Pharyngula

God blessed a Chinese woman with twin baby boys, each one ensouled at the instant of fertilization with personhood and a personal divine fate. At their birth, though, the doctors callously ended one proud male life…and they’ve probably got the poor fellow pickled in a jar somewhere. Here’s a photo of the pair.

i-1bebb470f7aee1ac66b17c45c220bc00-Baby_with_spare.jpeg

That is a baby. The odd blob on his back? That’s his brother, a nicely formed penis growing and thriving there. This is a case of fetus in fetu, in which a mass of cells, either an absorbed twin or a large teratoma (a surprisingly well differentiated, but abnormal, fragment of embryonic tissue), form a partial individual fused to a larger fetus. In this case, all that made it was a penis and what looks like some other adjoining tissues.

Please note that Little Wang (the kids were unnamed, but I have to call him something) is made up of entirely human tissue, and is genuinely alive — blood flows through him, he was probably innervated with sensory and motor nerves, he is obviously sufficiently differentiated that we have no problem calling him male, and he is a miracle of creation — yet what did the doctors do? In a cruel three hour operation, they cut him away from his brother and let him bleed to death.

Yeah, I know what you’re going to say: he was a parasite, entirely dependent on his brother for survival, and could not live on his own—but we all know that argument is totally bogus, because…because…well, because it just is! Life is precious, and you must choose life!

(OK, seriously, this was an awkward developmental difficulty for the child and his parents, but it’s also fascinating. Not enough detail is given in the articles; I’d like to know about deeper levels of organization. Were the various ducts present? Was there any recognizable pelvic tissue? Three hours of surgery implies there may have been some internal entanglements? And most importantly, that location implies that there might have been some spinal involvement — I hope the kid is entirely all right now, and that there won’t be any long term problems.)

(And again seriously, it does raise issues of individuality and human identity. I have no problem saying that the extra penis is an unwanted growth that can be eliminated with no ethical difficulties…but people who claim personhood for a tiny ball of cells ought to have greater problems with this case.)

Comments

  1. #1 Justin
    April 9, 2009

    “Little Wang”

    Heehehe…

    Also, maybe a little racist?

  2. #2 Gzalzi
    April 9, 2009

    I don’t even know what to say.

    I kinda wish I had two.

  3. #3 wazza
    April 9, 2009

    I’m having images of what would have happened if he’d grown up with that…

  4. #4 Darren Garrison
    April 9, 2009

    Uh, “little whang.”

  5. #5 Liberal Atheist
    April 9, 2009

    It’s strange that people actually believe that something without even the most basic nervous system can be a person.

  6. #6 EagleAZ4
    April 9, 2009

    I got dibs on the extra pecker!!!

  7. #7 Jeff S
    April 9, 2009

    Wow. Our ability to reproduce is so imperfect. What was God thinking?

    The fact that this could EVER happen should be absolute proof against a creator.

  8. #8 coathangrrr
    April 9, 2009

    Parasites are people too! Especially the religious sort. But, yeah, little Wang has some racism there. Do you really need to use a “Chinese” name that we american speakers identify as a penis to make your point?

  9. #9 JohnnieCanuck
    April 9, 2009

    The people who claim personhood for a tiny ball of cells will definitely have greater problems with this case.

    Their cognitive dissonance circuits should filter out any appreciation of the argument against their anti-choice stance, but that these are genitals (!) will cause great them consternation.

    Are you sure it is safe to display pictures of the genitals of very young children? I understand 14 year olds have been charged after they publish images of themselves, so the bar is set pretty low.

  10. #10 Twin-Skies
    April 9, 2009

    @wazza

    He gives a whole new meaning to the word “Barebacking,” for one…

    @ coathangrrr

    Since I’m Chinese (by blood), lemme fix this dilemma for you by calling that thing “Johnson”. There – we’re event XD

  11. #11 Crudely Wrott
    April 9, 2009

    Hey, wazza. A hundred years ago he/they might have enjoyed a long and eventful life with a traveling show.

    They would have been a curiosity and a small handful of individuals would have profited by such.

    A few thousand years ago they would have given rise to a new religion.

    A few tens of thousands . . . I can’t go there. No direct observation. Maybe the seeds of religion.

    As to this case, unfortunate orientation. I’d rather have an extra one within sight.

  12. #12 GILGAMESH
    April 9, 2009

    I hope no scar remains and the fervor dies down so he doesn’t have to listen to the same tired jokes from kids and adults spoken as if each were original.

  13. #13 Crudely Wrott
    April 9, 2009

    Too true, GILGAMESH.

    Imagine growing up with an appellation like “The Boy With A Man Following.”

  14. #14 Kimpatsu
    April 9, 2009

    Justin@#1:
    “Wang” is Chinese for “King”, so if calling him “King” is racist, Stephen King might disagree. He’s also a chess piece, of course.

  15. #15 Macron
    April 9, 2009

    It wasn’t very long ago that I first learned about tetragametic chimerism. It’s a bit different from this situation, but poses the same problem to those who believe a zygote is a person.

  16. #16 R.B.
    April 9, 2009

    Oh my, this sounds cruel of me, but this just gives so many ideas for lame jokes. I can barely resist.
    I just don´t want to be the kind of person who would call a poor child a dick behind their back…

    I´M SORRY! I hope the operation went well and that the little boy can forget all about his twin brother.

  17. #17 Gordon Wong
    April 9, 2009

    I admit I snorted a sniggle of laughter at the “Little Wang” gag. Yes, it is funny even to someone who is of Chinese origin.

    To those worried that it might be “racist”, perhaps PZ could name the young brother as “Little Johnson”, perhaps that is less “racist”?

  18. #18 Crudely Wrott
    April 9, 2009

    Are we all aware of the tremulous if not tumescent, or better pointed, question raised herein?

    Does a penis have a soul?

    The answer desperately needs consideration. Maybe the pope will consider it, seeing as he has all the time in the Universe.

  19. #19 Justin
    April 9, 2009

    “Wang” is Chinese for “King”, so if calling him “King” is racist, Stephen King might disagree. He’s also a chess piece, of course.’

    It depends on the person viewing, I can see a large amount of people being offended at the choice of language.

    Take for instance;
    One of my co-worker’s last name is Hoang and I jokingly call her “Mrs. Yellow” (Hoang means yellow) when we hang out but I would NEVER call her that in public.

  20. #20 Justin
    April 9, 2009

    Anyhow I’m not going to argue this too strenuously… I found it funny, if PZ wants to change it then that’s fine.

  21. #21 Wowbagger, OM
    April 9, 2009

    perhaps PZ could name the young brother as “Little Johnson”

    Johnson?
    </Lebowski>

  22. #22 Justin
    April 9, 2009

    Lil’ Richard?

  23. #23 Ron Sullivan
    April 9, 2009

    “Normal is what cuts off you sixth finger and your tail.”

    (somebody or other’s Usenet .sig)

  24. #24 Crudely Wrott
    April 9, 2009

    Lil’ Brother?

  25. #25 --E
    April 9, 2009

    I imagine that pro-lifers give importance to the little ball of cells because of its potential. Left to develop in the usual fashion, it’s extremely likely to become an actual person. Given no bright line to determine when that potential begins, it’s not unreasonable to place it at the moment of conception.

    By contrast, the extra penis is demonstrably not a person, and has no potential to grow into one.

    (For the record: I am strongly pro-choice, preferring to give priority to the people who are already people, i.e. mothers. But I didn’t feel your ethical argument was particularly robust.)

  26. #26 Notagod
    April 9, 2009

    This is the kind of thing that the Pope should be involved in, the little brother could easily have been kept alive by artificial stimulation. Christian often claims that its male brain is in its penis and clearly for the christian the penis is the important part of all human tissue so, damn Pope whats up?

  27. #27 Kimpatsu
    April 9, 2009

    I would have thought that “Mrs. Yellow” was quite funny. But then, I have a penchant for transliterating Asian names into English; viz.:
    Mizuno= Mr. Waterfield (think “Water Margin”)
    Aosaka= Mr. Bluehill
    Koguma= Mr. Smallbear
    Etc., etc. Repeat ad nauseum until you get bored.

  28. #28 Crudely Wrott
    April 9, 2009

    Good point, Notagod.

    If the pope is not interested in this particular penis (with soul, we now must assume) then that means that priests are not frequently child molesters.

    This could change the paradigm or something like it.

  29. #29 Kseniya
    April 9, 2009

    The difference, obviously, is that the blastocyst has a reasonable chance of one day becoming a breathing, walking, babbling humanthing, whereas the conjoined John Thomas does not. (Woody Allen might have other ideas on the viability of John Thomas, but that’s still in the realm of science fiction.)

  30. #30 Justin
    April 9, 2009

    “I would have thought that “Mrs. Yellow” was quite funny.”

    We both find it quite amusing! Actually when another one of our friends asked why I called her that (Sometimes I shorten it down to Yellow) she said “because Justin’s a fucking racist” and we both cracked up.

    Funny joke, not for everyone though!

  31. #31 Shane
    April 9, 2009

    If God were truly all-knowing and all-loving, he would have given all men two extra penises in place of nipples.

  32. #32 JPS
    April 9, 2009

    Don’t you ever go to bed?

  33. #33 Shane
    April 9, 2009

    “Don’t you ever go to bed?”

    I think he probably gets all his posts together at once and sets them to auto-post periodically.

  34. #34 Crudely Wrott
    April 9, 2009

    Yes. So goodnight.

    *I wonder if my sixth toe dreams.*

  35. #35 Peter
    April 9, 2009

    Isn’t the original news source “The SUN”?

    Is this story even real?

  36. #36 LRA
    April 9, 2009

    While this is an interesting case study, for me, a more effective question on ensoulment comes from the case of hermaphroditism/ chimerism. In these cases, two twin blastocysts become one. In the case of chimerism, two blastocysts of the same sex are integrated, thus it is a difficult condition to detect. But hermaphroditism is a special case of chimerism. A male blastocyst merges with a female blastocyst, and you get one individual that has male organs on one side of the body and female organs on the other. Now how can a Christian respond to this circumstance? If the body is ensouled at conception, what happens to the other soul???

  37. #37 John Morales
    April 9, 2009

    As per Peter @35, I wonder what’s the provenance of this photo?

  38. #38 JohnnieCanuck
    April 9, 2009

    Two! Two! Two souls in one.

  39. #39 T_U_T
    April 9, 2009

    If the body is ensouled at conception, what happens to the other soul???

    One christian told me, that god merges them. I had to laugh for several minutes. and couldn’t stop because he really meant it.

  40. #40 smellyoldgit
    April 9, 2009

    He would have loved ballroom dancing had he lived!

  41. #41 NMcC
    April 9, 2009

    What do you mean Little Wang was a parasite and couldn’t live on his own?

    I know plenty of dicks who live on their own.

  42. #42 GW
    April 9, 2009

    He would have loved ballroom dancing had he lived! – SmellyOldGit

    I posit he would rather have been an acclaim pianist.

    *Boom-Tsh*

  43. #43 fastpathguru
    April 9, 2009

    Saddleback?

  44. #44 Janine, Insulting Sinner
    April 9, 2009

    I wonder what it would have been like if the baby was a female.

  45. #45 Rick Schauer
    April 9, 2009

    Too bad they wacked the extra weenie…the kid could have made a fortune as a pornstar in a few years.

  46. #46 Andre
    April 9, 2009

    That would be perfect for slow dancing.

  47. #47 Shaden Freud
    April 9, 2009

    I’ve seen this plot before.

    “What’s in the basket?”
    “My brother.”
    “YOUR BROTHER???”

  48. #48 ptah
    April 9, 2009

    Is that a cock on your back or are you just glad to see me?

  49. #49 SEF
    April 9, 2009

    people who claim personhood for a tiny ball of cells ought to have greater problems with this case.

    They ought if they were honest but since they aren’t honest they won’t. It’s generally the same bunch who are anti testing for serious genetic abnormalities and anti abortion for fatal developmental abnormalities and who ignore the fact that many early abortions are entirely natural (ie their imaginary god would have to count as chief abortionist).

  50. #50 Jeff S
    April 9, 2009

    @41

    /giggle

  51. #51 peter
    April 9, 2009

    While it’s legitimate to ask whether the intelligent designer nodded on this one, and to speculate about where the extra soul wound up, I find the “humour” at the expense of the poor kid’s deformity distasteful.

  52. #52 Tassie Devil
    April 9, 2009

    This happens more often than you realise. I saw a man who had a finger growing out of his upper arm – he had had it all his life (he was sixty) and ‘hadn’t really thought about’ having it removed.

    For me it raises another issue – is the twin identical and is that why there is no rejection? Or is it genetically different, but because it was present from early embryomic development, the immune system of the larger twin recognises it as self?

  53. #53 HenryFord
    April 9, 2009

    I do find these arguments form “cutting your finger nails is no different to abortion” to be incredibly weak. The anti-humanity side DO see a difference between something that has the potential to be a human and something that is growing on a human. There are so many better arguments showing that it is healthy to allow abortion in society, that I wish this poor argument was dropped.

  54. #54 steve p
    April 9, 2009

    Maybe the stem-cell fanatics would justify this one by saying the penis has the same dna as the baby (right?) and thus is no different than cutting of one’s finger. God never gave the penis a soul, obviously, just like your finger has no soul.

  55. #55 Notkieran
    April 9, 2009

    HenryFord @#53:

    You claimed the following:

    >The anti-humanity side DO see a difference between something that has the potential to be a human and something that is growing on a human.

    But if that is true, they’re doing a piss-poor job of articulating it. When a person claims that something is human SIMPLY because it has human DNA, then it is the job of anyone capable of stringing two thoughts together to ask “why does this not apply to ANYTHING that has human DNA?”

    If the person making the claim sees the difference, then surely he or she should strengthen their position by pointing this out.

    The fact that they do not either indicates that they do not wish to–which is odd, you must admit– or they are unable to, which would contradict your thesis.

    However, since you have made a claim that they do know the difference, perhaps _you_ could explain the difference to the rest of us mocking infidels.

  56. #56 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 9, 2009

    “Little Wang”

    Heehehe…

    Also, maybe a little racist?

    Should he have named him little Peter?

  57. #57 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 9, 2009

    This is a way old story too.

    I think from last summer some time.

  58. #58 DuckPhup
    April 9, 2009

    Well… if it had been allowed to remain, I can imagine where he might grow up to have some interesting 3-way encounters.

    When I was in high school, there was a gal who had three boobs… one of which was planted squarely in the middle of her back. It looked very odd… but she sure was fun to slow-dance with.

  59. #59 Sigmund
    April 9, 2009

    I read this article just after I saw a report on the latest techniques in face transplantation and the thought occurred to me that this sort of incident poses a new ethical dilemma to those who claim a soul may be present.
    I was reminded of the ‘Snowflakes Foundation’, where leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization programs are implanted and adopted by Christian families. Why not extend this to other souls in need of saving such as the little Dembski in this story?
    Come on Hannity, O’Reilly, Malkin and Coulter, show us Godless lot how far you are prepared to go for your principles.

  60. #60 DuckPhup
    April 9, 2009

    OK… I admit it. That high school boob bit was made-up.

  61. #61 Chiroptera
    April 9, 2009

    HenryFord: I do find these arguments form “cutting your finger nails is no different to abortion” to be incredibly weak.

    Why? The analogy is entirely apt. The main difference between cutting a fingernail and an abortion is that growing fingernails aren’t the result of activities disapproved of by the anti-abortion side.

  62. #62 Fernando Magyar
    April 9, 2009

    Crudley Wrott @ 11

    A few tens of thousands . . . I can’t go there. No direct observation. Maybe the seeds of religion.

    Try “Guns Germs and Steele” by Jared Diamond

    And may little Johnson Peter Wang have a looong and happy life.

  63. #63 Fernando Magyar
    April 9, 2009

    –E @24,

    By contrast, the extra penis is demonstrably not a person, and has no potential to grow into one.

    ROFLMAO! Well, I think you got that about half right.

    Oh and I can’t help but think that a lot of the fundies must have these appendages growing atop their craniums

  64. #64 ChrisKG
    April 9, 2009

    Ok, where are the Christians now? Aren’t they supposed to tell us we are made in God’s image? Did “He” forget where these things go? Moreover, as far as I know “He” is still a virgin anyway so I’n not too suprised at ths. Not only does “He” not know where to put this, “He” wouldn’t know what to do with it.

    I will refrain from any jokes, but I can think of a few…

  65. #65 Neil
    April 9, 2009

    Apologies for veering a little off topic, but as long as we’re talking about health care and religion, some of you might be interested to hear about the National Health Service in Britain spending £40 million a year on chaplains for hospitals…

    http://www.secularism.org.uk/religious-demands-costing-nhs-ov.html

  66. #66 Michelle R
    April 9, 2009

    …Heehee, Little Wang. I love kindergarten level humor.

    You raise one nice question there. That’s certainly human parts. But I read somewhere that some fundies believe that misformations and all are due to a lack of faith from the human race and are NOT a blessing from God.

    These assholes must’ve been been buddhists!

  67. #67 Libbie
    April 9, 2009

    I laughed so hard at “Little Wang” I woke up my room mate.

  68. #68 Dianne
    April 9, 2009

    I imagine that pro-lifers give importance to the little ball of cells because of its potential. Left to develop in the usual fashion, it’s extremely likely to become an actual person.

    Sperm have potential to become actual people. So do oocytes. So do somatic cells, though a little more intervention is needed. And most blastulocytes, left to develop in the usual fashion, will NOT become people. They will die prior to or just after implantation.

    Given no bright line to determine when that potential begins, it’s not unreasonable to place it at the moment of conception.

    By contrast, the extra penis is demonstrably not a person, and has no potential to grow into one.

    So what is the bright line that divides fetus in fetu from conjoined twin? When did little Dembrski lose his soul (which he presumably had at conception and didn’t have at birth)? And if the blastulocyte that became the penis was human but the penis not, shouldn’t the baby be charged with murder and sent straight to reform school? And the mother charged with child endangerment or maybe aiding and abetting?

  69. #69 Russell
    April 9, 2009

    The problem with the “potential” argument is that so much has the potential to become a person, if treated right. SCNT shows we don’t need a sperm joining an egg. Many of the cells in your body have the potential to be turned into a clone of yourself, if treated in the right way. As technology advances, we’ll reach the point where we can make new embryos in even more ways.

    Most who are pro-life are reacting viscerally against the fact that people are biological beings that have entirely biological origins, explained by the mechanisms science and technology exposed, with nary a point where the soul magically enters. They need that notion of magic at the start, and will deny that it is “mere” biology, even when that fact is put in front of their face. It is because cloning makes that so apparent that they view it as imponderable evil: humans doing what only their god is supposed to do, and thus exposing where the miracles aren’t. One sign of how strained their thinking is lies in the extensions they are continually making to their arguments. Before cloning technology, you rarely saw “left to develop” qualified with “in the usual fashion.” Why in the world does “the usual fashion” possibly matter? And what about an embryo created in vitro? It’s usual fashion of development is to die on the lab bench. Yet pro-lifers argue it is a person that must be allowed to develop in a most unusual fashion, by artificial implantation. That qualifier is there only to deny the very real potential of what the pro-lifers don’t want to recognize as other people, to try to shield the absurdity of their arguments.

  70. #70 Dianne
    April 9, 2009

    Most who are pro-life are reacting viscerally against the fact that people are biological beings that have entirely biological origins, explained by the mechanisms science and technology exposed, with nary a point where the soul magically enters.

    Well, it is a rather disturbing thought. I’d rather have an immortal soul than be doomed to die and rot some day too*. But wanting it doesn’t make it true and pretending that it is true leads to insistence on life warping behaviors like declaring all concepti to be human and sex to be evil.

    *Not so sure about this god thing, though. Really, if I could invent an ideal mythos it would have people and other entities with immortal souls, possibly reincarnation, but no dieties. Has that form of religion been invented or do I have a chance to be the next L Ron Hubbard by proposing it as a view of the cosmos?

  71. #71 www.10ch.org
    April 9, 2009

    This is definitely irreducibly complex; after all, it must be the work of an intelligent designer!

  72. #72 William
    April 9, 2009

    An old argument. Pro-lifers have not spent years defending their beliefs without coming across arguments on hangnails, teratomas, fetus in fetu, and the like. The Catholic Church explicitly regards termination of an ectopic pregnancy as legitimate. An atheist pro-lifer like myself regards this not as an irrelevant question of ensoulment, but simply regarding the measurable, material effects of our moral choices.

    You may feel free to call the fetus in fetu an individual, especially if it has distinct DNA. As you point out, it’s human, alive, and “male” (there’s more to being a man than having a dick, of course, but I suppose the fetus in fetu is measurably XY). Why doesn’t the operation at least give you philosophical pause, PZ? How human does someone have to be before you feel a twinge at offing them? We can’t rely on a silly on-off notion of ensoulment, so humanity is a nice big fuzzy gradient, and there are dogs this side of that little growth.

    Little Wang posed an ongoing health threat to his brother. A conscious choice had to be made one way or the other, either to take special care and continue to provide resources to keep him alive, or to take action to provide medical care to his brother. Weighing the medical outcomes for both individuals yields a clear balance of interest in favor of the surgery. Little Wang was relieved of no significant expected quality of life; Big Wang’s health was much improved. An abortion of a reasonably healthy viable fetus fails this simple medical outcome evaluation.

  73. #73 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 9, 2009

    Must resist William Hung jokes.

  74. #74 Ray S.
    April 9, 2009

    ChrisKG@64:

    Moreover, as far as I know “He” is still a virgin anyway so I’n not too suprised at ths. Not only does “He” not know where to put this, “He” wouldn’t know what to do with it.

    Though I imagine most Christians would find it distasteful to admit so, they should not claim their god as a virgin due to that little thing with Mary. Though I suppose that could have been done through magic instead of ‘in the usual fashion’.

  75. #75 Iain Walker
    April 9, 2009

    –E (#24):

    Given no bright line to determine when that potential begins, it’s not unreasonable to place it at the moment of conception.

    This would be what we call the Continuum Fallacy.

  76. #76 Susan
    April 9, 2009

    An abortion does not fail that balance of priorities if you take into account the desires and expected quality of life of the woman hosting the zygote which, of course, is exactly what anti-choicers are loathe to do. My body. My choice.

  77. #77 GILGAMESH
    April 9, 2009

    Speculating about a soul is above my pay grade, but, being a penis, it must at least have MoJo.

  78. #78 Monimonika
    April 9, 2009

    @Dianne of comment #70:

    Theravada Buddhism, maybe?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theravada#Overview_of_Philosophy

  79. #79 CalGeorge
    April 9, 2009

    Looks like they circumcised Little Wang before killing him. Ouch!

  80. #80 Dianne
    April 9, 2009

    Why doesn’t the operation at least give you philosophical pause, PZ? How human does someone have to be before you feel a twinge at offing them?

    I can’t speak for PZ, but this operation gives me no philosophical pause for the same reason that disconnecting a brain dead person from a respirator gives me no philosophical pause (although a great deal of sympathy for the bereaved): no brain, no person. Likewise, stationary neurons develop after the period at which the majority of abortions occur so they give me no pause at all. Later abortions deserve more thought, IMHO,just as withdrawing aggressive care from a person whose cortex is destroyed but whose brainstem is intact deserves some thought. But in both cases the right answer is clear: no cortex, no self-awareness, no reason to be concerned about suffering.

    I don’t really care how “human” an entity is but rather how self-aware it is. The use of chimpanzees in research gives me pause because chimps can (sometimes) pass the mirror test indicating that they are self-aware. If an AI existed that could pass the Turing test I would be opposed to disconnecting (killing) it. If the aliens landed I’d say that they should have the same immigrant rights as anyone else. (Modulo the difficulty of deporting…)But giving rights to what is literally a ball of cells because it happens to have 46 chromosomes? Why?

    An abortion of a reasonably healthy viable fetus fails this simple medical outcome evaluation.

    I don’t know for sure, that being the nature of the internet, but I’m guessing that you’ve never been pregnant. Pregnancy is a life threatening condition. The risk of dying in pregnancy is greater than one per 10,000 in the US. Sounds like good odds, right? Well, the risk of dying in a plane crash for someone scheduled to fly on 9/11/01 were less than that. It’s also about the same risk of dying as a resident of the New York metro area had on 9/11/01. It was perfectly safe to be on a plane or in NYC on 9/11/01 right?

    Then, of course, the US is not the world. In Afghanistan the risk of dying during pregnancy is greater than 1%–as much as 1 in 6 in some remote areas.

    Nor is death the only adverse medical outcome associated with pregnancy. Stroke, thrombosis, cardiac events, hypertension, diabetes, hemorrhage, surgical complications, infection, depression, and PTSD are all relatively common complications of pregnancy. My pregnancy left me with an abdominal scar and a fear of the hospital that I gave birth in which cost me a job. (Admittedly it wasn’t really the world’s best job anyway.)

    No, ending an unwanted pregnancy is of great benefit to the woman who is pregnant. But I note that you mentioned only a “healthy fetus” in your comment. Next time do try to at least pretend that you care about the health of the incubator. It’ll make you sound a little less sexist.

  81. #81 fofo
    April 9, 2009

    Doesn’t argumenting von the potential something has to become human always lead to problems? I mean, what with all those little spermies that could have been a human being had they just met an ovum in time.

    I think it makes more sense to base the decision on the cell ball’s ability to feel pain or think. This of course implicates that some animals, which are capable of feeling as much pain as human babies or who are as clever as young children have also a right to live.

  82. #82 Russell
    April 9, 2009

    William writes:

    …so humanity is a nice big fuzzy gradient, and there are dogs this side of that little growth.

    That is exactly the reality of the situation. Along that gradient is a range of cognitive function. It’s why rational people — who are concerned about persons rather than a magical notion of soul unrelated to any kind of cognitive function — have no qualm about removing that fetus in fetu. Or writing our own living wills to direct that life support be removed and our organs donated once our brains have permanently lost their function.

    There is the philosophical thought experiment where, caught in a burning fertility clinic and able to save just one, do you rescue a tray of viable embryos or the one year-old infant also there with you? Sensible people have no qualms about leaving the embryos, no matter how many. They are not conscious yet. On that gradient, they are on the same level as amoebas. I sometimes pose a slight variation of the thought experiment: instead of an infant, what if the other being in the burning clinic with you is a dog? Do you let it burn? Or save the embryos? The dog is not and never will be a person. But it is conscious and feeling, and will experience terror and pain burning to death. Quite unlike the embryos.

  83. #83 catgirl
    April 9, 2009

    Little Wang posed an ongoing health threat to his brother. A conscious choice had to be made one way or the other, either to take special care and continue to provide resources to keep him alive, or to take action to provide medical care to his brother. Big Wang’s health was much improved.

    This extra penis most likely posed less of a health threat to the boy than a pregnancy does to a woman. Plenty of people live with extra body parts their whole lives with very little risk to themselves. However, a pregnancy is not some trivial inconvenience. Many women suffer through the entire thing, and some have permanent health effects even after giving birth. Women who get gestational diabetes are at an increased risk to get type 2 diabetes later in life. Even in a typical healthy woman whose life is not at risk, it’s common for the embryo/fetus to cause nausea, back pain, swollen feet, fatigue, and digestive problems. Little Wang probably would not have caused any of these things, and the operation is mainly cosmetic.

    An abortion of a reasonably healthy viable fetus fails this simple medical outcome evaluation.

    I hope you realize that the vast majority of abortions are done before the fetus is independently viable.

    but simply regarding the measurable, material effects of our moral choices.

    Translation: this baby didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this condition, but naughty women who do the immoral act of having sex shouldn’t be allowed to back out of their punishment of going through pregnancy and childbirth.

  84. I can’t prove it, but I’m sure this is God’s punishment for legalizing so much gay marriage this last week.

  85. #85 Ouchimoo
    April 9, 2009

    I was driving around the cities yesterday and I came across a handful of billboards. (you know the kind I’m talking about) I drove by one twice that said “God knew my soul before I was born.” Does that mean that the soul is located in the penis? Wow! Not only does god hate women but he’s also a perv!

  86. #86 HenryFord
    April 9, 2009

    Notkieran @55
    >”When a person claims that something is human SIMPLY because it has human DNA, then it is the job of anyone capable of stringing two thoughts together to ask “why does this not apply to ANYTHING that has human DNA?”"

    I’m yet to see this argument. DNA is enough to prove it is human? Every attempt from them that I’ve seen to explain this has gone along the lines of having the potential to be human, not just having human DNA. Corpses have human DNA too, but they don’t seem to have any issue with cremating them.

    >”However, since you have made a claim that they do know the difference, perhaps _you_ could explain the difference to the rest of us mocking infidels.”

    Piss off. I’m not saying they are right, or that I can give you their deffinition of the difference, I’m just saying this argument is weak.

    Chiroptera @61
    >”The main difference between cutting a fingernail and an abortion is that growing fingernails aren’t the result of activities disapproved of by the anti-abortion side.”

    How many fingernails that gestate for 9 months develop into humans?
    Take a cell from that fingernail and mess about with it, then (or so we are informed) it could have the potential of being turned into a human – but in its natural state as a fingernail it has no potential. Ever wondered why abortionists don’t get a hang up over periods?

  87. #87 Bill Dauphin
    April 9, 2009

    Thankfully, nobody’s making too big a flippin’ deal about it, but I’m mildy flabbergasted (can you be “mildly” flabbergasted?) that anyone even casually suggested that “Little Wang” might be racist.

    No doubt if this baby had been born in an English-speaking country, PZ would’ve based his joke on Peter or Dick or Johnson or perhaps John Thomas or some other name-that’s-also-slang-for-penis. Of course, I understand that Wang isn’t slang for penis in Chinese, but it is a name in Chinese and slang for penis in English. That adds the additional — and entirely traditional — humorous element of a word (name or otherwise) in one language that’s a false friend of a “dirty word” in another.

    Two points:

    1. The joke hinged on language, not race.

    2. The joke didn’t involve promoting any invidious stereotypes (about either Chinese people or penises!).

    Is it just me, or are we getting just a tiny bit hypersensitive around here lately?

    PS to RevBDC (@73): IMHO, William Hung jokes wouldn’t be racist either. Knock yourself out!

  88. #88 catgirl
    April 9, 2009

    Well, anti-abortionists should be against killing Little Wang-Johnson, since he has the body part that is most important – a penis. Clearly, he is a person, and a very important one too.

  89. #89 rnb
    April 9, 2009

    @Diane

    “Sperm have potential to become actual people.”

    The may have the potential, but I don’t think any have ever done so. Looks to me like they die at conception. Only the ovum survives.

  90. #90 fofo
    April 9, 2009

    My penis has a soul, I think. At least it has free will. :D

  91. #91 Evangelatheist
    April 9, 2009

    I can see the Discovery Channel special now: “Extreme Circumcision: Little Wang Loses a Big One”

  92. #92 Dianne
    April 9, 2009

    The may have the potential, but I don’t think any have ever done so. Looks to me like they die at conception. Only the ovum survives.

    Hmm…I don’t think “die” is the right term. It’s just sort of gone the same way a mother cell disappears in mitosis. The ovum doesn’t survive intact either: its genetic content is doubled, its membrane changed, its behavior radically altered–soon it disappears in the void of mitosis as well. Of course, the same could be said for the blastula: it’s not going to survive unchanged as time goes on. Another one of these problems with trying to declare single cells or undifferentiated masses of cells to be human: there’s little gestalt to hold onto.

  93. #93 Dianne
    April 9, 2009

    Take a cell from that fingernail and mess about with it, then (or so we are informed) it could have the potential of being turned into a human – but in its natural state as a fingernail it has no potential.

    I’m not sure how much cellular material the fingernails have. I think they may be mostly protein ooze. And you’d probably want a relatively non-terminally differentiated cell–say a blood stem cell or maybe an intestinal lining cell–for cloning anyway. However. What does the “natural state” of the fingernail have to do with anything? In your natural state there is no way you could be communicating with me. Your’re most likely hundreds or thousands of miles away and we’re not even “talking” at the same time but rather sending delayed messages. So what? Nature, feh, who cares?

  94. #94 antaresrichard
    April 9, 2009

    Coming and going.

  95. #95 frog
    April 9, 2009

    William: How human does someone have to be before you feel a twinge at offing them?

    Well, for me it’s really fucking simple. It’s about a mind. So, I feel much more of a twinge when I put a dog down, or eat a burger than aborting a fetus.

    Simple, fairly easily measurable even if we don’t have good quantification. What the hell else do you want?

    And ain’t it funny that the putative “materialists” have more respect for the mind than the putative “idealists”?

  96. #96 Kazim
    April 9, 2009

    How sure are you that this isn’t a photoshop job? It looks a lot more like a miniature adult penis than an infant one. (And to preempt some clown asking “How do you know,” I have a young son, of course.)

  97. #97 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 9, 2009

    How sure are you that this isn’t a photoshop job? It looks a lot more like a miniature adult penis than an infant one. (And to preempt some clown asking “How do you know,” I have a young son, of course.)

    Why are you even asking this?

  98. #98 frog
    April 9, 2009

    BD: Is it just me, or are we getting just a tiny bit hypersensitive around here lately?

    It’s not hypersensitivity. It’s hypohumorosity.

    You can’t assume that folks have a sense of humor, any more than that they can play basketball or solve differential equations. It’s the problems with these Tubes — there’s no minimal standard for hacking at a keyboard.

  99. #99 Sven DiMilo
    April 9, 2009

    Ever wondered why abortionists don’t get a hang up over periods?

    Because they are either ignorant or in denial of the fact that “periods” often include a diploid potential person?

  100. #100 frog
    April 9, 2009

    SM: I think it’s because Godddidit. Periods — God is the abortionist, it’s OK then.

    As long as it lacks freedom, the authoritarians are OK with it — they’ll find a rationalization. If it means freedom, it must be a sin.

  101. #101 blueelm
    April 9, 2009

    I never thought I’d see some one call ‘shopped at Pharyngula. That being said, the only source I can find for this besides blogs is an article in The Sun. I have to say it is an odd looking organ, it seems like there would a more detailed article some where considering what an unusual case this would be for the surgeons.

  102. #102 catgirl
    April 9, 2009

    How human does someone have to be before you feel a twinge at offing them?

    How human does someone have to be before you feel a twinge at legally forcing organ donation to save a lump of nonviable cells? And what about mandatory organ donation to save a an actual life? Donating a kidney or blood is much easier and less risky than lending out a uterus for 40 weeks, but no one wants to make that mandatory, because it’s not a punishment for doing something naughty.

  103. #103 Ouchimoo
    April 9, 2009

    Little Wang posed an ongoing health threat to his brother.

    First of all the article did not say anything about the growth of tissue being a health threat. It was only surmised by PZ because it took 3 hours of surgery. Well plastic surgery may have taken time if they don’t want the skin to look goofy or they just wanted to thoroughly make sure they got all the stray tissue. Which would mean that it was medically done for the sake of doing it. Speaking of medically, those rates of women surviving births is rather high in industrialized nations. Care to take a guess as to why? Because medicine and doctors are there to take precautions every step of the way. My mother would have bled to death if she wasn’t in a country full of technology and trained doctors. Whenever I hear of people giving birth, cesarean-section is just as common as natural birth. Why do you think that is? Since we have medical aid to aid in pregnancies we should also have medical aid to stop unwanted pregnancies. And how are you to differentiate fetus in fetu, absorbed fetus, miscarriage, fetus death resulting in calcification that would harm the mother, etc etc. At the stage at when most women would get an abortion, it looks all the same. A clump of cells. So no I don’t blink an eye at any of those cases. It isn’t until they reach the point of being sustainable in their own right, at the point where they are no longer a parasite, that I would draw the line.

  104. #104 Bill Dauphin
    April 9, 2009

    It’s not hypersensitivity. It’s hypohumorosity.

    I am so putting hypohumorosity on my list of cool and useful neologisms, right after Sven’s recent fecoventilatory.

  105. #105 Bill Dauphin
    April 9, 2009

    Catgirl:

    Donating a kidney or blood is much easier and less risky than lending out a uterus for 40 weeks, but no one wants to make that mandatory, because it’s not a punishment for doing something naughty. [emphasis added]

    WINNERRRRRR!!

    You’ve hit the nail precisely on the head: Despite all the save-the-babies hand-wringing about abortion (and anything even vaguely connected to abortion), the actual motivation for most of these people is the notion that unwanted pregnancy is — and should remainpunishment for recreational sex.

    All the back-and-forth about “ensoulment” or the potentialities of this or that cell or clump of cells is just a smokescreen intended to obscure the fundamental moralistic prescriptionism that’s really in play here.

    If I don’t forget, you get one of my next Molly votes for this post, just for cutting so cleanly to the heart of the matter.

  106. #106 hje
    April 9, 2009

    I recently came across a paper which described a teratoma which was more than a random mass of different tissues. Instead it had some large scale organization including organ formation, It was still a mess (so I could imagine it still might be a fetus in fetu gone awry), but just imagine instead of getting cancer, you could have ectopic embryos or fetuses growing in you–whether your male or female. Now that’s a nightmare.

  107. #107 hje
    April 9, 2009

    “All the back-and-forth about “ensoulment” or the potentialities of this or that cell or clump of cells is just a smokescreen intended to obscure the fundamental moralistic prescriptionism that’s really in play here.”

    Exactly. Here’s the overall plan of the American Taliban. Step 1: ban abortions. Step 2: ban contraception. Step 3: stone adulterers, “fornicators,” etc. (but only the women, men always seem to avoid this punishment–except if they are gay).

  108. #108 Dianne
    April 9, 2009

    Instead it had some large scale organization including organ formation,

    Mature teratomas can form well developed structures including hair and teeth (the latter leading inevitably to jokes about “gnawing” pain when they are discovered on x-rays.) I seem to remember a claim that the nuclei of immature teratomas could be inserted into enucleated fertilized eggs and gestated, resulting in a normal birth. If this is correct (and I can’t find a reference so am by no means sure), I just hope that the study was done in non-human animals.

  109. #109 TomJoe
    April 9, 2009

    … but people who claim personhood for a tiny ball of cells ought to have greater problems with this case.

    Why? Because you say so?

  110. #110 Richard Smith
    April 9, 2009

    As PZ observed, the surgery was performed quite close to the spine. It can only be hoped that there were no complications that would prevent Big Wang from being able to stand fully erect.

  111. #111 Badger3k
    April 9, 2009

    Say hello to my little friend!

    Is that a dagger in your back or are you just happy to see me?

    Actually, this is an interesting story. Hope the kid is all right, but it would be interesting to know the extent of the growth. Thanks for posting this – probably never heard of it otherwise.

  112. #112 hje
    April 9, 2009

    “Instead it had some large scale organization including organ formation,”

    If I remember correctly, the organ was a heart which is way beyond teeth and hair for these sort of masses. Which makes me a little skeptical of the determination as a teratoma.

  113. #113 Hugo
    April 9, 2009

    –E @24,
    By contrast, the extra penis is demonstrably not a person, and has no potential to grow into one.

    The point is that at a certain point in time that penis belonged to a distinctly separate zygote that got swallowed up by the stronger brother and is now intertwined, we don’t know without the details but on the inside there could be more of the little brother, some of those can have little heads. Indeed in this case and at this point the penis brother is clearly the loser but why was it not rescued before the evil twin cruelly aborted it?

  114. #114 Mrs Tilton
    April 9, 2009

    William @72,

    The Catholic Church explicitly regards termination of an ectopic pregnancy as legitimate

    Here’s your research assignment, William: find out the year in which the RC church finally abandoned its long-held dogma that it was only permissible to excise the ectopic pregnancy after the tube had burst.

    Then, for extra marks, explain to us why any normal person should care what old men who dress up in silken robes and perform picturesque rituals for a living think about medical matters.

  115. #115 Hugo
    April 9, 2009

    –E @24,
    By contrast, the extra penis is demonstrably not a person, and has no potential to grow into one.

    The point is that at a certain point in time that penis belonged to a distinctly separate zygote that got swallowed up by the stronger brother and is now intertwined, we don’t know without the details but on the inside there could be more of the little brother, some of those can have little heads. Indeed in this case and at this point the penis brother is clearly the loser but why was it not rescued before the evil twin cruelly aborted it?

  116. #116 Notkieran
    April 9, 2009

    Henry Ford @#86:

    >I’m not saying they are right, or that I can give you their deffinition of the difference, I’m just saying this argument is weak.

    If it is a weak argument, surely it is easily demolished. If it cannot be demolished, then it is strong enough to carry the argument, wouldn’t you say?

    >I’m yet to see this argument. DNA is enough to prove it is human? Every attempt from them that I’ve seen to explain this has gone along the lines of having the potential to be human, not just having human DNA.

    This is probably because you haven’t pinned them down to it. Watch what happens when you ask them to define “has the potential to become human”. It’s good for a barrel of laughs.

    I don’t agree that the argument is a weak one. On the contrary, I feel that it is a strong one. An anti-abortionist has not provided an argument until he defines the above, at which point the toenail argument acts like a hammer to the face.

    After all, as someone above has already pointed out, a blastocyst formed in-vitro does not have the potential to do anything but die in the lab bench without intervention. So what is the thing about a blastocyst in-vitro that makes it capable of potentially becoming a human being?

    Force your opponent to define his terms first. Without that, you have no criteria whether to judge whether the argument is strong or weak. It seems weak to you because you have a preconception of what “potential to become human” means.

    This is not the same as _their_ preconception.

  117. #117 Sven DiMilo
    April 9, 2009

    Sven’s recent fecoventilatory

    Alas, not original. I knew I had stolen that from someplace but couldn’t remember where…bit of google-sleuthing this morning reminded me: Pynchon, Vineland. *shrug* If you’re stealing neologisms, might as well take from the Master.

  118. #118 Notkieran
    April 9, 2009

    Richard Smith @#111

    If this was intentional:

    >…It can only be hoped that there were no complications that would prevent Big Wang from being able to stand fully erect,

    then you deserve a round of applause.

  119. #119 Fiisi
    April 9, 2009

    “By contrast, the extra penis is demonstrably not a person, and has no potential to grow into one

    So much for the notion of an all-powerful, magical sky daddy.

  120. #120 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 9, 2009

    For me it raises another issue – is the twin identical and is that why there is no rejection? Or is it genetically different, but because it was present from early embryomic development, the immune system of the larger twin recognises it as self?

    Whatever is present while the adaptive immune system develops is not recognized as foreign. (It may, if genetically different, increase the risk of autoimmune diseases developing much later, though.)

    I recently came across a paper which described a teratoma which was more than a random mass of different tissues. Instead it had some large scale organization including organ formation, It was still a mess (so I could imagine it still might be a fetus in fetu gone awry), but just imagine instead of getting cancer, you could have ectopic embryos or fetuses growing in you–whether your male or female. Now that’s a nightmare.

    Read up on the life cycle of the tantulocaridan crustaceans.

    If you dare.

  121. #121 Chiroptera
    April 9, 2009

    HenryFord, #86: Take a cell from that fingernail and mess about with it, then (or so we are informed) it could have the potential of being turned into a human – but in its natural state as a fingernail it has no potential.

    Potentially turning into a human is irrelevant. What is important is whether the thing actually is a person who holds rights. In this respect, a fetus is exactly like a fingernail. It is not a person and has no rights.

  122. #122 sharky
    April 9, 2009

    Step 3: stone adulterers, “fornicators,” etc. (but only the women, men always seem to avoid this punishment–except if they are gay).

    That’s because the sinful woman has to survive so she can suffer from STDs and raise the children, obviously.

  123. #123 Chiroptera
    April 9, 2009

    William, #72: Pro-lifers have not spent years defending their beliefs without coming across arguments on hangnails, teratomas, fetus in fetu, and the like.

    Actually, I have never seen pro-lifers actually defend their beliefs beyond simply asserting that abortionists are murdering babies.

    Just sayin’, is all.

  124. #124 Menyambal
    April 9, 2009

    It looks like the extra penis was equipped with a set of testicles. Which brings up interesting possibilities, if they were left attached and were functional.

    Trivially, would the growing kid get an overdose of testosterone?

    And–more important to the Pope–if they cranked out viable sperm, whose is it? If the sperm is genetically identical to the (now) kid’s, we could pretend that he is the father. But if the testicles are of a fraternal twin, subsumed but for the generative bits, what happens if some adventurous woman gets pregnant by them?

    Who’s your daddy?

  125. #125 ctenotrish
    April 9, 2009

    Somewhat similar case reported a few years ago – the tumor (not the penis itself) was much larger than in the infant above, though. The extent of spinal involvment is what is most concerning r.e. long term outcomes in such cases.

    Vaishya S, Pandey P. 2006. Unusual spinal teratoma with an accessory penis on the back. Childs Nerv Syst 22(4):440-3.

  126. #126 Susan
    April 9, 2009

    @ frog #100

    SM: I think it’s because Godddidit. Periods — God is the abortionist, it’s OK then.
    frog: As long as it lacks freedom, the authoritarians are OK with it — they’ll find a rationalization. If it means freedom, it must be a sin.

    I have controlled my own periods since I turned 14. I may have even been pregnant at times when I willed them to come. (I decided 4 to 6 per year were plenty.) When will the godbots come for my brain?

  127. #127 chineseonlooker
    April 9, 2009

    what’s with the demonization of chinese doctors, projecting your fascination of pickling babies onto them…maybe the parents wanted terminating an unviable being. on the other hand, i wish they didn’t but instead put him up for adoption by you americans knowing how much you humanists love life in all its forms and glory…

  128. #128 Sven DiMilo
    April 9, 2009

    @#128: What we have here is a failure to communicate.

  129. #129 BGT
    April 9, 2009

    @128

    Wei?

  130. #130 fireant451
    April 9, 2009

    Crudely Wrott: Does a penis have a soul?

    I don’t know about a soul, but mine sometimes has a mind of its own.

  131. #131 Russell
    April 9, 2009

    By contrast, the extra penis is demonstrably not a person, and has no potential to grow into one.

    Let’s spell out why exactly this counter fails. 1) Before it was an extra penis, it was just an embryo indistinguishable from its fraternal twin’s, which is a person as the pro-life side defines that. So when, in their light, did it stop being a person? 2) Whether it has the potential to grow into the kind of human that we all would recognize as a person is a function of technology. Even today’s cloning technology likely is adequate to “saving” this “individual” and turning that penis into a viable embryo that could be implanted. “Potential” isn’t something written into stone. It changes with our understanding and the changes in our technology.

  132. #132 Will Von Wizzlepig
    April 9, 2009

    Dang, doctors really have it in for babies’ penises.

    I mean, a guy is born with two, and they have to go chop one off? Too much competition here or something?

    Granted, he’d have had a difficult time doing anything with the one on his back, but, dang.

    The guy had two dicks, that’d be a pretty awesome line to have on your resume: BS in microbiology, volunteered for famous humanitarian organization, also, have two dicks.

    He could have made a career out of it. Now he’s ‘disabled’, down to one weenie, just like the rest of us.

    Poor kid.

  133. #133 Ouchimoo
    April 9, 2009

    @128

    …?


    Are you suggesting we adopt out penises?

  134. #134 Sven DiMilo
    April 9, 2009

    I have three buttocks.

  135. #135 Jillian
    April 9, 2009

    Those of you making the argument that “the penis is not a person” are completely missing the point. The point is that sometime roughly 8 1/2 months before that baby boy was born, that penis belonged to a SEPARATE individual human being. That individual human being might even have been a fraternal twin, which would mean that the excised tissue would not even share the same DNA as the host. For clarification, take a look here: ttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetus_in_fetu .

    IF life, and all the legal rights that living people have begins at the moment of conception, THEN the boy upon whom the surgery was performed took actions which resulted in the death of a human being. I suppose it might be difficult to make a case for bringing legal charges (can a mass of 64 cells have mens rea when it doesn’t yet have a neuron, much less a brain?), but legal puzzles aside, if you believe life begins at conception, then this boy is a murderer. And a cannibal.

  136. #136 astrounit
    April 9, 2009

    This is a fascinating (if disconcerting) phenomenon…I certainly hope that child (the surviving WHOLE one) pulls through with as little difficulty as possible. We may all hope he lives long and prospers.

    PZ: I’ve read many arguments based on situations of this kind, but this one has got to be the most compelling slam-dunk refutation of the main (and thoroughly FALSE) “issue” which anti-abortionists constantly raise that I’ve ever come across. Just beautiful.

  137. #137 cactusren
    April 9, 2009

    Sven @ 135: You mean you’re Triassic?

    /bad geology humor

  138. #138 Sven DiMilo
    April 9, 2009

    I have controlled my own periods since I turned 14. I may have even been pregnant at times when I willed them to come.

    You are claiming conscious control over your hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis?
    Allow me to be the first to express my skepticism.
    Unless you mean pharmacologically; that ain’t exactly “will.”

  139. #139 ???
    April 9, 2009

    And all of these years I’ve thought my brother was a dick.

  140. #140 Tulse
    April 9, 2009

    I have three buttocks.

    Look…It’s quite easy for somebody just to come along here claiming… that they have a bit to spare in the botty department. The point is, us Pharyngulites need proof.

  141. #141 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 9, 2009

    I have controlled my own periods since I turned 14. I may have even been pregnant at times when I willed them to come. (I decided 4 to 6 per year were plenty.)

    count me with Sven, skeptical

  142. #142 ???
    April 9, 2009

    I mean, a guy is born with two, and they have to go chop one off? Too much competition here or something?

    Perhaps, although in this case the “competition” wouldn’t be terribly stiff.

    Maybe the extra one can be donated to Bobbit.

  143. #143 wonderer
    April 9, 2009

    BTW
    Lee M. Silver has a good book on such phenomena for those interested. (Don’t recall the title and being on a smartphone ATM, I’ll leave it to anyone interested to look it up.)

  144. #144 catgirl
    April 9, 2009

    I have controlled my own periods since I turned 14. I may have even been pregnant at times when I willed them to come. (I decided 4 to 6 per year were plenty.)

    My assumption is that she takes hormonal contraception continuously, without skipping a week each month like we’re supposed to. Then, when she chooses to have a period, she stops taking the pills for awhile. I’d say that counts as willing them to come, as it was completely intentional. It’s not rare at all for women to manipulate the timing and frequency of their periods with hormonal contraception. However, it’s unlikely that she would have been pregnant when she did have them, since hormonal birth control is very effective.

    Or, maybe she was just joking.

  145. #145 Chiroptera
    April 9, 2009

    Russell, #142: Before it was an extra penis, it was just an embryo indistinguishable from its fraternal twin’s, which is a person as the pro-life side defines that. So when, in their light, did it stop being a person?

    Oh, this is so good. I think it will be a good example to use the next time a lifer insists that since there is no point when a fetus becomes a human being we must err on the side of all embryos being considered human.

  146. #146 Bill Dauphin
    April 9, 2009

    Sven @ 135: You mean you’re Triassic?

    No, he meant something completely different.

  147. #147 Thuktun
    April 9, 2009

    Making a pun using similar-sounding words from two different languages is not racist for the simple fact that languages, their words, and their sounds don’t involve race.

  148. #148 William
    April 9, 2009

    Several commenters have attributed to me a motivation which I lack. Being an atheist, I have no particular fascination with controlling people’s genitals, punishing women for having sex, etc. When I speak of moral choices, I refer to the fact that the parents and doctors of this child face a moral choice as to whether to proceed with the surgery.

    Russell @132 makes my core point. “Potential” is no argument, since one day we’ll presumably be able to assemble a living human being from spare amino acids running around the lab. However, it would require a conscious intervention on our part to do so. For each of us, moral calculus addresses the activities we choose to undertake or not. A secular moral calculus will base its valuations of possible decisions on the measurable results of those actions.

    By choosing to proceed with the surgery, a great deal of good was done to one definite human being and either very little net harm was done to an extremely malformed other human being, or no harm was done to any other human being, depending on your point of view. Questions about personhood are practically negligible. So it’s a mass of cells. As long as we ignore any contentions of an immaterial ghosty riding our brain, you’re a mass of cells too, remember?

    An embryo is too, as is its mother. (An “incubator”? What a misogynistic description of a pregnant woman. I hope you were using it sarcastically.) The question of personhood is not negligible for a normal fetus; it’s easy to explain to a young child that “your little brother is inside Mommy.” It’s clearly more of a person than Little Wang. A value can be assigned to the life it will have if we don’t choose to abort it, and normalized by your assignation of person-value. A value can be assigned to the difference in health outcomes over the next few months and years for the mother, and normalized by your assignation of person-value to her. The two can be compared and a judgment made.

    Unlike many commenters have suggested, the person-value I assign to the mother is not zero. That would be ridiculously callous. No sane medical ethics framework would do so. Where you and I disagree is the assignment of a flat zero to the weighting of health outcomes for a fetus. You would; I find that callous, and would assign quite a high value.

    I don’t propose that these assignments can be given standardized numbers in a law or in a medical textbook, since every human situation has an impossible number of variables and the decisions involved are always intensely personal. But I propose that you’re being an unthinking and immoral person when you zero out the value assigned to an unborn child. No questions of soul involved, no lust for control of female genitalia required.

    Don’t knee-jerk when someone comes around who doesn’t fit your preconceptions of pro-lifers, people. You look like fools. I’m atheist. I’m not in it for the chastity belt crew.

  149. #149 Jillian
    April 9, 2009

    William, your response is leaving me a little confused. Are you saying that women who choose abortion generally do so with no thought at all to the potential life of the fetus? That’s what I interpret “Where you and I disagree is the assignment of a flat zero to the weighting of health outcomes for a fetus. You would; I find that callous, and would assign quite a high value.” to mean.

    I doubt that abortion is often a flippant or thoughtless choice. If a woman finds herself pregnant and makes the decision that bearing the pregnancy to term is more of a cost – financial, emotional, timewise, or whatever – than she can bear, then she has indeed performed a moral calculus, and one which in no way needs to assign no value at all to the potential life of the fetus.

    You may end up disagreeing with her reasons for her decision, but that disagreement is ultimately just your problem. We all disagree about other people’s morality all the time, and there’s really nothing we can do about it; indeed, the proper response in such a situation is to just mind your own business. For just a random example, I think making a moral decision to not have sex until after you get married is wrong, but when it comes to other people’s sex lives, I mind my own business.

    Hope that makes sense.

  150. #150 Mrs Tilton
    April 9, 2009

    Where you and I disagree is the assignment of a flat zero to the weighting of health outcomes for a fetus. You would; I find that callous, and would assign quite a high value

    You’re wrong. What I (and, I think, most of us here) assign a zero value to is your entitlement to usurp a woman’s decisionmaking about what happens inside her body. But should you decide to carry to term any foetuses that might happen to be in your own body, that is, of course, your prerogative.

  151. #151 Dianne
    April 9, 2009

    As long as we ignore any contentions of an immaterial ghosty riding our brain, you’re a mass of cells too, remember?

    True, but unlike an embryo, a mass of highly differentiated cells with a good deal of functioning neural tissue. When the latter is no longer true, I will be dead, no matter whether my heart stops then or later. Do you disagree with the current designation of brain death as the end of life? If so, what alternate definition do you propose? If not, how do you explain your romantic attachment to an entity with little or no working ganglia muchless brains as a “human”?

    (An “incubator”? What a misogynistic description of a pregnant woman. I hope you were using it sarcastically.)

    From what you’ve said here, it’s a pretty fair estimation of your valuation of pregnant women. Your initial post didn’t even mention risk to the life or health of the pregnant woman as a reason for abortion. Such a lack almost proves misogyny. Or an extremely embarrassing oversight. Yet you do not appear embarrassed by your statement, making the former more likely.

    The question of personhood is not negligible for a normal fetus; it’s easy to explain to a young child that “your little brother is inside Mommy.”

    You’re not really seriously proposing basing the definition of personhood on whether or not something is described in human-like terms to a small child are you? Because if so any number of dolls described to small children by their parents as “your baby” are human too.

    It’s clearly more of a person than Little Wang.

    How and why? This is not a sarcastic question. I’ve never seen an anti-abortion advocate give a coherent, consistent definition of what is and is not a person that was not based on simple prejudice. Surprise me and give one and I might well change my mind about abortion. Absolutely seriously.

  152. #152 Dianne
    April 9, 2009

    I’m atheist. I’m not in it for the chastity belt crew.

    That’s what the raving atheist used to say too…before he became the raving theist. It’s impossible to identify a fetus with a baby without invoking magic. The neural connections simply aren’t there. So…if a fetus (or even worse an embryo) is a baby then it must be magic.

  153. #153 Bill Dauphin
    April 9, 2009

    Thuktun (@148):

    Didn’t I already say that? ;^)

    But as regards real racism involving Asian names, WTF???

  154. #154 catgirl
    April 9, 2009

    Being an atheist, I have no particular fascination with controlling people’s genitals, punishing women for having sex

    These two positions are most certainly not mutually exclusive.

  155. #155 Merrydol
    April 9, 2009

    William, whether you’re an atheist or not is of no concern to me in this matter. The assumption that you get to do my “moral calculus” for me in an arena that involves my own body and emotional health is what pisses me right off.

    I don’t propose that these assignments can be given standardized numbers in a law or in a medical textbook, since every human situation has an impossible number of variables and the decisions involved are always intensely personal.

    Which is exactly why it is not your prerogative to outlaw the procedure. Hence, pro-choice.

  156. #156 Ouchimoo
    April 9, 2009

    William, invoking the word atheist does not give you automatic proof or standing. This Reminds me of a discussion that I had with the the only pro-life atheist that I knew. I say ‘knew’ because as soon as I described my position and my reasons against his previous indoctrination he is now pro-choice. I have not seen any justifiable reason behind your opinion. And as someone summed up “incubator” in reaction to your remarks, and dare I say no female on this board would side with you, the reasons you have given so far have not helped your cause in the slightest but instead hindered it.

  157. #157 Russell
    April 9, 2009

    William, I’m all for assigning some value to an embryo, and even more value to a fetus. And, of course, even more value to a person.

    Regardless of where you and I differ in how that reflects in our views on abortion, that results in a very different kind of starting point than what defines the modern pro-life crowd. They are not merely anti-abortion. They are pushing the notion that the embryo is a person that should have as much legal rights as you or I. Again, with regard to this example, I would ask when, by their definition, it stopped being a person? When would they have ended its legal rights? And on what grounds?

    Most people I know who are pro-choice view abortion differently depending on whether it is early or late, and also recognizing differences arising from issues such as fetal deformity. That gradient matters. I have no qualms about even the very late abortion of an anencephalic fetus, because it will become a person. To the pro-life crowd, it is a person.

    The question isn’t just about opposing abortion, or even regulating it to some degree. It is whether these issues will be discussed rationally. The pro-life crowd is insisting on the complete prohibition of not just abortion, but even of day-after contraception like Plan B, because when it doesn’t prevent conception, it can prevent the resulting embryo from implanting. Their world is all black and white, painted by an insane artist.

  158. #158 William
    April 9, 2009

    catgirl @155: True enough, although you must admit they’re reasonably anticorrelated. At any rate, I still don’t have those motivations.

    Dianne @152: There are a number of well-established moral criteria that are mostly equivalent on decisions of life and death: Golden Rule, veil of ignorance, etc. Were you once such an entity, could you have been if your life had taken a different path, might you be in this person’s shoes in the future? How would you wish to be treated in that case? From behind the veil of ignorance, if you were yet unborn, how would you choose to value the unborn? I used to be an embryo, and I’d hate to have been terminated, so turnabout seems fair play.

    My illustration with the child is attempting to point out that casual intuition much more naturally assigns a substantial degree of personhood to a normal, healthy unborn child than to a growth on a boy’s back. You ask for a consistent definition of what is and is not a person, but as I have said, it’s a continuum. More than that, it’s a social construct which changes over time, generally for the broader and better. Our concept of the fully human has, sometimes stutteringly, broadened from “men of my tribe” to “men of my nation” to “men of all nations” to “men and women of all nations” to “men, women and children of all nations,” and the halo is spreading into concern for apes and other highly intelligent animals. Civilization seems to improve whenever such a change is made; people with narrower definitions usually seem less civilized. I hope one day that it is a general norm to regard the unborn in the same way.

    Mrs. Tilton @151: Less snarkily, I understand you to be claiming that since I am a man I may have no say in the affair. I disagree. See also Jillian below.

    Jillian @150: You completely make sense, and I fairly acknowledge that it is a rare decision to abort that gives no value to the child being aborted. It is a wrenching choice I would wish on no one. I must disagree with you that we must stand by when we find others’ choices immoral, though; I have no stake in Person A’s disagreement with Person B, but I do insist that A not assault B over the matter. Alas, unlike laws against assault, I cannot support laws criminalizing abortion; studies show they don’t reduce the incidence of abortions sought, only their safety, and so they cause harm to women for no unborn lives saved. To change that I will have to campaign to broaden regard for the unborn, so that such a law when passed would be more likely to be followed. In the meantime, I’m going to save more lives my making sure my local high school nurse has condoms to hand out, even if I’m recommending to teenagers that less sex is probably better for their life plans.

  159. #159 cactusren
    April 9, 2009

    An “incubator”? What a misogynistic description of a pregnant woman. I hope you were using it sarcastically.

    You must be new around here, William. Of course that was being used sarcastically, as a description of how many pro-lifers and religious fundamentalists seem to view women.

    Don’t knee-jerk when someone comes around who doesn’t fit your preconceptions of pro-lifers, people. You look like fools. I’m atheist. I’m not in it for the chastity belt crew.

    Ok, so you’re not religious, and you don’t seem to be familiar with the standard religious objections to abortion. Great. However, you seem to be painting with a broad brush yourself:

    Where you and I disagree is the assignment of a flat zero to the weighting of health outcomes for a fetus. You would; I find that callous, and would assign quite a high value.

    Assuming all pro-choicers give no regard to fetuses is ridiculous. We simply think it should be up to each pregnant woman to do the moral calculus for herself.

    And remember, a fertilized egg, a blastocyst, an embryo, and a fetus are all quite distinct things. When people here refer to “a clump of cells”, it should be understood that they are referring to a blastula or early embryo. This is not the same thing as a fetus. So when someone talks unsympathetically about a clump of cells that cannot think or feel pain, don’t jump to the conclusion that they are talking about a fetus.

    Since you are not coming from a religious angle, and therefore not assuming that a soul is endowed at the moment of conception, at what point during development would you say that an embryo’s or fetus’ health should outweigh that of its mother? And who should get to decide that? You? The medical establishment? The government? Or, perhaps, the woman who is carrying the embryo/fetus?

    That is the essence of the Pro-Choice stance: moral calculus for everyone!

  160. #160 Chiroptera
    April 9, 2009

    William, #149: Where you and I disagree is the assignment of a flat zero to the weighting of health outcomes for a fetus.

    So far you have neglected it explain exactly why a nonzero weighting should be assigned to the “health outcomes” of a fetus. You do keep mentioning something about “potential human”, but you have failed to explain why this is a relevant criterion.

  161. #161 Dianne
    April 9, 2009

    I used to be an embryo, and I’d hate to have been terminated, so turnabout seems fair play.

    Oh, good FSM, not the “what if your mother had aborted you” argument! “I” used to be a sperm and an oocyte too. I’d hate to have never been conceived. Therefore you must come sleep with me because our potential child (one of them) wants to be conceived. But wait! My and PZ’s child wants to be conceived too*! What to do, what to do…

    Abortion is the LEAST of your existential worries. What if the sperm and oocyte that united to create the embryo that eventually became you never met. What if the newly created blastulocyte had never divided. What if it had failed to implant. What if your mother had caught rubella and the embryo or fetus had been brain damaged so badly that you couldn’t have developed. What if any of the above had happened to the sperm/oocytes/embryos/feti that became your parents/grandparents/usw? What if your parents had never met? What if they’d had sex 10 minutes later and a diffent sperm had fertilized the egg?

    The truth of the matter is that the embryo that developed into a baby that grew up to be you couldn’t have cared less whether it was aborted or not. It had no mechanism for caring any more than the sperm that became part of the embryo, etc cared whether it was the one that penetrated the egg or not. You’re assigning thoughts to things that have nothing with which to think.

    *Don’t panic, either of you. I don’t mean it.

  162. #162 Dianne
    April 9, 2009

    My illustration with the child is attempting to point out that casual intuition much more naturally assigns a substantial degree of personhood to a normal, healthy unborn child than to a growth on a boy’s back.

    There is little so potentially deceptive as intuition and “common sense”. Causal intuition suggests that the world is flat. Sure looks it from here. So what? It’s also unarguable. If I say my intuition assigns no personhood to a fetus*, who are you to argue?

    *Which is not to say that I assign no _value_ to a fetus. I assign it the value that the potential parents assign it. This is generally high. Therefore, for example, I am willing to work quite hard to save a difficult pregnancy which the woman who is pregnant wants to maintain. But likewise I find the idea of forcing a pregnancy repugnant.

  163. #163 catgirl
    April 9, 2009

    if you were yet unborn, how would you choose to value the unborn? I used to be an embryo, and I’d hate to have been terminated

    If I were an embryo, I guarantee you that I wouldn’t value anything, due to my lack of a brain. The better question to ask is if you were pre-conceived, how would you feel about your parents abstaining from sex? Do you think that unconceived children would prefer laws that for people to have sex constantly?

    My illustration with the child is attempting to point out that casual intuition much more naturally assigns a substantial degree of personhood to a normal, healthy unborn child than to a growth on a boy’s back.

    First of all, casual intuition is probably not the best tool to form your opinions with. Secondly, over 90% of all abortions are performed before viability, when the embryo certainly can’t be described as a normal, healthy (unborn) child. Most embryos have fewer cells and less structure than Little Wang-Johnson. And, it’s not a growth on the boy’s back. It didn’t grow on him. It started out a separate “unborn child” that became fused with the boy.

  164. #164 Chiroptera
    April 9, 2009

    William, #159: More than that, it’s a social construct which changes over time, generally for the broader and better. Our concept of the fully human has, sometimes stutteringly, broadened from “men of my tribe” to “men of my nation” to “men of all nations” to “men and women of all nations” to “men, women and children of all nations,” and the halo is spreading into concern for apes and other highly intelligent animals.

    What is the common quality that “men of my nation,” “men of all nations,” and “men and women of all nations” all share that entitles them to rights and expectations of happiness? What quality may even apes share that we even consider that we should be concerned with well-being? (At least you are now admitting that being a “potential human” or having human DNA is not the relevant criterion.) Do fetuses share this quality? If not, then it may be premature to predict that this “social construct” should expand to include them.

  165. #165 AdamK
    April 9, 2009

    A useless extra dick could be conveniently referred to as a “heddle,” as evidenced by the Hitchens thread.

  166. #166 Ryogam
    April 9, 2009

    @159 “…I cannot support laws criminalizing abortion…”

    William, you are not pro-life as it is currently understood in American, political terms. If you are not for laws criminalizing abortion, you are pro-choice. It’s that simple.

    As for me, any value of the fetus is outweighed by the evils of government mandated forced-birth. Or, going behind the veil, how would you like to be forced by the government to undergo the trials, tribulations, health risks and pain associated with even a 100% normal, healthy pregnancy? I’ve seen my wife do it, twice, and there ain’t no way.

  167. #167 Jillian
    April 9, 2009

    if you were yet unborn, how would you choose to value the unborn? I used to be an embryo, and I’d hate to have been terminated

    If you were a chicken who had been magically transmogrified into a human being, how would you feel if you found out I’m going to put your cousin into the vindaloo I’m making for dinner?

    It’s no more a ridiculous thought experiment than asking what a collection of less than a hundred cells, with nary a neuron amongst them, “values”, when assigning value is a cognitive process.

  168. #168 frog
    April 9, 2009

    William — real simple question: Are you a vegan? Do you eat cows? Do you donate to your local humane society and rescue dogs? Are you active environmentally?

    Sure, we can put “a value” on an embryo — but it would have to be put in perspective (if you are serious about your position). We can put a value on a cat, on a mouse; hell, even a roach is not to be stepped on without at least a thought.

    But if this is a particular hobby-horse of yours, lacking in the greater perspective of “sentient beings”, I think you greatly delude yourself about your true motives.

  169. #169 Mrs Tilton
    April 9, 2009

    William @159,

    I understand you to be claiming that since I am a man I may have no say in the affair

    Then you understand wrong. With respect to any given pregnancy, it is not right that women have a say in the affair either, with one exception.

  170. #170 blueelm
    April 9, 2009

    “if you were yet unborn, how would you choose to value the unborn? I used to be an embryo, and I’d hate to have been terminated”

    I wouldn’t be able to comprehend that if I were an embryo, but I wouldn’t, as an adult, be too upset with my mom if she’d aborted me. The logic of that boggles my mind, but what I mean is if it would have been better for people for me to un-be then I guess that’s fine. I’m happy to be here, but really what would it matter to me if I weren’t here? It really couldn’t matter to me then. Now that I am here and have been for twenty odd years I’m kind of invested in things so it would be a lot harder to give up my life at the moment, not to mention it would damage a social network pretty badly.

    To be honest that’s why I stand where I stand on abortion. Adult women are more useful than a fetus. So I say let’s keep them and as far as the unborn– well they’ll never know they never were.

  171. #171 frog
    April 9, 2009

    William: I used to be an embryo, and I’d hate to have been terminated, so turnabout seems fair play.

    Ok, Will, that’s just plain stupid. You like to use fancy words, but obviously you haven’t read your Lucretius or Nagel. “What would the embryo want”??? “What if Daddy had been too drunk to get it up???”.

    Really, now. Next you’ll be suggesting that the dead should get a vote. Put away your kindergarden Kant.

  172. #172 Happy Tentacles
    April 9, 2009

    Presumably Little Wang-Johnson would have been welcomed into the Catholic priesthood, since the main criteria for that career are the presence of a dick and the absence of a brain.

  173. #173 Adam C.
    April 9, 2009

    I see your point, but I do wish you had used a bit less sarcasm and took things a bit more seriously: The foetus in foetu isn’t a child, but the child itself is, and even in joking, it doesn’t seem right to attack the doctors trying to help him.

  174. #174 Matt
    April 9, 2009

    Wang is the most common Chinese surname. I don’t think it’s racist. It’s just a first approximation.

  175. #175 tmaxPA
    April 9, 2009

    William’s already been outed. “I cannot support laws criminalizing abortion” means he’s pro-choice, but just likes to be an annoying cretin.

    #173=LOL

  176. #176 nothing's sacred
    April 9, 2009

    William = Ian Spaulding? Same oft-refuted arguments.

    It’s clearly more of a person than Little Wang.

    That in fact is not clear, as “it” is generic, spanning the entire range of embryonic development, some of which is coincident with the early part of Little Wang’s development, and in some instances “it” has no more potential to develop into a conscious entity than does Little Wang. If we restrict “it” to instances that have indisputable personhood — well, there are no such instances, actually. If we restrict “it” to cases that are independently viable, and would be indisputably recognized as persons if removed from the womb, under U.S. law a state may prohibit abortion unless there’s a threat to the mother’s life or health.

    Unlike many commenters have suggested, the person-value I assign to the mother is not zero. That would be ridiculously callous.

    Indeed, since the mother is a conscious person.

    Where you and I disagree is the assignment of a flat zero to the weighting of health outcomes for a fetus. You would

    You must be lying, because you cannot be so stupid or ignorant as to think so.

    I find that callous, and would assign quite a high value.

    You have yet to give a reason for that. The mere fact that something “has the potential” to turn into something else is not a reason to give it a value based on the value of that something else, or we would give high value to unquarried marble, buckets of paint, and gametes. But we do highly value great but unfinished statues and paintings, and we all put high value on fetuses near full term. That one may put a considerably lower value on them than on conscious beings, and much lower value on them than on the autonomy of the mother, is not “callous” by a fair and honest judgment.

    But I propose that you’re being an unthinking and immoral person when you zero out the value assigned to an unborn child.

    Great, then we are all in agreement, because no one does that.

  177. #177 nothing's sacred
    April 9, 2009

    obviously you haven’t read your Lucretius or Nagel

    Nor his Rawls, whom he bogusly invokes.

    I used to be an embryo, and I’d hate to have been terminated

    What a modal muddle. Since you weren’t terminated, there’s nothing to hate. And had you been terminated, you wouldn’t exist and so neither would your hate. Your statement is as reasonable as “I used to be nonexistent, and I’d hate to have stayed that way”, especially as a counter to all those folks so callous as to not care about all the nonexistent things that have never had a chance to exist.

  178. #178 Susan
    April 9, 2009

    @ catgirl

    Or, maybe she was just joking.

    No. Although I don’t mind the skepticism, it’s simply true. I’ve “told” my periods when to come ever since I read an article that described a long-term sensory deprivation experiment in which the subject had her periods when she thought she should have them, irrespective of the actual passage of time. I also had several friends who told me they always started their periods on the same exact day of the month. Since months are a rather arbitrary (and variable) construct, it seemed odd to me that anyone would have theirs on, say, the 7th of every single month.

    I realized that the 28-day thing was merely the mode, women’s cycles ranged all over the place, and it was likely they are subconsciously controlled by our very own brains. I decided to consciously control mine, and did. It was a bit tricky when I wanted to get pregnant– but it all worked out, and we have two amazing kids. My ob-gyns always marked me down as “irregular”– along with around 30% of all women, which seems pretty “normal”– but to me they regularly occurred when I wanted them to.

    Someday someone will win a big prize for figuring the whole process out, but meanwhile I’m glad women who can’t do this have other reliable ways to control their fertility.

  179. #179 godfrey
    April 9, 2009

    @44, and my own comment: At some point in the kid’s life, whether with a vagina or a penis, the kid can’t say “Get off my fucking back!”. Also, I learned a little Biology of the nice theoretical/empirical non-dissection (by me) sort. Cool.

  180. #180 Sven DiMilo
    April 9, 2009

    subconsciously controlled by our very own brains. I decided to consciously control mine

    So the thing is, Susan, I’m a physiologist of sorts, and so I know that if you could satisfactorily demonstrate your purported ability to control your hypothalamus to some endocrinologists at your nearest teaching hospital? That would make the most controversial JAMA or Nature report ever. You seem sincere (though of course on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog), but I don’t think you realize the uniqueness and consequent importance of what you claim. It would be unprecedented, or nearly so, in the annals of medical science, and for that reason I am compelled to disbelieve you…sorry.

  181. #181 mas528
    April 10, 2009

    I personally think that since the anti-sex/force birth crowd believes that the fetus is fully human, that the living baby must be charged with murder, and cannibalism, since a fetus was aborted by its roommate en fetu.
    I would also argue this point in the case of death of the mother. and perhaps in undue hardship upon the woman?

    Perhaps the anti-slavery laws might help here…

  182. #182 eugene_X
    April 10, 2009

    This is proof that God watches South Park. And apparently likes it.

  183. #183 Mrs Tilton
    April 10, 2009

    tmaxPA @176,

    “I cannot support laws criminalizing abortion” means he’s pro-choice, but just likes to be an annoying cretin

    Read him more carefully. He is anti-choice. His lack of support for criminalising abortion has nothing to do with respect for the autonomy of the woman; it is merely tactical. He is against criminalising for the time being. He wants first to change prevailing societal values such that there would be general support for criminal sanctions, and only then enact the legal prohibitions. Or possibly his dream is a bit more utopian; he will support criminalisation, but not until society is such that people would voluntarily obey the prohibition anyway (at which unlikely point, of course, any legal sanctions would be superfluous). It’s hard to be sure; he neither thinks nor writes with particular clarity.

    Sven @181,

    It would be unprecedented, or nearly so, in the annals of medical science, and for that reason as you have not adduced any objective evidence that your startling claim is correct, I am compelled to disbelieve you…sorry

    Fixed that for you. Who knows, maybe she’s right. But if her explanation above is all she has to back it up, I won’t be betting the farm, or even a paper clip, that she is.

  184. #184 nothing's sacred
    April 10, 2009

    Fixed that for you.

    Not really. People make all sorts of claims here without adducing any objective evidence for them, but we don’t doubt them without a specific reason to. Sven laid out objective reasons to disbelieve which are far more compelling than the claim simply being “startling”. “Who knows, maybe she’s right” does not reflect scientific epistemology, which is Bayesian, a matter of inference to the best explanation. It’s about weighing the likelihood that something is right, not knowing that it is right — pretty much an unobtainable state.

  185. #185 Mrs Tilton
    April 10, 2009

    ns @185,

    Let’s see. My view is that Susan has (i) made an extraordinary claim that runs starkly counter to what all evidence available thus far tells us, and (ii) failed to present any evidence that might support her claim; and hence that, while one can’t state categorically that her claim is false, absent any reason to believe otherwise one should reject it as at least so extraordinarily unlikely that its falsity is the appropriate working assumption. Or as some great philosopher once wrote somewhere (if I remember the passage correctly): “It’s about weighing the likelihood that something is right, not knowing that it is right — pretty much an unobtainable state”.

    So, did you actually have anything to add here, other than to recast what I wrote while getting to use the word “Bayesian”? Or I have I misread you, and you really are arguing that one would be compelled to disbelieve Susan even in the unlikely event she actually did have good objective evidence?

  186. #186 Inappropriate
    April 10, 2009

    He looks like a Human Sybian.

  187. #187 nothing's sacred
    April 10, 2009

    Mrs. Tilton: I believe I made my point quite clear in #185. To put it simply: Sven was right; your “correction” is a weaker argument than his.

  188. #188 nothing's sacred
    April 10, 2009

    P.S.

    “My view is that Susan has (i) made an extraordinary claim that runs starkly counter to what all evidence available thus far tells us

    I have no doubt that is your view. But the bold part is the point Sven made, which you struck out. Your “fix” deleted the causal connection between the evidence we have and the rejection of the claim. It is the contradicting evidence that is the reason (“for that reason”) that we disbelieve the claim, not simply because it is “startling” or that no supporting evidence was provided. It’s a matter of falsification.

  189. #189 catgirl
    April 10, 2009

    Susan,

    The more important question is, if you can control your periods, why do you ever choose to have them at all?

  190. #190 Dianne
    April 10, 2009

    Our concept of the fully human has, sometimes stutteringly, broadened from “men of my tribe” to “men of my nation” to “men of all nations” to “men and women of all nations” to “men, women and children of all nations,” and the halo is spreading into concern for apes and other highly intelligent animals.

    Why then should we stop at highly intelligent animals? Why not include all animals? And plants? And bacteria, yeast, rocks, etc? If an embryo, even a one celled embryo which has just finished fusing its pronuclei is included in the concept of “fully human” then I see no logical reason to exclude any eukaryote at the very least.