Patterico's Pontifications

2/16/2006

A Discussion of Abortion — Part Five: When Does a Fetus Resemble a Baby?

Filed under: Abortion,General — Patterico @ 7:15 am



We left off last night asking: when does a fetus begin to command moral respect, such that we should view it as something other than a mere clump of cells appended to a woman’s body?

I have repeatedly noted AMac’s comment:

Sometime in the 2 to 4 month time frame, an embryo becomes recognizable as a pre-human, sharing many of the features that a human exhibits as a born baby.

I have argued why many Americans may reasonably decide that the moment of conception is too early to treat an embryo as a full human, and why the moment of viability is too late to treat a fetus as a mere clump of cells. I think most people can understand these arguments.

But in their quest for a bright line, some may be frustrated by the lack of specificity in the “2 to 4 month time frame.” Still, a bright line is not always necessary. In his essay which inspired this series of posts, James Q. Wilson makes an excellent point:

[L]ife in general is filled with circumstances in which the alternatives are not clearly defined. I cannot define twilight, but that does not mean that I cannot tell the difference between night and day. Our inability to draw a line should no more disable us from making moral judgments about a fetus than it prevents us from making such judgments about children or adults.

Though no line can be drawn, we can identify, I think, the rough stage in embryonic development when, if we are made unmistakably aware of it, our moral sentiments begin to be most powerfully engaged. People treat as human that which appears to be human; people treat as quasi-human that which appears quasi-human. Imagine a room on the walls of which are arrayed, in chronological order, exact color photographs of the human embryo, suitably enlarged, from first fertilization, through early cell divisions and implantation, through the emergence of various human, or humanlike, features, and on to the complete fetus the day before normal delivery. There would be 266 photographs in all, one for each day of embryonic or fetal development. Suppose we then ask a variety of people, but perhaps especially women, to examine these photographs and to tell us in which one, or in which small cluster of them, they first see what appears to be “a baby.” Having examined such pictures, most people, I speculate, would select those that represent life at around 7 to 9 weeks after conception.

Wilson suggests that motion pictures would be even more enlightening.

It would also be more powerful to actually see the fetuses. We did this last year, at the Prenatal Exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. But failing that, looking at photographs is better than nothing.

So let’s do it. Let’s look at actual pictures of babies in different phases of fetal development. They are in the extended entry. Then answer these questions:

1) When do you think a fetus begins to resemble a baby?

2) Do you think the answer to Question #1 is morally important?

By the way, these are not the jarring pictures of aborted fetuses that activists feature on their web sites, but rather (in my opinion) beautiful pictures of fetuses in the womb in various stages of development.

Most of the photos featured below were taken by a famous photographer named Lennart Nilsson, who is world-renowned for his pictures of fetuses in the womb. I have done my best to verify that the photos correspond to the correct stage of development; in most cases I saw the same photos appearing on multiple sites, not all of which were pro-life sites.

Of course, it would be good to know something about the actual development that is going on inside the fetus, in addition to simply looking at pictures. So I have chosen to include descriptions of fetal development taken from pregnancy-info.net. Feel free to skim this information if you are short on time.

Don’t feel limited by my pictures. If you are curious, surf the Web, check out books, and think about the question yourself. It’s an important one.

The pictures are in the extended entry:

6 weeks:

At 6 weeks:

By the end of the week, your baby will be between 8-11mm, crown to rump. At this stage, the brain is clearly visible, as well as the gonads which are developing into either testes or ovaries.

The digestive system continues to develop. The anus is now formed and the intestines are growing longer. Bone formation starts this week; elbow joints and toe rays will now start to be visible. Your baby’s fingers and toes are just beginning to form this week and the arms can now flex at the elbows and wrists.

In addition, more facial developments are happening, including the formation of the tip of the nose and the upper lip. Flaps of skin over the eyes have begun to shape into eyelids. As well, blood begins to flow through a rudimentary circulatory system, while the digestive tract continues to grow, especially the intestines. And if this isn’t enough for one week, spontaneous movement also begins now!

7 weeks:

At 7 weeks:

Your baby is now between 0.9 to 1.2 inches (22 to 30 millimeters) and weighs around 0.14 ounces (4 grams). Your baby’s elbows should also be fully developed by now, as are the toe rays. The gonads should have completed their growth into either testes or ovaries.

The tail which was at the bottom of your baby’s spinal cord has shrunk and has almost disappeared by this week. However, your baby’s head has been growing – it’s now very large compared with the rest of the body and it curves onto the chest.

8 weeks:

At 8 weeks:

Toes, ears and the upper lip are now formed and by the end of the week your baby’s vital organs will be developed and starting to work together. During the week, the external genitalia will also start to take shape.

Brain growth increases rapidly by this week – almost 250,000 new neurons are produced every minute in your baby’s brain! As external changes, such as the separation of fingers and toes and the disappearance of the tail takes place, internal developments are taking place, too. Tooth buds form inside the mouth, and if you’re having a boy, his testes will begin producing the male hormone testosterone.

9 weeks:

At 9 weeks:

Your baby’s irises will start to develop this week and finger nails will appear. Your baby’s reproductive organs begin to develop rapidly this week and the external genitalia will be recognizable.

Skipping ahead to 12 weeks:

The fetus is now in the second trimester. The intestines have formed, as have the villi inside them. At 12 weeks:

Your baby is now about 12cm and is even producing urine. In fact, your baby is urinating into the amniotic fluid as well as ‘breathing’ the amniotic fluid into his lungs! This week, head hair, including eyebrows, develops. Lanugo, the fine hairs that grow over your baby’s body and protect his skin, also grows this week and will continue growing until just before delivery.

Reproductive developments also take place this week. In boys, the prostate gland develops. In girls, the ovaries descend from the abdomen into the pelvis. In addition, your baby starts to produce hormones this week because the thyroid gland has matured.

16 weeks:

In many babies, hair growth has continued, and the hair follicles have begun to produce pigment in babies destined to be brunettes. The baby has learned to make a fist and bend its arms at the elbows and wrists. Bone and marrow production has continued, as has muscle development. At 14 weeks, the baby learned to squint and frown. The sex of the baby can be determined.

At 16 weeks:

Your baby will now be about 20cm in length and 7 ounces in weight. The bones are still hardening and the finger prints will begin forming shortly as the finger and toe pads are now formed. The bones of the inner ear and the nerve endings from the brain have developed enough so that your baby will hear sounds such as your heartbeat and blood moving through the umbilical cord. She may even be startled by loud noises. Your baby’s eyes are developing, too – the retinas may be able to detect the beam of a flashlight if you hold it to your uterus. Your baby is also now able to swallow and she may swallow up to a liter of amniotic fluid throughout the day.

18 weeks:

At 17 weeks, girls already have ovaries filled with primitive egg cells. “Permanent teeth buds are forming behind the already formed milk teeth buds.” Babies can suck their thumbs. And at 18 weeks:

The skin is also developing layers which include the dermis, epidermis and subcutaneous layer. Baby’s hair and nails also continue to grow this week.

And so it goes.

Wilson continues with the point discussed above:

Suppose, now, that a woman considering an abortion were brought into this room and shown these pictures. She would be told something of this sort: “You are X weeks pregnant, as near as we can tell. The embryo now looks about like this (pointing). In another week it will look like this (pointing). You should know this before you make a final decision.”

Some will complain that this exercise would put a woman under moral pressure. Yes, it would; that is exactly why I think it should be done. The problem with deciding on an abortion without a visual encounter with the–fetus (or embryo) is that one is relieved, to a degree, of any sense of the extent to which another life may be at stake.

I do not propose this exercise because I am convinced that no woman, seeing the pictures, would agree to an abortion. There are many considerations that will enter into her decision, and some will, on balance, lead her to abort. Nor do I assume that most women now make this decision lightly or unthinkingly. I propose this procedure because it is likely to induce every woman to make a fully informed moral decision.

Let me make another point. I warn you: it’s a bit of a rant — and rants aren’t conducive to civil discussion. Nevertheless:

Justice Thomas’s dissent in Stenberg v. Carhart notes that fetuses more developed than the 18-week baby pictured above are killed every year by partial birth abortion, in which the abortionist stabs the baby in the skull with a pair of scissors and sucks out its brains using a suction catheter:

There is apparently no general understanding of which women are appropriate candidates for the procedure. Respondent uses the procedure on women at 16 to 20 weeks’ gestation. 11 F. Supp. 2d, at 1105. The doctor who developed the procedure, Dr. Martin Haskell, indicated that he performed the procedure on patients 20 through 24 weeks and on certain patients 25 through 26 weeks. See H. R. 1833 Hearing 36.

We are powerless as a people to do anything about this, short of a constitutional amendment.

Look at that last picture. Try not to be blinded by ideology and just ask yourself, as a human being: are you comfortable with stabbing that creature in the head with a pair of scissors and sucking out its brains? Because we allow that every year in this country, on normal fetuses aborted by women whose reasons for doing so are usually not medical in nature.

If you can say you are comfortable with murdering that creature with a pair of scissors, you are like the libertarian who says he wouldn’t prevent a healthy woman from burning herself to death. You are allowing your ideology to blind yourself to your basic humanity.

I cannot define at which moment the state should become involved in the abortion decision, but I strongly believe that we allow abortions too late, for reasons that are too flimsy, by procedures that are too horrifying. Hearkening back to Wilson’s point, even if you might argue that twilight is inherently vague, I can tell the difference between night and day.

I’ll get off my soapbox now.

P.S. In the descriptions of fetal development, note that you have to subtract two weeks from the week of the pregnancy to correspond to the appropriate week of fetal development. This is because the pregnancy-info.net site begins the “pregnancy” two weeks before conception. So to learn what an embryo looks like in the first week, you have to look at “week 3″ of the “pregnancy.”

149 Responses to “A Discussion of Abortion — Part Five: When Does a Fetus Resemble a Baby?”

  1. Please excuse me intruding but this is an interesting discussion though I have not read it all. Particularly interesting to me as I am probably an Australian conservative, but am very pro abortion on demand and I would suspect, indeed our polls tell us, that many conservative Australians are at least pro abortion without too many caveats. It seems very different in the USA. Anyhow a part of the Australian perspective.

    We have just had an abortion argument here, clothed in the guise of availability of RU486. Briefly, 4 women senators from the four parties represented in our senate, put up a private members bill to take control of RU486 away from the Minister and place it with the Therapeutic Drug Association, the usual body that decides whether particular drugs will be available in Australia. The power had been given to the Minister, because the Government had needed another vote to sell our public telecommunications organisation, literally. The vote in balance was fromwhom by Australian standards was a very conservative man. It is also the case in Australia that abortion falls within the state’s power. Only one state has “legalised “ abortion, but it is a readily available medical service in all states. Hence the federal government is only able to inhibit the availability of abortion, through measures such as refusing RU486 or removing the medicare rebate. A difficult move however, for the obvious reason, abortion would then be available only to the wealthy, and as the procedure is for all forms of d&c’s doctors could probably get around it fairly easily.

    The current Minister of Health had refused RU486 for any purpose. His Catholicism became quite a target but that was to a certain extent an own goal, he did put it out there, hence made it a moral issue, hence drawing attention to the fact that his position was effected by his Catholicism. We are as you would probably know a far less religious country than the US and have possibly stronger objections to religion intruding into the affairs of government or the governed..

    Only 3 of the 30 female senators opposed the change, some of the most vigorous debate came from the prominent Liberal (liberal/conservative party). Even though they spoke of process they made it very clear that they recognised that their opponents were about restricting abortion availability. They were very strong on, as are many Australians, that it is a woman’s choice. And the idea that counselling period should be compulsory is not popular, the idea that the state would try and talk a woman out of abortion would generate a lot of anger. You congratulate your commenters on their civility and our debate was also very civil. The Prime Minister had made it a conscience vote for his party (as you would know party discipline is a big thing in our version of the Westminster system) and all other parties did the same. I would suggest however that the civility would have disappeared fairly fast if the anti-abortion proponents had pushed much harder. I was polled and while from the sound of this, the questions, if an American was asked they would have thought reasonable, made me very angry. And from the reports in the media so were many other women who were polled. This is not meant to be disrespectful, but it seemed like the poll, and its aims had been picked up holus bolus from the US and served out to Australians. Again with respect we are aware of the political and cultural and organisational tactics employed within the US to pull back abortion, and well, we don’t like them.

    Aside from the discussions about when life begins, what it is to be human. etc., there are other aspects of this debate in Australia which may not be relevant in the US though I doubt it. That is in a global world, there are other places to go for surgery.. Some Australians are already getting surgery in India for example. India, the only legislated requirement for abortion, if I remember correctly, is that the practitioner be qualified and accredited. Financial reasons are sufficient. I think by the way that even in Iran an abortion can be obtained for financial reasons.

    But close down abortion here, or make it difficult and the affluent jump a plane, which seems a likely outcome in the USA also. A grossly inequitable outcome. And I think Australians would die in a ditch before they would allow the government to stop women leaving.

    I remind, the change to make abortion easier was driven by Australian female politicians, almost unanimously, and with fairly strong male politician support. And very strong public support. I guess it is that we are markedly less religions, maybe more pragmatic than Americans? Peter Singer is Australian. One of the male politicians who voted to have RU486 available did so because as a young doctor working in the UK he had been involved in very late term abortions. His objection wasn’t to late term, rather he saw RU 486 as another means of saving women from what is a ghastly happening.

    Anyway, thanks interesting discussion and interesting insight into some of the differences between Australia and our great mate the USA.

    I did do some philosophy at Uni and have developed arguments about the potential verus actual humanness of the embryo to baby to child. I do in fact feel quite comfortable about abortion on demand and consider that late term abortions must be available to women if that is their choice. I don’t see a baby when I see those pictures above. I see an embryo and a fetus. I am an atheist so I have no concern about souls. Oh and a mother.

    Thanks for the opportunity

    Ros Marsh (7842cc)

  2. Ros, Australians made the decision regarding abortion policy by using the usual processes of representative self-government — the legislature. Pro-abortion advocates in the US persuaded 5 justices on the Supreme Court to take this policy question away from elected representatives and enshrine it as a constitutional issue. I would consider Australia’s policy to be a legitimate one; the US policy on abortion is not legitimate, not because of its substance, but because it is the result of cheating (making up rules to guarantee a particular result and to leave the majority without a say in policy).

    TNugent (6128b4)

  3. No, it doesn’t matter how much it “looks like us.” (That connection by resemblance has been the source of some of our greatest human atrocities down through history.) Objectively and factually, the “clump of cells” has the same DNA as the mom or engineer or Nobel Peace Prize winner or mass-murderer that the fetus will become. Because there is no clear bright line after conception, we have people willing to extend “fetushood” to a year of two after birth, as if a child is on warranty and we may send it back if we’re not completely satisfied.

    If abortion is permitted for any reason other than the physical well-being of the mother, partial-birth abortion–and beyond–is inevitable. The legal implications are far-reaching, because if human dignity doesn’t extend into the womb, the “valuelessness” of the fetus will–and does–extend out of the womb.

    Jan Bear (afb9f3)

  4. Jan Bear, to respond, I’ll ‘cheat’ and copy part of a comment I made on Part Four to here. This is a point that I think many of us in the middle share. (’The Middle’ was described in the Part 3 post as people who generally hold that a fetus acquires progressively more right to “moral respect” in the 2-month to 9-month window.)

    A philosophical position may necessarily lead to corrolaries that appear to be absurd. The advocates of such a stance should show that these corrollaries either don’t follow, or aren’t absurd. Else, those of us who are more practical than philosophical will reject the position.

    The claim is that “human life begins at conception, and fertilized eggs, clumps of cells, and fetuses are identical in moral terms to infants, children, and adults.”

    Corrollaries:

    –An infertile woman who chooses IVF is morally indistinguishable from the murderer of a 20-year-old college student (a multiple murderer, given the number of embryos that are destroyed in vitro).

    –A Tay-Sachs carrier who chooses prenatal testing and then aborts a genetically defective first-trimester fetus is the moral equivalent of the murderer of a disabled child.

    To me, these fantastic conclusions suggest that the initial premise is faulty.

    AMac (b6037f)

  5. One’s humanity is not in any way dependant on one’s appearance. Not for the young, not for the old, not for different races, not for men and women, and not for the disabled. The introduction of such a criterion would be extremely dangerous to all people’s civil rights.

    A better question would be – when is there a significant change in the aging process that would indicate the start of a separate and distinct human life? But we all know that the obvious answer is not the one we want, so we try to make up something else. But there are consequences to any of the arbitrary criteria we may choose.

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  6. Jan Bear is sorta right.
    morphology is irrelevent.
    we can do abortion.
    so we will do it.
    the only question is will it be done legally, or illegally?
    and what about bioengineering and the j-womb?
    isn’t all this strum und drang about abortion about to become a footnote in history?
    throw down Roe v Wade on constitutional terms and stop this silly waste of time.
    abortions will still be legal in all states except for possibly utah.
    or perhaps that isn’t what you want.
    😉
    but states will choose if they want biotech revenue from research centers, and that will put paid to the ESCR/SNTCR controversy.

    matoko_platonist_against_aristotelians (5d3f43)

  7. 1) When do you think a fetus begins to resemble a baby?

    At 12 to 16 weeks the fetus develops the recognizable landmarks of a human (cf., say, other primate) baby. I believe (though I haven’t checked) that this correlates with the onset of higher neurological functions–which is one of the important similarities to me.

    Many of us will take the photographic resemblence as a proxy for these more difficult-to-ascertain characteristics.

    2) Do you think the answer to Question #1 is morally important?

    Yes.

    AMac (b6037f)

  8. Amphipolis,

    Among Patterico’s commenters, you are one of the most literate, thoughtful, and committed proponents of “human life begins at conception.” Thus, I’d be interested in your thoughts on the two corrollaries I mentioned in comment #4, if you have the time and inclination.

    AMac (b6037f)

  9. A baby does not resemble an octogenarian. A woman does not resemble a man. A person who was horribly disfigured in an accident or due to disease may not resemble – what? What would be the gold standard of humanity that we are to be compared with?

    The question is completely irrelevant. Youth does not make one less human. The fetus resembles a human at a given age – the criterion is merely a function of age.

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  10. Amac, at 12 weeks the embryo is still classed as a nerula.
    the neural tube is not closed.
    12-16 weeks would demonstrate rudimentary neuralogical function, ie pain/stimulus response.
    perhaps development of consciousness should be you r criteria. 😉

    matoko_platonist_against_aristotelians (5d3f43)

  11. I too think that to attach moral standing on the basis of appearance is reprehensible.

    I also think it’s had to argue that an embryo is completely “valueless”. The question is not whether a fetus should have rights, the question is how to resolve the conflict of those rights with the rights of the woman.

    The rights of a one year old are simply not in conflict with the rights of it’s mother.

    nittypig (4c1c43)

  12. Response to AMac:

    “Murder” is a legal term having to do with premeditated killing. If a killing is legal, it is not, by definition, murder. “Homicide” is the killing of a human being.

    All abortion is homicide. But there may be negligent homicide, homicide in self-defense, accidental homicide. It’s up to the legislatures and the courts to assign penalties for actions deemed to be crimes. Killing in self-defense is not a crime. Running over a man in one’s car, driving safely on a dark road on a foggy night, when the dark-clad man is lying in the middle of the road on the far side of a curve, for example, would probably not be deemed a crime.

    You ask about specific instances of abortion. I do think in-vitro fertilization is wrong, given the reason you offer. But I don’t hold someone responsible for murder when she is acting within the law and without understanding the moral implications of what she’s doing.

    As for the parent of the Tay-Sachs sufferer, again, the killing is legal, so it’s not murder. But why kill someone for having a disease? And why, if it’s OK to kill before birth, is it not then not OK to kill the same child a year or so later — only the squeamishness of the already-born. And, as we’ve seen, that squeamishness can be overcome.

    Jan Bear (afb9f3)

  13. Amphipolis,

    AMac was too charitable: you draw faulty analogies, refuse to defend your position when asked reasonable questions, and you don’t know what “arbitrary” means. I am, however, genuinely interested in your opinions on these issues, as I imagine most others here are, but I wish you would engage them honestly instead of just repeating moral absolutes.

    First, when Patterico asks when a fetus resembles a human, it is actually a very narrow question: when does a fetus take on the significant physical (and, perhaps, preliminary mental) characteristics of a human. You then seem to be suggesting that if we classify fetuses this way for the purposes of abortion, it is the equivalent of deciding if we can kill people on the basis of any conceivable physical difference. This is patently absurd. Instead, please explain why physical development of the fetus, past conception and before birth, is not a meaningful benchmark for the purposes of abortion, not anything else. Once you have done this, perhaps an analogy can be helpful, but you are skipping this first step.

    Second, try answering some of the questions thoughtfully, such as those presented by AMac, instead of dodging with moral absolutes and faulty analogies.

    Third, viability is not an arbitrary point in the abortion debate: it is not picked at random, it is the point where, to many people, the fetus most resembles a human being, and for reasons explained by others (including myself), its life interest outweighs the mother’s autonomy. Just because you disagree doesn’t mean the point is random. Nor does the fact that the line is hard to find mean it is arbitrary: uncertain does not mean random. Again, I would appreciate you thoughtfully engaging in a debate as to why this is not a good line to draw, but since there are very good reasons why this line is not the same as saying we can kill 30 year olds, simply asserting moral absolutes will not cut it.

    Thank you.

    Matto Ichiban (4d4be8)

  14. “Homicide is the killing of a human being.”

    That isn’t how Websters defines it.

    “Homicide: The killing of one person by another”

    nittypig (4c1c43)

  15. AMac:

    You are too charitable – but thank you. This has been a very thought provoking discussion. Matto – I’ll try to get to you this afternoon (EST).

    These are moral questions. Morality requires that we sacrifice in order to do what’s deemed right – protect the weak and helpless, defend the rights of the inconvenient. It is based on (among other things) the principle that all men are created equal. Therefore, a person’s life is not deemed worthless because they are inconvenient, or because they are a stranger, or because they are young, or because they are different from us. Morality that compromises these principles to make particular situations more convenient is worthless. All of our rights depend on our society accepting this. And we only know our worth when we are tested. So:

    –An infertile woman who chooses IVF is morally indistinguishable from the murderer of a 20-year-old college student (a multiple murderer, given the number of embryos that are destroyed in vitro).

    Of course – except I may give her the benefit of the doubt that she has believed the lie that those babies are not distinct human lives, and so she did not deliberately murder them. But what she did is as wrong as mass murder. The youth, size, and unfamiliarity of the victims is irrelevant. Some couples choose to risk spending more and only create one at a time instead of creating many in case the first fails. For others there is the inevitable culling of those that implanted but can’t be carried to term without risking the others. Allowing this situation in my opinion is reprehensible. Consider adoption, and ask lots of questions!

    –A Tay-Sachs carrier who chooses prenatal testing and then aborts a genetically defective first-trimester fetus is the moral equivalent of the murderer of a disabled child.

    I know parents who gave birth to severely damaged children in order to hold them and love them every moment of their little lives. We as a society have traditionally cared for the sick and dying, we have not exterminated them. My reasoning is the same as above.

    Many false tests lead to abortions of healthy children. Our oldest was thought to have a genetic deformity, and they suggested abortion before they even knew for sure. She is now learning to drive. And that was a genetic blood test, not the notoriously inaccurate AFP test.

    All of this requires moral leadership, which is in very short supply.

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  16. These examples are the exception. There are over a million abortions a year in this nation, most of which are early and due to lifestyle issues. Keep that in mind.

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  17. Frankly, all of this abortion debate is an exercise in futility with concepts such as bright lines, viability, moral imperatives and belief systems. This is more suited for a intelligent design/evolution debate. Which brings me to the elephant in the room. The first step out of box should be to look to the science of the issue. There isn’t a biologist or medical doctor that would say that life doesn’t begin at conception. And that, in the case of humans, it is a human life. The next step is for society to determine what value it puts on that life, if any, before it is born.
    Interestingly, currently our society puts more value on the life of an unborn eagle than it does an unborn human.

    Ron Olliff (096a64)

  18. “1) When do you think a fetus begins to resemble a baby?”

    When the pregnancy test came up positive.

    “2) Do you think the answer to Question #1 is morally important?”

    Absolutely.

    I know my answer looks very tongue in cheek, but as someone who has been pregnant (3 times!) I can tell you that the clump of cells was a baby to me from the moment I discovered I was pregnant. Looking at the pictures, I would say at least 6 weeks. And, seriously, as soon as any definable features are noticable, I would call it a baby.

    “I don’t see a baby when I see those pictures above. I see an embryo and a fetus.”

    That’s not what most parents think of the ultrasounds. I find this a very sad statement. And I’m not sure I’d be proud of being the home of Peter Singer.

    sharon (a02134)

  19. Question #1 When do you think a fetus begins to resemble a baby?

    Subjective question. I know in past posts we discussed that ‘resemblence’ need not apply to “appearance”. So aren’t we sliding into the viability issue again? At least in a reverse manner? And if we are going to discuss ‘viability’ then shouldn’t we seek to be objective in that search?
    AMAC seems to live at the top of the bell curve. A lot of discussions have spoken of Neurological development, EEG’s and the like. So does ‘resemblence’ mean have neurological functions of a full-term baby?
    My answer: Presence of Brain Wave activity

    Question #2 Do you think the answer to Question #1 is morally important?

    Seems to be more of a litmus test of where the answerer stands on abortion. To the Pro-life the answer is No, it doesn’t matter, because you shouldn’t abort a child/fetus/embryo/zygote ever.
    To the On demand Pro-choice people, the answer is No because a woman can do with her womb as she pleases. The only people, I’m guessing here, that would answer yes, are those that see the abortion issue as shades of gray, those that believe in a sliding scale of moral respect, human rights and criminality.
    My answer: Yes

    paul (8e5be1)

  20. There are some good comments in Part 4 – I encourage those who are interested to read them. I need to get some work done now.

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  21. Our distinguished host wrote, concerning partial birth abortion:

    We are powerless as a people to do anything about this, short of a constitutional amendment.

    No, actually. If an unborn child is declared to be a legal person (something the courts did concerning corporations, and something the legislature should be able to accomplish without a constitutional amendment being necessary), the debate would be over; the unborn child would be entitled to the legal protection of the laws, and could not be deprived of his life absent due process.

    Dana (3e4784)


  22. 1) When do you think a fetus begins to resemble a baby?

    Physically, by outward appearance, I see the resemblance at 6 weeks (since you don’t have any pictures prior to that).

    As Ron Olliff pointed out…sort of…an egg doesn’t resemble an eagle, but it has more protection than an unborn human.

    2) Do you think the answer to Question #1 is morally important?
    No. A human life is a human life, at any stage of development. Take away the support systems required at any of those stages (breathable air, food, water for us born humans, oxygen and nutrition provided by the mother for unborn babies), and the human being will die.

    Viability is a random line. The life starts at conception. Its progression through the stages of development, and the requirements to continue progressing, changes as the life grows and changes.

    Kheldar (83107d)

  23. feh.
    FIVE parts of this idiocy?
    Your definition of a human being should be functional, not morphological.

    matoko_platonist_against_aristotelians (5d3f43)

  24. how about, when the neocortex and the hippocampus have developed as functioning regions of the brain?

    matoko_platonist_against_aristotelians (5d3f43)

  25. I was a teenager in the 1960’s and I was strongly pro-choice for 25 years. Now, after having had children – including a profoundly disabled child – I am pro-life. It’s not an emotional decision for me, it’s a logical decision. There is no magic time when that clump of cells changes into a person if not at conception. It doesn’t matter what the child looks like at 2, 7, 18 or 25 weeks. If we go by appearance, my 13-year-old disabled child would not be considered human by some people.

    From an intellectual standpoint, what kind of a hypocrite would I be to cherish my own children while at the same time agreeing that other children (or fetuses, for those of the pro-choice persuasion) aren’t even people and thus can be discarded whenever the mother decides? It may be legal but it’s not logical to proclaim a specific point after conception as the magic moment that a fetus becomes a person.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  26. Why is it that people’s sense of when the fetus is a baby is determined primarily by visuals? Outward appearance is not necessarily the most important ingredient in a moral judgment – at least, I don’t think it should be.

    Stuart (d209a7)

  27. Jan Bear (#12):

    My use of the word “murder” in the corrollaries in Comment #4 has, I now see, gotten in the way of a clear-cut response. Of course, if an act is legal, it isn’t illegal. But it’s the moral implications that are relevant to this discussion.

    Here, then, is the sense that I was trying to convey in #4, concerning people’s conscious, informed decisions to undertake IVF, or genetic testing followed by therapeutic abortion.

    (Paraphrasing): Maliciously and deliberately intending to commit a homicidal act at some time before it is actually committed. Malice is shown when the killer behaves with reckless disregard of the safety of others, so as to betray his or her depraved heart.

    I’d be interested in any human-life-begins-at-conception (“LB@C”) adherent’s further thoughts as to how we should view people who knowingly choose IVF, test for Tay-Sachs, or engage in other activities that are likely or certain to lead to the killing of a zygote or embryo. Are they the moral equivalents of the murderer of a teenager?

    AMac (b6037f)

  28. Amphipolis (#15):

    You’ve answered the questions I posed in comment #4 plainly and clearly. Thanks.

    From my middle-of-the-road perspective, this highlights the risks in cooperating with the LB@C movement in working for “decently restrictive” abortion regulations. The state (or nation) could end up with laws that have profound and cruel impacts on many families, based on absolutist views that are held by well under 16% of Americans.

    AMac (b6037f)

  29. Of course embryos and resulting fetuses are human beings. We wouldn’t be having these arguments if it weren’t so. The argument is about values and morality. If not, why not show the mother considering an abortion exactly what is done to the child? Doctors describe surgical procedures to their patients before performing them, so why not abortions? You know why. It’s because it isn’t just a clump of cells, etc. or a kidney or a tooth being extracted.

    Back when Roe vs. Wade came into being, out of wedlock babies were considered an embarassment or worse. Now, this stigma is much less strong as movie stars and entertainers do this commonly. I don’t believe that the original reasons for legalizing abortions bear as much weight as they did in those dark old days. It just gets harder and harder to justify morally.

    Florence Schmieg (a1e126)

  30. Dana, do you think it would be a good thing if a court were to declare that a fetus is a person for purposes of the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th amendment? If you don’t mind, please consider the likely reactions, impact on our culture (political and otherwise), and other aspects of whether such a thing would be “good.”

    TNugent (6128b4)

  31. Not by way of deep study, review of the latest abortion statistic I can find show that the largest segment of the population that use abortion are those young women whose mental maturity had not caught up with their physical maturity (

    paul (8e5be1)

  32. Matto:

    please explain why physical development of the fetus, past conception and before birth, is not a meaningful benchmark for the purposes of abortion, not anything else.

    A person has many physical attributes. Some are not developed until adulthood, some degenerate in old age (I now wear bifocals). This is part of being human. We age. Which attributes would you focus on? It’s arbitrary. Why one (brain function) and not another (breathing) ? It’s not that it isn’t a meaningful benchmark, like the first step or the first word, it’s that it is arbitrarily chosen to meet a preconceived schedule of convenience. A fetus resembles a baby more and more as it ages, at what point does it resemble a baby enough for it to be a considered a person? This is an arbitrary and subjective measure. The answer will be – when it is most convenient to do so.

    Compare the before and after (this can be done with any criterion):

    Resembles a baby a bit less … resembles a baby a bit more

    vs

    One sperm and one egg … one separate and unique human being

    More later, I hope

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  33. AMac, #28

    Since you ask for clarification:

    In the immortal words of Horton, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” If you ask about the act of killing an embryo, except to preserve the physical well-being of the mother, I will say, yes, it’s wrong.

    If you ask me to address the motives of some hypothetical person who engages in the act, I’m just not going to go there. There’s not enough space in the universe to specify what’s really going on with any one person — the fetus, the mother, the father, the doctor, the receptionist, the legislator, the voter . . . . — to make some blanket statement about it.

    Jan Bear (f2b602)

  34. Jan Bear (#34):

    Thanks for the response to the question I posed in comment #4. It emphasizes the wide range of opinions held by reasonable people on this matter.

    If there are other LBAC’ers who would be inclined to offer an opinion on the morality of IVF and Tay-Sachs testing: I’m interested in your reasoning and conclusions.

    AMac (b6037f)

  35. Amph,

    Fair enough. I take it you see marking the “human” line at anything other than conception to be a pretext for making a decision based on convenience, utility, or something else, and not upon actual moral determinations about personhood. As your main argument, you point out that conception is unique in this moral issue because it involves the first existence of humanity that cannot be analogized to other stages of development/life, whereas other benchmarks use attributes that may or may not exist at other stages in human development/life. Absent, but I think safe to assume, is the worry of a slippery slope leading to moral attrocities based on the same reasoning as abortion.

    Once again, you imply that viability proponents are pulling that line out of thin air, but this is not the case. The criteria defining personhood are not arbitrary: certain things separate humans from other animals, as shown by our feeling that we should punish a deliberate killing of a human as murder but not the killing of a cow. BOCTAOE. Higher brain activity is a good benchmark. We don’t protect unborn children because we dig their DNA, but because it may become a thinking human being, and we can empathize with it. I don’t feel the same way about the 1 week old fetus as I do about the 18 week old one because it shares fewer of these human qualities. Only because I know it may become a human being one day do I accord it any moral respect, not because of its DNA.

    This is not arbitrary reasoning just because it is abstract.

    Analogies to later stages of life are of limited help. First, even if we choose brain activity as one criteria for abortion, and we find killing adults who lack this brain activity moral wrong, this is not inconsistent. There are plenty of other reasons why we would not end an adult’s (or child’s, or infant’s) life: emotional attachment, possibility of recovery, difficulty in determining intent, and probably other reasons. A fetus does not share these qualities: it could not have any intent because it has never thought, emotional attachment is less (your mileage may vary), it has not developed any state to recover to. This is not arbitrary. It is not a pretext. It is morality, and it is fuzzy.

    Matto Ichiban (4d4be8)

  36. If I understand him correctly, James Q. Wilson is saying that there is a point where a fetus is so undeveloped as to be an inapt subject of respect as a human being; a point where it is has matured to the point that its physical appearance compels us to recognize its inherent dignity as a person; and a “twilight” transitional period in-between. I think this is problematic in at least two ways. First, it assumes that there are actually two states of fetal development that are “as different as night and day”. However, it is hardly helpful to appeal to this analogy when speaking of fetal development, unless we are first willing to grant the very point that is at issue: that there is a genuine metaphysical distinction that can be made between a very early stage embryo and a later stage fetus. That is, to put it mildly, begging the question.

    The second problem with Wilson’s analogy is his claim that the appropriate basis for drawing a meaningful moral distinction between early and late stage fetal life is the degree of engagement of our common moral sentiments (when we look at pictures or movies of the embryo or fetus). This assumes that our visceral reactions, or (as I think is more accurate) our socially-conditioned sensibilities, have a direct and inerrant connection to fundamental moral truth. Is this really a sound approach? A century or two ago, it would not have been difficult to find experts like Wilson who would have helpfully explained to us that there are dark-colored men and light colored-men, and a twilight area in-between, but everyone knows a slave when they see one. And this would have been, in fact, a generally honest account of the moral sentiments of the day. It did not, however, prove to be a satisfactory resolution of the matter.

    Ultimately, if we want to justify abortion at even the earliest stage, we have to embrace one of two propositions. Either we say that a woman has the private right to kill an innocent human being in her womb, or we say that the thing that we are killing is not really a human being. Each of these in turn imposes an obligation to draw a morally-justifiable distinction. We have a strict rule against killing innocent human beings, even human beings who lack the capacity to walk, to talk, to care for themselves, or to meaningfully interact with others in any routinely human way; what principles of justice do we draw upon to confer the right to kill them under these circumstances? Alternatively, we have an organism that has an individual and immutable genetic identity that is undeniably human; on what principles of logic or science do we classify it as something else?

    From the pro-life point of view, these fundamental premises have great importance. The intentional killing of an innocent human being is the gravest offense man can commit. Civilized society does not tolerate it in any other context, and in fact we reserve our harshest criminal sanctions for homicide. The justifications put forth in support of abortion rights – personal autonomy, risks to life or health, economic hardship, or even rape and incest – would not even be satisfactory to significantly mitigate the intentional killing of an innocent human being outside of the womb, much less excuse it altogether. How then can we accept the proposition that abortion (at any stage) is not only a “right” but is beyond the bounds of legitimate political regulation? Similarly, we are mindful of the sad history of mankind, and how we have been able to convince ourselves against all evidence that certain human beings can be classified as something less than human, to be enslaved or killed as it suits our purpose. Why do we presume that we are somehow immune to the same sort of self-interested moral blindness that has plagued mankind from the beginning of time? The only safe course is to insist upon the intrinsic dignity of all human life.

    Jim B (4d4be8)

  37. …we have an organism that has an individual and immutable genetic identity that is undeniably human; on what principles of logic or science do we classify it as something else?

    Jim B, that is actually a fallacy of equivocation if you accept the idea that there is any difference between human material and a human being in the full sense of the term human being. A fertilized egg is of course “undeniably human,” but is it a human being? There is a big difference there. An acorn isn’t the same thing as an oak tree, but that doesn’t mean that we must classify an acorn as belonging to some other species other than an oak tree.

    Psyberian (1cf529)

  38. The fetus begins to resemble a baby at (12-2) 10 weeks. I believe that this is morally relevant even if it isn’t the most definitive moral consideration. The fetus starts resembling a human more and more since it is developing a brain and other organs which are more like us.

    I’m with you on the partial-birth-abortion issue Patterico. That’s one hideous abortion.

    Psyberian (1cf529)

  39. Matto:

    So, you have said that viability could be defined –

    From part 2 post 33:
    1. When a fetus could survive on its own outside
    2. When a fetus could survive on its own outside with limited aid
    3. At the earliest point when medical science could conceivably allow a fetus to survive
    4. Could be approximated with a date
    5. When there are life functions associated with being human
    6. With the ability to suffer as a thinking person is able to suffer

    From post 13:
    7. At the point where the fetus most resembles a human being (to many people)

    From post 37:
    8. Higher brain activity

    As you can see, there is a wide variety here although several are closely related. I would venture to guess that there are as many definitions of viability as there are posters on this blog, maybe more. What is arbitrary is the value assigned to various human attributes. Shall we value brain activity, or independence? With outside aid, or without? Does it really matter? We could just pick a date, so many months from the last menstruation according to the mother, and let the calendar decide based on some loose medical or mental justification. Thus we would determine who lives and who dies.

    Nor does the fact that the line is hard to find mean it is arbitrary: uncertain does not mean random.

    Good point. But there is a perfectly good and rational line – conception. That’s when a separate and unique life begins. Why don’t we just use that?

    As for applying one criteria to the unborn and another to born – there are far more similarities than differences. Your criteria would apply to a newborn, and maybe to others to various degrees. I see no reason why not, it has happened. We are determining what constitutes human life here. Or perhaps we should add to the list of viabilities emotional attachment, intent, and health?

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  40. Psyberian said @ comment 39:

    ” … if you accept the idea that there is any difference between human material and a human being in the full sense of the term human being. A fertilized egg is of course “undeniably human,” but is it a human being?”

    Help me out here, Psyberian. What do you mean by “human material” and how is human material different from a human being? Is this your way of saying that a fetus isn’t a human being until it looks like a person and, until then, it’s merely human material?

    People have surgery every day in which human material is excised – legs amputated, diseased organs removed, etc. It sounds to me like you are equating clumps of cells with fetuses until some magic moment when it becomes a human being. I understand the reasoning – in fact, it’s the whole point of this post – but your argument is circular unless you can logically explain why an early-term fetus is no different than a clump of cells.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  41. DRJ, my use of the phrase “human material” was only used to differentiate between a potential human and a human. I think that it is obvious that even a fertilized egg is not merely a “clump of cells” since it is, at the very least, a potential human being. My main point is that if you take this issue out of context and talk about acorns and oak trees, it becomes more obvious that they are different. If you destroy the acorn, have you really killed an oak tree?

    By the way all of us think that there “some magic moment” or span of time when a human begins existence. To me, it seems more magical to think of that occurrence as happening in an instant as an event rather than a process.

    Psyberian (1cf529)

  42. Excuse my English lately.

    Why should I have to study English? I’m never going to go to England. – Homer Simpson

    Psyberian (1cf529)

  43. Presbyrian:

    Your acorn/oak tree analogy is inapt. An acorn is an acorn, not a tree, and it is only a potential tree if it is planted and begins to take root. There is no doubt that a fertilized and implanted egg, in utero, will be born unless something “uproots” it – e.g., by abortion, disease, or some other misfortune.

    If you want to compare an oak sapling with a fetus, then I can see the analogy. And my answer is: Yes, you would be killing an oak tree if you kill the sapling.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  44. Patterico:

    I have argued why many Americans may reasonably decide that the moment of conception is too early to treat an embryo as a full human…

    I must have missed something. Where can I find the reasons that state why conception is necessarily too early?

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  45. I have quoted AMac at length on this — see for example his conundrums earlier up the thread.

    I thought you had a decent response as well. None of this is easy . . .

    Patterico (8ccd07)

  46. Jim B (#38) presents some good arguments in favor of “life begins at conception” (LBAC). But they aren’t the only good arguments being made here.

    Every living person acquired his or her genetic identity at the point of fertilization. To LBAC, this means that society must therefore recognize every fertilized egg as a human life. More than that, as an individual with all the rights of a human being. But this does not necessarily follow.

    “Life,” “human life,” “potential human life,” “possible potential human life,” and “life exhibiting the qualities that we hope to nurture in our children” are not synonymous concepts. We should not conflate them in this discussion. Let me address the first four, and then return to speak carefully about the last.

    First, many fertilized eggs are incapable of developing into an infant; many more lack the potential to become a physiologically normal infant. One estimate is that 30% to 40% of the eggs of women at fertility clinics are genetically abnormal; another is that over a quarter of pregnancies spontaneously miscarry (references on PubMed). All oak trees were acorns; not all acorns can become oaks.

    More pointedly, most of us in ‘the middle’ do not see the distinguishing qualities of humanity in a fertilized egg or in an early embryo. Given nine months of the right circumstances, for a majority of eggs, they may develop. For a sizeable plurality, they cannot. But in any case, such qualities are not manifest at the time of fertilization, or at the time, say, of an early abortion. The LBAC view, as eloquently and forcefully expressed in this thread, is that the existence of the potential is sufficient grounds to declare zygotes to be the moral equivalent of fully-developed humans. But this is not akin to the conclusion of a geometric proof, where demonstration of A and B must logically force acceptance of conclusion C. It is closer to a statement of faith.

    One person’s belief that life begins at conception does not invalidate another’s different perspective. That otherwise reasonable people hold such a wide range of views is an important clue that a wide range of reasonable views on the matter are likely to exist.

    I’ll try and speak with care about “life exhibiting the qualities that we hope to nurture in our children.” Many here have faced the choice of whether to allow the use of the tools of medicine and science to predict if the embryo or fetus they’ve helped to create suffers from a catastrophic defect. Most who haven’t faced this choice will know family or friends who have. For the purposes of this discussion, the action being considered in the event of a positive test is an early therapeutic abortion.

    This causes anger, or anguish, for some disabled people, and for some parents of disabled children. (The availability of cochlear implants is offensive to some congenitally deaf people.) The following statements are uncomfortably close to one another:

    1. In being willing to abort a fetus with a demonstrated severe defect, I am demonstrating that I don’t fully value the humanity of children and adults with this infirmity.

    2. In wanting the best for the child that I hope to have, I am willing to abort this fetus, with its severely circumscribed prospects.

    Are these assertions identical? They are not, unless, perhaps, you presuppose that LBAC. Is the slippery slope a concern? Yes, as has been alluded to multiple times in this discussion. But I would contest the assertion that prenatal testing is a cause of any of society’s current woes. Is the testing of eggs and fetuses “Playing God”? Again, yes: yes in the sense that most medical progress of the last 150 years has disrupted the natural order, and offered people the prospect of choices that, in the past, were the province of God, or nature, alone.

    Every person reading this blog has benefitted from these sorts of medical advances.

    If I entered this discussion believing that life begins at conception–that is, that the essence of human-ness is acquired at the moment of fertilization–I would find these considerations unpersuasive. And the same for arguments advanced by Paul, James B. Shearer, TNugent, Psyberian, Matto Ichiban, Psyberian, and others. We try and discuss with care, yet we are talking across a chasm. I appreciate that there are thoughtful voices on the other side, and hope for the same consideration in return.

    To move on to a point raised earlier by TNugent: any procedure for determining abortion policy that takes the wishes of the American people into account will not deliver an outcome that addresses the central concerns of those who believe that LBAC, as these positions have been represented here.

    Is that an acceptable outcome? Or is a more-restrictive set of policies simply a way-station for, say, forcing a judicial determination that zygotes and embryos are persons covered by the 14th Amendment?

    AMac (22bc87)

  47. OK. I fail to see the absurdity of his cases. They seem reasonable to me, albeit extraordinarily difficult.

    But leaving conception behind leaves certain conundrums as well. How can one be partially human? Sounds like being a little pregnant. Is an infant partially human? An adolescent – 99% ?

    Or, if a fetus at conception is not human at all and becomes human (no partial credit), that would necessitate a rather firm line. How then does it become human, what precisely determines when this occurs (and WHY), and what was it before?

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  48. While I sympathize with those who insist that we must draw the line at conception (that is, protect from the basic fertilized egg stage just as any older stage) because there is no other “bright line” in development, that insistence, extended logically would lead us into a reducto ad absurdum.

    No society has ever really treated early embryos like infants or older, and no society ever really could. In one of these threads, someone brought up the example of IVF and the almost sure destruction of some fertilized eggs, asking if those involved should be treated like heinous murderers. I don’t think that’s the half of it.

    Even those of us who have conceived (or even tried) in the “natural” way, have probably participated in great carnage by the standards of the conception absolutists. My wife and I lost as many as we bore, and that’s only the ones we know about. Ah, you say, but those losses weren’t intentional. But if we lost half or more of our born children due to accidents, we’d be getting some very serious visits from child protective services, with our ability to keep our remaining children seriously in doubt.

    The simple fact is that anyone trying to reproduce has a very great likelihood of causing the death of one or more of what the conception absolutists consider a full human being. We would all shudder at conduct that put post-birth humans at this sort of risk. Yet I don’t see any advocacy by these folks of an end to human reproduction. But, as I see it, following their views to their logical ends would lead to the extinction of the human species.

    ShadesOfGray (855766)

  49. AMac @ comment 48:

    More pointedly, most of us in ‘the middle’ do not see the distinguishing qualities of humanity in a fertilized egg or in an early embryo. Given nine months of the right circumstances, for a majority of eggs, they may develop. For a sizeable plurality, they cannot. But in any case, such qualities are not manifest at the time of fertilization, or at the time, say, of an early abortion. The LBAC view, as eloquently and forcefully expressed in this thread, is that the existence of the potential is sufficient grounds to declare zygotes to be the moral equivalent of fully-developed humans. But this is not akin to the conclusion of a geometric proof, where demonstration of A and B must logically force acceptance of conclusion C. It is closer to a statement of faith.

    My I suggest that these comparisons are slightly off. Rather than analyzing abortion by comparing a newly fertilized egg with 15-week-old fetus, I think we should compare the humanity of a fertilized egg with a tumor or some other self-contained clump of human cells. Both are alive, but only one is capable of independent human life. The fact that circumstances like disease or genetic abnormalities may prematurely terminate the life does not change the fact that it is capable of independent human life in a way that the tumor will never be.

    If “it” doesn’t seem like a person it’s easier to abort, but if a fertilized egg is not life while a 32-week fully viable fetus is, at what point does it become a human life? That issue seems to be the point of this post, but the only way to justify a change in its human status is “it feels-looks-acts like a baby now”. This is a subjective test and, by that standard, it’s a baby whenever you want it to be. Recall Sharon’s comment @ #18 – it was a baby to her the minute she found out she was pregnant. I suspect that women who choose partial birth abortion don’t view a 32-week fetus as a baby. In my view, the subjective approach doesn’t work apart from it’s moral or legal status.

    And for all the lawyers out there, if a fertilized egg isn’t a human life may I suggest we revisit the Rule Against Perpetuities and the concept of lives-in-being.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  50. DRJ (#51):

    > I think we should compare the humanity of a fertilized egg with… some other self-contained clump of human cells. Both are alive, but only one is capable of independent human life.

    It’s now clear that the nuclei of ‘regular’ cells have the potential to direct embryogenesis, under the right conditions. There are at present only trivial technical obstacles to cloning humans, as was done in the 1990s with Dolly the sheep. Does this invalidate LBAC, from the point of view of its adherents? Of course not, but it does remind the rest of us of the limits of the quest for simple, ya-got-it-or-ya-don’t determinants of what human-ness is, and when an entity has it. Look at the clear-cut cases in the right light, and they aren’t so unambiguous, either.

    > if a fertilized egg is not life while a 32-week fully viable fetus is, at what point does it become a human life? That issue seems to be the point of this post…

    Well, no. As has been expressed in different ways by a number of commenters, only the LBAC adherents insist that human-ness is binary, switching from not-human to human at some discrete point (i.e. conception). The rest of us have opined that it is acquired gradually.

    > This is a subjective test and, by that standard, it’s a baby whenever you want it to be.

    Straw man. We haven’t discussed tests. By definition, those of us who believe in shades of grey acknowledge that meaningful tests will have considerable ambiguity. That doesn’t mean that they are wholly subjective. Recall the photos and developmental descriptions in the extended post, above: they aren’t arbitrary.

    AMac (22bc87)

  51. Shades:

    In past centures, before the expectation of low infant mortality rates, all parents dealt with your dilemma. They were not considered murderers. That was part of life, part of the risk of marriage. Procreation is deadly serious business. And, depending on where you peg your bright line, the dilemma stays with you (unless you believe in sub-humans).

    Murder has to be deliberate. You are the one bringing up absurd propositions.

    But how would you answer my questions?

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  52. AMac:

    The rest of us have opined that it is acquired gradually

    If so, what is viability? At one point a person is considered not human. At another he is human enough to have his life protected (I suppose?) That is not a bright line?

    Why would we not consider others partially human? What’s so special about the en utero state that would make one sub human, whereas an adult who has fewer human attributes would not be? And what protection would be given to sub humans, and why?

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  53. Those may not be cases of homicide, but they certainly could be cases of negligence. Did the mother behave in ways that may have led to the failure of the zygote to implant? As we learn more about what affects the probability of implantation wouldn’t we be obligated to more closely limit women’s behavior?

    nittypig (4c1c43)

  54. What’s interesting here is the assumption that the embryo/early fetus doesn’t look “human.” But the reality is that they do look human because that’s what they are. Just because we’re less familiar with how a human organism looks at the embryonic stage of development than we are with how a human looks at the newborn, toddler, adolescent, adult stages of development we somehow think (based on are unfamiliarity) that the human embryo doesn’t look human. Of course, it looks human because that’s what humans at that stage of development look like.

    Jivin J (fac739)

  55. The alternative is that a fetus is sub human, or sub alive – neither alive nor dead, in some spooky in between state. Much like a guy I knew in college.

    That could be very useful. If someone’s life is inconvenient, just declare them sub human. After all, we can always find some way they are different.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  56. Amphipolis:

    It seems that comment #57 is a claim that your position is reasoned from first principals, but that others have arrived at their beliefs in order to minimize inconvenience. Else, why the repeated talk of “just declare them sub human”?

    Am I reading you correctly? If I’m not, kindly clarify.

    If I am, do you offer similar explanations for others’ divergences from your views on all matters of moral gravity, or just this one?

    AMac (b6037f)

  57. Have you ever heard of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act? This is no absurdity, this is the law.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  58. AMac:

    I have offered no first principles but reason itself. There has been no compelling reason given why life does not begin at conception. There has been no other threshold offered that makes more sense, and the logical problems I mentioned in post 49 are still on the table.

    All I offer is reason, but convenience trumps reason every time. Hey, I wish I could make 2 + 2 = 5 sometimes too.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  59. Amphipolis:

    Your comment #49 is an assertion that a firm line must exist, before which an entity is not human, and after which, it is fully human. You believe conception is that divider. You posit semantic (not logical) problems for alternative ideas.

    All who have read this far have been exposed to diverse views on this point.

    convenience trumps reason every time

    I take this to be an allusion to your stance that others arrive at their beliefs in order to minimize inconvenience (see #57 & #58, above).

    Do you offer this explanation for others’ divergences from your views on all matters of consequence, or just abortion? Or am I missing what you’re trying to say?

    AMac (b6037f)

  60. The problem with the idea that the life of a human organism begins at some time other than conception isn’t semantic, it’s scientific. I can’t understand how people think that two human beings mate, create some entity which is growing, directing its own development, etc. and yet that entity becomes a human being sometime later than when he/she was first formed.

    For decades, embryology has told us when the life of a human organism begins and that is conception.

    Some examples:

    “Although human life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed. … The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity.” (O’Rahilly, Ronan and Müller, Fabiola. Human Embryology and Teratology, 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29).

    -“Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being.”

    [Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2]

    -“The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”

    [Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

    Jivin J (fac739)

  61. AMac:

    I understand that you believe the transition from non-human life to life is a continuum, much as James Wilson describes the path from night to day. From a scientific standpoint, you may be correct that it isn’t as important to identify the moment when human life begins as it is to understand the process. But from a legal standpoint, it is crucial to identify that moment.

    For instance, we must know when life begins in order to decide when to protect the fetus in utero. If a fetus is a person at 5 weeks gestation, intentionally punching a pregnant woman in the stomach hard enough to cause her to abort (or to otherwise damage the fetus) could be a criminal act against both the mother and the fetus. If a 5-week-old fetus is not a person, this punch would only be a crime against the mother.

    Similarly, several commenters have suggested the possibility that government will legislate women’s behavior during early pregnancy if we recognize a developing fetus as a person. Of course, that is already happening and I think it will continue – not just for pregnant women but for everyone (think smoking, McDonalds, etc.), subject only to the limits we as a society place on the government’s right to legislate our behavior.

    One of the problems of Roe v Wade was that it attempted to impose a conclusive scientific answer to a legal issue. I’ve read that Justice Blackmun consulted extensively with the physicians of his former client, the Mayo Clinic, to understand pregnancy and to pinpoint the viability of the developing fetus. It is tempting to merge science and law into the perfect answer, but I’m not sure they can be synthesized on topics such as this. We can throw up our hands, bemoaning that science (or law) doesn’t work that way so we must accept it’s a difficult question and move on. Or we could realize that, like it or not, we must identify a time when life begins for the purposes of the law if not for science.

    So we have that bright line in Roe, but the “problem” is that wonderful science has given us viable fetuses at younger and younger ages. Do we move that bright line back each year as science marches on? Will it be like the census, and every ten years we re-evaluate when life begins? If/when we get to the point where babies are grown from conception in laboratories – like hot-house plants – would that mean life begins at conception or will it still be a continuum for you? Because if so, what would prevent someone from growing fetuses for their organs and to make sure to harvest them prior to 12 weeks, 16 weeks, or whenever science accepts that life begins?

    I don’t mean to sensationalize this discussion with discussions of organ harvesting, nor do I want to trivialize it by my following comments. But your continuum theory reminds me of speed limits. There are many reasons why people should be able to go any speed they want – driving conditions vary with the weather, time of day, traffic, etc. An arbitrary speed limit doesn’t fit every driver’s needs – what if they are driving to the hospital with an ill child? Many places in Europe don’t have speed limits and do fine. You get the point. But in general I think we are all better off with a posted speed limit that attempts to bring order to the chaos driving might become without such directions.

    Abortion needs directions, too, or we risk ending up with a culture that de-values the lives of the unborn as well as the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled. Not to mention the dangers of a declining birth rate. All the technology and ingenuity in the world won’t sustain America if we don’t have people, and Europe is a good example of what happens if you rely on other nations to populate your country.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  62. If there is such a thing as life, and if we did not exist from eternity past, then there must be a line before which we existed and after which we did not. Unless you posit sub humans, but even for them there would presumably be a line of legal protection. How is this semantics? Please explain.

    All who have read this far have been exposed to diverse views on this point.

    Many diverse views, none of which can be shown more relevant than others or superior to conception. And they leave us with sub humans or some phantom undefined line that is not able to be argued away. I can’t read minds, but I do suspect that convenience weighs heavily on reason in this discussion.

    I suppose that I did bring forth the value of life as a first principle. I thought that was given in this context, but now I’ll make it explicit.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  63. before which we existed and after which we did not

    Uh, I think that’s backwards. Sounds nice though. I’ll chalk it up to semantics.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  64. Amphipolis:

    “That could be very useful. If someone’s life is inconvenient, just declare them sub human. After all, we can always find some way they are different. ”

    Isn’t that exactly what we do to cows and chickens?

    “There has been no compelling reason given why life does not begin at conception. There has been no other threshold offered that makes more sense…”
    I have agreed earlier that conception is the change where you have the most significant change in life. The reasonm I agree with this is that genetics are an abivious property of any licing cell, and these change when the ovum is fertilized. But there are plenty of non-genetic changes that are pretty significant also. I’m not sure I’ve understood exactly why you believe conception to be the best place to draw a line.

    Is it:
    1) Genetics: Human identity and the rights that we grant all humans are profoundly associated with genetic identity. The only time in human development that there is a change in genetic identity is at conception
    I suggest this because of this exchange:
    “Actually life does not begin at conception, the egg and sperm are alive.”
    “Yes, but they are not a separate and distinct human life. ”
    The sperm certainly and egg perhaps are physically distinct from the father and mother by the time conception can occur. In what way are they not seperate and distinct? The only way I can see is genetically. If this is the reason I can understand your point of view, once I accept that rights depend on genetic identity the only possible conclusion is that abortion is homicide.

    2) Life expectancy:
    I suuggest this from your comment that: “There is a significant difference between a sperm, with a life expectancy of a few days, and a fertilized egg, with a life expectancy of 80 years.”
    Later on you seemed to say that life expectancy is not a good basis on which to accord rights, but I’m a litle unclear on how that statement was consistent with this earlier statement.
    As I’ve said before I don’t see that the life expectancy of a fertilized egg is necessarily any better than that of an unfertilized egg. If the zygote fails to emplant it will be dead in a few days either way. If I accept that rights derive from life expectancy I could just as well choose implantation as the bright line where rights accrue.

    3) It is the easiest transition to define:
    I suggest this from you comment that conception is a “perfectly good and rational line” comment, from descriptions like ‘arbitrary and subjective measure’, and “Viability is not a reliable measure”

    This is an eminently practical reason, but I can’t understand why a moral question should be resolved by a question of “measurability”. Besides, implantation is also very easily defined and is neither arbitrary nor subjective, so even if I accept the argument that we should use the best defined transition as the point at which a human has rights, I could easily come to a different conclusion that you do.

    4) Something else that I have missed. Obviously if one believes that humans are imparted with souls at the moment of conception one must conclude that abortion should be banned.

    What I’d like to hear from you is the premises you hold that, were I to accept them, would lead me to conclude that conception is the moment in the process from ovulation to birth at which a human should be treated as a person.

    As a folow up, you said:
    “As for applying one criteria to the unborn and another to born – there are far more similarities than differences.”

    Do you then believe that there are more differences (or I suppose more IMPORTANT differences) between an unfertilized egg and a fertilized egg than there are between a newborn and a fertilized egg? Or indeed an adult and a fertilzied egg?

    nittypig (4c1c43)

  65. nittypig:

    Isn’t that exactly what we do to cows and chickens?

    Yeah – I value human life, animal life is tasty. But, seriously, animals are valuable, but not when compared to humans. At least in my opinion. I don’t mind discriminating against chickens, I do against other humans.

    I have agreed earlier that conception is the change where you have the most significant change in life… I’m not sure I’ve understood exactly why you believe conception to be the best place to draw a line.

    It seems to me that your earlier statement is reason enough. I’m not saying that conception is the only change, just that it makes the most sense as the start of life. Genetics is one significant measurable part of a fertilized egg being a separate organism. But if you put the chromosomes on a slide, they would not be alive. A cell is alive, and is a unique, separate creature.

    Regarding life expectancy, it is not guaranteed, as you point out. But it is reasonable to expect a fertilized egg to live for eighty years. It is unreasonable to expect a sperm or an egg to. it is a separate human life, they are just human sex cells. I go through a few billion a week 😉

    As far as the earliest transition, it is certainly that. But the question remains – what do you have before and after? Before conception you have sex cells, after you have a unique human entity. Before implantation you have a human entity that needs nourishment, after you have a human entity that depends on its mother. I think one can determine which is the greater difference.

    As far as the human soul, that’s another issue which I don’t think is necessary for this discussion. I have confined my analysis to life, which most people acknowledge exists.

    Regarding my far more similarities than differences comment, I left that a bit too vague. All I mean is that there are many cases that would apply to fetuses and to adults. Others have mentioned brain function, that is a good example of what I mean. I think that just about any criteria set up to determine what is human would reasonably apply across the board.

    I’m just trying to work this out like anyone else. Please don’t be put off by my language, I really am trying to think through what you and others are saying.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  66. I understand that you apply different moral criteria to chickens and humans, I do to. My question is, what is your philosophical reason for doing to. I’ve said earlier that mine is more or less utilitarian.

    And I would really like to understand your premises. In other words, what basis are you working from that leads to the conclusion that a fertilized egg deserves full legal protection. The three choices I listed above are really very seperate premises. Which one is it? Or is it another. You seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on the “unique human identity” of the zygote, and this would lead me to believe that your premise is genetic – any cell with a seperate genetic identity is worthy of legal protection. And once I accept that premise I have to conclude that abortion should be legal.

    nittypig (4c1c43)

  67. It’s interesting to think about the Animal Rights position as it applies to this debate. It’s not a philosophy I subscribe to, but I’ll try and state it fairly:

    We call all members of our species “humans” and accord them protections and rights. This is true even for individuals who are profoundly retarded, autistic, brain damaged, or are suffering from Alzheimers.

    Clearly, there are individuals of many other species who exhibit more “human” traits than do some homo sapiens: traits such as sociability, intelligence, symbolic reasoning, experiencing pain and fear, empathy, use of tools, use of language, ability to communicate, self-awareness, humor, and ability to plan.

    Such traits have been expressed to high degrees by, variously, chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants, octopi, wolves, squid, gorillas, whales, orangutans, hyenas, dogs, and other domesticated animals.

    If we treat severely disabled homo sapiens as “human,” we are logically obligated to abandon speciesism, and accord at least this much respect to our fellow animals. Intentionally killing animals is as immoral as intentionally killing people. No utilitarian argument (food, shoe leather, medical research) can be strong enough to overcome this moral imperative.

    This strikes me as similar to the argument being made here by those who believe that the essence of humanity is bestowed in its entirety onto an individual at the moment that it obtains its diploid genetic identity.

    Each argument starts and ends with an absolute belief.
    (Fertilized egg the moral equivalent of a human / animal the moral equivalent of a human).

    Each rejects the notion that the world is complex, that day and night are separated by an indeterminate shades-of-gray twilight period.
    (May fetuses, or animals, be accorded different degrees of moral respect, depending on the particulars of the circumstances?)

    Each rejects the idea that factors other than the object of special concern can be important in determining conduct.

    I don’t imagine that many LBAC adherents will suddenly become vegans as a result of being exposed to Peter Singer’s ideology. I suspect some will have to parse their rebuttals of his position quite carefully, in order to avoid suggesting approaches that are similar to those used by those of us “in the middle” in the discussion that is taking place here.

    AMac (b6037f)

  68. If you take the approach that genetic identity bestows rights the LBAC approach has no problems whatsoever with animal “rights”.

    nittypig (4c1c43)

  69. AMac @ comment 69:

    I want to make sure I understand what you are saying in your comment.

    Are you equating the belief that human life begins at conception with the animal rights’ and other beliefs espoused by Princeton’s Professor Peter Singer? If so, is that because you view these beliefs as intellectual equivalents, as similar examples of extreme thought, or is there some other basis for your statement?

    DRJ (8b9d41)

  70. Putting them as intellectual equivalents would perhaps be a _little_ provocative. I believe he’s asking a simple question – what line of reasoning allows you to reject the animals ‘rights’ discourse while maintaining LBAC. I (sort of) brought up this point, and my intention was simply to point out that animals have many characteristics in common with adult humans, while a single cell fertilized egg only displays a few.

    Fundamentally the question is the same – what entitles any living entity to the rights that we accord one another (in an American context these might be life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) and denies them to another living entity. I don’t believe that anyone wants to recognize the rights of an unfertilized egg, so we are all denying rights to a living, human entity.

    nittypig (4c1c43)

  71. Thanks for your response, Nittypig.

    Religion is one basis to discriminate in favor of humans and against animals. There are other philosophical reasons, but religion works for me.

    DRJ (8b9d41)

  72. I suppose I would agree with all the reasons you state – they all point to conception. Personally, sitting here now I would probably put more emphasis on #3, except expand it from the easiest transition to define to the time the growth and development (the ageing process) of a human starts. It seems to me that that is the most reasonable time to consider life beginning. Go earlier and there is no separate human life to consider, go later and you are already into the human growth and development process.

    I don’t think genetics is enough. Genetics does not make one alive. However, the genetics of conception is arguably the most significant event in life. The combining of the two cells into one cell, which is most clearly seen in the genetic transformation, seems to me the obvious start of human life.

    I think humans are so superior to animals that the most drastically disabled or injured human life is worth more than theirs. I would certainly value a fetus more than theirs. It is human, they are not. My reasons have more to do with general observations of the human race compared to animal life than utilitarianism, I think. Being an American carries certain privileges, being human does too. You can add to this religious reasons.

    I hope these half-baked rationales answer your questions. I don’t pretend to have all the answers.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  73. I hadn’t read any posts since 68. I just can’t keep up right now – I’ll try to check in later.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  74. DRJ:

    Yes, nittypig (#72) has the sense of why I posted about ‘animal rights’ in comment #69.

    In the abortion debate, one extreme can offer a feminist analysis and claim that the only real issues concern the rights of the pregnant woman. I’ll call this the ‘left;’ they are unfortunately underrepresented in this thread.

    The other, ‘right’ extreme can declare that a fertilized egg is morally identical to any other human being, and thus the only real issue is the homicide of pre-born people.

    In the middle, I, along with E.O. Wilson and about two-thirds of Americans, try to reconcile these and other considerations–knowing that no happy compromise is possible. Much less a consensus public policy.

    The animal rights movement takes the absolutist arguments of the ‘right’ side of the abortion debate and says, “I’ll raise you one!” Mostly, they are applying the same reasoning to a different claim, the moral equivalence of humans and animals.

    LBAC’ers may find themselves making the sorts of of statements about ‘animal rights’ that they have rejected in the context of ‘fertilized human egg rights.’

    I think each claim has a certain, limited merit.

    AMac (b6037f)

  75. Amac brings up a good point. Why haven’t we discussed the ramifications to the mother?
    If we mandate live births what is the result? Do we really want to condemn a child to neglect, resentment and possibly abuse? As an adopted child myself I am well aware of other options. By I am also well aware of the realities of adoption. I was a healthy, white, baby boy. If we mandate births then we are going to have mandate perinatal care.
    Statistic show that a majority of first time abortions are performed on the youngest women/girls. (

    paul (464e99)

  76. AMac:

    I think your response to my earlier question is: The similarity between those who believe human life begins at conception and Peter Singer’s view on animal rights is that both are extreme viewpoints, although Professor Singer’s views may be a little more extreme. Did I get that right?

    However, I’m still not clear exactly what your position on abortion is, other than it’s very murky and gray. If, as you say, we can’t reach a consensus on this issue, then that leaves things at the status quo – abortion on demand until viability.

    I find it interesting that you state 2/3rds of Americans agree with your position. Most Americans are pro-choice. I guess that means you believe pro-choice – with some limits – is the moderate view while pro-life beliefs are extreme. Did I get that right, too?

    DRJ (8b9d41)

  77. DRJ:

    Well, yes, I do find “human life begins at conception, and a fertilized egg is the same as a postnatal human in all ways that matter, morally” to be all the way to one side of the spectrum of reasonable views. How could one get further to the ‘right’–by claiming that unfertilized eggs are like persons, perhaps?

    I’ve tried to listen carefully to the arguments presented; being all the way to one side is hardly the same as being ‘wrong,’ is it. I don’t find them persuasive, but I now understand better why others do.

    FWIW, I strongly suspect I’d find Singer’s view to be both extreme and wrong, if I took the time to learn more about animal lib.

    My views on abortion aren’t particularly murky, except inasmuch as anybody who accepts that there are tradeoffs to be made between competing priorities has a murky view. Life is often like that. Yes, I’m unenthusiastically ‘pro-choice,’ in the context of this LBAC discussion, though I’d be damned as an anti-choice restrictionist by the real pro-choicers. And yes, the CNN poll I linked to earlier suggests that most Americans take positions that are more like mine than like yours, or NARAL’s.

    As far as the public policy implications, I couldn’t put it better than TNugent did in two insightful comments (#30, #37) on Patterico’s post #3 in this series.

    AMac (b6037f)

  78. AMac:

    I’ve tried to listen carefully to the arguments presented

    I complied with your request in post 8. Do you care to reciprocate and respond to my question in post 64, which originated from post 49?

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  79. AMac:

    Throughout this discussion, I have read your posts carefully as well as the posts to which you made reference. Permit me to make the following final comments:

    1. I still don’t know where you stand on abortion except that you are some version of pro-choice, and you apparently would make abortion decisions on a case-by-case basis or you want to maintain the status quo. I still maintain that your philosophy on abortion is murky and, in fact, I have come to the conclusion that you believe everyone ought to be overwhelmed by the gray, murkiness of abortion.

    2. It appeared to me that you framed the debate as a philosophical discussion, but now you suggest abortion is a political reality that pro-life advocates should accept. Nevertheless, you failed to respond to my posts when I addressed the political and legal aspects of abortion.

    3. At this point, I find your position on pro-life “extremists” almost humorous. We live in a country where abortion has been available, almost upon demand, for 30 years. We are not even close to changing that given today’s political realities. As you yourself noted, most Americans are pro-choice. And while my philosophy is pro-life, I sadly admit that I don’t lose sleep over this issue even though I think it’s a mistake. So it’s surprising that you think pro-life advocates are extremists. For every pro-life believer out there, there are dozens who fight relentlessly to maintain a Supreme Court dedicated to protecting Roe v Wade.

    I think you have fallen into the trap of believing that people who won’t compromise must be extremists. Consider for a moment that a reluctance by pro-choice or pro-life believers to philosophically compromise, negotiate, or arbitrate this issue might be for a reason other than extremism. And if you still think that I’m an extremist, then frankly so are you because you are just as unwilling to compromise.

    4. One of your points concerned how to reach consensus on abortion. You seem like a reasonable person. How exactly do you expect to reach a consensus by labeling the people with whom you disagree as extremists?

    At this point, I yield to your debate with Amphipolis. Best wishes.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  80. Amphipolis:

    I’ll try and respond. You believe that there must be a line before which we did not exist and after which we did. There are many examples of such binary conditions in everyday life. The light is off, or it’s on. We make the flight, or we miss it. A woman is pregnant, or not.

    There are also many cases where the yes/no model is a poor fit to reality. E.O. Wilson discussed the concept of twilight in his essay. When is the water too hot? Are my jokes funny enough?

    The limitations of on/off logic doesn’t mean that twilight, bathwater, or humor are not real, or cannot be meaningfully discussed.

    I stated early on that the formation of an individual’s diploid genome at the time of fertilization is a discrete event. It does not follow that this must be the moment at which a life assumes whatever-it-is that makes a person a person. And that, therefore, conception is the occasion at which a living cell of no special note (the haploid egg) becomes a living cell (the diploid fertilized egg) that deserves the full panoply of moral regard and legal protection that we extend to those we consider to be human beings.

    It would help the LBAC case if you would describe the nature of the human essence we’re discussing, and explain under what circumstances it attaches to diploid genomes, and how we could go about measuring it. Do fibroblastic cells have it? How about defective fertilized eggs that are incapable of progressing past the blastula stage? If an unethical scientist was to clone a skin cell’s diploid nucleus, at what point would it acquire this essence? On being introduced to the oocyte’s cytoplasm? Never?

    My own stab at an answer: I’d look instead at the development of higher brain function in the developing fetus. More than most anything else, thinking is the physiological process that distinguishes humans from other creatures. A threshold of electrical activity in the brain (or a proxy for this, or a similar trait) will necessarily have some degree of arbitrariness. But that is because it is a measure of a trait that is slowly and gradually acquired. It is not capricious. 10 weeks plus-or-minus one week (say) is not synonymous with “anything goes.”

    In comment #64, you mention “sub-humans,” which I take to mean people who are very deficient in brain function, yet are still accorded the moral and legal status of human beings. My opinion is that it’s not possible to construct a non-arbitrary code that contains a meaningful definition of human-ness, and includes these individuals. But that’s okay. As a society and as individuals, we see the value of including such people within our circle. And many of us have strong emotional ties to severely retarded relatives, or to elderly family members in the grip of advanced Alzheimers’ disease.

    It does not necessarily follow that citizenship rights must be extended to cells that might, or might not, be capable of someday developing into a human.

    AMac (b6037f)

  81. DRJ:

    If I had a blog, I’d want you as a regular commenter. Patterico is lucky.

    To your points in comment #81:

    1. Where I stand on abortion: Seems to me we’ve mostly been discussing the issues underlying the stances. As it’s turned out, the conversation has mainly been between human-life-begins-at-conception and the-fetus-gradually-acquires-moral-standing. It’s been a useful discussion.

    Since you ask: if you elect me Emporer, I will follow TNugent’s advice and reverse Roe v. Wade, returning the matter to the legistlatures. I’d recommend they charge a panel of embryologists and neurologists with determining (a) at what week do most fetuses show clear early evidence of higher brain function, and (b) what is a readily-measured proxy (fetal length estimate via sonography?). Once that week arrives, the fetus has some standing: an abortion would require demonstration of some set of circumstances before some institutional panel. Time passes, circumstances tighten, with the procedure being essentially impossible once the fetus has a full nervous system. I would also I follow Wilson’s suggestion that people view photos that show what is to be destroyed. And so on.

    2. Philosophical discussion: I agree with many of the points you made in comment #63, and had raised some of them earlier on. On the “political reality that pro-life advocates should accept”: Should accept? I don’t know. Many people in the ‘teens were appalled by public drunkenness and saloon brawls, and the Temperance movement got its amendment. Didn’t work out the way they hoped. If I could make abortion very rare and late-term abortion nonexistent, I would. But I’m not sure such restrictions would have the effects I’d want them to.

    3. Extremism: I wrote in comment #79 that the view that “the fertilized egg is the same as a postnatal human in all ways that matter, morally” strikes me as being all the way to one side of the spectrum of reasonable views. I don’t know what a more stringent view would be.

    I admit to being shocked at reading that families choosing IVF or genetic testing would be viewed as the moral equivalent of murderers. While a logical consequence of LBAC, that did, and does, dismay me.

    As to extremism on the pro-choice side: well, yeah. While most Americans are pro-choice, it’s a reluctant stance that has little in common, I think, with the aggressive views expressed by Kate Michaelman.

    4. “Consider for a moment that a reluctance by pro-choice or pro-life believers to philosophically compromise, negotiate, or arbitrate this issue might be for a reason other than extremism.” / “How exactly do you expect to reach a consensus by labeling the people with whom you disagree as extremists?”

    Good points. I’ll try and avoid using such labels.

    Thanks for writing.

    AMac (b6037f)

  82. It does not follow that this must be the moment at which a life assumes whatever-it-is that makes a person a person.

    No, but there are no other times that would make more sense. There is no other time in human development that would better qualify. All other times are based on an arbitrarily chosen measure. This time is based on the start of a separate and unique life form.

    And that, therefore, conception is the occasion at which a living cell of no special note (the haploid egg) becomes a living cell (the diploid fertilized egg) that deserves the full panoply of moral regard and legal protection that we extend to those we consider to be human beings.

    So there is a line – AMac’s black and white line between a life with no special note and a life that deserves the full panoply of moral regard and legal protection. We don’t have to elaborate on the nature of the human essence we’re discussing, what you stated is enough. Either a life deserves the full panoply of moral regard and legal protection, or it does not. No shades of gray. Practically speaking, any ambiguity with the time of conception pales in comparison with any other measure, such as brain function.

    Would an 8 week old fetus be sub human? Are there other sub humans with low brain function? Why electrical brain function, and not memory, or reasoning ability, or self-awareness? Is it good that it develops gradually – or convenient?

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  83. I admit to being shocked at reading that families choosing IVF or genetic testing would be viewed as the moral equivalent of murderers.

    By genetic testing you mean aborting a fetus on the sole basis that it is apparently disabled in some way. I presume you mean that a fetus that passed the test should not be aborted. This is no different from a mercy killing of an adult, the rationale does not require the child to be en utero. It is another discussion altogether, although certainly related. Paul in post 77 would allow mercy killing based purely on speculation of future child abuse. That did, and does, dismay me.

    The only other case that you have said would force you to see gray is IVF, more on that later (I hope).

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  84. Another thing –

    10 weeks plus-or-minus one week (say) is not synonymous with “anything goes.”

    I doubt that is old enough for a reliable genetic test. Are you willing to abort many healthy children, or should we just say life begins later?

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  85. People who believe that LB@C are not necessarily against all forms of IVF. Deliberately putting multiple fetuses at mortal risk in order to save money and make the process more convenient would be considered wrong. However, if each individual fetus is given the best possible chance – this may be acceptable.

    We all know that the value of a poll depends on the value of the question asked and the level of public understanding of the subject. Most people are not aware that IVF creates multiple fertilized eggs, and most people are not aware of the problem of frozen embryos. If we were to ask the question – should frozen embryos be destroyed or saved for couples to adopt – I think I know how it would come out. What about – should mothers be put in a situation, due to IVF, where they have to decide via ultrasound which baby in their womb should live and which should die – how do you think the public would respond?

    Here is an interesting recent article in one of the more thoughtful social conservative rags that deals with IVF. The same publication published interviews with Peter Singer here and here.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  86. Would an 8 week old fetus be sub human? Are there other sub humans with low brain function? Why electrical brain function, and not memory, or reasoning ability, or self-awareness? Is it good that it develops gradually – or convenient?

    Amphipolis, I believe that talking about useful human life might be helpful here. In part, human life consists of being a sentient, thinking, feeling being. When a person is pronounced brain-dead, there is no reason to keep the body alive. Keeping a brain-dead person alive is useless. The brain-dead person still has all of their genetic material. The cells in their bodies are still alive. But if the genes are still a part of this person as when they were first conceived, then genetic makeup is a necessary, but not a sufficient reason for regarding a human life useful. Therefore, having human genetic material is not definitive in this situation. Note that I am talking about useful to the person in question themselves – not necessarily useful to anyone or anything else.

    Is a brain-dead person sub human ? In a sense, yes the person is – but not in a perverse sense of their looking like a Neanderthal or other ancient ancestor. Their “life” isn’t worth living. A newly fertilized egg is in a different situation because it will become a sentient being; but during that point in time, it isn’t.

    Psyberian (2bee16)

  87. The brain-dead person is brain dead due to sickness or injury, and his condition is assumed to be permanent. A fetus with no detectable brain function is that way merely due to youth, and the situation is temporary. There is no reason to value brain function over muscular control, or the presence of electrical activity over speech.

    Infants are useless. All they know is how to find a nipple. Where do you draw the line, and why?

    This conversation has been great. I’m used to it going straight to there being no such thing as life at all. I’m glad you guys believe that human life has some intrinsic value. I’m tired of arguing with Lady MacBeth, and of being accused of hating women.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  88. The brain-dead person is brain dead due to sickness or injury, and his condition is assumed to be permanent. A fetus with no detectable brain function is that way merely due to youth, and the situation is temporary.

    That’s irrelevant in the moral situation at hand. The idea is: if you prevent a fertilized egg from developing, you are not killing a person – there is no one to “save” there yet.

    There is no reason to value brain function over muscular control, or the presence of electrical activity over speech.

    So you are for keeping brain-dead people around until they’re body dies or else it is murder? What purpose could such an existence serve?

    Psyberian (2bee16)

  89. The idea is: if you prevent a fertilized egg from developing, you are not killing a person – there is no one to “save” there yet.
    OK, but this begs the question – if a person is not there yet, and you acknowledge that a person is expected, then when would that person otherwise be there? Until you have a rational answer to that query, your argument falls apart. You can’t presuppose no life without showing why you do.

    The fact that life is expected after conception, but not before, should cause you to stop and think – I would think.

    So you are for keeping brain-dead people around until they’re body dies or else it is murder? What purpose could such an existence serve?

    I never said that – I frankly don’t know, it would probably depend on the permanence of their situation. But if we declare people sub human due to temporary low brain function, we could reasonably have license to indiscriminately slaughter anyone who does not meet the same mental standard.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  90. OK, but this begs the question – if a person is not there yet, and you acknowledge that a person is expected, then when would that person otherwise be there? Until you have a rational answer to that query, your argument falls apart.

    What my position is on when a developing human gets full moral respect is another matter and doesn’t beg the question since I was focusing on the moral status of a (human) fertilized egg. I’m just trying to get you to concede with me that a fertilized egg doesn’t deserve full moral respect at that stage of development.

    As for the brain-dead person’s state, yes – assume that it is permanent and irreversible.

    As far as the slippery slope argument concerning killing others with brain disabilities, I don’t believe that is much of an issue in the US at any rate since we usually err on the side of caution and protect such individuals. There is the dividing line between some brain waves and no brain waves at all (or similar testing – I’m no neurological specialist in that area).

    Psyberian (2bee16)

  91. AMac @ comment 83:

    I did not read your comment until today, and I am surprised. It turns out we agree. I, too, would reverse Roe and give the matter to the state legislatures. I think we would see a broad range of solutions to the abortion question and, ultimately, a few people might choose to move to jurisdictions where the solution suited them. Ultimately, I don’t think things would change that much although it might disrupt the scientific and investment community regarding cloning and genetics research. I’m uncertain how this would play out in that arena.

    This discussion bothered me a great deal and I decided to sleep on it. I had no intention of revisitng it, but overnight I was able to identify what is bothering me.

    I work in the legal profession and, naturally, I tend to view things from a legal perspective. I have concluded that you work in the sciences. Just as I want to find a legal solution to every problem, you focus on the scientific aspects. Your outline of the scientific panel that would govern abortion is a good example of how a scientist would handle this problem. At heart, I think this is what Justice Blackmun and the Mayo Clinic doctors envisioned or at least hoped for at the time Roe v Wade was decided.

    Sadly, even though it may be the right thing to do, it won’t work. Law sinks to the lowest common denominator. We must fashion a workable rule that will protect the innocent in spite of the system, not because of it. And even though abortion has nothing to do with euthanasia or diability, the legal system will apply what we do with abortion to the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled – because we have no choice. If we find one solution that works or even comes close to working, it’s far better to apply that solution to similar problems than it would be to re-invent the wheel. Further, we don’t have the resources or the highly trained staff to do in a legal setting what you do in the research sciences.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  92. Psyberian:

    I’m just trying to get you to concede with me that a fertilized egg doesn’t deserve full moral respect at that stage of development.

    I disagree.

    When then would it deserve full moral respect? There is no time that makes more sense than conception. Its lack of mental ability is a function of its youth, just like an infant’s. A fertilized egg is not brain dead. It is simply young. Very young.

    It’s not just a slippery slope – it is bad policy in a host of ways, see my post in part 4. And, of course, we should be extraordinarily careful about declaring that any human life does not deserve moral respect, especially when we have a vested interest in its death.

    If conception were the start of a separate and unique human life, shouldn’t we give a fertilized egg full moral respect?

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  93. I was just talking to my wife about this. We were trying to imagine a ball of cells, barely visible – could we give that the moral respect due to a person? I understand how difficult this is. Believe me, I do.

    But I can also imagine the same thought about a newborn baby. They are not pretty (don’t tell my wife I said that). I could also imagine the same thought about severely disabled people (Down’s Syndrome, or think of Elephant Man), I could even imagine how people would have that thought about other races. Unfamiliarity breeds contempt.

    The only thing that brings it together is force of reason. Humanity deserves respect. Period. We all depend on that, in our tern.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  94. Please pardon my typing!

    Duh – turn.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  95. The point at which life begins is THE question that needs to be settled. For me, it was settled in 1971. During my High School Biology class I learned two important things about human physiology. One: At no time was my development as a human being, most important (and most critical) than when I was in my mother’s womb. Two: At no time during my development as a human being was my growth more rapid than when I was in my mother’s womb. Without this period of growth, there is no life. Therefore, it is both illogical and unscientific to claim that life does not begin at conception. About 15 years ago I came across the writings of Dr. Jerome Lejeune, a famous geneticist, who, after years of study came to the same conclusion. In the past 35 years I have yet to see any evidence that rebuts my original stand.

    Ray M. (3ffd22)

  96. Ah, the caravan’s moved on, with some good points being offered. I hope I can go back to Amphipolis’s early morning comment #84 and post a response. Apologies in advance if this is jumbled; WordPress doesn’t always agree with my antique Mac.

    Amphipolis wrote:

    So there is a line – AMac’s black and white line between a life with no special note and a life that deserves the full panoply of moral regard and legal protection… Either a life deserves the full panoply of moral regard and legal protection, or it does not. No shades of gray.

    Patterico’s questions — Wilson’s essay — my groping thoughts (Psyberian’s too, it seems) — concern the absence of a discrete, yes/no quality that allows the definition of the moment when an egg, embryo, or fetus undergoes a state-change from not-morally human to morally-human.

    I’ve discussed measurement of brain activity as a possible way to evaluate the degree of moral regard to which a fetus is entitled. Since twilight is neither day nor night, any test will invariably have an element of arbitrariness. (Another such test, “viability,” does as well.) I point out that ‘some arbitrariness’ is not the same as ‘complete capriciousness.’

    Amphipolis has asserted that conception is such a moment. By all means; that’s his point of view. To state the obvious, it’s not mine. “Dealing with shades of gray” is not identical to “declaring no shades of gray.”

    Would an 8 week old fetus be sub human?

    A query about vocabulary to Amphipolis. Would you use the term “sub human” in conversation, say in discussing the status of an aged acquaintance with advanced Alzheimer’s disease? If not: why would you repeatedly invite its use here? Surely there is a more straightforward way to get your point across.

    And another remark, about the concept of “convenience” that Amphipolis brings up again in the final paragraph of comment #84. Please, read the nearby post on “Did Laurence O’Donnell Take a Mixture…” for a discussion of how people can make accusations without taking responsibility for what they’re saying. It’s annoying at best to be on the receiving end. So: which arguments in the 93 comments preceding this one have been made on the basis of convenience, and who has made them, and what, exactly, do you wish to say to these authors? If you don’t wish to take the discussion in this direction, kindly return that arrow to your quiver.

    I do have something to say about practicality. Except when prompted, I’ve limited my remarks to biological and philosophical underpinnings of the abortion debate. Because that’s been the subject of the posts! It is important to explore things-as-they-are, unmixed with things-as-we-wish-them-to-be.

    This changes quite drastically when we move into considerations of public policy. Then it becomes a positive vice to ignore likely and possible consequences of proposed actions, including unintended consequences. The consequences of the Temperance Movement’s success ought to give pause to today’s crusaders. Obviously, there are more and grimmer examples of what those roads are paved with. Any abortion policy will fail in the same way, unless these sorts of real-world issues are faced.

    I don’t think any of the commenters I’ve read here would disagree.

    AMac (0edf12)

  97. DRJ:

    I recently read in TNR that, indeed, Justice Blackmun’s hope for Roe v. Wade was as you describe in comment #93. A sobering reminder of how good intentions can go astray.

    It seems that the law does worst in circumstances such as abortion, where so many reasonable people are so certain of so many different and contradictory things. Any policy is sure to lead to the killing of fetuses (note that I didn’t say humans) and restrictions on the autonomy of pregnant women (note that I didn’t say rights). This means that any policy will be condemned, challenged, and undermined from both sides, as soon as it is announced.

    The people charged with administration will be the weakest link in any moderate or compromise policy (that is, a policy that permits some killing and restricts some autonomy). The distinguished panel I appoint as Emporer will, I think, be able to craft some objective criteria that can be applied in a straightforward way.

    But the people who must make the ugly and boring case-by-case decisions: will they adhere to the guidelines? After hearing dozens of cases where a woman in dire circumstances is Forced by the System to bear her no-good boyfriend’s baby (Administrator A)? Or after scores of cases where voiceless fetuses are casually disposed of (Administrator B)?

    You’re right, it’s a bad idea to set up a system that will operate as planned only if run by a Marcus Aurelius. Best to devise a plan that may operate according to spec under the laws and institutions that we currently have.

    Yet it’s also a bad idea to run public policy on an unsound philosophical basis. And for all the ink spilled, that’s still my description of LBAC.

    I do wonder about a point raised by E.O. Wilson in his essay: what the US could learn by looking at other countries’ approaches to this issue.

    Well, it’s been a rare opportunity to have a reasoned discussion on this subject. It’s helped to advance my thinking, even though a solution is still nowhere in sight.

    AMac (0edf12)

  98. AMac:

    Well, it’s been a rare opportunity to have a reasoned discussion on this subject. It’s helped to advance my thinking, even though a solution is still nowhere in sight.

    Agreed and agreed.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  99. AMac:

    I have a question for you. I ask it not to change your mind or commit you to an idea that would undermine your position. In fact, your reply may alter my position. My belief is that life begins at implantation for philosophical, moral, and pragmatic reasons. From a philosophical and moral standpoint, I believe:

    1. An infant that has been born is a human entitled to the same legal protections as an adult.

    2. A viable fetus is the equivalent of an infant and thus entitled to the same legal protections as an adult.

    3. Due to medical advances, the point at which a fetus becomes viable is steadily moving back and fetuses are becoming viable at a younger gestational age. To the extent medicine enables fetuses to be viable at an earlier gestational age, I believe that even a marginally-survivable fetus is human and entitled to the same legal protections as an adult.

    4. Maybe I read too much fiction, but it is conceivable that science and medicine will advance to the point that most implanted fertilized eggs will successfully develop into viable fetuses.

    My philosophy requires me to recognize as human any viable fetus – even a very young and medically marginal fetus – and any fetus that has a high likelihood of becoming viable. I believe many people agree with the first part of my position and (for the most part) my position isn’t dramatically at odds with Roe v Wade. But a sizeable number of abortions still occur during this time period, and I find that morally unacceptable unless the mother’s life is at risk. Which brings me, belatedly – because this discussion has been going on for days at Patterico’s place, to the point that I must reconsider where life begins. I would appreciate your input.

    From reading your comments, and pardon me if I – as a layman – misstate your position, but I believe you focus on nervous system development and/or specific brain activity as the crucial, life-giving moment. I am intrigued with your position. It does appear to be a significant moment in fetal development.

    I previously focused on successful implantation as the critical life-giving moment, in part due to morality and in part due to practical concerns. I focused on the relatively significant statistical decline in miscarriages after implantation as being a good indicator of the viability of the fertilized egg. In other words, an implanted fertilized egg is statistically much more likely to successfully develop into a viable fetus. Not 100% likely; Perhaps not even 75% likely, although that number may be close according to some sources. But there is a statistical increase in the likelihood of a successful pregnancy after a completed implantation.

    Further, it’s my impression that pre-implantation miscarriages and miscarriages that occur contemporaneously with or shortly after implantation are thought to be due to genetic and other abnormalities that would likely prevent the development of a normal fetus. It seems heartless to a grieving family, but perhaps early miscarriage is nature’s way of fixing mistakes. Conversely, surviving implantation is a milestone that suggests this fertilized egg has a better chance of making it to the fetal finish line. I want to protect that fetus.

    I have no scientific background other than exposure to genetics as a result of a family medical condition. Help me understand why, from a medical or scientific or other standpoint, you disagree with my position.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  100. Since I’ve apparently embarked on a binge of essay writing and I can’t sleep, let me add one more thought to the mix:

    All this talk of sub-human and potential humans makes no sense to me. The one thing we know is that once the egg is fertilized, it will be human. It won’t suddenly morph into a dog or a parrot or a fish, at least it won’t unless we manipulate it through cloning or other techniques. Thus, the ultimate issue is not when does the fertilized egg or fetus become human, but when does it become more likely that the fertilized egg or fetus will survive until birth.

    In my view, we should legally protect a fertilized egg or fetus when there is a significant chance it will survive to birth. That’s why my focus is on when, statistically or otherwise, a successful birth becomes more likely from a scientific or medical standpoint. I’m not sure when that is, but it’s one of the things I would like to explore.

    I think this is exactly what Roe v Wade tried to do, except the state of medicine at that time was such that the likelihood of a live birth was uncertain until you actually had a live birth. We know more now, and I think we have a better basis to decide which pregnancies will realistically end in a live birth.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  101. DRJ:

    > 2. A viable fetus is the equivalent of an infant and thus entitled to the same legal protections as an adult. [also points 3 & 4]

    Your reasoning shows how improvements in medical technology is bringing the concept of “viable fetus” progressively closer to that of “fertilized egg.” Interventional perinatologists are already using high-tech interventions such as trans-uterine surgeries to save second-trimester fetuses. Who can be comfortable with the contrast between this and second-trimester abortion?

    > I believe you focus on nervous system development and/or specific brain activity as the crucial, life-giving moment.

    I don’t know of any evidence that such a meaningful “moment” exists, in terms that make sense from a scientific or medical point of view. (As we discussed earlier, the reality of how legal and bureaucratic systems operate may require that we act as if such a moment exists–I’m not addressing that point here.)

    As an aside, consider how amazing it is that an insect can survive in the wild. Bugs are up to the tasks of securing food, mating, and positioning their eggs for success. (Bummerdietz had a recent post at Scylla and Charybdis on the behavior of a parasitic wasp that prompts this thought; sorry, Google clues instead of a hyperlink as I must write offline). So it doesn’t take much in terms of neural circuitry to code for some pretty sophisticated behaviors. But AFAIK, nobody is claiming that the human trait of self-awareness exists except with us and, perhaps, a very small circle of acquaintances (chimps? dolphins?).

    During fetal development, cells differentiate into neural stem cells and then progenitor cells, dividing at a high rate to form different sorts of neurons, and essential support cells such as glial cells and astrocytes. The neurons form electrical and chemical connections to one another. While the high rates of proliferation continue through late fetal development and into the postnatal period, this gets eclipsed by the phenomenon of programmed cell death. Neurons that are too connected or not connected enough commit cell suicide. The proper admixture of growth, differentiation, connection, and PCD is essential for the development of higher-order mental processes.

    So you can see why I return to Wilson’s shades of grey when it comes to brain function as a determinant of fetal status.

    I think your remarks on embryo survival are about right.

    Where life begins: the most significant bright line that I see is fertilization and the establishment of a particular diploid genetic identity. Implantation and birth are also important benchmarks that are fixed in time.

    Life beginning need not be the same as establishment of the qualities that make an entity specifically human. I’d characterize the philosophical stance of LBAC as being “establishment of the potential is hardly different from the reality of the human being him or her self.” As has been discussed, this is a position that “the rest of us” reject. It’s a fundamental disagreement on definitions, not really amenable to proof or disproof.

    > All this talk of sub-human and potential humans makes no sense to me.

    In a sense, perhaps one thing that makes abortion so fraught is that we have to consider individuals who represent the far-left extreme of the human Gaussian distribution curve and ask, “what about them?” I am talking about individuals who have such profoundly low mental abilities that there is no prospect of present or future manifestation of consciousness or self-awareness.

    Speaking carefully: I am not questioning the love that people feel for friends and relatives in this situation. I am not suggesting that such people ought not be protected by society.

    Yet I don’t know of any parents with such a profoundly disabled child who would be indifferent if their other kids acquired the mental disabilities of the disabled sibling. So this isn’t a case of “differently abled, everybody successful, each in their own way.” Such children are tragedies. Hopefully loved, cherished, and appreciated for what they do offer. But tragedies.

    Which brings me to Peter Singer and animal rightists.

    The logic of LBAC is to refute any other characterization of what might constitute the essence of humanity (such as my discussion of brain function), by saying, “but such a definition would leave out the most profoundly disabled individuals.” As far as I can see, this logic is correct.

    I haven’t seen an LBAC advocate deal forthrightly with the animal-rightist extension of this line of reasoning. “Included in your definition of essentially human are individuals who have no prospect of ever experiencing any higher mental functioning, including reason, empathy, emotion, fear, pain, or self-awareness. Yet you refuse to grant basic rights to other individuals who plainly display such traits–simply because they are members of a species other than homo sapiens sapiens. Instead, you make free to treat them in a utilitarian manner, having them killed, made into food, and experimented upon, in the service of your own ends.”

    To me, the obvious explanation that “they are not genetically the same as people” is an evasion of the central issue. We could sit around and invent hypothetical situations that would highlight the post hoc nature of the genetic-privilege argument. How, then, does the LBAC argument justify excluding fertilized chimp, dolphin, and dog eggs–all of which show greater potential than the least of our protected species-mates?

    I am not an animals-rightist. And I see abortion as a tragic situation that by its nature has no clean solution. To me, none of the pro-life or pro-choice arguments carry such weight as to trump all others; none can be applied without exception.

    So perhaps this outlook gives me no standing to attack LBAC for what I see as its inconsistencies. But on the other hand, its proponents have claimed that it springs from first principals, and that a just approach to abortion can be realized by its consistent application.

    If LBAC can’t handle the questions brought up by animal rightists’ arguments without having post-hoc modifications grafted on it, this says to me that it, too, has glaring weaknesses. Just like “protection should begin with evidence of higher brain function,” and the dozens of other positions that deeper thinkers than I have proposed.

    Sorry for the length of this comment… these aren’t straighforward questions. This is probably my last substantial post on this thread: home and work chores have been piling up as I’ve pondered at the keyboard. I’ll keep reading, though, and continue to appreciate the chance we‘ve had to sit in Patterico’s virtual living room and discuss these matters.

    AMac (af709e)

  102. Obviously, I forgot to close an italics tag in the lengthy screed that is #103. Apologies on the resultant legibility. Preview will be my friend, once we buy an up to date computer…

    AMac (af709e)

  103. I would say: resemblance at seven weeks. I think it’s morally irrelevant, but that’s when I see a resemblance.

    I’m a new-minted Australian conservative, over two issues:
    1. abortion – I support the federal minister, who is against it; and
    2. the war on terror, which is in effect also the American alliance. I’m for both.
    Live babies, dead terrorists and standing by your mates covers everything I care about in terms of voting intentions.

    All the stuff in post one by Ros Marsh about where we Australians stand does not speak for me at all.

    I think the only thing Americans might learn from the Australian example is how tough it’s going to be even after you remove the Roe roadblock – and it will be a colossal achievement to do that. But you already know this.

    Good luck. For love of life, for the future, this cause is worth all our best efforts.

    David Blue (4c2c3a)

  104. AMac:

    Thanks for your response. You have better things to do than post on a dying thread, and I appreciate your thoughts, time and effort.

    Peter Singer has come up twice now so I will address his animal rights’ theories even though I find his views on infanticide so alarming that, for me, it taints all his work. If you believe that all life has equal value – whether it is human, animal, or any organism – then it makes no sense to elevate human life over other forms of life. One could also raise environmentalism as a co-equal concern if you accept the reasoning that all life – even plant life – is equal.

    For religious reasons, I believe that human life is superior to other life, but there are other philosophical justifications that Amphipolis addressed in an earlier comment. However, even if we accept that humans and animals are equal living beings, how does that negate the argument that life begins at conception? It simply expands the group of living beings that must be given rights and consideration.

    From a legal perspective, such an expansion would yield some pretty tough balancing decisions: How do I balance a person’s right to sustain himself with an animal’s or a plant’s right to exist? Because you have identified the animal and the plant as co-equal living beings, you have to weigh the rights of each and that’s something that will keep lawyers in business for eternity (thank you very much). If we limit the benefits to higher-functioning animals, the same thing applies only the balancing will be easier. We already do this with protected species legislation.

    As a final matter, your description of disabled humans was eloquent and I appreciate the care with which you framed that portion of your comments. My response: Been there, done that. Our youngest child is profoundly autistic and, to be candid, it’s easier to love and relate to our pets than our child. Call it species loyalty, religious training, or parental instinct, but I must love and nurture that child even when I don’t feel like it. Similarly, I feel an obligation to care for the environment, animals, and all living creatures, but the moral obligation to protect other humans is paramount.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  105. Oops. Apparently I have the italicized disease, too.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  106. I’m commenting in part to see if I can figure out why everything is posting in italics, and in part to say this:

    One additional non-religious philosophical reason for humans to elevate human life over animal life is to promote survival of the human species.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  107. Patterico –

    I think something has happened in comments. It’s all in italics no matter what code I use. Is this your way of saying “Enough already!”?

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  108. > However, even if we accept that humans and animals are equal living beings, how does that negate the argument that life begins at conception? It simply expands the group of living beings that must be given rights and consideration.

    Exactly. Seems to me that’s where the “personhood is established at conception and must be accorded legal protections from that moment on” argument leads.

    When LBAC’ers are vegans, or can offer a convincing rebuttal to this point, then I’ll consider LBAC non-self-inconsistent.

    (Fabulous prize, I know…)

    DRJ, thanks for the personal insight. Profound autism is so difficult. You’re in my thoughts.

    AMac (b6037f)

  109. Let me see if I got this right:
    1. We’re not sure where to draw the line for when a fetus deserves full legal protection and moral equivilance.
    2. Let’s base if off of factors like appearance and brainwave activity, or maybe when credit card offers start coming in (those seem to be coming in earlier and earlier all the time now).

    It seems to me that if it is a questionable area, it would be safest to err on the side of caution. We do the same with death-row inmates…it’s far better to let 100 guilty men go free than to kill one innocent man. Why do we apply opposing logic to abortion? Instead of thinking “it’s better to let 100 not-quite-humans become human than to kill one human”, we allow the killing of what might be human, as admitted by those in the “middle”.

    Seriously, it makes no sense to me. “He might be innocent” can be enough to assure a man’s freedom, but “It might be considered human” is insufficient to protect the very life of the object in question.

    Kheldar (4858b2)

  110. “When LBAC’ers are vegans, or can offer a convincing rebuttal to this point, then I’ll consider LBAC non-self-inconsistent.”

    How is it inconsistent to recognize the validity of all life but to assert – for religious reasons or to promote survival of the species – that human life is superior? If I believe that human and animal life begins at conception but I make a value judgment as to the relative worth of these lives, you may disagree with my choice or you may call it hypocritical but it isn’t inconsistent. I consistently select for human life.

    Scientists make value judgments all the time that affect life. They devote significant time and resources to establish protocols to protect people and animals in experiments, but there is always a trade-off that involves making a value judgment. I don’t view those trade-offs as inconsistent or even hypocritical, but rather as a function of reality.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  111. I’m having difficulty posting – testing 1 2 3

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  112. AMac:

    Patterico’s questions — Wilson’s essay — my groping thoughts (Psyberian’s too, it seems) — concern the absence of a discrete, yes/no quality that allows the definition of the moment when an egg, embryo, or fetus undergoes a state-change from not-morally human to morally-human.

    You mean, other than conception. I have seen no reason presented that would exclude conception from being that point, I think I have addressed your concerns from post 4 regarding IVF and genetic testing. Indeed, your 10 week old fetus plus-or-minus one would not be old enough to do a reliable genetic test.

    Please don’t take offense at this, but your shades of gray seem to me to be a cop out used when you run out of arguments. I’m not looking for opinion, I’m looking for reason. But maybe that’s my problem.

    Your part 4 post 4:
    Rather than looking to the bright-line demarcation point (fertilization, or implantation), I allow that human-ness may be acquired, or bestowed, gradually.

    So we have an object that is human, but not all the way. This object acquires humanness over a period of time. During that time it is not non human, but it is not yet fully human. I have used the term partial human or sub human to describe it. Sub human does have certain other connotations – Egor, fetch me brain! – that are somewhat out of place in this discussion, I will drop the term in favor of partial human, unless you can suggest something better. My wording was intended to carry a certain amount of humor, perhaps that was not appropriate. The temptation to sarcasm is sometimes too great.

    I do not share your belief in such a partial human entity, because we already have a natural process that perfectly describes this process. It is called ageing. Thus human-ness is not acquired, but humans do age and mature. I think the burden is on you to demonstrate why you believe human-ness is acquired slowly as opposed to this being just another part of humans growing up, to describe when you believe sufficient human-ness is acquired (and why at that particular time), and to describe the partial human you have before. I believe these questions are quite serious and important. Life beginning at conception would address them, but I think you have not.

    So: which arguments in the 93 comments preceding this one have been made on the basis of convenience, and who has made them, and what, exactly, do you wish to say to these authors? If you don’t wish to take the discussion in this direction, kindly return that arrow to your quiver.

    I think this thread is at the end, so I will probably pass on that one. If I take it out of the quiver again, I will provide more specifics and not mere suggestions.

    The consequences of the Temperance Movement’s success ought to give pause to today’s crusaders.

    I wholeheartedly agree. I prefer the example of the abolitionist movement, but it could go either way. Good point.

    I’ll let you have the last word, if you wish.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  113. DRJ:

    My judgement, too, is for the superiority of human over other mammalian life.

    Seems to me that LBAC says:

    1. The special essence that confers human-ness on a person is bestowed on an egg at the moment of conception.

    2. This special essence of human-ness is a part of every individual homo sapiens sapiens, even the least among us: those with no prospect for experiencing sentience, empathy, intelligent thought, and other specially human qualities.

    3. While this argument is powerful, universal, and complete, it does not apply to individuals that are genetically not homo sapiens sapiens. Even to individuals of species chimps, dolphins, dogs) that demonstrate sentience, empathy, intelligent thought, and so on, far above the levels of the lowest homo sapiens sapiens individual. The reasoning behind this denial is ______

    Is the answer “because we value individual homo sapiens lives over the individual lives of members of other species”? In other words, DRJ’s and AMac’s stated sentiments? Why is this a statement with logical or moral force, rather than one of taste and — er — convenience?

    In other words, what takes the speciesist case beyond post hoc? What’s the moral reasoning behind this exemption? Suppose a Turing machine declares, “A percentage point or so of difference in the Gs, As, Ts, and Cs of your genetic codes is no big deal! I value all of you higher-order mammalian individuals equally!”

    If there is no clear response, and I don’t think one has been offered, then it points out that LBAC–like all the other arguments in this sphere–has its own limitations and shortcomings.

    Amphipolis:

    Good comments. I misinterpreted your “sub human” phrase–I thought you were saying something about how non LBAC’ers view profoundly disabled people. Now that I see what you mean, no problem.

    Shades of grey: to me, it’s simply a question of the best description of that which is.

    Genetic testing at ~10 weeks: you’re probably right, I was trying to think in general terms rather than focus on actual numbers and practical implications.

    AMac (b6037f)

  114. Sorry, I want to make one more point from Wilson’s article. Here’s the better part of the reason he rejects conception as the start of human life:

    If the penetration of the egg by the sperm is the crucial moment, then one must oppose not only abortion but many kinds of contraception, since some of these–such as the IUD and some birth-control pills–prevent the already fertilized egg from becoming implanted on the wall of the uterus. That is the position of the Catholic Church, and it has the merit of complete consistency.
    It is consistency purchased at a high price, however, for it requires one to believe that contraception is immoral.

    First, it does NOT require one to believe that all contraception is immoral (unless one is catholic), just abortive contraception.

    Second (and most importantly), he does not start with when human life would reasonably exist, he starts with human convenience. Life that young is just too inconvenient for him to accept. It comes at too high a price.

    I believe that human life is that valuable.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  115. “Is the answer “because we value individual homo sapiens lives over the individual lives of members of other species”? In other words, DRJ’s and AMac’s stated sentiments? Why is this a statement with logical or moral force, rather than one of taste and — er — convenience?”

    In my case, and as I’ve stated earlier, my religious beliefs are the reason I value human life over the lives of other species. Religion is a moral concept. Whether it is convincing to you and others is debatable, but I think it’s undeniable that this is a basic tenet of Christian morality and not simply taste or convenience.

    DRJ (8b9d41)

  116. Oh, all right – I’ll take the bait, so to speak. This distraction could be fun.

    If we protect human life, then we must protect the unborn because they are young humans. Being young does not make one less human. Protecting animals would be a major expansion of the mandate, since they are like a totally different species you know. And they smell (oops, my reasoning slipped – strike that). Expanding the mandate to protect animals would be another issue altogether. We are just trying to consistently apply an existing mandate.

    Besides, this line of reasoning could not lead to the conclusion that we should not protect the unborn. It could lead to the conclusion that we should also protect animals, which many people around the world would support. If you think that would be absurd, then you are against expanding the mandate – see above.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  117. Before we expand the mandate, I would like to discuss a harsh fact of life on this planet, the food chain.
    While it is noble to regard every life as precious and deserving of protection, aren’t we , in the extreme, running the chance of screwing up an ecological system?
    I mean if ‘everybody’ wins in the cruel world of eat or be eaten, will have quite a mess won’t we?
    While not a very apt analogy, we use hunters to cull herds of animals to prevent disease and suffering from starvation. And there are those people that take a stand against hunting in all forms. But while not conceding to the veiwpoint of conservation through controlled hunting, hunting indeed is carried on.
    To that end, while anti-abortion people cannot and will not condone abortion, is it possible that it ,abortion, can co-exist with control, limitation and reviews?
    And if we can concede that it can co-exist with an anti-abortion portion of the populace, then isn’t it important to define the absolute limits of the performance of the procedure? I use the less than apt analogy of hunting again with it’s “Bag limits’which are invioable and punishable by law.
    So this discussion of viablity is still important if the anti-abortion side of the debate is to have any support in moderating abortions law. To command that LBAC is the limit of abortion is to condemn thousands of babies to neglect, abuse and abandonment. The largest number of first time abortions are performed on the

    paul (380ef3)

  118. not used to this code, to continue… youngest portion of the population 13 to 24 years olds. If we require these young girls to give birth, we’ll see an increase in self abortion related hospitalizations and deaths, suicides, child abandonment and neglect.
    I think the world would be better served if we prevented cruelty to unplanned mothers, unwanted pregnancies as well as animals as opposed to trying to prohibit abortion outright. We must stipulate both sides of the argument; there are times when to abort and there are times not to. From there we must set limits and or terms. The consquences of either extreme can be horrific. Moderation can be the only outcome.
    A side question: how many of our commenters here remember the world Pre-Roe? Not so much the stigma of pre marital pregnancy , which was a considerable issue to be sure, but the desperation of these young girls and the acts that desperation led to?

    paul (380ef3)

  119. Paul:

    A side question: how many of our commenters here remember the world Pre-Roe? Not so much the stigma of pre marital pregnancy , which was a considerable issue to be sure, but the desperation of these young girls and the acts that desperation led to?

    What a coincidence that you should bring this up because I was thinking about something similar. When I was a freshman in college in 1971, I lived in one of the first coed dorms on our campus. There were approximately 40-50 students living in the dorm, and naturally everyone knew each other. This was before the decision in Roe v Wade, and abortions were illegal in our state.

    A girl in the dorm became pregnant and had an abortion to terminate her pregnancy. In retrospect, I believe her abortion was illegal although it’s possible she went out-of-state and obtained a legal abortion. I do vividly recall that evening when she was in great pain, bleeding, and had a high fever. The entire dorm was aware of what was happening, with students frantically trying to decide what to do. It was, in retrospect, a scene out of Dirty Dancing if you remember that part of the movie.

    At some point that night, this girl became so ill that an ambulance was called and she was taken to the student health center, and from there probably to the hospital. Ultimately she recovered and returned to school. In a sense, this is a story about the dangers of abortions and the way things were before Roe v Wade. But everytime I remember this story (not that often after all these years), I am also struck by the fact that to my knowledge none of the students that lived in that dorm had an unplanned pregnancy in the following 2 years that I lived there. This episode had a tremendous impression on all of us.

    Maybe a lesson like that isn’t worth the cost or potential cost, but I doubt you could find a pregnancy rate (or non-pregnancy rate) at a dorm like that today.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  120. Back to the theme of the thread, if anyone is still listening:

    Restrict abortion to around the first trimester because that’s the best we can do in today’s political environment – great, I’ll support that even though I obviously don’t think it goes far enough. Most abortions are done in the first trimester, so this is not a big victory. But I’ll take it for now.

    Restrict abortion to around the first trimester because we declare that to be when human life begins or becomes significant – I am totally opposed to this.

    The difference may not seem to matter now, but I think it would in the future. And it avoids some unintended consequences.

    OK, I’m done now (I promise), except maybe if someone asks me a specific question. I hope I haven’t overstayed my welcome.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  121. > I hope I haven’t overstayed my welcome.

    I don’t think so…anyway I’m still listening, and learning about why those with different points of view think as they do.

    AMac (b6037f)

  122. Does this mean we can discuss political solutions rather than philosophical issues? I’m game for that. Here’s my bottom line:

    Make abortion illegal after 8-10 weeks gestation unless the mother’s health is in danger. (According to this CDC report, Table 1, most abortions occur prior to this point anyway.) I join Amphipolis in wishing that society would recognize life begins at conception/implantation, but it’s not going to happen right now and I’m not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    I would leave it up to each state to vote if they want further restrictions during the first 8-10 weeks including further limits on abortion, the rights of the biological father, notification to parents of minors, etc.

    I would also like to see a focus on programs to increase aid, resources, tax credits, and anything else we can think of to help families who want to adopt children. When parents are willing to give up their child for adoption, I want better, more streamlined and more reliable procedures to terminate parental rights while children are young and adoptable. At present, the system encourages people not to give up their parental rights and kids are put into foster care. Bless all those who are willing to serve as foster parents, but by the time it all shakes out the child is 5-8 years old and not as adoptable. Not to mention what it does to the child.

    And since this is my wish list, I want an increase in tax and social resources that support marriage, abstinence education, and a closer look at who gets welfare. My primary goal is to erode the relationship between unwed mothers and abortion, as well as their allies: poverty, crime, and educational failure. The overriding problem is unwed mothers who account for over 80% of abortions. Tackle that problem and you’re going to make progress on the other problems.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  123. DRJ:

    Right on target. If you avoid the dread declaration I’m with you all the way.

    Winning the philosophical argument is critical to long term success. Ideas matter and have consequences. But that in no way precludes the incremental steps that politics (and society) will require.

    It reminds me of the abolition of slavery – in Great Britain.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  124. DRJ
    And since this is my wish list, I want an increase in tax and social resources that support marriage, abstinence education, and a closer look at who gets welfare. My primary goal is to erode the relationship between unwed mothers and abortion, as well as their allies: poverty, crime, and educational failure. The overriding problem is unwed mothers who account for over 80% of abortions. Tackle that problem and you’re going to make progress on the other problems.
    Amen, now you’re cooking with gas.

    paul (464e99)

  125. If you avoid the dread declaration I’m with you all the way.

    Amphipolis…what is the dread declaration?

    paul (464e99)

  126. That human life begins or becomes significant at some arbitrary time after conception – see my post 122. I think we can agree on just about everything else.

    Amen, now you’re cooking with gas.

    Amen and amen, brother! DRJ hit it out of the park.

    Amphipolis (346a88)

  127. Thanks for your kind words, Paul and Amphipolis. Reading your comments made me realize I omitted a word in my last paragraph:

    And since this is my wish list, I want an increase in tax credits and social resources that support marriage, abstinence education, and a closer look at who gets welfare. My primary goal is to erode the relationship between unwed mothers and abortion, as well as their allies: poverty, crime, and educational failure. The overriding problem is unwed mothers who account for over 80% of abortions. Tackle that problem and you’re going to make progress on the other problems.

    As originally written, it looked like I wanted to increase taxes to support marriage. I do believe in marriage but I’m not the tax-and-spend type. Love those tax credits, though, especially when I get one.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  128. This discussion has ended and I’m actually glad to get back to my “real” life and work, but I can’t leave this without adding that I hope we someday resume a discussion of the political realities of abortion.

    There are so many holes in my wish list that it bothers me to leave the discussion here. For instance, it makes no sense for the Supreme Court to hold that abortions are illegal after 8-10-12 weeks or whenever. Either leave the entire mess to the states or definitively decide at the federal level, depending on your view of federalism. Similarly, at some point I think the Supreme Court will have to address when life begins – perhaps not morally or philosophically but at least for legal purposes.

    My suggestions are really more appropriate for legislation, but I tendered my wish list anyway since the Supreme Court has essentially become a super-legislature on the issue of abortion.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  129. this is so fun but some parts boring

    ilyia (2587a5)

  130. I believe that a baby is beautiful from the beginning. I also believe that an abortion is the most horrible thing . I think that abortion should be illegal… Take a momment to think about your greatest friend and how they make you happy… Okay, now imagine life without them… That is what it would have been if their parents would have aborted them. I suggest you put serious thought into that.

    Shelli (64e305)

  131. Killing humans is acceptable when it is deemed beneficial for the society making the rules.

    Dropping bombs on cities kills babies also. But the collateral damage is considered necessary for the greater good.

    Making abortion illegal does not stop abortions, so that struggle is not effective in achieving the goal. But criminalizing abortion does drive it underground and make it much more dangerous.

    And so for the greater good abortion stays legal. Warfare and capital punishment are indisputably destruction of human life, and they are acceptable to society. The issue of whether or not abortion is killing a human is moot in this context.

    A much more effective strategy for diminishing abortions is education and improved distribution of birth control methods. This is where energy should be directed.

    PJD (8b9d3c)

  132. PJD, what you say is evil and I rebuke you for it.

    The difference is that capital punishment punishes the guilty and by extension (and peripherally in my view, but still substantially) protects the innocent through deterrence and removing the threat.

    War can indeed be evil depending on motive, for example, an expansive war of aggression and conquest. But war to defend your society and, again, protect the innocent — or those of another society who are innocent — is good. Not neutral: a moral good. Collateral damage is a horrible side effect of this and the moral responsibility for it lies on the aggressor. For example, the Nazis in Germany were responsible for German (and other) civilian deaths by threatening the world. Had they not done so, there would have been no allied-caused German civilian casualties.

    Abortion, on the other hand, is an intentional act to kill the innocent for the convenience or preference of one or both parents.

    Your “greater good” argument is a lot like the Nazis killing the disabled (not to mention killing and enslaving Jews and Gypsies) for the greater good of the remainder of German society. And, maybe on one level it was considering economic rational “benefits” of slavery and the biases of many Germans where they simply didn’t want Jews and Roma (Gypsies) to participate in society. It is for the “greater good” if someone kills a wealthy man and gives his wealth to 1000 poor people. But it’s evil.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  133. Going a step further… abortion is an intentional act to kill the innocent for the convenience or preference of one or both parents — that the parents actually created. It’s more evil than murdering a stranger. Killing one’s own child! Killing that which you created and didn’t have to create!

    On one level, an average German Nazi may never have wanted Roma to exist in the world. The thought is hideous and grotesque, but it’s true. I assume that Nazi wouldn’t want Roma to exist, certainly not in his country. But he didn’t create the Roma or let them into Germany.

    But a parent did indeed create a child and welcome into her body or put the child into another person’s body with an intentional act in the vast majority of places. An intentional act which gives the parent great physical pleasure.

    And after experiencing or pursuing this pleasure, the parent then kills their child? Your examples have nothing to do with the abortion example. You confuse night with day and good with evil. I suspect this is because of a defect in your character.

    Patterico can ban me for expressing my opinion if he wishes.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  134. You’re wasting your time with him, Christoph. Once you see a comment like that the only response is “You are [a person not in command of your faculties which resembles a domesticated beast of burden]”.

    nk (09a321)

  135. And if Patterico bans you for what you said above I will self-ban myself.

    nk (09a321)

  136. I do not know exactly when a fetus resembles a baby, but I just saw my daughter’s sonogram at 4 months, heard her heart beat, and saw her arms and legs fingers and toes moving. To call her anything other than a person seems to be patently ridiculous.

    My daughter began the pregnancy as part of a group of twins. The other one did not make it past the 8th week. She was not as formed as the first, at least via sonogram, but her loss hurt no less because of it.

    After watching a child moving about within the womb, after listening to its heartbeat, I could never bring myself to agree to abort the child.

    JD (6887fb)

  137. We conceived the daughter in June. Our friends started commenting about my wife’s glowing look in July. I found out that she was a genetically healthy little girl on 9/11 (that 9/11). When my wife would say “She’s kicking me”, I would say “Daughter, stop kicking mommy”. She was always a baby.

    nk (09a321)

  138. nk, I don’t mean to imply that Patterico is quick on the gun. On the contrary, he was well within his rights before and I apologized to him sincerely and do indeed intend on working on some human relations skills. I’m reading Dale Carnegie’s most famous book as we speak.

    But I don’t 100% agree with Carnegie even though he has many good ideas. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade and I can’t restrain myself from condemning evil when I see it on something I feel so strongly about. So above was about the limits of my self-restraint and I have no desire to learn to do better than that.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  139. My favorite arguments against abortion:

    http://home.myuw.net/himma/phil241/trans7-1.htm

    The misfortune of premature death involves a loss of the goods that make life worth living. On Marquis view, “the misfortune of premature death consists of the loss to us of the future goods of consciousness. What are these goods? … The goods of life are whatever we get out of life. The goods of life are those items toward which we take a pro attitude. They are completed projects of which we are proud, the pursuit of our goals, aesthetic enjoyments, friendships, intellectual pursuits, and physical pleasures of various sorts. The goods of life are what make life worth living” (190).

    Accordingly, Marquis subscribes to the Future Like Ours Thesis (or FLO for short):

    FLO: Killing a human is wrong because it deprives her of “a future like ours.”

    Arguments in Support of the FLO theory.

    The Considered Judgment Argument.

    1. According to our considered judgments, what people fear the most about death is the loss of future experience.
    2. If 1, then, according to our considered judgments, it is the loss of future experience that fully constitutes death as a grave misfortune to people.
    3. Therefore, according to our considered judgments, it is the loss of future experience that fully constitutes death as a grave misfortune to people.
    4. The fetus is equally capable of sustaining a loss of future experience.
    5. Therefore, death is an equally grave misfortune for the fetus.
    6. It is wrong to deliberately inflict a misfortune on a fetus that is as grave as death to people.
    7. Therefore, it is wrong to deliberately inflict death on the fetus.

    and,

    1. What makes murder the worst of crimes is that it deprives a person of her future experience.
    2. If 1, then it is the worst of wrongs to deprive a being capable of future experience of all her future experience.
    3. Therefore, it is the worst of wrongs to deprive a being capable of future experience of all her future experience.
    4. A fetus is capable of future experience.
    5. Therefore, it is the worst of wrongs to deprive a fetus of all her future experience.

    h/t to Keith Burgess-Jackson

    Fritz (d62210)

  140. Christoph, still what you said was well said to the [person not in command of his mental faculties who resembles a domesticated beast of burden]. And I stand by what I said. And yes, I doubt that Patterico would insist all that much that we be polite to baby-killers.

    nk (09a321)

  141. At which point will we make this a crime?
    There will always be situations where the individual feels compelled towards abortion.
    I think as a society we need to ‘make up our minds’ as to when abortion is intolerable. But then again, it is all in who we ask isn’t it?

    paul from fl (47918a)

  142. No, paul from fl, it’s all in what is right or wrong as Fritz aptly explained.

    If we leave it up to “who we ask” then nothing is a crime because anyone who does anyone feels they are justified somehow in doing it. Think of the worst crime you can imagine, which, I bet you, comes down to harming a child in some sick way. Now do we ask the person committing the crime how they feel about it? How they’re compelled? What point is there in that?

    Now think of abortion. If you accept a fetus is a child human being, then abortion begins to look evil instead of just gruesome, doensn’t it?

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  143. Christoph,
    While I agree it is about what is right and wrong, where do we draw that line? Preventing mitosis with a condom isn’t murder surely?
    we have chewed tons of bandwith here about when an embryo is a fetus.
    This brings me to the point, where is it a crime? Arm buds?, ex utero viablity? Who do we ask? The woman who can’t feed herself, let alone another mouth?
    Religous leaders? Doctors? (God save us) Lawyers?
    Is this important enough for a national referendum? If not why not? That is what I was wondering when I asked “Who do we ask?”

    paul from fl (47918a)

  144. Abortion is the choice of ANY mother and father. The punishment we have as humans with far too much knowledge is that we currently have the means to abort foetuses. I am 17 weeks pregnant and felt sad at the thought of aborting my child now and any poor child going through that procedure.

    I have never understood people that debate this as we as humans have no exclusive right to judge one another. I believe we are in human life together, but, as society has us we do not take responsibility for our selves and others properly.

    We are the same and we all come from the same beginning so our knowledge and thoughts are therefore the same. You can refuse to accept that but true research into the real nature of humans and all that comes with suggests just that. A child is a child from when it is concieved and if the body chooses to reject that foetus then that is the natural choice that is made. If we have the means to commit the atrocity of abortion then we must ask ourselves why debate this? We are the same so we have given ourselves the right to abort.

    Cara Emmanuel Risch (7b24fd)

  145. As an add on to my above comment, we as humans have achieved great feats and also atrocities. We have become corrupted and our ways of thinking are now polluted and corrupted. A foetus is a human from the beginning as it resides in a human. We are NOT WORTHY of commanding each other as we like to kill and maim each other, lie to each other, steal from each other and the judicial systems we own are VERY corrupted.

    We DO NOT recieve information on a daily basis that comes from a source that is not corrupted. Only a few people can tap into this knowledge but also can be corrupted in their conveyances of this information. So until a true source bestows us all with real information I personally believe that the debate on abortions and embryos is a very closed corrupted subject. ( I like the word “corrupted” as it basically describes us as humans and our lives! (no offence) I include myself on that.)

    Cara Emmanuel Risch (7b24fd)

  146. SOG knives…

    Interesting ideas… I wonder how the Hollywood media would portray this?…

    SOG knives (ed16af)

  147. […] 2006, Patterico posted a photo array of babies in utero and addressed the question of “When does a fetus resemble a baby?” I think it helps to […]

    Patterico's Pontifications » Planned Parenthood: That is Not a Baby (e4ab32)


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