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Abortion and the Morality of Feticide: Part II

February 16th, 2011 by Matt

In my last post, Abortion and the Morality of Feticide: Part I, I briefly sketched an argument against feticide,

[1] It is wrong to kill a human being without justification;

[2] A fetus is a human being;

[3] In the case of feticide (at least in the majority of cases) insufficient or no justification is forthcoming.

I argued that defenders of feticide cannot rationally reject this argument unless they reject one of the premises. I argued further that attempts to refute [3] are successful only if one assumes that a fetus is not a human being. It follows then that defenders of abortion laws cannot rationally avoid the question of whether [2] is correct, whether a fetus is a human.

Is the Fetus a Human Being?

Big MacThe first thing to note is that the claim that feticide is homicide has considerable prima facie plausibility. Consider this, a hunter is in the woods and notices some rustling in the bushes. Looking through his scope he sees a six-foot high, bi-pedal being with brown hair, blue eyes, wearing a red and black swanndri. He refrains from shooting. Here, the hunter makes the sensible and reasonable judgement that in firing he would risk engaging in homicide. He bases this on what the target looks like. In the absence of reasons for thinking otherwise, he has good grounds for this claim.

This example has application to the status of the fetus; “[there is] a general consensus that the fetus is recognisably human after six weeks, and certainly after eight”[1] This fact, conjoined with the above illustration, entails that, in the absence of good reasons to the contrary, there are good grounds for thinking that feticide is homicide.

The second thing to note is is that good reasons for thinking the fetus does not have human status are not forthcoming. Here I will focus on four common examples: viability, sentience, birth and person-hood.

Viability
A common argument contends that a fetus is not a human because it is not viable. Susan Sherwin argues that feticide differs from killing children because a fetus “is wholly dependent on her [the mother’s] unique contribution to its maintenance, while a newborn is physically separate, though still in need of a lot of care”.[2]

There are several problems with this position.

The fact that a fetus cannot survive independently of its mother does not mean it is not a human being. Fetal viability is contingent upon the medical technology of a given culture. A fetus that is not viable in Chad is viable in Los Angeles. If viability is necessary for something to be a human then a woman pregnant with a viable fetus in Los Angeles who flies from Los Angeles to Chad carries a human being when she leaves but this human being ceases to exist when she arrives in Chad and yet becomes human again when she returns.[3]

Another implication of the viability criteria is that it entails that conjoined twins are not human. Consider conjoined twins Bob and Scott. If Bob is a human being then since Scott cannot live independently of Bob, Scott must not be a human being. It is difficult to see what property Bob has that Scott lacks which would justify considering him human but not Scott. By this reasoning, one would be forced to conclude both that they are and are not, human.[4]

In addition, the property Sherwin points to – dependence – is not something that ends at birth. David Oderberg puts the point well;

A born baby is also totally dependent on its mother, only instead of being fed and sheltered by the mother’s automatic internal processes, it is fed and sheltered by the mother’s consciously controlled external, behaviour. How can that make a difference to whether or not a foetus is a human being? [5]

A newborn is totally dependent on its mother if it happens to be born in an isolated area where there are no other lactating women and there are no means of bottle-feeding. An elderly woman may be totally dependant on her children looking after her. A hiker who breaks her leg a week’s walk from a road will die if her companions do not bring help. In these situations, it would be homicide for the mother to kill her baby, the children to kill their mother or the hikers their companion. The fact of dependence does not change this; one could not plausibly say that the baby, the elderly women or the hiker are not human beings.[6] Consequently, it is not plausible to suggest that the dependence of the non-viable fetus upon its mother makes it non-human.

Sentience
Because of these problems the more common response is to ground humanity in certain psychological capacities. Killing an organism is not homicide unless the organism’s brain has developed enough for it to acquire sentience, the ability to perceive pleasure and pain. This criterion will mean abortion is permissible up to 24 weeks.

Despite its pervasive appeal, there are some prima facie problems with this position. On the face of it, lack of sentience does not make a being non-human. If it did, then human beings cease to exist when asleep or unconscious and then pop back into existence upon awakening. Shooting someone would cease to be homicide as long as the victim was asleep or unconscious.

But setting this objection aside, there are other serious problems with this position. David Boonin notes that those who attempt to ground humanity in the amount of brain development an organism has undergone face a dilemma. “Any appeal to what a brain can do at various stages of development would seem to have to appeal to what the brain can already do. Or to what the brain has the potential to do in the future.”[7]

Either option leads to problems for a defender of the permissibility of abortion who does not also want to endorse infanticide. This is because “by any plausible measure dogs, and cats, cows and pigs, chickens and ducks or more intellectually developed than a new born infant.”[8]

Suppose, then, one takes the first horn and appeals to what the brain can already do.  However, unless one wishes to affirm that cats, dogs and chickens are human beings, “appeals to what the brain can already do” will “be unable to account for the presumed wrongness of killing toddlers or infants.”[9]

Suppose, then, one takes up the second horn of the dilemma and appeals to “what the brain has the potential to do in the future;” Boonin notes that this will entail that feticide is homicide. “If [such an account] allows appeals to what the brain has the potential to do in the future, then it will have to include fetuses as soon as their brains begin to emerge, during the first few weeks of gestation.”[10]

Birth
A third, position is that the fetus is not human until it is born. Aside from entailing feticide up until birth, this position has other problems. A premature, 30-week infant in a hospital intensive care unit would be a human being, whilst a 40-week fetus in utero would not be. Doctors would hypothetically struggle in one room to keep a human person alive while in the other, a physiologically-identical or more developed being is referred to as a non-human product of conception that can be killed. One gets the distinct impression that an ad hoc arbitrary judgement has been employed here purely to justify abortion.

Personhood
A final line of argument contends that while fetuses are clearly physiologically human they are not not “persons” –  where person is defined as  “a thinking, intelligent being that has reason and reflection and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking being, in different times and places.”[11] The point is that fetuses lack advanced psychological attributes such as self-awareness, rationality or autonomy which are typical of human persons. This position excludes the animals mentioned above as well as excluding human fetuses.

The problem is that by this account newborn infants are not persons either.

In a definitive study of infanticide, Michael Tooley compiled an impressive array of neurological and physiological data which demonstrated that infants are not persons in this sense until some time after birth.[12] The price of this line of inference is the reduction of newborn infants to the ethical level of cows. A newborn cow, and certainly a mature cow, is more person-like than an infant is. It is difficult to understand by this view why killing and eating infants is any more problematic than consuming a Big Mac.

Of course one can avoid this by claiming that it is the potential to acquire properties such as rationality, self-awareness, autonomy and not their actuality that matters. This enables one to claim that infants are protected by the moral rules against killing but it still permits us to kill and eat animals. The problem with this, of course, is that fetuses would also be covered by this rule, because fetuses also have the potential to possess these properties.

Conclusion
In summation, the arguments for the claim that a feticide is justified show that, except for a few rare cases, abortion is justified only if feticide is not homicide. However, there are good prima facie grounds for thinking feticide is homicide and these prima facie grounds are not overridden by reasons to the contrary. Almost every attempt to show a feticide is not homicide, has the implication that infanticide is not either.


[1] David Boonin A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 95.
[2] Susan Sherwin “Abortion a Feminist Perspective” in Bonnie Steinbock & John D Arras (Eds)  Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine 5th ed (Mountain View CA: Mayfield Publishing Co, 1999) 364.
[3] Peter Singer “Taking Life: the Embryo and the Fetus” in Writings on an Ethical Life (London: harper Collins, 2000) 148.
[5] David Oderberg Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Co, 2000) 5.
[6] Peter Singer “Taking life: The Embryo and the Fetus” 148-149.
[7] David Boonin A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 125.
[8] Ibid 121.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] John Locke Essay Concerning Human Understanding I.9.29.
[12] Michael Tooley Abortion and Infanticide (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983) Ch. 11.5.

RELATED POSTS:
Abortion and the Morality of Feticide: Part I

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155 responses so far ↓

  • @ Matt:

    Given where we’ve already been with this I’ll be addressing this from a slightly different vantage point.

    For me the key issue is point 2 – when is a fetus a human being. It’s a contentious issue and I do not agree that the solution is a simple one.

    By your own statements the fetus is only recognisably human after 6-8 weeks. How does that affect pre week 6 terminations based on the assertion that feticide begins with any termination from conception.

    This is the underlying problem with the whole Pro-Life debate; an assertion that the position is really quite simple followed by an acknowledgement that it is not.

    That said, we are still left with the over-riding problem. If there is to be a time limit at which a termination is not acceptable then at what stage should that demarcation line be drawn, maternal health factors aside.

    I think that your statement

    “Fetal viability is contingent upon the medical technology of a given culture.”

    is quite some strawman and somewhat unworthy of you. If you were to put that point to me as a legislator then I would view your case against terminations as deeply flawed.

    “A fetus that is not viable in Chad is viable in Los Angeles. If viability is necessary for something to be a human then a woman pregnant with a viable fetus in Los Angeles who flies from Los Angeles to Chad carries a human being when she leaves but this human being ceases to exist when she arrives in Chad and yet becomes human again when she returns.”

    is appallingly badly argued. There is a substantive wealth of cases where people of all ages require medical treatment not available in their home country and where they have to travel to obtain it.

    If the technology is available anywhere in the world then the viability afforded would apply to all such cases regardless.

    “Another implication of the viability criteria is that it entails that conjoined twins are not human. Consider conjoined twins Bob and Scott. If Bob is a human being then since Scott cannot live independently of Bob, Scott must not be a human being. It is difficult to see what property Bob has that Scott lacks which would justify considering him human but not Scott. By this reasoning, one would be forced to conclude both that they are and are not, human.”

    Sorry, but that is yet another strawman, and again it would damage your line of argument if you were to suggest that as part of a deposition to a committee of legislators considering the matter as the first thing that they would do is to ask their medical advisers if the comparison was fair and the medical advisers would answer ‘No.’

    Conjoined twins are mutually dependent (particularly where organs and blood supply are shared). Mother and fetus are not. If the mother dies the fetus dies (particularly before 24 weeks gestation although there has been reports of brain dead mothers being artificially kept alive to allow premature births, the second after 3 months of brain death). if the fetus dies then the mother still has a very good chance of survival, moreso if fetal death is detected early.

    “A born baby is also totally dependent on its mother, only instead of being fed and sheltered by the mother’s automatic internal processes, it is fed and sheltered by the mother’s consciously controlled external, behaviour.”

    I’ve already explained a rebuttal to that several times. The post-birth mother is the preferable primary care giver but she is not the essential primary care giver, whereas in utero she is. Consider what happens to the baby if the mothers dies in child birth ? What then ?

    The sentience argument is not one that I’m going to address because I cannot see the relevance to the argument. It seems about as hollow as arguing that certain non life threatening disabilities could justify a termination (you can guess my views on Downs).

    “A third, position is that the fetus is not human until it is born. Aside from entailing feticide up until birth, this position has other problems. A premature, 30-week infant in a hospital intensive care unit would be a human being, whilst a 40-week fetus in utero would not be. Doctors would hypothetically struggle in one room to keep a human person alive while in the other, a physiologically-identical or more developed being is referred to as a non-human product of conception that can be killed. One gets the distinct impression that an ad hoc arbitrary judgement has been employed here purely to justify abortion.”

    Sorry, but I can’t agree with that analysis at all. You would need to cite the relevant guidelines. My understanding is that a post 24 week abortion would be justifiable if a fetal medical condition was discovered that would mean severe physical or mental abnormalities or continuing the pregnancy placed the life of the mother at immediate risk and premature delivery of the fetus was not otherwise possible. You seem to know differently and I’m interested to know where you obtained your information from and more importantly if you can quote any specific cases.

    The personhood argument again seems to be irrelevant and it’s not one that I’ve heard advanced by the Pro-Choice side.

  • “This is the underlying problem with the whole Pro-Life debate; an assertion that the position is really quite simple followed by an acknowledgement that it is not.”
    I heartily agree. Pro-lifers need the intellectual integrity to admit that their position is not simple, and stop pretending that their arguments are stronger than they are.

  • I think the prima-facie argument is strong for outlawing late and mid term abortions, but gets weaker the earlier you get. So if the line was drawn at 8 weeks (say), would that be sufficient?

    Matt, would you agree that the argument gets exponentially murkier the closer you get to conception?

  • @Paul and colin:

    I am pro-life. I do assert that this is a simple issue. My thought process is if it is not human, and humans don’t produce platypi(sp?), giraffes, monkeys, etc., then what is it? Well, it has to be human, then. Why can’t the very earliest stages of a human’s life be human (pre 6-8 weeks, immediately following conception)?

    Can you help me understand your position? I hope I clarified mine well enough for you to work with.

  • Colin, I agree that the “prima facie” argument only works from 8 weeks onwards, when the embryo becomes a fetus. This does not mean abortion is acceptable prior to this point, it means this particular argument does not show this another argument might. The 8 weeks point however is significant, as 98% of surgical abortions occur after 8 weeks.

  • Hi Robert

    Before I respond to you, let me make one distinction, between the term ‘human’ as in “the tooth that the dentist removed from my mouth 2 years ago and discarded was human” and ‘a human being’. I assume that you mean to use the second term, because nobody would dispute that a barely-conceived zygote is human in the first sense, but that concession doesn’t buy it the ‘right to life’ any more than it was an abortion when my dentist removed and discarded my human tooth.

    But then your argument becomes “if it is not a human being, what else is it? Well it’s not a giraffe.” and consequently falls apart, as we all know there are a myriad of things that are not human beings or giraffes.

    Maybe you can restate your argument more precisely in a way that I can respond to?

    So much for simplicity.

  • Hi Matt

    Wouldn’t you think then, that a pro-lifer who wants the maximum good to be done, would do better avoiding the discussion of the moral status of the fetus during the early weeks, and focusing their attention on bringing this compelling argument to bear on the low hanging fruit?

  • I didn’t get an answer to this question in the other thread so I am reposting it here.

    A question for those that oppose abortion being legal at 3 months and support abortion being illegal at 8 Months…

    What precisely is wrong with abortions being illegal at 3 months gestation?

  • Your tooth if left alone was never going to complete a developmental pathway to independant life.
    A foetus is nothing other than a human being, there is no point between fertilisation and delivery that a decision is made concerning what it will become, not at 24 wks, nor at 8 wks nor even in the seconds after fertilisation.
    All this pretending its somehow less or other than a human being is just rationalisation so you can pretend you are not killing a human being.
    Two simple questions
    -do human beings originate from any other source or any other way?
    -does human sexual activity ever give rise to anything other than a human being?
    Terminating a human pregnancy always and only ever ends a human life, nothing else.
    The real question is , under what circumstances is this a morally acceptable [right] choice?
    Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

  • Reed:
    Did you mean to say:
    “A question for those that oppose abortion being __illegal__ at 3 months and support abortion being illegal at 8 Months…”

    Otherwise your question doesn’t make sense.

  • Thanks Colin.

    A question for those that oppose abortion being illegal at 3 months and support abortion being illegal at 8 Months…

    What precisely is wrong with abortions being illegal at 3 months gestation?

  • Jeremy.

    I think you’ve proved my point to Robert that this isn’t a simple matter.

    a fetus is not “left alone” in the womb
    “there is no point between fertilisation and delivery that a decision is made”. That’s irrelevant. An acorn is not an oak tree.
    “nor even in the seconds after fertilisation.” Nor even in the seconds before fertilization. In fact even an unfertilized ovum has one ‘goal’ in ‘mind’, to become a human being.
    “All this pretending its somehow less or other than a human being is just rationalisation so you can pretend you are not killing a human being.” I’m anti abortion, I just admit that I don’t have any compelling arguments against very early term abortion. So please don’t besmear my motives.

    Two simple questions
    -do human beings originate from any other source or any other way?
    no (with rare exception)
    -does human sexual activity ever give rise to anything other than a human being?
    all the time.

  • Hi Matt

    “Wouldn’t you think then, that a pro-lifer who wants the maximum good to be done, would do better avoiding the discussion of the moral status of the fetus during the early weeks, and focusing their attention on bringing this compelling argument to bear on the low hanging fruit?”

    I have some sympathy with this, I’ll give an example, there has been a debate around twinning, which occurs at around 14 days post conception, and metaphysical arguments regarding identity have been offered to show that the fetus cannot be identical to the organism prior to twinning, so that a new organism comes into existence only after this time. Now I am unconvinced by these arguments, however if the topic is abortion I think its unwise to get into this debate as it tends to side track from the fact that, even if an organism comes into existence at 14 weeks abortion is still homicide, in fact many opponents of abortion have defended the 14 week position and some like Baruch Brody or Paul Ramsey have defended an 6-8week position, and yet still given trenchant critiques of abortion.

    Of course if the topic is stem cell research or certain abortifacent drugs the issue might be more relevant.

  • “The price of this line of inference is the reduction of newborn infants to the ethical level of cows. A newborn cow, and certainly a mature cow, is more person-like than an infant is. It is difficult to understand by this view why killing and eating infants is any more problematic than consuming a Big Mac.”

    What is stopping me from arguing that infanticide is morally acceptable and therefore I can also support abortion?

  • “What is stopping me from arguing that infanticide is morally acceptable and therefore I can also support abortion?”

    Nothing.

    Would you like fries with your McFetus burger?

  • What is stopping me from arguing that infanticide is morally acceptable and therefore I can also support abortion?

    Its possible to make this argument, however, to do this is to embrace some fairly counter intuitive claims, such as that a new born infant has the same moral status as a cow.

    The question then is why you find this claim more plausible than the claim abortion is wrong, what is soooo compelling about the permissibility of abortion that its denial strikes you as more absurd than the claim that infanticide is not any more serious than killing a cow?

  • Hey just because I’d kill the fetus does not mean I want to eat it.

  • “however, to do this is to embrace some fairly counter intuitive claims”

    Why do we have these intuitions? It is important to analyses where these intuitions come from and if they are a reliable indicator of what actions are morally acceptable or unacceptable. Reason should play a more critical element in shaping our views that mere feelings. The Ancient Romans and many modern day Indians seem to have little problem in practicing infanticide so it does seem possible in the right circumstances to embrace these apparent counter-intuitions. Yet in the the modern day Western world many people find the notion of infanticide abhorrent. So intuitions are merely a cultural thing, and may be due to some evolutionary development. Ken should have more on this.

    In this post you haven’t actually argued for the rights of fetuses, you have only said that if someone is going to argue for abortion on the premise that fetuses lack personhood then they must also be willing to accept infanticide. You then hope that they have this counter-intuitive feeling that you have just described. However here you set yourself up for that person accepting infanticide and still being able to argue for abortion rights. What you could do is tell me why being a human being is so important for having a right to life, go on then.

  • ‘The Ancient Romans and many modern day Indians seem to have little problem in practicing infanticide so it does seem possible in the right circumstances to embrace these apparent counter-intuitions. Yet in the the modern day Western world many people find the notion of infanticide abhorrent. So intuitions are merely a cultural thing, and may be due to some evolutionary development.”

    The same is true with our intiutions about the equality of women, slavery, or killing people in arena’s for entertainment.

    I take it you don’t believe these things are wrong either.

  • ” What you could do is tell me why being a human being is so important for having a right to life”

    Because each person is utterly unique. If you have ever loved someone in your life you would understand.

  • What you could do is tell me why being a human being is so important for having a right to life”

    I don’t recall saying that being human makes you have a right to life.

    I did talk about wether a fetus is human or wether feticide is homicide, but perhaps I should have been clear here. By human I mean a being protected by the moral rule forbidding homicide. Thats is we recognise that there is a moral rule against killing, we note some creatures are protected by this rule ( adult humans, infants) and some are not ( animals cows, flies). When I say the fetus is human I am saying it falls into the former not the latter of this group.

    As to your question, why is it wrong to kill these beings, I know of several theories as to why its wrong to kill in the literature. I don’t think any is entirely successful. So I don’t think the opponent of feticide is in a specially difficult situation here, I don’t think anyone has a totally plausible account as to why its wrong to kill adult human beings. That does not mean we don’t know that its wrong to kill those beings without justification.

  • Colin,

    I think Jeremy gave you an adequate answer and response to your tooth (false)analogy.

    My point is that what is growing is a human because it cannot be anything else. It is human and nothing else. You can try to assert well it’s just cells but what type of cells? Human cells, of course.

    So if forcing this new life to stop growing is forcing something it is entirely human from growing how isn’t this murder?

  • @Colin
    “-does human sexual activity ever give rise to anything other than a human being?
    all the time.”
    we were discussing the product of fertilisation, so i would be fascinated to know what else other than a human comes into being through human sexual activity. A banana, maybe a cabbage or puppies?

  • Colin, your point about the ambiguity of “human” is a good one. My kidney is a human kidney, its genetically human, it does not follow destroying my kidney is a human being and killing it is homicide.

    I don’t think however this is what those who contend human life begins at conception typically mean. The standard example is Don Marquis’s position which is perhaps the best “pro life” position in the literature. Marquis holds that what makes killing an infant or adult human being is that killing them deprives them of a certain type of future that is of value to them. What matters then is whether the being in question is such that it has the same kind of future as an infant and an adult.

    The embryo then is singled out because the embryo is believed to be the same organism as the infant or adult simply at a latter stage and hence has the same future. A human kidney or tooth however while genetically human is not an adult or infant at an early stage of development, and neither is an egg or an ova.

    There are of course questions about this regarding twinning, some argue that the possibility of twinning and toti potency means an early embryo cannot be said to be the same organism as the latter embryo or the fetus. Like I said I don’t buy the twinning argument, but on either view an embryo is different to a tooth or kidney.

    Perhaps an example can illustrate the force of these kind of considerations: take a new born infant, this being differs from a cow or pig only in terms of its physical anatomy and the Psychological traits it will develop in the future, in terms of its actual Psychological traits it is less developed than a cow or pig.

    So if infanticide is homicide, the only real plausible grounding for this is what the infant will acquire in the future if we do not kill it. But these seem to be properties it shares with an embryo and fetus, though not with a tooth or kidney.

    The issue then for the pro life position is not whether the embryo is genetically human, its whether the embryo is the infant or adult at an earlier stage of development and hence has the same future as an infant or adult.

  • @Colin
    “All this pretending its somehow less or other than a human being is just rationalisation so you can pretend you are not killing a human being.” I’m anti abortion, I just admit that I don’t have any compelling arguments against very early term abortion. So please don’t besmear my motives.”

    the “you” in the above quote is generic not personal [ much quicker than typing " pro-choice advocates or individuals seeking an abortion"], i apologise for any direct offence.

    None the less, i repeat the point, at eight weeks the foetus doesnt suddenly become human, no hormonal triggers or gene triggers come in to play at 7.5 weeks and direct future development to homo sapien as opposed to a cow or a giraffe or a dragonfly.
    The fusion of a human ova and a human sperm creates a human being, nothing else, all this pretense “its not human till” is just attempting moral whitewashing, trying to justify the unjustifiable.
    So back to the real question ” when is it justifiable to take a human life”

    You dont need compelling arguments against early abortion, thats the wrong way round to think. Rather the pro-abortionist needs to come up with compelling reasons to take a human life.

  • Robert:
    “I think Jeremy gave you an adequate answer and response to your tooth (false)analogy.”
    Do you?

    “My point is that what is growing is [[a human]] because it cannot be anything else. It is [[human]] and nothing else.”
    There you go blurring the two very different terms. If you can’t do me the decency of being precise, I don’t see how I can be expected to respond.

    Jeremy:
    “we were discussing the product of fertilisation”
    You said human sexual activity. And I believe that what is created at the point of fertilization is exactly what we’re discussing here. So try not to be circular.

    “at eight weeks the foetus doesnt suddenly become [a human]”
    I completely agree (with correction)
    My point is not that there’s something magical about that number. My point is that pro-lifers should fight battles that they can win.

    “Rather the pro-abortionist needs to come up with compelling reasons to take a human life.”
    Philosophically that might seem like the way it should be, but here you are in the real world, trying to do some good, maybe steer the real world in some positive directions, so you better darn well have some iron-clad arguments if you expect to make a difference. If that’s not your goal, then get off the soapbox.

    Matt:
    I only brought up the tooth to try to demonstrate to Robert the difference between human and ‘a human’, though apparently I have failed.

    Yes an infant has a specific future
    Yes the same embryo has the same future (further out)
    But the pre-fertilization ovum has that same future (just further out)
    And the cells that became the ovum
    and so on

    Are you anti-contraception?

  • Colin, no the ova does not have the same future as an infant. The ova cannot be said to be the same organism as the infant at an earlier stage, whereas the embryo can.

  • “An acorn is not an oak tree.”

    Yes, but the nature of an acorn is NOT ‘tree’, the nature of an acorn (in this case you mention) is ‘Oak’.

    That acorn will never develop into a pine tree, or a chicken or a human being.

    It might well be a potential tree, but because it will only ever become an Oak tree, it can’t be anything other than a potential oak tree (as opposed to a potential pine tree, potential chicken, or potential human).

    The fetus is a potential adult (or infant, toddler, teenager, etc), but to possess such potentiality it can only ever be an individual, living, self-directed human being.

    If the fetus is a potential infant, then it can’t also be a potential human being, because to be a potential infant, you first have to be an actual human being.

    In regards to the tooth/kidney argument, these things are human materials (as opposed to human beings), and as such they are totally different to human beings because they do not possess the same potentiality as a human being does.

    But an embryo and a fetus possess potentials that are potentials found ONLY in living human beings (i.e. the potential for rational thought, the potential for moral reasoning, the potential for freewill, the potential for artistic endeavor, the potential for philosophizing on this blog, etc.)

  • Colin
    ” My point is that pro-lifers should fight battles that they can win.”

    So you do not find arguments against pre 8th week abortions compelling. Well thats fine, so what. If you believe abortion to be wrong why are you so busy arguing with others of the same mind. You disagree with on some details, thats life. Get on and stand up for what you can rather than arguing with comrades with whom you have minor disagreements. Get out and fight against those 90%+ abortions that happen after the 8th week, do something useful. Why spend so much time disputing with fellow travellers who perhaps do have a clearer understanding.
    In all this dispute you are helping the pro-choice lobby if only because you are focussed on the wrong thing.
    For myself the question remains, underwhat circumstances is taking a human life justifiable? I do not consider personal convenience or economic hardship justifications for taking human life.

    On the subject of ova and sperm , you are wrong, left to themselves these cannot develope into human beings, they do not even have that potential.

    Wrt to contraception, i am protestant not catholic, but even there it seems to me that our contemporary ability to apparently divorce sexual activity from its natural consequences has lead to problems and attitudes that are not helping our society. Sex has become more than ever a matter of self gratification and entertainment. We seem to see sex as purely for pleasure and forget about reproduction, rather than as a reproductive activity that can be a pleasure. So typical of the modern West to want the privilege without the responsibility.

  • “Hey just because I’d kill the fetus does not mean I want to eat it.”

    How about if someone else eats it? You’d be fine with that?

  • Matt:
    “no the ova does not have the same future as an infant.”
    Surely this statement is false? The ovum that develops into an infant has the infant as its future.

    “The ova cannot be said to be the same organism as the infant at an earlier stage, whereas the embryo can.
    Agreed, but what does a biological statement about organisms have to do with a philosophical statement about futures?

    Brendan:
    “The fetus is a potential adult (or infant, toddler, teenager, etc), but to possess such potentiality it can only ever be an individual, living, self-directed human being.”
    The unfertilized ovum is a potential adult, and yet it is not a human being, therefore your statement is false.

    Jeremy:
    “why are you so busy arguing with others of the same mind.”
    Because I believe that pro-lifers with bad arguments and indefensible positions do more harm than good.

    “In all this dispute you are helping the pro-choice lobby if only because you are focused on the wrong thing.”
    No, you are helping the pro-choice lobby by replacing logic and reason with zeal and fervor, and so reducing the credibility of the pro-life movement.

    “On the subject of ova and sperm , you are wrong, left to themselves these cannot develop into human beings”
    Left to itself, a zygote can not develop into a human being either.

    “Sex has become more than ever a matter of self gratification and entertainment.”
    Agreed. A person shouldn’t have sex if they’re not in a position to parent a child, should one result.

  • Colin ““The ova cannot be said to be the same organism as the infant at an earlier stage, whereas the embryo can.
    Agreed, but what does a biological statement about organisms have to do with a philosophical statement about futures?

    It means that the Ova is not deprived of a future when you destroy it. Some other organism that does not exist, which would have existed if the ova had united to a particular sperm, as opposed to half a billion others, will not now come into existence, and this organism would if it had existed had a certain type of future.

    On the other hand the embryo is the infant or adult at an earlier stage of development. So when you kill it you destroy an individual which has a particular kind of future.

  • “The unfertilized ovum is a potential adult, and yet it is not a human being, therefore your statement is false.”

    Slight lack of biological understanding here, the unfertilized ovum is not a potential adult, and it cannot develope into anything of itself.
    The unfertilized ovum has only half of each the necessary chromosomes pairs. An unfertilised ovum does not even have the life potential of an ordinary somatic cell as it cannot undergo normal replication through mitosis.

    “On the subject of ova and sperm , you are wrong, left to themselves these cannot develop into human beings”
    Left to itself, a zygote can not develop into a human being either.”

    Ok, i could be a lot more verbose but this is a limited communication via typing format. I get the feeling you are being deliberately obtuse in your reading comprehension, or deliberately twisting my meaning.

    Left to itself ie allowed to follow the normal processes and not interfered with.
    Quite clearly i was not suggesting “left to itself” as in a zygote outside its natural environment ,exposed to the elements etc.

    Lastly while i admit to some zeal and fervor, i deny that this is at the expense of logic and reason. Rather the denial the suggestion that a human embryo or foetus is anything other than a human being is what takes twisted logic and unreason. And it seems to me to be so typical of humans when they want their own way concerning something the know to be wrong.

  • Jeremy:

    I’m certainly not being deliberately obtuse. As far as I can tell your argument relies on imprecise language to work. If you are unable to phrase your argument in suitably precise language, then how good is that argument

    Philosophically what is the difference between an ovum that requires more DNA, and a zygote that requires numerous other resources. What is so special (philosophically) about DNA? I consider my DNA to be only a small part of what makes me who I am.

    “Ok, i could be a lot more verbose”
    Verbosity doesn’t equal precision.

    “Left to itself ie allowed to follow the normal processes and not interfered with.”
    Wouldn’t you say that using a condom is interfering with normal processes?

    Your logic and reason are full of imprecision and holes, and when I point some of them out, you malign my motives. Just saying you’re being logical doesn’t make it so.

    Matt:
    So an entity has to be an organism to have a future? You’re using the word in a very strange way. Maybe you could give a defenition?

    “On the other hand the embryo is the infant or adult at an earlier stage of development.”
    And yet, like the ovum, what it becomes, if anything, is strongly influenced by it’s environment and chance. Biologically speaking, human life is a cyclical continuum offering no discrete demarcations. The question of when a new human identity begins is a philosophical one outside of the realm of biology.

  • ” If Bob is a human being then since Scott cannot live independently of Bob, Scott must not be a human being.”

    One in 250 people are born with both male and female organs. Is this a man with some extra women’s organs or a woman with some extra male organs? Or does it depend on how manly or feminine the rest of their body looks?

    Now if you think that this question is ridiculous, then you must be able to see why your little definition game is ridiculous too.

    I mean, Chad and L.A., come on, are you serious?

    Surely the definition of whether a fetus is viable has to include the woman who is carrying it’s point of view.

    For example, it would be slightly disingenuous of a woman shot through the abdomen, on her way to have an abortion to say, “He tried to kill me, AND he killed my baby!!”

    But if the woman was looking forward to a new addition to the family, she’d have every right to say that.

    Seems to me that pro-lifers are happy to take this decision away from women and take on the affront of a women hoping to be a mothers but being denied that right.

  • ‘For example, it would be slightly disingenuous of a woman shot through the abdomen, on her way to have an abortion to say, “He tried to kill me, AND he killed my baby!!” ‘

    I disagree, it would in fact not be disingeneous, but in line with the fact that ‘life’ in not certain or predictable.

    It is entirely feasible that being shot changes the woman’s perception of life, her relationship with the world and with others and at that moment changes her view on her relationship with her unborn child.

  • “Your logic and reason are full of imprecision and holes”
    feel free to point out these, but make sure you are biologically accurate . So far i think its you who has been inaccurate at least with the biology.
    And yes i differ from my catholic brethren, there is a fundamental difference between preventing fertilisation taking place and taking a life.
    I reject your accusation of imprecision, my position remains simply and clearly, “When is taking a human life justifiable”? surely that is not a difficult question to understand though maybe to answer.

  • “feel free to point out these”
    That is what I’ve been doing.

    “but make sure you are biologically accurate”
    Why are you bringing biology to a philosophical discussion. Read what I said to Matt above.

    “there is a fundamental difference between preventing fertilisation taking place and taking a life.”
    Not from a materialistic biological point of view.

    “I reject your accusation of imprecision”
    Imprecision like equivocating between “a human” and “human”.

    “When is taking [the life of a human being] justifiable?”
    That is not a difficult question to understand, though of course the answer is that it depends on the situation.
    But why change the subject? The question we’re actually discussing here is “what is a human being”
    Matt has presented a strong prima-facie argument that mid to late term fetuses are human beings.
    Now we’re discussing whether there are strong arguments for early fetuses or zygotes.

  • @Colin

    “The unfertilized ovum is a potential adult, and yet it is not a human being, therefore your statement is false.”

    Actually Colin, an ovum does not posses the potency of adulthood at all.

    To possess that potency the ovum has to first combine with the male gamete, and then in combining it ceases to exist and something totally and substantially new comes into existence.

    That something, the human embryo, NOW possess the self-directed potency for adulthood, a potency that it did not exist in either the male or the female gametes that combined to bring it into existence.

    If you leave that embryo to its own devices, and all things being equal, it will only ever develop into one thing – a human adult (along with all the prior stages of human development of course).

    It won’t become an adult chicken, an adult plant, or an adult pancreas.

  • Pboy, like I have told you mockery or ridicule is not a rebuttal.
    1. ” If Bob is a human being then since Scott cannot live independently of Bob, Scott must not be a human being.” One in 250 people are born with both male and female organs. Is this a man with some extra women’s organs or a woman with some extra male organs? Or does it depend on how manly or feminine the rest of their body looks?
    Now if you think that this question is ridiculous, then you must be able to see why your little definition game is ridiculous too.”

    First, I don’t think the question regarding these people is ridiculous, but even if it is your example is disanalogous.
    In the case you cite we have some people whom we do not know wether they are male or female and we are trying to ask what’s the best criteria of maleness or femaleness to decide it. In the case I cite we have a some cases where we know that Bob and Scott are human, we know that killing them would count as a form of homicide, and we use this fact to show that a particular account of what’s necessary to be human fails.

    2”I mean, Chad and L.A., come on, are you serious?” repeating an argument and then appending “are you serious?” to it does not actually address the argument.

    3 “Surely the definition of whether a fetus is viable has to include the woman who is carrying it’s point of view.”
    No viability is a medical term referring to whether a fetus can survive outside of the womb, this is determined by medical facts about the respiratory capacities of the fetus and the kind of incubation technology available. Wether a women believes a fetus can live outside of her or not does not change these facts.

    4. ”For example, it would be slightly disingenuous of a woman shot through the abdomen, on her way to have an abortion to say, “He tried to kill me, AND he killed my baby!!” But if the woman was looking forward to a new addition to the family, she’d have every right to say that.” I agree it would be inconsistent for a women to claim a fetus in her is a baby one minutes and then deny it the next. But, this fact does not provide any reason for thinking that wether a fetus is viable, or wether its human depends on whether a women thinks it does .
    5 ”Seems to me that pro-lifers are happy to take this decision away from women and take on the affront of a women hoping to be a mothers but being denied that right.” Yes I don’t think women should be allowed to decide to kill their fetus, I also don’t think women should be allowed to kill new born infants, or children, or teenagers or adults, or there aged parents when it’s a stress to look after them. The fact someone things another should not be allowed to decide to do something is of little consequence, the question is wether the decision they are being denied is the decision to commit homicide. I arged above there are reasons for thinking it is, you have failed to address them.

  • @Colin
    When do you believe your life began?

  • “I reject your accusation of imprecision”
    Imprecision like equivocating between “a human” and “human”.

    You might need to read the comments again, i pretty sure this was a point you made against someone else not me, i have been careful not to give you that ammunition. Though i think you are being excessively pedantic, no one else had any trouble understanding whay he meant. This discussion while needing reasonable accuracy doesnt need to be written as though it were a legal document.

    “Why are you bringing biology to a philosophical discussion”

    because biology is relevant to what makes a human being. And since you make the point about relevence in parliment and public opinion, simple biological facts are going to be more relevant than philosophical positions in a secular arena

    Let me remind you of the first two points of Matts argument

    [1] It is wrong to kill a human being without justification;

    [2] A fetus is a human being;

    Now since there is no magic occurring at the end of first trimester, no genetically triggered descisions about whether the foetus will become a human being or something else, then you need to provide a good reason/argument why prior to that point it is anything other than a human being. And that has not been forthcoming.

  • Brendan:

    “Actually Colin, an ovum does not posses the potency of adulthood at all.”
    Potency of adulthood? Did you just make that expression up? Can you define it?
    Like the ovum, the zygote has to combine with lots of things for it to become an adult. I fail to see the difference.

    Reed
    “When do you believe your life began?”
    Honestly, I don’t know.

    Jeremy
    “You might need to read the comments again, i pretty sure this was a point you made against someone else not me”
    You’re absolutely right, I do sincerely apologize.

    “Though i think you are being excessively pedantic.”
    Logic is a pedantic game.
    Let me give you an example of why:
    This is my cat
    This cat is a mother
    Therefore, this is my mother
    On the surface, this might seem like a good argument, but once you dig into the details of what the person means at each point, you find the flaws.

    I do think I understand your argument which basically goes
    A zygote must be a human being, because, well what else would it be?

    “This discussion while needing reasonable accuracy doesn’t need to be written as though it were a legal document.”
    I completely agree. Though we might differ on the definition of reasonable accuracy.

    “because biology is relevant to what makes a human being.”
    Loosely relevant. But a zygote neither resembles a human being, nor acts in any of the ways we associate with typical human beings. All it seems that the zygote has going for it is the possible future of developing into an adult human, which I claim it shares with the ovum.
    The question of when a human’s identity begins is a philosophical one, don’t you agree?
    “simple biological facts are going to be more relevant than philosophical positions in a secular arena”
    Assuming they bear any relevance to the discussion, which they don’t.

    “Now since there is no magic occurring at the end of first trimester”
    I don’t concede that there is no magic happening then. I don’t know when the magic happens. You’re the one who claims to know the exact point that the magic happens. That seems presumptuous to me.

    “no genetically triggered decisions about whether the fetus will become a human being or something else”
    Please dispense with the straw man that I think the fetus will become ‘something else’. We all know what the fetus will become (if everything goes well). The question is when does it become it?

    “then you need to provide a good reason/argument why prior to that point it is anything other than a human being.”
    Here is what we know
    At one point, it was not a human being (it was parts of it’s father and mother’s reproductive process)
    At another later point it is a human being. Matt’s argument in this post lends strong support that one such point is early in the fetus’ development
    Therefore, at some unknown point between these two points, a new human being comes into existence.
    Corollary: We know for a fact that the human being was, prior to some point, not a human being
    As I said, I don’t know when that magical point is. And neither do you.
    You claim the magical point to coincide with the biological event of fertilization, but I contend that this is arbitrary, the two are unrelated.
    Curiously, at what point in fertilization do you think the human being starts to exist? Fertilization isn’t an instantaneous thing.

  • “3 “Surely the definition of whether a fetus is viable has to include the woman who is carrying it’s point of view.”
    No viability is a medical term referring to whether a fetus can survive outside of the womb..”

    Oh, you didn’t understand what I was meaning. I’m sorry, I’ll try to remember to be nit-pickingly perfect.

    Obviously the woman has no say about the medical viability of a fetus, unless she herself is a doctor.

    Guess I meant something like, Surely the woman ought to have some say about whether the fetus ought to be allowed to come to (medical) viablity, taking into consideration various medical and other factors.

    If you don’t want to answer something, just say, I’d rather not answer that. Much shorter than all that opinion on my analogies.

    An analogy is never perfect, but you rhetorically asking us to decide if a person attached to another person is really a person, is similar to me asking you what you’d call a person with two sets of genitals, one woman and one man.

    In both cases the people concerned are ‘born’, they were born in somewhat less than ‘God’s image'(as it is popularly applied), and since you seem to want us to decree something about the situation you propose, I thought you might like to give your opinion on another ‘birth situation’ where there must be some confusion.

    Seems to me that your first, knee-jerk reaction concerning analogies is to say that whatever I say is certainly not an analogy, but that’s just not true Matt.

    I, myself could point out, if i said, “Imagine the Earth was ‘this apple’, then..”, but the Earth is nothing like that apple at all, if I simply wanted to be ‘ornery.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding here Matt. I assumed that you didn’t imagine all your arguments to be 100% valid and ‘polished’ and like that and you put your stuff on a blog where it might be criticized and with luck you might get something out of it.

    1) Guess not.
    2) Wouldn’t want to be like you.
    3) Do your religion a favour. Stop defending it.

  • Colin, the rule against killing applies to organisms because only organisms can be killed. The question is which type of organisms is it wrong to kill.

    As to potential, here I think you are misunderstanding the concept. When a person says an embryo is a potential person, they mean “If an embryo grows normally there will be a person who once was the embryo”. In otherwords it refers to what attributes the same organism will have if it is not killed but left to live.

    The idea that sperm and ova are potential persons then follows only if you and I were once sperm and ova. This is however false, suppose its true that I once was an ova, parity of reasoning would suggest I also once was the sperm. But if I once was the ova and I once was the sperm then both the sperm and ova were once identical with me, but seeing I am identical with both of them they are identical with each other. But that’s clearly false the sperm and ova are separate organisms one can destroy one and the other still exist.

  • The sperm and egg are not a person, each contain only half the information required. When an unfertilised egg (and womb lining) is shed from the body it is identified as menstruating not a miscarriage.

    However once the egg is fertilised the two halves of genetic information have come together and a genetically unique individual has been created. That is why after conception you can have events like ectopic pregnancy, and miscarriage.

  • Somebody wants to kill hermaphrodites.

    Why do you hate hermaphrodites?

    When I was a baby I needed the input of food and water and attention to become a youth, and then I needed more food and more water and even more attention to become an adult. The potential for the adult was in the baby though.

    When I was a zygote I needed to obtain food and oxygen from my mother, but I did the growing myself. The potential for the adult was there in the zygote too.

    The “one in ten thousand” egg, and the “one in ten million” sperm. They weren’t a huge drain on resources prior to conception, and genetically neither was me.

  • att:
    “the rule against killing applies to organisms because only organisms can be killed.”
    It sounds like you’re blurring the lines between biology and philosophy again. The fact that biology attributes a (man made) label to the zygote that it doesn’t confer to the ovum, surely doesn’t have much to do with the moral and philosophical implications?

    “a person who once was the embryo”
    That is a curious concept when you look into it. Are you a physicalist? Is your identity defined by your physical body? Whether the person once was the zygote, or whether they came into being at some later point and inhabited what was once the zygote, is precisely what we’re arguing.

    “parity of reasoning would suggest I also once was the sperm.”
    Colin: “There’s a red ball hidden in one of these two identical boxes”
    Matt: “But by parity of reasoning, if it is one of them, it must be in the other too, therefore there is no ball”

    Ari:
    “The sperm and egg are not a person”
    Says you. And yet you claim that moments after they interact in some way, suddenly there’s a person.

    “each contain only half the information required”
    Information doesn’t make a person. I am not defined by my DNA.

    “When an unfertilised egg (and womb lining) is shed from the body it is identified as menstruating not a miscarriage.”
    So we’re basing our argument on societal standards now? For the record, I think society is ok with early term abortion, so I don’t think this is a good direction for you to go.

    “However once the egg is fertilised the two halves of genetic information have come together and a genetically unique individual has been created.”
    You snuck in your conclusion again. A genetically unique organism is created. If by individual you mean individual organism then you’re fine. If by individual you mean human being, then you’re confusing a biological event with a philosophical one.

    Jason:
    “The potential for the adult was in the baby though.”
    The potential for a billion different adults was in the baby. By becoming who you are, you killed all the others.

    “The potential for the adult was there in the zygote too.”
    The potential for a billion different adults.

    “The “one in ten thousand” egg, and the “one in ten million” sperm. They weren’t a huge drain on resources prior to conception”
    The ovum required a sperm, that’s a pretty significant resource.

    “and genetically neither was me.”
    you identity is not defined by your DNA.

  • ”It sounds like you’re blurring the lines between biology and philosophy again. The fact that biology attributes a (man made) label to the zygote that it doesn’t confer to the ovum, surely doesn’t have much to do with the moral and philosophical implications?

    I agree the mere fact that zygotes are biological organisms by its self has few moral implications. However, the discussion is about the morality of killing, and a necessary ( though not sufficient) condition of it being wrong to kill something is that it actually can be killed. One could not sensibly say would its wrong to kill a brick wall or a swimming pool, because those things are incapable of being.

    “a person who once was the embryo”
    That is a curious concept when you look into it. Are you a physicalist? Is your identity defined by your physical body? Whether the person once was the zygote, or whether they came into being at some later point and inhabited what was once the zygote, is precisely what we’re arguing.

    I agree, one has to tie human identity to the physical organism for this view to be plausible. Though Thomistic forms of dualism which make the soul the “form” of the body might work here. Also it occurs to me that a dualist will typically want to link the soul closely the body anyway. One wants to say for example that the sould leaves when the body dies, perhaps one could develop a line of argument that says that when the body is a living organism, its ensouled.

    “parity of reasoning would suggest I also once was the sperm.”
    Colin: “There’s a red ball hidden in one of these two identical boxes”
    Matt: “But by parity of reasoning, if it is one of them, it must be in the other too, therefore there is no ball”

    Here your equivocating on the word “identity”, people sometimes use the word loosely to refer to two things that are replicas of each other. In the strict sense however two replicas are not identical they are different replicas.

  • “One could not sensibly say would its wrong to kill a brick wall or a swimming pool, because those things are incapable of being.”
    And yet the defenition of ‘alive’ that includes a zygote but not an ovum is arbitary (althought consistent with our man-made biological conventions)

    Physicalism or dualism aside, the physical perspective is that a construction process takes place, that starts before fertilization. Philosophically then we believe that at some point a human being emerges. The physicalist could believe that this doesn’t happen until certain required faculties are present. The dualist could believe that the soul begins to inhabit the body at any point in the process.

    “Here your equivocating on the word “identity”,
    people sometimes use the word loosely to refer to two things that are replicas of each other.
    I’m sorry, that is in fact how I was using the word, specifically the word ‘identical’. Your argument was that if I was the ovum, I must have also been the sperm. That’s the part of your argument that is false. I could quite possibly have been the ovum (in the truer identity sense), just as the red ball could have been in the ‘ovum’ box, not the ‘sperm’ box

    And just for fun, what rules out the possibility that a soul can be connected to both of an apparently unrelated and physically disconnected sperm and ovum prior to their predestined meeting? We don’t know how a soul is connected to an organism, so we have no reason to presume that it can only be connected to one.

  • “The sperm and egg are not a person”
    Says you. And yet you claim that moments after they interact in some way, suddenly there’s a person.

    My understanding is that the sperm and the egg are able to be identified as coming from a specific person and contains information from only that person. Once an egg is fertilised, that cell can be identified as having it’s own unique genetic information distinct from the mother or father.

    “each contain only half the information required”
    Information doesn’t make a person. I am not defined by my DNA.

    There are many ways that a person can be defined, by our character, our career, our cultural heritage and another valid way is through our DNA. I agree that there are many things that my DNA cannot tell you about the person that I am, however my DNA can identify what is me and what is not me. With DNA you can identify that a tooth or a kidney or an ovum is a part of my body or have come from my body however that DNA would also show that a fertilised egg has different DNA from it’s mother.

    “When an unfertilised egg (and womb lining) is shed from the body it is identified as menstruating not a miscarriage.”
    So we’re basing our argument on societal standards now? For the record, I think society is ok with early term abortion, so I don’t think this is a good direction for you to go.

    Actually this wasn’t a societal standard it was a scientific (medical) term. It discribes the ‘mechanics’ of what happens irregardless of a societal viewpoint. I believe that a doctor or scientist would explain the difference between miscarriage and menstruation in a similar scientific manner (maybe with bigger words though ;) ).

    “However once the egg is fertilised the two halves of genetic information have come together and a genetically unique individual has been created.”
    You snuck in your conclusion again. A genetically unique organism is created. If by individual you mean individual organism then you’re fine. If by individual you mean human being, then you’re confusing a biological event with a philosophical one.

    I was referring to the comments that you could track a potential person all the way back to sperm and egg and beyond as follows;

    Yes an infant has a specific future
    Yes the same embryo has the same future (further out)
    But the pre-fertilization ovum has that same future (just further out)
    And the cells that became the ovum
    and so on

    Are you anti-contraception?

    and pointing out that there is a point where you can identify a change from two cells from two different people into a new cell with it’s own unique DNA. The same DNA it has as a fetus, a child and an adult.

  • Colin,

    you should check out this link that MandM have to ‘Bad Arguments for Human Embryonic Stem-cell Research’ There is a great section in there about how we should procede given the debate about when someone becomes ‘a human’.

  • “Once an egg is fertilised, that cell can be identified as having it’s own unique genetic information distinct from the mother or father.”
    Yes certainly that is the origin of the genome. What does that have to do with the origin of the human being?

    “my DNA can identify what is me and what is not me”
    If you get a transplant, do you become less yourself?

    “It discribes the ‘mechanics’ of what happens irregardless of a societal viewpoint.”
    Mechanically there is no difference between mensturation and miscarriage other than the amount of matter that is expunged. To claim there is a difference is to attribute a status to the subject of the miscarriage, and that is not a biological attribution. The difference is by (arbitrary) defenition, not by observation.

    “and pointing out that there is a point where you can identify a change from two cells from two different people into a new cell with it’s own unique DNA. The same DNA it has as a fetus, a child and an adult.”
    Yes we all know you can identify the point at which a genome is created. But at the risk of repeating myself, what does that have to do with the philosophical question of when the human being begins? Why do you insist without proof that the two must coincide?

    “you should check out this link that MandM have to ‘Bad Arguments for Human Embryonic Stem-cell Research’ There is a great section in there about how we should procede given the debate about when someone becomes ‘a human’.”

    That is a great article. I agree with this statement especially:
    “When one does not know when life begins, when one does not know whether the embryo is a human being, then the ethically correct thing to do is to refrain from destroying embryos.”
    Now if some more pro-lifers would get off their high-horses and stop pretending they know (apparently by revelation) when a human being begins to exist, maybe we could start forming arguments that could do some good, like this article. Let me ask you though, if you were planning to perform some action, and there was a one in a million chance that your action would cause the death of another, would you go ahead anyway? would you get in your car and drive to the supermarket?

  • Let me ask you though, if you were planning to perform some action, and there was a one in a million chance that your action would cause the death of another, would you go ahead anyway? would you get in your car and drive to the supermarket?

    Wouldn’t it be better to ask ‘would you drive the car if you were guaranteed to kill something but couldn’t prove if it was a person yet (though it’s clearly not something else like a dog or cat, that it was human in origin).’

    Perhaps I would be certain to hit a pregnant woman causing her to miscarry – In this case, yes I would walk!!

  • Mechanically there is no difference between mensturation and miscarriage other than the amount of matter that is expunged.

    No, I don’t believe that the mechanics of a miscarriage is ‘the same as a period but with a different amount of matter expunged’. The whole point of having another term is to describe a different event. Mechanically (or physically) there are many differences between the two, things you can test for in body chemistry, things that you can observe or examine physically. And certainly an examination of the ‘expunged materials’ would show that they involve different content.

  • Colin, I think an argument like the one above can be formulated against killing embryos which relies on the thesis we do not know whether or not an embryo is a human being:.

    Take this analogy, suppose I am in the bush hunting deer. I am informed by radio that at some point on Friday morning a party of school children is going to be hiking along the deer trail where I am hunting. After 9:00am on Friday morning I hear rustling and see movement in the bushes. Despite careful examination I am unable to ascertain whether the movement I see is a deer, another animal, the wind or a human being. Am I justified in shooting at the target?

    The answer is clearly no; in fact, even if the deer I am hunting has unusual shaped antlers which I could sell for millions of dollars on Trade Me, the proceeds of which I plan to donate to a local children’s hospital which will help many children be cured of diseases, it would still be wrong to shoot. This is because

    (i) I know that at some point in the morning, in that place a human being will be present;
    (ii) It is morning and I am perceiving a living object in that place; and
    (iii) I am unable to identify whether what I perceive is human or not.

    It would be an act of gross recklessness or negligence to destroy the target because these three facts are in play. Something similar seems to occur in the case of human embryo destruction.I know that at some point that, between conception and the fetal stage, a human being comes into existence. I know that an embryo is in existence at this period of time. Hence, unless I have reasons for thinking it is not human it is seriously immoral to destroy it.

  • “Wouldn’t it be better to ask ‘would you drive the car if you were guaranteed to kill something but couldn’t prove if it was a person yet”
    No that wouldn’t be better to ask, because that’s not an analogy, it’s just abortion by car. There are no other (non abortion) comparable situations like you described.

    “Mechanically (or physically) there are many differences between the two”
    Yes, sorry I was being overly simplistic. But none of these differences contribute in any way to believing that the two events have a different moral or philosophical significance.

    Matt
    I read your excellent article in ‘the A word’. Your illustration makes a very good point, which is that this is a question of probabilities. Every time a hunter shoots a target there’s a small chance that they’re shooting at a person. Every time someone drives their car to the supermarket, there’s a small chance that they’ll run someone over. We do things all the time that have a small probability of terrible implications. And yet as you state, at some undefinable point, the probabilities get large enough that taking the risk (either knowingly or negligently) is morally wrong.

    That being the case, it is now our task to examine _all_ the evidence to try to estimate the likelihood that a human being exists at all the stages of development, and let that dictate our policy and behavior.

  • Colin, the issue you raise is why I added to the example the background data that at some point between two times, we know a person will be there.

    In the car case its not just that you drive a car with the probability you will have an accident, its more like you drive a car over a cardboard box when you know that at some point during the day people are in the box, and you don’t know if its there at the moment.

  • “In the car case its not just that you drive a car with the probability you will have an accident, its more like you drive a car over a cardboard box when you know that at some point during the day people are in the box, and you don’t know if its there at the moment.”

    But surely you accept that the only significance of the fact that there will be a person in the box at some time that day, is that it increases the probability that there is one in the box now? The future certainty is irrelevant except for how it contributes to the current probability.

  • If someone shoot a powerful X-Ray to a pregnant woman at 4 weeks pregnancy and terminates the pregnancy. How would the law should deal with that?

  • “Yes an infant has a specific future
    Yes the same embryo has the same future (further out)
    But the pre-fertilization ovum has that same future (just further out)
    And the cells that became the ovum
    and so on”

    this is getting ridiculous. you might as well argue that the chicken that the mother eats also has the same future (further out) since it provides the nutrients that may eventually be incorporated into the dna of the ovum….

  • …maybe that’s how reincarnation works.

  • Anon –
    Here is what NZ law states…

    Crimes Act, Section 182
    (1)Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who causes the death of any child that has not become a human being in such a manner that he would have been guilty of murder if the child had become a human being.

  • “But surely you accept that the only significance of the fact that there will be a person in the box at some time that day, is that it increases the probability that there is one in the box now? The future certainty is irrelevant except for how it contributes to the current probability.

    I think the fact that we will be a person in the box at some time on that day, puts the whole question in a particular context. For example if I simply drove over a card board box on the motor way, I doubt people would be concerned, true on any day there is a risk of accidentally killing someone but that does not seem to matter.

    However, when we know that at some point in a time period a human being is going to be in a location and you destroy a being in the location, and you don’t know that what you are killing is not human, the context means the act is ilict.

    context often matters morally, for example lying is normally wrong however if the context is that the person you are lying to is attempting to discover the whereabouts of a person they are aiming to kill and you are lying to protect that person, the context means the action is no longer wrong.

  • I’m adding these two links – just in case you actually want to get involved in the legislative process and make a difference

    Royal College of Gynaecologists draft guidance – The Care of Women requesting Induced Abortion and Peter Saunders blog commenting on it.

    Nadine Dorries (MP – Mid-Beds, my neighbouring constituency) asked a question in the House

    “Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): May we have a debate to discuss the relationship between the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Department of Health? I ask specifically for this because two members of staff from the Department are sitting on a working group looking into the emotive issue of the care of women during abortion, and if the findings of that group are to be credible, its manner of operations should be above reproach. It is not adhering to Government guidelines on consultation, and that is causing huge concern.

    Sir George Young: I understand my hon. Friend’s deep concern on the subject, which she has made one of her special interests. My understanding is that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a professional body which is independent of Government, and it has set its own consultation periods. There is a consultation period of four weeks—as is standard for the college—and it ends tomorrow, although any responses received by 25 February will be accepted. However, I will, of course, pass on her comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. “

  • Thanks, for posting my last comment – I was abit concerned that it was makred for moderation.

    Can I also add some links dealing with the issue of the disposal of fetal tissue that I think would be useful to add to the debate ?

    RCN guidelines
    Human Tissue Authority guidelines

    I think it’s important to appreciate the practices of abortons/terminations. I’ve seen Jill Stanek’s descriptions of some abortion practices and the lack of respect shown to the fetal remains by the hospital where she worked and I think some counter needs to be put forward.

    By the way – if anyone does want to comment on the RCOG draft guidance the deadline is on Friday. I don’t think that comments are restricted to UK citizens.

  • “this is getting ridiculous.”
    Only in that an argument from “potential future” is ridiculous in the outset.

    OK, let me amend. The knowledge that there will be a person in the box at some time today does two things. It raises awareness of the possibility that there’s a person in the box, and it contributes to the probability that there is one in there at present. Maybe every time we see a box on the road, we should stop and think about how likely it is that there’s a person in it, before we run it over, but we typically don’t. I don’t think your lying analogy is relevant, because it is a context of what is, whereas yours is a context of what might be, resulting from what will be later on.

  • one could make an argument that every single molecule in the universe has the potential of becoming a human being (if you go back far enough)

  • in the same regard, the potential future of all humans are to become dust. so how far are you gonna take this “potential future”? where do you draw the line?

  • “one could make an argument that every single molecule in the universe has the potential of becoming a human being”
    Precisely (if you believe that molecules maketh the man).

    “the potential future of all humans are to become dust.”
    That’s not the Christian view.

    “how far are you gonna take this “potential future”?”
    I’ll assume you’re not asking this question of me, but of those who proposed it as a good argument.

  • “the potential future of all humans are to become dust.”
    That’s not the Christian view.

    “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Gen 3:19

  • so are you arguing then that the molecule makes the man like the ovum makes the man?

  • “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Gen 3:19
    Lucky for you the entire bible consists of that one verse.

    “so are you arguing then that the molecule makes the man like the ovum makes the man?”
    Heck no.
    My argument is that because it’s all molecules, whatever maketh the man is just as able to coincide with a zygote as with an ovum. My point being that the point in time of fertilization is no stronger a candidate for the beginning of a human being, than many other points in time, before or after.

  • “whatever maketh the man is just as able to coincide with a zygote as with an ovum. My point being that the point in time of fertilization is no stronger a candidate for the beginning of a human being, than many other points in time, before or after.”

    so is it your contention that “whatever makes a man” has nothing to do with matter and is completely unrelated and independent of the physical world (i.e. a soul or soul-like)? or are you saying that “whatever makes a man” is inherent, at least in part, in each molecule of matter (i.e. there is “something” in all molecules that have the “potential future” of becoming human)?

  • “so is it your contention…”

    I’ve been deliberately phrasing my arguments to be independent of any assumptions regarding physicalism or dualism.

    Or are you just asking my personal views for fun?

  • i’m just trying to understand your argument. How else am I to understand what you mean by “whatever maketh the man” without asking the question?
    Your statement seems to imply that you have an idea of what makes a man? and it just seems to me from your arguements that it has nothing to do with the physical world. i just wanted to clarify instead of making that assumption right off the bat.

  • “My point being that the point in time of fertilization is no stronger a candidate for the beginning of a human being, than many other points in time, before or after”

    I think the point of fertilization is a stronger candidate for the beginning of a human being (at least in the physical world) then say an ovum or a sperm.
    let’s say that there is something in the ovum, “something A” and something in a sperm, “something B”. When the ovum combines, it produces “something d” which would be a combination of something A and B.
    A+B=d
    Now if we say that “d” is a human being, then killing “d” would be homocide. but killing “A” or “B” would not be considered homocide since neither “A” or “B” = “d” by themselves (at most it would be partial homocide?). unless of course one, whoever that may be, believes that A=B=d.

  • “How else am I to understand what you mean by “whatever maketh the man” without asking the question?”
    That’s the point of the word “whatever”. There’s no need to derail the argument by getting into the metaphysics of the soul.

    “let’s say that there is something in the ovum, “something A” and something in a sperm, “something B”. When the ovum combines, it produces “something d” which would be a combination of something A and B.
    A+B=d”
    You’re sneaking in your conclusion
    Maybe B = 0, and A = D
    Or maybe A = 0 and B = D
    Or maybe (but not necessarily) there’s another ingredient C, that is introduced metaphysically

    A small note, if A = B, then D = 2A. I don’t think anyone believes that.

  • “Maybe B = 0, and A = D”
    This actually creates a hydatidiform mole

    “Or maybe A = 0 and B = D”
    don’t know of naturally occurring case where ovum becomes human without fertilization.

    “Or maybe (but not necessarily) there’s another ingredient C, that is introduced metaphysically”
    then A and B by themselves still don’t make a D. so ovum and sperm is not human being. Unless of course you are saying that C is the only ingredient required to make a human being and you say that A and B and D all have C making A,B and D a human being (i.e. A=B=C).

  • Stu, you’re really struggling with your own analogy here aren’t you.

    Remember that you defined A and B not as sperm and ovum but as something within the sperm and the ovum, which together result in something D in a fetus that makes the fetus a human being.

    So the question isn’t whether an ovum/sperm need each other to form a fetus (we all know they do), but whether the thing that makes the baby a human being comes from the sperm, or the ovum, or both, or somewhere else.

  • Once again Colin, i had no trouble understanding what Stu was trying to say, Have you considered just taking the simple straightforward meaning of the words rather than getting so technically pedantic?
    You are going to “win” this discussion, not because you have made a good case or persuaded anybody but rather because everyone will leave the field to you. It seems impossible to say anything without you insisting on interpreting it in some obscure sideways kind of way.

  • Jeremy.

    Your accusation is unfounded. My motives are nothing like what you described. If I ask for people to be more precise, it is only because I believe that their argument is relying on their imprecision.

    Maybe you could humor me, and:
    1. Point out which particular statement of Stu’s you accuse me of deliberately misinterpreting
    2. Just to humor me, restate that statement in a precise way.

  • whatever is in the ovum does not become human without combining with whatever is in the sperm. unless you know of an instance where whatever was in the ovum does become human without combining with whatever is in the sperm such that it would imply that the ovum is itself a human being and vice versa.

  • so i still think that the zygote is still the best candidate (given what we observe) for the beginning of human life.

  • in any case, no mater what view one takes, it seem the common thread here is that at the very least, the zygote is a human being.

  • When you say “a human being” are you talking biologically about a new member of the homo sapiens, or are you talking philosophically?
    When you say “human” do you mean “a human being” in either of the senses above? Because the ovum is human in that it is a human ovum.

    Seriously, why is it so hard for you to be precise here? How can I respond to a statement that could mean one of several very different things?

    Jeremy, since you claim the ability to immediately and telepathically understand Stu’s intent, feel free to answer these questions for him if you feel so inclined.

  • “so i still think that the zygote is still the best candidate (given what we observe) for the beginning of human life.”
    We all know that the zygote is the beginning of the life of a new homo sapien. You still haven’t responded to my point that this is different and unrelated to the beginning of the philosophical and moral entity we have been calling “a human being”.

    “in any case, no mater what view one takes, it seem the common thread here is that at the very least, the zygote is a human being.”
    No, this rabbit trail about ova being human beings was to illustrate one side of my assertion that the start of ‘a human being’ could be before or after the biological start of a homo sapien.

  • “You still haven’t responded to my point that this is different and unrelated to the beginning of the philosophical and moral entity we have been calling “a human being”.”

    This is point that you have raised for which you have offered no argument or proof.
    A human zygote is most certainly “human”, you question at what point it becomes “a human being”. As i have said before, it is you who needs tp provide reason for this doubt/question, not us .
    You raise speculation that the “human beingness” of a human being might be carried in the ovum or the sperm or be implanted from a third unrelated source, but thats all you do, speculate.
    Stu has pointed out that the simplest understanding of the beginning of new life is when the minimum requirements of a ovum and a sperm are fused in fertilisation [ ie a new human being cannot develope from less than this, not from an ovum or a sperm]
    Fertilisation (also known as conception, fecundation and syngamy), is the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism. [definition from Wiki]
    What supported reason can you offer to support the idea that the beginning of a new human being is at some point other than the its beginning as an organism? Where do you get this distinction between “homo sapien” and “human being”?

    Feel free to be precise, accurate, actually say something rather than just assert your doubts.

    Maybe behind this doubt you believe in a dualist nature of humans, a soul carried in a flesh vessel. Are you asking when does God implant soul or spirit? If so, say so, but i dont think that would go down well as an argument, in a secular society, for determining when abortion was/was not acceptable.

    I am sorry Collin, but it still seems to me that it is you who is being imprecise.

  • Can you provide examples of homo sapiens who are not human beings or vice versa?

  • i’m just appealing to what we observe and know. we know that you and I are human beings. we know that a child is a human being, we know that an infant is a human being, we know that a fetus of 30week gestation is a human being we can extrapolate that a zygote is a human being as it is the same organism. we know that a sperm and ovum on its own is not the same organism as the zygote (they only become the same organism when they are combined). this is what we observe. now if one believes that anything and everything can/may/might/potentially be a “human being” then I would say, don’t type too hard cuz you may be committing homocide.

  • Jeremy.

    Why should we default to the assumption that the organism and the human being come into existence at the same time? As I said above, the idea of an organism is a man-made concept.

    It is as if I asked you how many planets there are in the galaxy, and you said “30 billion, prove I’m wrong”

    Similarly, you’re arguing that the beginning of a human being is at a certain point in time. I’m arguing that it is unknowable. You ask me to prove that your answer was wrong, how would I do that if I believed it was unknowable. Surely the person who claims to have the answer has the onus of proof?

    “Can you provide examples of homo sapiens who are not human beings or vice versa?”
    That’s a good question. Other than what we’re discussing, no I can not.
    But suppose I told you I don’t think 2 is prime. Can you provide me any other examples of even prime numbers? No? Then this one must not be either.

    Stu

    “i’m just appealing to what we observe and know.”
    The philosophical property of being a human being isn’t really observable.

    “we know that an infant is a human being, we know that a fetus of 30week gestation is a human being”
    Some people dispute this. It’s hardly ‘known’

    “we can extrapolate”
    As I have stated ad-nauseum the biological organism has nothing to do with the philosophical human being. So maybe you can extrapolate that far, maybe you can’t. Maybe you can extrapolate further.

    “now if one believes that anything and everything can/may/might/potentially be a “human being””
    straw man.

  • Well Collin given that you dont necessarily equate homo sapien and human being and you now have something called a ” the philosophical idea of a human being”, you had better define that and describe how it differs from a biological human being.
    You can assert all you like but you need to establish this, otherwise i think its rubbish.

    “As I said above, the idea of an organism is a man-made concept”

    No kidding, can you give examples of “ideas” that arent man-made?.

    I suggest your idea of “the philosophical idea of a human being” is also a man-made concept, maybe a fantasy concept?

  • may i please refer you back to your previous statement”

    “My argument is that because it’s all molecules, whatever maketh the man is just as able to coincide with a zygote as with an ovum. My point being that the point in time of fertilization is no stronger a candidate for the beginning of a human being, than many other points in time, before or after.”

    it is all molecules right? a zygote is no strongera candidate than an ovum than any or any other collection of molecules?

  • unless of course you do believe some collection of molecules do happen to be a stronger candidate than other collection of molecules.

  • “Why should we default to the assumption that the organism and the human being come into existence at the same time?”

    because the zygote is the best candidate. reasons have already been given above.

    “As I said above, the idea of an organism is a man-made concept.”
    are you saying this categorization of organism is arbitrary and has no relation to reality? that the dividing line between an organism and non-organism does not exist in reality but only in the mind of man as a concept?

  • Let me clarify what I mean by an organism being a man-made concept.
    The difference between Red and Green is a man-made concept. Fundamentally they’re just arbitrary ranges on the EM spectrum
    The difference between EM waves and sound waves, is fundamental. We give the concepts names, but that they are different doesn’t depend on our definitions. So that’s not a man-made concept.
    The difference between a zygote and an ovum, falls into the first category.

    “you had better define that”
    Really? Two blog entries full of comments later, and now you want a definition? Anything else you want me to define?
    I think the definition we’ve been working with here is: A human being is a creature to which the basic human rights should be attributed, specifically the right not to be killed without justification.

    Again, if there are two differently described things, and you think those two things are the same, and I say we don’t know if they’re the same or not, how on earth is it me who is ‘asserting’ anything, or needing to ‘establish’ anything.

    “it is all molecules right? a zygote is no stronger a candidate than an ovum than any or any other collection of molecules?”
    If you recall, this comment was made in the context of the continuum of life. The possibility that I started life as a computer keyboard, and at some point I leaped from there to a zygote is unlikely. That is where the computer keyboard and the ovum differ.

    “unless of course you do believe some collection of molecules do happen to be a stronger candidate than other collection of molecules.”
    Of course I do. Specifically those molecules that are already involved in the continuum of human life.

    “because the zygote is the best candidate.”
    best candidate for what? You haven’t even established that the beginning of a human life will be an observable biological event, let alone given reasons why your chosen event (the fertilization of a zygote) is the ‘best candidate’.

    “are you saying this categorization of organism is arbitrary and has no relation to reality?”
    Let me put it this way. There is no clear dividing line between a zygote and a pre-fertilized ovum. In fact fertilization itself is a process that takes time. At what point in this process do you claim that this instantaneous transformation from one classification to another occurs?

  • @ Colin:

    “Let me put it this way. There is no clear dividing line between a zygote and a pre-fertilized ovum. In fact fertilization itself is a process that takes time. At what point in this process do you claim that this instantaneous transformation from one classification to another occurs?”

    and how to detect that moment too because the mother would then acquire legal obligations towards it.

  • so are you saying there exists a dividing line between organism and non-organism and just dispute where it lands or are you saying there isn’t a clear dividing line? can we agree that if there was a dividing line, then at the very least the start of that dividing line (where an organism emerges) can then be a candidate for start of a “human being”. or do you think that non-organisms are still a potential candidate for “human being”?

  • ” just dispute where it lands or are you saying there isn’t a clear dividing line? ”

    sorry, i meant to say – “are you saying there isn’t a dividing line at all”

  • on a side note, there is a difference between red and green. they do have different wave lengths and frequency. red light is not green light. we may have arbitrarily named one frequency red and one frequency green but they are not the same, they are different and that is why they are named differently. UV and gamma rays are also on the same spectrum, would it make any difference to you if i told you i was gonna shoot you with red light vs gamma rays if it is completely arbitrary and therefore there is no fundamental difference.

    also, if we were to follow your reasoning, one could make an argument that light and sound is simply on the same spectrum of energy, there is no fundamental difference.

  • it just seems to me that you are arbitrarily acknowledging one categorization and dismissing others as you see fit.

  • “We all know that the zygote is the beginning of the life of a new homo sapien. ”

    If we agree that the zygote is the beginning of the life of a new homo sapien. why does this not make it a stronger candidate over a sperm or an ovum for the beginning of a human “being”. implied in this statement is that the ovum and sperm is not the beginning of the homo sapien. and if we infer that only home sapiens are human being then the beginning of the homo sapien should then make it a good candidate of the beginning of a human “being” as oppose to an ovum and egg, which is not a complete homo sapien.

  • “Can you provide examples of homo sapiens who are not human beings or vice versa?”
    That’s a good question. Other than what we’re discussing, no I can not.
    But suppose I told you I don’t think 2 is prime. Can you provide me any other examples of even prime numbers? No? Then this one must not be either.

    are you saying that there is a possibility that there are “human beings” that are not homo sapien?

  • “If you recall, this comment was made in the context of the continuum of life. The possibility that I started life as a computer keyboard, and at some point I leaped from there to a zygote is unlikely. That is where the computer keyboard and the ovum differ.”

    I am assuming when you say continuum of life you mean continuum of life of a homo sapian.
    If that is the case, then why do you limit the candidates of the “human being” to the continuum of life as a homo sapian? why not include other species? why do you limit the candidates to ovum, sperm and zygote etc… what about the remainder of the cells in the human body? you must have some dividing lines or categorization in mind. I would just like to know which items are on the table that you consider as candidates for “human being” and which are not and how you justify them.

  • “are you saying there isn’t a dividing line at all”
    Yes, that is what I’m saying. I’m saying that the transition from ovum/sperm to zygote is a gradual transition, with no clearly defined point in time at which you can say what you have now is fundamentally different to what you had a moment ago

    “or do you think that non-organisms are still a potential candidate for “human being”?”
    I’m saying that if you think a zygote that bears no resemblance to your typical human being is one, then there’s no reason why an ovum couldn’t be.

    “there is a difference between red and green.”
    Yes, I know that we have defined those terms to mean different points on the spectrum.
    But as you move away from red, towards green, there’s not a sudden point that it switches over.

    “one could make an argument that light and sound is simply on the same spectrum of energy”
    So you never studied physics then. spectrum of energy?

    “it just seems to me that you are arbitrarily acknowledging one categorization and dismissing others as you see fit.”
    Seriously? you think the difference between light and sound is comparable to the difference between red and green?

    “why does this not make it a stronger candidate over a sperm or an ovum for the beginning of a human “being””
    Because one is a biological convention, and one is a philosophical assertion. Why isn’t the value of the US national debt a good candidate for the number of stars in the sky? Oh wait, it’s because they are unrelated facts from different disciplines.

    “are you saying that there is a possibility that there are “human beings” that are not homo sapien?”
    Yeah, like the ovum for example. Of course the ovum is ‘homo sapien’ but it isn’t A homo sapien, which is what I think you meant (it’s hard to tell sometimes).

    “why do you limit the candidates of the “human being” to the continuum of life as a homo sapien?”
    Perhaps we can return from the rabbit trail, if you recall that the reason I proposed the possibility that an ovum is a human being, is because it is only a moment of time, and an arbitrary distinction away from the zygote that you claim is a human being. I don’t think the same could be said for anything else.
    My point is, if you think it is ridiculous that an ovum could be a human being moments before the ‘point’ of fertilization, how can you not fairly consider it also ridiculous for a zygote, moments after?

  • “because it is only a moment of time, and an arbitrary distinction away from the zygote that you claim is a human being. I don’t think the same could be said for anything else.”

    I think the same could be said for a great many things, with respect to both living and non-living matter. Anything you consume can eventually become the building blocks that make up an ovum or a sperm.

    on a side note: you are very nit picky aren’t you. i’m sure that you understand when i said spectrum of energy i was simply stating that both light and sound belong in the general category of energy.

  • Afterall, one form of energy can be converted into another form.

  • @Collin

    “There is no clear dividing line between a zygote and a pre-fertilized ovum. In fact fertilization itself is a process that takes time. At what point in this process do you claim that this instantaneous transformation from one classification to another occurs?”

    Unmitigated crap, Collin, go and do a human biology degree. Maybe just go and read the Wiki article on human conception.
    So time is analogue and progressive at least according to our senses but this is a truly stupid argument in this case.
    There is a very clear point at which the two sources of DNA are integrated.This occurs at the first mitotic division subsequent to the sperm fusing with the ovum.
    A human ova has half a genetic code and cannot even undergo mitosis, it has no future except that it is fertilised.
    A human zygote has a full genetic code and as such all that is necessary to complete development into an adult human being [given nutrition and an hospitable environment, necessities for any form of life].

    These distinctions you are making are in your mind, not in reality.
    I notice even your idea of “the philosophical idea of a human being” is just your idea and you offered no supporting evidence or authority. In fact i found the concept rather circular. ie you defined it as ” a creature to which the basic human rights should be attributed, specifically the right not to be killed without justification.”, but this is the point under discussion. You still have not offered a single reasoned argument as to why any point other than the beginning of the new organism should be considered.

    By the way , i really liked Stu’s point, there may be no distinct point between red light and gama radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum but i’m reasonably sure you would much rather be exposed to radiation from a red light bulb than a nice friendly dose of gama rays. Certainly your homo sapien body would prefer it.

    I am now going to withdraw from this conversation before i get too rude. Shalom

  • Hence even between different forms of energy, there is a transition.

  • Yet u acknowledge thes categorizations in physics , but u deny biological categorizations.

  • “because it is only a moment of time, and an arbitrary distinction away from the zygote that you claim is a human being. I don’t think the same could be said for anything else.”

    in any case. the difference that has between a sperm/ovum and a zygote is much more than just a moment of time and this difference has been outlined numerous times by different people in this discussion. please don’t make me retype everything. just go back and read about the differences again.

  • and if those differences are not enough to satisfy you, then i would like to know whether or not you consider every single cell in the human body (including the skin cells at the ends of your finger) as a possible candidate for your “human being”.

  • “Anything you consume can eventually become the building blocks that make up an ovum or a sperm.”
    Sure. As I said way above, this is a question of probabilities. The lunch you eat that becomes an ovum is days or weeks away from a zygote. The ovum just before fertilization is mere fractions of a second away.

    “on a side note: you are very nit picky aren’t you.”
    No, your mom is.

    “i was simply stating that both light and sound belong in the general category of energy.”
    On a side note, you are very imprecise aren’t you.

    “There is a very clear point at which the two sources of DNA are integrated”
    Not so. It’s a lengthy process, the culmination of which is the two strands of DNA getting fed through cellular machinery that zips them together. There’s nothing instantaneous about it.

    “I notice even your idea of “the philosophical idea of a human being” is just your idea”
    It’s pretty much the basis of the whole premise of this blog post as I understand it. If you understand differently, feel free to enlighten, oh wait you left.

    “but this is the point under discussion.”
    No, the point under discussion is whether a zygote inherently deserves that status.
    Every point should be considered, including the ‘point’ of fertilization, but there is no compelling evidence for one over another.

    “By the way , i really liked Stu’s point”
    You should marry him, what with your telepathic connection and all.

    “there may be no distinct point between red light and gama radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum but i’m reasonably sure you would much rather be exposed to radiation from a red light bulb than a nice friendly dose of gama rays. Certainly your homo sapien body would prefer it.”
    Certainly. And entirely irrelevant to my point that it is a spectrum. We all know that red light is lovely, and gamma rays are dangerous, just as we all know that a baby is an organism, and an ovum is not. Just as there is no fundamental, non-arbitary point in the EM spectrum when light stops being red, there is also fundamental demarcation of when an organism begins, other than arbitary human definition.

    “I am now going to withdraw from this conversation before i get too rude. Shalom”
    Shalom.

    “Hence even between different forms of energy, there is a transition.”
    completely different. If you don’t want to get anything out of my analogy, just leave it alone.

    “Yet u acknowledge thes categorizations in physics , but u deny biological categorizations.”
    Sound and light are fundamentally different. Red and green are arbitrary, as is the definition of an organism.

    “in any case. the difference that has between a sperm/ovum and a zygote is much more than just a moment of time”
    Hang on, you’re the one saying that there is a magical moment of time before which you just have greeen eggs and sperm, and after which you have the blessed Organism.
    I was the one saying that it wasn’t a moment of time, but a gradual process. Thank you for agreeing with me.

    “and this difference has been outlined numerous times by different people in this discussion. please don’t make me retype everything. just go back and read about the differences again.”
    You could cut-and-paste?

    “i would like to know whether or not you consider every single cell in the human body as a possible candidate for your “human being””
    I addressed this above. It’s all a question of probabilities.

  • {“are you saying that there is a possibility that there are “human beings” that are not homo sapien?”
    Yeah, like the ovum for example. Of course the ovum is ‘homo sapien’ but it isn’t A homo sapien, which is what I think you meant (it’s hard to tell sometimes).}

    I do not understand this comment. Maybe you are indicating that an ovum is ‘homo sapian’ in that it is part of A homo sapian (I assume that the capital “A” is to imply a homo sapian organism and that the ‘homo sapian’ in the quotes means a constituent of the organism? However, I find this hard to believe since you deny the category of an organism)
    If that is what you mean then I agree with you (Mighty clever of you to sneak in the biological category of an organism with capital “A”. Almost missed it.) That an ovum/sperm is a ‘homo sapian’ just like a skin cell or blood cell is a ‘homo sapian’. But a zygote is a separate new A homo sapian (like you or I). If you think a zygote is simply a ‘homo sapian’, then which A homo sapian does the zygote belong to if it is not its own A homo sapian (afterall you did say that a zygote is “ the beginning of a life of a new homo sapien. I’m assuming that you meant “A” homo sapian)?

    “Seriously? you think the difference between light and sound is comparable to the difference between red and green?”

    why not? they are both forms of energy. Granted one is mechanical and the other is electromagnetic. But aren’t those just arbitrary man-made categorizations? Isn’t energy fundamentally vibrating particles in waves? Doesn’t quantum mechanics and dual wave-particle theory blur the lines? In the same regard that you rationalize away the difference between a zygote and gamete. One can rationalize away the differences between light and sound.

    In the end, I think it has been reasonably shown that there exists a dividing line between a zygote and a gamete that does not exist across other cells of the human body. Most significantly being that the zygote is the beginning of a life of a new homo sapian (which is a characteristic that cannot be said of the ovum/sperm). Now if the matter of “being” is in any way related to biological divisions then the zygote seems to be a reasonable candidate (or at least represents the lower boundary of potential candidates) over and above the gamete (since if the matter of “being” exists in the gamete then it would be difficult to not grant such privilege to other somatic cells and that concept seem a bit far fetched).
    On the other hand, if the matter of “being” is completely unrelated to any biological division or categories, then I don’t see why it would need to respect any divisions or categories at all in nature and hence the matter of “being” can occur in anything and everything.

    For if you were to commit to the idea that the “being” is only contained in a sperm or only contained in an ovum then that “being” should also exist within the primitive germ cell from which the gametes are derived. And if that “being” were in the primitive germ cell then why can it not be in the cells of the endodermal layer from which the primitive germ cell came from. And if the “being” is in the endodermal layer then why not in all of the cells derived from the endodermal layer (kidneys, bones, white blood cells etc)?

    And if one submits that the being is metaphysically introduced into the sperm or ovum, then why just the sperm or ovum? Again, why not the primitive germ cells? why not the endoderm? Why not the skin cells? Is there some biological category that is recognized at which point the metaphysical “being” is introduced? Or is it done indiscriminately where any living cell is a candidate?

    If you say that there is no significant difference between a zygote and a gamete then there isn’t any significant difference between a gamete and other somatic cells of the body. If you do recognize that there is a significant difference that applies to the somatic cells and gamete which excludes the somatic cells as a candidate that doesn’t apply to zygotes and gametes, please outline it for me.

  • In addition, just to add to the case. We know that an infant is a “being” and we know that a zygote becomes an infant. And it does this simply by the addition of nutrients and hormones (I assume that you are not suggesting that nutrients and hormones are candidates for the matter of “being”). So it is reasonable to say that whatever makes an infant a “being” is also present in the zygote.
    But an ovum only becomes a zygote with the addition of a sperm, which is much more significant an entity than nutrition and hormones. As I mentioned before, if you commit to an ovum (or sperm) being the sole container of the matter of “being”, then I think you have to acknowledge that any somatic cell is now a potential candidate and I think we all recognize that blood cells are not “beings”. As such, I think anything occurring before a zygote can be reasonably ruled out as “being”.

    {“because it is only a moment of time, and an arbitrary distinction away from the zygote that you claim is a human being”
    “The lunch you eat that becomes an ovum is days or weeks away from a zygote. The ovum just before fertilization is mere fractions of a second away.”}

    why is it that the length of time is the determining factor of whether or not it transitions from an arbitrary distinction to a significant real distinction? Can you tell me at what length of time this arbitrary to significant transition occurs?

  • For the record, when I said “A homo sapien” I was referring to a homo sapien organism, so nothing sneaky there.

    “Now if the matter of “being” is in any way related to biological divisions”
    Right, this is exactly the question that is on the table.

    Clearly all the analogies and definitions are complicating matters here, so let me try to pare this down:
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but here is your assertion:
    It is morally wrong to kill any biological organism that has a complete set of homo-sapien DNA
    Fair?
    If you agree that this is a fair summation of your position, maybe you could give a one line justification?

  • Just in case the previous posts were too long for you I will summarize best I can.

    If one were to make these assumptions:

    1) there exists a real and significant distincition or a difference between a homo sapien organism and constituents of a homo sapien organism.

    2) that the ovum/sperm represents a constituent of a homo sapien organism (like a leukocyte, skin cell, liver cell etc…) and that the zygote represents the beginning of a homo sapien organism (and thus is itself a homo sapien organism)

    3) that in the physical world, a “human being” is only associated with, to the exclusion of all others within the physical world, a homo sapian organism.

    then, the we can conclude that a “human being” is associated (or at the very least potentially associated) with the zygote, but an ovum/sperm cannot even be a candidate, since it is a constituent of the homo sapien organism and not the organism itself.

    I don’t think you deny 1. Although you say you do, it is obvious you do recognize some form of distinction even though you refuse to acknowledge the term organism, you replace it with the capital “A” in front of homo sapien.

    I don’t think you deny 2 since you acknowledge that the ovum is a homo spien and not “A” homo sapien. And hence you obviously recognize that an ovum belongs in a category that is distinct and different from “A” homo sapien which we commonly recognize as simply a homo sapien organism.

    ultimately, colin, you lost the argument the moment you said “We all know that the zygote is the beginning of the life of a new homo sapien. ” Now this defining feature can only be made insignificant in the context of our discussion if you deny 3. And if you deny 3, then, as I said before, don’t type too hard (just in case you didn’t get it the first time this may refer to the death of the living skin cells on your fingers or the non-living keyboard since I’m not sure how you justify that a philosophical entity of a human “being” must be limited to a biological entity. after all “because it’s all molecules”).

  • “Just in case the previous posts were too long for you”
    It wasn’t that it was too long, just that it seems to me that you have a misunderstanding of what my entire argument is.

    “1) there exists a real and significant distinction or a difference between a homo sapien organism and constituents of a homo sapien organism.”
    Well there’s a difference, but how real or significant it is really depends on your point of view. If I cut off my little finger, am I still an entire homo sapien organism, or just one of the parts of one?

    “2) that the ovum/sperm represents a constituent of a homo sapien organism (like a leukocyte, skin cell, liver cell etc…) and that the zygote represents the beginning of a homo sapien organism (and thus is itself a homo sapien organism)”
    The beginning of a homo sapien organism is a process that takes time. The end result of that process is a zygote. If that’s what you mean then I agree with you.

    “3) that in the physical world, a “human being” is only associated with, to the exclusion of all others within the physical world, a homo sapian organism.”
    You didn’t like my definition of human being, so I tried to rewrite my argument so as not to use it. Do you or do you not like this statement of your assertion:
    It is morally wrong to kill any biological organism that has a complete set of homo-sapien DNA

    “you refuse to acknowledge the term organism”
    No I don’t. It is a valid term, but it is only a man-made descriptor of a stage in the process that biological life goes through.

    “you replace it with the capital “A” in front of homo sapien.”
    Yes, when I said “A homo sapien” I was meaning a homo sapien organism. I didn’t think I was being so deceptive.

    “you acknowledge that the ovum is a homo sapien and not “A” homo sapien.”
    no the ovum isn’t a homo sapien. It is homo sapien.

    “And hence you obviously recognize that an ovum belongs in a category that is distinct and different”
    I acknowledge that an ovum doesn’t fit into the man made category of ‘homo sapien organism’ and that a zygote does. And there are transitional forms between the two for which the distinction is not clear.

    “ultimately, Colin, you lost the argument the moment”
    Wait, who made you the referee?

    I think what you were trying to say with #3 is what I stated above it as my best-faith restatement of your position:
    It is morally wrong to kill any biological organism that has a complete set of homo-sapien DNA

    So answer my question. Do you accept this as a fair statement of your assertion? In case you missed it, here it is again:
    It is morally wrong to kill any biological organism that has a complete set of homo-sapien DNA

  • It’s been interesting following the discussion but I’d like to ask a question, hopefully along the same lines, about what happens in terms of the rights and responsibilities of the child post birth.

    If a fetus should have the right to life from the moment of conception then how do you justify the incremental responsibilities of the child post birth ? Can it be justified ? Or should we also apply the same levels of responsibility onto the child immediately after the moment of conception as we do to adults currently ?

    Or am I just being plain silly ?

  • If a fetus should have the right to life from the moment of conception then how do you justify the incremental responsibilities of the child post birth ? Can it be justified ? Or should we also apply the same levels of responsibility onto the child immediately after the moment of conception as we do to adults currently ?

    Or am I just being plain silly ? – Yeah kind of. :)

    There is a difference between basic human rights which don’t have to be earned and other rights which are incremental and come with responsibilities.

    The right to drive a car needs to be earned and comes with responsibility. As such we wouldn’t criminalise a parent who decided that their 15 year old had not shown enough maturity to be allowed to drive. S/he should earn the right, demonstrating sufficient responsibility and maturity. The most basic way to demonstrate this is through the earning of a driver license, when a required age is reached, where a person is tested in a number of ways to hopefully demonstrate the required level of responsibility. As a society we hold that this is not a basic human right and people who demonstrate a lack of responsibility can lose this right.

    On the other hand you have a basic human rights that are guarded through the law. As a basic example of this, a human needs to breathe to live. If you delibrately prevent someone from breathing they will die and you will be held responsible for their death.

    Another example of the right to life is that human’s need food. A person who deliberately prevents someone else from eating so that they starve to death will also be held responsible for their death.

    The responsibility for ensuring those rights may shift through a person’s life (development). In the case of food, the child’s caregiver is responsible for providing nourishment, as we get older we assume that responsibility for ourselves (I don’t blame my mother for not doing my grocery shopping this week). At other times when we are vulnerable others may have to take on this responsibility. If I were very sick, or elderly the responsibility could lie with the medical staff. In each of these cases another person could face criminal charges around neglect for not ensuring my basic right.

    I think that we all recognise that human’s development is a progression that is why we hold parents and caregiver responsible for their children (both ensuring their rights and taking responsibility for their behaviour). Children need to have basic rights protected such as freedom from violence and the protection of the law before they could hold any level of responsibility for their own behaviour. Good parenting is helping your child to become increasingly responsible for their life in an age appropriate fashion. Reciprocally they will gain some rights (to drive, to vote, get married and enter into legal contracts) but no one should have to progressively earn rights such as freedom from violence, basic medical and health care, food and water, or the preservation of their life.

  • “Well there’s a difference, but how real or significant it is really depends on your point of view. “

    It does not depend on “your” point of view. It simply depends on the question being asked. If you ask whether or not something is alive, then the distinction between organism and non-organism is not relevant. But if you ask whether or not you can kill it, then not only does the distinction of whether or not something is an organism becomes pertinent but also what kind of organism.
    So I’ve already addressed this point. The difference is significant because we both agree that the zygote is the beginning of a new homo sapien organism and the gamete is not. Previous answer cut and pasted in case you missed it:
    “We all know that the zygote is the beginning of the life of a new homo sapien. ” Now this defining feature can only be made insignificant in the context of our discussion if you deny 3. And if you deny 3, then, as I said before, don’t type too hard (just in case you didn’t get it the first time this may refer to the death of the living skin cells on your fingers or the non-living keyboard since I’m not sure how you justify that a philosophical entity of a human “being” must be limited to a biological entity. after all “because it’s all molecules”).

    “If I cut off my little finger, am I still an entire homo sapien organism, or just one of the parts of one?”

    Since you already acknowledge the difference between an organism and constituent of an organism and have already accepted that a zygote is the beginning of life for a homo-sapien organism, I fail to see the point of this question. You acknowledge the distinction of organism one moment and yet you seem to deny it the next.
    In fact I am quite confident that you can answer this question as well as any rational person who is still reading this discussion. In fact I invite anyone who is still reading to go ahead and answer the question and see if there is a consensus. Whether or not one can fully articulate the difference precisely, one can intuitively recognize that there is in fact a difference between your cut finger and you as homo sapien organism.

    “The beginning of a homo sapien organism is a process that takes time. The end result of that process is a zygote. If that’s what you mean then I agree with you.”

    I’m glad that we agree on something. Since we are discussing the morality of ending the life of a zygote, which you have already acknowledge is the point in which a homo sapien organism’s life begins (if you wish to condition the zygote as an end result of a particular process that takes time, I have no problem with that, but I fail to see the relevance to this discussion). But just in case you have anymore doubts, here are some references for you to peruse at your leisure:
    http://www.princeton.edu/~prolife/articles/embryoquotes2.html

    “No I don’t. It is a valid term, but it is only a man-made descriptor of a stage in the process that biological life goes through. “

    All descriptions of anything are man-made, that does not mean that, which is being described, isn’t real. Your philosophical human “being” is also a man-made descriptor, but it does not mean there is no real distinction between “being” and non-“being”.

    “I acknowledge that an ovum doesn’t fit into the man made category of ‘homo sapien organism’ and that a zygote does. And there are transitional forms between the two for which the distinction is not clear.”

    Just because transitions exist between two categories does not automatically nullify the validity of the categories. These man made categories are descriptions of differences that are real and exist in nature and is something that you and I and most rational people intuitively recognize. The existence of transitions may simply mean that the man-made descriptors are not completely accurate and finer points need to be worked out, but does not necessarily mean our current understandings and descriptions of these categories are completely erroneous. Again, for the purpose of this discussion, this man-made category between organism and gamete describe real differences and have already been settled since you agree that a zygote is a new homo sapien organism and gametes are not. The reasons for why this distinction is significant has already been addressed. If you like an even more in-depth discussion, I will refer you to these 3 links, which I think more directly address your concerns (they are not too long, so if you are really looking for answers, then I encourage you to read them):
    http://en.allexperts.com/q/Abortion-Pro-Life-3238/unborn.htm
    http://catholiceducation.org/articles/abortion/ab0004.html
    http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-george073001.shtml

    “I think what you were trying to say with #3 is what I stated above it as my best-faith restatement of your position:
    It is morally wrong to kill any biological organism that has a complete set of homo-sapien DNA
    So answer my question. Do you accept this as a fair statement of your assertion? In case you missed it, here it is again:
    It is morally wrong to kill any biological organism that has a complete set of homo-sapien DNA”

    As a general basic principle. I believe that any deliberate killing of an innocent homo sapien organism (which would include homo sapien organisms with a complete set of homo-sapien DNA) is morally wrong.

    @Paul, if you are implying that right to life is relative to how much responsibility and individual can handle in society (i.e. relative to the individuals abilities and functionability) then it sounds like you are potentially advocating the position that the extermination of those that are disabled and infants is not a moral wrong.

    Just in case there is any additional interest, one can visit this site for more academic articles on the subject:
    http://www.princeton.edu/~prolife/academic.html

  • If a fetus should have the right to life from the moment of conception then how do you justify the incremental responsibilities of the child post birth ?

    Indeed you are being kinda silly. We don’t treat people with greater responsibilities in life as having a greater right to life.

  • “one can intuitively recognize that there is in fact a difference between your cut finger and you as homo sapien organism.”
    I was not suggesting that my severed finger was a homo sapeien organism. I was asking you whether I (without my finger) should still be considered a complete homo sapien organism or not. But that’s ok because you admit below that your categories are vague, imprecise and require ‘intuition’ to fill in the gaps.

    “I have no problem with that, but I fail to see the relevance to this discussion”
    See below when I talk to you about the transitional forms

    “Just because transitions exist between two categories does not automatically nullify the validity of the categories.”
    That depends what you’re going to try to use the categories for. Let us take two specimens, the new zygote, and the last transitional form, one picosecond before you consider it to be a zygote. Observably you would find these two things to be nearly identical, and yet you claim to have a basis for conferring the right to life to one, and denying it to the other.

    “…that you and I and most rational people intuitively recognize….the man-made descriptors are not completely accurate…finer points need to be worked out…”
    The fact that you need to appeal to intuition, and admit that the categories aren’t accurate, is exactly why you can’t then use these categories for an extremely precise moral judgment. If your categories aren’t precise, at best you should be keeping your moral judgments imprecise as well.

    “As a general basic principle. I believe that any deliberate killing of an innocent homo sapien organism (which would include homo sapien organisms with a complete set of homo-sapien DNA) is morally wrong.”
    Great. Now once more for the record, tell me why you think that is morally wrong? And you’ll be pleased to know you don’t have to use the term ‘human being’ which you hate my definition of, so much, because it’s not used in the statement you’re asserting.

    “it sounds like you are potentially advocating the position that the extermination of those that are disabled and infants is not a moral wrong.”
    Once again I agree with Stu. What exactly are you trying to say Paul?

    “http://www.princeton.edu/~prolife/academic.html”
    haha, I bet they’re really unbiased. It’s not like they have the word prolife in their URL :)

  • @ Glenn:

    “Indeed you are being kinda silly. We don’t treat people with greater responsibilities in life as having a greater right to life.”

    Ok, – why not and on what basis are justifying that ?

  • *you

    I must type slower. :-)

  • @ Ari:

    “On the other hand you have a basic human rights that are guarded through the law. As a basic example of this, a human needs to breathe to live. If you delibrately prevent someone from breathing they will die and you will be held responsible for their death.”

    So, is the justification for incremental rights and responsbilities a matter for the law based on the norms and mores of society to work out or is there an absolute basis for deciding them ?

    (You can see where I’m going with this)

    It seems strange to me that on the one hand it’s being asserted that the right to life is not something that is the domain of the society (the argument seems to be that there is an exterior justification), and on the other there are incremental rights and responsibilities (which may include crimes that carry a capital tariff – particularly in the USA) which is the domain of the society.

    Apologies if I’m continuing to be silly but it does seem strange to have two sets of standards for the one life.

  • @ Stu:

    “@Paul, if you are implying that right to life is relative to how much responsibility and individual can handle in society (i.e. relative to the individuals abilities and functionability) then it sounds like you are potentially advocating the position that the extermination of those that are disabled and infants is not a moral wrong.”

    No, I’m trying to draw a contrast netween the two and ask why there is a difference in how they are treated. To then infer a loaded and emotive moral viewpoint is almost proving Godwins Law (you just omitted the uniforms and the flag, and included the word ‘potentially’).

  • “Indeed you are being kinda silly. We don’t treat people with greater responsibilities in life as having a greater right to life.”
    Ok, – why not and on what basis are justifying that ?

    Paul your comment below suggests that you think that having with greater responsibilities in life as having great a right to life. You wrote:
    ”If a fetus should have the right to life from the moment of conception then how do you justify the incremental responsibilities of the child post birth ? Can it be justified ? Or should we also apply the same levels of responsibility onto the child immediately after the moment of conception as we do to adults currently ?”
    Note you argument here, your suggesting if something has a right to life from conception one can’t justify the claim that people have incremental responsibilities post conception. That argument only makes sense if right to life is graduated with responsibilities.
    This claim seems evidently to be false. For example I think it would be homicide to kill a four year old child because it was inconvenient to ones career. This means I think a four year old like a 24 year old has a “right to life” does it follow that I can’t hold that a 24 year old has more responsibilities? This is silly.

  • @ Matt:

    “Note you argument here, your suggesting if something has a right to life from conception one can’t justify the claim that people have incremental responsibilities post conception. That argument only makes sense if right to life is graduated with responsibilities.
    This claim seems evidently to be false. For example I think it would be homicide to kill a four year old child because it was inconvenient to ones career. This means I think a four year old like a 24 year old has a “right to life” does it follow that I can’t hold that a 24 year old has more responsibilities? This is silly.”

    Thanks, Matt. I appreciate the tone of the response.

    I don’t think that I can agree that the premise is evidently false though.

    The current understanding of those incremental responsibilities has changed hasn’t it ?

    There are historic cases of young people being punished for crimes that today they would not be held accountable for, and being subjected to sentences that they would no longer be subjected to.

    Are those changes justified ?

    The right to life from conception is absolute and set by an external agency, but the current levels of responsibility are not – that is my point.

    It just seems strange that one is and one is not yet its the same human being.

    I have heard a line of argument from a Christian advocating that the age of criminal responsibility should be lowered to two years of age, and he wasn’t joking. In his view the perceived lack of a consciousness was insufficient defence to committing a wrong. In his view a toddler knew what it was doing and should bear responsibility accordingly.

    Seriously, I’m not making this stuff up.

  • “I was not suggesting that my severed finger was a homo sapeien organism. I was asking you whether I (without my finger) should still be considered a complete homo sapien organism or not. But that’s ok because you admit below that your categories are vague, imprecise and require ‘intuition’ to fill in the gaps.

    “That depends what you’re going to try to use the categories for. Let us take two specimens, the new zygote, and the last transitional form, one picosecond before you consider it to be a zygote. Observably you would find these two things to be nearly identical, and yet you claim to have a basis for conferring the right to life to one, and denying it to the other. “

    “The fact that you need to appeal to intuition, and admit that the categories aren’t accurate, is exactly why you can’t then use these categories for an extremely precise moral judgment. If your categories aren’t precise, at best you should be keeping your moral judgments imprecise as well.”

    All of this is irrelevant since you already admit that a zygote is the beginning of a life of a homo sapien organism and that is why you shouldn’t kill it. It is irrelevant that there are transition points prior to the existence of a zygote (i.e. prior to the beginning of a life of a homo sapien).
    As well, most of your objections I think are adequately answered in one of the articles I linked to, such as this one:
    old.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-george073001.shtml (just add http:// to the beginning of the link. I left it out to avoid waiting for moderation)

    In regards to your objection regarding the picosecond before a zygote exists (words in brackets are my addition). I shall spoon feed you a passage from the above linked article that addresses this, but I think you should start feeding yourself less you starve:

    “A significant — even morally significant — personal change can always be re-described in merely abstract [temporal], chemical or mechanical terms and be made to sound trivial or impersonal. Someone might say, for example: “Are you asserting that the difference between having a normal, happy life or being severely depressed for that twenty-one year old is merely a matter of the composition of the carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen elements in the fluids of his brain?” Or: “Are you saying that whether we have a living being or not is just a matter of a few potassium elements?”

    “Now once more for the record, tell me why you think that is morally wrong? And you’ll be pleased to know you don’t have to use the term ‘human being’ which you hate my definition of, so much, because it’s not used in the statement you’re asserting.”

    I have already answered this. I think it is wrong because of assumption 3: 3) that in the physical world, a “human being” is only associated with, to the exclusion of all others within the physical world, a homo sapian organism.
    Please note that whether the homo sapien organism is complete or incomplete is irrelevant. If you are a homo sapien organism, you have the right to life.
    Since you hate man-made categories and concepts and love the term ‘human being’ can you define to me what you consider is a ‘human being’ without using man-made categories and concepts?

    “haha, I bet they’re really unbiased. It’s not like they have the word prolife in their URL”

    I think there’s a logical fallacy somewhere in there that I intuitively recognize, but I won’t use any man-made categories at the risk of you disputing its validity.

  • I would like to add that I did not say that there isn’t an adequate definition for the purposes of this discussion. I think the current definition of organism outlines real observable differences in reality that is significant and sufficient to exclude gametes as organism and zygotes as organisms for the purposes of this discussion. I simply appealed to your intuition as another line of proof that indeed the difference between organism and non-organism exists and is real and is significant. I will again spoon feed you with another quote from the above mentioned link that may help clarify and hopefully encourage you to read the whole article and the other 2 articles I recommended.

    “Against Bailey’s attempt, as a scientific matter, to analogize embryonic human beings to somatic cells that may be used to clone a new human being, we pointed out decisive differences that he had simply ignored: Human embryos are (just as more mature human beings are) whole human organisms, and, as such, living (albeit immature) members of the species homo sapiens; somatic cells are not. Human embryos have the epigenetic primordia for internally directed maturation as distinct, complete, self-integrating human individuals; somatic cells do not. Thus, the “potential” of somatic cells is nothing remotely like the potential of the embryo. Like sperm and ova, somatic cells, though they themselves are not distinct, self-integrating human organisms (but are rather parts of other, larger human organisms), can contribute constituents to a process that brings into being a new, distinct, self-integrating human organism — a human embryo. By contrast, an embryo — whether brought into being by sexual union or cloning — is already a human being. That human being, given nothing more than an hospitable environment, will actively develop itself from the embryonic through the fetal, infant, and adolescent stages of his or her life and into adulthood with his or her unity and identity fully intact. That is why it is true to say that you or I was once an embryo, just as we were once adolescents, infants, etc. A fully mature human being who came into existence by cloning, however, was never a somatic cell, just as adult human beings who were brought into existence by sexual reproduction were never sperm cells or ova.”

  • “All of this is irrelevant”
    Wow, really

    “since you already admit that a zygote is the beginning of a life of a homo sapien organism”
    Yes I do

    “and that is why you shouldn’t kill it.”
    No, that’s what you’re trying to prove.

    “As well, most of your objections I think are adequately answered in one of the articles I linked to”
    How convenient. I’m pretty sure all your arguments and objections are answered by wonderful articles on the internet too. Maybe you should go read them all.

    “but I think you should start feeding yourself less you starve:”
    Assuming I would want to eat what you’re serving up at all…

    The problem is, if you don’t have a prima-facie argument for the right to life, what kind of argument do you have? Oh or maybe you don’t have one.

    So you’re unable to give a justification for your statement below, that doesn’t use the term ‘human being’? The statement doesn’t have the term, and as I said, you don’t like the term, so it seems like you should be able to come up with a justification that doesn’t use it. Your last attempt failed because it practically relied on equivocation of that term.
    “As a general basic principle. I believe that any deliberate killing of an innocent homo sapien organism is morally wrong.”

    “Since you hate man-made categories and concepts and love the term ‘human being’ can you define to me what you consider is a ‘human being’ without using man-made categories and concepts?”
    No, for the last three posts I have been trying to do you the favor of abandoning this term that you find so confusing, and inviting you to state your argument without it.

  • “No, I’m trying to draw a contrast netween the two and ask why there is a difference in how they are treated. To then infer a loaded and emotive moral viewpoint is almost proving Godwins Law (you just omitted the uniforms and the flag, and included the word ‘potentially’).”

    I was more thinking along the lines of peter singer and micheal tooley.

  • “The problem is, if you don’t have a prima-facie argument for the right to life, what kind of argument do you have? Oh or maybe you don’t have one.

    So you’re unable to give a justification for your statement below, that doesn’t use the term ‘human being’? The statement doesn’t have the term, and as I said, you don’t like the term, so it seems like you should be able to come up with a justification that doesn’t use it. Your last attempt failed because it practically relied on equivocation of that term.
    “As a general basic principle. I believe that any deliberate killing of an innocent homo sapien organism is morally wrong.””

    can anyone tell me what he is asking that hasn’t already been answered?

  • “can anyone tell me what he is asking that hasn’t already been answered?”
    Seriously?

    Let me break it down for you. You agreed that this is a fair statement of what you believe:
    “As a general basic principle. I believe that any deliberate killing of an innocent homo sapien organism is morally wrong.””

    You stated (rightly) that the term ‘human being’ is a confusing and poorly-defined term, that need have no place in this argument.

    I asked you for a justification for the statement above, that didn’t use the term human being (so as not to be confusing)

    You replied:
    “in the physical world, a “[[human being]]” is only associated with, to the exclusion of all others within the physical world, a homo sapien organism.”

    Not only did you once again equivocate on the term you supposedly hate so much, but one could hardly call this a justification for your statement above.

    Is what I’m asking you for really so hard?

  • “A human being is a creature to which the basic human rights should be attributed, specifically the right not to be killed without justification.”

    assuming of course it is acceptable to you to use the man-made category of “creature” in place of the man-made category of “organism” (cuz i know how much you hate man-made categories) then I am fine with the definition you have given previously and have been adhering to that definition whenever i use the term “human being’ or human “being” or “being”.

    If anyone has been equivocating on the term, it is you.

    you said:
    “I’m saying that if you think a zygote that bears no resemblance to your typical human being is one, then there’s no reason why an ovum couldn’t be.”
    “The philosophical property of being a human being isn’t really observable.”

    on one hand you say a zygote cannot be a human being since it doesn’t resemble “your typical human being”, which i assume it is something that you observe. Then when I was trying to make the point of how we observe that all human beings are homo sapien organisms, you deny that we can obeserve it.

    Read the thread again, and you will see that your question has been answered.

  • “I’m saying that if you think a zygote that bears no resemblance to your typical human being is one, then there’s no reason why an ovum couldn’t be.”
    “The philosophical property of being a human being isn’t really observable.”
    I can see how you might get confused and think these two statements are inconsistent, but in their context, they’re not.
    This is the whole point of a prima-facie argument. We can’t really observe whether an organism deserves the right to life, so we compare the organism with others that do get the right to life. If they are similar, the prima-facie argument has strength. If they are not, it does not. So the prima-facie argument relies on observations we can make, to infer things that we can’t observe, exactly as I stated above.

    OK, so if we unpack your accpeted defenition into your stated justification for your position, we get:
    All organisms that deserve this specific right to life, are homo sapien organisms
    The zygote is a homo sapien organism
    Therefore the zygote must also deserve this right to life.

    I’m pretty sure that any Logic 101 student can see now that your argument is the famous fallacy called Affirming the Consequent.

    If I have not stated your argument to your satisfaction, please feel free to correct it.

  • OK, so if we unpack your accpeted defenition into your stated justification for your position, we get:
    All organisms that deserve this specific right to life, are homo sapien organisms
    The zygote is a homo sapien organism
    Therefore the zygote must also deserve this right to life.

    I’m pretty sure that any Logic 101 student can see now that your argument is the famous fallacy called Affirming the Consequent.

    If I have not stated your argument to your satisfaction, please feel free to correct it.

    I think that the issue lies in your first statement.

    All organisms that deserve this specific right to life, are homo sapien organisms

    It should read that ‘All homo sapien organisms deserve the specific right to life.’ then the rest of the arguement falls into place.

    All in the category deserve this specific right.
    The zygote fits in the category.
    Therefore it deserves that specific right.

    Then you need to argue either that all homo sapiens do not deserve this right or that the zygote is not a homo sapien.

  • “It should read that ‘All homo sapien organisms deserve the specific right to life.’ then the rest of the arguement falls into place.”
    I completely agree. If you can get away with that as a premise, then yes, your work is done. But I certainly don’t think it’s a premise that many will let you have for free, and if you look a few posts back, this is exactly the premise that I asked Stu for a justification of, and all he provided as a justification was the fact that the reverse is true (which proves nothing)

    “Then you need to argue either that all homo sapiens do not deserve this right or that the zygote is not a homo sapien.”
    There’s no question that the zygote is a homo sapien organism, that is true by definition.
    It seems to me like the burden of proof should be on the person who is making a bold and positive assertion, don’t you think?

    My position, on the other hand, that a zygote _might_ deserve the right to life or it might not, needs no proof other than the continual failure of others to come up with a solid justification.

  • It seems to me like the burden of proof should be on the person who is making a bold and positive assertion, don’t you think?

    My position, on the other hand, that a zygote _might_ deserve the right to life or it might not, needs no proof other than the continual failure of others to come up with a solid justification.

    Yeah, no.

    Just as the burden for being certain of the target before shooting lies with the hunter so I believe that the burden lies with you to prove to me that the zygote is definately not covered by the right to life clause and therefore we are free to do as we wish.

    The argument that you’re not sure and no one seems to be able to give you enough proof to be certain doesn’t then back up ‘so therefore I can kill it’ which after all is the point of this blog. If anything the doubt that you have should lend itself to the same caution that holds off the hunter ‘just in case’. I don’t think that the defence of ‘I couldn’t be sure if it was a person or not so I figured I could just go ahead and shoot’ would actually stand up in court.

  • Since you’re returning to Matt’s hunter analogy, maybe you could read through the posts that followed, so I don’t have to repeat myself. As I stated up there, in the absence of proof either way, it turns out to be a question of probabilities. People do things every day that have a very small chance of being disastrous. If the probabilities here were very low, how would this be any different.

    “The argument that you’re not sure and no one seems to be able to give you enough proof to be certain doesn’t then back up ‘so therefore I can kill it’”
    Good, because that’s not what I’m saying.
    If people would admit that there’s no magical proof that a zygote deserves the right to life, then maybe we could finally get into a useful and productive discussion about the inconclusive evidence for and against.

    “I don’t think that the defense of ‘I couldn’t be sure if it was a person or not so I figured I could just go ahead and shoot’ would actually stand up in court.”
    Actually, that would make a big difference in court. Especially if it was “It seemed incredibly unlikely that it was a person, so I figured I could just go ahead and shoot”

  • “It seemed incredibly unlikely that it was a person, so I figured I could just go ahead and shoot”

    This is where you and I are going to have to disagree. If it was so incredible unlikely that there was a person present then there would be no need for the action of shooting in the first place.

    The whole purpose of the action is preventing a person from living. If you do nothing then the chances are reasonably good that a human being will be born, the whole purpose having an abortion is that they won’t.

    We are not talking about preventing something being created, that is contraception. The action is intended to destroy a specific ‘thing’ and the person taking action has enough grounds to believe that the thing is there to take action against it, and to believe that if they do nothing then a human being will result.

    As far as the statistical probability of the zygote being a human being or not, given the lack of accuracy in our ability to pinpoint the exact moment of ‘person’ status achievement to everyone’s satisfaction (and subsequent right to life that would be gained) there doesn’t seem to be much ability to base probabilities around that. You say it could be very very small probability, I think that the zygote has a very high probability of being a human being. That doesn’t seem to give enough accuracy to then make a decision to destroy it.

    You are then left with your belief that the zygote might or might not have the right to life, but again to then base a decision to destroy it, on the fact that it might or might not have the right, seems problematic. If I hand you a box and say that the contents may or may not have the right to life, don’t you agree that you don’t have sufficient information and should therefore err on the side of not destroying the box just in case.

    You can argue that you need more information and accuracy, ask for some statistics around that, or that you need a method of dealing with the contents of the box that will only destroy the contents if it doesn’t have the right to life, but given that you don’t have the accuracy you require to make the decision clearer and your methods of destruction are indiscriminate, you are left with maybe and maybe not. I personally couldn’t justify those ‘odds’.

    But let’s face it, the fact is the zygote is being destroyed not because ‘maybe it isn’t a person yet’ but because it will be (if it isn’t already).

  • “This is where you and I are going to have to disagree. If it was so incredible unlikely that there was a person present then there would be no need for the action of shooting in the first place.”
    You’re confusing your analogy. People shoot stuff that isn’t a person all the time.

    “The whole purpose of the action is preventing a person from living.”
    How is that statement not true of contraception?

    In both conception, and abortion, something is destroyed, and something is prevented from being created.

    “there doesn’t seem to be much ability to base probabilities around that.”
    Right, If you’re done with the straw men, and ready to admit there are no certainties, then I’d be happy to talk about all the things that you could base probabilities around.

    “If I hand you a box and say that the contents may or may not have the right to life, don’t you agree that you don’t have sufficient information and should therefore err on the side of not destroying the box just in case.”
    If I hand you a box and say that there’s a one in a billion billion chance that there’s a person in there, and you have the choice of either destroying the box or completely altering your life forever…

    “I personally couldn’t justify those ‘odds’.”
    Cart before the horse. We haven’t even got to discussing the odds. Admit it is a question of odds, and then we’ll go there.

  • correction:
    In both contraception, and abortion

  • “In both contraception, and abortion, something is destroyed, and something is prevented from being created.”

    to use your words (again):
    because “We all know that the zygote is the beginning of the life of a new homo sapien [organism]“.

    to use my words:
    that in the physical world, a “human being” is only associated with, to the exclusion of all others within the physical world, a homo sapian organism.

    then, the we can conclude that a “human being” is associated (or at the very least potentially associated) with the zygote, but an ovum/sperm cannot even be a candidate, since it is a constituent of the homo sapien organism and not the organism itself.

  • “This is the whole point of a prima-facie argument. We can’t really observe whether an organism deserves the right to life, so we compare the organism with others that do get the right to life. If they are similar, the prima-facie argument has strength. If they are not, it does not. So the prima-facie argument relies on observations we can make, to infer things that we can’t observe, exactly as I stated above”

    I completely agree with what you just said, however, it still seems to me that you are equivocating on the term. Allow me to provide context:

    I said:

    “can we agree that if there was a dividing line, then at the very least the start of that dividing line (where an organism emerges) can then be a candidate for start of a “human being”. or do you think that non-organisms are still a potential candidate for “human being”?”

    to which you replied:

    “I’m saying that if you think a zygote that bears no resemblance to your typical human being is one, then there’s no reason why an ovum couldn’t be.”

    Then, later on I said:

    “i’m just appealing to what we observe and know. we know that you and I are human beings. we know that a child is a human being, we know that an infant is a human being, we know that a fetus of 30week gestation is a human being we can extrapolate that a zygote is a human being as it is the same organism. we know that a sperm and ovum on its own is not the same organism as the zygote (they only become the same organism when they are combined). this is what we observe. “

    Then you replied:
    “The philosophical property of being a human being isn’t really observable.”

    It would seem to me that at first you say a zygote bears no resemblance to a “human being”. To which I assume you mean it doesn’t physically or intellectually bear any resemblance to your typical “human being” (i.e. in a more developed homo sapien organism). In this case, I assumed that you have observed that homo sapien adults, for example, are “human being” (i.e. creatures that deserve the right to life)

    I then say that we observe that an adult, a child, a 30 week gestation (I used this again, cuz I assumed that it has already been agreed in this thread that there were good strong arguments that mid-late term fetuses should have the right to life) are a “human beings”.
    Since we observe “human beings” at different stages of development of a homo sapien organism, we can infer that a zygote, which is also a different stage of development of a homo sapien organism, is a “human being”.
    To which, you replied that the “philosophical property of being a human being isn’t really observable”. Which I took to mean that I cannot observe that an adult, a child etc… has the philosophical property of being a human being (i.e. I cannot observe that those organisms have the right to life)

    Seems like you are either equivocating or contradicting yourself.

  • “If I hand you a box and say that there’s a one in a billion billion chance that there’s a person in there, and you have the choice of either destroying the box or completely altering your life forever…

    I say – One in a billion billion chance, thats really small. Is that because the box is probably empty.

    No (you say) there is definately something in the box

    Oh so it could be a billion billion different things and you don’t know what it is.

    Well yes and no. It’s definately a human being I just don’t know if it’s a person yet.

    Not sure if it’s a person yet?? So it might be a person already, and how likely is it that it will become one?? Is that the billion billion??

    Well all things going as they should inside the box, if you choose not to destroy the box then when you open it in a few months it will definately be a human being person.

    So by destroying the box now I would be destroying what is certain to be a human being person in a couple of months time and may already be one? That makes a huge impact on my decision. Why did you start with billion billion odds?

    Well I have this illustration about us choosing to drive even though there is a really small chance of having an accident and killing someone.

    Yes I remember it. I always thought that that illustration fitted better with a pregnant lady choosing slightly risky behaviours like eating certain foods that carry a tiny chance of causing a miscarriage. After all the point of an abortion is certainty, being certain to prevent the very likely event that a pregnancy will result in a human being person. But I get that you are trying to show how unsure you are that a person is there when someone chooses to have an abortion. Anyway I better go now, I have a box that most likely has a person in it to take care of.

  • Stu: Here’s my two points, so you can see them not contradict.

    We observe human beings all the time, the adults and children around us. So yes, human beings are observable. When we see a 30 week fetus that bears strong resemblance to something else we all accept is a human being, then we apply the prima-facie and conclude that the 30 week fetus is probably a human being too (probably because prima-facie isn’t really a deductive argument). Purely on the basis of this prima-facie type reasoning, the zygote bears a lot more resemblance to whatever it was 1 picosecond before fertilization, than it does to anything that is universally accepted as a human being. So given that you categorically state that the pre-fertilized object is not a human being – then I say that prima-facie would suggest the zygote isn’t either.

    My other point is that prima-facie and inductive reasoning is all you have, because you can’t make deductive assertions about whether something is or is not a human being, because the fundamental thing that makes us a human being is not observable. We observe things about things we all assume are human beings, but you can’t identify what it is in essence that proves that an entity deserves the right to life.

    Ari: This is an analogy. I’m not using ‘box’ as a euphemism for uterus. So maybe there isn’t anything in my analogy box. It is irrelevant to my analogy.

    “It’s definitely a human being I just don’t know if it’s a person yet.”
    You’re not using these terms the way we’ve defined them. (which isn’t a crime, just a confusion). We define human being (and I suppose person) to mean an entity that deserves the right to life being discussed. So what I’d more likely say is:
    It is a homo-sapien organism, I just don’t know if it’s a human being (and who cares about yet).
    However as I said above, in my analogy the box is 99.9999999999 percent probably empty. And in my analogy, you have a really good reason to want to destroy it. So do you?

    “and how likely is it that it will become one”
    Objection, relevance?
    What it is probably going to become if left to run its course, is irrelevant. I thought we were done with all that ‘potential’ rubbish.
    If the thing in the box is a human being, then destroying it is murder. If it is not, then destroying it is morally neutral, regardless of what it might have become.

    “Why did you start with billion billion odds?”
    To try to illustrate that it is a question of probabilities.

    “I always thought that that illustration fitted better with a pregnant lady”
    It’s my analogy, can’t you let it be? Or is this your way of not answering the question?
    “eating certain foods that carry a tiny chance of causing a miscarriage.”
    You seem to be confused about what we’re talking about the probability of. I’m talking about the probability of the organism being a human being, which has nothing to do with the probability of the cause of death being successful.

    “But I get that you are trying to show how unsure you are that a person is there when someone chooses to have an abortion.”
    To be clear, I’m only talking here about early stages of pregnancy, when the prima-facie argument is very weak.

    “Anyway I better go now, I have a box that most likely has a person in it to take care of.”
    You’re pregnant? Congratulations. I hope all goes well.

  • My argument is very similar to your argument with a few minor changes:

    We observe human beings all the time, the adults and children around us. So yes, human beings are observable. When we see a 30 week fetus that bears strong resemblance to something else we all accept is a human being [namely homo sapien organisms at different stages of development from infant to adult to elderly], then we apply the prima-facie and conclude that the 30 week fetus is probably a human being too (probably because prima-facie isn’t really a deductive argument). Purely on the basis of this prima-facie type reasoning, the zygote [as “the beginning of a life of a new homo sapien” is more similar to other things we all accept as being human beings (i.e. homo sapien organisms at later stages of development). Whatever [the zygote] was 1 picosecond before fertilization [such as the sperm and ovum, which are not homo sapien organisms but rather are considered as constituents of a homo sapien organisms and are therfore more similar to blood cells and skin cells] than it does to anything that is universally accepted as a human being [such as homo sapien organisms]. So given that [I] categorically state that the pre-fertilized object is not a human being [since it is not a homo sapien organism] – then I say that prima-facie would suggest the zygote [is, since it is a homo sapien organism and is the “beginning of a life of a new homo sapien” organism].

    “…because the fundamental thing that makes us a human being is not observable. We observe things about things we all assume are human beings, but you can’t identify what it is in essence that proves that an entity deserves the right to life.”

    Thanks for clearing that up for me. I never said that I can identify the essence that proves that an entity deserves the right to life. My argument was that “We observe human beings all the time, the adults and children around us” (i am using your words so that there is no confusion). So it would seem that you were not contradicting yourself, you were simply attacking a straw man.

  • Hi Stu

    The fundamental problem with your argument is that ‘homo sapien organism’ isn’t so much an observation as a classification. So you can’t use prima-facie. The zygote doesn’t look like a baby, it doesn’t have much in common with the baby, except that it is homo-sapien and an organism. If you were able to show that these are the only properties necessary to fundamentally earn it the right to life, then you’d be done, but as you said below:
    “I never said that I can identify the essence that proves that an entity deserves the right to life”
    Your argument basically relies on the belief that all homo sapien organisms deserve the right to life, and you still haven’t provided any justification for this assertion.

    Some minor points:
    one picosecond prior to the zygote being formed, you don’t have an independent sperm and ovum, you have a single object which is in the process of being stitched together into a zygote.
    Based on observations alone, this pre-zygote would appear very very similar to a zygote (it would have to because it is one picosecond away from being one)
    Sorry if it seemed like I was attacking a straw man, but I wasn’t doing it deliberately

  • Hi Matt (again)

    I suspect that you have these documentaries iin NZ too but I thought I’d point you to a story over here about a documentary on the ethics surrounding premature babies around the 23 week gestation.

    “In his documentary, Mr Wishart focuses on the 23-week mark.

    This, according to the programme, is a point at which statistics say that for every 100 children born, only nine will survive, and of those, only one will go on to live a fully able-bodied life.

    “The guidelines say the 23rd week is a difficult week and we should make decisions carefully about whether or not to resuscitate these children,” he said.

    “I don’t say that we should make a rule that all 23 week babies should be left to die. I say it should be the exception rather than the rule.”

    Babies born prematurely 22 weeks will not even be resusitated.

    From Adama Wisharts own blog

    “The ethics are complex, because the outcomes are so starkly varied. Heather was also born in extreme prematurity: now, aged twenty-one, she is quadriplegic with movement in one arm. She says, ‘Is this as far my life can go. There is obviously nothing else out there for me. So what is the point really.’ In contrast, ten-year old Molly is a healthy girl, every parents dream. Her father, a doctor, says, ‘I think not to save life because some of them are disabled is a political statement of a euthanasia that isn’t really acceptable in the mores of our society.’

    I ask whether keeping these babies alive is medicine at its most pioneering and brilliant or is it science pushing the limits of nature too far.”

    My point is that you’re arguing that the right to life of a fetus from conception is philosophically unquestionable, whereas I would argue that the argument is not that clear cut and hard ethical choices may have to be made, at all stages of the gestation.

  • The only thing that matters in the end is how are you going to feed all your fellow humans when they turn into adults and try to kill you for the last resources on the planet. Pro-lifers have themselves confused with the more accurate name pro-choiceless. You should take in every single orphan on the planet or shut your yaps. You overcomplicate common sense with misguided ideas of fat cherubic visions. Come back to reality; human is genetically similar to most earth life. Let’s take care of our current starving masses. Your genetics are not that pivotal in the scheme of life.

  • I find your arguments weak and failing to provide any knock out blow to the pro-abortion side. You attempt to argue for positions that have been refuted time and time again yet you merely provide the weakest positions against anything you seem to be arguing for. This may be good rhetoric but poor philosophy. You rely on people’s emotions and are very short of any solid reasoning. What I suspect you are doing is attempting to give secular reasons for your theological postions. You know that in order to be taken seriously as an academic you can not rely of positions of faith so you resort to more reasoned approaches. This is one of the major weaknesses in your argument against the killing of unborn babies, all non-religious positions against abortion are poor.

  • [...] over on M and M (New Zealand’s most popular Christian blog) I found a few counter-examples to my favoured arguments which gave me pause. While some are easy to answer others are a little [...]

  • [...] over on M and M (New Zealand’s most popular Christian blog) I found a few counter-examples to my favoured arguments which gave me pause. While some are easy to answer others are a little [...]