Quote Of The Day

“When I first came to understand that Roe v. Wade was logically incompatible with the idea that babies had a right to life, I feared that if this decision were to stand it would eventually lead to the erosion, if not the complete abandonment, of the idea on which this country was founded, that “all men are created equal, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Or as a Christian would put it, that it would destroy the concept of the “sanctity of life”. As Richard Weaver said, ideas have consequences. It would seem that my fears have been tragically borne out. It is now necessary to argue, almost on a case-by-case basis, for respecting human rights that have heretofore been taken for granted. The progress of the last two millennia in this area are now being reversed. We seem to be plunging headlong back into barbarism, ignoring the hard-won wisdom embedded in the moral understandings developed over many centuries of human experience. Everything must be learned anew; we must start with a blank slate and work out everything for ourselves with no regard for what has come before. This is madness. If we persist in this arrogance it can only lead to our destruction”. —bd-from-kg, on a discussion forum at the Secular Web in the later part of the year 2000

7 Responses to “Quote Of The Day”

  • Being basically agnostic, the best “pro-life” argument for me is an odd combination of philosophy and uber-geeky techie argument. Basically, the only philosophically consistent points as to when life – and citizenship – could begin are either at live birth or at fertilization. The problem with having life begin at birth is that “birth” gets closer and closer to fertilization as technology and medical techniques improve, and it’s clear that with “test tube” fertilization, artificial womb technologies, and “surrogate mothers” (which is a sort of artificial womb) makes the time of viability equal to fertilization. And, if one argues that a normally born baby is “viable”, what happens if you don’t feed the baby? It’ll die just as certainly as a non-gestated embryo will.

    Therefore, a viable, fertilized egg is “alive” as a separate entity from its “parents”, and since it won’t become anything but a human if gestated, it _is_ human, and therefore a person with the rights of a citizen.

  • Foobarista,

    I appreciate your thoughtful comment, but I respectfully differ. To me, it seems entirely possible that what you term “life” – which I will define as a level of consciousness that demands respect and defense of the law – is a gradual process that occurs between conception and birth.

    This, to me, is consistent with my view of other living things. Carrots, mosquitos, rabbits and my pet dog all have partially developed attributes similar to “life” (as defined above). That being the case, it seems to me appropriate that the law should defend these creatures to the varying degrees to which they possess that attribute. And indeed it does. I can kill carrots all day long – but if I kill my pet dog, the law may not look on me kindly. And it shouldn’t.

    Fetuses, for me, fall into the same scheme. At the moment of conception it seems to me that “life” as I’ve defined it is only barely present. As the fetus develops, however, so does the “life”. At some (probably indeterminate, but prior to birth) point, the fetus develops to a level where it merits the protection of the law.

    For that reason, I oppose late-term abortions, but not early-term abortions.

    Here’s another way to look at:

    If I follow my heart, I simply can’t accept that the law would allow a fully-developed fetus to be killed the day before its birth. That seems barbaric. Similarly, if I follow my heart, I can’t help but note that a fetus the day after conception is nothing but a microscopic piece of tissue. I’m sorry, but I have no feelings for it.

    So, on both an emotional and an intellectual level, it seems to me that some time after conception and some time before birth, a fetus takes on “life”. Which, again, is why I oppose late-term abortions, but not early-term abortions.

  • You can’t logically compare a fetus to a carrot. A carrot will always be a carrot, with no hope of attaining consciousness. A fetus, barring death, will grow and develop into a person.

  • Plus, a carrot is orange. 🙂

    You are correct, of course, that there are many differences between a fetus and a carrot, and some people consider the potential for “life” to be an important one. I don’t see it any more important than orangeness, for the simple reason that all DNA-carrying cells have potential for life, yet we would be silly to object to the destruction of fingernails or sperm, wouldn’t we? In other words, if Potential for “Life” is a criteria, then where do we draw the line?

  • LaurenceB:

    It appears that you’re using sentience as your “life definition”. The problem is that a newborn baby isn’t that much more sentient than a late or even mid-term fetus. That it _will_ be sentient is enough for me, and the only thing that really makes sense in legal terms. A carrot or other veggie/critter doesn’t have the DNA to ever be sentient.

    My mental model is that fertilization boots up a growth “program” that results in a fully sentient person if all goes well. Since the state-change from non-sentience to sentience can’t be well-defined, the fact that the program is running is enough to define person-hood for me.

  • LaurenceB,

    One of the best books on this topic is Politically Correct Death: Answering the Arguments for Abortion Rights by Francis Beckwith, professor of Philosophy at UNLV.

    In it he addresses what you write. I quote from his book here. With regard to sentience he writes,

    …if sentience is the criterion of full humanness, then the reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping would all have to be declared nonpersons. Like the presentient unborn, these individuals are all at the moment nonsentient though they have the natural inherent capacity to be sentient. Yet to countenance their executions would be morally reprehensible. Therefore, one cannot countenance the execution of some unborn entities simply because they are not currently sentient.

    With regard to consciousness, he writes,

    This will then lead one to conclude that people who are asleep, people who are temporarily in a coma are then no longer persons. A person who is asleep does not at that point understand what life is, they are asleep. But you might say they were conscious at one time. However, to claim that a person can be conscious, become unconscious, and then return to a state of consciousness is to assume that there is some underlying personal unity to this individual. This unity allows us to say that the person who has returned to conscious capacity is the same person who was unconscious prior to being in a unconscious state. But this would mean that human consciousness is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for personhood….Consequently, it does not make sense to say that a person comes into existence when human function arises. Rather, it does make sense to say that a fully human entity is a person who has the natural inherent capacity to give rise to human functions. And since an unborn entity typically has this natural inherent capacity, (he or) she is a person.

    In other words, because the unborn human is a person with a certain natural inherent capacity (i.e., her essence), she will function as a person in the near future, just as the reversibly comatose and the temporarily unconscious will likewise do because of their natural inherent capacity. The unborn are not potential persons but persons with much potential.

    The point he is trying to make is that we as human beings, as persons, go through stages in life and each stage imparts to us certain functions – but these functions don’t define us as a person, what defines us is our human nature. The ability within us to unfold with time these human functions. An infant, for example, lacks many functions (consciousness, reproduction, speech) that an adult has, but both infant and adult are equally person…one is not ‘more of a person’ than another in the sense of human rights, why? Because we know that an infant, at that stage in human development, is supposed to lack those qualities but given the proper nutrition and time will develop the same human functions the adult currently has. In this respect, the infant, like the embryo, like the zygote, is not a ‘potential person’ but instead ‘a person with a lot of potential’.

    He puts it this way,

    It may be true that it is psychologically easier to kill something that does not resemble the human beings we see in everyday life, but it does not follow from this that the being in question is any less human or that the executioner is any more humane. Once we recognize that human development is a process that does not cease at the time of birth, then to insist that the unborn at six weeks look like the newborn infant is no more reasonable than to expect the newborn to look like a teenager. If we acknowledge as ‘human’ a succession of outward forms after birth, there is no reason not to extend that courtesy to the unborn, since human life is a continuum from conception to natural death. By confusing appearance with reality, may have inadvertently created a new prejudice, “natalism.” And, like other prejudices such as sexism and racism, natalism emphasizes nonessential differences (“they have a different appearance”) in order to support a favored group (“the already born”).

    LaurenceB writes, I don’t see it any more important than orangeness, for the simple reason that all DNA-carrying cells have potential for life, yet we would be silly to object to the destruction of fingernails or sperm, wouldn’t we?

    Beckwith writes,

    Sperm and ova do not have a right to life because they are not individual genetic human beings, but are merely parts of individual genetic human beings. They are only genetically human insofar as they share the genetic codes of their owners, but this is also true of their owners’ other parts (e.g., hands, feet, kidneys, etc.). Sperm and ova cease to exist at conception when the zygote, an individual genetic human being, comes into existence.

    In other words, an infant is just a younger adult…an embryo is just a younger infant, and a zygote is just a younger embryo…all human persons just at different stages of life. A finger nail, a sperm, and an arm are not. They don’t have the natural inherent ability inside them to progress through human stages of life.

    You LaurenceB, were at one point a teenager, you were at one point an infant, you were at one point an embryo, you were at one point a zygote, and in each of these stages of human life you gained new functions…but you were never a fingernail, you were never a sperm and you were never an arm.

  • Interesting discussion. I would like to add that there is an inconsistency in the law, too. Legally, a mother can decide to have an abortion to terminate the pregnancy. In that case, it is not murder because the fetus is not a person. However, if a a person kills a pregnant woman, the killer is charged with 2 counts of murder–murdering the mother and the “unborn child”. Think Scott and Laci Peterson. I have never understood that legal distinction, but its there and we have to live with it.

    I now have a different point of view about this subject because my wife and I are expecting our first child. This life-changing event has caused me to re-evaluate many things, including my thoughts and opinions on certain matters. All I can tell you is that when the doctor does the ultrasound and I hear my baby’s heart beating and see his/her little head and body in the monitor, it is the most amazing feeling in the world. I feel so happy and proud. The unborn baby has become the center of my world.

Leave a Reply