to copulate, and the women bear the babies. Women, in other words, do the heavy lifting for their god and carry out the proximate task of “creating life.” It makes theists anxious when women try to exert some control over that role because it shows that they have veto power over their god. Or worse, that their god never had anything to do with “creating life” in the first place.

  5. #5 daniel
    June 3, 2007

    I disagree with PZ on this one. First of all, many of the pro-lifers I know are women. So they probably don’t have the subjugation of women as their true motivations. Instead, I think it much more likely that they (and most pro-lifers) really do believe that the sanctity of human life extends to embryos/fetuses/whatever.

    I don’t think anyone here would put it beyond the influence of religion, or even personal nonreligious beliefs, to extend this sanctity of human life to human fetuses or embryos.

  6. #6 Eamon Knight
    June 3, 2007

    Ever notice that (at least from my experience) the pro-lifers are also the pro-war chicken-hawks?

    Yep. Also, all the “pro-lifers” I know are also strongly pro-death penalty.

    Granted, one exception does not make a pattern, but the one pro-lifer I know well is (I’m pretty sure) anti-Iraq war, definitely anti-Bush, and I think anti-death penalty. Not surprisingly, she’s Catholic rather than Evangelical. For a while there was, originating largely from Catholic sources, a position called “consistent pro-life” or “seamless garment”, which was anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia, but also anti-death penalty and generally pacifist. Feel free to disagree with whichever parts of that you like, but at least they had an honest consistency to their views.

  7. #7 RamblinDude
    June 3, 2007

    Without the interference of religion this wouldn’t be such a controversial subject. Abortion would just be sad, not sinful.

    Interesting that men and women with slave mentalities, (i.e. want to be controlled by some God, or set of beliefs) also want to enslave-control others. That little bit of perverse symmetry is amazingly predictable.

  8. #8 Russell
    June 3, 2007

    Daniel, I find most of the rhetoric that equates an embryo with a person is quite dishonest. There is a philosophic gedanken that serves quite well to demonstrate this. Ask the person so arguing to imagine himself or herself in a fertility clinic, that has caught fire. With them is a tray containing a thousand embryos, ready for implantation, and also a child whose legs are in casts from a recent auto accident. They can save one or the other. Who do they save?

    Someone who believes embryos are people has to save the embryos. In an emergency situation, one doesn’t let a 1,000 people die to save 1. But I’ve yet to meet anyone who says that that is what they would do. And in their excuses why not, one will find their dishonesty.

    They believe an embryo is a person in the same way that they believe the communion wine transforms into the blood of Jesus, or the same way they believe the free market is optimal. It is an article of faith, a recitation from the catechism. They repeat the belief, but they haven’t really thought through what it would mean.

    Yet another aspect of this is that if the zygote from conception is a person, then natural failure to implant is the single largest cause of human death. Nature is not a great respecter of zygotes. Where are the medical foundations to research this and prevent it? Given the number of people who claim to believe this, and who otherwise support all sorts of medical foundations targeting diseases from the common, such as heart disease and cancer, to the uncommon, such as multiple sclerosis, why is there no Foundation to Prevent Failure to Implant? The answer, of course, is the same as above. The notion that the zygote is a person is an article of faith, and as an article of faith, it doesn’t have to be treated the same as other beliefs, beliefs that are more factually based.

  9. #9 SoE
    June 3, 2007

    That’s what makes it so cynical. Not only do those people deny the right to control your own life, most of them are also against-life when it comes to criminals (never mind a few innocent get hanged, too) and don’t mind to kill nurses and janitors in an abortion clinic. Wouldn’t wonder if most of them regularly use herbicides and pesticides and all kind of stuff to keep their house and garden bug-free. So pro-life. Rly….

    Oh, and if you believe in sanctity then please note that the bible says God created all creatures on earth. He sure had a place in mind for flies and that was not get killed by humans all the time, I’ld guess.

  10. #10 Aloysius Horn
    June 3, 2007

    “Remember, the people who want to end abortion aren’t really pro-life–they are out to control women, nothing more.”

    Sorry, but it was NOT powerfully said. For it to have been you would have had to have provided some evidence to support this standard feminist claim which may or may not have a basis in truth…in other words abide by the standards of argumentation you expect from others. I don’t like the “Remember…” rhetorical device which evades making a case for an assertion by implying that “we all know such and such…” I expect better of you, PZ.

    I am adamantly pro-choice and think anti-abortionists are totally misguided. For most of them, I think their position derives from their God delusion and adherence to the teachings of religious authorities. There is lots of patriarchal dogma and practice in those creeds. However, I am not convinced that at bottom the motivation is control of women. Some men and women (some of whom would share most feminist goals) really believe that an eternal soul sent from God enters a fertilized egg and it is equivalent to murder to terminate a pregnancy at any stage. They don’t oppose abortion because it gives women too much liberty, they oppose it because they think their salvaltion is at stake if they don’t. The church that teaches them this benefits more by the swelling of its numbers that results from this dogma than it does by “women control.” The RC and conservative evangelical churches are patriarchal institutions with archaic world views, but to say that it boils down to oppression of women and nothing more, as you do, is glib.

    Some people see the Virgin Mary in pizza dough, others see misogyny or racism in every position they disagree with. Doesn’t mean it’s there.

    As with every view I hold, I can be brought around to a different one upon presentation of sufficient good evidence.

  11. #11 plunge
    June 3, 2007

    “Remember, the people who want to end abortion aren’t really pro-life–they are out to control women, nothing more.”

    This is just plain lazy thinking about your opponents, that isn’t going to do you much good in confronting them. While I’m sure it could be true of some people on the pro-life side, the reality is that most of them really DO have the fetus-rights issue closest to heart. These arguments they have are generally lousy… but we still have to primarily contend with those arguments instead of lazily asserting that our opponents are all misogynists.

  12. #12 LeeLeeOne
    June 3, 2007

    Thank you Russell! Excellent. Have never heard the example about saving a 1000 embryos ready for transplant versus an already established fully developed human child. I will have to remember this example the next time a pro-life person attempts to sway my opinion about “servitude of women” and stem cell debates.

    On my own “rant”, people wishing to keep our constitutional amendments as they stand, are “pro-CHOICE” not pro-abortion. There is a huge difference. I cannot imagine the suffering of a woman who would wish herself to be full of cancer versus that of yet another pregnancy. It tears my heart apart to think of the loss of control over one’s own body, a woman’s right to THEIR choice.

    I have found more than once that you get a “pro-life” person, who is anti-abortion, would be willing to go to near extremes to get their point across. Yet, when a pregnancy culminates in the birth of a child, these very same people run for the hills to avoid assisting this child to assure it gets the best possible chance in life – good health, good food, a good education. Unfortunately also a lot of these people are anti-contraception at the same time! WTF? OK, they do not want a woman who has an zygote developing in their uterus from stopping the development, but in the same breath, they don’t want to assist in keeping the zygote from being conceived in the first place, and then as an end result when a human child is born, they don’t want to help out. Keep a woman without rights, ignorant, and poor. Hmmm, sounds like slave status or servitude to me.

  13. #13 PZ Myers
    June 3, 2007

    Nah, it isn’t lazy, and if you think the women on the anti-choice side are doing it all out of love for widdle babies rather than because they want punish the little sluts who are getting knocked up, you really need to talk to more of them. The conscientious ones who really care about what’s best for people are on the pro-choice side — don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a debate between people who want what’s best for children and those who dislike children, because that isn’t the issue at all.

    The abortion debate is entirely about regulating and constraining sexual mores.

  14. #14 Tony P
    June 3, 2007

    So true. It’s all about control and nothing more. You never see anti-abortionists floating proposals on how to feed, clothe and care for unwanted children. But they sure as hell want to get in your bedroom.

    Same with MADD. They’re trying to push the limit to .05 which in essence is a glass of wine or a beer. They’re not so much for the children anymore, they’re the new prohibitionists.

    And don’t get me started on ONDCP.

  15. #15 Caledonian
    June 3, 2007

    or the same way they believe the free market is optimal.

    The free market is efficient, and generally converges on particular strategies. On a biology blog, I’d expect people to recognize the power of evolutionary algorithms to work through search spaces.

  16. #16 The Exterminator
    June 3, 2007

    I agree with PZ in comment #13 above. The anti-abortion furies get some punitive kick out of making women carry their fetuses to term as god’s punishment for indiscretion or poor planning. It’s that “original sin” thing.

    About a month ago, some of us in the blogosphere decided to use a more truthful new phrase to replace “pro-life”: “pro-forced-maternity.” I think it’s far more descriptive of the mindset coming from that side of the religio-political spectrum. There’s no reason why we should continue to use their loaded hyphenate, even if we put quotation marks around it. Let’s just drop that term altogether, shall we?

  17. #17 Captain Howdy
    June 3, 2007

    PZ & crew:

    It’s too bad this can’t be an issue that only women can vote on.

  18. #18 mena
    June 3, 2007

    One of the biggest hypocracies that I see with the pro-life people is the whole “Does the fetus feel pain” argument. These people, at least in the US, will consistently have their sons circumsized without anaesthesia because they don’t think that he could feel the pain. Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot…
    As for women, I think that we are still our own worst enemies on the equality front. We tend to be more judgmental of how other women look and what they wear. I really hate working with women because I go to do my job and have no interest in gossiping or socializing. Issues tend not to be left at home either and it’s fairly annoying to have work delayed because they need to tell everyone about their kids or husbands. BTW, the other day I was flipping channels and two women on Fox were talking about Rosie vs. Elizabeth (I have no idea who Elizabeth is and can’t even begin to care) and they had to go into detail about how they agree with Elizabeth most of the time (I didn’t know who the anchors were either and had no idea why I should care about either of their opinions) and gave the most gossipy account of the aftermath of some argument they had. Then they started going on about Alicia Silverstone and how she’s a has been, etc. There are people like that in every company, I wondered if they found those two doing nothing but gossiping all day and thought that as long as they were paying them they might as well get some on air content out of them. I sometimes think that I’m too cynical… ;^)

  19. #19 Sarah
    June 3, 2007

    PZ is correct. I speak from experience. I was involved in the “pro-life” movement for six years – and I’m a female. These people don’t care about fetuses. They care about constructing their morals onto other people in any way possible.

    Hell, I even joined a progressive pro-life group – the owner said his ONLY goal was to get people to convert to Christianity through “pro-life” activism.

  20. #20 Umax
    June 3, 2007

    Caledonian. The free market is not optimal in the case of a market failure. Think just a tiny little bit, and you’ll realize there was no justification for your post. Thank you for telling us all how smart you are, though.

    These people don’t come up with their dogma by accident, it comes from their leaders. They are willing to believe whatever the Bible tells them, and their learned pastors assure them that pro-life is what follows. Confront them on this. When they give, follow up with their belief in the straightforwardness of the Bible’s content. This is the road to freedom.

  21. #21 Swedish Chef
    June 3, 2007

    Think about abortion from a biological imperatives ‘selfish gene’ perspective. Abortion is a potential obstacle to the ability of males to pass their genetic material into future generations. OF COURSE the hormonally hidebound hypermasculine knuckledraggers (popularly known as ‘Republicans’) are going to oppose abortion tooth an nail: it’s in their genetics. Rational thinking about abortion only appears among people who aren’t dominated by their brainstem instincts.

  22. #22 Caledonian
    June 3, 2007

    Caledonian. The free market is not optimal in the case of a market failure.

    That’s because there’s no such thing as optimal. There’s only closest to it, which free markets are – when you care about certain outcomes, which people like yourself do not.

  23. #23 Kyra
    June 3, 2007

    I disagree with PZ on this one. First of all, many of the pro-lifers I know are women. So they probably don’t have the subjugation of women as their true motivations. Instead, I think it much more likely that they (and most pro-lifers) really do believe that the sanctity of human life extends to embryos/fetuses/whatever.

    On the contrary: they indeed can and do have the subjugation of women as their true motivations. You see, the female pro-lifers are not ALL women, and the women they seek to subjugate are OTHER women, women they consider as deserving said subjugation for doing things like having sex.

    People are often complicit in the subjugation of their own kind, gaining power and approval from the ruling classes by turning against their own. They separate their class into “good” and “bad,” setting themselves above and apart from the rest of the group, whom they hold in contempt the same way the ruling class does, and thus attain a sort of honorary membership.

    Women who define woman’s worth as fully inherent in her behavior (in this case, motherhood and virginity) will vilify those women who try to avoid motherhood through any means other than abstinence, and seek to limit their options, inconvenience them, and punish them, without realizing that they are attacking women as a class.

    It’s sort of like the “I’m not racist, I have a friend who’s black” argument—in this case, “I’m not oppressing women because I’m a woman and I’m not oppressed by what I’m doing.” She is not oppressing the women who MATTER, in her mind—pro-life, abstinent-until-marriage, pregnancy-embracing women like herself. The other women, she feels, bring their troubles on themselves by foolishly refusing to live by her dictates, and pretty much no one views what they feel as acceptable consequences as oppression.

  24. #24 plunge
    June 3, 2007

    “The abortion debate is entirely about regulating and constraining sexual more”

    Ok, well, you have fun pretending that if it makes you feel better. It’s still lazy, still wrong, and still pointless.

  25. #25 Kyra
    June 3, 2007

    Aloysius Horn and Plunge:

    Actions speak louder than words. Specifically, the fact that every major anti-abortion group in the United States is also anti-contraception, speaks louder than their stated position that the “unborn babies” are all-important.

    If one wanted to save “unborn children” from abortion, it would stand to reason that that keeping them out of the extreme danger zone of women who don’t want them, would be a very good thing. Instead, almost all pro-lifers yammer about abstinence and downright OPPOSE the safety measure that contraception provides to the unborn.

    This suggests that when it comes down to it, letting women have sex without unwanted pregnancies and children resulting is more intolerable to them than the abortions that could be prevented by more widespread contraception use. Birth control prevents abortion, plenty, but it’s not worth it to the pro-lifers.

    Given the choice of saving babies or punishing women, overwhelmingly they seize the latter option. This tells me everything about their motivations that I will ever need to know.

  26. #26 PZ Myers
    June 3, 2007

    You are aware that if the anti-abortion movement were actually about caring for human life, it would be radically different in character, aren’t you? It would be full of people trying to raise money to provide pre-natal care and support services, lining up adoptive parents or building quality orphanages, and they wouldn’t be lying about the consequences of abortion. They wouldn’t be picketing places like Planned Parenthood, shooting doctors, or blowing up clinics. Instead of passing laws to restrict the choices of pregnant women, they’d be lobbying for better health care for the poor and unwed, prenatal and postnatal nutrition, and daycares.

    By their actions you will know them. I can think of a dozen productive things so-called pro-lifers could be doing that would help women and babies instead of what they actual do.

  27. #27 PZ Myers
    June 3, 2007

    Ooooh, Kyra and I are on exactly the same wavelength. Weird.

  28. #28 AlanW
    June 3, 2007

    First of all, many of the pro-lifers I know are women. So they probably don’t have the subjugation of women as their true motivations.

    I don’t think this is necessarily true. The biggest thing in all this is that the religious establishment convinces the subjugated to continue the subjugation of their peers for them. I’ve read that female genital mutilation is usually done not by the standard misogynistic imam but by the child’s grandmother and other women in the community. I come from a catholic background, and the women in my family were all shocked and horrified at the idea of women as priests or doctors or lawyers. After all, they’re only women. Seriously, my grandmother came home from the doctors one day all red faced and puffing that the holiday stand-in for reassuring-old-guy-in-a-suit was a woman. She (my ignorant old grannie) wouldn’t even talk to her.

  29. #29 llewelly
    June 3, 2007

    Aloysius Horn:

    Some men and women (some of whom would share most feminist goals) really believe that an eternal soul sent from God enters a fertilized egg and it is equivalent to murder to terminate a pregnancy at any stage. They don’t oppose abortion because it gives women too much liberty, they oppose it because they think their salvaltion is at stake if they don’t. The church that teaches them this benefits more by the swelling of its numbers that results from this dogma than it does by “women control.”

    In every damaging cult, there are charlatans and victims. You have
    described the saddest victims – those who have been manipulated into supporting the perpetrators.

  30. #30 S
    June 3, 2007

    I’ve got some first-hand “pro-life” weirdness just this week. I’ve got some friends who are very conservative Catholics. We don’t have much in common except for a few unrelated hobbies, but we still manage to be friends mostly by not talking about stuff that’s going to cause an argument.

    One friend just had a baby. In her email with the pictures, she said “Here is our new little girl in her first day of life!” and I’m thinking, ok, so when you’re talking about the reality of the new baby, you don’t use the anti-abortion rhetoric that life begins at conception, otherwise you’d say this is the baby girl’s first day of life outside the uterus, or her 270th day of life, or whatever it is.

    My other friend has been desperately trying to get pregnant for about 5 years. Her period was two days late, the test showed a faint line, but the doctors office said her hormone levels were very low, and she said that yesterday she began to bleed. Now, I am very sorry that she’s got these infertility issues, but when she said “At least there is one more soul in heaven praying for me” it’s really hard for me to just say something noncommittal (but I did, and I then I changed the subject). But seriously, one more soul in heaven? How well can a 2-week embryo pray, anyway?

  31. #31 Blake Stacey,OM
    June 3, 2007

    Bill Hicks on “pro-life” people. . . because it’s necessary.

  32. #32 khan
    June 3, 2007

    How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm
    If you don’t keep ‘em knocked up?

  33. #33 llewelly
    June 3, 2007

    Plunge:

    [Plunge quoting PZ:]

    The abortion debate is entirely about regulating and constraining sexual more

    Ok, well, you have fun pretending that if it makes you feel better. It’s still lazy, still wrong, and still pointless.

    Thank you for reminding us how effective the manipulative smokescreen called ‘pro-life’ continues to be. We should of course not forget that most people who think of themselves as ‘pro-life’ believe the smokescreen is reality.

  34. #34 Russell
    June 3, 2007

    Caledonian writes:

    The free market is efficient, and generally converges on particular strategies. On a biology blog, I’d expect people to recognize the power of evolutionary algorithms to work through search spaces.

    I have a great appreciation for markets and capitalism. As you point out, capitalism essentially implements a genetic algorithm, modulo the fact that business processes mix somewhat different from genes. That said, I purposely chose the word “optimal.” There are people who appreciate capitalism and markets. There are others for whom these are articles of faith. Not everything so believed is wrong. It’s the manner of belief that I was trying, perhaps not well, to highlight.

  35. #35 Caledonian
    June 3, 2007

    Your clarification is accepted, and I apologize for jumping down your throat about it.

    With so many aspects of science denigrated as religion by religious believers and the ignorant, the suggestion that fundamental economic concepts are just religious doctrines gets my dander up. (A lot of economics is “religious”, but not all.)

  36. #36 Carlie
    June 3, 2007

    Kyra stole my steam (and said it better) – if they were really trying to save babies, they would focus their efforts on making good contraception available to everyone, enhancing pre-natal care for all women, making sure that all children are covered by health care, and so on. Instead, what you find is that the states with the most restrictive anti-abortion laws just so happen to also be the states with the highest infant mortality rates and the highest teen pregnancy rates. The rhetoric is that you can’t abort a pregnancy, but you also shouldn’t have access to contraception and poor women shouldn’t be having babies they can’t support. Basically, it boils down to punishing women if they dare to have sex at all if they aren’t married and middle-class.

  37. #37 Justin Moretti
    June 3, 2007

    PZ, your statement as to what the “pro-lifers” would be doing if they truly cared is spot on, and I think your feelings as to their motives are also correct. I’m not keen on termination myself – I lost my taste for it as a morally neutral procedure when I saw a few performed. But I defend women’s right of access to termination of pregnancy.

    The ultimate hypocrisy IMO is that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who would defend the right of the foetus to life in the womb, yet be willing to let it die of haemorrhagic shock from complications ensuing five seconds after birth.

    I recall a caption from the photographer Sally Mann’s book “At Twelve” – 12 year old girl, pregnant (not sure of the circumstances), bullied out of a termination by religious pro-lifers… not ONE BIT of support did she get from them afterwards.

  38. #38 cay
    June 3, 2007

    This is an even more compelling post:

    http://www.literarymama.com/columns/reddiaperdharma/

  39. #39 amy
    June 3, 2007

    “First of all, many of the pro-lifers I know are women. So they probably don’t have the subjugation of women as their true motivations.”

    Those two sentences aren’t mutually exclusive: some people fight very hard to get under the yoke.

  40. #40 Azkyroth
    June 3, 2007

    The board’s rejecting the text of my perfectly legitimate comments again. PZ, please check your email, there should be a message entitled “Chronic Commenting Problems on Pharyngula” addressed to the Seed webmaster and CC’ed to you, with two image attachments.

  41. #41 Christian Burnham
    June 3, 2007

    Yes. If pro-choice activists really cared about abortion for unwanted pregnancies, they’d be handing out condoms at their rallies.

  42. #42 anonymous
    June 3, 2007

    I disagree. I do not want to put women in chains. I support abortion and the morning after pill. However, I don’t support partial birth abortion. If you wait until the baby has a working brain and nervous system, it’s no longer just about your situation. You’re now dealing with another human being. You have to take care of it early on. This isn’t about keeping women in chains, regardless of what you may think my motives are. There are perfectly sane reasons to want to restrict partial birth abortions. They are the same reasons why we don’t support infanticide. To draw the line at birth and say “anything before this is not a human, but everything after this is to be fully protected” is very silly, arbitrary, and as ridiculous as the arbitrary line in the sand that hardcore pro-lifers draw at conception.

  43. #43 raven
    June 3, 2007

    Eerie that this subject shows up right now. A friend keeps having a 16 year girl with a 1 month baby show up at the ER. There is nothing wrong, she is just clueless and has no idea what to do with the kid.

    Her parents have literally forgotten her. They are brain damaged meth freaks who would lose a maze running contest with a rat.

    The father is much older and seems to be real slow mentally. He can write his name but barely reads.

    The girl speaks with a southern drawl and probably would think Darwin and evolution were evil if she had ever stayed in school long enough to know who he and it was. I guess abortion was off the table.

    These situations happen all the time. Most of the time, there is no happy ending.

  44. #44 Azkyroth
    June 3, 2007

    I disagree. I do not want to put women in chains. I support abortion and the morning after pill. However, I don’t support partial birth abortion. If you wait until the baby has a working brain and nervous system, it’s no longer just about your situation. You’re now dealing with another human being. You have to take care of it early on. This isn’t about keeping women in chains, regardless of what you may think my motives are. There are perfectly sane reasons to want to restrict partial birth abortions. They are the same reasons why we don’t support infanticide. To draw the line at birth and say “anything before this is not a human, but everything after this is to be fully protected” is very silly, arbitrary, and as ridiculous as the arbitrary line in the sand that hardcore pro-lifers draw at conception.

    I think the majority of pro-choicers more or less agree with your stance; as a general rule I’m inclined to, for reasons I articulated in comments in this thread and will find specifically for you when I have time.

    However, the overwhelming majority of so-called partial-birth abortions occur either for reasons of unexpected medical necessity or because the woman wanted an abortion earlier but was prevented from seeking it. You sound like a sane, decent human being so I assume you endorse an exception when the life or health of the mother is in danger. So…what exactly does this have to do with the stance PZ’s attacking?

  45. #45 Rachel Rev
    June 3, 2007

    Thanks for sharing such a powerful statement. As a minister who volunteers at a women’s health clinic, I especially appreciate the biblical language with which Harrison concluded the article: “Here I am, send me.” Those same words resonated from within me when I first read in both New York Times Magazine and Time about the horrific “spiritual counseling” being provided for women, and I decided to offer my services on the other end of the spectrum.

  46. #46 speedwell
    June 3, 2007

    Abortion makes me frustrated and incredibly sad. I carried an unwanted baby to term and gave her up for adoption because of how I felt. My adoption counselor was a good, motherly woman and genuinely cared about me. Everything actually went pretty well. Some fifteen years or so later, I know that many women will not be as fortunate as I was to be able to choose good adoptive parents and take advantage of the kindness of supportive strangers who understood.

    I now possess the knowledge and most of the tools to help someone get an emergency abortion. I don’t like abortion any better than I did. But I have more compassion for women in dire need. I have more practical notions about what can and can’t be done in an unthinkable emergency such as a hurricane or a pandemic. I want there to be at least one human being out here who stands on the right of choice and is prepared to the best of her ability to help.

  47. #47 Salvador
    June 3, 2007

    I am pro-life – I am also a non-believer, therefore I am pro-life for non-religious reasons. I subscribe to the notion that people should not hurt other people. I believe most men and women recognize that a fetus is a human life – the controversy is whether we should recognize such being as a person, with all due protections. I believe that once implantation has occurred, potential becomes expectation, a few cells become a developing individual that will have unique experiences throughout his/her life (if not a victim of abortion); it begins something that we all enjoy and that US society protect from birth. I believe it should be protected from implantation, because it is when it starts.

    For full disclosure, I am a man. I believe women should have the right to choose, but such choice has to be limited if it hurts another person. I say limited as I recognize that there may be medical reasons for abortion. I do not see unwanted pregnancies as a valid reason – a pregnancy is not a disease that can be cured, it is the result of an action were a woman (usually) had a choice, and the means to protect her from unwanted results.

    I think that the best solution is educating people about contraceptives, and to make them available to everyone, most importantly teenagers. Furthermore, ingrain in men’s minds that women have the right to choose when to have sex, even if married.

    Although I am a big fan of this blog, I resent the statement that pro-lifers want to keep women under control. It is unfortunate that my first comment here had to be to clarify such unwarranted generalization.

  48. #48 RamblinDude
    June 4, 2007

    speedwell, I’m not given to sentimentality but your comments got to me. There’s nothing like real world, first hand experience to put things into perspective.

  49. #49 Aloysius Horn
    June 4, 2007

    Kyra, you make many good points.

    What I objected to originally was PZ’s statement that ALL Pro-Lifers are motivated by “nothing more” than a desire to control women.

    I still think this is a gross overgeneralization.

    Some, perhaps many, anti-abortionists may be more distressed by all the out-of-wedlock sex some women are having than the abortion procedures themselves. But this is not true for all of them, nor is it true that all anti-abortion folks oppose contraception. As I said above, for some I think it is really first and foremost a concern for what they think are human souls.

    However, some anti-abortionists are not motivated by religion (e.g. “Libertarians for Life”). I am aquainted with a female atheist who opposes abortion. There is a legalistic (not religious or moralistic) argument made by some of these folks that conception is the unique event that brings about a genetically distinct human life (if not a human “being” right away and even if no immaterial “soul” is involved). Ontogeny being the continuum it is, they argue that conception is the only discrete event available to define an entity to be protected by rights under the law.

    Vertebrate ontogeny didn’t evolve with lawyers and courts in mind, but I think the rights-at-conception view leads to disasterous consequences for women, babies and society. A biologically informed determination of when to provide legal status to a fetus will serve us better.

  50. #50 Numad
    June 4, 2007

    Salvador,

    “It is unfortunate that my first comment here had to be to clarify such unwarranted generalization.”

    Since your given reasons are of meager substance, it’s easy to see them as pretext. I’m certainly convinced that PZ has heard these arguments before, and I don’t think it comes off as a clarification for anyone.

  51. #51 Janine
    June 4, 2007

    Salvador, the simple fact is this, almost all of the anti-abortion organization are religious. There reasons are religious, that ending a pregnancy means over powering god’s will.

    While I am sure you are sincere in your beliefs, your stand about contraceptives will have most antiabortionists against you. hat is because god dictated that sex is to only to be in marriage and that is for reproducing. Anything else is a sin.

    Believe it or not, you fit more in the pro-choice side. Just because one is pro-choice does not mean that one thinks that abortions are the ultimate answer. It is much better to avoid an unwanted pregnancy than to end an unwanted pregnancy. Why are you defending people who think contraception and abortions are the same thing?

  52. #52 Monado
    June 4, 2007

    The U.S., through its anti-abortion funding policies, which prevent aid groups from offering contraception or mentioning abortion, is contributing the a àglobal pandemic which kills almost one million women a a year. Link:
    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=55593

    But hey, they are saving fertilized eggs!

  53. #53 Chet
    June 4, 2007

    First of all, many of the pro-lifers I know are women. So they probably don’t have the subjugation of women as their true motivations.

    Look, if black people can join the KKK (and they do), then there’s nothing incoherent about the idea of people working to promote policies that would subjugate them. Poor people keep voting Republican, after all.

    To draw the line at birth and say “anything before this is not a human, but everything after this is to be fully protected” is very silly, arbitrary, and as ridiculous as the arbitrary line in the sand that hardcore pro-lifers draw at conception.

    It may be arbitrary, but every society agrees on it; it’s legally useful and unambiguous, unlike your proposed “working brain and nervous system” criteria (what constitutes a “working brain?” How many nerves define a nervous system?) Moreover, it’s a dividing line that you already implicitly endorse, since I doubt very much that you celebrate your birthday on the supposed, unknown date of your conception as opposed to what it says on your driver’s license.

    I call bullshit. You accept “birth as the beginning” in every single case except for when the alternative would allow you to make decisions for women. This is why forced-birth advocates are opened to charges of anti-feminism and wanting to control women – because that’s the only view in which your arguments are intellectually consistent.

  54. #54 Chet
    June 4, 2007

    I believe that once implantation has occurred, potential becomes expectation, a few cells become a developing individual that will have unique experiences throughout his/her life (if not a victim of abortion);

    Well, wait. If the mother gets an abortion, then that’s not going to happen. If the mother intended to get one all along, and never intended to be pregnant, then there really was no “expectation” in the first place, was there?

    An unintended pregnancy is no more likely to have “unique experiences” than a random ejaculation, because the mother will get an abortion if she can. Only if you interfere with her doing so is there suddenly the potential for a human. Which really makes it a life you created by your actions, but I doubt you’re going to step up and fulfill your responsibilities. It’s simply much easier to make women live with the consequences of your beliefs, isn’t it?

  55. #55 Tully Bascomb
    June 4, 2007

    However, I don’t support partial birth abortion. If you wait until the baby has a working brain and nervous system, it’s no longer just about your situation. You’re now dealing with another human being. You have to take care of it early on. This isn’t about keeping women in chains, regardless of what you may think my motives are. There are perfectly sane reasons to want to restrict partial birth abortions.

    I think your objection is to a late term abortion, not a partial birth abortion. A partial birth abortion is a medical to technique used to minimize risk to the mother of a fetus that is already slated for abortion. Recent court rulings due nothing to decrease the number of late term abortions, they only increase risk to the mother. This seem to me to be definitive proof the the real issue is control of women.

  56. #56 Monado
    June 4, 2007

    Salvador and others: actions speak louder than words.

    Anti-choice people come to clinics for abortions when it’s their body and their pregnancy.

    Check out
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/3/23/91949/7401
    “the only moral abortion is my abortion.”

    I have heard, 2nd hand, of people literally saying, “But that’s different – that was them – this is me!”

    Then they go right back to picketing the clinic.

    In my daydreams, I imagine the clinic staff refusing to perform an abortion until the protester poses for a picture in the clinic, with the staff, holding up a sign that says ‘I’m getting an abortion on _date_’ and signs an agreement that the clinic can publish it if they ever see her picketing the clinic again.

    It’s about control of Other Women – some irreverent sexual beings out there that are not mother, sister, cousin, or colleague.

  57. #57 Lunacrous
    June 4, 2007

    Some forced-birth proponents may not have subjugation of women as their goal. However, this does not make that subjugation any less the end result of their efforts, should they succeed.

  58. #58 JohnnieCanuck, FCD
    June 4, 2007

    Salvador, anyone who perceives that your stated position is in the minority, compared to all those out there who are motivated by their holier than thou religious attitudes can indeed make such generalisations. That an exception such as yourself exists, does not make the generalisations I have seen here unwarranted.

    To what extent do you publicly distance yourself from the others, in the real world? Decried the murders of doctors? Lobbied for better sex education for teenagers? Ensured easy access to condoms? Demanded that doctors and pharmacists can and will provide contraception to young people? What about decent health and post-natal care for poor single mothers and their babies? Even one such success would be something to be proud of.

    Luckily, all the above are pretty much in place where I live.

    Can I assume you would save the kid, rather than the flask with the 1000 implantable embryos? Thanks, Russell.

  59. #59 Owlmirror
    June 4, 2007

    (what constitutes a “working brain?” How many nerves define a nervous system?)

    I posted this in the last thread; I may as well post it in this one:

    Carl Sagan’s & Ann Druyan’s “Abortion: Is it Possible to be both ‘Pro-life’ and ‘Pro-Choice’?”

  60. #60 Anton Mates
    June 4, 2007

    Kyra said:

    If one wanted to save “unborn children” from abortion, it would stand to reason that that keeping them out of the extreme danger zone of women who don’t want them, would be a very good thing. Instead, almost all pro-lifers yammer about abstinence and downright OPPOSE the safety measure that contraception provides to the unborn.

    But many prolifers don’t know how well contraception works to prevent abortions, because the sex education they received is no better than the education they want everyone else to have. Condoms? They break all the time, and they cause people to have lots more sex and therefore have more abortions anyway. Contraceptive pills? They all work by killing the baby. We’ve seen people arguing this, and I think honestly believing it, on PZ’s threads about Plan B. They’re in an alternate universe from medical reality.

    There’s definitely a large fraction of the pro-life movement which is extremely antisex; I never would have believed they’d oppose the HPV vaccine so adamantly if I hadn’t seen it. And I think most of the leading figures are in that fraction. The Vatican, for instance, is made up of fairly well-educated people who must understand that they’re lying about the effectiveness of safe sex measures. But a lot of the rank and file really do think they’re out to save babies. AFAIK that’s what most of their propaganda focuses on, even that aimed at their own community (think “Jesus Camp.”)

  61. #61 Anton Mates
    June 4, 2007

    However, I don’t support partial birth abortion. If you wait until the baby has a working brain and nervous system, it’s no longer just about your situation. You’re now dealing with another human being.

    a) Working to what degree? A trout has a working brain and nervous system.

    b) If you’re opposed to late-term abortions, oppose late-term abortions. Intact dilation and extraction (“partial birth abortion”) is simply a surgical procedure; the vast majority of late-term abortions have never been performed that way in the US. Banning IDX doesn’t prevent late-term abortions, it simply mandates that they be performed via other, sometimes more hazardous, procedures.

    c) Most people don’t particularly endorse late-term abortions. Most women who have them aren’t particularly happy about it. At least one study found that about half of them would have had the abortion earlier, but found it hard to find a provider. Pushing hard for greater abortion availability should decrease the number of late-term ones.

  62. #62 Steve Felix
    June 4, 2007

    The Catholics I know are in it for fetus rights. I happen to agree with them, although I like the law the way it is. The silly stance on contraception is indefensible and hypocritical considering that “Natural Family Planning” is encouraged, but among my friends and family, it doesn’t signal any intention other than to have cake and eat it too.

    Generalization is a logical flaw, and it is at this point, where raw aggression supersedes tight arguments, that the vocal atheist stance breaks down and hurts the cause.

    I usually like the site though, thanks!

  63. #63 Owlmirror
    June 4, 2007

    While most who oppose abortion are actually just anti-choice, there are indeed some who are sincere.

    As an example of pro-lifers putting their money (and wombs) on the line, consider the so-called “Snowflake” organizations, which take the left-over blastocysts from in-vitro fertilizations, and allow couples to bring them to term as their own children.

    It may be silly, but it certainly suggests that the fetishization of the embryo is not entirely about controlling women. I would agree that such things are less useful than all of the real pro-child things they could be doing.

  64. #64 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    You’re kidding right PZ ?

    Do you really believe this ?

    If so then I will chuckle with irony the way you look down your nose at religious believers for being ignorant and lacking in critical thinking skills !

    The sort of position you have endorsed here makes YEC well supported by evidence and surpremely rational and logical.

  65. #65 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 4, 2007

    PZ wrote:

    It’s powerful stuff. Remember, the people who want to end abortion aren’t really pro-life–they are out to control women, nothing more.

    Yes, it is powerful stuff. It’s no surprise that the good doctor, being human, was deeply moved by the fear, pain and despair he saw presented before him on a nightly basis by his own account, but does that mean that abortion was necessarily the moral and the only solution to those problems? Accusing all pro-lifers of being out to control women, apart from being ad hominem rhetoric, cannot deflect the argument from the central moral question of whether or not the unborn offspring is both human and alive and, therefore, entitled to the right to life.

  66. #66 Auguste
    June 4, 2007

    Yes. If pro-choice activists really cared about abortion for unwanted pregnancies, they’d be handing out condoms at their rallies.

    I’m assuming that this statement isn’t some sort of reverse psychology…

    If anti-choice activists really cared about abortion for unwanted pregnancies, (a giant percentage of) they wouldn’t be opposing contraception.

    Meanwhile, pro-choice activists ARE handing out condoms. They’re called Planned Parenthood, for one, and they’re attacked nonstop for it.

  67. #67 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    In all honesty, I don’t believe Ian is actually motivated by a desire to dehumanize and enslave women. He just sees dehumanization and enslavement of women as acceptable collateral damage for protecting the “unique space-time trajectory” of a ball of genetically human cells. :/

  68. #68 Anton Mates
    June 4, 2007

    I believe that once implantation has occurred, potential becomes expectation,

    What makes implantation special in this regard, and what does “expectation” mean? Why do I have significantly more reason to expect a future human now than at fertilization, or when the woman in question first decided to try to have a baby?

    a few cells become a developing individual that will have unique experiences throughout his/her life (if not a victim of abortion);

    And if not naturally miscarried, as happens after about 1/3 of conceptions. And if it doesn’t split into multiple individuals, as can happen after implantation.

    it begins something that we all enjoy and that US society protect from birth.

    I don’t particularly recall enjoying my time as an embryo. Now that I’m sentient I’d rather not die, but that doesn’t mean I’d suffer by not existing in the first place.

  69. #69 Anton Mates
    June 4, 2007

    However, some anti-abortionists are not motivated by religion (e.g. “Libertarians for Life”). I am aquainted with a female atheist who opposes abortion. There is a legalistic (not religious or moralistic) argument made by some of these folks that conception is the unique event that brings about a genetically distinct human life (if not a human “being” right away and even if no immaterial “soul” is involved).

    I’ve heard several nonbelievers make similar arguments, including the Raving Atheist and of course Our Ian on this site.

    It’s a very curious claim, given that genetic uniqueness is neither necessary for individual-humanness (identical twins) nor sufficient (chimeras, parasitic twins, tumors).

  70. #70 Zarquon
    June 4, 2007

    If the law and custom treated foetuses as persons, as the anti-abortionists want to do, to be consistent the law would have to treat every miscarriage as manslaughter, women’s menstruum would be investigated for fertilised zygotes, and churches would baptise used tampons just in case. Since none of these things happen, the people who argue that foetuses are people are inconsistent and hypocritical.

  71. #71 Dianne
    June 4, 2007

    the argument from the central moral question of whether or not the unborn offspring is both human and alive and, therefore, entitled to the right to life.

    Even if an embryo were a living person in any meaningful sense, would it be entitled to live parasitically off another living person without her consent? We don’t require people to be bone marrow donors or kidney donors, even if the potential recipient, who is definitely a living person, would die without it. Kidney donation is only slightly riskier than completing a pregnancy while bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell donation is much safer.

    Case in point: Patient has a hematologic malignancy that can not be cured without allogenic stem cell transplant. He has no matched siblings, but is lucky enough to have a (one, single) potential unrelated donor who has put indicated his willingness to be a donor by volunteering with an organization that keeps lists of volunteers and their HLA types to match with people in need of transplant. Potential donor backs out. Potential recipient dies. (Yes, this is a real case with some details changed or made vague to avoid giving any identifying information.) Should the donor have been forced to donate? He did, after all, indicate a certain willingness to do so by allowing himself to be listed as a potential donor. (Akin to the “she had sex she should have to deal with the consequences” argument.) There were no medical issues that would have made donation unsafe. So, do “right-to-life” organizations also lobby for laws forcing potential organ or marrow donors to live up to their promises? They may condemn such choices as the donor above made as immoral, but I’ve never heard any demanding that they be made illegal. How, then, is pregnancy different?

  72. #72 Dianne
    June 4, 2007

    Zarquon: Besides the things you mentioned, if pro-lifers really thought embryos were babies, they’d be lobbying for more money to research the reasons that so many embryos miscarry. At least, I think they would. Maybe they’re such cold blooded @§%$&s that the death of as many as 80% of “babies” (high end estimate for embryo loss for all embryos, including those that don’t implant) in the first few weeks of their lives don’t move them, but, if so, then we’re back to it being about controlling women, aren’t we?

  73. #73 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    Zarquon: Besides the things you mentioned, if pro-lifers really thought embryos were babies, they’d be lobbying for more money to research the reasons that so many embryos miscarry. At least, I think they would. Maybe they’re such cold blooded @§%$&s that the death of as many as 80% of “babies” (high end estimate for embryo loss for all embryos, including those that don’t implant) in the first few weeks of their lives don’t move them, but, if so, then we’re back to it being about controlling women, aren’t we?

    I think the answer they usually give is that when an embryo miscarries or spontaneously aborts it’s because god wills it, but when a woman has her pregnancy terminated god doesn’t will it. How anything can be done that an omnipotent, omniscient being doesn’t want to be done is not explained.

  74. #74 Stuart Weinstein
    June 4, 2007

    Daniel writes:
    “I disagree with PZ on this one. First of all, many of the pro-lifers I know are women. So they probably don’t have the subjugation of women as their true motivations. Instead, I think it much more likely that they (and most pro-lifers) really do believe that the sanctity of human life extends to embryos/fetuses/whatever.”

    Suppose you’re in a building thats on fire. In the corner of one room sits a screaming two year old. In another corner is a box with 300 frozen embryos.

    Which one will you try to save first Daniel?

    Stuart

  75. #75 Carlie
    June 4, 2007

    When I was switching sides, one of the most powerful logical arguments for me was the organ donation one.
    Right now, statistically speaking, there is definitely a person in the world who is dying of kidney failure who matches my blood type and antigens well enough for a transplant. Should I be legally conscripted to donate that organ, since doing so will only be a temporary inconvenience to me and will save that person’s life? If the answer is no, then there is no “right to life” argument for a fetus. A woman cannot be legally conscripted to use her body to “save the life” of a fetus any more than I can be legally forced to donate the kidney. Period. Full stop. DNA doesn’t matter; we don’t say relatives can be legally conscripted to donate organs to each other any more than strangers can be.

    There are only two arguments an anti-abortion person can go with from there; if at all savvy, they can try for the trolley car dilemma of action v. inaction, but that sidetracks it onto a different issue, and the morality of either action in the trolley car can be argued. At best it isn’t a slam dunk for them. More likely, the person will respond by saying that the woman is required to do it because it’s her fault that she chose to have sex, and at that point it is clearly all about punishing the woman for her actions. Game over.

  76. #76 Dianne
    June 4, 2007

    More likely, the person will respond by saying that the woman is required to do it because it’s her fault that she chose to have sex,

    Besides which, people are allowed to back out of organ/marrow donation even after they make the offer. If you agreed to give someone your kidney but changed your mind just before going under anesthesia to donate, that person is SOL. You can not be forced to donate the kidney, even though it would save their life, even though you volunteered (equivalent to “chose to have sex”). Again, to be consistent, they’d have to argue that potential donors should, at the very least, not be allowed to back out once they agreed, maybe that donation should be mandatory. But I’ve yet to hear a pro-lifer make that argument. Perhaps because it would put men at risk of having their bodies used against their will too?

  77. #77 synthesist
    June 4, 2007

    I find the idea of abortion a distateful but necessary final resort that should be available if required.
    The use of contraception and good sex education is IMHO the best solution.

    This issue seems to be more about attitudes to sexual activity (especially WOMENS sexual activity !) than a regard for the well-being of ether the mother, father or offspring.

    abstenance = monthy period = dead potential human
    rhythm method contraception = dead potential human
    condom/pill (etc) = dead potential human
    The difference is ? …

  78. #78 Fernando Magyar
    June 4, 2007
  79. #79 speedwell
    June 4, 2007

    “Consequences” for being a “whore” and getting knocked up under the “wrong” circumstances, right. Abortion is revolting and miserable, but it is not as revolting and miserable as sentencing a woman to carry, birth, and raise a baby as punishment. One can only wonder what the baby is thought to have done that deserves being punished by being born to a parent who would rather have aborted it.

    I also think a diabetic heart patient with lung cancer and liver damage from eating and drinking himself half to death is revolting and miserable, too, but I would not campaign to make it illegal for him to seek the appropriate medical treatment.

  80. #80 dhonig
    June 4, 2007

    I would edit the comment just a bit, to say the goal is to control POOR women. Women with money will always be able to travel to legal abortions, or get a “D&C” from their private physician.

    They are against YOUR abortion, not MY abortion- if you know anybody who works at a clinic you will hear stories of regular protesters who sneak in the back door, for themselves or their daughters, only to be back on the sidewalk a week later. You will also hear stories of how those women act once inside- THEIR daughter got pregnant “the first time,” unlike the rest of the “sluts” waiting for procedures. The whole thing is an ongoing act of hypocrisy.

  81. #81 dorid
    June 4, 2007

    I repeatedly tried to post to this last night, and was repeatedly unable to. Are there still problems posting, or are there word filters that don’t allow me to use the words for various parts of the anatomy too many times in one post?

  82. #82 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Religion spreads best when people are unhappy and need something to console them. That is the primary reason why religions forbid or discourage contraception and abortion.

    Originally, taboos placed on sex had the greater purposes of helping to prevent out-of-wedlock children that wouldn’t be properly cared for and reducing the spread of STDs. Those purposes are now obsolete – but the things that made them obsolete also reduced human suffering in the world. Don’t think religious people don’t understand on a subconscious level that happy, prosperous people aren’t particularly concerned with religion. So religions work to make people unhappy.

    Causing sex to be forbidden makes people unhappy. Causing sex to be risky, both in terms of pregnancy and disease, makes people unhappy. Limiting sex to pre-established states of obligation and legal/social bindings makes people unhappy. And all of these things are good for religion.

  83. #83 Janine
    June 4, 2007

    Dianne, the reason why so many embryos end up not coming to term is because women’s body are inherently sinful. Remember that woman is the devil’s gateway. Face it, we are just causual killers. So every embryo that does not make it to full term has been murdered, even if the would be mother had no idea that it happened.

    Please, before anyone yells at me, I am kidding.

  84. #84 Sonja
    June 4, 2007

    We need to keep abortion safe and legal because the alternative inherently discriminates against the poor. A nurse friend told me that back in the 1950′s, when poor women with unwanted pregancies were going to back-alley abortionists, the rich women were paying a fee to certain psychiatrists who would declare them mentally unfit to carry the child to term. Then they could get a medically-sanctioned safe, legal abortion.

  85. #85 Carlie
    June 4, 2007

    Sonja,
    If you want the stats on it, read “When abortion was a crime” by Leslie Reagan. It’s a really good analysis of abortion in the US from the early 1900s on. She spends a few hundred pages showing that the main difference between when abortion is legal and when it’s illegal is in how many women die, not how many abortions are performed. One big impetus behind legalizing abortion had to do with the crisis of how many poor and middle-class women in sepsis kept overwhelming emergency rooms.

  86. #86 Renali
    June 4, 2007

    “However, I don’t support partial birth abortion. If you wait until the baby has a working brain and nervous system, it’s no longer just about your situation. You’re now dealing with another human being. You have to take care of it early on”

    And if it dies in utero, or will be nonviable, late in the pregnacy what then, Mr. Compassionate Misogynist?

    “parial birth” abortions, as pro-lifers like to mislabel it, are typically only done on dead or nonviable fetuses. It’s done as the safest way to extract it from the mother’s uterus and affords the grieving woman the opportunity to hold the child and say goodby in her own way.

    The anti-pba crowd would deny women this opportunity and subjugate her to a riskier procedure because they find the safer one “icky”.

    How am I supposed to believe this isn’t about attacking and controlling women, again?

  87. #87 twincats
    June 4, 2007

    Janine, men really aren’t any better. Even a (hypothetical) man who doesn’t have sex, doesn’t masturbate and, somehow, manages not to have nocturnal emissions STILL passes excess sperm when he urinates.

  88. #88 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    But I’ve yet to hear a pro-lifer make that argument. Perhaps because it would put men at risk of having their bodies used against their will too?

    We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen… x.x

  89. #89 Kseniya
    June 4, 2007

    She spends a few hundred pages showing that the main difference between when abortion is legal and when it’s illegal is in how many women die, not how many abortions are performed.

    I tried raising that argument on a conservative blog three years ago and was rewarded, just for bringing it up, by being compared with a Nazi death camp gas chamber operator. Facts have a disturbing lack of impact on people who don’t want to believe them.

  90. #90 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    “However, I don’t support partial birth abortion. If you wait until the baby has a working brain and nervous system, it’s no longer just about your situation. You’re now dealing with another human being. You have to take care of it early on”

    I was the one who wrote that comment. As someone has pointed out to me, I have used to wrong term to describe what I object to. I guess I’m really talking about late-term abortions in general, partial-birth or otherwise.

    Renali, you asked: “How am I supposed to believe this isn’t about attacking and controlling women, again?”

    So I’ll reiterate that once there is a working nervous system and brain, the moral situation changes considerably, and objecting to abortion at that stage is not necessarily about controlling women. That is why I disagree with PZ’s statement (the title of this post).

  91. #91 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    Re the late-term abortion thing:

    What I don’t see is why, in identifying yourself with the “mainstream” anti-choice extremists on the basis of reservations about abortion at a certain point in the pregnancy, you don’t feel a bit like a black person joining the Ku Klux Klan because they can’t quite stomach black-power militarism (not the best analogy, but it springs immediately to mind).

  92. #92 Tulse
    June 4, 2007

    once there is a working nervous system and brain, the moral situation changes considerably, and objecting to abortion at that stage is not necessarily about controlling women.

    Not necessarily, although I am willing to bet that the vast majority of pro-lifers do not have such a nuanced view — just because this argument can be made does not mean they are making it.

    And even if one holds the view you espouse, it still runs into the more fundamental issue that Dianne raises, which is that even if the fetus is actually a person, the woman has no moral obligation to let it parasitize her. This argument is the central thrust of the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson’s classic article, “A Defense of Abortion”:

    http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/Phil160,Fall02/thomson.htm

    To be fair, as an ex-Catholic I do think that many people in the pro-life movement genuinely believe that a fetus is a baby, and that abortion is literally murder. Certainly the kerfluffle around stem-cell research does not involve women’s sexuality. That is not to say that that there isn’t a huge amount of anti-feminist/anti-sex sentiment in the movement (just look at the HPV vaccine brouhaha), but I think it is mistaken to characterize pro-lifers as being solely motivated by such views.

  93. #93 Edward
    June 4, 2007

    I’m pro-choice, but I find the diatribes against “religion” here disturbing. There are many religious people in the pro-choice movement, and I would bet that the number of theists who are pro-choice outnumber the number of atheists who are pro choice.

    One of the worst is mark plus, who, in reply #4 says, “Women pose a problem for the theistic world view.” What he presents has got to be some of the sloppiest thinking ever. First, there are a number of theists, including, by the way, a large number of Christians, who see God as either both male and female or transcending sex. Then there are theists who follow goddess-based religions (my friends in this category are all pro-choice). Too many atheists act like theism is the same thing as American conservative southern fundamentalist christianity.

    The problem with the anti-choice movement is that it is mostly a group of people who are using their beliefs as an excuse to inflate their own self-importance, belittle others, and try to control them. The pro-life people “know” abortion is morally wrong, so they don’t need to look at the issues more deeply. Similarly, Mark and other atheists here claim to know “religion” is wrong, yet their statements demonstrate a lack of understanding of the full spectrum of religious belief. I am also highly critical of many of the things they are, and yet, after examining different belief systems and observing the world around me, I decided I had theistic beliefs. The problem is not theism or atheism or any other particular belief system. The problem is the PEOPLE who try to use a particular belief system to gain power over others and who try to enforce their belief system on others.

  94. #94 Jason
    June 4, 2007

    Tulse,

    To be fair, as an ex-Catholic I do think that many people in the pro-life movement genuinely believe that a fetus is a baby, and that abortion is literally murder.

    I don’t see how this claim is remotely credible in light of how few of them seek to treat abortion (or the killing of embryos in IVF procedures or stem-cell research) as the equivalent of murder, either legally or socially.

  95. #95 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    Azkyroth, I don’t feel like a black klansman, and I agree with you that your attempted analogy is of poor quality.

  96. #96 PZ Myers
    June 4, 2007

    First, there are a number of theists, including, by the way, a large number of Christians, who see God as either both male and female or transcending sex. Then there are theists who follow goddess-based religions (my friends in this category are all pro-choice). Too many atheists act like theism is the same thing as American conservative southern fundamentalist christianity.

    No, you’ve got it completely wrong. We don’t see the insanity as belonging to just the fundamentalists. Some of us see both the alternatives you suggested, that there is a goddess or that god is a cosmic hermaphrodite, as equivalently ludicrous. The whole lot are a bunch of fruitloops.

  97. #97 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    Azkyroth, I don’t feel like a black klansman, and I agree with you that your attempted analogy is of poor quality.

    That’s nice. Now address the fact that you are, against all reason, self-identifying with a group whose position you oppose merely because you can’t quite agree with the most extreme manifestations of the position you generally support.

  98. #98 neil
    June 4, 2007

    Comment # 82 from Caledonian-right on the money. Misery often seems to be god’s only business, and it is intentional.

    P.Z. is dead right too, although I don’t expect the anti-choicers to see it in themselves. Nobody likes to admit that they are a hypocrite. Consider this-when you say that a woman should not be allowed to abort, you are making an ownership claim on both the fetus and the woman. Yet it is a claim with no consequences for the one who makes it. You do not have to provide anything except your high and mighty disapproval. You are not obliged to make the world a better or fairer place for the child, nor to feed, clothe or look after it. You can’t be punished if your disapproval results in death for the woman. But you still want a say over another person’s reproduction. Hypocrisy at it’s best, all because some people can’t fathom that their emotions shouldn’t rule other’s bodies.

    I encourage any man to consider the issue from a woman’s point of view: Would you really submit your body to outside ownership? If not, then how can you decide for others?

  99. #99 Kseniya
    June 4, 2007

    There are many religious people in the pro-choice movement, and I would bet that the number of theists who are pro-choice outnumber the number of atheists who are pro choice.

    Yes, of course; if we accept that those who self-identify as atheist comprise approximately 10% of the US population, there’s no need to bet on what I’d call a foregone conclusion.

    I believe the blog-local negative focus on the theistic anti-choice population is based in part on the inconsistent and incoherent ways in which the theistic pro-lifers apply the religious components of their arguments, and the correlation between religiousity and the inclination to blow up abortion clinics and/or murder their staff members. (I admit that in presuming to speak for the Pharyngulan community, I’m engaging in some speculation, or as GW Bush might say, “speculumation.”)

    The problem is the PEOPLE who try to use a particular belief system to gain power over others and who try to enforce their belief system on others.

    Yes, but some belief systems are more… invasive… than others.

  100. #100 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    “That’s nice. Now address the fact that you are, against all reason, self-identifying with a group whose position you oppose merely because you can’t quite agree with the most extreme manifestations of the position you generally support.”

    OK, let me address this. My position is that the two extremes (i.e. “human life begins at conception” vs. “human life begins at birth”) are equally ridiculous. I look for a rational standard upon which to base my position. In all other areas, consciousness is the criterion for morality (e.g. that’s why kicking a rock isn’t bad, but kicking a dog is). We know that a fertilized egg is not conscious, as it lacks a brain and nervous system. We know that a newborn baby is conscious, and we accord it full protection for this reason. Now, somwhere along the way, consciousness has “gone online”, and it’s pretty obvious that this happens only once there is a brain and nervous system. Therefore abortion before that development occurs should be completely acceptable. However, late term abortions are a different thing altogether, because we’re now dealing with another conscious being. So you see that I am not going “against all reason” as you said. I invite you (or anyone else) to explain to me how my reasoning is flawed, rather than likening me to a traitor.

  101. #101 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    If you aren’t self-identifying with the “pro-life” crowd, then what exactly are you complaining about?

  102. #102 Kseniya
    June 4, 2007

    Azkyroth, help me out here. Where in this thread did anonymous self-identify as “pro-life”? I can’t find it. Only Salvador has explicitly self-identified as such.

  103. #103 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    “If you aren’t self-identifying with the “pro-life” crowd, then what exactly are you complaining about?”

    I’m complaining about PZ’s assertion that “restricting abortion is just another way to put women in chains”. I support restriction of late term abortions, for reasons that I’ve given which have nothing to do with putting women in chains.

    The invitation to actually explain what’s wrong with my reasoning still stands.

  104. #104 Jason
    June 4, 2007

    I support restriction of late term abortions

    What kinds of restriction do you support? And what, exactly, do you mean by “late term abortions?” How late?

  105. #105 Numad
    June 4, 2007

    “My position is that the two extremes (i.e. ‘human life begins at conception’ vs. ‘human life begins at birth’) are equally ridiculous.”

    I suspect that many pro-choicers find the question to which those “two extremes” are the answers to isn’t that central to the legal question of abortion.

  106. #106 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    “What kinds of restriction do you support? And what, exactly, do you mean by “late term abortions?” How late?”

    I’m no expert on prenatal development, so I can’t give you an answer in terms of weeks, months or trimesters, or however this is usually done. So here’s my position, roughly:
    Before the brain and nervous system have developed, anything goes. After that, the fetus is a conscious human being, complete with human rights. Ending the pregnancy at this point is therefore ethically complicated, and should be restricted accordingly. I know that’s a vague answer, but only because there are all kinds of situations in which it will still be acceptable (e.g., if the baby is unlikely to survive and the mother is likely to die … I have heard of cases like this in which the baby had a massively enlarged head). However, outside of situations like these, I think it should be prohibited in the same way that infanticide is prohibited, unless someone can explain to me why my reasoning is flawed.

  107. #107 Jen Phillips
    June 4, 2007

    Ok, I’ve been lurking for a while, but I’m compelled to address ‘anonymous”s comments
    Anonymous, you say “somwhere along the way, consciousness has “gone online”, and it’s pretty obvious that this happens only once there is a brain and nervous system. Therefore abortion before that development occurs should be completely acceptable. However, late term abortions are a different thing altogether, because we’re now dealing with another conscious being. ”

    Leaving aside for the moment how you might define ‘consciousness’ (i.e. of a fetus vs. a newborn, or an independently surviving human of any age), others have argued for this idea (beginning of consciousness = beginning of life) using a human-like EEG pattern as a defined signature of ‘human’ life (this is explained nicely on Scott Gilbert’s website, http://www.devbio.com). There is a certain symmetry to this, as we often choose to disconnect patients from life support equipment when they no longer exhibit EEG readings. FYI, this landmark takes place sometime between 24 and 27 weeks gestation (for obvious reasons, EEG testing is currently limited to viable preemies of this age, so variability based on overall fitness is not surprising). So, there’s your landmark. I don’t know how that fits into your definition of ‘late term’. As an aside, I think it’s safe to say that the idea of ‘late term’ abortion is unsavory to pretty much everyone–man woman, pro- anti- whatever, but many of us profoundly believe in leaving the decision open to women and their doctors as opposed to the government (or you).

  108. #108 RavenT
    June 4, 2007

    Yes, but some belief systems are more… invasive… than others.

    Heh–off-topic, Kseniya, but you reminded me that Mr. Raven and I were flipping around the channels last night, and either Discovery or Animal Planet was showing a clip for an upcoming show about assisted reproduction.

    As the vet was pumping his arm up to the elbow in and out of one of the animal’s nether orifices, the voice-over cheerfully observed that “some of these techniques may look invasive”.

    Indeed. /off-topic

  109. #109 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    Thanks Jen! The EEG you speak of is exactly the kind of thing I mean. You also wrote:

    “many of us profoundly believe in leaving the decision open to women and their doctors as opposed to the government (or you).”

    So I have to ask, do you believe that infanticide should also be a decision left open to women and their doctors, as opposed to the government?

  110. #110 Jason
    June 4, 2007

    anonymous,

    Your answer isn’t just vague, it’s meaninglessly vague. There is no discrete point at which the brain and nervous system have “developed.” Neurological development is an on-going process that continues even after birth. Similarly, there is no discrete point at which the fetus is “conscious.” Consciousness becomes increasingly sophisticated with the development of the brain and nervous system. At which particular point in this process do you believe legal restrictions are justified, and why that particular point rather than another? Ditto for risks to the life of the fetus or pregnant woman. How great does the risk have to be before you would permit abortion?

    Legal restrictions on abortion are concrete, tangible things. You cannot have just and enforceable restrictions without concrete, tangible criteria for distinguishing legal abortions from illegal ones. What are your criteria?

  111. #111 Jen Phillips
    June 4, 2007

    Raven T: your post reminded me of a guide for semen collection I read recently (it was work related, honest!). The text (which, for all you animal husbandry hobbyists, can be found at http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/reprod/semeneval/collection.html) takes the reader through a dizzying array of manual and mechanical aids to this process, and cautions: “Prerequisites to use of an [Artificial Vagina] are that the male be conscious, not significantly frightened of people, and more interested in ejaculating than in killing humans.”

  112. #112 Numad
    June 4, 2007

    “[Unless] someone can explain to me why my reasoning is flawed.”

    It’s flawed because, in determining a point at which personhood begins, you consider the fetus as if in a vacuum.

    Likewise, you occult the fact that the legal concept of personhood might be thought of as depending on more than some material characteristic of the fetus itself: that’s apparent when you hammer out a false equivalence between the ‘two extremes’ you named earlier, an equivalence that can be only established because of the enormous ambiguity of the expression ‘when human life begins.’

    I also think it’s flawed because the gradual, somewhat opaque process of sentience doesn’t seem like a solid basis for the establishment of an arbitrary legal limit.

  113. #113 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    Jen, you wrote:

    “I don’t know how that fits into your definition of ‘late term’.”

    Thanks to what you told me, I can now clarify my position, and say that anything after the EEG you speak of is what I’ve been referring to as late term…. so somewhere around 24 – 27 weeks, the question of abortion becomes an ethically complicated question.

    Once again, I invite anyone to point out any flaws in my reasoning, and I will gladly change my views accordingly. I also invite anyone to explain to me how my reasoning has to do with the subjugation of women.

  114. #114 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    My views, from the other thread:

    [E]very person has the right to sovereign control of his or her own body. This is indisputable in most areas; only with regard to pregnancy does it become, for most people, a subject of dispute. The traits that constitute “a person” are absolutely dependent on the presence of a conscious mind, which in the case of life as we know it means a functioning brain. Thus a fetus which has not yet developed a brain is not a “person” and neither is a brain-dead Homo sapiens whose cardiopulmonary and digestive systems are still keeping the rest of the body alive, nor an anencephalic infant, etc. (it is worth noting, however, that a sentient extraterrestrial organism, a sentient trangenic organism of a non-human species, or a truly sentient AI, would be a “person”, and I find your inexplicable emphasis on human genetics rather chilling with regard to its implications for such individuals). A fetus also does not possess “its own body,” in a meaningful sense, until it is physically capable of maintaining a biologically independent existence–that is, its own organ systems, or at least those necessary to keep it physically alive, are functional, otherwise known as viability. Forcible violations of bodily autonomy–such as forcing a woman to serve as an incubator for a fetus she does not wish to carry–not only demonstrably cause substantial suffering but are inherently dehumanizing, and as such are unethical. At the point where a fetus has a functioning brain and is viable, it can be said to be a “person” and therefore should not be aborted except in cases of medical necessity (my exception, as noted, would be for purely pragmatic reasons where allowing third trimester abortion is necessary to discourage anti-choice terrorists and frauds from coercively preventing women from obtaining legal abortions earlier in the pregnancy); prior to this, the only “person” with a body that is theirs to control in the equation is the pregnant woman.

    So, what’s wrong with your reasoning? That depends on whether it includes an exception for risks to the life or health of the mother.

  115. #115 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    “There is no discrete point at which the brain and nervous system have “developed.” Neurological development is an on-going process that continues even after birth. Similarly, there is no discrete point at which the fetus is “conscious.” Consciousness becomes increasingly sophisticated with the development of the brain and nervous system. At which particular point in this process do you believe legal restrictions are justified, and why that particular point rather than another?”

    Jason:

    Sorry, I didn’t see your comment until after I posted my previous comment. I see what you’re saying, but I still think we’d be better off with an imperfect standard like the EEG Jen mentioned. I think that legal restrictions should come into play somewhere around 24-27 weeks based on what Jen said, if she’s correct that this is the point at which some sort of standard test for consciousness can be administered, however crude. I don’t think such restrictions would be very problematic for a woman seeking an abortion, since I expect most of them will have had one by this point in the pregnancy.

  116. #116 Jason
    June 4, 2007

    anonymous,

    after the EEG you speak of is what I’ve been referring to as late term…. so somewhere around 24 – 27 weeks, the question of abortion becomes an ethically complicated question.

    Well, is it 24 weeks, 27 weeks, or what? And what is a “human-like EEG,” exactly? And why is the presence of a “human-like EEG,” whatever exactly you mean by that, any less arbitrary a moral or legal line than the presence of, say, a “human-like” genome? Or a “human-like” body? Or a “human-like” something else? And you still haven’t explained the precise scope of your “life of the fetus/mother” exception.

    Another issue is what kind of penalties you seek to impose on people who have, or seek, or perform, or assist with unlawful “late term” abortions. You haven’t addressed that at all, either.

  117. #117 Anton Mates
    June 4, 2007

    In all other areas, consciousness is the criterion for morality (e.g. that’s why kicking a rock isn’t bad, but kicking a dog is). We know that a fertilized egg is not conscious, as it lacks a brain and nervous system. We know that a newborn baby is conscious, and we accord it full protection for this reason.

    But we don’t accord dogs full protection. Is there any reason to think a newborn baby, let alone a late-term fetus, is more conscious than a dog? As someone mentioned on an earlier thread, most of us believe that a newborn baby is not capable of suffering to the degree that an adult human can; that’s a common defense of circumcision.

    I think there are some reasons to grant newborns full legal protection; chief among them, that their welfare is usually of paramount importance to their parents, and doing harm to them will cause their parents great suffering. But I don’t think it’s because a newborn has a human mind.

  118. #118 Numad
    June 4, 2007

    “I think there are some reasons to grant newborns full legal protection[...]”

    I think it’s also important that there are no reasons not to, compared to a fetus.

  119. #119 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    “It’s flawed because, in determining a point at which personhood begins, you consider the fetus as if in a vacuum.”

    Sorry Numad, but I don’t know what you’re getting at here.

    You also wrote:

    “Likewise, you occult the fact that the legal concept of personhood might be thought of as depending on more than some material characteristic of the fetus itself: that’s apparent when you hammer out a false equivalence between the ‘two extremes’ you named earlier, an equivalence that can be only established because of the enormous ambiguity of the expression ‘when human life begins.’”

    OK, I will accept this criticism if you can provide me with a candidate for such a material characteristic.

    You also wrote:

    “I also think it’s flawed because the gradual, somewhat opaque process of sentience doesn’t seem like a solid basis for the establishment of an arbitrary legal limit.”

    I agree that it’s gradual and opaque, but isn’t it better to look for such a basis, rather than to simply declare that somehow personhood is imparted by passage through the birth canal?

  120. #120 Jason
    June 4, 2007

    anonymous,

    Why would we be “better off” making abortion a crime on the basis of an undefined standard of “consciousness” (consciousness of what?), “however crude,” and an undefined standard of risk to the life of the pregnant woman, than we are with abortion law as it is now?

  121. #121 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    “The traits that constitute “a person” are absolutely dependent on the presence of a conscious mind, which in the case of life as we know it means a functioning brain. Thus a fetus which has not yet developed a brain is not a “person” and neither is a brain-dead Homo sapiens whose cardiopulmonary and digestive systems are still keeping the rest of the body alive”

    Azkyroth, I agree with you completely on this point.
    I can’t agree with you on the following point:

    “A fetus also does not possess “its own body,” in a meaningful sense, until it is physically capable of maintaining a biologically independent existence–that is, its own organ systems, or at least those necessary to keep it physically alive, are functional, otherwise known as viability.”

    Then what about an adult who is fully conscious adult who is on a respirator due to paralysis? They are not “viable” by your definition. Since you demand consciousness as well as viability before according personhood to a fetus, it would seem that you would have to revoke the personhood of a person who relies on a respirator.

    Also, in answer to your question, yes of course there are exceptions for risks to the mother’s health, as I explained in comment number 106

  122. #122 Numad
    June 4, 2007

    anonymous,

    “OK, I will accept this criticism if you can provide me with a candidate for such a material characteristic.”

    I apologize if my english is unclear, but what I was saying is that any and all material characteristic of the fetus aren’t the only thing that can be considered.

    “Sorry Numad, but I don’t know what you’re getting at here.”

    I’m getting at the fact that the fetus isn’t in a vacuum. The woman can also enter in consideration.

    “I agree that it’s gradual and opaque, but isn’t it better to look for such a basis, rather than to simply declare that somehow personhood is imparted by passage through the birth canal?”

    Something important happens upon passage through the birth canal, but it has nothing to do with the fetus itself. The child stops being a demand and risk to a woman (with full legal personhood, without ambiguity) after that point.

    So no, it’s not.

  123. #123 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    “Well, is it 24 weeks, 27 weeks, or what?”

    Jason, we’re not actually writing legislation here. I’m just giving the number than Jen provided me with. Obviously my position is roughly defined at this point.

    “and what is a “human-like EEG,” exactly? ”

    This is explained if you follow Jen’s link

    “And why is the presence of a “human-like EEG,” whatever exactly you mean by that, any less arbitrary a moral or legal line than the presence of, say, a “human-like” genome?”

    Because we don’t accord legal status to an epithelial cell and arrest people for scratching themselves.

    “Or a “human-like” body?”

    Because an embalmed corpse has a human like body, but is not accorded human rights. Why? Because it’s not conscious.

    “And you still haven’t explained the precise scope of your “life of the fetus/mother” exception.”

    No, I haven’t, because I don’t feel like writing up a long list of all the exceptions I can think of, only to have you ask me five questions about each one. If you like, you can provide an example, and I’ll tell you if I’d agree with it or not.

    “Another issue is what kind of penalties you seek to impose on people who have, or seek, or perform, or assist with unlawful “late term” abortions.”

    As I see no non-arbitrary way to distinguish such abortions from infanticide, I think they would have to fall under whatever laws are in place to deal with that.

  124. #124 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    Then what about an adult who is fully conscious adult who is on a respirator due to paralysis? They are not “viable” by your definition. Since you demand consciousness as well as viability before according personhood to a fetus, it would seem that you would have to revoke the personhood of a person who relies on a respirator.

    Perhaps I should rephrase: “a fetus also does not possess “its own body,” in a meaningful sense, until it is physically capable of maintaining a biologically independent existence–that is, its own organ systems, or at least those necessary to keep it physically alive, are functional, such that it is not inherently dependent on the biological functions of another person’s body, otherwise known as viability.” This explains why a person a person is entitled to be kept alive with a respirator but not to be kept alive by organs forcibly removed from another, nonconsenting person.

  125. #125 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    “As someone mentioned on an earlier thread, most of us believe that a newborn baby is not capable of suffering to the degree that an adult human can; that’s a common defense of circumcision.”

    That’s interesting, because I object to circumcision for this reason. I have never seen any evidence that newborn babies are less capable of suffering, but if you know of any, please share it with us.

  126. #126 Numad
    June 4, 2007

    “Because we don’t accord legal status to an epithelial cell and arrest people for scratching themselves.”

    But ‘we’ don’t accord legal status to a fetus either. Isn’t that an awfully circular argument?

  127. #127 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    That’s interesting, because I object to circumcision for this reason. I have never seen any evidence that newborn babies are less capable of suffering, but if you know of any, please share it with us.

    I think the inability of newborns to grasp abstract concepts renders them less capable of suffering in certain ways (for example, the intellectual recognition of impending death), which have bugger-all to do with neurological and emotional responses to physical injury. As such, I can’t imagine where the “most” bit came from, especially as I’m also opposed to circumcision.

  128. #128 anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    I somehow got myself caught up in several exchanges here, all of which I’d like to continue, but I’m having trouble keeping up, and I’m supposed to be working right now…

    I guess you all win the debate by default, but I have to go..

    sorry

  129. #129 yiela
    June 4, 2007

    Yeah, inconsistency is the name of the game. My evangelical friend went on and on about the Terry Shaivo thing and then, a few weeks later when her very elderly relative was in the hospital, denied all treatment including a feeding tube. Before that, another relative discovered that her fetus was severely deformed. With full support of her very religious family, she had a partial birth abortion so she could hold her baby and say good bye. These folks don’t relate other people’s situations to their own at all.
    Also, many pro lifers do believe in they are in it to save the babies. These are the dupes.

  130. #130 Jen Phillips
    June 4, 2007

    Anonymous,
    My contribution that a fetus has a measurable and ‘human like’ EEG at ~60% of the normal gestation period does not mean that I afford said fetus a ‘human’ status equal to that of a full term infant. Without medical intervention (a very recent development in human history), such a fetus would perish quickly outside the womb. Even with intervention, the prognosis is far from certain. The whole EEG thing is a VERY rough guideline–some fetuses might reach this milestone earlier, some later. We can’t know. At best, it should be considered a continuum, not a sharp line of demarcation. Thus it is problematic if you’re planning on using this finding as a before/after guideline–it’s not measurable on a per-fetus basis. Moreover, I think it’s dangerous to equate this situation with your latest example of a fully conscious quadraplegic on a respirator. A sentient individual with a brain full of life experience just isn’t in the same ballpark as a 24 week old fetus whose ‘consciousness’ can only be ascribed by the electrical brain activity of its prematurely birthed counterparts. I also think it’s important to keep in mind that ~90% of all abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of gestation, so the issue we’re wrangling over affects a very small number of cases. Of those, most are done for medical reasons, either the health/life of the mother, or the fitness of the fetus–all of which fit under your ‘acceptable’ reasons for a late term abortion umbrella, if I’m not mistaken. Even leaving these aside, and allowing that there are still some cases out there involving healthy fetuses/healthy mothers, I can, unfortunately, think of some gut-wrenching circumstances that might, if examined, override your inclination to view the time point (range) in question as ‘too late to terminate’. If you’re considering the health of the mother as an exception, does that include her mental heath? The health/welfare of the child-that-will-be if it’s required to go to term?

    The advent of ‘personhood’ varies widely from culture to culture, and, the more we learn about reproductive biology, the more we realize that there are almost as many ways of scientifically defining ‘human life’ and the ‘beginning’ thereof. No single answer, therefore can be considered the ‘right’ one, and this fact alone should, IMO, make the issue immune to any legislation.

  131. #131 Russell
    June 4, 2007

    Janine, it is logically impossible to distinguish satire from theology.

  132. #132 Kevin Whitefoot
    June 4, 2007

    Caledonian, do you have any references to support this statement:
    -Originally, taboos placed on sex had the greater purposes of helping to prevent out-of-wedlock children that wouldn’t be properly cared for and reducing the spread of STDs.

    Or is it the sort of Just So story that leads you to suggest that free markets are efficient and to imply that natural selection is likewise.

    Natural selection is only efficient in the now almost obsolete sense of being effective, certainly not in the commonly accepted sense of economical with resources (such as an efficient air conditioner).

  133. #133 Jason
    June 4, 2007

    anonymous,

    Jason, we’re not actually writing legislation here.

    You’re proposing some kind of “restrictions” on abortion, and claiming we would be “better off” with such restrictions than we are under current abortion law. Yet you haven’t even defined any meaningful criterion for restriction, let alone offered any kind of coherent argument for it. You just keep making vague allusions to “consciousness” (“however crude”) and claiming this is a superior criterion to birth.

    There are around 10,000 third-trimester abortions a year. Which of these do you propose to restrict? What kind of restrictions do you seek to impose? What penalties do you propose for the violation of these restrictions? If you cannot describe your proposal in any greater detail and specificity than vague mutterings about “consciousness” and “likely” death, then it’s meaningless.

    Because we don’t accord legal status to an epithelial cell and arrest people for scratching themselves.

    This statement is non-responsive to the question I asked. I asked you why you think a “human-like EEG” (whatever that means, exactly) is any less arbitrary a moral or legal standard than a “human-like” genome. What is your answer?

    No, I haven’t, because I don’t feel like writing up a long list of all the exceptions I can think of, only to have you ask me five questions about each one. If you like, you can provide an example, and I’ll tell you if I’d agree with it or not.

    More evasion. If given a list of potential risks to life and health from pregnancy and childbirth you can state which ones you think would justify an abortion you would otherwise restrict, then you must have some criteria in mind for the nature and magnitude of the risk. So what is it?

  134. #134 Salvador
    June 4, 2007

    Sorry for the delay in answering some of the comments, but today my wife and I welcomed our second child.

    Numad, I believe that my arguments are as substantial as those from people that ascribe women’s choice over her body a much bigger value than the fetus she carries. If someone had hurt the fetus in my wife’s womb, I would like that person brought to justice as if him/her had hurt a baby.

    Janine, I certainly fit the pro-choice profile with regards to contraceptives, sexual education, women rights and stem cell research. The only discrepancy is that I believe that the integrity of human fetuses are more important that women’s right to choose. However, if the choice is a medical one, where a pregnancy would endanger the life of a woman, I support her right to choose between her life and her fetus.

    Monado, I have seen the “my abortion is moral” situation. But the fact that some fundies act that way does not impact my believe that fetuses are usually more important than women’s right to choose.

    JohnnieCanuck, certainly, I am all for stem cell research and its applications. I would even support creating embryos just for the sake of saving people. My (probably arbitrary) cut off is implantation.

  135. #135 Carlie
    June 4, 2007

    Check out this article from the Washington Post today about how the anti-choice groups are tearing into each other for not being punitive enough.

    Particularly read this quote from the vice president of Focus on the Family:”Doctors adopted the late-term procedure “out of convenience,” Minnery added. “The old procedure, which is still legal, involves using forceps to pull the baby apart in utero, which means there is greater legal liability and danger of internal bleeding from a perforated uterus. So we firmly believe there will be fewer later-term abortions as a result of this ruling.””

    He just said that it’s a good thing that the only procedure available to anyone who needs a late-term abortion will likely cause a perforated uterus. And anyone can claim with a straight face that this isn’t about trying to punish women?

  136. #136 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    Janine, I certainly fit the pro-choice profile with regards to contraceptives, sexual education, women rights and stem cell research. The only discrepancy is that I believe that the integrity of human fetuses are more important that women’s right to choose.

    And on what conceivable grounds would you argue that?

  137. #137 Salvador
    June 4, 2007

    Re: Azkyroth

    And on what conceivable grounds would you argue against that?

  138. #138 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    My views, from the other thread:
    [E]very person has the right to sovereign control of his or her own body. This is indisputable in most areas; only with regard to pregnancy does it become, for most people, a subject of dispute. The traits that constitute “a person” are absolutely dependent on the presence of a conscious mind, which in the case of life as we know it means a functioning brain. Thus a fetus which has not yet developed a brain is not a “person” and neither is a brain-dead Homo sapiens whose cardiopulmonary and digestive systems are still keeping the rest of the body alive, nor an anencephalic infant, etc. (it is worth noting, however, that a sentient extraterrestrial organism, a sentient trangenic organism of a non-human species, or a truly sentient AI, would be a “person”, and I find your inexplicable emphasis on human genetics rather chilling with regard to its implications for such individuals). A fetus also does not possess “its own body,” in a meaningful sense, until it is physically capable of maintaining a biologically independent existence–that is, its own organ systems, or at least those necessary to keep it physically alive, are functional, otherwise known as viability. Forcible violations of bodily autonomy–such as forcing a woman to serve as an incubator for a fetus she does not wish to carry–not only demonstrably cause substantial suffering but are inherently dehumanizing, and as such are unethical. At the point where a fetus has a functioning brain and is viable, it can be said to be a “person” and therefore should not be aborted except in cases of medical necessity (my exception, as noted, would be for purely pragmatic reasons where allowing third trimester abortion is necessary to discourage anti-choice terrorists and frauds from coercively preventing women from obtaining legal abortions earlier in the pregnancy); prior to this, the only “person” with a body that is theirs to control in the equation is the pregnant woman.

    So, what’s wrong with your reasoning? That depends on whether it includes an exception for risks to the life or health of the mother.

    Posted by: Azkyroth | June 4, 2007 07:33 PM

  139. #139 Numad
    June 4, 2007

    Salvador,

    “Numad, I believe that my arguments are as substantial as those from people that ascribe women’s choice over her body
    a much bigger value than the fetus she carries.”

    I think you’re wrong.

    Your original comment basically holds in a semantic sleigh-of-hand: “potential becomes expectation.” That phrase is supposed to justify both why you choose implantation over conception as the point at which an embryo contains the value of the person it’ll become and the whole embryo=person exercice to begin with, by attempting to form a contrast between your position and the “life at conception” position.

    However, it’s still plainly an arbitrary, meaningless exercice. The newly implanted embryo isn’t a person any more than the new zygote. Whatever the statistic difference between ‘expectation’ and ‘potential’ is supposed to be, something that’s expected to become a person is more like a potential person than an extant person.

    That is, it’s not a person.

    The obstacles lying between implantation and birth are not fundamentally different to the obstacles between conception and implantation. An implanted embryo can still become two persons or none at all.

    As for your reasoning why you are pro-choice, well, it’s pretty much the standard fare taken an unwarranted step further. Women who have sex, without or with protection (accidents do happen), have not chosen to carry out a pregnancy to term.

  140. #140 Stogoe
    June 4, 2007

    I think it’s time for Intermission with Bluey the Body Rights Thingamabob (courtesy of punkass marc).

  141. #141 Anton Mates
    June 5, 2007

    I think the inability of newborns to grasp abstract concepts renders them less capable of suffering in certain ways (for example, the intellectual recognition of impending death), which have bugger-all to do with neurological and emotional responses to physical injury.

    I agree, but until about twenty minutes ago I was under the impression that they also showed less of the latter than older children and adults. Then I found out that two studies last year (Maria Fitzgerald et al., and Kanwaljeet Anand et al.) showed cortical activation specifically in response to painful stimuli, in premature infants.

    Interestingly, a 2002 study by Tim Oberlander showed that, to quote Nature, ” premature babies with severe brain injuries that disable much of the cortex have the same facial expressions and behaviours in response to potentially painful stimuli as normal babies of the same age.” I’m not sure how to reconcile that–their brains are processing pain-related signals, but can’t yet output a behavioral response?

    As such, I can’t imagine where the “most” bit came from, especially as I’m also opposed to circumcision.

    The “most” referred to the belief that newborns suffer less than adults, not the defense of circumcision.

  142. #142 jackd
    June 5, 2007

    Salvador: I believe that the integrity of human fetuses are more important that women‘s right to choose

    Funny how that section just leaps out, isn’t it?

  143. #143 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 5, 2007

    Tulse wrote:

    And even if one holds the view you espouse, it still runs into the more fundamental issue that Dianne raises, which is that even if the fetus is actually a person, the woman has no moral obligation to let it parasitize her. This argument is the central thrust of the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson’s classic article, “A Defense of Abortion”…

    Thompson argues a powerful case but it is not, I think, the slam-dunk defence of abortion that some here think it is.

    In the case of her little parable, let us assume that the kidnap victim has been found by the police but is still connected to the unfortunate musician. Becoming frustrated by the delay as rescuers debate the morality of uncoupling the two, the victim decides to settle the matter once and for all, snatches up a policeman’s pistol and shoots the musician dead. Would such an action be one of murder or of justifiable self-defence?

  144. #144 Dianne
    June 5, 2007

    We know that a newborn baby is conscious, and we accord it full protection for this reason.

    Several things to point out here.

    First, to address the point about EEGs in premies versus fetal development. Remember, a fetus is not a newborn, even if they are of the same gestational age. A fetus exists in a low oxygen environment and it is quite possible that whatever level of consciousness a premie obtains is not reached in a fetus simply because there isn’t enough oxygen run its cortex yet.

    Second, 24-27 weeks may be a bit earlier than is realistic. This article<7a>, which addresses fetal pain, suggests that pain perception starts at about 30 weeks gestation and that it certainly doesn’t start before the third trimester.

    Third, what do we mean by consciousness? Humans don’t pass the rouge test until about 15-18 months of age. No one (well, maybe Pete Singer) is suggesting that infanticide be legal, of course, but perhaps this suggests that conciousness does not in fact come on line all at once but is a gradual process with gray areas. In which case, the higher good of the person who is clearly conscious should be considered above that of the questionably conscious one.

    Fourth, other animals can pass the rouge test, including chimps and other non-human primates, elephants, and dolphins (Hey, PZ: I’ve heard a rumor that octopi are being tested but don’t know the results yet). If consiousness is the divider between a being that should be protected and one that doesn’t have to be, shouldn’t these animals be protected as well? (FWIW: My answer to this question is yes, all animals that can pass the rouge test should be protected simply because they have consciousness, not because they are rare, cute, or useful.)

    Finally, regardless of the personhood of a fetus, should it have rights above those of its host? As I mentioned earlier, a person who volunteers as an organ or bone marrow donor has the right to back out, even though they volunteered, even though the potential recipient will probably die without their marrow or organ. Why should women be held to higher standards for a possibly conscious entity than men and women are for a clearly conscious one?

    That all having been said, I would have no problem with a law banning abortion in the third trimester as long as abortion for any reason were readily available in the first two trimesters and exceptions were made for risk to the mother’s life or health and for fetal anomolies inconsistent with life. My premise here is that if abortion is easily available and the woman in question does not have an abortion she has given implicit consent for the fetus to occupy her uterus–unless, of course, something changes.

  145. #145 Dianne
    June 5, 2007

    Ian: I want to point out again that we don’t need to go to Thompson’s parable to see examples of people dying through the unwillingness of others to allow them to use their bodily resources. Remember the example I gave of a bone marrow donor who backed out when faced with the reality of actually give marrow? This has happened at least once in my personal experience (a relative, the patient died) and at least once that I have read about (unrelated donor, don’t know the patient’s ultimate fate). In short, in the real world, not the theoretical one, people are dying because other people have backed out of their promise to provide them with body parts that they need. That act–volunteering and then withdrawing consent–could easily be argued to be immoral. But should it be illegal? If so, what level of illegality is it? Is it murder? Manslaughter? If it is not, how can illegalizing abortion be justified when killing an adult by being unwilling to face minimal risk (much smaller than the risk of completing an average pregnancy) is legal?

    Incidently, bone marrow/peripheral blood stem cell donation is very safe and, since the advent of PBSCT, not even painful. Everyone who is willing should put themselves into the bone marrow registry so that if someone needs your marrow they know where to get it. But only if you’re really willing to give it.

  146. #146 Azkyroth
    June 5, 2007

    Incidently, bone marrow/peripheral blood stem cell donation is very safe and, since the advent of PBSCT, not even painful. Everyone who is willing should put themselves into the bone marrow registry so that if someone needs your marrow they know where to get it. But only if you’re really willing to give it.

    I’m a regular blood donor (when I’m not suffering low-grade colds, which are annoyingly frequent, despite my functioning near-immunity to serious illness) but find the idea of having marrow extracted rather horrifying at a visceral level…I know very little about it, though. Any sites you’d recommend perusing?

  147. #147 Dianne
    June 5, 2007

    Azkyroth: You might try the national marrow donor program, here. Most “bone marrow” donations these days are actually peripheral blood stem cell donations, eliminating the pain and (hopefully) the “ick” factors involved. PBSC collection does involve taking a drug to stimulate the production of immature cells (G-CSF, usually), but it is quite safe. Potential side effects include fever and bone pain (from expansion of the marrow), both of which are usually mild and self-limiting. And the donation itself just involves a couple of big needles and a longish time with the blood running through a machine to remove the immature blood cells. However, bone marrow harvest (done under general anesthesia) is still used sometimes, so I don’t want to say that you’d never be asked for actual bone marrow. Does this answer the question you were asking?

  148. #148 hoary puccoon
    June 5, 2007

    This subject is so painful for me that I haven’t read most of the comments. But I want to go ahead and say this. Years ago, when my first child was a toddler, I became pregnant with my second child. Something went horribly wrong and the fetus (the baby, my husband and I called it) died but didn’t spontaneously abort. I carried it dead for weeks, feeling something was wrong, while my obstetrician assured me that I was imagining things. This doctor was a leader in the pro-life movement. He wouldn’t even insert an IUD because it would prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. In the end, though, he had to perform an abortion of the long-dead fetus I was carrying, and he did save my life (just barely)on the operating table. Afterward, when my husband and I were struggling with our pain over losing what would have been a cherished child, the doctor coldly told us, “Don’t feel bad. It’s just as well this happened. It probably would have been abnormal.” THAT was his real feeling. Maybe there are people in the pro-life movement who really feel for embryos. But there are plenty of pro-lifers who couldn’t care less. And quite a few pro-choice advocates who have grieved for an unborn child.

  149. #149 Carlie
    June 5, 2007

    Thread derail, but that’s interesting, Dianne. I’m a semi-regular platelet donor, so I’ve been interested in the bone marrow registry, but my husband scared me off by telling me about someone he knew who had donated marrow and later in a car accident had an awful fracture at the site of donation; he said it was something about that area being more fragile because of the procedure. Sounds kind of bogus, but he’s knocked me off with that so far.

  150. #150 Dianne
    June 5, 2007

    Well, to bring it back vaguely to the topic…I’m a hematologist. I want people to volunteer to be marrow/stem cell donors so that people with nasty leukemias can have a better chance of surviving. I’m happy to do whatever I ethically can to encourage people to donate when needed. But the very idea of forcing people to be donors makes me nauseous. I would refuse to collect marrow or stem cells from someone who was forced to donate, even at the cost of losing my license or going to prison, even if they had previously consented and then withdrew consent for whatever reason. Donation good, forced donation bad…does everyone see why I claim this is going back to the topic or should I be more explicit?

    BTW: The older marrow obtaining techniques did involve removal of a fair amount of bone cortex from the hips so if the person in question had donated a short time before the crash, it might be possible that the bone there was more fragile, but I couldn’t really say for sure without knowing the case. Sounds theoretically possible, but like a very uncommon problem. Anyway, peripheral blood stem cell collection is the more common procedure now.

  151. #151 Tulse
    June 5, 2007

    I don’t see how this claim is remotely credible in light of how few of them seek to treat abortion (or the killing of embryos in IVF procedures or stem-cell research) as the equivalent of murder, either legally or socially.

    I certainly wouldn’t say that pro-lifers are consistent in their views, as far as we would judge. I think there is a naive romanticism involved, one that sees pregnancy as essentially “a baby inside a woman”, but can’t really commit to seeing embryos in general as real babies. I can’t capture this feeling very well verbally, but believe me, however inconsistently they seem to apply their belief, there are plenty of pro-lifers who genuinely believe that the moment a woman gets pregnant, she is carrying the moral equivalent of a full person.

  152. #152 Bob
    June 5, 2007

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I am male and pro-death. However, I would like someone to answer this question. Has a human female ever given birth to a shoe? Or a microwave? Or a monkey for that matter. If not, what then does she carry in her body at conception? Having said that, clearly the woman in the story should have had her child aborted, as should all poor dumb people (one and the same). Her remaining children should be subject to retroactive abortion as they will never amount to anything. The fewer humans alive on this planet the better off it will be.

  153. #153 Anton Mates
    June 5, 2007

    First, to address the point about EEGs in premies versus fetal development. Remember, a fetus is not a newborn, even if they are of the same gestational age. A fetus exists in a low oxygen environment and it is quite possible that whatever level of consciousness a premie obtains is not reached in a fetus simply because there isn’t enough oxygen run its cortex yet.

    Yes, the Nature article I quoted above made that point; none of the researchers who worked on premature infants are willing to extend their conclusions to fetuses, because the physiology of the brain changes so radically immediately after birth.

  154. #154 Jason
    June 5, 2007

    Tulse,

    It’s not a matter of mere inconsistency. There is overwhelming evidence that, whatever they say publicly, they don’t really believe that abortion is murder, or anything remotely like murder. The unwillingness to seek murder charges against women who have abortions or doctors who perform them, or against scientists who destroy embryos through stem-cell research. The popularity of the rape exception. The lack of serious opposition to IVF. The relative indifference to the issue of spontaneous abortion. And so on. All of these things indicate that they don’t really think of embryos and fetuses as the same thing as babies, or think of abortion as they same thing as infanticide.

  155. #155 Jason
    June 5, 2007

    Ian Spedding,

    In the case of her little parable, let us assume that the kidnap victim has been found by the police but is still connected to the unfortunate musician. Becoming frustrated by the delay as rescuers debate the morality of uncoupling the two, the victim decides to settle the matter once and for all, snatches up a policeman’s pistol and shoots the musician dead. Would such an action be one of murder or of justifiable self-defence?

    It would probably be murder, but I’m not sure what you think that has to do with the issue we are debating. The issue is whether the musician has a right to an invasive parasitic physical connection to the kidnap victim to sustain his life. He does not. The kidnap victim is entitled to disconnect the musician, even if the result is the musician’s death. In the same way, a woman has a right to remove a fetus from her body, even if the result is the fetus’s death, regardless of whether the fetus is held to be a person or not.

  156. #156 Edward
    June 5, 2007

    No, you’ve got it completely wrong. We don’t see the insanity as belonging to just the fundamentalists. Some of us see both the alternatives you suggested, that there is a goddess or that god is a cosmic hermaphrodite, as equivalently ludicrous. The whole lot are a bunch of fruitloops.

    Ah, so you use your own beliefs to label me as nuts and worthy of your contempt. Fortunately I do know a good number of atheists who are more open minded than yourself, so I won’t judge all atheists as bigots based on your example. Some of us theists do actually read works by atheist authors and find their arguments unconvincing, incomplete, or even logically flawed. I can see how a rational person can come to an atheist, agnostic, or theist point of view and not be nuts.

    There are those who use their belief systems as a basis to understand and help others and there are those who use their belief system to belittle others, make themselves feel important, often to the point of oppressing others. Your words place you on the same side of that equation as most in the “pro-life” movement. I see a whole host of issues, such as the abortion debate, the creationist movement, a number of immigration issues, most forms of bigotry, and the list goes on, as a failure to teach both tolerance and critical thinking.

  157. #157 Numad
    June 5, 2007

    “Your words place you on the same side of that equation as most in the ‘pro-life’ movement.”

    The failure to believe that your beliefs have been arrived to by a rational process is intolerance and oppression?

    Please.

  158. #158 Tulse
    June 5, 2007

    There is overwhelming evidence that, whatever they say publicly, they don’t really believe that abortion is murder, or anything remotely like murder.

    I know that it is tempting to demonize the opposition by thinking they are intentional hypocrites and misogynists, but I honestly don’t think that’s what’s going on for a large portion of those in the pro-life movement. I agree that there is a huge lack of consistency in the stated position and their actions, and that their beliefs are not terribly informed by biology. (I doubt, for example, that most know about the natural rate of implantation failures.) But to believe that such inconsistency is some sort of intentional deception is, I believe, factually wrong and politically unproductive.

    As for the list you provide, to counter that I’d note the legislative attempts to make killing a fetus in comission of a crime (such as murdering a pregnant woman) itself a crime. And I’d note the murder of abortion doctors by radical abortion foes. And just look at the iconography of the movement — how many protestors put babies on their signs?

  159. #159 Edward
    June 5, 2007

    Dismissing my beliefs before you understand what they are simply because I choose to label them “theistic” is intolerance, but not yet oppression. If you then also dismiss what I have to say in general beacuse you think I am “fruitloops,” you have started down the road to oppression.

  160. #160 Tulse
    June 5, 2007

    If you then also dismiss what I have to say in general beacuse you think I am “fruitloops,” you have started down the road to oppression.

    “Oppression”?! You feel oppressed because your beliefs are dismissed? As a wise man once said, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

  161. #161 Numad
    June 5, 2007

    Edward,

    Nonsensical usage of oppression and intolerance aside, I don’t think that there’s anything you evoked (offensive equivalence included) that I haven’t understood.

  162. #162 Jason
    June 5, 2007

    Tulse,

    I know that it is tempting to demonize the opposition by thinking they are intentional hypocrites and misogynists, but I honestly don’t think that’s what’s going on for a large portion of those in the pro-life movement. I agree that there is a huge lack of consistency in the stated position and their actions, and that their beliefs are not terribly informed by biology. (I doubt, for example, that most know about the natural rate of implantation failures.) But to believe that such inconsistency is some sort of intentional deception is, I believe, factually wrong and politically unproductive.

    Well, they’re either dishonest or self-deluded. Take your pick. But I don’t think it’s credible that they really can’t see the fundamental contradiction (not mere “inconsistency”) between their rhetoric of murder and infanticide and their unwillingness to treat abortion legally and socially as any kind of serious wrongdoing. So I think it’s pretty clear that the anti-abortion movement is fundamentally dishonest.

    As for the list you provide, to counter that I’d note the legislative attempts to make killing a fetus in comission of a crime (such as murdering a pregnant woman) itself a crime.

    What about it? I have no idea why you think that “counters” what I wrote. I should think that almost everyone, pro-choice or pro-life, agrees that it should be a crime for a third party to kill a fetus without the consent of the pregnant woman (whether that killing is done in the commission of another crime or not).

    And I’d note the murder of abortion doctors by radical abortion foes. And just look at the iconography of the movement — how many protestors put babies on their signs?

    Yes, the ones who murder abortion doctors are the true believers. Their actions are at least arguably consistent with their rhetoric that abortion=murder. But obviously the vast majority of anti-abortionists do not do this. In fact, they often go to great lengths to dissociate themselves from the violent extremists.

  163. #163 Azkyroth
    June 5, 2007

    Ah, so you use your own beliefs to label me as nuts and worthy of your contempt. Fortunately I do know a good number of atheists who are more open minded than yourself, so I won’t judge all atheists as bigots based on your example.

    “Nuts” is a colloquialism. What he means is “delusional,” in the sense of “holding strongly to demonstrably false beliefs in spite of a lack of supporting evidence and the availability of overwhelming evidence against the beliefs in question.” Religion qualifies, or would if religious beliefs matching church doctrines weren’t explicitly excluded from medical definitions of delusion.

    Some of us theists do actually read works by atheist authors and find their arguments unconvincing, incomplete, or even logically flawed. I can see how a rational person can come to an atheist, agnostic, or theist point of view and not be nuts.

    An otherwise rational person can come to a theist point of view. Accepting theism requires a permanent suspension of rationality with regards to the beliefs related to that theism; this is known as compartmentalization. As for “flawed” arguments from atheists…let’s hear some. Please limit it to arguments atheists actually make with some regularity, rather than strawmen that may or may not have been articulated once, in the history of the internet, by some kid disgusted with religion but not having fully considered the implications of the alternative.

    There are those who use their belief systems as a basis to understand and help others and there are those who use their belief system to belittle others, make themselves feel important, often to the point of oppressing others. Your words place you on the same side of that equation as most in the “pro-life” movement. I see a whole host of issues, such as the abortion debate, the creationist movement, a number of immigration issues, most forms of bigotry, and the list goes on, as a failure to teach both tolerance and critical thinking.

    Really. How about some links to stories of atheists bombing churches then, hmm? Or do you maintain that harsh language from an atheist is equivalent to physical violence or legal oppression from a theist?

  164. #164 Edward
    June 5, 2007

    Tulse – I didn’t say I felt oppressed. I do not think you read the words I wrote, or else you interpreted them differently than I intended.

    Numad – please explain how my useage is “nonsensical.” The meaning I was going for with intolerance is this one: “unwillingness to recognize and respect differences in opinions or beliefs” – with perhaps the focus on the “respect” part. Examples of statements I consider intolerant are:

    “All theists are delusional.”
    “All atheists will go to hell.”
    “If you are pro-choice, you are a baby killer.”
    “If you are pro-life, you want to enslave women.”

    Intolerance is often a barrier that people use to make themselves feel superior to others. Sometimes people take intolerance so far that they don’t listen to what people in “other” groups say or use their intolerance an as excuse to oppress others.

    Back on the topic, I admit I share a degree of intolerance for the “religious right” and their views on abortion. But going on about how they are all bigoted mysoginistic “god-freaks” really doesn’t help anything. As long as each side demonizes the other – as long as it is “baby killers” vs. “enslavers of women” – then the culture war will go on. If you over generalize in your attacks, you offend people who agree with you on the issues but may hold different beliefs, and if you do it enough, you may drive them away. I see a certain amount of hate expressed towards religion in this thread, and, yes, it bothers me. Remembering that the majority of the pro-choice movement consists of people who consider themselves religious, what is accomplished by using the beliefs of the “pro-life” movement to launch an attack on all religion?

    and I just saw Azkyroth’s post now…. I’m not allowed to use straw men, ok, but you have plenty of your own there. I am familiar with the concept of compatmentalization, but I really don’t want to get into a debate over particular beliefs. I’m fine with you being an atheist and I’m not trying to convince you you shouldn’t be. What bugs me is that you feel the compulsion to call me delusional because I decided, after looking at various schools of theistic and atheistic thought, that I was a theist. Why do you have a problem with the concept that someone can be both religious and rational?

  165. #165 Azkyroth
    June 5, 2007

    Because faith and reason are fundamentally opposed. Or would you care to elucidate the empirical evidence and logical reasoning that convinced you?

  166. #166 Chet
    June 5, 2007

    What bugs me is that you feel the compulsion to call me delusional because I decided, after looking at various schools of theistic and atheistic thought, that I was a theist. Why do you have a problem with the concept that someone can be both religious and rational?

    Because it’s never been demonstrated to be true.

  167. #167 Azkyroth
    June 5, 2007

    It’s worth noting that, as I explicitly posited with the reference to compartmentalization that a person can be, on average, rational, but religious sentiment itself is inherently irrational, particularly in the absence of empirical evidence supporting any of religion’s core claims.

  168. #168 Numad
    June 5, 2007

    “The meaning I was going for with intolerance is this one: ‘unwillingness to recognize and respect differences in opinions or beliefs’ – with perhaps the focus on the ‘respect’ part.”

    I think you’re also confusing respect for a person with differences in opinions and beliefs and respect for these different beliefs.

    Yes, PZ phrased it in the sense ‘theists are delusional’, which I find disrespectful and perhaps untolerant in the mildest sense you’ve described.

    However, you made it quite clear that you were demanding that people refrain from saying that ‘theism is irrational’, or any variation on that. I feel no obligation to do so, on the contrary.

    Your belief system is due no special respect.

    I find the constant comparisons and equivalences you are so eager to draw offensive.

    “As long as each side demonizes the other – as long as it is ‘baby killers’ vs. ‘enslavers of women’ – then the culture war will go on.”

    No. The problem is people trying to outlaw or restrict abortion, not people using harsh language toward people trying to outlaw abortion.

    “If you over generalize in your attacks, you offend people who agree with you on the issues but may hold different beliefs, and if you do it enough, you may drive them away.”

    Then what were their convictions worth, if they can be changed by spite on an unrelated dispute?

    Oppression is still nowhere to be seen.

  169. #169 Azkyroth
    June 5, 2007

    Then what were their convictions worth, if they can be changed by spite on an unrelated dispute?

    …I’m stealing this phrasing. ^.^

  170. #170 Tim
    June 5, 2007

    “Remember, the people who want to end abortion aren’t really pro-life–they are out to control women, nothing more.”

    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen PZ say.

    As a former pro-lifer, I’m disgusted by the absurdity of this claim. Shame on you. Pro-lifers are not all Jerry Falwells, thanks.

  171. #171 Azkyroth
    June 6, 2007

    Really, Tim? Care to substantiate that?

  172. #172 Monimonika
    June 6, 2007

    Tim wrote:

    As a former pro-lifer, I’m disgusted by the absurdity of this claim.

    What was the reasoning that you (Tim) stopped being a pro-lifer? According to PZ, it most likely has to do with realizing the consequences that the pro-life position has on women’s rights & lives. Is this so? And if so, is PZ’s claim really that absurd? Or would you say that, at least in your case, you were just simply ignorant of the “woman” part of the situation entirely, so the claim of “subjugation/punishment of women” simply didn’t cross your mind?

    If your reason does not involve women’s rights or the shifting of your sympathy from the fetus to the woman, I’m of the opinion that that would nicely refute PZ’s claim.

  173. #173 Carlie
    June 6, 2007

    Press release from American Life League (emphasis mine):
    “Abortion is an act that takes the life of an innocent human child,” said Erik Whittington, American Life League’s youth outreach director. “It is shameful that Christians would rally around the physical needs of the poor and ignore the deaths of untold millions of babies. Abortion is poverty and the number one priority of our day should be its demise.

    (via Feministe)

    So, they hate the poor, too!

  174. #174 Chet
    June 6, 2007

    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen PZ say.

    It’s undeniably true, though. The policies that pro-lifers promote are completely inconsistent with the idea that abortion is the same as child murder. There’s no way to reconcile their policies with that position. So either pro-lifers are the stupidest people in the world, or they have another agenda.

    As it turns out, an agenda of wanting to punish women for having sex is perfectly consistent with their promoted policies.

    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/images/prolifebeliefchart.gif

  175. #175 ricky mooston
    June 6, 2007

    ACTUALLY ABORTION FREES MEN OF THEIR RESPONSIBLITY.

    It has been statistically shown that white men with good incomes are one of the prime supporters of abortion. Otherwise, they have to cough up child support.

    I think abortion should be a choice for the mom. I don’t want to pretend its better than good planning, taking safety precautions, etc,e tc. People should use common sense but well sometimes things happen.

  176. #176 Azkyroth
    June 6, 2007

    ACTUALLY ABORTION FREES MEN OF THEIR RESPONSIBLITY.

    It has been statistically shown that white men with good incomes are one of the prime supporters of abortion. Otherwise, they have to cough up child support.

    Let’s see some of those statistics, preferably with names of the researchers involved, organization which funded and promoted them, the research methodology employed, and how the conclusion follows from the statistics you’re citing. Because this contradicts both my personal experience (several female friends have had abortions) and every single reliable thing I’ve read. Unless you produce some reliable figures I call bullshit.

  177. #177 Azkyroth
    June 6, 2007

    PS:

    Tim, Edward…I’m still waiting…

  178. #178 Anton Mates
    June 6, 2007

    It has been statistically shown that white men with good incomes are one of the prime supporters of abortion. Otherwise, they have to cough up child support.

    Uh, American women are far more likely to have an abortion if they’re poor or nonwhite. Are these rich white guys cruising the ghetto for girls to knock up?

  179. #179 Azkyroth
    June 6, 2007

    Uh, American women are far more likely to have an abortion if they’re poor or nonwhite. Are these rich white guys cruising the ghetto for girls to knock up?

    I guess someone hasn’t explained to Ricky Mooston that ASSTR isn’t a trustworthy news source… ;/

  180. #180 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 7, 2007

    Jason wrote:

    In the case of her little parable, let us assume that the kidnap victim has been found by the police but is still connected to the unfortunate musician. Becoming frustrated by the delay as rescuers debate the morality of uncoupling the two, the victim decides to settle the matter once and for all, snatches up a policeman’s pistol and shoots the musician dead. Would such an action be one of murder or of justifiable self-defence?
    It would probably be murder, but I’m not sure what you think that has to do with the issue we are debating. The issue is whether the musician has a right to an invasive parasitic physical connection to the kidnap victim to sustain his life. He does not. The kidnap victim is entitled to disconnect the musician, even if the result is the musician’s death. In the same way, a woman has a right to remove a fetus from her body, even if the result is the fetus’s death, regardless of whether the fetus is held to be a person or not.

    If it is not murder for the victim to cause the musician’s death by disconnection, why should it be murder for the victim to shoot the musician? In both cases, the musician’s death would be the result of a deliberate act by the victim.

    The problem is that, while the musician has no right to the life-support being provided unwillingly by the kidnap victim and while neither the musician nor the kidnappers should be allowed to ‘profit’ in any way from what was clearly a crime, the kidnap victim has no right to kill the musician or any other person except where there is an immediate threat to the victim’s life or limb. In those circumstances, although the musician had no right to the kidnap victim’s support neither was he or she party to the crime of kidnap and should not suffer punishment for it, certainly not death. On the lesser-of-two-evils principle, therefore, the unfortunate kidnap victim would have to continue providing life-support to the musician until alternative arrangements could be made.

    On the related question of people who volunteer to donate organs, or bone marrow or blood to others, where there is a commitment to a particular individual who will otherwise die, I would argue that the donor should be held to the promise they made in much the same way as parties to a contract can be legally compelled to abide by its terms.

    Coming back to the question of abortion, I would argue that when a woman and a man have sexual intercourse in full knowledge of the possible outcome, there is tacit consent by both of them to be responsible for the consequences. This applies even if contraception is used since no form of it is foolproof. If the result of intercourse is a fertilized egg which is held to be entitled to the right to life, then even that egg cannot be aborted by deliberate human intervention since the right to life takes priority of the mother’s right to bodily autonomy, except where there is a threat to the mother’s life.

  181. #181 Numad
    June 7, 2007

    “If the result of intercourse is a fertilized egg which is held to be entitled to the right to life, then even that egg cannot be aborted by deliberate human intervention since the right to life takes priority of the mother’s right to bodily autonomy, except where there is a threat to the mother’s life.”

    Fortunately, it’s neither reasonable nor logical to hold that a fertilized egg is entitled to the right to life in the same sense that a person is.

    In other words: nonsense all.

    “Coming back to the question of abortion, I would argue that when a woman and a man have sexual intercourse in full knowledge of the possible outcome, there is tacit consent by both of them to be responsible for the consequences.”

    Coincidentally, everytime someone gets pregnant it’s a woman. Also, someone climbing into a car and driving is aware of the risk of accident. That doesn’t mean tacit consent that medical aid should be kept from them if they were to find themselves wounded in the wreck of that same car.

  182. #182 Numad
    June 7, 2007

    Or even more to the point, since you’ve decided to say ‘consequences’ to the plural, for some reason, is having protected sex tacit consent to untreated infection?

    Someone might just decide that those poor micro-organisms are entitled to life! That would be about as gratuitous a declaration.

  183. #183 Azkyroth
    June 7, 2007

    Someone might just decide that those poor micro-organisms are entitled to life!

    And every dishwasher is a concentration camp! D:

  184. #184 D
    June 7, 2007

    I see Ian is again trying to speak on behalf of nearly every person who has ever lived. Truly an amazing god complex on display.

  185. #185 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 8, 2007

    Numad wrote:

    Fortunately, it’s neither reasonable nor logical to hold that a fertilized egg is entitled to the right to life in the same sense that a person is.

    Just as well I never argued that a fertilized egg was the same as a person, then, only that it should be entitled to the same right to life.

    Coincidentally, everytime someone gets pregnant it’s a woman.

    I am glad to see you were paying attention in biology classes.

    Also, someone climbing into a car and driving is aware of the risk of accident. That doesn’t mean tacit consent that medical aid should be kept from them if they were to find themselves wounded in the wreck of that same car.

    Our system of justice is founded on the principle that people are responsible for their actions and can be held accountable for them. Offenders can be found guilty of crimes because it is assumed that, rather than committing whatever offence they are charged with, they could have acted otherwise if they had chosen.

    If a man and a woman have sex it is assumed that they know that, even with contraceptive precautions, there is still a risk of conception. If the woman should become pregnant it is both the man and the woman who are responsible for conceiving the child and, as the parents, are primarily responible for its welfare and upbringing. This does not mean that they are bound raise it whether they like it or not – they could always put it up for adoption – but neither should they be entitled to simply kill it. Having created the child, intentionally or not, the parents have a duty of care towards it which does not include killing it.

  186. #186 Chet
    June 8, 2007

    On the lesser-of-two-evils principle, therefore, the unfortunate kidnap victim would have to continue providing life-support to the musician until alternative arrangements could be made.

    Isn’t that really only the lesser of two evils, though, if the kidnap victim is assumed to have less of a right to their body integrity than the musician?

    Your argument implies that people are required to bend over backwards to protect the lives of unrelated third parties, at whatever cost to themselves short of their own deaths; I’m not familiar with any moral calculus where that makes sense.

  187. #187 Numad
    June 8, 2007

    “Just as well I never argued that a fertilized egg was the same as a person, then, only that it should be entitled to the same right to life.”

    Oh, this is ridiculous. That’s exactly what I said you stated, and it’s still an unjustified position. And then, you go on to imply that a fertilized egg is a child. Bravo.

    Your comment is basically constructed around your need to restate your two previous points without acknowledging the responses to them and by changing the wording enough that the sheer thoughtless repetition might be hidden a little.

    I’ll follow suit and just rephrase my objections to your lousy points.

    Sex doesn’t imply consent to carry a pregnancy to term any more than it implies consent to carry an untreated sexually transmitted disease.

    If treating a sexually transmitted disease or abortion a pregnancy violated someone’s right, then there would be reasons for restricting it, and consent to sex would be meaningful for reasons of legal liability.

    Seeing that you haven’t provided a good reason why a fertilized egg has a legal right to life, these considerations are meaningless.

  188. #188 Azkyroth
    June 8, 2007

    Just as well I never argued that a fertilized egg was the same as a person, then, only that it should be entitled to the same right to life.

    If the woman should become pregnant it is both the man and the woman who are responsible for conceiving the child and, as the parents, are primarily responible for its welfare and upbringing. This does not mean that they are bound raise it whether they like it or not – they could always put it up for adoption – but neither should they be entitled to simply kill it. Having created the child, intentionally or not, the parents have a duty of care towards it which does not include killing it.

    Well? Is a fertilized egg a “child” or isn’t it?

    (Unless you’re arguing that children aren’t people, or that being a child doesn’t necessarily make someone a person, which is pretty much nonsensical).

  189. #189 Azkyroth
    June 8, 2007

    Incidentally, Ian…you’re arguing that being a “person” in any meaningful sense isn’t relevant to whether something has the right to life, that something which is alive shouldn’t be killed without good reason, and that only a direct threat to one’s life or health constitutes a good reason.

    Ever swatted a mosquito?

  190. #190 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 9, 2007

    Chet wrote:

    Isn’t that really only the lesser of two evils, though, if the kidnap victim is assumed to have less of a right to their body integrity than the musician?

    Are you saying that it is worth the sacrifice of the musician’s life to prevent the kidnap victim suffering a short period of compromised physical autonomy? That is an interesting moral calculus.

    Your argument implies that people are required to bend over backwards to protect the lives of unrelated third parties, at whatever cost to themselves short of their own deaths; I’m not familiar with any moral calculus where that makes sense.

    Where the life of one individual becomes dependent upon the support of another, there is, I believe, a moral obligation on the supporter to do whatever they can, within reason, to preserve the life of the dependent, although this does not mean that they are bound to risk death or permanent injury to do so.

  191. #191 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 9, 2007

    Numad wrote:

    “Just as well I never argued that a fertilized egg was the same as a person, then, only that it should be entitled to the same right to life.”
    Oh, this is ridiculous. That’s exactly what I said you stated, and it’s still an unjustified position. And then, you go on to imply that a fertilized egg is a child. Bravo.

    In the first place, no one in this debate has been able to produce a clear – and I mean clear – definition of “person”. There has been a lot of waffle about brain structures and consciousness, for example, which have got nowhere. Unless you have something better, the word is meaningless.

    In the second place, I have argued that a definition of “person” is, in any event, unnecessary if we simply allow that every individual human being is entitled to the right to life irrespective of whatever stage of development they happen to have reached at any particular time.

    In the third place, I have nowhere argued that a fertilized egg is the same as a child. What I have argued is that zygote, blastula, embryo, fetus, neonate, etc. are all stages in the life-cycle of an individual human being and that, if the later stages are protected by the right to life, why not the earlier stages since they are all the same individual.

  192. #192 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 9, 2007

    Azkyroth wrote:

    Incidentally, Ian…you’re arguing that being a “person” in any meaningful sense isn’t relevant to whether something has the right to life, that something which is alive shouldn’t be killed without good reason, and that only a direct threat to one’s life or health constitutes a good reason.
    Ever swatted a mosquito?

    I usually try to brush them off me, just as I usually try to put spiders found in the bathroom outside to fend for themselves. But, yes, I have killed insects on occasion or had them killed, such as having a wasps nest destroyed after it had been established in my kitchen ceiling. I try to avoid it as much as I can, though.

  193. #193 Azkyroth
    June 9, 2007

    In the first place, no one in this debate has been able to produce a clear – and I mean clear – definition of “person”. There has been a lot of waffle about brain structures and consciousness, for example, which have got nowhere. Unless you have something better, the word is meaningless.

    Point to a single instance of waffling on the meaning of person in this debate.

    In the second place, I have argued that a definition of “person” is, in any event, unnecessary if we simply allow that every individual human being is entitled to the right to life irrespective of whatever stage of development they happen to have reached at any particular time.

    Yes, and if we accept that people named Ian Spedding are right about everything by definition, we wouldn’t even need to have this argument. What’s your point?

  194. #194 Azkyroth
    June 9, 2007

    In the second place, I have argued that a definition of “person” is, in any event, unnecessary if we simply allow that every individual human being is entitled to the right to life irrespective of whatever stage of development they happen to have reached at any particular time.

    And on further reflection that doesn’t even reflect your position, since you claim that personhood is irrelevant yet don’t extend the right to life to tumors or corpses. Clearly there must be some criterion that distinguishes a “human being” that has the right to life from something that is genetically and/or anatomically human, but does not. The criteria we’ve offered for personhood, based on viability and the presence and functioning of the brain structures responsible for conscious thought, attempted to establish this, and so far you have yet to respond in any meaningful way. You have offered your own criteria, which are nebulous, arbitrary, and in some articulations could, with the addition of a “quantum” references and something explicit about universal consciousness, almost pass for Deepak Chopra quotes. Other posters have pointed out the holes in your criteria, and if anyone has waffled it’s you. You really don’t have a leg to stand on here.

  195. #195 Numad
    June 9, 2007

    “In the third place, I have nowhere argued that a fertilized egg is the same as a child. ”

    You’ve implied so:

    “If the woman should become pregnant it is both the man and the woman who are responsible for conceiving the child [...] Having created the child, intentionally or not, the parents have a duty of care towards it which does not include killing it.”

    Parents conceive a child they have no right to kill. Unless ‘kill’ here means something else than abortion (in context, it would make little sense), it’s hard to read it as something else than conflation of child and fertilized egg. It makes no doubt that it reads as a conflation of a fetus and of child.

    Was it intentional or due to great carelessness in rethoric? It makes little difference. I’m becoming less and less interested in your stated belief that you’re being misrepresented.

    “What I have argued is that zygote, blastula, embryo, fetus, neonate, etc. are all stages in the life-cycle of an individual human being and that, if the later stages are protected by the right to life, why not the earlier stages since they are all the same individual.”

    There are three things wrong with that statement.

    First of all: it’s factually incorrect. One ‘individual’ in one stage can become several in later stages. The way in which they are all the ‘same individual’ breaks down.

    Secondly: why not isn’t a justification. There are reasons why human persons are entitled to a right to life under the law. You haven’t demonstrated why these same reasons apply to a fertilized egg. By introducing the term ‘human being’ in your last post (and acting as though it was your line of argumentation from the start), you’ve stated, without justification (again), both that a right to life is drawn from one’s status as a human being and applied the term human being from conception to death. Factor in the fact that there have been reasons stated why it shouldn’t be so and you’ve got less than nothing.

    Thirdly: I don’t think you’ve actually been arguing anything. You’re expelling a lot of bad faith and deflection, but that’s all.

  196. #196 Numad
    June 9, 2007

    “Yes, and if we accept that people named Ian Spedding are right about everything by definition, we wouldn’t even need to have this argument.”

    That’s actually a good summary of the core of any of Ian Spedding’s comments on this.

  197. #197 Leni
    June 9, 2007

    Neal wrote:

    Consider this-when you say that a woman should not be allowed to abort, you are making an ownership claim on both the fetus and the woman.

    I’m a little troubled by the word “ownership”, but basically I think you are right. Salvador later said (I’m paraphrasing) that he puts more value on the integrity of the fetus than on the woman’s right to choose.

    So basically “control of women” (in this case, read “compelling people to make choices regarding their health that go against their wishes”), it’s just inherent to the position.

    It doesn’t have to be a result of ill-will towards women (although it can be), but any action consistant with this position would necessarily result in either forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or punishing them if they did not. Someone called it colateral damage above, but I actually think it’s far worse than that. I think t consitutes a type of slavery.

    I don’t doubt that pro-choice people really think fetuses are people, but this shift in priorities does not save them from the necessary conclusion that in order to put emphasis on fetuses you must utterly disregard the decisions, wishes and free will of woman carrying it. I just don’t see any way around that except to admit that any action on this position is unteneble in anything remotely resembling a free society.

  198. #198 Leni
    June 9, 2007

    On a more personal note, I just want to say a few things.

    I have had to run the gauntlet of protesters outside the clinic where I got an abortion. They are the scum of the earth, end of story. They take pictures of your liscence plates, which compelled me to then incure the added expense and infringement on my privacy by having to call a cab. Not only that, but the 24 waiting period required me to run this gauntlet no less than 4 times. (I can only imagine the horror experience by women without the added protection of a car. Lots of women I’m sure took the bus and had to walk through that hell alone. The thought of that makes me a lot sadder than the loss of my own ten-week old embryo.)

    Just thinking about it fills me with so much rage that my hands are shaking. I hate them in a visceral, blood boiling way that is so intense I actually feel sick right now, some 8 years later.

    That said, I know that not all pro-lifers are those people.

    Still, PZ is right. Those people aren’t out there for their love of humanity, they are out there because they are sick abusive fucks who want to terrorize and humiliate women getting abortions. Period. You don’t call someone a “baby-killing whore” if not.

    Although, it is interesting that they too put the emphasis on fetal integrity, albeit at the expense of both women and their own ethical integrity.

  199. #199 Azkyroth
    June 9, 2007

    (Cross-posted on “Why We Should All Be Pro-Choice“)

    Don’t liver flukes also die if removed from their hosts? And they’re certainly “alive.” Choosing to drink contaminated water or eat raw aquatic plants can be construed as consenting to host the fluke, if infection occurs. While I wouldn’t expect you to hold it on the same level as abortion, wouldn’t removal of a liver fluke also be “needlessly destroying a life” under your definitions? Shouldn’t you, at least to a degree, condemn it as well? Yet I’m pretty sure you don’t…

  200. #200 Numad
    June 9, 2007

    I still think tumors and willful exposure to carcerigens are the best analogues.

    The ‘lifecycle’ argument is actually pretty plainly contradicted by legal usage, in addition to being transparent bull to begin with.

  201. #201 Azkyroth
    June 10, 2007

    A tumor’s just a mass of random cells (probably a slight oversimplification, but.. x.x). A liver fluke is in some meaningful sense an “organism” and, unlike malignant cancer, won’t necessarily actually kill the host if left untreated. On the other hand, a tumor is genetically human. We should retain both comparisons and choose whether to deploy a particular one, or both, based on the specific emphasis in opposing arguments.

  202. #202 Numad
    June 10, 2007

    Ian Spedding isn’t putting emphasis on anything material, so I’m not sure if that means we should deploy all possible comparisons or none at all.

  203. #203 D
    June 10, 2007

    What Ian seems to value above all else is the life of diploid stage humans. Making comparisons to other situations is very difficult because he seems completely unable to express why he values such. I think the best bet is to stick with situations that actually involve people. They also seem to give Ian the most difficult, as he only ever addresses them with hand waving about “good reason” or some other such subjective determination that he never places a rubric on. He doesn’t seem to have that difficult with abortion however, as his rubric seems to be near certain death or disability for the cut off of acceptability.

  204. #204 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 11, 2007

    Azkyroth wrote:

    In the first place, no one in this debate has been able to produce a clear – and I mean clear – definition of “person”. There has been a lot of waffle about brain structures and consciousness, for example, which have got nowhere. Unless you have something better, the word is meaningless.

    Point to a single instance of waffling on the meaning of person in this debate.

    If you have a workable definition of “person” or “personhood” which does more than make vague references to “brain structures” and “consciousness” feel free to put it before us.

  205. #205 Numad
    June 11, 2007

    You’re really not in a position to lift your nose at ‘vague references’, Ian.

  206. #206 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 11, 2007

    Numad wrote:

    “What I have argued is that zygote, blastula, embryo, fetus, neonate, etc. are all stages in the life-cycle of an individual human being and that, if the later stages are protected by the right to life, why not the earlier stages since they are all the same individual.”
    There are three things wrong with that statement.
    First of all: it’s factually incorrect. One ‘individual’ in one stage can become several in later stages. The way in which they are all the ‘same individual’ breaks down.

    First, there is nothing incorrect in what I wrote since I did not deny that one ‘individual’ can divide to become two or more in later stages. The fact that two or more individuals may share the same genetic ‘roots’ has no bearing on the entitlement to the right to life of each. I assume that those of you trying to base your defence of abortion on the concept of “personhood”, for example, would not argue that twins are somehow not separate persons because they both have their origin in the same fertilized egg.

    Secondly: why not isn’t a justification. There are reasons why human persons are entitled to a right to life under the law. You haven’t demonstrated why these same reasons apply to a fertilized egg. By introducing the term ‘human being’ in your last post (and acting as though it was your line of argumentation from the start), you’ve stated, without justification (again), both that a right to life is drawn from one’s status as a human being and applied the term human being from conception to death. Factor in the fact that there have been reasons stated why it shouldn’t be so and you’ve got less than nothing.

    Second, I did not offer “why” as a justification, I was asking for a justification of the opposing position. If we assert a presumptive general right to life for human beings, then it is for those who would withhold that right from certain individuals or groups to explain why they would impose such a restriction. Also, it is you, not me, who has suddenly introduced the question of how the law treats the right to life. I am trying to concentrate, in the first instance, on the philosophical and moral issues. As for being a human being to qualify for the right to life, if you read my posts on the other thread you will see the reasoning behind that position.

    Thirdly: I don’t think you’ve actually been arguing anything. You’re expelling a lot of bad faith and deflection, but that’s all.

    Thirdly, when people resort to that sort of comment in a discussion, I feel I am making headway.

  207. #207 Numad
    June 12, 2007

    Ian,

    “First, there is nothing incorrect in what I wrote since I did not deny that one ‘individual’ can divide to become two or more in later stages. The fact that two or more individuals may share the same genetic ‘roots’ has no bearing on the entitlement to the right to life of each.”

    There is something incorrect because the core of that particular claim was that the fertilized egg was the “same individual” than at any successive stage. That claim is meaningless (as demonstrated) and the argument, or rather the poor excuse for an argument, that rights bestowed on one ‘individual’ are logically bestowed on that same ‘individual’ at all stages of its life is invalidated in its very mechanism.

    Of course, even if there was no counter-example, if there were no twins, the argument wouldn’t have been any more valid.

    That you didn’t deny it has nothing at all to do with my response.

    “If we assert a presumptive general right to life for human beings, then it is for those who would withhold that right from certain individuals or groups to explain why they would impose such a restriction.”

    Again, the magic ‘if’. The fact is, there’s no reason to accept your axiom. If you don’t feel you have to justify it, fine. But then there’s no point in discussing this with you.

    “Second, I did not offer ‘why’ as a justification, I was asking for a justification of the opposing position.”

    I said ‘why not’, not ‘why’.

    “Thirdly, when people resort to that sort of comment in a discussion, I feel I am making headway.”

    Well, I guess you have to find that feeling somewhere. Or at least fine an occasion to say that you do. Frankly, I’m inclined to disbelieve even that.

  208. #208 Numad
    June 12, 2007

    To be clear, the argument I was responding to was this:

    “What I have argued is that zygote, blastula, embryo, fetus, neonate, etc. are all stages in the life-cycle of an individual human being and that, if the later stages are protected by the right to life, why not the earlier stages since they are all the same individual.”

    The emphasis on the supposed singular/united nature of the ‘individual’ at all stages is clear, as are the implications we’re supposed to draw from it.

    Of course there’s no explicit denial, but there’s a contradiction, which was my whole point.

  209. #209 Numad
    June 12, 2007

    Two last notes:

    First, I note again that there’s ‘no reason to accept Ian’s idiom’ because the way Ian Spedding has represented the ‘opposing position’ is portraying it as esentially accepting Ian Spedding’s constantly repeated assertion and then rejecting it.

    In that sense it’s similar to the religious who portray atheists as ‘denying God’. God being said to be an established fact even for atheism, which is thus made ridiculous. It also has the convenient effect of shifting the burden of proof, which seems to be more similar to Ian’s goal here. In this case it’s shifting the burden of demonstration. In any case, the viable demonstration has been all been pretty much one sided and Ian hasn’t been the one doing it.

    Secondly, I suppose ‘that sort of comment’ excludes calling people ‘reverse chauvinists’?

    But I’m rambling without end and crowding the thread.

  210. #210 RavenT
    June 12, 2007

    Thirdly, when people resort to that sort of comment in a discussion, I feel I am making headway.

    You don’t understand reductio ad absurdum any more than you understand probability, physics, or biology, do you?

    But I’m rambling without end and crowding the thread.

    Over 300 posts on the other thread and over 200 here, a good proportion of which is nothing but Ian inserting his head up his ass and Möbiusing out of his demonstrated contradictions and inconsistencies in a cloud of squid ink, and you think you’re crowding the thread, Numad? :)

  211. #211 Numad
    June 12, 2007

    Triple posting is a crowd. Especially when it feels like there’s little use for a single post.

  212. #212 Azkyroth
    June 12, 2007
    Point to a single instance of waffling on the meaning of person in this debate.

    If you have a workable definition of “person” or “personhood” which does more than make vague references to “brain structures” and “consciousness” feel free to put it before us.

    -Ian Spedding

    Put up or shut up.

    Incidentally, did anyone other than Ian find my presentation on this point less than coherent, in the other thread, after subsequent clarification? Didn’t think so.

  213. #213 Azkyroth
    June 12, 2007

    First, there is nothing incorrect in what I wrote since I did not deny that one ‘individual’ can divide to become two or more in later stages. The fact that two or more individuals may share the same genetic ‘roots’ has no bearing on the entitlement to the right to life of each. I assume that those of you trying to base your defence of abortion on the concept of “personhood”, for example, would not argue that twins are somehow not separate persons because they both have their origin in the same fertilized egg.

    Either a fertilized egg is the beginning of an “individual”‘s life, or it isn’t.

  214. #214 Numad
    June 12, 2007

    “Incidentally, did anyone other than Ian find my presentation on this point less than coherent, in the other thread, after subsequent clarification?”

    Loud and clear and coming through fine.

    There was nothing vague about it and it was infinitely more workable than “a fertilized eggs has rights, but not any number of other things, because I said so.”

    Even if there had been any substantial waffling or vagueness on the subject of consciousness and/or brain structure, such as our model of coherence Ian has claimed, no criterion based on consciousness and/or brain structure can fail to contradict the extreme (but stated plainly) point of Ian’s claim.

    A fertilized egg has no brain. The implications can’t fail to be clear.

  215. #215 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 14, 2007

    Numad

    First, there is nothing incorrect in what I wrote since I did not deny that one ‘individual’ can divide to become two or more in later stages. The fact that two or more individuals may share the same genetic ‘roots’ has no bearing on the entitlement to the right to life of each.

    There is something incorrect because the core of that particular claim was that the fertilized egg was the “same individual” than at any successive stage. That claim is meaningless (as demonstrated) and the argument, or rather the poor excuse for an argument, that rights bestowed on one ‘individual’ are logically bestowed on that same ‘individual’ at all stages of its life is invalidated in its very mechanism.

    Try looking back through the threads. I have never, at any time, argued that a fertilized egg is entitled to exactly the same rights as an adult human being. The claim is that it should be entitled to the right to life, nothing more; that it should have the chance to develop into an adult human being that you and I have had. Is that really so hard for you to accept or allow?

    As for the fact that two or more individuals may develop from the one fertilized egg, it makes no difference. In my view the egg should be entitled to the right to life. If it were to divide to form two or more individuals they would still be discrete individuals, each entitled to the right to life. If you adopt the alternative criterion of “personhood”, are you saying that each member of a set of twins is not a person because they developed from the same egg?

    If we assert a presumptive general right to life for human beings, then it is for those who would withhold that right from certain individuals or groups to explain why they would impose such a restriction.

    Again, the magic ‘if’. The fact is, there’s no reason to accept your axiom. If you don’t feel you have to justify it, fine. But then there’s no point in discussing this with you.

    That is what axioms are: postulates which are accepted as the bases for argument but which cannot themselves be justified. If you do not accept that there should be a general right to life for human beings at all stages of development then, fine. If you do not accept that a human being is not just a life but a life-cycle, then fine. If you believe that, for example, you at age five was an entirely different person from you at twenty, then fine. If you believe that a woman’s right to physical autonomy always overrides any other considerations, then fine. We have nothing further to discuss. We can just trade insults.

  216. #216 Ian H Spedding
    June 14, 2007

    Numad wrote:

    Secondly, I suppose ‘that sort of comment’ excludes calling people ‘reverse chauvinists’?

    The ‘reverse chauvinist’ comment followed repeated accusations of misogyny. The use of that word was intended, not just to be descriptive, but to be pejorative and offensive. I did not start the insults and I chose to ignore them while the debate was on. Since you have decided it is now over, you know what you can go do with yourself.

  217. #217 D
    June 14, 2007

    Try looking back through the threads. I have never, at any time, argued that a fertilized egg is entitled to exactly the same rights as an adult human being. The claim is that it should be entitled to the right to life, nothing more; that it should have the chance to develop into an adult human being that you and I have had. Is that really so hard for you to accept or allow?

    Why accept or allow something that we have no reason to accept or allow and many reason to not? You haven’t been able to provide a single coherent logical reason why anyone should give your position more than a derisive glance.

    As for the fact that two or more individuals may develop from the one fertilized egg, it makes no difference. In my view the egg should be entitled to the right to life. If it were to divide to form two or more individuals they would still be discrete individuals, each entitled to the right to life. If you adopt the alternative criterion of “personhood”, are you saying that each member of a set of twins is not a person because they developed from the same egg?

    When has anyone claimed an egg was a person? No one has. Your use of “individual” is just the same equivocation that you’ve always used.

    That is what axioms are: postulates which are accepted as the bases for argument but which cannot themselves be justified. If you do not accept that there should be a general right to life for human beings at all stages of development then, fine. If you do not accept that a human being is not just a life but a life-cycle, then fine. If you believe that, for example, you at age five was an entirely different person from you at twenty, then fine. If you believe that a woman’s right to physical autonomy always overrides any other considerations, then fine. We have nothing further to discuss. We can just trade insults.

    First of all, no one accepts your axiom. That should have been obvious many hundreds of comments ago. Based on your answer to the burning building dilemma, you don’t accept it either. Secondly, we have on many occasions, for the sake of argument, allowed your position to be true. Yet you still were never able to justify why a right to life overrides the freedom, wellbeing and happiness of a person.

  218. #218 Numad
    June 14, 2007

    “Try looking back through the threads. I have never, at any time, argued that a fertilized egg is entitled to exactly the same rights as an adult human being. The claim is that it should be entitled to the right to life, nothing more”

    None of what I said depends on you claiming that a fertilized egg has all the rights of an adult human, but rather any rights. ANY rights at all. Including the right to life.

    If I thought you were saying that a fertilized egg has all the rights of a human being, I’d just point out that none of those rights actually mean anything for a fertilized egg except the right to life. The right to vote? Property rights? The right to drive after a certain age?

    But I didn’t point it out, because I understand what you’ve been repeating every post in this thread. It just doesn’t make sense to assume that I’Mm mistaken on this point.

    And ‘just the right to life’? I think it’s a pretty big right. With big consequences.

    “Is that really so hard for you to accept or allow?”

    Not without a good justification, for reasons that should remain obvious.

    “As for the fact that two or more individuals may develop from the one fertilized egg, it makes no difference. In my view the egg should be entitled to the right to life. If it were to divide to form two or more individuals they would still be discrete individuals, each entitled to the right to life. If you adopt the alternative criterion of ‘personhood’, are you saying that each member of a set of twins is not a person because they developed from the same egg?”

    You can’t possibly be this confused.

    First of all, at the time you wrote a paragraph that clearly meant to present an argument, a justification, WHY the fertilized egg was entitled to a right to life.

    You’re the one that implied a continuity of individuality between the fertilized egg and the child. I brought up twinning to demonstrate how meaningless such a proposition is. Not only you don’t seem to understand my objection, but you don’t understand what it was an objection to, to begin with!

    Now you want to apply to me your discarded (as a justificative argument, in any case) line of thinking about the continuity of the individual through all life stages? Nonsense.

    I don’t think the status as full, distinct human beings of adult twins is dependant, one way or the other, on the status of the fertilized egg. Which was my whole point, in reverse.

    “That is what axioms are: postulates which are accepted as the bases for argument but which cannot themselves be justified.”

    Then what do you hope to accomplish by repeating it if you yourself have no justification for it? The only way we could have agreed with you at the end of the discussion is if we had agreed with you at the beginning or we had some sort of mental aberration during the discussion.

    “If you do not accept that there should be a general right to life for human beings at all stages of development then, fine.”

    I do not accept such a thing, yes.

    “If you believe that, for example, you at age five was an entirely different person from you at twenty, then fine.”

    Same person but with substantial differences, yes. The difference between me at five years old and the fertilized egg I originated from is of a whole different degree.

    “If you believe that a woman’s right to physical autonomy always overrides any other considerations, then fine.”

    Technically correct, I suppose, but not logically true. All the considerations that I’ve known to occur? Yes.

    “The ‘reverse chauvinist’ comment followed repeated accusations of misogyny. The use of that word was intended, not just to be descriptive, but to be pejorative and offensive. I did not start the insults and I chose to ignore them while the debate was on. Since you have decided it is now over, you know what you can go do with yourself.”

    Wonderful.

    So you say that the ‘reverse chauvinist’ insult happened outside of a ‘debate’, is that it? I can’t seem how responding to insults with an insult, even if you believe they were ‘in kind’ equates with ignoring those insults.

    It seems just like a misguided attempt have your cake and eating it too. In any case, the misogyny comments seem to have been potentially both descriptive and pejorative, as opposed to your ‘reverse chauvinism’ which can only be just a baseless insult.

    “We have nothing further to discuss.”

    I don’t think we ever had nothing to discuss, by your own admission. It was everybody else accepting your axiom or not, all else was accessory. It’s still no.

  219. #219 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 16, 2007
    “The ‘reverse chauvinist’ comment followed repeated accusations of misogyny. The use of that word was intended, not just to be descriptive, but to be pejorative and offensive. I did not start the insults and I chose to ignore them while the debate was on. Since you have decided it is now over, you know what you can go do with yourself.”

    Wonderful.

    No, it was a little extreme so I apologize.

    As for the rest, we’re done.

  220. #220 Anton Mates
    June 16, 2007

    First of all, no one accepts your axiom. That should have been obvious many hundreds of comments ago. Based on your answer to the burning building dilemma, you don’t accept it either.

    I didn’t know Ian had answered that until you mentioned it. Then I went looking for it and found that he also endorses capital punishment.

    Yeah, so much for that axiom.

  221. #221 RavenT
    June 16, 2007

    Yeah, so much for that axiom.

    Well, Anton, it’s not like refusing to execute an individual on his “temporal trajectory” can directly deprive a woman of her bodily integrity. So for Ian, what would be the point?

  222. #222 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 16, 2007

    Anton Mates wrote:

    First of all, no one accepts your axiom. That should have been obvious many hundreds of comments ago. Based on your answer to the burning building dilemma, you don’t accept it either.

    I didn’t know Ian had answered that until you mentioned it. Then I went looking for it and found that he also endorses capital punishment.

    Yeah, so much for that axiom.

    Apples and oranges, Anton, and you should know that.

  223. #223 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 16, 2007

    D wrote:

    First of all, no one accepts your axiom. That should have been obvious many hundreds of comments ago. Based on your answer to the burning building dilemma, you don’t accept it either.

    I’m sorry? Exactly how is my answer to the burning building dilemma inconsistent with my views on abortion?

    And while no one here accepts my axiom, so what? There are a few elsewhere who do. Not everyone is a ‘feminazi’.

  224. #224 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 16, 2007

    RavenT wrote:

    Yeah, so much for that axiom.

    Well, Anton, it’s not like refusing to execute an individual on his “temporal trajectory” can directly deprive a woman of her bodily integrity. So for Ian, what would be the point?

    The point of what?

  225. #225 Anton Mates
    June 16, 2007

    Apples and oranges, Anton, and you should know that.

    Sadly, it’s not obvious to me how the commission of a capital crime renders the perpetrator’s unique spacetime trajectory less precious and irreplaceable, or why your trajectory’s a thousand times less precious and irreplaceable if you happen to be sitting in storage in a fertility clinic. But feel free to axiomatize as necessary for this to make sense.

    So I take it you think that the penalty for abortion should be death?

  226. #226 Numad
    June 17, 2007

    “And while no one here accepts my axiom, so what? There are a few elsewhere who do. Not everyone is a ‘feminazi’.”

    Classy.

  227. #227 RavenT
    June 17, 2007

    The point of what?

    Sorry, Ian, but with your lack of understanding of math, science, logic, and critical thinking, you’re never going to pass the Starfleet entrance exam.

    Not everyone is a ‘feminazi’.

    Way to show you’re not a misogynist, Ian–I call “Godwin”.

  228. #228 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 17, 2007

    RavenT wrote:

    Sorry, Ian, but with your lack of understanding of math, science, logic, and critical thinking, you’re never going to pass the Starfleet entrance exam.

    Very true, alas, although probably because I will be long gone by the time StarFleet is formed.

    Not everyone is a ‘feminazi’.

    Way to show you’re not a misogynist, Ian–I call “Godwin”.

    Beng anti-Nazi does not make me necessarily anti-German and I can dislike extreme feminists without being misogynistic.

    As for “feminazi”, I say it is not sufficient for a Godwin call. Besides, both D and Anton Mates used the word before I did on the other thread but you did not call them on that, so you are being partial.

  229. #229 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 17, 2007

    Anton Mates wrote:

    Sadly, it’s not obvious to me how the commission of a capital crime renders the perpetrator’s unique spacetime trajectory less precious and irreplaceable, or why your trajectory’s a thousand times less precious and irreplaceable if you happen to be sitting in storage in a fertility clinic. But feel free to axiomatize as necessary for this to make sense.

    Obviously, I have to spell this out again. In the case of the burning building dilemma, I would save the child rather than the frozen embryos for the same reason I would allow abortion in the case of a direct conflict between the mother’s life and that of her fetus, because it would be the lesser of two evils. Both the mother and the child in the burning building scenario are conscious and self-aware. We can assume they will both have established lives and loving personal relationships so their losses will cause greater pain and suffering than the loss of the embryos. It may not seem like much of a reason to some of you but when faced with making a choice between two evils such differences count.

    As for the linkage between being opposed to abortion but supporting capital punishment, it is quite simple. Both are based on the presumption that each human life is precious. They should not be terminated without sufficient reason. One reason that is sufficient because it is the only proportionate punishment, is execution in the case of murder. When one person unlawfully takes the life of another they commit the worst offence that it is possible for one person to commit against another. In lesser crimes, there is always the possibility of restitution, compensation and recovery but in the case of murder all that is left is retribution. Other forms of socially-sanctioned retribution involve the suspension of some or all rights so the ultimate sanction has to be loss of the right to life.

  230. #230 Numad
    June 17, 2007

    “Besides, both D and Anton Mates used the word before I did on the other thread but you did not call them on that, so you are being partial.”

    Can’t you read? It’s called irony.

  231. #231 Numad
    June 17, 2007

    Oh, and if Godwin’s law actually worked that way (I don’t think it does), the ‘feminazi’ would be pure Godwin’s law in word form.

    It’s a word created to compare feminism to nazism. Can’t get any dumber than that.

  232. #232 RavenT
    June 17, 2007

    As for “feminazi”, I say it is not sufficient for a Godwin call.

    Another one of your indefensible axioms, Ian?

  233. #233 RavenT
    June 17, 2007

    Sorry, Ian, but with your lack of understanding of math, science, logic, and critical thinking, you’re never going to pass the Starfleet entrance exam.

    Very true, alas, although probably because I will be long gone by the time StarFleet is formed. [emphasis added]

    Just one more example of plenty you’ve already provided on why you’re going to fail the section on probability, too.

    You don’t even understand what the argument is about, although–outside of creationists–most people take that as an indicator to learn something before parroting the same talking points over and over after they’re repeatedly shown to be full of self-contradiction.

    On this topic, you behave exactly like any of the most stubborn and evidence-impervious creationists who kept fallacies going long after people who know what they’re talking about showed you your errors in detail.

  234. #234 RavenT
    June 17, 2007

    “Besides, both D and Anton Mates used the word before I did on the other thread but you did not call them on that, so you are being partial.”

    Can’t you read? It’s called irony.

    Well, there goes Ian’s literature section of the exam as well…

  235. #235 RavenT
    June 17, 2007

    Just one more example of plenty you’ve already provided on why you’re going to fail the section on probability, too.

    This is unclear, because I short-handed too much; if you’re going to respond to it, it’s only fair that I give you enough to know what my point is.

    It’s this: in earlier threads, you’ve glossed over the distinction between prior and posterior probabilities, in order to privilege the clump of cells with exactly the same trajectory as the woman.

    I thought you honestly didn’t understand the difference between prior and posterior probabilities, although your refusal to accept correction from the many people who tried to help you see that distinction did seem reminiscent of Creationist obduracy.

    Now, though, you are using prior probabilities the correct way, and you think it supports your point. So you don’t even have the ontological commitment to conflating prior and posterior probabilities. If you were consistent that potential = actual, then the fact that you have the potential to take the Starfleet exam is exactly the same as actually taking it, and you would fail so spectacularly on subject knowledge that that is *certainly* why you would fail. It would blow “*probably* dead” out of the water as your reason, if probabilities really did work the way you deploy them against women.

    One of two things must be true. Either you understand the distinction even less than I originally supposed, and you don’t realize when you are switching between conflating them or not. Or you do, and you’re ok with conflating them when it sets the cells’ “trajectory” equal to or greater than the woman’s (I say greater than to encompass the fact that you’d never tolerate an adult woman’s attempt to commandeer a kidney, for example.).

    Either way is a total abuse of probability for your agenda; one is just more conscious than the other.

  236. #236 Ichthyic
    June 17, 2007

    It’s a word created to compare feminism to nazism. Can’t get any dumber than that.

    please, for the sake of all humanity, don’t EVER say that again.

    *crosses fingers madly, hoping the huge numbers of americans who actually COULD produce something far dumber don’t see this*

    oh, in case i missed it over the last year or so of Ian’s endless posts on this issue…

    why is it that Ian is so preoccupied with this ONE specific issue, anyway?

    I’ve very rarely seen him post on ANYTHING else.

  237. #237 Ichthyic
    June 17, 2007

    just to open the door a very small crack into the past…

    Freedom Fries.

    tell me that is not at least as dumb as feminazi.

    *slams door shut before being burned by the stupid*

  238. #238 Numad
    June 17, 2007

    I meant that it’s the dumbest kind of thing in the specific field of Godwin’s law.

    On a universal scale of stupid things, there’s a long way down to go.

  239. #239 Ichthyic
    June 17, 2007

    *whew*

    well, ok then.

    wait, by OK i mean…

    oh forget it.
    ;)

  240. #240 Dustin
    June 17, 2007

    why is it that Ian is so preoccupied with this ONE specific issue, anyway?

    I thought that was the short definition of a pro-lifer.

  241. #241 Anton Mates
    June 17, 2007

    Both the mother and the child in the burning building scenario are conscious and self-aware. We can assume they will both have established lives and loving personal relationships so their losses will cause greater pain and suffering than the loss of the embryos. It may not seem like much of a reason to some of you but when faced with making a choice between two evils such differences count.

    On the contrary, I think it’s an excellent reason. The question is why you don’t apply it to the abortion question as well. It’s ethical to sacrifice an embryo so that the mother’s loved ones will be spared from suffering her loss; it’s ethical to sacrifice hundreds or thousands of embryos so that the child’s loved ones will be spared from suffering; yet it’s not ethical to give mothers the option of sacrificing their own embryo so that they will be spared the suffering of bearing an unwanted child?

    As for the linkage between being opposed to abortion but supporting capital punishment, it is quite simple. Both are based on the presumption that each human life is precious. They should not be terminated without sufficient reason. One reason that is sufficient because it is the only proportionate punishment, is execution in the case of murder.

    I fail to see how that is sufficient reason to destroy something that is precious. If the owner of the Mona Lisa cut up The Starry Night, would it make sense to vandalize the former painting in retribution? When something irreplaceable and invaluable is destroyed, why would you destroy yet another such entity in revenge?

    When one person unlawfully takes the life of another they commit the worst offence that it is possible for one person to commit against another.

    They do? You wouldn’t consider, say, torture and degradation over the course of years to be worse? Many people have asked for their own life to be unlawfully ended, because that was preferable to extended suffering.

    Other forms of socially-sanctioned retribution involve the suspension of some or all rights so the ultimate sanction has to be loss of the right to life.

    Interesting. So it’s an axiom of yours that our punitive system must max out at “the harshest punishment conceivable?”

  242. #242 RavenT
    June 17, 2007

    Or if the fetus has Tay-Sachs disease. It will be born viable, and the pregnancy bears no greater than normal risks to the woman, yet the child will invariably die, usually within 3-4 years, in a pretty horrible way. But the pregnancy itself is not affected per se.

    Ian, does your axiom of “individual unique space-time trajectory” permit the fetus to be aborted in the present to spare inevitable suffering of both the mother and the future child?

    Why or why not?

  243. #243 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 17, 2007

    Azkyroth has referred to previous posts which he or she believes provided a description of “personhood” On this was based an unanswerable case for abortion which I had allegedly failed to address adequately. Others have repeated this accusation more recently.

    Not surprisingly, I disagree but this is a good opportunity to re-examine these posts and respond in greater detail. I intend to quote from them extensively to avoid any accusations of selectivity so I apologize in advance for the length of this reply.

    “Rights” are a social construct intended to reflect and explicitly enumerate (and thus, ideally, equatable with) the principles regarding the treatment of persons which, when treated as basic and inherent except in very unusual circumstances, produce the systems of principles and behavioral rules that reliably produce the best outcome for those involved. They can be regarded as “laws” in a sense comparable to scientific or mathematical laws, in that they are relationships that exist independently due to the nature and characteristics of interacting entities, in this case sentient persons, and can be discovered by critical examination. Some of these social constructs have been found to correspond to such principles, others, like the supposed “right” to own slaves, have been found, when practiced, to be detrimental to human happiness and abandoned. In light of this, the consistent finding that societies in which abortion and other forms of family planning are permitted tend to be happier and better off economically is highly significant.

    Azkyroth begins here with a brief discussion of the nature of rights: what they are, what purpose, if any, they serve and their social effects. So what are rights?

    We can agree, I think, that they are social constructs or conventions. By this I mean that, in the absence of any other intelligent agency, they were conceived by human beings and were intended, in the first instance to apply only to human beings in the context of human society. That is all. They have no discernable effect on the mutation of DNA molecules, for example, or the course of stars through space; and two and two continue to make four because that is the logic of arithmetic not because four has a right to be comprised of two and two.
    So the purpose or function of rights is to regulate the behaviour of human beings towards one another in the first instance. The right to life is not a guarantee that every human being will be provided with all that is necessary to sustain them for as long as they shall live. It simply prohibits people from taking the lives of others without sufficient cause. The right to own property simply means that others are prohibited from taking what is agreed to be rightfully yours. The right to free expression means that others may not prevent you from saying, writing or otherwise expressing what you think. A meteorite may fall from they sky and crush you, you may be stricken by lightning or eaten by a lion, all of which will deprive you of life, the enjoyment of property and the capacity to express yourself. But your rights will not have been violated – unless you have fallen victim to a criminal with quite awesome powers.

    The next claim, that moral laws are in some way equivalent to scientific or mathematical law, is more problematic. Scientific laws are descriptions of regularities in nature inferred from extensive observation. While we observe that human societies almost invariably develop moral guidelines of some sort to regulate behaviour, possibly even to the extent that the process could qualify as a scientific law, the actual details of these codes can vary widely from culture to culture and over time in the same culture, which makes it difficult to see how any one of these codes could be considered somehow law-like. Azkyroth quite rightly quotes slavery as an example of how what was a right in some cultures is held to be no such thing by others and one about which some cultures have reversed their positions after reconsideration. Another example, also raised before, is the previous right of men to treat wives and children as chattel. Today we reject such a notion as abhorrent, except, apparently, in the case of pregnant women and the embryos they carry.

    As to the social benefits of abortion which are allegedly supported by research, it is difficult for me to comment without having studied the cited papers. For example, the Donohue/Levitt study, which found a 50% reduction in crime following the legalization of abortion in the US, struck me as unlikely but my doubts count for nothing. What does count are the criticisms of Foote and Goetz who found errors which, when corrected, eliminated most if not all of the claimed effect. The fact is that for any such claim to be well-founded it would be necessary to have excluded all other reasonable explanations first and therein lies the problem. Levitt is acknowledged, even by his critics, to have been a careful researcher yet errors were made. So how far can we trust the results of other studies in this field? But even if we can, it still brings us up against the question of whether the end justifies the means. If I were allowed to summarily execute all murderers, rapists, drug-dealers and thieves, I am reasonably sure I could greatly reduce the crime rate and significantly improve the general sense of happiness and well-being. Perhaps Anton Mates might find that acceptable, perhaps the rest of you might, but is it morally justifiable? If not then how can you defend abortion by appealing to alleged social benefits as a justification.

    A “person” in this sense (ignoring the legal sense in which a corporation is also a “person”) is a single sentient being; a discrete psychological entity with the capacity for conscious self-awareness at some level and the capacity to experience emotional responses to stimuli, possessing a unique identity and personality (this uniqueness is in a cognitive sense, not to be confused with genetic or spatial uniqueness), and certain characteristic patterns of behavior. So far as we can tell, all “persons” are emergent effects of the functioning of certain kinds of extremely complex physical systems; in our experience all the “persons” we have encountered are psychological entities resulting from the operation of the human central nervous system, particularly the cerebral cortex, although it is possible to imagine persons which result from the functioning of other physical systems (like sentient computer AIs). (The absolute dependence of persons on the continued proper functioning of their corresponding physical systems is the observation that leads us to connect personhood to a living body, and some people, yourself included, have erroneously assumed that a living body in a class known to contain sentient beings is therefore a “person.”) As such, organisms or other physical entities which do not presently contain functioning examples of the sort of physical system needed to produce the psychological functions we consider a “person” cannot possibly be persons.

    In most respects, I observe this definition of personhood to be shared in practice, if not nominally, by most of society. While most of society at least nominally postulates that “personhood” results from the action of an immaterial entity called a “soul” or “spirit,”

    I dare say that if you asked a lot of people what they understood by the word ‘person’ you would get a wide range of answers, a proportion of which would include concepts such as consciousness, self-awareness and sentience. The classical concept is supposed to have been more that of simply an individual human being, which places it closer to my notion. That is thought to have been what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they used the word in the Constitution, although the authors of the majority opinion in Roe v Wade decided – probably correctly – that it was only intended to apply to post-natal humans.

    What is being argued here is that ‘person’ more in the sense of personality – the character or sum total of psychological attributes of a conscious, self-aware intelligence – are what qualifies a human being for rights such as the right to life. While most of us understand in general what is meant, it is not so easy to define. Yes, understanding of brain ‘architecture’ has improved. We know in greater detail what parts of the brain do what and how they are integrated. But it is far from complete and, more significantly, there is no theory of consciousness that stands on a par with the theory of evolution in biology or the theory of relativity in physics. We know what it feels like to be fully conscious and we know what it looks like in others but that is a lot different from being able to say when it starts. The brain is not like a computer where you put the right components together, hit the power button and consciousness boots up. The brain develops slowly over many years and trying to pinpoint exactly where what is called the ‘person’ begins – assuming we can agree on a definition – is well-nigh impossible at the moment.

    Think of newborn at one day old, is that a person? How about at one month old or one year old or two years old? The brain is still develeping, growing, acquiring new information but how much of a sense of ‘self’ is there, is it able to take responsibility for its actions, does it understand the difference between right and wrong? All these have been identified as attributes of a person but to what extent are they present in the young human? Yet that young human is accorded the right to life and the right to free expression, for example.

    My argument is that those who would peg entitlement to the right to life to the onset of ‘personhood’ have set themselves an impossible task: not only is it not defined adequately but is is impossible to locate its starting-point with any degree of certainty. Without those you are left with an obvious but arbitrary transition such as birth or less-obvious, but equally arbitrary, transitions such as the emergence of brain-waves similar to those found in the adult human or ‘viability’, a goalpost which moves as medical science and technology advance.

    “Individuality” in the sense of genetic and spatial uniqueness in which you have been using it throughout this argument is not necessarily a condition for personhood, since I can imagine scenarios in which individual sentient consciousnesses that I would be morally obligated to treat as “persons” might not be spatially distinct (two or more sentient AIs running on a single mainframe, for instance). In any case, it is not a sufficient condition; biologically speaking, the viruses presently attacking my throat tissue are “individuals” and I certainly have no remorse about wishing them dead. Limiting the definition of “individual in the sense relevant to whether it has rights” to humans begs the question unless it is based on traits which humans posses which other organisms do not, and those traits–conscious self-awareness, emotional responses, identity, personality, and characteristic behavior (the first and probably the third seem to be the ones that are most definitely limited to humans) are enumerated above and inapplicable to a fetus presently lacking a functional brain.

    I agree that the genetic, physical, spatial and temporal uniqueness which, for me, constitute individuality are not necessarily a condition for personhood but you have failed to establish that personhood is an adequate or necessary precondition for entitlement to the right to life. It may be true that at some time in the near future we may have to grapple with the problem of the rights of artificial intelligences or even whether a human consciousness, ‘downloaded’ into a computer, has the rights of the original, but these are questions for another day.

    My argument is that, first and foremost, we are genetically and physically human. Other properties or attributes – such as intelligence, consciousness and self-awareness – emerge over time but without that essential physical substrate they do not appear at all. My unique genetic ‘templature’ was assembled at the time of my conception. Before and after that point there were any number of possible young Speddings but it was at that point that a specific individual Spedding called Ian began. The same applies to all of you. And for rights that are granted to individuals, that is the earliest point at which the individual can be said to exist, not as a fully-fledged adult it is true, but the start of the life-cycle which will eventually lead to that adult.

  244. #244 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 17, 2007

    RavenT wrote:

    This is unclear, because I short-handed too much; if you’re going to respond to it, it’s only fair that I give you enough to know what my point is.

    It’s this: in earlier threads, you’ve glossed over the distinction between prior and posterior probabilities, in order to privilege the clump of cells with exactly the same trajectory as the woman.

    No, I’m sorry, I’m still not sure what you’re driving at, you’re going to have to spell it out for me, I’m afraid.

  245. #245 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 18, 2007

    oh, in case i missed it over the last year or so of Ian’s endless posts on this issue…
    Ichthyic wrote:

    why is it that Ian is so preoccupied with this ONE specific issue, anyway?

    I’ve very rarely seen him post on ANYTHING else.

    Hang about, I’m not talking to myself here, you know. There’s one or two others who’ve managed to get a word in edgeways every now and then. Go pick on them!

  246. #246 Anton Mates
    June 18, 2007

    As to the social benefits of abortion which are allegedly supported by research, it is difficult for me to comment without having studied the cited papers. For example, the Donohue/Levitt study, which found a 50% reduction in crime following the legalization of abortion in the US, struck me as unlikely but my doubts count for nothing. What does count are the criticisms of Foote and Goetz who found errors which, when corrected, eliminated most if not all of the claimed effect. The fact is that for any such claim to be well-founded it would be necessary to have excluded all other reasonable explanations first and therein lies the problem. Levitt is acknowledged, even by his critics, to have been a careful researcher yet errors were made. So how far can we trust the results of other studies in this field?

    A favorite argument of the creationists. “Eminent biologist X was once found to be wrong about something, therefore all of biology is untrustworthy.”

    The obvious response is to look at the response to said studies from within the field. Several research teams, independently, found serious errors in the Donohue/Levitt study. So far as I have seen, that is not the case for many other studies (even though they’ve been cited by a number of other papers.) That’s why I brought them up, but not Levitt’s study, in the first place. Levitt admits error, but has reanalyzed his data in subsequent papers and stands by his original conclusion; nonetheless, I don’t personally think the objections of his critics have been sufficiently answered.

    But even if we can, it still brings us up against the question of whether the end justifies the means. If I were allowed to summarily execute all murderers, rapists, drug-dealers and thieves, I am reasonably sure I could greatly reduce the crime rate and significantly improve the general sense of happiness and well-being.

    On what grounds do you think that? Happiness and the sense of well-being would certainly plummet in one section of the population: those convicted of murder, rape, drug-dealing and theft, and their loved ones. (Remember that under our current legal system a significant number of people are wrongly convicted, and a significant number of perpetrators escape arrest or conviction. It is impossible to execute all, and only those, who commit a given crime.) What reasons do you have to think that the rest of the population would experience a rise in happiness sufficient to outweigh this decrease?

    And would the crime rate dramatically reduce? Draconian punishments for selling and possession of drugs don’t seem to have greatly curtailed these activities, and they’ve provided a strong motivation for increased drug-related violence. Nor has the historical and geographical incidence of capital punishment in the US shown a significant correlation to the incidence of capital crimes. And even if crime were reduced, would the average citizen’s relief at this fact outweigh their fear of and repugnance for a legal system that threatens trial and immediate execution without appeal for comparatively minor crimes?

    Perhaps Anton Mates might find that acceptable, perhaps the rest of you might, but is it morally justifiable? If not then how can you defend abortion by appealing to alleged social benefits as a justification.

    I don’t follow this logic. Even if frequent and casual executions are net beneficial to society, this fact could be outweighed by, for instance, the right to life of sentient beings. It may also be that abortion legalization is justifiable under additional non-utilitarian concerns such as the right to bodily autonomy. None of this prevents the benefit to humanity from being one of the reasons why legal abortion is an ethical necessity.

  247. #247 Anton Mates
    June 18, 2007

    We know what it feels like to be fully conscious and we know what it looks like in others but that is a lot different from being able to say when it starts. The brain is not like a computer where you put the right components together, hit the power button and consciousness boots up. The brain develops slowly over many years and trying to pinpoint exactly where what is called the ‘person’ begins – assuming we can agree on a definition – is well-nigh impossible at the moment.

    But there is no need to do so, if we merely want to establish a lower bound on the requirements for personhood. We don’t need to know exactly when and how consciousness appears to make the call on whether or not rocks are conscious. True, it might turn out in a thousand years that microcrystalline vibration patterns within granite boulders actually encode consciousness, and we’ve been committing mass murder in every quarry. That’ll suck. But we can reasonably discount the possibility for now. As you yourself are perfectly comfortable doing, since you integrate “suffering” and “happiness” into your moral calculus concerning the “burning fertility clinic” dilemma, without worrying over the potential maternal anguish of the dying embryos’ storage refrigerator.

    There will always be a grey area, certainly. We spend a lot of time worrying about whether a given coma victim is still conscious or sentient. This seems unavoidable to me, and I don’t find it an acceptable solution to simply not care about the patient’s possible consciousness.

    Think of newborn at one day old, is that a person? How about at one month old or one year old or two years old? The brain is still develeping, growing, acquiring new information but how much of a sense of ‘self’ is there, is it able to take responsibility for its actions, does it understand the difference between right and wrong? All these have been identified as attributes of a person but to what extent are they present in the young human? Yet that young human is accorded the right to life and the right to free expression, for example.

    ? Young children don’t have an adult-level right to free expression in any society I’m aware of, nor do they have many other rights granted to adults. They are, in fact, only partial persons so far as law and custom are concerned.

    I agree that a newborn is not yet a full person. I’d be fine with a legal system which treated it as a semi-sentient animal, which should nonetheless enjoy unusual protection because of its emotional significance to its parents, who most definitely are persons.

    My argument is that those who would peg entitlement to the right to life to the onset of ‘personhood’ have set themselves an impossible task: not only is it not defined adequately but is is impossible to locate its starting-point with any degree of certainty. Without those you are left with an obvious but arbitrary transition such as birth or less-obvious, but equally arbitrary, transitions such as the emergence of brain-waves similar to those found in the adult human or ‘viability’, a goalpost which moves as medical science and technology advance.

    Of course the goalpost will move as science advances. That’s what goalposts which are relevant to the real world have to do. We’re continually redefining “death” as well, as we find ways to resuscitate more and more badly-damaged people. I don’t see this as a bad thing.

    And the EEG criterion is hardly arbitrary. We use that as a necessary-but-not-sufficient estimator for consciousness in all sorts of situations. Why not use it here?

    My argument is that, first and foremost, we are genetically and physically human. Other properties or attributes – such as intelligence, consciousness and self-awareness – emerge over time but without that essential physical substrate they do not appear at all.

    Really? So no nonhuman organisms possess intelligence, consciousness or self-awareness?

    My unique genetic ‘templature’ was assembled at the time of my conception. Before and after that point there were any number of possible young Speddings but it was at that point that a specific individual Spedding called Ian began.

    You’ve already admitted that the uniqueness of your genome is irrelevant, since twins each have the right to life. And, yet again, you have failed to explain why the “specific individual Spedding” began at that point and not before or afterwards. What’s so magic about genes? You seem to think that if all your developmental experiences in the womb and out of it had been wildly different, you would still be you; but if a couple of base pairs had been altered in your DNA, you would be a different individual. Justify, please.

    But feel free to wait until after you’ve come up with moral axioms that render your positions on abortion, saving children from fertility clinics, and the death penalty mutually consistent.

  248. #248 Monado
    June 18, 2007

    Are you guys still going? Get this through your heads: personhood is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if it’s in their reading the New York Times. Innocence is irrelevant. It hasn’t exactly had the opportunity to knock over a bank or refrain from doing so.

    No person gets to use your body against your will. No person gets to use my body against my will. See? Once it’s out and breathing, it no longer requires your body. Until then, you get to decide.

  249. #249 RavenT
    June 18, 2007

    No, I’m sorry, I’m still not sure what you’re driving at, you’re going to have to spell it out for me, I’m afraid.

    It’s sad that this is the only way you know how to get attention, but it’s not interesting enough to go over the same ground yet again. We’ve done it far too many times already.

    If you ever manage to muster a coherent argument in defense of your position, maybe then.

  250. #250 RavenT
    June 18, 2007

    No, I’m sorry, I’m still not sure what you’re driving at, you’re going to have to spell it out for me, I’m afraid.

    As many times as we’ve been through it, that approach doesn’t seem to work. Go re-read the criticisms of your arguments that have been made, and if you are able to articulate specific questions that are eluding you, we can go over those.

  251. #251 D
    June 18, 2007

    How sad. Ian finally admitted that his position was indefensible, and now he’s trying to defend it again. And even more sadly, it’s the same equivocation as always. I’m wondering though, given how important the life of a “human being” is to Ian, how many lives of embryos does it take to equal the life of one infant? Clearly not a couple of thousand. 500,000? A million? A trillion? Seems the life of a “human being” is actually rather cheap.

    Another example, also raised before, is the previous right of men to treat wives and children as chattel. Today we reject such a notion as abhorrent, except, apparently, in the case of pregnant women and the embryos they carry.

    Speaking in the royal we now?

  252. #252 RavenT
    June 18, 2007

    Oh, Ian, you never got around to explaining your stance on the pregnency where the fetus has Tay-Sachs disease.

    Would you permit the woman to choose an abortion in that case? Why or why not?

  253. #253 RavenT
    June 18, 2007

    pregnancy. Gah.

    I need caffeine, stat!

    The question stands, though.

  254. #254 tony
    June 18, 2007

    One: Ian should seriously be considered a Troll — no-one can be that obtuse, surely?

    Two: People own their bodies, and the integrity of their bodies – that’s why crimes of violence are crimes — the perpetrator has (attempted to) inflict damage upon the victim.

    Three: a foetus is NOT a baby!

    From a very personal perspective:

    My wife has had a number of miscarriages. We were devasted each and every time at the loss of a potential child… but we moved on — knowing that we did not lose a child! Losing a foetus is devastating, but it’s not the death of a child!

    We have discussed many times (especially given the miscarriages) what ‘we’ would do if she were successfully pregnant and the foetus was in any way developmentally challenged (i.e Down’s Syndrome, or worse – as we get older the risk factors for genetic disease become higher).

    My position has always been clear — I would find it very difficult to knowingly bring such a child into the world, and would find it difficult to do so willingly. I would find it very difficult to maintain the same relationship with my wife if she chose to simply proceed after such testing. My imagination would ‘poison’ our relationship.

    However, if my wife carried a child to term that tested ‘normal’ but was, post partum, discovered to be ‘challenged’, I would unhesitatingly love and cherish such a child. In such a case I would be too busy with reality to worry about imaginary things.

    My wife is more conflicted (as anyone would expect – she’s nurtured this foetus and hoped for another child) — but ultimately her thoughts are very congruent with mine. Her choice is *her* choice. In the final analysis, I can have whatever *opinion* I want, and it matters not – she will choose!

    This is not hypothetical. Our daughter, born after many years of trying, has Prader-Willi. She was near death many times in her early months. Would we have aborted if we had known earlier? Quite possibly, if PWS were part of normal genetic screening — the scare stories about PWS are quite scary!

    Do we love our daughter any less? Not at all! We’re discovering and preparing for the unique challenges that she will face during her life, developmentally and otherwise. Would we rather she did not have PWS – of course! But this is reality. As rational adults, we deal with it!

    Abortion is sensible. We just don’t need to bring unwanted or damaged children into the world unnecessarily. (and when should such be ‘necessary’?) If they’re here we’ll love and cherish them on their own merits and as individuals.

  255. #255 Ichthyic
    June 18, 2007

    Hang about, I’m not talking to myself here, you know. There’s one or two others who’ve managed to get a word in edgeways every now and then. Go pick on them!

    1. yes, you basically ARE talking to yourself, and have been for months now. You just seem to think that because people respond, you are conversing with them.

    2. the people that respond to you can be found responding in other threads and other topics as well, unlike yourself.

    Not only did you NOT answer my question, it appears you were incapable of even understanding it!

    doesn’t that worry you in the least, Ian?

    It sure would me, if I were in your shoes.

  256. #256 Ichthyic
    June 18, 2007

    How sad. Ian finally admitted that his position was indefensible, and now he’s trying to defend it again.

    this is the EXACT same pattern you will find in diehard YECs, btw.

    denial drives it.

    Ian is living in an extreme state of denial.

    conclusion:

    Ian needs to speak with a professional therapist about that, and stop spending time on blogs.

  257. #257 Ichthyic
    June 18, 2007

    his obsession with this single issue implies he might also be having a problem with OCPD, which again might be well addressed by visiting a mental health care professional.

    seriously, Ian, even you must realize that after a year of obsessing over this same topic, with no progression in thought on your part at all, it does suggest you have some issues.

  258. #258 Numad
    June 18, 2007

    “One: Ian should seriously be considered a Troll — no-one can be that obtuse, surely?”

    No one who can operate a computer.

  259. #259 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 19, 2007

    RavenT wrote:

    It’s sad that this is the only way you know how to get attention, but it’s not interesting enough to go over the same ground yet again. We’ve done it far too many times already.

    A psychologist as well as a statistician? Who’d have thought it?

    If you ever manage to muster a coherent argument in defense of your position, maybe then.

    Here’s a hint: casting aspersions on the psychology of your opponent might be good rhetoric but it is also ad hominem and, as such, is poor logic

  260. #260 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 19, 2007

    D wrote:

    How sad. Ian finally admitted that his position was indefensible, and now he’s trying to defend it again. And even more sadly, it’s the same equivocation as always. I’m wondering though, given how important the life of a “human being” is to Ian, how many lives of embryos does it take to equal the life of one infant? Clearly not a couple of thousand. 500,000? A million? A trillion? Seems the life of a “human being” is actually rather cheap.

    …this from someone who believes in the unrestricted slaughter oh human embryos at the whim of women. Did someone mention irony recently?

    Another example, also raised before, is the previous right of men to treat wives and children as chattel. Today we reject such a notion as abhorrent, except, apparently, in the case of pregnant women and the embryos they carry.

    Speaking in the royal we now?

    You don’t agree? You think women and children should be treated as chattel?

  261. #261 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 19, 2007

    RavenT wrote:

    Oh, Ian, you never got around to explaining your stance on the pregnency where the fetus has Tay-Sachs disease.

    Would you permit the woman to choose an abortion in that case? Why or why not?

    Here’s the deal: you explain simply and clearly how my position involves an abuse or misuse of probability theory and I will answer your question about T-S fetuses.

  262. #262 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 19, 2007

    Ichthyic wrote:>

    Hang about, I’m not talking to myself here, you know. There’s one or two others who’ve managed to get a word in edgeways every now and then. Go pick on them!

    1. yes, you basically ARE talking to yourself, and have been for months now. You just seem to think that because people respond, you are conversing with them.

    Intriguing, so they’ve been responding to me but not conversing with me? What does that say about their psychology?

    2. the people that respond to you can be found responding in other threads and other topics as well, unlike yourself.

    So what? What does that have to do with the substance of the discussions here? Maybe you should forget the pop psychology and try a little logic.

    Not only did you NOT answer my question, it appears you were incapable of even understanding it!

    doesn’t that worry you in the least, Ian?

    Why I’m interested in this subject matters no more than why any of the other have posted on this thread.

    Your questioning of my motives and psychology is blatant argumentum ad hominem which, in case you were unaware, is a logical fallacy.

    Personally, I find that you, RavenT and others are resorting to such smear tactics quite encouraging.

  263. #263 RavenT
    June 19, 2007

    Here’s the deal: you explain simply and clearly how my position involves an abuse or misuse of probability theory and I will answer your question about T-S fetuses.

    I don’t feel like typing the same thing I’ve typed so many times in the past, and which you couldn’t or wouldn’t keep up with then. That you refuse to answer is fairly indicative that you recognize that you’ve just contradicted yourself again.

    Since you’re not going to answer, I’ll help you out: If Ian says it’s ok to abort the fetus, he’s just undermined his whole individual space-time trajectory argument, because he’ll spare suffering only in the present, but will grant rights into the future.

    If he says it’s not ok, he’s admitting publicly what amount of emotional suffering he’s willing to put a family through for the sake of his “principle”.

    Basically, even Ian can’t defend Ian’s position on this one, and I’d evade the question like crazy, too, if I had painted myself into the corner he has.

  264. #264 RavenT
    June 19, 2007

    Ah, what the hell. It’s still my prerogative to change my mind, at least right up to the point where Ian has the power to do anything about it.

    Ian, despite the letters after his name, is executing the classic Creationist squid ink tactic of jiggering prior and posterior probabilities to bolster an incoherent position.

    Even without terminating the pregnancy, some fetuses will die in utero, and some will survive to be born. *After* the death or the birth happens, we can say Fetus A died; its probability of being viable outside the uterus is 0. Fetus B, on the other hand, was born alive; its probability of being viable outside the uterus is 1.

    Those are posterior probabilities–we know them only looking back after the event happened.

    The first part of Ian’s fallacy is classic Creationist conflation of those probabilities with prior ones, although they usually use it to cook up bogus figures about the probability of the universe.

    *Before* the birth or death occurs, we can say x out of y babies in a population will be born alive, but we *cannot* point at any one baby and say its probability of being born alive is 0 or 1. So we say that its probability is somewhere between 0 and 1–call it ?. ? is positive, but it is less than 1. So the baby has a prior probability of somewhat less than 1 of being born viable outside the uterus.

    The difference (1 – ?) is the probability that the baby will die before being born. Ian is saying:

    1) let’s pretend that (1 – ?) = 0 and ? = 1 (which is equal to the woman’s current probability of viability outside the uterus). In other words, he’s erasing the distinction between positive numbers and zero in support of his point. He’s saying let’s treat a probability of less than 1 like more than it is for the fetus.

    So ok, maybe his system is just like Lobachevskian geometry–different parallel postulates yield different geometries, but it’s just eccentric, rather than being perverse.

    If that were true, and he only wanted to grant the fetus the “same” right to life he grants the woman, then you’d expect him to treat the cases symmetrically. Let’s see if he does.

    The woman’s prior probability of continuing to live is 1 – a certain amount of uncertainty (similar to the explanation for the population of fetuses above). Let’s call her prior probability of continuing to live ?, and her risk of death (1 – ?).

    That’s her normal prior probability. Pregnancy, even under the best of circumstances, involves a certain amount of risk, which we’ll call ?. So in taking on the pregnancy, her risk of dying goes up to 1 – ? + ?, and her probability of survival goes down to ??.

    Remember, in 1) above, Ian argued that we should treat the fetus’ probability of survival (?) as equal to the woman’s, even though it was less than 1. If he were consistent about that principle, he would treat ? as 1 as well, and would object on principle to the threat the fetus poses to the woman’s probability of survival. And he does pay lip service to the idea of doctors deciding for a woman who’s in imminent danger of death, but he never explains how far down that path she’s expected to go before he’d permit them to decide that for her.

    In other words, for Ian, ? should be treated as 0. He is making the mirror image argument as for ? at the same time, which is perverse. If you’re going to make distinctions among positive and negative numbers and zero, you can’t decide which numbers the rules hold for and which they don’t.

    So basically, Ian’s position boils down to:

    1) Non-zero numbers should be treated the same as 0 or 1;

    2) Except when they shouldn’t;

    3) Only Ian knows the criteria for non-symmetry;

    4) But don’t dare call him a misogynist, or he’ll write yet another screed.

    And he’s had this explained to him numerous times; he’s too married to his ideology to admit its self-contradiction.

  265. #265 Ichthyic
    June 19, 2007

    Here’s a hint: casting aspersions on the psychology of your opponent might be good rhetoric but it is also ad hominem and, as such, is poor logic

    it might also be concern you might cause harm to yourself or others eventually.

    there is no logic left in your argument, hasn’t been for months now.

    You’re not thinking of buying a gun in the near future, are you?

  266. #266 Ichthyic
    June 19, 2007

    oh, and btw, you notably STILL did not answer my question.

    interesting.

  267. #267 D
    June 19, 2007

    It seems we can add “irony” to the terms for which Ian doesn’t know the proper meaning, right next to ad hominem. And Ian, your seeming ability to know what other people think or believe or consent to or whatever, would be much more impressive if it were accurate. Also, not your best evasion attempt. As with RavenT’s question, it’s understandable that you don’t want to answer, as it also undermines your position. I’ll put it to you more simply. How many embryos would have to be at stake for you to save them from the burning building instead of the infant?

  268. #268 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 21, 2007

    Anton Mates wrote:

    Both the mother and the child in the burning building scenario are conscious and self-aware. We can assume they will both have established lives and loving personal relationships so their losses will cause greater pain and suffering than the loss of the embryos. It may not seem like much of a reason to some of you but when faced with making a choice between two evils such differences count.

    On the contrary, I think it’s an excellent reason. The question is why you don’t apply it to the abortion question as well. It’s ethical to sacrifice an embryo so that the mother’s loved ones will be spared from suffering her loss; it’s ethical to sacrifice hundreds or thousands of embryos so that the child’s loved ones will be spared from suffering; yet it’s not ethical to give mothers the option of sacrificing their own embryo so that they will be spared the suffering of bearing an unwanted child?

    In the first place, a hard choice which is ethically defensible in an emergency might not be so in a less extreme situation. A pregnant woman is not necessarily forced to choose abortion. There are other options, even if they are less then ideal.

    In the second place, it is not a good idea to give one group such unrestricted power of life and death over another group. Where else in society is this allowed in peacetime? You and others portray abortion as a humane way of preventing possible suffering of both mother and child further down the line. That is one possibility. What is also allowed under the present arrangements is that women who find a child will be an impediment to their careers or sex lives can abort their fetuses for such far less laudable reasons.

    As for the linkage between being opposed to abortion but supporting capital punishment, it is quite simple. Both are based on the presumption that each human life is precious. They should not be terminated without sufficient reason. One reason that is sufficient because it is the only proportionate punishment, is execution in the case of murder.

    I fail to see how that is sufficient reason to destroy something that is precious. If the owner of the Mona Lisa cut up The Starry Night, would it make sense to vandalize the former painting in retribution? When something irreplaceable and invaluable is destroyed, why would you destroy yet another such entity in revenge?

    In your illustration, it would not be necessary to vandalize the Mona Lisa. Cutting up The Starry Night deprived its owner of the pleasure of owning and viewing it. Simply confiscating the Mona Lisa would be an appropriate punishment for its owner, plus financial compensation for the owner of The Starry Night.

    Capital punishment is a question of justice which, for me, involves concepts of fairness, of ‘balancing the books’, of ensuring that offenders do not profit from the crime or are found, in some way, to have gained advantage from the offence.

    I am all for restitution and compensation for the victim where such is possible. Unfortunately, in the case of murder, they are not. The victim is dead. All that remains is punishment or retribution. Why not life imprisonment? Because the offender has still gained an advantage. He or she is still alive. However harsh prison life can be – and I have no doubt that it can be very unpleasant – the offender is still able to live out a life – albeit under severe restrictions. This is still a lot more than the victim can.

    Interesting. So it’s an axiom of yours that our punitive system must max out at “the harshest punishment conceivable?”

    No, it means, as Gilbert & Sullivan wrote, “Let The Punishment Fit the Crime”.

    It means that I am as content to see a serial killer like Ted Bundy executed for his crimes as I am to see Paris Hilton spend a few days in jail for DUI.

    Posted by: | June 17, 2007 05:46

  269. #269 RavenT
    June 21, 2007

    Here’s the deal: you explain simply and clearly how my position involves an abuse or misuse of probability theory and I will answer your question about T-S fetuses.

    Did that; now we’re waiting on you to hold up your end.

    What is your position on the abortion of a fetus with Tay-Sachs disease, and whichever one it is, how do you reconcile the inherent self-contradiction with the principles you’ve expressed?

  270. #270 Anton Mates
    June 22, 2007
    On the contrary, I think it’s an excellent reason. The question is why you don’t apply it to the abortion question as well. It’s ethical to sacrifice an embryo so that the mother’s loved ones will be spared from suffering her loss; it’s ethical to sacrifice hundreds or thousands of embryos so that the child’s loved ones will be spared from suffering; yet it’s not ethical to give mothers the option of sacrificing their own embryo so that they will be spared the suffering of bearing an unwanted child?

    In the first place, a hard choice which is ethically defensible in an emergency might not be so in a less extreme situation. A pregnant woman is not necessarily forced to choose abortion. There are other options, even if they are less then ideal.

    But there are always other options. If the little kid is passed out in the burning clinic, you don’t have to ignore the embryos and drag her out. You could douse her with water, give her a kick, rescue the embryos and hope she wakes up and finds her own way out before she asphyxiates. You could also call the fire department, or take the embryos out first and then run back in for her. With luck she’ll only suffer serious burns before she’s rescued, and will recover fully thanks to skin grafts! And just in case she does die, you can try to educate her parents as to why they’re better off without her anyway. These are less than ideal results, but they’re options, right? And you have saved all those embryonic lives.

    But I suspect you’d still choose to save the girl. You wouldn’t take any of the options that still leave her with a significant chance of death or serious injury, or leave her parents with a significant chance of bereavement, in spite of the fact that by so doing you’re dooming thousands of the unborn.

    In the second place, it is not a good idea to give one group such unrestricted power of life and death over another group. Where else in society is this allowed in peacetime?

    Um, pretty much everywhere “another group” doesn’t consist of sentient humans. You may have noticed that American citizens have quite shocking powers over their goldfish, socks, and toenail clippings.

    You and others portray abortion as a humane way of preventing possible suffering of both mother and child further down the line. That is one possibility. What is also allowed under the present arrangements is that women who find a child will be an impediment to their careers or sex lives can abort their fetuses for such far less laudable reasons.

    Ah, Ian. Here we were accusing you of misogyny. In fact, you just think women’s only possible reasons for not wanting babies are so they can become rich and get laid a lot. And that any unhappiness resulting from their inability to do so cannot be counted as “suffering.” How we’ve misjudged you.

    So, which reason do you think the woman in the original post had for not wanting another kid? Sex or business? When she hoped that her newest pregnancy was actually cancer, was that because cancer patients get the big bucks in insurance and medical leave, or because they’re fashionably thin and can pick up any guy in the club?

    In your illustration, it would not be necessary to vandalize the Mona Lisa. Cutting up The Starry Night deprived its owner of the pleasure of owning and viewing it. Simply confiscating the Mona Lisa would be an appropriate punishment for its owner, plus financial compensation for the owner of The Starry Night.

    What if the Mona Lisa’s owner takes pleasure in simply knowing the painting continues to exist? Conversely, what if The Starry Night is publicly owned, and many reproductions are available, so that no one’s deprived of the ability to view it just because the original was destroyed?

    Capital punishment is a question of justice which, for me, involves concepts of fairness, of ‘balancing the books’, of ensuring that offenders do not profit from the crime or are found, in some way, to have gained advantage from the offence.

    A significant fraction of humanity have assisted with and profited from, for instance, the deaths of their country’s enemies during wartime. Making sure all the books are balanced will require an awful lot of executions….

    I am all for restitution and compensation for the victim where such is possible. Unfortunately, in the case of murder, they are not. The victim is dead. All that remains is punishment or retribution.

    Forgiveness and rehabilitation are also options, I would think.

    Why not life imprisonment? Because the offender has still gained an advantage. He or she is still alive. However harsh prison life can be – and I have no doubt that it can be very unpleasant – the offender is still able to live out a life – albeit under severe restrictions. This is still a lot more than the victim can.

    In what sense is this gaining an advantage? The murderer has hardly profited by committing murder and being subsequently convicted; hir life is much worse than it was before. Perhaps the victim is in an even more pitiable condition–though to demonstrate that you’d need to poll some dead people and see how they feel about being dead–but that fact doesn’t make jail any more pleasant.

    No, it means, as Gilbert & Sullivan wrote, “Let The Punishment Fit the Crime”.

    It means that I am as content to see a serial killer like Ted Bundy executed for his crimes as I am to see Paris Hilton spend a few days in jail for DUI.

    If the punishment is to fit the crime, shouldn’t Paris Hilton be placed on the street while drunk drivers careen around her at unsafe speeds? Rapists aren’t assaulted as punishment, arsonists aren’t set on fire. Why must murderers be murdered?

    Incidentally, I don’t think you’ve yet said whether you think abortion should be punishable by death.

  271. #271 RavenT
    June 22, 2007

    Here we were accusing you of misogyny. In fact, you just think women’s only possible reasons for not wanting babies are so they can become rich and get laid a lot. And that any unhappiness resulting from their inability to do so cannot be counted as “suffering.” How we’ve misjudged you.

    It’s a principle at the basis of American jurisprudence that it’s better to let 10 guilty offenders go free rather than to put 1 innocent person in prison. (I know we’re doing a piss-poor job on that front at the moment, but please bear with us; it’s going to take quite a while to undo this damage, but some of us are trying hard to).

    Ian, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any problem publicly demonstrating his opposite-polarity principle: that it’s better to throw the rights of self-determination and bodily integrity of half the human race under the bus, rather than to let one woman make a choice he personally disapproves of.

  272. #272 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 26, 2007

    RavenT wrote:

    4) But don’t dare call him a misogynist, or he’ll write yet another screed.

    Screed 1

    Ian, despite the letters after his name, is executing the classic Creationist squid ink tactic of jiggering prior and posterior probabilities to bolster an incoherent position.

    Even without terminating the pregnancy, some fetuses will die in utero, and some will survive to be born. *After* the death or the birth happens, we can say Fetus A died; its probability of being viable outside the uterus is 0. Fetus B, on the other hand, was born alive; its probability of being viable outside the uterus is 1.

    Those are posterior probabilities–we know them only looking back after the event happened.

    So let me see if I understand this correctly, the probability of a specified event is essentially the ratio of the way things could happen to the way they do happen. To quote someone else’s example, if a deck of cards is placed face down on a table, the probability of the top card being the ace of spades, for example, is 1 in 52. That probability, however, only exists before the top card is turned – what you call the prior probability. After the top card is turned, we know whether or not the card is the ace of spades. There is no longer a probability, there is certainty one way or the other.

    In one sense, therefore, although it can be used to forecast the more probable out of a range of future possibilities, probability is a measure of our uncertainty about future events and does not enable us to predict the outcome of a specific event. In the case of a fetus diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, for example, there is a very high probability that it will die as a child early in life. But probability tells us nothing about whether a particular child might recover spontaneously through some unknown mechanism or become the beneficiary of some recently-discovered treatment. Although we can anticipate the worst, that does not prevent us from hoping for the best and giving the child at least that one slim chance.

    However useful calculations of probability might be though, the question still remains of how they bear on human rights. The right to life, for example, is not usually assigned on the basis of whether the lucky recipient has been forecast to be a happy, healthy and productive member of society. It is granted to all human beings, regardless. Of course, there is nothing to stop you promoting such a Brave New World scenario nor advocating it as the most ethical solution to society’s problems, but I would be interested to know how many here would agree with you.

    Since you’re not going to answer, I’ll help you out: If Ian says it’s ok to abort the fetus, he’s just undermined his whole individual space-time trajectory argument, because he’ll spare suffering only in the present, but will grant rights into the future.
    If he says it’s not ok, he’s admitting publicly what amount of emotional suffering he’s willing to put a family through for the sake of his “principle”.

    My opposition to abortion is not based on how it might affect human suffering but on giving the unborn child the same opportunity to live a life as we who are now discussing this have been fortunate enough to have.

    In fact, like Anton Mates, you have put your finger on what is the strongest challenge to my position – and yours, of course – when you refer to the “individual space-time trajectory argument”. The concept of timescape, in which all times co-exist in a similar way to the way that all parts of a landscape co-exist, implies that all events are already determined and if everything is pre-ordained then all our arguments – yours and mine – about morality are futile. The purpose of moral codes is to influence the choices we make but, if we have no choice, morality is irrelevant.

    Even if we set aside the concept of timescape, though, it is clear that the universe is ordered rather than chaotic, that there is cause and effect at some levels, that we are children, not just of our parents, but of our culture and of our times. What remains true, however, is that, whether the Universe is deterministic or not, we have no knowledge of the future, we can only calculate probabilities at best, so we can choose quite rationally to act as if our choices make a difference.

  273. #273 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 26, 2007

    Screed 2

    RavenT wrote:

    Here’s the deal: you explain simply and clearly how my position involves an abuse or misuse of probability theory and I will answer your question about T-S fetuses.

    Did that; now we’re waiting on you to hold up your end.
    What is your position on the abortion of a fetus with Tay-Sachs disease, and whichever one it is, how do you reconcile the inherent self-contradiction with the principles you’ve expressed?

    First, you have yet to demonstrate any inherent self-contradiction with the principles I’ve expressed but that can be allowed to pass for the moment.

    On the far more serious question of whether or not to abort a fetus with Tay-Sachs disease (TSD) there is obviously no easy answer.

    On the one hand there is the entirely understandable wish to prevent the needless suffering of children. On the other is the principle of the right to life which prohibits people from taking the life of others without sufficient cause.

    Medical science has provided the diagnostic tools with which to detect the genetic abnormality that causes the disorder but has yet to find a cure, although this does not mean that one will never be found. What it does mean, however, is that we are forced to confront the question of how to act on this knowledge.

    From my perspective, the question reduces to this: is knowing that the fetus has the defect that causes TSD sufficient cause to justify aborting it? Does the near-certainty that the child will die early after a period of increasing suffering warrant what is, in effect, mercy killing?

    On balance, I have to say ‘no’ and for three reasons.

    First, the fact that the child will die early, while tragic, is not relevant. None of us know how long we are going to live. All we can do is make the best of such time as we are granted. The same should be allowed to the TSD child. It may be that, at some point, the child finds its suffering to be unbearable and asks to be released but it should at least be given the chance to decide for itself.

    Second, while the prognosis for a child with TSD is extremely poor, we simply have no way of knowing when a treatment or even a cure might emerge. To abort a fetus with TSD only for a treatment to be found a few months later would be a tragedy in itself. Surely the child deserves every chance for life, even at the cost of the inevitable suffering.

    Third, if we can simply terminate any pregnancy where the fetus is found to have some disorder which is untreatable at present, any incentive to carry out research to find a cure is weakened. Medical research is often lengthy and costly. There will be the temptation to argue that abortion will save time, effort and money which can be usefully allocated elsewhere. This does not mean that all research would be abandoned but an unintended consequence of readily-available preventative abortion could be to delay the discovery of treatments and cures.

    Because it involves killing, abortion should be an option of last resort, not an easy way out of dealing with more difficult situations.

  274. #274 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 26, 2007

    RavenT wrote:

    Ian, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any problem publicly demonstrating his opposite-polarity principle: that it’s better to throw the rights of self-determination and bodily integrity of half the human race under the bus, rather than to let one woman make a choice he personally disapproves of.

    The right to self-determination does not extend to killing, otherwise any murderer could defend his crime on the grounds that he was just exercising his right to live his life as he chose.

  275. #275 RavenT
    June 26, 2007

    But probability tells us nothing about whether a particular child might recover spontaneously through some unknown mechanism or become the beneficiary of some recently-discovered treatment. Although we can anticipate the worst, that does not prevent us from hoping for the best and giving the child at least that one slim chance.

    Shorter Ian: If I ever had any power, I’d put untold numbers of families through tremendous certain emotional and physical suffering.

    Can you show even one infant who has ever recovered from Tay-Sachs through this “unknown mechanism” you’d take away everyone’s choice in the name of?

    My opposition to abortion is not based on how it might affect human suffering

    We know that; the only time you bring up suffering is as a post hoc justification of your choosing to rescue the toddler rather than the embryos. In other words, when you’re caught in a contradiction, you play the “sparing suffering” card in an attempt to distract from your incoherent argument.

    What remains true, however, is that, whether the Universe is deterministic or not, we have no knowledge of the future, we can only calculate probabilities at best, so we can choose quite rationally to act as if our choices make a difference.

    Our choices–not only yours–are exactly what this debate is all about. And judging from the quality of your reasoning and argumentation, you wouldn’t recognize “rationally” if it bit you on the ass.

    So once again you demonstrate that you have a huge emotional hang-up around this issue–in itself, that’s no big deal; we all have our issues. But if you try to pretend there’s any rationality at all to your desire to take away the right to self-determination of half of the human race, you have to expect to get called on your shoddy reasoning and faulty premises.

  276. #276 RavenT
    June 26, 2007

    First, you have yet to demonstrate any inherent self-contradiction with the principles I’ve expressed but that can be allowed to pass for the moment.

    You’d like to let your misrepresentation pass, but instead, we’ll examine it:

    If you really believed that embryos were equal to children, you’d save them, rather than the toddler in the scenario posed to you. You don’t, because even you realize how crazy that would be, and you justify your inconsistency by saying that the toddler has people who love it, who would suffer.

    Fair enough–I actually agree with you on that decision. But then, the same logic should apply to the fetus who has Tay-Sachs disease. Its physical suffering after its birth will cause a great deal of pain to its family, and they are the ones who are best in a position to decide whether to take that on. Not you. If you’d rescue the toddler over the embryos to spare suffering in the ones who loved it, then to be consistent, you’d have to allow them to choose to terminate the pregnancy. You can’t have it both ways.

    So you choose below to abandon the pretense that it’s about preventing suffering. Fine; I applaud your honesty on that point, although it shoots your fertility clinic argument full of holes, but it’s abhorrent in any case.

    On the far more serious question of whether or not to abort a fetus with Tay-Sachs disease (TSD) there is obviously no easy answer.

    Yes, there is–it’s up to the parents to decide.

    Does the near-certainty that the child will die early after a period of increasing suffering warrant what is, in effect, mercy killing? On balance, I have to say ‘no’ and for three reasons.

    Fortunately, it’s not your choice.

    Second, while the prognosis for a child with TSD is extremely poor, we simply have no way of knowing when a treatment or even a cure might emerge. To abort a fetus with TSD only for a treatment to be found a few months later would be a tragedy in itself. Surely the child deserves every chance for life, even at the cost of the inevitable suffering.

    There you go jiggering probabilities, as well as redefining “life”.

    Third, if we can simply terminate any pregnancy where the fetus is found to have some disorder which is untreatable at present, any incentive to carry out research to find a cure is weakened. Medical research is often lengthy and costly. There will be the temptation to argue that abortion will save time, effort and money which can be usefully allocated elsewhere. This does not mean that all research would be abandoned but an unintended consequence of readily-available preventative abortion could be to delay the discovery of treatments and cures.

    You really don’t have a single clue how decisions about medical research are made, do you?

    I’ll just point out that if your postulated correlation were a real one, you’d expect the anti-abortion Republicans in the US to boost federal funding for pediatric medical research over the previous pro-choice administration, who would have slashed it in comparison–is that how it’s worked out in reality, Iain?

    Because it involves killing, abortion should be an option of last resort, not an easy way out of dealing with more difficult situations.

    Goddamn women, always looking for the easy way out!

  277. #277 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 29, 2007

    Anton Mates wrote:

    In the first place, a hard choice which is ethically defensible in an emergency might not be so in a less extreme situation. A pregnant woman is not necessarily forced to choose abortion. There are other options, even if they are less then ideal.

    But there are always other options.

    Yes, in real life that may well be true but it in the burning clinic scenario it is quite clear that the rescuer is being forced to make a choice between the child and the frozen embryos.

    If the little kid is passed out in the burning clinic, you don’t have to ignore the embryos and drag her out. You could douse her with water, give her a kick, rescue the embryos and hope she wakes up and finds her own way out before she asphyxiates. You could also call the fire department, or take the embryos out first and then run back in for her. With luck she’ll only suffer serious burns before she’s rescued, and will recover fully thanks to skin grafts! And just in case she does die, you can try to educate her parents as to why they’re better off without her anyway. These are less than ideal results, but they’re options, right? And you have saved all those embryonic lives.

    But I suspect you’d still choose to save the girl. You wouldn’t take any of the options that still leave her with a significant chance of death or serious injury, or leave her parents with a significant chance of bereavement, in spite of the fact that by so doing you’re dooming thousands of the unborn.

    If I believed that there were a reasonable chance of saving both the child and the embryos then I would do so, although I would still get the child out first. I suspect that most people here would do the same.

    The weakness with the burning clinic scenario is that is really little more than a rhetorical device on a par with the “no atheists in foxholes” jibe. I believe that most people, whatever their views on abortion, would try to save the child first. Whether such an act was a consequence of philosophical considerations, cultural conditioning, instinct or a combination of all three says nothing about the arguments for or against abortion, although it might have some bearing on whether the acts of the rescuer were consistent with his or her professed views.

    In the second place, it is not a good idea to give one group such unrestricted power of life and death over another group. Where else in society is this allowed in peacetime?

    Um, pretty much everywhere “another group” doesn’t consist of sentient humans. You may have noticed that American citizens have quite shocking powers over their goldfish, socks, and toenail clippings.

    I should point out that I also have issues with toenail clippings, although this concerns the way some people simply let the clippings fly off and land where they may when they trim their toenails – behaviour I consider to be the height of barbarism.

    Of course, equating human embryos to toenail clippings is not much better. As a tactic, though, it can be said to have a ‘distinguished’ ancestry. There are a number of examples where societies or political groups have absolved themselves, in their own minds at least, of any moral responsibility for the killing of others by holding that they are less than human.

    You and others portray abortion as a humane way of preventing possible suffering of both mother and child further down the line. That is one possibility. What is also allowed under the present arrangements is that women who find a child will be an impediment to their careers or sex lives can abort their fetuses for such far less laudable reasons.

    Ah, Ian. Here we were accusing you of misogyny. In fact, you just think women’s only possible reasons for not wanting babies are so they can become rich and get laid a lot. And that any unhappiness resulting from their inability to do so cannot be counted as “suffering.” How we’ve misjudged you.

    Blatant strawman, Anton, I never said that they were the only reasons women sought abortion nor even the main reasons, just that unrestricted elective abortion makes it possible. And, given the vagaries of human nature, are you denying that it has ever happened? So, which reason do you think the woman in the original post had for not wanting another kid? Sex or business? When she hoped that her newest pregnancy was actually cancer, was that because cancer patients get the big bucks in insurance and medical leave, or because they’re fashionably thin and can pick up any guy in the club? This is a good question. I can understand and sympathise with the doctor’s compassion for this woman but if she was being pressured into having children against her will then there was a serious underlying problem. Abortion was a just a ‘quick fix’. It did nothing about whatever was the reason for these unwanted pregnancies and it sounds like there was a good chance she would simply have been back there in a year or so.

    What if the Mona Lisa’s owner takes pleasure in simply knowing the painting continues to exist?

    There is little we can do about what someone feels. A rapist might continue to take perverse pleasure from what he did to his victims. We may not be able to change that but what we can do is to lock him away for the rest of his life so that he no longer has any direct contact with women let alone the chance to become a threat to them again. A murderer might take similar pleasure from his crimes. We cannot do anything about that nor can we rehabilitate the victims. What we can do, however, is to take from him what he took from his victims, namely, his life.

    Conversely, what if The Starry Night is publicly owned, and many reproductions are available, so that no one’s deprived of the ability to view it just because the original was destroyed?

    They are deprived of the ability to view the original. The existence of copies or prints does not mitigate that loss.

    A significant fraction of humanity have assisted with and profited from, for instance, the deaths of their country’s enemies during wartime. Making sure all the books are balanced will require an awful lot of executions….

    Killing the enemy combatants in time of war is not murder.

    Forgiveness and rehabilitation are also options, I would think.

    If the victim can be rehabilitated then I am all for the rehabilitation of the offender.

    As for forgiveness, I see that as more of a psychological ploy which enables victims and their relatives and friends to absorb the trauma of the offence and be able to get on with their lives. Anger, bitterness and hatred are powerful emotions which cannot be sustained for any length of time without causing harm to those who experience them. Forgiveness is a useful little mental stratagem which allows you to abandon such feelings without feeling you have somehow betrayed the victim.

    In any event, what does forgiveness mean? Does it mean the offence has somehow been undone as if it had never been committed? Does it mean that the victim’s trauma has expunged from their memory? Does it mean that the offender has now been siezed with remorse and promised to commit him- or herself to good works for what remains of their lives? No, it does not.

    In what sense is this gaining an advantage? The murderer has hardly profited by committing murder and being subsequently convicted; hir life is much worse than it was before. Perhaps the victim is in an even more pitiable condition–though to demonstrate that you’d need to poll some dead people and see how they feel about being dead–but that fact doesn’t make jail any more pleasant.

    No, quite obviously, jail is not pleasant. It was never meant to be pleasant. But even with its harshness and severe restrictions, prison allows inmates to do so many things that the victim no longer can. I leave it to your imagination to identify what these might be.

    If the punishment is to fit the crime, shouldn’t Paris Hilton be placed on the street while drunk drivers careen around her at unsafe speeds? Rapists aren’t assaulted as punishment, arsonists aren’t set on fire. Why must murderers be murdered?

    I am all in favour of more imaginative approaches to punishment. Taking drink-driving offenders to see the gory aftermath of a bad traffic accident caused by drink might be worth trying, for example.

    And, once again, lawful execution is not murder.

    Incidentally, I don’t think you’ve yet said whether you think abortion should be punishable by death.

    I note that Scott Petersen was convicted of the murder not only of his wife but of his unborn child. Much more recently, Bobby Lee Cutts, Jr has been charged with the murder not only of one of his girlfriends but of his unborn child. There is now a law on the books in the US which makes it an offence to kill unborn children. It does include a provision which exempts abortion but, in so doing, sets up an unresolved contradiction.

    But, no, I do not think abortion should be punishable by death. If the unborn child is granted some form of legal ‘personhood’ then abortion must become an offence but not one heinous enough to justify the death penalty.

  278. #278 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 29, 2007

    RavenT wrote:

    You’d like to let your misrepresentation pass, but instead, we’ll examine it:

    If you really believed that embryos were equal to children, you’d save them, rather than the toddler in the scenario posed to you. You don’t, because even you realize how crazy that would be, and you justify your inconsistency by saying that the toddler has people who love it, who would suffer.

    I have never argued that an embryo is in all ways equal to a child. My case has always been that embryo and child are different stages in the life-cycle of a human being. They are only equal in their entitlement to the right to life.

    As for the burning clinic scenario, it is little more than a rhetorical device similar to the ‘have you stopped beating your wife’ fallacy. Whichever option I choose I am damned. If I choose to save the child, I am scorned for not acting consistently with my belief in the embryo’s right to life. If I choose to save the embryos, I am pilloried for being willing to sacrifice the life of the child for the sake of some stainless-steel flasks of deep-frozen cell-clusters.

    Yet my choice makes no more difference to whether or not an embryo is entitled to the right to life than did Jefferson’s ownership of slaves to the moral case against slavery. The immorality of slavery and the embryo’s right to life are independent of any one person’s views or actions.

    Fair enough–I actually agree with you on that decision. But then, the same logic should apply to the fetus who has Tay-Sachs disease. Its physical suffering after its birth will cause a great deal of pain to its family, and they are the ones who are best in a position to decide whether to take that on. Not you. If you’d rescue the toddler over the embryos to spare suffering in the ones who loved it, then to be consistent, you’d have to allow them to choose to terminate the pregnancy. You can’t have it both ways.

    The parents of a fetus with Tay-Sachs disease are fully entitled to decide that they are unable to take on the burden of caring for it after birth. What they are not entitled to do is kill it or have it killed to spare themselves that burden. They are certainly not entitled to do that after it is born and I say that they are no more entitled to do that before it is born.

    On the far more serious question of whether or not to abort a fetus with Tay-Sachs disease (TSD) there is obviously no easy answer.

    Yes, there is–it’s up to the parents to decide.

    It makes a change to see that, at least in this case, you allow that parents (plural) should both be involved in the decision, given that previously you have been arguing that it is entirely the woman’s prerogative.

  279. #279 RavenT
    June 30, 2007

    They are only equal in their entitlement to the right to life.

    Which is exactly what the burning clinic scenario is about. If you really believed what you just said, you’d save the many with the right to life over the one with the right to life. But you shift your ground the minute your principle is put to a real test, and you come up with a post hoc justification about suffering.

    So I posed you a real scenario involving real suffering, where the only difference is that the suffering is delayed past the pregnancy. If you really believed in your timescape scenario, you’d have to admit that the same suffering you invoked to save the toddler would justify the parents’ decision to abort. Faced with the self-contradiction you’re caught in, you drop any pretense about this being about preventing suffering, and instead reiterate your circular reasoning.

    Whichever option I choose I am damned. If I choose to save the child, I am scorned for not acting consistently with my belief in the embryo’s right to life. If I choose to save the embryos, I am pilloried for being willing to sacrifice the life of the child for the sake of some stainless-steel flasks of deep-frozen cell-clusters.

    Yes, that is the inherent contradiction in your position that people have been trying to point out to you. Your statements, taken together, are incoherent.

    The immorality of slavery and the embryo’s right to life are independent of any one person’s views or actions.

    Your embedded assumptions that there is some equivalent status between enslaved humans and embryos are at the heart of your conveniently misogynistic self-contradiction that you perceive you are being “pilloried” for. You can’t even recognize your circular reasoning here.

    It makes a change to see that, at least in this case, you allow that parents (plural) should both be involved in the decision, given that previously you have been arguing that it is entirely the woman’s prerogative.

    Unless you think I’ve been arguing that the woman’s interests are *always* diametrically opposed to the man’s–yet another false equivalency, Ian–I don’t see your point. I’ve *never* argued that the man should never have a say in any decision, only that the woman should always have the final say in the case of a disagreement–because her bodily integrity is at stake in a way the father’s isn’t.

    You can’t see your own contradictions, and you see ones in my position that aren’t there.

  280. #280 prismatic, so prismatic
    June 30, 2007

    It makes a change to see that, at least in this case, you allow that parents (plural) should both be involved in the decision, given that previously you have been arguing that it is entirely the woman’s prerogative.

    A side issue:

    Different kinds of decisions obtain in different circumstances. In the scenario involving prenatal diagnosis of Tay-Sachs disease, it’s plausible to assume whatever parents are involved got there after having jointly decided to try to be parents together, which includes consent by the mother to undergo a pregnancy. In other scenarios, such consent by the mother–for whatever reason–did not yet obtain; precisely, those in which the mother had not yet reached the same point of having consented to use her body to bring a pregnancy to term.

    Thus it is entirely consistent to have some scenarios which foreground, for all parents involved in the situation, a joint decision-making process regarding whether or not to abort a fetus (even though I would agree with RavenT that the mother holds the final decision)–and some which foreground the fact that the mother holds the final decision. The difference lies in whether the mother ever reached the point of commitment to see the pregnancy through, barring unforeseen problems such as TSD, and then remains in that state of consent with whichever other parents are involved.

    Note that this is not the same thing as saying “once she signs on, then she’s stuck with her decision”–such a judgment is forestalled by the idea that the woman’s own decision trumps all others. I am only talking about the difference between scenarios in which the mother has given consent for use of her body in pregnancy as part of an endeavor undertaken with others, and then there is discovery of an intractable problem–as opposed to the point before such consent is given, or after it is withdrawn.

    -pr

  281. #281 Anton Mates
    July 1, 2007
    But there are always other options.

    Yes, in real life that may well be true but it in the burning clinic scenario it is quite clear that the rescuer is being forced to make a choice between the child and the frozen embryos.

    I don’t think it is, but very well–let’s clarify. This is a burning clinic in real life, which means there’s always a chance that a fire truck’s two blocks away, or a freak hurricane rips off the ceiling and extinguishes the fire, or there’s someone outside who decides to come in and look for people in danger, or something like that. Should you still rescue the child first?

    The weakness with the burning clinic scenario is that is really little more than a rhetorical device on a par with the “no atheists in foxholes” jibe. I believe that most people, whatever their views on abortion, would try to save the child first.

    And you believe that most atheists in a foxhole would convert to theism?

    Whether such an act was a consequence of philosophical considerations, cultural conditioning, instinct or a combination of all three says nothing about the arguments for or against abortion, although it might have some bearing on whether the acts of the rescuer were consistent with his or her professed views.

    Now really, Ian. The scenario was brought up here as it’s always brought up, in discussions of the ethics of abortion. It’s fairly obvious that we’re asking what you think it’s right to do in that scenario. The fact that you might actually do something else due to panic or confusion or emotional bias–heck, I might bolt out of the clinic without saving anybody–is irrelevant.

    Do you think the child should be saved before the embryos, or not?

    Of course, equating human embryos to toenail clippings is not much better. As a tactic, though, it can be said to have a ‘distinguished’ ancestry. There are a number of examples where societies or political groups have absolved themselves, in their own minds at least, of any moral responsibility for the killing of others by holding that they are less than human.

    Yep. And in most of the cases where the organisms they killed were less than human, such as flies or soybean plants or tumors or acephalic fetuses, they were perfectly right to do so. The atrocities occurred when societies treated sentient humans as not being such. And when they elevated non-sentient entities to the level of human, as did Christians who tortured and killed Jews for desecration of the host, which they considered to be literally part of Jesus’ person.

    You and others portray abortion as a humane way of preventing possible suffering of both mother and child further down the line. That is one possibility. What is also allowed under the present arrangements is that women who find a child will be an impediment to their careers or sex lives can abort their fetuses for such far less laudable reasons.

    Ah, Ian. Here we were accusing you of misogyny. In fact, you just think women’s only possible reasons for not wanting babies are so they can become rich and get laid a lot. And that any unhappiness resulting from their inability to do so cannot be counted as “suffering.” How we’ve misjudged you.

    Blatant strawman, Anton, I never said that they were the only reasons women sought abortion nor even the main reasons, just that unrestricted elective abortion makes it possible.

    Very well, I take it back; you don’t think that 100% of women seeking abortions are doing so to get rich or get laid. But according to you they outweigh the consideration of “possible suffering of both mother and child,” so either you think they are the main reasons, or they’re such incredibly horrible reasons that they justify banning abortion in spite of their rarity.

    And, given the vagaries of human nature, are you denying that it has ever happened?

    Of course not. And it would be as good a reason for abortion as any other. Women are as entitled as men to sexual and economic fulfillment, and their suffering when prevented from attaining this is perfectly legitimate. You rank the suffering of a bereaved mother, in units of morally equivalent embryonic deaths, as thousands or millions of times greater than the suffering of a woman who becomes a mother against her will; I do not.

    I can understand and sympathise with the doctor’s compassion for this woman but if she was being pressured into having children against her will then there was a serious underlying problem. Abortion was a just a ‘quick fix’. It did nothing about whatever was the reason for these unwanted pregnancies and it sounds like there was a good chance she would simply have been back there in a year or so.

    Yes, why do we bother with curative medicine? There’s no point doing heart surgery on people who eat red meat or giving antibiotics to people who keep getting bacterial infections. That’s just a quick fix. Clearly, we should withhold all medical treatment for a condition while we figure out how to make sure it never occurs again.

    There is little we can do about what someone feels. A rapist might continue to take perverse pleasure from what he did to his victims. We may not be able to change that but what we can do is to lock him away for the rest of his life so that he no longer has any direct contact with women let alone the chance to become a threat to them again. A murderer might take similar pleasure from his crimes. We cannot do anything about that nor can we rehabilitate the victims. What we can do, however, is to take from him what he took from his victims, namely, his life.

    Do you see the total lack of parallel there? We could lock the murderer away for the rest of his life so he no longer had direct contact with or was a threat to, well, anybody. We could take from the rapist what he took from his victims, namely his bodily autonomy and control over his sexual partners. Yet you treat the cases according to completely different moral schemes.

    (And the rapist’s victims might not be healable either. What if the victim committed suicide later, or simply got hit by a bus?)

    Conversely, what if The Starry Night is publicly owned, and many reproductions are available, so that no one’s deprived of the ability to view it just because the original was destroyed?

    They are deprived of the ability to view the original. The existence of copies or prints does not mitigate that loss.

    On what grounds do you decide here that the relevant advantage or lack thereof is the ability to view the original, rather than, say, ability to view the image of the painting in any form or ability to know the world still contains this painting and not others?

    Killing the enemy combatants in time of war is not murder.

    Later:

    And, once again, lawful execution is not murder.

    So each human life is precious, except when it’s on the wrong side during wartime or the human’s convicted of a capital crime or the human’s sitting in a refrigerator with ten thousand fellow embryos while you’re dragging the little girl out of the burning fertility clinic.

    Does your statement that “each human life is precious” have any consequences whatsoever for your actual moral decisions?

    As for forgiveness, I see that as more of a psychological ploy which enables victims and their relatives and friends to absorb the trauma of the offence and be able to get on with their lives. Anger, bitterness and hatred are powerful emotions which cannot be sustained for any length of time without causing harm to those who experience them. Forgiveness is a useful little mental stratagem which allows you to abandon such feelings without feeling you have somehow betrayed the victim.

    How remarkably Old Testament. True goodness lies in justice and retribution; forgiveness and mercy are merely psychological ploys. I can’t really do anything in response except to say that’s not how my moral sense works….

    In any event, what does forgiveness mean? Does it mean the offence has somehow been undone as if it had never been committed? Does it mean that the victim’s trauma has expunged from their memory? Does it mean that the offender has now been siezed with remorse and promised to commit him- or herself to good works for what remains of their lives? No, it does not.

    Of course not. That wouldn’t be forgiveness..

    No, quite obviously, jail is not pleasant. It was never meant to be pleasant. But even with its harshness and severe restrictions, prison allows inmates to do so many things that the victim no longer can. I leave it to your imagination to identify what these might be.

    Again, this isn’t what you originally said punishment should prevent. You said murderers shouldn’t be able to profit by their crime. Profiting means being better off than you were before, not being better off than your victim currently is.

    Do you hold it a general principle that no one should be able to place anybody else at a relative disadvantage?

    I am all in favour of more imaginative approaches to punishment. Taking drink-driving offenders to see the gory aftermath of a bad traffic accident caused by drink might be worth trying, for example.

    And would have nothing to do with retribution or the principle that the punishment should fit the crime.

    I note that Scott Petersen was convicted of the murder not only of his wife but of his unborn child. Much more recently, Bobby Lee Cutts, Jr has been charged with the murder not only of one of his girlfriends but of his unborn child. There is now a law on the books in the US which makes it an offence to kill unborn children. It does include a provision which exempts abortion but, in so doing, sets up an unresolved contradiction.

    I agree, but in the case of the last law the contradiction is in its specifics, not in its mere existence. It’s perfectly consistent to legalize abortion but criminalize what amounts to forcing an abortion on a woman against her will. The problem is that the fetal/embryonic protection laws often treat the latter as murder, rather than as some form of assault on the woman. That’s certainly inconsistent with legal abortion.

    But, no, I do not think abortion should be punishable by death. If the unborn child is granted some form of legal ‘personhood’ then abortion must become an offence but not one heinous enough to justify the death penalty.

    Why not? What part of your previous argument–the offender has taken away the fetus’ most precious possession, their life, and now must have their own life taken away in retribution–does not apply here?

  282. #282 Ian H Spedding FCD
    July 1, 2007

    RavenT wrote:

    Which is exactly what the burning clinic scenario is about. If you really believed what you just said, you’d save the many with the right to life over the one with the right to life. But you shift your ground the minute your principle is put to a real test, and you come up with a post hoc justification about suffering.

    I see that I am going to have to spell this out for you.

    I claim that the unborn human, whatever its stage of development might be, is as much entitled to the right to life as is the postnatal human. That is all.

    Your argument seems to be that, to be consistent with my position, I should choose the embryos over the child on the grounds that ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’. But that principle is not implicit in my original claim.

    If a society sanctions capital punishment it could be on the grounds that the needs of the many – the public at large – outweigh the needs of the relatively small number of murderers.

    On the other hand, suppose you were in the Deep South in the latter half of the nineteenth century and came across a coloured man about to be lynched by a group of whites; suppose further that you were armed. Most people, including me, would argue that you would have been justified in firing on the mob, injuring or killing as many as was necessary to save the victim. In this case, the needs of the few – or the one – outweigh the needs of the many.

    Besides, as I wrote before, you may accuse me of inconsistency if you believe my choice contradicts my stated position but that does not undermine the principle itself since its strength is not dependent on my actions.

    So I posed you a real scenario involving real suffering, where the only difference is that the suffering is delayed past the pregnancy. If you really believed in your timescape scenario, you’d have to admit that the same suffering you invoked to save the toddler would justify the parents’ decision to abort. Faced with the self-contradiction you’re caught in, you drop any pretense about this being about preventing suffering, and instead reiterate your circular reasoning.

    This afternoon I watched a movie called A Child Is Waiting starring Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland. It confronted the question of how to treat mentally-handicapped children. For 1963 it was brutally honest about the problems and the fact that there are no simple answers. It was also a moving plea for these children, whatever their difficulties, to be given the chance to live out their lives as best they can. If you have not already seen it, you should if you get the chance.

    Frankly, I find that justifying the abortion of fetuses diagnosed with incurable disorders on the grounds that it relieves parents and society of a costly and unwelcome burden as no different from the rationalizations of the eugenics movement at its worst. It was abhorrent then and it is now.

    One test of how humane and civilized any society can claim to be is how it treats its most vulnerable and disadvantaged members. Any society could save itself a great deal of time and money by simply aborting any fetus with an identifiable disorder or even the genetic potential for one. But you do not cure a disease by killing the patient, nor do you learn how it might be cured. All you do is avoid having to deal with it any further.

    You can’t see your own contradictions, and you see ones in my position that aren’t there.

    Ditto.

  283. #283 RavenT
    July 1, 2007

    If a society sanctions capital punishment it could be on the grounds that the needs of the many – the public at large – outweigh the needs of the relatively small number of murderers.

    In this case, the needs of the few – or the one – outweigh the needs of the many.

    Shorter Ian: A and !A, and I’m the only one who knows which holds when.

    Ditto.

    You’re funny, Ian. But overall it’s a good strategy; a false tu quoque is way more coherent than anything else in the way of argumentation you’ve got.

    Everything comes down to *your* definitions, which you change as you need to, up to and including arguing opposite principles simultaneously. That’s what happens when you start from a given conclusion, and try to justify it by applying principles in a post hoc fashion.

    It’s a pity that you can’t see your huge gaping self-contradictions, no matter how many times people bother walking through it for you. You clearly have a huge emotional investment in this issue which makes rational discussion impossible for you. While I wouldn’t dream of guessing what your personal stake might be, clearly you think that it’s worth taking away the right of women to make choices about their bodies. If you start with that conclusion, and argue backwards from there as you have been doing all along, you unavoidably tangle yourself up in these contradictions.

  284. #284 Ian H Spedding FCD
    July 1, 2007

    prismatic, so prismatic wrote:

    A side issue:

    Different kinds of decisions obtain in different circumstances. In the scenario involving prenatal diagnosis of Tay-Sachs disease, it’s plausible to assume whatever parents are involved got there after having jointly decided to try to be parents together, which includes consent by the mother to undergo a pregnancy. In other scenarios, such consent by the mother–for whatever reason–did not yet obtain; precisely, those in which the mother had not yet reached the same point of having consented to use her body to bring a pregnancy to term.

    Part of my argument is that if the fetus has the right to life it does not depend on the mother’s consent alone any more than your right to life depends on my consent.

    If a couple have sex in the knowledge that contraception, if used, is not foolproof and pregnancy might be the result then they are responsible in the first instance for any child that is conceived. If society also grants the child the right to life then that right must have priority over the mother’s right to physical autonomy except where the mother’s life or long-term health is threatened. Abortion is not an option, therefore, apart from the health exemption.

  285. #285 prismatic, so prismatic
    July 2, 2007

    I claim that the unborn human, whatever its stage of development might be, is as much entitled to the right to life as is the postnatal human. That is all.

    Your argument seems to be that, to be consistent with my position, I should choose the embryos over the child on the grounds that ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’. But that principle is not implicit in my original claim.

    Besides, as I wrote before, you may accuse me of inconsistency if you believe my choice contradicts my stated position but that does not undermine the principle itself since its strength is not dependent on my actions.

    I’m prepared to believe what you say about your position. After all, in my own post I articulated a contextually-based approach to the proper locus of decision making about the course of pregnancy as regards the roles of whatever parents are involved, although I did couch this within the framework of women’s decisions about their own bodies being a kind of “trump card”. Therefore, I could understand how you might be doing something analogous, where the “right to life” (as you define it) is the trump card, and there are modifications from there (e.g. as regards capital punishment).

    So, perhaps what some here are regarding as a contradictory set of principles are in fact nested or zonal in this way. In this case, it seems that the problem for you in communicating about your principles wouldn’t so much be that you somehow fail to observe your central principle in one or another circumstance (which you claim, btw, wouldn’t be a reason to reject that principle), but rather that you have not yet clearly articulated a set of principles that describe the conditions under which your key principle can be contextually modified. You did combat the notion that you “should” be beholden to the “needs of the many” interpretation somewhat effectively, but I still don’t see anything that looks like a clear criterion for violating the “right to life”–except society’s putative need for retribution in one or another context.

    In this case, I have some questions:

    *** What are the boundaries of retribution? For example, one might imagine that various Native Americans could decide to take vengeance upon my entire family, under the idea that a blood debt is owed by my white ancestors. Who decides which kind of “retribution” earns the death penalty? Is this simply a matter of local law (i.e. places without the death penalty fall outside your retribution-based modification of the right to life principle), or should those laws be changed to match some particular code of conduct? And on what should this code be based? Who will measure this “need of the many” that you assert on behalf of “society”, even though you claim that it would not apply (I agree) in the lynching case?

    *** When you make the statement “[o]ne test of how humane and civilized any society can claim to be is how it treats its most vulnerable and disadvantaged members”, what part do fetuses play in society? It seems clear to me that if they come to term and are born, they will play such a role–but it is not clear what role they play before that point. Would, for example, the American Voting Rights Act of 1965 apply to fetuses? If not, why not?

    *** Following on those questions: if a fetus is disadvantaged by virtue of the role that it is going to be able to play in society once it comes to term, say as a victim of Tay-Sachs disease, why must we presume that any particular resolution (such as, keeping the resulting child alive at all costs after term) is necessarily the best way to resolve the disadvantage/vulnerability? I am prepared to believe that “right to life” is an important principle in many ways, but it seems to me that by introducing the notion of addressing vulnerability and disadvantage, you are really campaigning for the “right to not be vulnerable and/or disadvantaged”. Is this a contextual/zonal/nested modification of the right to life principle, in the manner I suggested at the outset, or is it a principle that is more important?

    I look forward to the systematic untangling of these issues.

    -pr

  286. #286 prismatic, so prismatic
    July 2, 2007

    If a couple have sex in the knowledge that contraception, if used, is not foolproof and pregnancy might be the result then they are responsible in the first instance for any child that is conceived.

    I agree completely. But this seems like a standalone principle; there’s nothing in it that says “responsibility” must only mean bringing the fetus to term.

    If society also grants the child the right to life then that right must have priority over the mother’s right to physical autonomy except where the mother’s life or long-term health is threatened. Abortion is not an option, therefore, apart from the health exemption.

    The key word was there in line one of the previous quote: “also”. That granting would be a different element than the “responsibility” issue mentioned above.

    I actually agree with you, I think, when we’re talking about situations in which the fetus will be brought to term and the child will become a member of society. Proper care for the fetus during pregnancy is of key importance and the mother bears key responsibility in this situation. That is precisely the situation in which “society”, as represented by whatever parents (most notably the mother) are involved, has “granted” the right to life to this future new member of it.

    But I do not agree that the mere genesis of an embryo is a social act in the same way as, for example, a discussion between two adults in the comments section of a blog, and I hold that you must articulate a clear principle for why it is that one “member of society”‘s rights can automatically trump another’s, especially given the problems we have just working out that kind of problem amongst all of us adults. This is even aside from the fact that ensuring this embryo will never become a member of society in the first place will complicate the issue of whose rights “trump” (and why) even further. On what grounds, other than the continuity of the fetus into the child if and only if it comes to term and becomes a child, could such trumping be justified?

    -pr

  287. #287 Ian H Spedding FCD
    July 3, 2007

    Anton Mates wrote:

    Yes, in real life that may well be true but it in the burning clinic scenario it is quite clear that the rescuer is being forced to make a choice between the child and the frozen embryos.

    I don’t think it is, but very well–let’s clarify. This is a burning clinic in real life, which means there’s always a chance that a fire truck’s two blocks away, or a freak hurricane rips off the ceiling and extinguishes the fire, or there’s someone outside who decides to come in and look for people in danger, or something like that. Should you still rescue the child first?

    If it were possible to save both, I would save the child first then I would save the embryos. If I could reach the embryos but not the child, I would save the embryos. If I could not reach either, I would escape. Now explain how my choices have any bearing on whether or not the embryos should have the right to life.

    The weakness with the burning clinic scenario is that is really little more than a rhetorical device on a par with the “no atheists in foxholes” jibe. I believe that most people, whatever their views on abortion, would try to save the child first.

    And you believe that most atheists in a foxhole would convert to theism?

    No, but even if they did, what difference would it make to the question of whether or not God exists?

    Whether such an act was a consequence of philosophical considerations, cultural conditioning, instinct or a combination of all three says nothing about the arguments for or against abortion, although it might have some bearing on whether the acts of the rescuer were consistent with his or her professed views.

    Now really, Ian. The scenario was brought up here as it’s always brought up, in discussions of the ethics of abortion. It’s fairly obvious that we’re asking what you think it’s right to do in that scenario. The fact that you might actually do something else due to panic or confusion or emotional bias–heck, I might bolt out of the clinic without saving anybody–is irrelevant.

    Irrelevant, exactly. The burning clinic scenario is irrelevant to the question of whether or not the embryos should have the right to life.

    If, on the other hand, you want to know on what grounds I would choose between the child and the embryos – assuming I could save only one, all have the right to life but we know nothing more about them than that – then, as I have said before, I would choose the child. Since we assume all have the right to life, any choice must be an invidious, lesser-of-two-evils one, based on a rationalization that is bound to offend some.

    That said, the child is capable of experiencing pain and fear and, possibly, has an awareness of the possibility of and even imminence of death. The embryos have none of this. The child may have formed strong emotional attachments to parents and friends and they with it. While the parents of the embryos may have an emotional attachment to them, it is unlikely to be anything like as strong that between a child of several years of age and its parents. The loss of the embryos, therefore, is unlikely to be as devastating as the loss of the child.

    Now explain how this bears on the question of whether or not a woman should be entitled to abort a fetus that poses no threat to her life or long-term health.

    Yep. And in most of the cases where the organisms they killed were less than human, such as flies or soybean plants or tumors or acephalic fetuses, they were perfectly right to do so. The atrocities occurred when societies treated sentient humans as not being such. And when they elevated non-sentient entities to the level of human, as did Christians who tortured and killed Jews for desecration of the host, which they considered to be literally part of Jesus’ person.

    I agree that, where there is no presumptive right to contrain us, we are free to kill whatever or whoever we choose althoug that is not necessarily the same as being right to do so. I also agree about the atrocities.

    Of course not. And it would be as good a reason for abortion as any other. Women are as entitled as men to sexual and economic fulfillment, and their suffering when prevented from attaining this is perfectly legitimate. You rank the suffering of a bereaved mother, in units of morally equivalent embryonic deaths, as thousands or millions of times greater than the suffering of a woman who becomes a mother against her will; I do not.

    No one is denying men or women their right to sexual and economic fulfillment. What is denied is any right to kill others in order to achieve them.

    Yes, why do we bother with curative medicine? There’s no point doing heart surgery on people who eat red meat or giving antibiotics to people who keep getting bacterial infections. That’s just a quick fix. Clearly, we should withhold all medical treatment for a condition while we figure out how to make sure it never occurs again.

    Poor analogy, Anton, since curative medicine does not usually involve killing one individual in order to save the life of another and it most certainly does not involve the killing of one individual in order to relieve another of a condition that would have resolved itself in a matter of months under normal circumstances.

    We could lock the murderer away for the rest of his life so he no longer had direct contact with or was a threat to, well, anybody. We could take from the rapist what he took from his victims, namely his bodily autonomy and control over his sexual partners. Yet you treat the cases according to completely different moral schemes.
    (And the rapist’s victims might not be healable either. What if the victim committed suicide later, or simply got hit by a bus?)

    The common scheme is that of trying to proportion the nature and severity of the sentence to the offence. If it is possible for the victim to be rehabilitated from the trauma of the offence and restitution made for any material loss then a similar effort should be made to rehabilitate the offender. The offender should also suffer a temporary loss of various rights as punishment for the suffering caused to the victim and should, where possible, contribute to any restitution. I doubt if anyone would argue, for example, that if a thief stole $500 from a victim, he should be allowed to keep his ill-gotten gains rather than return them to the victim if he serves his time in prison. As I said, an offender should not profit in any way from the offence.

    Killing the enemy combatants in time of war is not murder.

    Later:

    And, once again, lawful execution is not murder.

    So each human life is precious, except when it’s on the wrong side during wartime or the human’s convicted of a capital crime or the human’s sitting in a refrigerator with ten thousand fellow embryos while you’re dragging the little girl out of the burning fertility clinic.
    Does your statement that “each human life is precious” have any consequences whatsoever for your actual moral decisions?

    It prohibits people from taking the life of others without sufficient cause, “sufficient cause” being such as defending one’s own life or that of others, defending one’s country or executing an offender who has unlawfully taken the life of another and has, thereby, rendered his or her own life forfeit. I would say that is a morally desirable consequence.

    You said murderers shouldn’t be able to profit by their crime. Profiting means being better off than you were before, not being better off than your victim currently is.
    Do you hold it a general principle that no one should be able to place anybody else at a relative disadvantage?

    No one should profit or gain advantage from violating the rights of others. That is what rights mean, that is their purpose. If I am able to steal $500 from you with impunity then saying that you have the right to personal property is an empty and meaningless statement. If one person murders another but survives to live out their life, albeit under restricted circumstances then they have still gained an advantage over their victim.

    But, no, I do not think abortion should be punishable by death. If the unborn child is granted some form of legal ‘personhood’ then abortion must become an offence but not one heinous enough to justify the death penalty.

    Why not? What part of your previous argument–the offender has taken away the fetus’ most precious possession, their life, and now must have their own life taken away in retribution–does not apply here?

    The difference between an abortion and the murders committed by a serial-killer such as Ted Bundy lies in both the intent and the nature of the killing. The doctor, according to pro-abortionists, acts to prevent the suffering of the woman and does so in a way that minimizes any suffering that might be caused to the embryo or fetus. The serial killer derives perverse pleasure from unlawfully taking the life of his victims, often in a way which inflicts and prolongs suffering for the purpose of increasing his gratification. That, in itself, is a sufficient distinction for deciding who should suffer the death penalty.

  288. #288 Anton Mates
    July 4, 2007

    Your argument seems to be that, to be consistent with my position, I should choose the embryos over the child on the grounds that ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’. But that principle is not implicit in my original claim.

    Quite true. So what are your criteria under which the needs of one group outweigh the needs of another?

    Meanwhile, we should be able to revise the burning clinic scenario so that the numbers aren’t relevant. Let’s suppose that there’s only one embryo in danger, and that the child is wearing a protective mask and will almost certainly not die before being rescued, but will be burned over most of her body, causing permanent disfigurement and disability. Who should you save?

    If a society sanctions capital punishment it could be on the grounds that the needs of the many – the public at large – outweigh the needs of the relatively small number of murderers.

    On the other hand, suppose you were in the Deep South in the latter half of the nineteenth century and came across a coloured man about to be lynched by a group of whites; suppose further that you were armed. Most people, including me, would argue that you would have been justified in firing on the mob, injuring or killing as many as was necessary to save the victim. In this case, the needs of the few – or the one – outweigh the needs of the many.

    Really? So if a large group of people agrees that an innocent person is to be killed, you should wipe them all out if necessary? Would we be justified in massacring the population of Libya if that was the only way to save the Tripoli Six?

    Besides, as I wrote before, you may accuse me of inconsistency if you believe my choice contradicts my stated position but that does not undermine the principle itself since its strength is not dependent on my actions.

    But we’ve already agreed that the principle has no strength. You and I don’t believe that morality can be objectively supported, and those in this conversation who disagree have found that your arguments don’t follow from the premises they consider objective. The only remaining question is consistency.

    This afternoon I watched a movie called A Child Is Waiting starring Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland. It confronted the question of how to treat mentally-handicapped children. For 1963 it was brutally honest about the problems and the fact that there are no simple answers. It was also a moving plea for these children, whatever their difficulties, to be given the chance to live out their lives as best they can.

    Significantly, those children were already thinking and feeling. I find it very difficult to imagine how you could be strongly moved by such a film, without taking that fact into account.

    Frankly, I find that justifying the abortion of fetuses diagnosed with incurable disorders on the grounds that it relieves parents and society of a costly and unwelcome burden as no different from the rationalizations of the eugenics movement at its worst.

    Naturally, because the difference between the two cases has to do with human happiness and individual liberty, which are apparently irrelevant to your moral code.

    One test of how humane and civilized any society can claim to be is how it treats its most vulnerable and disadvantaged members.

    As always, this begs the question; you have not presented an argument as to why things without minds should be considered members of society. Admittedly, various societies have granted social status to mindless entities, such as communion wafers, religious idols, holy books, and flags, but I think the results have generally been unfortunate.

    And there are, of course, few people more vulnerable and disadvantaged than convicted murderers.

    Any society could save itself a great deal of time and money by simply aborting any fetus with an identifiable disorder or even the genetic potential for one. But you do not cure a disease by killing the patient, nor do you learn how it might be cured. All you do is avoid having to deal with it any further.

    Advancing our knowledge of medical disorders is a worthy goal, but in this case I don’t think it’s worth the suffering inflicted on the children in question and their families.

  289. #289 Anton Mates
    July 5, 2007

    If it were possible to save both, I would save the child first then I would save the embryos. If I could reach the embryos but not the child, I would save the embryos. If I could not reach either, I would escape. Now explain how my choices have any bearing on whether or not the embryos should have the right to life.

    I asked what you should do, not what you would do. Do you think the embryos’ right to life or lack thereof has no bearing on the former question?

    And you believe that most atheists in a foxhole would convert to theism?

    No, but even if they did, what difference would it make to the question of whether or not God exists?

    I would assume that those who don’t believe in God are the most likely to know the strongest arguments against belief. So if it could be shown that most atheists were just pretending not to believe in God because they weren’t currently afraid of death, we would have some slight reason to doubt the validity of any arguments for atheism, even before we’d examined the arguments closely.

    But God’s existence or nonexistence is an objective matter; you’ve already agreed that morality is not. Here the only question is who believes what.

    Now really, Ian. The scenario was brought up here as it’s always brought up, in discussions of the ethics of abortion. It’s fairly obvious that we’re asking what you think it’s right to do in that scenario. The fact that you might actually do something else due to panic or confusion or emotional bias–heck, I might bolt out of the clinic without saving anybody–is irrelevant.

    Irrelevant, exactly. The burning clinic scenario is irrelevant to the question of whether or not the embryos should have the right to life.

    As I just explained, the scenario is quite relevant. Your response was not, but that’s because you haven’t actually answered the central question of the scenario, which is one of morality.

    That said, the child is capable of experiencing pain and fear and, possibly, has an awareness of the possibility of and even imminence of death. The embryos have none of this. The child may have formed strong emotional attachments to parents and friends and they with it. While the parents of the embryos may have an emotional attachment to them, it is unlikely to be anything like as strong that between a child of several years of age and its parents. The loss of the embryos, therefore, is unlikely to be as devastating as the loss of the child.

    Now explain how this bears on the question of whether or not a woman should be entitled to abort a fetus that poses no threat to her life or long-term health.

    Since the woman is capable of experiencing pain and fear and other strong negative emotions, and the fetus is not, and no sentient person has formed a strong emotional attachment to the fetus, I would think the parallels are obvious.

    Of course not. And it would be as good a reason for abortion as any other. Women are as entitled as men to sexual and economic fulfillment, and their suffering when prevented from attaining this is perfectly legitimate. You rank the suffering of a bereaved mother, in units of morally equivalent embryonic deaths, as thousands or millions of times greater than the suffering of a woman who becomes a mother against her will; I do not.

    No one is denying men or women their right to sexual and economic fulfillment. What is denied is any right to kill others in order to achieve them.

    While at the same time affirming the right to kill others by the thousands in order to achieve parental fulfillment.

    Yes, why do we bother with curative medicine? There’s no point doing heart surgery on people who eat red meat or giving antibiotics to people who keep getting bacterial infections. That’s just a quick fix. Clearly, we should withhold all medical treatment for a condition while we figure out how to make sure it never occurs again.

    Poor analogy, Anton, since curative medicine does not usually involve killing one individual in order to save the life of another and it most certainly does not involve the killing of one individual in order to relieve another of a condition that would have resolved itself in a matter of months under normal circumstances.

    Sure it does. Curative medicine kills countless numbers of individuals, such as bacteria, fungi and the odd insect.

    The common scheme is that of trying to proportion the nature and severity of the sentence to the offence. If it is possible for the victim to be rehabilitated from the trauma of the offence and restitution made for any material loss then a similar effort should be made to rehabilitate the offender. The offender should also suffer a temporary loss of various rights as punishment for the suffering caused to the victim and should, where possible, contribute to any restitution. I doubt if anyone would argue, for example, that if a thief stole $500 from a victim, he should be allowed to keep his ill-gotten gains rather than return them to the victim if he serves his time in prison. As I said, an offender should not profit in any way from the offence.

    Generally, a thief is not required to make good his victim’s loss at all, at least in criminal court. If he still has some of the victim’s legal property in his possession, then of course that will be returned to the victim; but that’s the duty of the state, not the thief. If the thief has already sold off or lost the victim’s property, that’s just too bad; the thief is not required to work for the victim until his debt is paid.

    This is also the case when the harm is to the victim’s person. If I’m convicted of assault for breaking your nose, I’m not required to pay for reconstructive surgery, nor to become a cosmetic surgeon and repair your nose myself. I might have to do the former as the result of a civil lawsuit, but criminal punishment has very little to do with restitution in our judicial system.

    Does your statement that “each human life is precious” have any consequences whatsoever for your actual moral decisions?

    It prohibits people from taking the life of others without sufficient cause, “sufficient cause” being such as defending one’s own life or that of others, defending one’s country or executing an offender who has unlawfully taken the life of another and has, thereby, rendered his or her own life forfeit. I would say that is a morally desirable consequence.

    So it could be more accurately be rephrased as “Each human life is not completely worthless.” I suppose that would have some consequences, if you had no prior principle which implied it.

    No one should profit or gain advantage from violating the rights of others. That is what rights mean, that is their purpose.

    That’s not a definition or purpose of “rights” with which I’m familiar. Can you provide a source for the claim that profit and advantage have anything to do with whether one should violate the rights of others?

    If I am able to steal $500 from you with impunity then saying that you have the right to personal property is an empty and meaningless statement. If one person murders another but survives to live out their life, albeit under restricted circumstances then they have still gained an advantage over their victim.

    Again, this is not what “profit” means. If I steal your property and then lose it, I have not profited or gained an advantage. You are now at a disadvantage relative to your previous state, but that fact doesn’t help me.

    The difference between an abortion and the murders committed by a serial-killer such as Ted Bundy lies in both the intent and the nature of the killing. The doctor, according to pro-abortionists, acts to prevent the suffering of the woman and does so in a way that minimizes any suffering that might be caused to the embryo or fetus. The serial killer derives perverse pleasure from unlawfully taking the life of his victims, often in a way which inflicts and prolongs suffering for the purpose of increasing his gratification. That, in itself, is a sufficient distinction for deciding who should suffer the death penalty.

    This doesn’t seem to have anything to with your previous rationale for the death penalty. What does the murderer’s “perverse pleasure” or lack thereof have to do with whether or not they’ve “gained an advantage over their victim?”

    In any case, if we apply this new principle, it follows that doctors and mothers should suffer the death penalty if they cackle with maniacal glee while the abortion is performed, while murderers should not suffer the death penalty if they calmly and regretfully dispatch their victims in a painless fashion. Is that what you believe?

  290. #290 Ian H Spedding FCD
    July 8, 2007

    prismatic, so prismatic wrote:

    *** What are the boundaries of retribution? For example, one might imagine that various Native Americans could decide to take vengeance upon my entire family, under the idea that a blood debt is owed by my white ancestors.

    For me, the concept of justice embodies principles of fairness, of ‘balancing the books’ and of healing. It assumes that any injury unlawfully caused to the rights, person or property of one person by another is an offence against the victim, in the first instance, for which society as a whole is bound to find a remedy. That need arises first from from the observation that it is in the interests of every member of society to uphold the rights of others in order that their own might be similarly preserved and, second, from the observation that if society does not assume responsibility for meting out justice, individuals will simply take matters into their own hands and a society based upon uncontrolled vendetta would be neither a stable nor a safe place to live.

    Another principle of justice is that sanctions may only be imposed on those who have been found guilty of offences against others as described above. No action can be taken against people who are simply related to or friends of the offender without a further offence being committed. Thus, if Native Americans decided to take revenge on you for crimes committed by your ancestors against theirs, they would simply be committing an offence. You could have had no hand in what happened in the past so there would be no justification in taking action against you in the present.

    Who decides which kind of “retribution” earns the death penalty? Is this simply a matter of local law (i.e. places without the death penalty fall outside your retribution-based modification of the right to life principle), or should those laws be changed to match some particular code of conduct? And on what should this code be based? Who will measure this “need of the many” that you assert on behalf of “society”, even though you claim that it would not apply (I agree) in the lynching case?

    In a democratic society, the laws by which it is governed derive their authority from the legislature which drafted, debated and passed them, that legislature being presumed to derive its authority from the will of the people who elected it. To that extent, whether or not to employ the death penalty is “simply a matter of local law”, each sovereign society being entitled to decide for itself what shall be the punishment for murder. I might disagree with those societies that have abolished the death penalty but I do not have the power and will never have the authority to change them.

    Having said that, almost all people in all societies can be presumed have an interest in being allowed to live out their lives and would readily assent to laws which prohibited others from taking those lives unlawfully. Those interests that are common to all human beings, regardless of the culture in which they live, could form the basis of a global code of conduct at some point in the future.

    *** When you make the statement “[o]ne test of how humane and civilized any society can claim to be is how it treats its most vulnerable and disadvantaged members”, what part do fetuses play in society? It seems clear to me that if they come to term and are born, they will play such a role–but it is not clear what role they play before that point. Would, for example, the American Voting Rights Act of 1965 apply to fetuses? If not, why not?

    I would argue that we can divide rights into two groups, which could be labelled prohibitive and permissive. Prohibitive rights are those which act as restraints on human behaviour. The right to life, for example, serves to prevent people from killing each other without sufficient cause, the right to follow the religion of your choice means that no one may interfere with your practise of your chosen faith. The right to vote, on the other hand, is a permission to take part in the electoral system of a democracy just as the right to practise law or medicine is a permission granted to those who have undergone a prescribed period of training and examination.

    These permissive rights presume a degree of competence has been achieved, either through training or simply by virtue of having reached a certain age, which qualifies the individual for the right in question. A fetus does not have the right to vote because, quite obviously, it is not conscious, let alone capable of discriminating between the finer points of policy offered by different political parties. It could – and, I believe, should – have the right to life, though, in that no one should be allowed to kill it without sufficient cause.

    *** Following on those questions: if a fetus is disadvantaged by virtue of the role that it is going to be able to play in society once it comes to term, say as a victim of Tay-Sachs disease, why must we presume that any particular resolution (such as, keeping the resulting child alive at all costs after term) is necessarily the best way to resolve the disadvantage/vulnerability?

    The right to life should not be bestowed only on those that society judges to be in some way worthy of the privilege. We are not gods. We may be able to calculate probabilities but we have know way of knowing the course of an individual life with any degree of certainty. It is in all our interests to keep our options open. If an individual should murder another then his or her right to life may be withdrawn and they may be lawfully executed as a punishment for their offence; if an individual decides for reasons of their own that life has become intolerable and they choose to end it then that should be their choice. In all other circumstances the right to life should be the presumptive entitlement of all human beings from conception to the cessation of life.

  291. #291 Ian H Spedding FCD
    July 8, 2007

    prismatic, so prismatic wrote:

    But I do not agree that the mere genesis of an embryo is a social act in the same way as, for example, a discussion between two adults in the comments section of a blog, and I hold that you must articulate a clear principle for why it is that one “member of society”‘s rights can automatically trump another’s, especially given the problems we have just working out that kind of problem amongst all of us adults. This is even aside from the fact that ensuring this embryo will never become a member of society in the first place will complicate the issue of whose rights “trump” (and why) even further. On what grounds, other than the continuity of the fetus into the child if and only if it comes to term and becomes a child, could such trumping be justified?

    The right to life is fundamental simply because without it all the other rights would be meaningless. To put it another way, the right to life may be inferred from other rights. There can be no right to freedom of expression, for example, unless others are prohibited from killing you to stop you saying things they do not like; there would be no right to worship as you choose if the adherents of other faiths were free to put you to the sword as an infidel whenever they chose.

    I am not concerned here with defining criteria by which we can judge when and where the rights of some individuals might trump those of others. My purpose is, in the first instance, to establish as axiomatic that all human individuals should have the right to life from the moment of conception, a right which can only be violated in certain narrowly-defined conditions of exception.

  292. #292 Ian H Spedding
    July 12, 2007

    Anton Mates wrote:

    If it were possible to save both, I would save the child first then I would save the embryos. If I could reach the embryos but not the child, I would save the embryos. If I could not reach either, I would escape. Now explain how my choices have any bearing on whether or not the embryos should have the right to life.

    I asked what you should do, not what you would do. Do you think the embryos’ right to life or lack thereof has no bearing on the former question?

    What I would do is save both if I could, if there was no choice then whichever I could and if there was a straight choice then the child for the reasons I gave. That is what you should also do, in my view.

    As I just explained, the scenario is quite relevant. Your response was not, but that’s because you haven’t actually answered the central question of the scenario, which is one of morality.

    You still seem to be missing the point. We look for moral guidance where there is a choice to be made.

    In the burning clinic scenario, if you believe that only the child has the right to life, there is no choice to be made. Our only moral duty is to the child. We are no more obliged to save the embryos than we are the bricks of which the building is constructed.

    On the other hand, if you believe, as I do, that the embryos also have the right to life, then we are faced with what, on the face of it, is an insoluble dilemma. Since the child and the embryos all have the right to life, each has a moral claim on our assistance that is equal to all the others. It would be the same if the child were taken out of the picture. If we could only save one out of five canisters containing frozen embryos, for example, how would we choose between them? Unless we introduce ancillary considerations, there is no way to decide.

    This is what the burning clinic scenario actually reveals, not whether or not the embryos have a right to life, not even whether the choice made by the rescuer is consistent with a belief in the embryos right to life, but what other moral considerations are called upon to make such a choice.

    This is also why the scenario has little bearing on abortion. Except in the case of medical emergency, there is no direct conflict between the mother’s right to life and that of the embryo, if it is presumed to exist, and hence no choice to be made, since the right to life takes priority over all other considerations. If the embryo has no right to life or any other moral claim on us then, again, there is no choice to be made since the interests of the mother would then have priority.

  293. #293 RavenT
    July 12, 2007

    Except in the case of medical emergency, there is no direct conflict between the mother’s right to life

    Incorrect–for one thing, even in the best case, pregnancy always carries an increased risk to the mother of injury, disability, or death over non-pregnancy. There is absolutely no non-pregnant state which is made *less* risky by getting pregnant. And for a second thing, medical emergencies don’t spring full-blown like Athena out of Zeus’ forehead; there is often a run-up that the patient is unaware of.

    So even the most uneventful pregnancy carries increased risk to the mother, which is a direct conflict, and some of those increased risks will progress to full-blown medical emergencies, yet another direct conflict even before it reaches the emergency state. The conflict can go on for quite a while before either the patient or the doctor/nurse prac/PA/whoever can detect any sign of it.

    and that of the embryo, if it is presumed to exist, and hence no choice to be made, since the right to life takes priority over all other considerations. If the embryo has no right to life or any other moral claim on us then, again, there is no choice to be made since the interests of the mother would then have priority.

    Yes, you now see the problem–you presume a priori the right of life of the embryo. Fine, as far as that goes, but then you can’t turn around and claimed to have proven it, when you went in with it as an axiom.

    And the rest of us with whom you have been debating do not make that assumption, which is why we assert that the interests of the mother have priority.

    I will confess that I was mistaken–I thought you thoroughly incapable of grasping that point. To the contrary, you have demonstrated just now that you do indeed grasp the fundamental point, and I admit that I was mistaken in assuming you never would.

    This is also why the scenario has little bearing on abortion.

    I would say on the contrary, that it has everything to do with it, as it puts the choices and consequences in stark relief without a lot of rhetoric to mask it. And since that is the means through which you truly appreciated the basis for the differences in our positions, and the reasons for them, I would say that it is acutely relevant.

  294. #294 Anton Mates
    July 13, 2007

    In the burning clinic scenario, if you believe that only the child has the right to life, there is no choice to be made. Our only moral duty is to the child. We are no more obliged to save the embryos than we are the bricks of which the building is constructed.

    Of course there’s a choice to be made. You could save the embryos. You could save the bricks. You could just leave. These are all logically and physically possible options. It may be that your choice to save the child instead is very easy to make, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a choice.

    On the other hand, if you believe, as I do, that the embryos also have the right to life, then we are faced with what, on the face of it, is an insoluble dilemma. Since the child and the embryos all have the right to life, each has a moral claim on our assistance that is equal to all the others.

    Only if you have already asserted, for instance, that many moral claims are collectively equal in weight to a single similar claim. Otherwise you could not claim equality.

    This is what the burning clinic scenario actually reveals, not whether or not the embryos have a right to life, not even whether the choice made by the rescuer is consistent with a belief in the embryos right to life, but what other moral considerations are called upon to make such a choice.

    Which is why I modified it so that the child is not likely to die, but will merely suffer greatly for the rest of her life. Your answer?

  295. #295 Ian H Spedding FCD
    July 17, 2007

    RavenT wrote:

    Except in the case of medical emergency, there is no direct conflict between the mother’s right to life.

    Incorrect–for one thing, even in the best case, pregnancy always carries an increased risk to the mother of injury, disability, or death over non-pregnancy. There is absolutely no non-pregnant state which is made *less* risky by getting pregnant…

    I did not say there were no risks associated with pregnancy – plainly, there are – but until one of those risks become a manifest threat to the life of the mother, they are not sufficient reason to violate the unborn child’s right to life, if such is allowed.

    …and that of the embryo, if it is presumed to exist, and hence no choice to be made, since the right to life takes priority over all other considerations. If the embryo has no right to life or any other moral claim on us then, again, there is no choice to be made since the interests of the mother would then have priority.

    Yes, you now see the problem–you presume a priori the right of life of the embryo. Fine, as far as that goes, but then you can’t turn around and claimed to have proven it, when you went in with it as an axiom.

    Show me where I claimed to have “proven” the right to life – whatever that may mean – or admit that you are erecting a strawman.

    Yes, the right to life is an axiom, an a priori assumption if you like, just like “We hold these Truths to be self-evident…” and just like the right to life whose protection we all enjoy, man, woman or child. It is not ‘written’ anywhere in the ‘Book of Life’, it is not encoded in our genomes, it is not numbered amongst the laws of nature which we observe to regulate the Universe. It exists only because we agree it should exist and it applies only to those to whom we say it should.

    And the rest of us with whom you have been debating do not make that assumption, which is why we assert that the interests of the mother have priority.

    And since I am also one of those entitled to have voice in such matters, I assert that the unborn child is entitled to the same right to life as we are.

    Now, tell me, if each of our positions is axiomatic – and, if mine is, so is yours – how can either of us ‘prove’ our case? If I cannot ‘prove’ that the unborn child has a right to life, how can you ‘prove’ that the mother or, indeed, anyone else is entitled to such a right which takes priority over any other consideration?

    All we can show is what has been agreed by society up to the present time and that has been decided – must have been decided – as much by rhetoric as anything else, since there is no empirical basis for human rights of any kind.

  296. Show me where I claimed to have “proven” the right to life – whatever that may mean – or admit that you are erecting a strawman.

    Every single time that you claim to have shown that the moment of conception is the most “logical” point at which to begin granting rights, you are claiming to have demonstrated your a priori assumption.

    As many times as we’ve been through this over and over again, you’re over on another thread today, asking:

    Is dating the start of an individual human life to the point of conception the least arbitrary and absurd choice?

    You’ve been shown over and over again how arbitrary and absurd it is, yet you still cling to the hope that if you ask the question enough, you’ll get the result you want. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. You are not demonstrating anything new, just making the same tired old claim once again. (And just bandying about the term “strawman” doesn’t magically confer coherence on your arguments, by the way.)

    Now, tell me, if each of our positions is axiomatic – and, if mine is, so is yours – how can either of us ‘prove’ our case?

    Well, for one thing, I don’t have the burden of justifying enslaving half of the human race in order to bolster my axiom.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; I’m sure you’ve heard the aphorism. You’ve set yourself the impossible burden of demonstrating the claim that the developmental stage of a clump of cells is worth taking away the rights of every woman to make decisions about her own body. And your evidence to date has been somewhat less than extraordinary, to put it mildly.

    there is no empirical basis for human rights of any kind

    You clearly believe that is true for slightly more than half of the human race, at any rate, because you can equate a fully-developed, sentient adult woman with a fertilized egg. Others of us can see the distinction between them that you apparently cannot, no matter how many times your self-contradictions and failure to correspond to biological reality is pointed out to you.

    Ironically, it is very fortunate for you that the rest of us have the moral sense that you have clearly failed to develop. Nobody here is advocating aborting you; by the time you’re developed enough to write your screeds, you’re safe as far as any pro-choicer is concerned. Whatever happened to you to make you so obsessed on this topic, no one is trying to kill you now, and no matter how much you dislike and mistrust women, you can’t make your own situation right by perpetrating a wrong on all of us.

    For all your claims about human rights, you are the only one here advocating seizing a fully-developed person, and depriving her of her autonomy for anywhere from 9 months to 18 years, just to satisfy your axiom. So you can spare us the sanctimony about “human rights”; we see right through you.

  297. since there is no empirical basis for human rights of any kind

    I daresay that belief of yours is how you end up advocating a forced pregnancy program, the scale of which Nicolae Ceau?escu could only stand in bitter envy of.

    After all, his Stalinist “worker’s paradise” machine only succeeded in forcing Rumanian women to forcibly undergo pregnancy; on the other hand, you’re advocating it for the entire human race.

    Bravo, Ian; never let it be said you think small.

    /Ceau?escu-wannabe-troll feeding

  298. #298 Ian H Spedding FCD
    July 21, 2007

    RavenT, Adjutant Minion wrote:

    Show me where I claimed to have “proven” the right to life – whatever that may mean – or admit that you are erecting a strawman.

    Every single time that you claim to have shown that the moment of conception is the most “logical” point at which to begin granting rights, you are claiming to have demonstrated your a priori assumption.

    I asked you to “Show me where I claimed to have “proven” the right to life…” You answered by referring to my claim that the life of an individual human being begins at conception. The start of life is not the same as the right to that life.

    Is dating the start of an individual human life to the point of conception the least arbitrary and absurd choice?

    You’ve been shown over and over again how arbitrary and absurd it is, yet you still cling to the hope that if you ask the question enough, you’ll get the result you want. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. You are not demonstrating anything new, just making the same tired old claim once again. (And just bandying about the term “strawman” doesn’t magically confer coherence on your arguments, by the way.)

    Again, I did not ask if my claim was arbitrary and absurd but whether it was the least arbitrary and absurd of the available choices.

    As for “strawman”, it is the appropriate word for a misrepresentation of an opponent’s case.

    Now, tell me, if each of our positions is axiomatic – and, if mine is, so is yours – how can either of us ‘prove’ our case?

    Well, for one thing, I don’t have the burden of justifying enslaving half of the human race in order to bolster my axiom.

    No, instead, you have to justify a veritable Holocaust of aborted fetuses – 40 million between 1973 and 2004 according to one source – in order to defend your axiom. That is an appalling price to pay for the woman’s rights to privacy and physical autonomy, rights which even Roe v Wade did not find to be unqualified.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; I’m sure you’ve heard the aphorism. You’ve set yourself the impossible burden of demonstrating the claim that the developmental stage of a clump of cells is worth taking away the rights of every woman to make decisions about her own body. And your evidence to date has been somewhat less than extraordinary, to put it mildly.

    Yes, it is said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but that aphorism is usually applied to empirical claims about the observable Universe, not moral claims about the way people should behave. We can find evidence for the claim that apples fall from trees to the ground but can we find evidence for the claim that such a phenomenon is moral or immoral – assuming that such a claim has any meaning at all? In other words, we can find evidence for the existence of a belief in the right to life in many cultures but can we find the same sort of evidence for its morality?

    there is no empirical basis for human rights of any kind

    You clearly believe that is true for slightly more than half of the human race, at any rate, because you can equate a fully-developed, sentient adult woman with a fertilized egg. Others of us can see the distinction between them that you apparently cannot, no matter how many times your self-contradictions and failure to correspond to biological reality is pointed out to you.

    Yet another strawman. I do not “equate” an adult woman with a fertilized egg, I am simply arguing that both should be entitled to the same right to life.

    Ironically, it is very fortunate for you that the rest of us have the moral sense that you have clearly failed to develop.

    It is a strange sense of morality which requires so much killing to protect mothers from their own unborn children, that regards as “parasites’ children who, for the most part, are no threat to the life of their mothers.

    For all your claims about human rights, you are the only one here advocating seizing a fully-developed person, and depriving her of her autonomy for anywhere from 9 months to 18 years, just to satisfy your axiom. So you can spare us the sanctimony about “human rights”; we see right through you.

    Most people here doubtless regard themselves as liberal, compassionate and humane. Yet, apparently, these same people can, at the same time, contemplate the abortion of millions of human fetuses with complete equanimity. For them, the unborn child is the functional and moral equivalent of a tumour or parasite. I can only attribute this to the same psychological compartmentalization that allows otherwise rational scientists to hold a belief in an irrational and contradictory God.

  299. I asked you to “Show me where I claimed to have “proven” the right to life…” You answered by referring to my claim that the life of an individual human being begins at conception. The start of life is not the same as the right to that life.

    Every time you conflate “axiomatic” with “most logical”, you are laying claim to have carried out a logical process and ranked the results. However, all you are doing is starting out with the axiom “a fetus has a right to life from the moment of conception”, and then restating that axiom in various forms. It is hardly a strawman to correctly point out your errors in logic.

    Again, I did not ask if my claim was arbitrary and absurd but whether it was the least arbitrary and absurd of the available choices.

    No; as many others have pointed out, it’s only an axiomatic assertion. Additionally, it contains inherent self-contradictions that make it a good candidate for most arbitrary and absurd, if you want to trace out its entailments.

    As for “strawman”, it is the appropriate word for a misrepresentation of an opponent’s case.

    As mentioned, you incorrectly applied it to my correction of your errors.

    No, instead, you have to justify a veritable Holocaust of aborted fetuses – 40 million between 1973 and 2004 according to one source – in order to defend your axiom. That is an appalling price to pay for the woman’s rights to privacy and physical autonomy, rights which even Roe v Wade did not find to be unqualified.

    Holocaust, very nice–Godwin much, Ian?

    Since you’ve invoked the meme and you’re calling your opponents the functional equivalents of Nazis, I’ll point out that I actively work in pediatric and refugee health, and have been for years. What do you actively do for human rights, Ian, and what are you doing now to adopt the unwanted children currently in orphanages?

    In other words, Ian, time to put your money where your mouth is.

    Yes, it is said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but that aphorism is usually applied to empirical claims about the observable Universe, not moral claims about the way people should behave. We can find evidence for the claim that apples fall from trees to the ground but can we find evidence for the claim that such a phenomenon is moral or immoral – assuming that such a claim has any meaning at all? In other words, we can find evidence for the existence of a belief in the right to life in many cultures but can we find the same sort of evidence for its morality?

    Well, if you want to embrace irrationality, you can say that there’s no reason to base moral decisions on evidence. That’s one way to go through life, I suppose.

    For more rationally-inclined people, however, there is tons of empirical evidence that when you deprive women of their human rights, it invariably takes a horrible toll in morbidity and mortality.

    Yet another strawman. I do not “equate” an adult woman with a fertilized egg, I am simply arguing that both should be entitled to the same right to life.

    Hee-hee. Yes, my right to life is worth no more than that of a conceptus, yet Ian’s not equating us or anything. Maybe Ian should accuse me of erecting a “strawfetus”.

    It is a strange sense of morality which requires so much killing to protect mothers from their own unborn children, that regards as “parasites’ children who, for the most part, are no threat to the life of their mothers.

    I didn’t set up biology, probability, and medicine the way it is; you’ll have to take that up with someone else. The world as it really is is the only basis for morality, no matter how much you Creationist-style reality-deniers try to force it into your Procrustean beds.

    Most people here doubtless regard themselves as liberal, compassionate and humane. Yet, apparently, these same people can, at the same time, contemplate the abortion of millions of human fetuses with complete equanimity. For them, the unborn child is the functional and moral equivalent of a tumour or parasite. I can only attribute this to the same psychological compartmentalization that allows otherwise rational scientists to hold a belief in an irrational and contradictory God.

    Ian thinks we’re irrational and compartmentalizing. Damn–that was my last irony meter!

  300. #300 Ian H Spedding FCD
    July 22, 2007

    RavenT, Adjutant Minion wrote:

    Every time you conflate “axiomatic” with “most logical”, you are laying claim to have carried out a logical process and ranked the results. However, all you are doing is starting out with the axiom “a fetus has a right to life from the moment of conception”, and then restating that axiom in various forms. It is hardly a strawman to correctly point out your errors in logic.

    And you are conflating the right, which is the axiom, with the point at which I believe entitlement to the right begins and for which I have tried to provide a rational justification.

    Since you’ve invoked the meme and you’re calling your opponents the functional equivalents of Nazis, I’ll point out that I actively work in pediatric and refugee health, and have been for years. What do you actively do for human rights, Ian, and what are you doing now to adopt the unwanted children currently in orphanages?

    I respect the work you do, it does you credit and probably deserves greater recognition than it gets. But it does not mean that you are automatically right about this question any more than what I do for a living makes me right.

    Well, if you want to embrace irrationality, you can say that there’s no reason to base moral decisions on evidence. That’s one way to go through life, I suppose.

    For more rationally-inclined people, however, there is tons of empirical evidence that when you deprive women of their human rights, it invariably takes a horrible toll in morbidity and mortality.

    There is also evidence that depriving one group of human beings of their lives in order to solve the perceived problems of another group doe snot produce a good outcome either.

    You can certainly argue a utilitarian basis for morality but it inevitably raises the question of how you measure the benefits of a particular course of action.

    For example, you justify abortion on the grounds that not only does it benefit women but society in general because it relieves both of the burden of caring for unwanted children. But the same argument could be made for euthanizing the aged. They also become a growing burden on both their families and society. Are you suggesting that anyone over the age of 65, for example, should be ‘put down’ for the same reasons as fetuses are aborted. After all, it would arguably be the same net benefit to society as abortion.

    Hee-hee. Yes, my right to life is worth no more than that of a conceptus, yet Ian’s not equating us or anything. Maybe Ian should accuse me of erecting a “strawfetus”.

    The right to life is not assigned on the grounds of worth but on the grounds of being a human being. It says nothing about the “worth” of the individual.

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