When is a human human?

By Phil Plait | November 3, 2008 9:43 pm

UPDATE (Nov. 4 11:00 p.m.): Great news! Proposition 48 was crushed, losing by a 3-to-1 vote.

In Colorado, Proposition 48 is up for vote on Tuesday. It is a rather simple statement; here it is in its entirety on the Colorado ballot:

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution defining the term “person” to include any human being from the moment of fertilization as “person” is used in those provisions of the Colorado constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law?

Basically, this amendment to the Colorado Constitution would define a person as an legal entity at the moment a human sperm fertilizes an egg.

Prop 48 is ridiculous for any number of legal reasons. For example, if a woman who is pregnant for a day has a few drinks which cause damage to the embryo, can she be charged with reckless endangerment? What if she takes medicine that saves her but endangers the embryo? If I drive a pregnant woman around, can I use the HOV 3 lanes?

There are other vital issues, like how granting civil rights to a collection of cells takes away many civil rights of women, and the huge increase in governmental involvement this would mean in people’s lives. These are important to be sure, but not the point I want to make here. Also, these are age-old arguments, and in fact I can see where intelligent people can come down on opposite sides of them.

The real point is, Prop 48 isn’t about science, and it’s not even about legal issues. It’s about religion. This proposition is obviously based solely on religious beliefs; there is little reason outside of that to even bring the argument up that a fertilized egg is entitled to rights as a human being. It is only the belief that the human soul enters the cell at that moment that this is an issue at all.

Proposition 48 is religion trying to create legislation, pure and simple.

And it’s based on flawed reasoning. Try this thought experiment: you’re walking down the street, and you see a building on fire. You enter it to help anyone out, and see it’s a lab. On one side is a five-year-old boy, and the other is a petri dish clearly labeled as having a dozen fertilized eggs in it. You only have time to rescue the boy or the eggs. What do you do?

I would argue that it would be, ironically, an inhuman act to rescue the dish. Yet, according to the law if Prop 48 passes, you would have just chosen to let 12 human beings die to save one.

To me, those cells are just that: cells. There is nothing there that makes them human other than their DNA and their potential to grow.

So this leaves the actual question: what makes us human?

We don’t even have a definition of what life is — I can argue rather convincingly that fire is alive — let alone what it is to be human. And since we are talking legal issues here, you cannot state that it has to do with when a soul enters a body. I want to be perfectly clear about that, since that is an outright and clear violation of the First Amendment. The government cannot legislate religious beliefs.

I have smart readers. Can anyone here give me a reason, besides a religious one, that a fertilized egg is a human being? I’m willing to listen.

But let me help you here. It won’t fly to say that it has the coding (DNA) to become a human. Any cell in the body has that. I wouldn’t even accept that it has potential to be human, because the egg and sperm individually have potential to become human, if only they meet. You might counter and say that an egg already has that step done, but there are still many more on the way to being human. An egg can’t become a human without a lot of outside help (from the mother’s body), so the fertilization, while critical, is just one more step in the process. If any number of those steps fail, you don’t get a human out of it.

And if you wonder where I think the humanity begins in all this, I’ll say I don’t know. I don’t think it’s necessarily definable. I might — might — be talked into saying a fetus becomes human once brain activity starts. Many definitions of death are when brain activity stops, so that at least is reciprocal. But even then it’s difficult. What brain activity? Thought? Conscious thought? Does that make an adult gorilla more human than a five-day-old embryo?

And this, this, finally brings me to the ultimate point here: we are trying to define something here that is fundamentally undefinable. Being human is not a line in the sand where you can say, this is human and this isn’t. I can tell when something is well over the line, like a cat, or a rock, or Rory Calhoun, but something closer to the line is very hard to delineate. Biologists still argue over whether viruses are alive.

Proposition 48 is bad science, bad religion, and bad law. Even if you are religious, and you believe God breathes a soul into a fertilized egg, it’s still a bad idea. Your religion may have a majority in Colorado right now, but it may not always. Separation of Church and State is a fragile thing, a wall made of nothing but ideas. And as we have seen, over and over again, ideas can be stomped flat by ideologues. Your ideas may be next.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Politics, Religion

Comments (301)

  1. Richard

    So….

    Does that mean a male zygote and a female zygote can marry each other?

  2. Ryan

    Just curious but what if your thought experiment were changed to the following:

    1) Woman
    2) Pregnant Woman
    3) 5 year old

    Who would you save?

  3. Autumn

    Heck, it’s not even simple to define when fertilization occurs; is it when the sperm begins to dissolve its way through the outer layers of the ovum, when the sperm is fully inside the ovum, when the genetic material of the sperm is released, some other arbitrary point?

    What happens if there is a split into twin embryos, but one is absorbed by the other? Is one embryo indicted for homicide? How long before Texas starts using abortion as an execution method?

  4. Richard

    How ’bout another “dumbass” question.

    If a fertilized egg is legally a “person,” does it then have a right to carry a gun.

    I’d hate to think of the discomfort of the mother….

  5. Well said, Phil. Very well said indeed.

    There is an interesting (and eventually, I daresay, important) bioethical debate to be had about the origin of personhood in utero because of the issue of brain development. But laws like this MUST based on the best we know, with maybe an extra margin given on the “just in case we’re wrong” side. And such a debate MUST include discussions of the woman’s fundamental rights, and of the suffering of those whose potentially curable diseases continue to be untreatable when stem cell research is held up, and of the people that opt for IVF.

    I seriously doubt that most people supporting nonsense like prop 48 have *any* clue about the legal basis of Roe vs. Wade, nor have read the actual decision. I have met precious few who even understand that the basis of all law is to counterbalance competing rights against others. There are very few areas in the law (including murder) where one person’s rights automatically trump another person’s rights – almost always there is mutual accommodation. The ideologues pimping this kind of crap have no clue the legal quicksand they’re stepping into when they seek to define life beginning at conception.

    It’s a soundbite age, and soundbites are nice, but I for one am glad of it when I find posts like this one that attacks nuanced issues in a nuanced way.

    Kudos!

  6. A great article BA. This is what has been annoying me lately when I think about religious based arguments. They always seem to be trying to box things into a binary position. Right/wrong, dead/alive, god/satan, saved/damned etc.. It’s all very childish really.

    When you grow up your supposed to realise that everything is not black and white, it’s multicoloured with shades of gray thrown in as well. That’s what makes life so interesting :)

  7. Only a very small gun.

  8. I absolutely agree that this proposition is terrible law. These questions should be approached rationally and critically, without religion messing up the question.

    Where I disagree, however, is over whether humanity is “fundamentally undefinable.” We *must* make an attempt to define it somewhere, even if we disregard embryonic issues. Otherwise we really have no moral basis for murder being a crime.

    Sorry for steering this toward the “murder” question; but I think that it’s an important point to make.

  9. Richard

    All right, .22 or less.

  10. Slate has an interesting article on some of the (one hopes) unintended consequences of this sort of definition.

  11. Luis Plata

    One of the things that define humanity, in my opinion, is independence and individuality. I, personally, see an embryo as becoming a human during the point where the embryo can remain alive independent of it’s connection to its mother. Define this as the youngest age at which a prematurely born baby can survive, whatever it may be

  12. Thanks for speaking out on this. Garbage issues (i.e. settled law) are nerve-wracking for the huge body of people that are completely over them. As the great Bill Hicks once said, “you’re not a person until you’re in my phonebook.”

  13. Davidlpf

    Taliking about an area with more grey areas the Gandalfs cloak. Before they try making abortion illegal how about getting rid the radicals that blow up clinics and shoots doctors.

  14. Greg in Austin

    I know,

    Give the embryos the same rights as every other human. Then, give them the right to vote. Maybe then they can propose something less completely pointless.

    8)

  15. Luis Plata

    Redefining my thoughts. Because each baby is different, instead of saying age, i should say:
    The earliest point in its development in which a baby can survive independent of its connection to its mother.

  16. Davidlpf

    @Greg, how to do you get the voting machine in there.

  17. Richard

    Here’s my problem with the “human soul” entering the egg upon fertilization bit.

    Should that egg split, thereby forming identical twins, does that mean that that original “soul” splits as well? Or do the twins share that soul becoming soulless on alternate days, hours, minutes, seconds?

    Or, if the Colorado bill suggest, in the case of identical twins, if you kill one identical twin can you be charged with double homicide even though the other twin is alive and well (being that the fertilized egg splits after the “humanization” part, thereby meaning both twins are one person)?

  18. @Luis: IIRC, the UK’s laws follow a model close to what you’re suggesting. They define it based upon confidence of survival gathered from statistics, though, and have a statute specifying a certain number of weeks (that I don’t recall). There was a recent push to change the statute there.

  19. AAzure

    You mention religion – but that is exactly what you support – your own. Your only argument is that you disagree with someone else”s religion.

    For example, your HOV lane example … so does a woman day minus one from birth get the HOV lane? Day plus one? … the difference is merely legal, not science. For you, though, it is religious. What day does HOV matter? Do you see the question is not a science question but one of law? HOV lanes are created out of law, not science. How can you possibly justify a SCIENCE QUESTION by referring to LAW! You suddenly fall into the trap like the USSR, declaring some laws of nature illegal!!

    Your profound spewing simply solidifies the entire issue – it’s all relative and has nothing to do with science. You prove this by your insane analogy to state fire is “alive” .. as if you’re some how confused between human life and a flame! This complete nonsense for argument is the very reason this issue seems so hard. Such arguments display a horrific lack of sense, and worse, an attempt of obscure any real argument.

    The argument doesn’t start with ‘what is a human life’. That is already solved. It is when the consequence of a union between a sperm and egg creates something unique from its source. Yes, it may be difficult for you to see a cluster of cells as ‘human’ – but that is your issue from YOUR RELIGIOUS point of view – it is in no conflict to science. No argument of ‘lack of humanity’ can withstand the fact of its scientific existence that these cells are a human being. If you struggle here, it is a matter of your inability to overcome your own religion (gilded by the claim of ‘non-religion’)

    Once you can gulp that, then the real question – when do human RIGHTS apply?

    That is the question that needs answers – and it’s not a matter of science.

    Science is very clear and unambiguous. However, if you want to confuse your religious belief, law, science and human rights – you will remain utterly confused in this matter.

  20. Utakata

    Ryan wrote:

    “Just curious but what if your thought experiment were changed to the following:

    1) Woman
    2) Pregnant Woman
    3) 5 year old

    Who would you save?”

    All three?

  21. LL

    There is clearly some logical fallacies in that statement…

  22. Hugo

    This is a thorny issue.

    The only way I can reason around it is to forget the eggs/embryos/fetesus all together and say, ‘A woman has the right to an abortion.’

    And obviously that it should be her decision, she doesn’t need anyone else to agree with her,s he’ll be protected by law in this decision and she’ll be able to find someone easily who is qualified and willing to do it.

  23. Richard

    As for defining the point of becoming human, I think that’s a task well beyond our scope of comprehension. At best, it’s more like building from the point of final approval on the plans to opening day. At what point did it become a buiding:

    When it was thought about?
    When it was made final?
    When the plot was bought?
    When the groundbreaking ceremony was held (“Hey, Madam Mayor, grip my scissors. Heh!”)?
    When the first beam was erected?
    When the last beam was erected?
    When the first batch of concrete was poured for the foundation?
    When the last batch of concrete was poured for that superfluous fountain?

    The concept of the “person” is fluid, at best. As with the classification of species, it may be to our convenience, but not to the reality of the situation.

  24. Robbie

    Defining who and isn’t human has a long and ugly history, which we should try not to repeat.

  25. Richard

    “more like a building”

    D’oh!

    Sir, Phil, a preview would be quite appreciated and very envied.

    Der!

  26. Clayton

    When indeed does human life begin? Conception? Implantation? 15 weeks? Perhaps its at viability? How about tenure?

  27. Miranda

    Excellent post, Phil. One of your best, and not because I agree with you, but because you framed the issue with intellect and thoughtfulness as opposed to emotion (which is where I expect the comments to go after the first 25-30 or so).

  28. Bryan

    @Luis: I’m guessing you don’t have kids? I have a 6-year old that would probably die if my wife and I disappeared right now.

    I’ve heard that the spirit enters the body when the heart starts beating, which seems pretty reasonable to me. I wouldn’t consider a fertilized egg in a petri dish a person (nor would I consider that the ideal way for a person to get started), but I hope most here can agree that killing an 8-month fetus is a most abhorrent act. If you don’t, I hope you’ll delay speaking out on the matter until you’ve held your own 9-month baby in your arms.

  29. madge

    In the words of the late great George Carlin “Not every ejaculation deserves a name”
    :)

  30. AAZure, you have managed to misunderstand nearly everything I wrote.

    My point about fire is not that it’s alive. It’s that I can argue that it is. The basic point here is that life is very difficult to define. Any definition you come up with, I imagine I can find something to counter it. Fire is obviously not alive, yet it has many of the characteristics of life.

    My point is not religious. I don’t know why you would think that. But to make my point more clearly, science is not faith-based.

    And what you have done is precisely what I am arguing against: you have defined when human life begins by fiat. You have no evidence for your statement that it begins at conception, you merely state it as fact. I am asking for support for that stance.

  31. Bryan, I too have heard it’s when the heart starts, but then wouldn’t that mean life ends when the heart stops? Yet we know we can restart a heart after it stops, my friend James Randi had his heart stop for some time a few years back, but he is alive and hearty today.

  32. Luis Plata

    Notice my statement “independent of its connection to the mother.” I’m not talking about providing for your children, I know several adults that would die if the people caring for them disappeared. I’m thinking, individual as an organism.

  33. It is a hard question to answer, “What defines a human being?”

    My daughter has an extra chromosome in the 21st pair – Trisomy 21, “Down syndrome.” A chimpanzee is ‘genetically’ closer to a ‘normal’ human being. So, are people with DS any less human? I think there are probably as many opinions on this topic as there are posters.

  34. Richard

    Rene Descartes “Ergo cogito sum”

    Obviously, this doesn’t apply to certain politicians….does that make them human?

    (Just before Election Day, I know. But if “I think, therefore I am” means one is “human,” many politicians have thus far failed this part of the exam.)

  35. Wayne

    I’ve wrestled with this one myself, as have most of us who’d rather think about this logically than just go with the knee-jerk “A woman has the right to an abortion” and leave it at that. The problem with the independent viability argument, as (perhaps?) the UK is finding out, is that the typical age of viability keeps getting pushed back as our technology improves. There must at some point be a fairly hard limit that no amount of technology can overcome for independent viability, but I lack the expertise to know what it might be. Fertilization has the advantage of being the earliest point at which a human can even theoretically be matured independent of the parents input, but as Phil has noted setting human-ness at this point has some rather unpleasant legal and moral consequences that I don’t think our society is ready for.
    I disagree with Phil in that I do think we should draw a line somewhere. It may not be perfect, but it should be easier and more important than deciding what a planet is (and yes, I know you are on record about that as well).
    Although I am a Christian and personally against abortion, I do feel strongly that any definition of personhood be grounded in science and the prevailing moral standards of society. An arbitrary ban on abortion, or an end-run as this proposition is attempting, is a Very Bad Idea that would have severe negative unintended consequences.

    PS. Autumn, this is a Colorado proposition, save the hate on Texas for when we actually deserve it (which is often enough, I’m afraid).

  36. S

    “Can anyone here give me a reason, besides a religious one, that a fertilized egg is a human being?”

    A fertilized egg is a human because it is an individual organism of the species homo sapiens.

    It’s wrong to consider a fertilised egg non-human simply because it requires outside help from the mother.

    The only help a fertilised egg needs from its mother is sustenance and shelter, and noone can do without those.

  37. IVAN3MAN

    Ryan:

    Just curious but what if your thought experiment were changed to the following:

    1) Woman
    2) Pregnant Woman
    3) 5 year old

    [Which one] would you save?

    Being a logical man, I would have to save the 5-year-old. Why? Because the 5-year-old is vulnerable; whereas the other two are adults and, therefore, should be able to take care of themselves.

    However, a selfish man with over-developed balls, but under-developed frontal lobes, would probably save the woman. Why? Because the pregnant woman already has a bun-in-the-oven, and the 5-year-old isn’t his.

  38. S, that’s not bad, but what makes it an individual organism any different than any other cell? I’m asking seriously. It has the potential to grow into an actual human, but at that stage I’m just not seeing it.

  39. Harry the Zappa Fan

    Heh, TISM have had a good knowledge of what life is for a good decade. It’s the title of one of their songs:

    Life is fairly silly, really.
    But yea. Urg. Ethics on such a large scale as this is tedious, and the true answer is way too arbitrary for it to be handled in politics.

  40. @Ryan and Ivan:
    The more logical answer would be to save the person you can get too first, assuming they are not all together.

  41. Robbie

    I think what makes it an individual organism is that it is neither a cell from the male or woman, but both. Neither can lay ownership on it any more than you can lay ownership on another person.

    As I said, the history of trying to distinguish between 1 person and another in terms of rights is quite ugly and a dangerous slippery slope.

  42. OtherRob

    Bryan: “I wouldn’t consider a fertilized egg in a petri dish a person (nor would I consider that the ideal way for a person to get started)”

    While it might not be quite as much fun as the traditional way ;-), in some ways it’s actually better.

  43. I’ve had this debate with several religious pro-lifers. After literally pages of debating with them, I have determined that even a non-religious based argument supporting pro-life is no better than one that is pro-choice; and this measure is worse than what I was debating against. So does that mean a miscarriage is manslaughter? Seriously, this proposal is as half-based as anything I attempt to cook that isn’t from a grill or microwave. The only thing more inane than this proposal is the anti-gay marriage ballet in California.

    Just in case: http://xiao-feng-fury.deviantart.com/journal/21103229/ is where you can find the arguments I refer to. I am listed under the user name of “osyris”. I cannot say it is my best debate but I think I proved my point. If anything, this is a clear case of the mentality that goes into something like this.

  44. AAzure

    Phil,
    I apologize in advance if I my statements were out of line. I’m a long time lurker of your outstanding blog and mean no disrespect.

    Phil: “My point about fire is not that it’s alive. It’s that I can argue that it is.”

    True. I can argue that 1=0 too. Even prove it ;) if you’re willing to agree to a premise….

    However, just because one can ‘argue’ a position is actually meaningless to reality.

    Saying “1+1=3″ is arguable, but is it valid? No. I’m not sure who said it, (with my poor repetition) “giving equal validity to an argument that 1+1=3 is insane, though fair and stupid”.

    Phil: “Any definition (of life) you come up with, I imagine I can find something to counter it.”

    Certainly. But only by irrational arguments of emotion. Science, in this regard of human life, is unambiguous. I can certainly argue many things irrationality – but who wins? Irrational vs Rational always favors the irrational as the irrational can justify anything – except when nature eventually makes its judgment.

    Phil: “My point is not religious. I don’t know why you would think that. But to make my point more clearly, science is not faith-based.”

    I completely agree. And in science, there is are no questions regarding the ‘start’ of human life. Any questions beyond this fact are all non-scientific. These questions are among law, or political philosophy – with each trying to pull science into their argument as some sort of ‘proof’. But science is unmoved and unconcerned by such trivial contrivances. Thus, my discourse.

    You placed a political position and argument within a scientific arena. This is not a science argument. Yes, this your blog and you can raise whatever issue you desire – but my read (and would subscribe that many would agree) is that your argument against the law rests on some science. Yet, your arguments contained no science but merely political rhetoric. If law simply rested on science, the argument would be over decades ago. Sadly, politics has nothing to do with such reality.

    Phil: “And what you have done is precisely what I am arguing against: you have defined when human life begins by fiat. You have no evidence for your statement that it begins at conception, you merely state it as fact. I am asking for support for that stance.”

    My statement is exactly and purposely precise. There is no argument against it. The union of sperm and egg creates a unique cell different from its sources. In this, there is ABSOLUTELY NO ARGUMENT. If you can create such argument, please enlighten me.

    What more expectation are you seeking beyond a physical fact?

    This cluster of cells is human by the fact it is nothing else but human. Are you claiming to create an alternative biology?

    All arguments against this ALWAYS begin with some sort of political or religious platform.

    I await your pleasure of reply.

    Again, with utmost respect,
    Aazure

  45. S, what about a fertilised egg produced with IVF? The embryo is transferred as a blastocyst at around 3 days. Is it human before or after the transfer? What about the extra embryos produced as part of the process? As many as 10 or 12 embryos can be created.

  46. LukeL

    I am prolife and not for religious issues, it comes down to the fact that life is a very precious thing and as of right now we don’t even no what makes someone alive and aware. If abortion has to be legal (and many doctors can argue on both sides of the necessity of abortion vs the risk of c-section or vaginal birth and complications) it should be the rarest of the rare and IMO only done when medically necessary. The problem is we have doctors who will perform abortions for any reason even for choosing the correct sex (which of often male)

    I would compromise and like see abortion be done only for medically needed reasons and it be confirmed by a doctor who are specialists in the field of which the danger to the mother would present itself (so you would have an ob/gyn recommending abortion because of a heart problem without first consulting with a cardiologist)

  47. Alvarado

    Children don’t have a right to vote, or to drink, or to smoke. Babies don’t talk; they haven’t reached the age of reason, yet, we call them human. And the same warranties that apply to any adult human apply to them.

    If you leave a baby alone without water or food he/she will certainly die. Born babies need lots of outside help or they’ll die. A fertilized egg can also be grown in vitro. Humans technically don’t require a mother to be born. So I wouldn’t define human life by being independent.

    Also there is a very big difference between a zygote and a cell from my skin. The fertilized egg contains all the required information to develop in a womb, a sperm, an egg, or a skin cell don’t. This development could be called growth the same growth that a baby goes through to become an adult.

    What makes us human? I don’t know. The ability to think as a definition of our existence doesn’t make sense to me. A man in a persistent vegetative state would cease to be a human even when recovery is possible if that was the case.

    I have been thinking a lot about this issue lately and haven’t been able to come up with a reasonable answer. But I like to hear many points of view.

  48. AAzure

    Luke,

    The essence of your statements – and I believe that of Phil’s – is this;

    “… when does a right exist to purposely extinguish a human life.”

    The answer to this question is not a matter of science.

  49. Alvarado

    About miscarriage is manslaughter: no it’s not. The difference between natural death and murder is clear. Miscarriage occurs in nature without anyones intervention. Just like death.

    If a woman is not guilty when her father dies of a heart attack, she shouldn’t be guilty of any crime when there is a miscarriage.

  50. Alvarado

    George Carlin also said “When we abort a chiken we call it an omelett”. Well yeah, when we kill a born chicken we call it chiken wings. It is different with humans, but not because nature gave us the right, it is because early humans thought it would be nice, and we just carry on their legacy.

  51. csrster

    ‘Just curious but what if your thought experiment were changed to the following:

    1) Woman
    2) Pregnant Woman
    3) 5 year old’

    That depends. Is No. 1 cute?

  52. kebsis

    IVAN3MAN,

    I think you are sidestepping the point of the question. Logically speaking, the answer to the question if you were in a real flaming-building situation, would be to save whomever you think you’d have the best chance of rescuing. Unfortunetly, being an adult will not help you to help yourself if you are trapped in a burning building. That they need you to rescue them implies that they are incapable of taking care of themselves.

    But that isn’t the point of the question; the point is, who do you feel is more important and worth saving. I suppose you can change the situation to something where anyone would inarguably be incapable of getting themselves out of, and the idea would remain the same.

  53. TEO

    I have a question along these lines.

    What’s the worst enemy of the world?

    1. An Christian religious fundamentalist

    2. An Muslim religious fundamentalist

    This isn’t an easy question to answer.

    Separate religion from the government asap, you’re doomed otherwise.

  54. AAzure said “… when does a right exist to purposely extinguish a human life.”

    AAzure, I’m not sure that is what Phil is saying at all. The question is, when does human life begin?

  55. TEO, depends where you are.

  56. kebsis

    Hey, I just came up with another one of these thought experiments.

    A dude is sleeping one night when a pregnant woman breaks into his home brandishing a gun, and attempts to kill the dude. The guy manages to grab his own gun and shoots the woman dead.

    The police consider the death of the woman to be a justifiable homicide. But should the man be charged with involuntary manslaughter for killing the fetus, which did not attack him?

  57. so, does that mean since “due process” is in there, that if the mother dies, the child is guilty of manslaughter?

  58. Rene Descartes is dead

    @Richard – “I think therefore I am” was a thought of a heavily religious and mentally disturbed person from the early 17th century. He also reasoned that because he was alive and could think, that there must be a ‘God’ that tells him what to think.

    The trend of this well written article was to actually keep God and religion out of the law making process (which I thoroughly support).

    With that said, defining humanity requires that you have a larger view of humanity as a whole. History can not provide this as History is only the view of other people’s experiences and is not objective but subjective. One must step away from all previous definitions and take an objective view of the entire human race (including embryos). Therefore, to define humanity we must become inhuman.

  59. @LukeL:
    what over kinds of control would you like to have over someone else’s body?

  60. Rene Descartes is dead

    @TEO – yes it is easy to answer,

    BOTH!!!

  61. Adrian Lopez

    So taking the “day after” pill is tantamount to murder?

    Religiocy.

  62. Lionella

    This is an interesting topic. We had a module on Developmental Biology and this was one of the major topics that our lecturer talked about. I personally think it is pointless to consider the fertilised egg human before it has implanted in the uterine wall. This happens around 5 days after fertilisation. I took this view because over 80% of fertilised eggs dont even reach this stage. No one would even know they are pregnant so any abortions at this stage would go unnoticed by the women in question.

    And if this proposition went ahead, it would cripple sccientific research. Developmental biology unlocks the key to many diseases. I’m in Australia, so your proposition doesn’t affect me, but overall it seems very silly to use religion in a scientific domain. Religion and science aren’t opposites, or against each other; they cannot be compared. One is a belief system, the other is based on evidence. Why people mix the two, I don’t know.

  63. AAzure: “The union of sperm and egg creates a unique cell different from its sources. In this, there is ABSOLUTELY NO ARGUMENT.”

    That’s true enough. There is a unique cell. That is all. But then you say:

    AAzure: “This cluster of cells is human by the fact it is nothing else but human.”

    That cell is now human because it’s not NOT human? How is that any kind of fact? It’s a belief only, and not one shared by everyone. (And don’t tell me it’s the uniqueness that makes a cell a human: you are human without a single unique cell in you!)

    All arguments FOR this always begin with some sort of political or religious platform as well. Neither side can be *scientifically* correct, so, as Phil said, it’s a religious argument.

  64. Santoki

    Give it up, Phil. Jesus loves all the little zygotes.

  65. If one has to create a definition of when an embryo transitions into full-fledged “human-hood”, I’d have to side with non-brain-stem brain activity (I think “cortical” is the right adjective, but I’m not entirely sure).

    The reason I’d choose this is, simply, identical twins. The fact of the matter is at an egg + sperm union not only do you not actually have a unique individual (you can put an identical cell into a variety of environments and different hormonal exposures and such will ensure measurably different individuals), but you don’t even know *how many individuals* you’ll get out of this. By declaring higher brain activity as the threshold, n-tuplets have already completely formed, and furthermore, this is the point at which you actually have a unique organism you cannot really recreate. Regrowing the embryo in the (nearly) exact same environment will *not* generate the same neural pathways. Go chaos theory and nonlinear systems.

    However, practically, this is still kind of silly because of the carpool lane thing. While I think brain activity is nice and symmetric, as well as moderately objective, the only practical measure is really when the fetus has exited the mother with a stable organ system (mechanically assisted or not).

  66. TheWalruss

    @AAzure:

    I really don’t think science is unambiguous as to what constitutes the beginning of “human life”. The definition of “human” isn’t very clear – someone earlier said something about someone with Downs being less similar genetically to humans than chimps are. The idea of “species” is purely ontological and there often is no clear way to distinguish.

    Phil has tried to explain how “life” is poorly defined as well. For example, a bacterium moves, consumes, grows, reproduces, changes its environment, grows old, and dies. So does fire, in a sense. Of course fire isn’t alive, so we add some notion of genetic information, entropy, and that sort of thing. Now take some frozen fertilized eggs – they have genetic information but don’t fulfill any of the other requirements. Are they alive? By your definition, yes. How about frozen stem cells from a skin culture – nearly indistinguishable from the fertilized eggs, with genetic information in a little package that lets it grow into all kinds of things in the right environment. Are they alive? By your definition, no.

    It’s just like the question of whether Pluto is a planet – the concept of “life” and “human” (and “human life”) is a human invention to help us communicate and reason. But at the margins, it’s a very tough call and not at all “unambigious”, even from a scientific perspective. Actually, especially from a scientific perspective.

  67. TheWalruss

    To clarify: Phil’s question was to initiate discussion about these definitions, specifically because it’s difficult, so we can try to further our and others understandings of the issues involved. I’m not trying to argue that the discussion is stupid or pointless just because there is no working scientific definition of “human life”.

  68. Epistaxis

    Peter Singer defines personhood by the capacity to experience pleasure and pain (gross oversimplification). That seems like the only reasonable, and consistent, way to do it. How silly must these scenarios get before the “pro-life” bloc/army/industry realizes this?

  69. Hm. There are three separate issues here:

    – does the law need to draw a line? I think the answer is yes, but I can’t tell if you agree.

    – is a referendum the right way to draw it? I think the answer is no, and I think you do, too. It’s annoying, though, that referenda don’t supply a box marked “I think this issue should not be decided by a referendum”.

    – does Prop 48 try to draw it in the right place? No – but I’m glad nobody’s asking me to make this decision.

  70. I guess that in the case that a fertilised egg is considered a human being (NOT!), the next step would be to consider 100% of men that have experienced either masturbation or ‘nocturnal emmisions’ and 100% of the women that experience a normal, healthy menstrual cycle as murder suspects?
    This crap has written ‘christian religious jihad’ all over it.
    And I’m one of those that aren’t buying any religion at all. ’cause I consider it stupid and dangerous (more so, probably the most stupid and dangerous activity that human beings are engaged into), even if 90% of the people on earth are ‘into’ it.

  71. MarkW

    Another thought experiment:

    In order to survive, an unrelated adult human needs to be permanently attached to your bloodstream, posing a significant threat to your health.

    Ought there be a legal requirement to compel you to accept this attachment?

  72. Radwaste

    Nicely done, Phil.

    What this really illustrates is that somehow, the public is being asked to rule on something they have never seriously thought about.

    They will emote into bad law, because the proponents don’t care about unintended consequences, only stopping abortion.

  73. Thor

    Regardless of religious/scientific/philosophical/personal/spiritual stance, Proposition 48 is meaningless because it fails to address the issue of who speaks on behalf of such a “person”.

  74. Nigel Depledge

    Luis Plata said:

    Define this as the youngest age at which a prematurely born baby can survive, whatever it may be

    This is used in the UK to define the legal limit after which abortions may not be performed. I believe it is 24 weeks at present (I think there has been one case of a 24-week-old foetus surviving premature birth, albeit with weeks of intensive care).

  75. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    I can argue rather convincingly that fire is alive

    Phil, you’re a bit out of date here. Any biologist would shoot down such an argument without breaking a sweat. Pretty much every recent attempt (say, in the last 10 – 15 years) to define life includes the concept of a boundary – a segregation between inside and outside. You cannot argue that fire is bounded.

  76. Bramblyspam

    My personal view is that since we define human life as ending when brain activity ends, it makes sense to define human life as beginning when brain activity begins. Until then, what you have is a growing mass of tissue. A single-celled organism may be alive, and it may be genetically human, but it’s not a “person” by any reasonable definition.

    The “viability” standard seems pretty iffy to me. For one thing, technology keeps pushing back the boundaries of viability. In theory, I see no reason why scientists couldn’t develop an artificial womb capable of growing a baby from fertilized egg to term. On the other hand, one can easily make the case that a newborn baby is quite certain to die unless it receives continued support from its mother (or other parental figure) for at least five years and probably much longer. Anyone up for some infanticide?

  77. TheWalruss

    That premature-birth definition is odd. Sooner or later we’ll probably be able to grow vat-babies. Completely in-vitro, in other words. My argument was going to be “isn’t is silly to make legal definitions on a basis that we know is temporary?”, but that’s a bad argument.

    Of course it’s temporary if we want to base legal definitions on science!

    We do need to have proper structures in place for modifying the law in light of new scientific discoveries, though.

    Question: what’s the significance of adding this in to the constitution, as opposed to the law books (that are meant to uphold the constitution)?

  78. Uh guys? AAzure and others,

    Phil mentioned “science” twice. The first time to say prop 48 is NOT a science issue. (Read THEN react.)

    What CAN science tell us about the issues anyway? It turns out, a lot. Science can tell us where the fetus is in development, whether the baby will survive if born prematurely, whether it has full brain function, and so on. How “human” is defined is indeed ultimately up to us, informed by the science certainly, but up to us entirely. However, we have a responsibility to avoid reducing these definitions to quaint platitudes and must always retain a level of discomfort with the definition. Then there’s the simple matter of respecting the definitions you impose on yourself.

    Let us not pretend that we were ever consistent when it comes humanity. We rarely mention the death toll in Iraq. Sure, the number of soldiers lost is always counted, but that’s not a real death toll. The number of Iraqis who have died never seems to count as much. So if you’re going to insist on calling a fetus a human being with rights and dignity, I’d appreciate some consistency, KTHX.

  79. Peter B

    Ryan asked: “…what if your thought experiment were changed to the following: 1) Woman, 2) Pregnant Woman, 3) 5 year old. Who would you save?”

    It’s a much harder question to answer than the one the BA posed. After all, a five year old is mobile and able to at least partly assist with his/her rescue. By contrast, the three choices you provide are people who are all able to assist (at least partly) with their rescues.

    On that basis I’d probably decide on either relationship grounds (if I wasn’t related to the pregnant woman or the 5 year old, but the other woman was my wife, I’d rescue my wife) or safety grounds (if none of the three was related to me, I’d probably try to rescue the one whose rescue would endanger me the least).

    If you start pressing the issue beyond that, you’re into questions of ethics rather than science.

  80. Lewknukem

    When this ‘life begins at conception’ argument comes up, I like to bring up the idea of what happens if there is a miscarriage? Should each miscarriage automatically bring up a police investigation to determine if it was murder, manslaughter, accident or just ‘natural’? And not every egg that gets fertilized necessarily gets implanted in the womb properly.

    And what about identical twins? Should they only be considered one life since life begins at conception and not later? You can’t make two lives if one life has already begun.

  81. Michelle

    I have no problem with saying that the fetus is human at conception. Absolutely none.

    It doesn’t mean I can’t stop it from scavanging my body whenever I want. I’m born. It’s not. It’s parasiting my body (which is a beautiful thing when you want it), it’s taking my juice and nutrients.

    My right to my body’s freedom comes before its right to its body. If it’s an individual, let’s see it cope on its own. Can’t? Well, that’s that.

  82. RationalZen

    You asked for a time when we consider a fertilized egg human life?

    Any time a jurisdiction allows the fertilized cells to be included in a murder or homicide charge. If a man can be charged for homicide for aborting his baby by punching the pregnant woman in the stomach, or whether the killing of the pregnant woman can be charged with double murder etc.

    I’m not sure about the former, but the latter is already happening in some jurisdictions.

  83. Grand Lunar

    Indeed, it seems that this is yet another attempt at removing a woman’s right to choose.

    There was a time I would’ve supported this, back when I was brainwashed (it’s the best term I can think of for my “education” (and believe me, I use that term loosely)) by religous teaching.

    It wasn’t until after talking to my friend that I realized how important it is for a woman to have a right to choose.

    This admendment, it seems, would take that right away.

  84. All I can think of, avoiding religion, is that this when someone who attacks a pregnant woman, and causes her to loose her baby, (i.e not a planned termination), then they can be charged with the death of the unborn child

    We have recently had someone convicted who tried to make his mistress have a miscarriage by poisoning her with drugs used for abortion. (He did not succeed and the woman went on to have a healthy baby boy)

    If that was the intention of the law, it seems like a sledgehammer to crack a nut, could someone draft the legislation a bit better?

  85. You need to be careful here. Do not dismiss this issue a religious one. The counter-argument (used by many religious people) would be that religion has a monopoly for dealing with morale issues. A person of science should try to offer scientific solutions for such problems. Lucid reasoning and scientific data ought to be able to provide us with a morale framework at least as humane as religion claims to be. I think the Human Rights are a perfect example – they are not rooted in any religious beliefs but in logical reasoning (Immanuel Kant is largely responsible).

    Yes the question is difficult but extremely important because any Human Being needs to be granted said Human Rights, no matter what county and belief system it lives in. Whatever definition we choose might be an unsatisfying because it reduces a complex biological process down to a single moment but we do need some kind of agreement. Science should be able to provide us with the context to make an informed decision here.

  86. John

    Great article, and I agree completely. The same old religious people fail to grasp scientific concepts, and provide the same flat consistently irrational arguments.

  87. Niio

    Between any two definitions, the border between them is defined only because we are not zooming close enough.
    For any separation between black and white, if we look close enough we can find a point where we are not able to say if it’s black or it’s white.

    The universe is continuous, and only gradients exists. All the definitions are generalizations.

    Giovanni

  88. John

    Where someone said earlier “This is what has been annoying me lately when I think about religious based arguments. They always seem to be trying to box things into a binary position. Right/wrong, dead/alive, god/satan, saved/damned etc.. It’s all very childish really.”

    I agree with this completely, why don’t those kind of people see how childish they’ve become?!

  89. However, a selfish man with over-developed balls, but under-developed frontal lobes, would probably save the woman. Why? Because the pregnant woman already has a bun-in-the-oven, and the 5-year-old isn’t his.

    In general, I don’t like these kinds of thought exercises because people like to bitch and moan about other people’s reasoning despite the fact that there’s no right/wrong answer really. Of course, most people, myself included, would try to save them all. But the exercise says you can only save one, so…

    I’d save the pregnant woman first. She has the most potential contribution to the world, all other things being equal (yes, the 5-year-old could be the next Beethoven, but I have no way of knowing that).

    The (presumably not pregnant) woman falls might be lowest priority or second priority depending on her age. I’d rate her more important than the child if she appears to be relatively young – an adult to mid-40’s… the time when a person has a family and contributes the most and thus is most worthy of being saved. If she’s a senior citizen, she’s lower on my pole than the 5-year-old because she’s lived her life.

    The 5-year old is effectively replaceable with relatively little loss to society. That may seem barbaric, but it’s a fact. The 5-year old is far from becoming a productive member of the population, and a new 5-year-old is already on the way with the pregnant woman anyway. Because the child has a life in front of him, he’d be higher priority than a senior citizen, but not higher than a young woman.

  90. The counter-argument (used by many religious people) would be that religion has a monopoly for dealing with morale issues.

    Religions does not, and should not be considered to have a monopoly on anything, although it certainly could offer university-level courses on brainwashing and fraud.

    Anyone who thinks has a say on moral issues. Religion encourages non-thinking. Ergo, religion should have no say at all on moral issues, although that doesn’t stop religion from making lofty pronouncements.

    Science can’t make moral judgements either, but I don’t think science is trying to make them.

  91. Todd W.

    So, if a fertilized egg is a human and has all the rights of one, that means they have all the responsibilities of one. So, in th case of rape, could it be charged with breaking and entering? Invasion of privacy? It feeds off the mother, causing a degree of physical harm. Can it be charged, then, with battery? Grand theft sustenance?

    As to rights, if the mother engages in activities which jeopardize the safety of the egg, can they be charged with neglect or wreckless endangerment? Will DSS come and remove the egg from such a hostile situation and place it in the womb of a foster mother?

    Where to draw the line is a philosophical issue and no argument satisfactorily answers the question. And Phil, glad you brought up the potentiation issue. I’m sure there are some who would love to use potentiation as the way to define “human”. It would keep women as immoral sinners (manslaughter ever month) and male self-pleasuring illegal, not to mention contraceptives.

  92. The big white background of this web site allows me to see the Haidinger’s brush for my LCD screen. That’s a cool, sciency sort of thing, and has no religion in it! It appears my screen is polarized at an angle, which is normal for an LCD screen.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haidinger%27s_brush

    Squids, by the way, are sensitive to polarized light. Pharyngulites would probably know that already, but BA folks may not :)

  93. Nigel Depledge

    Peter B said:

    If you start pressing the issue beyond that, you’re into questions of ethics rather than science.

    I think that’s the whole point. These questions have no scientific answer – they are all about ethics. The real question is do you want your ethics debate to be informed by facts, or by religious speculation?

  94. Nancy A.

    Phil, the assortment of issues you cover in your blog never ceases to amaze me. My day is going to be completely different now because I’ve read this. Thank you.

  95. Cheyenne

    I second what Nancy says.

  96. DrFlimmer

    When it comes to “moral laws” you will always run into a big mess. Everybody has a different opinion what is “good and bad” – most things are the same but in some things opinions can differ a lot, as we see in this point.

    This law seems to me to be all about abortion and to find a way to make it illegal. I have a personal opinion about abortion and I think it shouldn’t be done unless it is necessary due to medical reasons. (I really don’t like those “human beings” who didn’t take enaugh care, and then abort the pregnancy because a child doesn’t fit into their plans of life…) But as I said, this is my personal “moral” and I guess many will think otherwise and I have no right to “make” them think as I do.

    I am no biologist, but as far as I know even “science” doesn’t have an accepted-by-all term of what life is and what it’s not (i.e. viruses). And I also think that “science” has no term where it defines when something starts to be a “human being” and when it’s not – and I want to add that science will never find a term which can clearly answer this very question.
    To draw the line will always be based upon your own moral / religion / thoughts. There will never be a consensus which everyone will be pleased with.

    Well, we can stop debating about this ;) It will lead to nowhere….

  97. Nigel Depledge

    Hehe! AAzure, you have given me a lot of wrong to play with here. Thanks!

    AAzure said:

    You mention religion – but that is exactly what you support – your own. Your only argument is that you disagree with someone else’’s religion.

    Not so. He disagrees with their attempt to force their version upon him. Phil’s argument stands irrespective of his own personal beliefs. What right does anyone have to force their own religion on anyone else? In the USA, this is protected in the first amendment. Elsewhere, not so much.

    For example, your HOV lane example … so does a woman day minus one from birth get the HOV lane? Day plus one? … the difference is merely legal, not science. For you, though, it is religious. What day does HOV matter? Do you see the question is not a science question but one of law? HOV lanes are created out of law, not science. How can you possibly justify a SCIENCE QUESTION by referring to LAW! You suddenly fall into the trap like the USSR, declaring some laws of nature illegal!!

    Well, either you did not read it or you did not understand it. This example was to point out exactly the kind of absurdity of which you accuse Phil. IF the proposition is passed, it means that any pregnant woman is actually two people. In fact, she is legally two people before she is even aware of being pregnant.

    Your profound spewing simply solidifies the entire issue – it’s all relative and has nothing to do with science.

    Uh, yeah. Get a grip, dude. Phil actually pointed out that it has nothing to do with science. You didread his article, didn’t you?

    You prove this by your insane analogy to state fire is “alive” .. as if you’re some how confused between human life and a flame!

    No, Phil never said he believed fire to be alive. He said that he could propose an argument that fire is alive. This is trivially simple. just think about how you would define aliveness.

    This complete nonsense for argument is the very reason this issue seems so hard. Such arguments display a horrific lack of sense, and worse, an attempt of obscure any real argument.

    Not so. I give you an “F” for reading comprehension. Go back, read Phil’s article again, and actually think about what he is saying.

    His point, in case that did not work, was this – how can anyone seriously expect to define a specific moment when humanity begins, when we collectively cannot define life?

    The argument doesn’t start with ‘what is a human life’. That is already solved. It is when the consequence of a union between a sperm and egg creates something unique from its source.

    OK, so does that mean we are not human until we have composed our first symphony? Or painted our first masterpiece?

    Your “definition” is utterly arbitrary. It is not based on any actual reasoning, it is merely your opinion. And anyone else’s opinion is just as valid as yours.

    Yes, it may be difficult for you to see a cluster of cells as ‘human’ – but that is your issue from YOUR RELIGIOUS point of view – it is in no conflict to science.

    Your definition does not conflict with science, but neither does a definition that says humanness starts at birth. The point that you missed here is that science does not have an answer. Any definition is therefore arbitrary, and will not be based on hard evidence.

    If you have any scientific reason for saying that a single fertilised ovum should have the same human rights as, say, yourself, I’d like to hear it. I’d be prepared to put money on you not being able to do so, however. If there were a scientific answer to this question, there would be no debate and no issue to discuss.

    No argument of ‘lack of humanity’ can withstand the fact of its scientific existence that these cells are a human being.

    Again, this is your opinion, not a scientific fact. Science has no individual definition of what contitutes a human being – you have conflated the fertilised ovum’s potential to become a human being (with feelings, desires, aspirations, culture and experiences) with its genetically human identity.

    If you struggle here, it is a matter of your inability to overcome your own religion (gilded by the claim of ‘non-religion’)

    No, it is because there is no clear evidentiary indication that humanness actually starts at any specific point. Humanity is not an intrinsic property of anything – it is a journey. My skin cells are not any more a human being than is the computer at which I type. What makes a human being human is a subjective judgement, and there are as many right answers as there are people to have opinions.

    And, please, quit with the “you are being religious too” shtick. It is illogical, unfounded, insupportable and, ultimately, rather pathetic.

    Once you can gulp that, then the real question – when do human RIGHTS apply?

    This is a separate question. However, those supporting this proposition have attempted to answer it in the same way that you have – by claiming that the fertilised ovum is “obviously” a human being, and therefore should have the full set of rights.

    That is the question that needs answers – and it’s not a matter of science.

    Well, the qurestion does need answering, and is not accessible to science, but the question of when a human becomes human is also not answerable by science, because it still hinges wholly on one’s definition of a human being, which is, in turn, a subjective judgement.

    Science is very clear and unambiguous.

    You are right here, but, I suspect, for the wrong reasons.

    Science is very clear on this point: “We don’t know”. Simple, to the point, unambiguous, and clear as daylight.

    However, if you want to confuse your religious belief, law, science and human rights – you will remain utterly confused in this matter.

    You seem to be the one who is confused. You have mistaken your opinion for a scientific fact, whereas it is no more than an opinion.

  98. Nigel Depledge

    Bryan said:

    I’ve heard that the spirit enters the body when the heart starts beating, which seems pretty reasonable to me.

    Sorry, Bryan, I’ll have to call you out on this one. It sounds like fantasy to me. What is a “spirit” (other than a distilled alcoholoc beverage)? How does one measure it, or monitor where and when it exists?

  99. Nigel Depledge

    Richard said:

    Rene Descartes “Ergo cogito sum”

    “Therefore, I think I am”?

    Methinks you have that mixed up …

  100. Nigel Depledge

    DrFlimmer said:

    This law seems to me to be all about abortion and to find a way to make it illegal. I have a personal opinion about abortion and I think it shouldn’t be done unless it is necessary due to medical reasons. (I really don’t like those “human beings” who didn’t take enaugh care, and then abort the pregnancy because a child doesn’t fit into their plans of life…) But as I said, this is my personal “moral” and I guess many will think otherwise and I have no right to “make” them think as I do.

    Methinks you have not though this through.

    What do you say to the good Catholic girl, who uses no birth control, but is raped and becomes pregnant. Do you insist that she should have the baby, and be reminded of the horrific event every time she sees it? Or would she have the right to abort, too? If her, then why not others?

    The point is that, to have the debate in the first place, everyone must accept that any limit or restriction or lack thereof is arbitrary.

  101. TheWalruss

    It’s interesting that religious people often do say that morality stems from religion.
    And whenever one argues “but I’m atheist but also moral” they say “your morality stems from growing up in a predominantly religion place” and there’s no way to win.

    The thing is, basing laws on any particular religion would be awful, for obvious reasons.

    So what do we base law on? Science? Philosophy?

    Kant is a good start…

    I like basing law on the principle of democracy, the kind where it’s not simple “mob rule” but where the majority is forced to make accommodations for the minorities, and where minority voices are heard. Easier said than done, of course!

  102. JohnW

    I don’t believe life begins at conception, but I think it would be, as you say, Phil, impossible to prove one way or another – it is a philosophical debate as much as anything.

    Isn’t that why we have the democratic process, to figure these things out?

  103. Seneca

    Phil, this question is not really about deciding when the qualititative transformation into a full-fledged human has occured, but rather about gaining political support for establishing a legal subterfuge for denying a woman’s right to control her own reproductive functions. As always, the emotional veneer is simply cover for a reactionary political move.

    Human development is a long, drawn-out affair. Humans do not climb out of the womb as fully-functioning adult organisms. In real life, the question of when a child becomes an actual human varies among individuals and from society to society. The struggles of teenagers to be treated as fully human is part of the process of our development in modern society. Some damaged specimens never achieve full independence, requiring special care throughout their lives.

    This proposed measure of claiming equal protection under the law for zygote, fetus, and senior citizen could also provide a legal basis for establishing protection of toddlers’ equal legal rights to vote, to operate motor vehicles, and to consume alcoholic beverages. There are obviously some competing social rights and interests that argue against this idea–just as the competing right of a woman to reproductive freedom against state-mandated restrictions does.

    Don’t get bogged down in analyzing the religious genesis of the argument; that’s only there to draw people in. It’s a purely sleight-of-hand move for denying women their human rights.

  104. Don Snow

    I disagree that the “person” from conception is solely a religious definition, and I should know.

    It so happens, that in 1871, a doctor in the AMA, made the same ruling as a matter of reason.

    I think you see religion everywhere, when a lot of times it’s also human reason.

    Get a grip; religion has been around for millenia, and it will be around for millenia more. In view of that axiomatic truth, it seems childish to persist in an anti-religious stance. Or, at the very least, unreasonable, if not hostile.

  105. sailor

    “And it’s based on flawed reasoning. Try this thought experiment: you’re walking down the street, and you see a building on fire. You enter it to help anyone out, and see it’s a lab. On one side is a five-year-old boy, and the other is a petri dish clearly labeled as having a dozen fertilized eggs in it. You only have time to rescue the boy or the eggs. What do you do?”
    This is, to a human mind, an unfair comparison because petri dishes are not the most usual way babies come.
    So the question then becomes “there is a virus flowing down the air-conditioning that will kill an fetus or any child under six. The infected air is moving towards two rooms, in one are a dozen pregnant woman, who if they breathe the virus will be fine, but the children they are bearing will die, in the other is a five year old. You can only stop the virus entering one room, which is it?
    I don’t think worded that way it is quite so easy to answer.
    But let’s enter another caveat – none of the dozen women want to have a child and in fact are standing in an abortion clinic.
    I think this makes a point – the value of a fetus is very much tied to the person who is going to birth and look after it.

  106. Don Snow

    @ [B]The Walruss[/B]

    American law starts with our existing Constitution, and it should remain there.

    Were the Constitution changed for Partisian gain, this would not be the America I am loyal to. Nor would I become loyal to an America without the existing Constitution.

  107. JRice

    Bah. I got about 1/3rd of the way through the comments and couldn’t take any more.

    Why hasn’t anyone posited that it’s the *right of the woman* to decide when that part of their body is a person?

    If it really *is* a religious decision like one of the commenting bozos claims, then isn’t it the mother’s right to decide?

    Argh.

  108. Ed

    For the first time in many years, I totally agree with you. Let’s hope the people of Colorado also agree.

  109. Greg in Austin

    Humans have the “right” to procreate. Any man or woman can choose to make a baby, whether they are able or willing to raise the child or not. No matter how many kids they already have, no matter if they are on welfare, no matter if they are homeless, two people can choose to have sex and make a child.

    Silly question:

    If a woman can choose to make a baby, why can’t she choose not to make one?

    8)

  110. Emotions make such poor legislation….

  111. JackC

    The definition of “Human” should be limited to those objects that are most nearly spheroid, travel about in circles and are capable of clearing their own orbits of debris. Anything less should be considered merely a humanoid.

    JC

  112. David D.

    @JRice–

    So if “Mommy” is one day shy of her due date, you’re okay with her having a “late, late, late term” abortion?

    How about she’s 2 weeks overdue and hasn’t delivered yet?

    Are you saying that as long as it’s in utero, the baby/fetus/neonate doesn’t count, and that only the woman’s wishes are paramount?

  113. Rev. Chris

    As a Baptist minister, I can provide a pretty good mainstream Christian point of view on this. I have to side with Phil on this one. We come to the same conclusion, albeit for different reasons.

    Amendment 48 is just plain bad law, and even mainstream pro-life advocates realize that.

    If this is a religious issue, it’s based on bad religion. For those of us who are Christians watching this site, note that in Biblical times, a child was not given full status as a human being until they were 3 months old. That’s right! You were not fully and legally a “person” until 3 months _after_ you were born. Why? Most scholars believe it was because of the high percentage of miscarriages and high infant mortality rate. Moreover, the Bible clearly defines a difference in penalty between causing a woman to miscarry and killing a naturally born baby. The first invited a financial penalty paid to the father and mother to compensate them, and the second was considered murder – including if the child was under 3 months old.

    Also note that, under Jewish law at the time (and even today in a few places), if the life of the mother was threatened by an unborn child, abortion was not an option – it was mandatory. The unborn child was considered to be trying to kill the mother, the penalty for which was death.

    So Phil is correct this time in saying that Amendment 48 is bad law, bad religion, and bad science. There are much better and much more reasonable ways to protect life. Fortunately, this election day, early indications are this amendment will fail by a 2:1 margin.

    And as a registered Colorado voter, I’ll be voting no. If you’re registered in Colorado, I hope you’ll join me.

  114. timplausible

    I once argued with another atheist about abortion, or more specifically, “personhood.” He gave the most compelling argument I’ve ever encountered for personhood starting at conception. Unfortunately, it was a long debate long ago, and I can’t do it justice in this post. His points generally dealt with what it means for an adult to have “personhood,” which in itself can be thorny. What are the qualities that make someone a person? Is a comatose person who is otherwise alive, but shows no cognitive brain activity and will never recover, a person? Is a person in a coma who is likely to recover a person? What makes a newborn infant a person, but not say, an animal that might instantaneously have more intelligence and personality than the infant? He argued that personhood was not just a function of the state one is in, but also the inevitable potential to be in such a state, if one is not in that state currently. Interestingly, this lead to a belief that an embryo in a uterus was a person (it will grow without help), but fertilized eggs in a dish (as in the thought experiment) were not. He also gave a good argument against simple thought experiments like the one presented here, because they are more about gut instinct than rational definitions of personhood, and that’s no good way to define morality. For an easy example of that, consider that many people reject homosexuality not on the basis of something rational, or even religion, but on a gut instinct about it.

    I was not persuaded by these arguments, but they made me rethink my position on abortion. It also made me realize that the debate really does need some serious, rational thought about what makes a person a person. Otherwise, the whole debate really rests on quicksand – just people arguing what they feel makes sense to them, without much rational underpinning.

    And don’t waste breath arguing with this post too much. I’m not doing this person’s arguments justice. Mostly I just wanted to point out that there are rational arguments out there that can be made for conception = person. Or, at least one.

  115. Jesse

    JackC: your definition is clearly the most sensical one offered, and ought to be made law immediately (:

    I often get the impression that both “life” and “human” are subjective terms that make more sense on the gut feeling level than the dictionary definition level. Is a person on her deathbed with no brain activity alive? Is that person human? Is a corpse human? Is there any conceivable computer program that could be considered alive? What if there was a closely-related species to humanity that couldn’t procreate with us and had clear physical differences from us, but whose exceptional members could participate in our society? What if we discovered a group of dolphins, elephants, ravens, or octopi that clearly possessed language, creativity, art, and useful tools?

    If JackC was suggesting that these terms are as definition-proof as “planet,” then I think he was pretty much spot on.

  116. Doktor Wankenstein

    kebsis said — “The guy manages to grab his own gun and shoots the (pregnant) woman dead. The police consider the death of the woman to be a justifiable homicide. But should the man be charged with involuntary manslaughter for killing the fetus, which did not attack him?”

    Actually the movie “Fatal Attraction” covered that at the end of the movie.

    IIRC, everyone was cool with it. :o)

  117. Kevin Klein

    I’m always amazed at how the people who are most fervently “pro-life” have such an uninspiring definition of human life.

  118. TheWalruss

    @Don Snow:
    I agree that the US Constitution is an excellent framework for lawmaking and governance.

    However, we all know it (like any document) is up to interpretation. Otherwise there’d be no point in having a Congress making bills and a Supreme Court making sure they are constitutional. And with the amount of noise made about appointing Supreme Court justices it’s obvious that there is lots of room for subjectivity (and thus partisanship) in the interpretation.

    But my point isn’t really about the Constitution – one document can only go so far and it’s only “enforced” insofar as the Supreme Court rulings. My question is about what we now use and what we should use, in light of the Constitution, to support legislation.

  119. Savino

    Stop cut your fingernails!! They are alive as we are!!!!

    :D

  120. TonyK

    Interesting questions and comments, but I think it’s telling that until the beginning of this century, the tradition in Catholic/Christian religions has been that the “soul” enters the baby only at the quickening (the first signs of movement of the baby) which occurs about four months in. It’s only when science had a better understanding of gestation that the beliefs changed.

  121. Nee in Germany

    If all women refused to make any babies, the question would solve itself! (Yes, that was my lame attempt at satire.)

  122. IVAN3MAN

    On the subject of moral dilemmas and “What would you do? What would others do?” debate, check out this web-site: What The Freek?

  123. kuhnigget

    @ Timplausible:

    “And don’t waste breath arguing with this post too much. I’m not doing this person’s arguments justice. Mostly I just wanted to point out that there are rational arguments out there that can be made for conception = person. Or, at least one.”

    Why did you waste typing by posting it? “I once heard an argument that I can’t remember, but it was good.” “Inevitable potential” is an old and trite argument that Dr. BA alludes to. It is not inevitable that a zygote becomes a person.

    @ Don Snow:

    “I disagree that the “person” from conception is solely a religious definition, and I should know.”

    And the reason you’ve been granted this knowledge is…..? Unnamed doctors coming up with unstated arguments over a hundred and thirty years ago?

    Anyone see a common thread, here?

  124. Stadred

    Honestly, I see the fetus being ‘human’ when it can exist on its own, outside the life support of the womb.
    This has issues though.
    Through my mother’s work, I’m aware of the gray area that is the NICU. These babies are early…. Very early. To the point that we need surfactant to keep their lungs open. But they can survive. Because of modern technology. Those babied would be stillbirth, or die hours after birth, were it only 20 years ago.
    We keep pushing the limit back, but 22 weeks is the extreme limit of what we can keep alive. Maybe one day we’ll ahve an artificial womb, and a woman won’t have to ahve an abortion, the blastocyst can be extracted, and grown outside. This would bring even more issues into the fray.
    At the moment, I think I have to stick with the third trimester, when the majority of fetuses have developed, and are now mostly growing, rather than mostly developing.
    But I have told my fiancé before. If I have a choice between her and the child inside, I’ll chose her any time. She is already in existence, and we don’t even know the baby inside her. That baby was an abstract until it was ‘born.’ We can make another baby together. I can’t get another Her.

  125. David D said “How about she’s 2 weeks overdue and hasn’t delivered yet?
    Are you saying that as long as it’s in utero, the baby/fetus/neonate doesn’t count, and that only the woman’s wishes are paramount?”

    The extremists say exactly that. Some “ethicists” have even argued that infanticide during the first year isn’t out of the question either.

  126. blaah coal

    Any decision on when a person is entitled to basic human rights is going to be religiously or philosophically answered, not scientifically. Scientifically, any argument for conception, or viability, or brain function, or birth could just as easily argue for a week or a month after birth or say that parents can kill their children up to age 18.
    There is no scientific answer, but there must be a legal one. Courts must define a person. If I kill a baby, is that murder? If I injure a woman in order to kill her fetus, is it murder? Is it murder if she thinks of the fetus as a person but merely assault and battery if she thinks of it as tissue? Does a woman who is eagerly awaiting the birth of her child have no legal recourse if it’s murdered? Or can the assailer’s penalty rest entirely on a woman’s religious conviction (or maybe her claim that it’s murder simply because she’s mad at the assailer)?
    You might not like religious ideas playing any part in the legal definition of personhood, but somebody has to define it and science can’t do it, and just leaving it up to individuals opens up more cans of worms than the Colorado proposal.

  127. Nee in Germany

    Bill Cosby used to joke that he told his naughty children, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.” And we all laughed.

  128. MKR

    Wouldn’t such a bill make the mortality rate skyrocket?

  129. Nigel Depledge

    Don Snow said:

    Get a grip; religion has been around for millenia, and it will be around for millenia more. In view of that axiomatic truth, it seems childish to persist in an anti-religious stance. Or, at the very least, unreasonable, if not hostile.

    You have failed to notice, Don, that Phil has no problem with religion, as long as religious individuals do not try to foist their views on everyone else.

    What Phil and many of his readers have a problem with is when a religious minority tries to impose its views on the rest of us. You might argue that Christianity is a majority religion in the USA, but this is self-evidently false when you consider how many sects of Christianity there are in the USA.

  130. TheWalruss

    The extremists say exactly that. Some “ethicists” have even argued that infanticide during the first year isn’t out of the question either.

    I have never heard anyone argue for infanticide. I regularly visit Fundies Say the Darndest Things (www.fstdt.com), and this sort of thing comes up all the time. “Obama is for abortion, even killing botched abortions after birth and running them down with a lawn mower.” That sort of thing.

    Care to cite any “ethicists” that argue in favor of infanticide? I call shenanigans.

  131. David D.

    @shane–

    The extremists say exactly that.

    Which is why we shouldn’t have extremists OF ANY SORT making this kind of decision.

  132. “Courts must define a person.”

    Actually, they already have. They’ve determined that it is moral to remove life support from someone when there is an absence of brain activity. We have a term for this: “brain dead”, and for most people, it means that the life of the individual has terminated, even if the body continues to live on.

    The exact same logic should be applied to abortions: if there is no brain activity, then aborting the cell cluster is moral and legal, as the person does not yet exist, just as an individual that is brain dead no longer exists. It really is that simple.

  133. Nigel Depledge

    David D said:

    @JRice–

    So if “Mommy” is one day shy of her due date, you’re okay with her having a “late, late, late term” abortion?

    How about she’s 2 weeks overdue and hasn’t delivered yet?

    Are you saying that as long as it’s in utero, the baby/fetus/neonate doesn’t count, and that only the woman’s wishes are paramount?

    It looks like you have missed JRice’s point. What (s)he was saying is : If a woman discovers that she is pregnant and doesn’t want the responsibility of having a child (for whatever reasons), she should have the right to choose not to have the child.

    No-one was claiming that she should be permitted to defer the decision until the last minute. And, if you care to do some research, you will find that most civilised nations have a time limit for making this decision.

    The key point to acknowledge is that any delineation of when the foetus has rights equal to the mother’s is going to be arbitrary. Then the debate becomes about what kind of a compromise is acceptable to the society at large.

  134. kuhnigget

    @ Shane:

    “You might not like religious ideas playing any part in the legal definition of personhood, but somebody has to define it and science can’t do it, and just leaving it up to individuals opens up more cans of worms than the Colorado proposal.”

    But it will be up to individuals…collectively, anyway. Individuals working together as a society to define the rules by which they’ll live. That’s what societies do. Draw lines. Define terms. Come to agreements. All of our laws are based on such decisions. They are all “arbitrary” in that we’ve chosen to label certain things acceptable and other things unacceptable based upon the opinions prevailing at the time. They also change over time. There was a time when many societies saw nothing wrong with exposing a newborn baby to the elements, feeding it to the wolves, as it were, if it didn’t meet the standards of the day. We’ve gotten away from that, for the most part, but only because we as a society chose to modify our standards.

    Key words there being “we” and “chose.” Nobody chose for us. Gods didn’t descend (or ascend, for you antipodeans who insist on clinging to the bottom of the earth…) with golden tablets. Aliens didn’t arrive in flying hubcaps to enforce some universal truth. We made the decision for ourselves.

    Religion played a part in that choice because it’s just one of many things that influence our opinions and arbitrary decisions.

    The problems arise today when people confuse one influence, such as religion, with some sort of grand cosmic standard to which our laws must conform. No such standard exists, and even if it did, we’d still have to make up our own minds as to whether it was a standard by which we would choose to live.

  135. Nigel Depledge

    Timplausible, I acknowledge that you do not do justice to teh argument, but there is one thing that either did not get mentioned or you omitted…

    timplausible said:

    Interestingly, this lead to a belief that an embryo in a uterus was a person (it will grow without help), but fertilized eggs in a dish (as in the thought experiment) were not.

    If the embryo is a person, how do you decide when and if their rights supersede those of the mother?

    Also, an embryo in utero is most emphatically not able to survive without assistance. Just because that assistance occurs entirely through biology (as opposed to through human intervention) does not change the fact that the embryo is not able to survive without its mother.

  136. Todd W.

    @kuhnigget

    Nicely said.

  137. @kugnigget, that was blaah coal not me.

  138. Nigel Depledge

    Savino said:

    Stop cut your fingernails!! They are alive as we are!!!!

    Nuh-uh. Wrong answer. The part of the nail that you cut is dead, which is why it does not hurt. Try cutting into the “quick” of your fingernails (the more pinkish part) and feel the difference.

  139. Phil, if you came up with the petri-dish/boy dilemma, my respect for you rises yet another notch. Delicious! Provocative! Effective!

    Keep on keeping on!

  140. Nigel Depledge

    Stadred said:

    But I have told my fiancé before. If I have a choice between her and the child inside, I’ll chose her any time.

    Heehee!!!

    I think you meant “fiancée”. A “fiancé” is masculine, even if named Loretta*.

    (The word arrived in English from French, and is still inflected according to gender, just like blond / blonde).

    * Obscure MP quote.

  141. Todd W.

    @Nigel

    I also noticed that timplausible didn’t really discuss the argument of potentiation as it is drawn to an extreme. If you say that a fertilized egg is a human because it has the potential to develop into a human being, but that eggs developing in a petri dish are not, it is merely, then, a question of context. If the FEs in the petri dish are implanted into a womb, then they can potentially develop into a human being. So, by extension, then, the eggs in the petri dish do have potential. In the same way, individual sperm and unfertilized eggs also have potential. All they need is the right environment.

    This is taking the potentiality argument to an extreme, but it just shows how even setting the line at fertilization is just as arbitrary as setting the line anywhere else.

  142. By the way, I hope you lot have been out to vote this morning… quit procrastinating and get out there. :-)
    Good luck USA.

  143. kuhnigget

    @ Shane:

    Oh. Well. Ahem.

    Never mind.

    Antipodean knowitalls…. :(

  144. Joseph

    Can they just leave religion OUT of politics, and if you’re thinking “but there will be no morality applied to decisions made by politicians” then you should go back behind your rock and pray for yourself. Decisions such as the one mentioned in the article need a healthy dose of logic applied to them, and the problem with citizens voting on measures such as this one is that they will most definitely base their decisions on what their morals tell them, or in other words what their Pastor tells them, in more words, what a 2000 year old text tells them to do that has no bearing on relevant topics today. When making the decision to vote one way or the other people should not be short sighted, they should think of all angles not just what the bible says, the best and most moral way to make a decision IMO is to out yourself in peoples shoes who would be affected by the passing of such a law, teens who have been raped for instance, a poor single mother who, if not given an abortion, would raise a little hoodlum who detracts from society and uses up resources which are in short supply. God people never think about the repercussions of the daily decisions they make they just blindly follow what others tell them because they are afraid of responsibility.

  145. Todd W.

    Here’s another thought exercise that came up in my girlfriend’s ethics class when they were covering the topic of abortion:

    One day, you wake up and find that a world class violinist has been hooked up to you. In essence, you are the violinist’s life support. You are the only person in the world who cane keep the violinist alive. The plus side is that in nine months, the violinist can be disconnected from you. In the meantime, though, you are responsible for the life or death of this violinist. Is it ethical to just disconnect the violinist from you? Is it ethical to force you to stay connected?

  146. One day, you wake up and find that a world class violinist has been hooked up to you

    I read that as hooked up WITH you and I thought what has a big night out on the booze got to do with abortion?

  147. “Todd W.”

    Broken analogy. A living, breathing violinist cannot be compared to a group of cells that don’t have a live, functioning brain. The latter is no more or less than a tumour until the brain has developed to the point that electrical activity starts up.

  148. Eric

    In my mind there is a difference between when it becomes alive and when it becomes a person. Obviously a fertilized egg is as much “alive” as bacteria. Later on in development, it might be closer to a mouse or cat. We all agree mice are “alive” but obviously not human, and unless you’re vegetarian, you have no qualms about it being killed. Humans are different because they developed a brain that can learn and solve problems. Even when the heart is beating, if the brain is only able to process autonomic systems, then it is no more developed than a mouse. In essense, it is an animal, not a human, and as such has no rights.
    If it counts all, I was raised Roman Catholic, and I was taught that the soul is given to the baby by the Holy Spirit in what’s called the “breath of life.” It was always interesting to me that it was called breath, that breathing and air had something to do with it.

  149. Eric

    As far as the violinist, was it your decision/actions that forced the violinist to be attached, as a fetus would be the result of your decision/action to have sex?

  150. IVAN3MAN

    @ Nee in Germany

    Are you one of the Knights who say “Nee”? :-)

  151. TheWalruss

    @Shane:

    Hmm, a quick read through that essay makes me question the way I’ve thought about the issue.
    I think I’ll just say that euthanising an infant because of an insufferable disability is probably not what the fundies had in mind when making comments about infanticide. Because that’s the greatest exposure I’ve had to these ideas, I instantly thought you were referring to the fundie straw-man-liberal attitude, but that’s obviously not the case.

    That Singer essay sure is interesting – euthanasia and abortion are both legal here in the Netherlands, but I’m not sure even they are comfortable pushing it that far…

  152. He/She might be one of the ones that go “icky icky icky ptang nee womp”.

  153. kuhnigget

    @ Todd:

    Did you choose to be hooked up to the violinist, or was the connection made against your will?

  154. David D.

    @Nigel–

    I understand that this whole question will necessarily involve arbitrary delineations. JRice’s original post made no mention of fetal rights, only the woman’s right to decide. Most often when those argue that it is solely up to the woman to decide, there is no mention of a time-limit. To me, that seems to imply that at anytime, a woman can decide to abort/kill her fetus in utero.

  155. kuhnigget

    Perhaps Nee is one of those silly English kuhhhhniggets!

  156. Todd W.

    @Brett

    It was an argument that was brought up in an ethics class by someone saying that it is a human being/person with rights from the moment of conception, which is why the example relates well to the question posed by the Colorado proposition.

    So, all other arguments aside (cognitive vs. no cognition, self aware vs. not self aware, etc.), and looking at it basically as a human being using the woman as life support, what are the ethics of removing the violinist vs. forcing the woman to remain hooked up to the violinist?

  157. Todd W.

    @kuhnigget

    As the ethics professor told the class, choice as to whether or not to be hooked up to the violinist is irrelevant. (Silly standpoint if you ask me, but it does force one to focus on a single issue, even if it is in a vacuum.) Deal only with the information provided.

  158. TheWalruss,
    Singer can really make you uncomfortable. He also has some interesting ideas regarding some animals having more of a “right to life” than some people.

    Abortion is legal in Australia too and is subject to state law, not federal. Grounds for abortion vary from state to state though.

    Australia also had the first active voluntary euthanasia laws in the world in the Northern Territory. Because the NT is a self governing territory and not a state the Federal Government was able to get the laws quashed. If one of the states had passed the law the feds wouldn’t have been able to override the laws.

  159. Wayne

    >Stadred Says:
    >November 4th, 2008 at 7:50 am
    >Honestly, I see the fetus being ‘human’ when it can exist on its own, >outside the life support of the womb.
    >This has issues though.

    I come close to agreeing with you except I consider a human life to be a separate living entity with human DNA. Once the fetus is delivered and the umbilical is cut, it becomes a human life at that point. This fuzzy potential to survive separately is too blurry a line.

    Once the umbilical is cut, others can take over the care of the human life, eliminating its direct biological parasitic connection with the birth mother. Any other definition is semantics, not science. Rules governing abortion are a separate issue, but until the fetus is separate the mother should have ultimate control over her body.

  160. Thanks for that wonderful post and the fascinating thread that followed. I agree with the lady who said your blog is really diverse.

    I like very much the idea that mixing religion into legislation is bad news.

  161. Dennis

    This is why my argument has always been as follows:

    We grant rights at birth for a reason. What if we were to give these rights to an embryo that happened to be impregnated in Colorado, only to have this woman move abroad. That, then, would open the door to someone born in any country in the world to argue the rights of an American, even if the mother, father and child are naturalized in another country. It would simply be impossible to prove where impregnation took place. Yes, you could have a clause stating the parents MUST be American citizens at the time of impregnation, but now we’re really just stretching things to absolve our ridiculous decision in the first place.

    My apologies if this has been stated on this board already. I’ve come to this discussion quite late and there are a LOT of comments!

    best!
    dennis

  162. bigjohn756

    There is only one recipe for making a human — one human egg and one human sperm. When these are combined you have a human being. It is, therefore, up to society to determine what, if any, limitations are to be placed on the treatment of this burgeoning person. There is no need to impose any religious restrictions or privileges to the treatment of such a being. If society determines that is acceptable to kill this, or any other, person under certain conditions, so be it. I have no problem with using the cells of an embryo or an aborted fetus for scientific research or future medical procedures, and, I imagine that there are enough others of the same persuasion that we might influence the rest of society to agree. So aren’t you glad that I straightened that out for y’all.

  163. Mad Hussein LOLScientist, FCD

    @ BA: Great post on an issue that’s far more sensitive than it should be.

    A couple of days ago, one of my neighbors got the weirdest phone call ever. The caller asked him,”Which do you feel is more important, the economy or partial-birth abortion?” When he said the economy, the caller launched into a whole diatribe about why he was “wrong.” Finally my friend got totally disgusted and hung up.

    Honestly, those people are idiots. We could all be living in cardboard boxes under freeway overpasses and getting our meals from the soup kitchens, but dammit, women are going to have those babies even if they know that the kids will grow up sick and malnourished — if they do grow up.

    OTOH, I’m also LOLing at all the snarkasm in the comments. But I’m surprised that no one has yet invoked Monty Python:

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is great….

  164. Quiet Desperation

    (wanders in)

    Holy crap! Abortion debate!

    RUN AWAY!!!!!!!!!

    (runs away)

    But seriously, if it were up to me, abortions would be available for free in mall kiosks to anyone of any age with no questions asked.

    Looking for a safe position on abortion? Me neither! :-)

  165. Todd W.

    @Mad Hussein LOLScientist, FCD

    “But I’m surprised that no one has yet invoked Monty Python”

    I kinda touched on it with the potentiality stuff, but didn’t follow to the logical conclusion. :)

  166. Quiet Desperation

    Bill Cosby used to joke that he told his naughty children, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.” And we all laughed.

    You need to complete it.

    “And it doesn’t matter to me because I’ll just make another one that looks just like you.” :-)

  167. Quiet Desperation

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is great….

    Meaning Of Life was a mixed bag, but that’s probably one of the best musical numbers in a film ever created. Ranks up there with “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” from the end of Life Of Brian. The one with Eric Idle singing to the woman to get her to donate her organs was good, too.

  168. gopher65

    I’ve heard that some of the more right wing neo-con Muslim Imams are saying that the only reasonable way to “defeat” the west is to outbreed us, move into our countries, and then out-vote us (which, to me, seems like an excellent nonviolent strategy).

    So I have to wonder… do the desires of the neo-con Christians to destroy the separate of church and state extend to allowing Muslims to outvote them in religious matters? Will they be happy when it the referendums aren’t “vote for pro-life!”, but are instead “vote for pro-Stoning-to-death for Christian infidels!”?

  169. Seneca

    Here’s a simple logic test: “yes or no–do you agree that every woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy?” No qualifications, no “only ifs”, but simply: do you support this right or not?

    If you answer yes, then the question of at what point in the pregnancy a qualitative shift in the viability of the fetus brings other considerations to bear on the woman’s decision to terminate may be discussed. But the basic right of freedom of reproductive choice has been acknowledged.

    If you answer no, then you are an opponent of women’s reproductive freedom.

    All attempts to sidestep this basic question amount to subterfuge and misdirection. It is possible to win religious people to support for women’s rights, if the focus is kept on the real political question being posed by any particular measure.

    This is why rightist forces insist on posing political questions in religious, moral, philosophical, or emotional terms. They cannot carry the argument if it stays focused on the actual political principal at issue.

    30 years ago racist segregationists tried to focus rage against school busing. Years earlier they went on and on about “States’ Rights”. But it was never really about the bus or federalism. It was about racism.

    The particular measure in discussion in this thread is part of the “opponent of women’s reproductive freedom” camp. It’s really very simple.

  170. Turing Eret

    If this passes (already voted against it, BTW), can the mother then charge the fertilised egg for renting out her womb and then evict it for non-payment?

  171. @TuringEret

    If this passes (already voted against it, BTW), can the mother then charge the fertilised egg for renting out her womb and then evict it for non-payment?

    If I recall correctly, there are numerous cases in Canada and the USA regarding parents suing their children for lottery winnings using the cost of upbringing as a basis. I’m not sure it’s a huge step from that to what you’re suggesting :)

  172. Caro Ward

    Have the proponents of Prop. 48 explained what will be done with the go-zillion fertilized eggs now and in future languishing in fertility clinics, unused? Will the prospective “parents” be perpetually responsible for their care, education, etc.? When would it be permissible to let these little humans die? I’m guessing never… Thanks for a very thought provoking article.

  173. If you answer yes, then the question of at what point in the pregnancy a qualitative shift in the viability of the fetus brings other considerations to bear on the woman’s decision to terminate may be discussed. But the basic right of freedom of reproductive choice has been acknowledged.

    If you answer no, then you are an opponent of women’s reproductive freedom.

    Of course, another related question is “what of the rights of the father” ?

    If we say that the woman has total reproductive freedom, does that not also come with the responsibility for birth control and raising the child? What if dad wants the child but mom doesn’t (there have been cases of this before the courts)? Why can a woman pin support costs on a man when she could terminate the pregnancy? Why is it acceptable for a woman to deliberately try to get pregnant, then pin support on the man in the equation? These questions are part of the legal minefield.

  174. Mrs.Schaarschmidt

    I understand that Phil’s article is not about abortion, but about the referendum in question. That being said, there have been some comments about abortion that I feel compelled to address:

    It seems to me that every pro-life comment on this blog boils down to “if she didn’t want a child, she shouldn’t have gotten pregnant”. So I would ask anyone who made comments like these to answer the following questions:

    1) If your fourteen year old daughter had an incredible lapse of judgment, succumbed to the charms of a boy at school, and became pregnant – should she be forced to have the child? Don’t give me the argument that if she was a good girl that wouldn’t have happened – it happens even to good girls. At 14 you don’t have the reasoning power that you do as an adult.

    2) If your twenty year old daughter is raped while walking home from class some afternoon – should she be forced to have the child?

    3) If your sister, who is an adult and already has several children and a good marriage but is living paycheck to paycheck and is just nearly at the point when her children are in high school get pregnant because the birth control failed (rare, but it happens), should she then put her entire family through having another child?

    I’d be interested to hear your comments.

    I heard a good quote the other day – I think it was attributed to Gloria Steinham “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament!”

    Mrs. Schaarschmidt

  175. It comes down to this: the government (not state nor federal), nor any religiously based organization has any business making scientific decisions, creating definitions, or intruding into our most intimate, private decisions.

    Period.

    Such laws as you describe there are intruding on a woman’s right to her own body and decisions about it.

  176. Rayblast

    You are missing the whole point. The point is states’ rights versus the federal government. Why shouldn’t states have a right to vote on religious issues such as sanctity of life. Why should we all be forced to adopt a particular worldview. If the majority in CO want life to be defined at fertilization then they should have that right.

  177. Mrs.Schaarschmidt

    Rayblast:

    If the majority in Colorado wanted to define Elephant as a small fuzzy pink lizzard – would they have that right too?

  178. colluvial

    The question, “When does human life begin?” is seriously flawed; unless, as you say Phil, it assumes that at some point, something called a “soul” comes home to roost. The question is meaningless to an atheist and unanswerable by a theist. Human life can never to be said to begin unless you can somehow create it from something that isn’t human. Humans arise from other humans. There is no beginning because there was no ending.

  179. Todd W.

    @Rayblast

    States cannot pass laws that promote religion because such would be unconstitutional, due to a combination of the 1st and 14th amendments. If such a law would abridge the rights of a citizen of the U.S., then it violates the 14th amendment.

  180. Scott D.

    If a fertilized egg is a legal person, does that mean that the destruction of embryos by fertility clinics is murder?
    If an embryo were frozen for 10 years before implantation into a mother, would the resulting child be all to drink 11 years after birth, since the child is over 21 years old?

  181. Thanks, BA, you’re 100% right on this.

    We had no interesting ballot questions in Pennsylvania, only a fairly boring one on issuing bonds to rebuild our crumbling sewer infrastructure.

  182. rob

    the only sure things in life are death and taxes.

    using this premise, i argue that you’re a person when you pay taxes and cease being a person when you die.

    imagine how the economy will flourish with a new addition to the workforce paying taxes! why, it will be a snap to bail out wall street with the added tax revenue from millions of blastocysts!

  183. Rayblast

    Mrs.Schaarschmidt, if you could convince the majority to define Elephant as a small fuzzy pink lizzard then sure.

    Todd W., I guess it’s not really a religious issue than is it??? Maybe it is a moral issue? Governments should stay out of it and preconceived babies should be equally protected by the law. If I were in Co I would vote for it.

  184. Mitch Miller

    Rory Calhoun is a Simpsons reference right?

  185. inertially guided

    Wow, Phil, great topic! Abortion–and the right of a woman to decide on the procedure–is one of the issues that will NEVER be resolved, or go away, but you make an excellent point about the Colorado legislation; it is a dumb law designed by someone with a clearly anti-abortion agenda who is trying to push all the “right” buttons and sneak this one through.

    I would like to call on all Coloradans (huh?) and everyone who KNOWS anyone in Colorado, to phone/email/text/skywrite the text of Phil’s blog to the widest possible dissemination within the state. I’ve already done this with one cousin and three friends there, and asked them to pass it on. We have a powerful tool in our hands, people, and maybe it’s time to put our baud rates where our mouths are.

    Tom Epps
    All@Sea

  186. Tom

    Phil, I live in Colorado and am a conservative with religious beliefs. My wife and I sat down and talked in detail about Prop 48 and I can tell you that we both came to the same conclusion that you did. Even though we have very different beliefs. Imagine that! Anyway, keep up the good work. I only wish you would have published this post earlier so others in Colorado would realize how silly this Amendment really is, no matter what your “beliefs” are.

  187. Travis Lawrence

    So how if you approach this question from the perspective of what is alive from outside the womb? What about the Terri Schivo case? My approach here is similar to what Phil has written regarding brain activity is what constitutes “alive” or “life”. Was Mrs. Shivo alive? She had no brain activity and therefore was not considered alive, she was taken off life support and her body stopped working (she wasn’t killed because you could argue she already was dead).

    So this brings to light the idea that just because a biological function is occurring (aka breathing, metabolism, etc.) does not immediately define something as “alive”. So when you apply this to the cells of an embryo you could argue that even though the cells are biologically functioning, they are not alive and therefore should not receive ‘human rights’.

    I know my argument is based on my opinions of the Schivo case, but in that story it had been determined that nothing was going on upstairs. I think it’s at least a logical statement to say that brain activity is “life”. Although I am cannot comment on different levels of brain activity, that’s just beyond me.

  188. You are most certainly correct that this is bad religion. As I have noted at http://weirdthingoftheday.blogspot.com/2008/08/12-av-5768-left-handers-dayvinyl-record.html , in no mention of deliberate abortion is made in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament, but the penalty for feticide is a fine (Exodus 21:22), as opposed to killing the mother, which can merit the death penalty (Exodus 21:23). If the fetuses in the case cited had the same status as a person as the mother, the penalty for killing them should be the same; as such, the status of a fetus is therefore something less than that of a person. QED. Notably, these inconvenient verses tend to be ignored by anyone claiming on alleged scriptural authority that abortion is murder.

  189. Timothy from Boulder

    The precise point in the slow continuum of development that demarcates “not a human” from “human” or “not a person” from “person” is purely a question of semantics and mostly irrelevant.

    The question is “do we have laws that are different for people at different stages of their developmet?”

    Of course we do. Many are based on chronological exit from the womb, which is arbitrary, but convenient for enforcement.

    The true issue is what rights and restrictions does the society want to impose on different people (or collections of cells) that have different circumstances. To try to codify it by slapping the label of “personhood” based on one and only one circumstance is just sloppy and lazy. Black and white. Fundamentalist. Ignorant to the fact that there are, oh, six billion different circumstances.

  190. Ami Silberman

    FWIW, somewhere around 50% (I’ve seen numbers as low as 30% and as high as 80%) fertilized eggs fail to implant. A fair number then fail to come to term naturaly.

  191. Nyx

    I have read pages and pages of comments and found only one that brought up the contraceptive issue. Hormonal contraceptives, aka “the pill” and some IUDs, have a three prong mechanism. They primarily prevent ovulation. A second mechanism is to inhibit the sperm from reaching the egg. A third mechanism is to prevent implantation of the fertilized egg.

    Wikipedia claims this third mechanism is controversial. However, the FDA’s Physicians’ Desk Reference specifically states that one of the mechanisms of oral contraceptives is to cause “changes in the endometrium, which reduce the likelihood of implantation.” A good synopsis of the evidence, from the American Medical Association Archive of Family Medicine, copyright 2000, can be found here:
    http://archfami.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/9/2/126.pdf
    The conclusion therein is the same as mine: the evidence is compelling in favor of oral contraceptives inhibiting implantation of the fertilized egg.

    In the unlikely, and unfortunate, event that this proposition passes, it will make abortion illegal. That is its purpose, to equate abortion with murder. But will contraception now equate abortion which equates murder? Camel’s nose, no?

  192. khms

    With a question like this, it seems pointless to try to counter people’s arguments – at the very least, that would need a forum better suited to dialogue than a blog. And even then, you’re likely to sink in a morass of changing definitions.

    So, instead, I’ll just try to describe my position.

    When does human life begin? It doesn’t, it continues and splits, but everything involved here is human because that’s the DNA it carries, and everything is alive because it’s not dead. And anyway, that’s the wrong question to answer, becatse if I happen to lose a piece of skin to a nail, say, that’s human and it’s alive (at that moment), but nobody – well, hardly anybody – would think that piece of skin has any rights whatsoever.

    At least this piece of proposed legislation got that one bit right: what matters is if it’s a person.

    Now, I don’t know enough (and IO’m not sure anyone else does) to define a person so that it gets the answers right in any case I can think up, but at least I can describe where I see possible gray areas and what I think of them.

    First, some of the easier parts. Personhood happens in your brain. When your brain shuts down enough to interrupt that, then I’d want the definition to draw the line in the case where there’s no reasonable expectation that it might ever get going again. This can cover everything from sleep (assuming it *does* stop it, which I don’t know) to what’s currently defined as brain death. In a science-fictional context, it might even consider options of continuing on different hardware.

    The obvious starting point, then, is whenever that particular process starts, which is a bit hard to say until we can actually find a way to measure it. And no, brain activity alone isn’t it, otherwise anything with a brain would count.

    Which brings me to the next point. I don’t want that concept to mandate human DNA. That brings up all sorts of ugly questions as for which DNA counts without actually solving the real question. DNA does not a person make, which I already covered above, so DNA should simply not enter into the question in the first place. (It might have a place as a shortcut after it has decided that particular kinds of DNA are incompatible with being a person, or something like that, but that’s as a consequence of the definition, not as a precondition.) At least that way there’ll be no fundamental legal problem when we meet our first ET. And incidentally that might finally give us a reasonable yardstick to decide how much animal rights is actually sensible.

    Hmm. I think for a blog comment that’s actually enough; it seems I hit the more important points.

    You’ll notice that I carefully didn’t define what a person actually is. That’s because while there are several billion fairly obvious examples running around, defining it so it doesn’t come to grief in the situations outlined above isn’t exactly easy. And I fully expect if someone does figure it out, there’ll be a number of corner cases that make various religiously-inclined people scream.

  193. James B

    People are like computers…

    Our brains are just data storage devices, blank when first manufactured.
    Our bodies come in all sorts of configurations, but all perform the same basic functions.

    It’s only when we start to use them, that they become truly unique.

    A few cells don’t make a human being.
    It’s our memories that make us who we are.

    Embryos are potential humans, it’s not until they start to experience the world and learn from it, that they become individuals.

    ….oh and I’m a mac ;0)

  194. jeri meaux

    Phil–I’d love to see your opinion of this article:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/197509/lincoln-abortion

  195. Alas, IVAN3MAN, Shane, and kuhnigget, I am not one of the knights who say *Ni*, althought I horked an image of one of them for my Blogger ID. I am the aunt to a nephew with a speech impediment, who gifted me with the name.

    And back on topic, thanks for the insightful post, Phil. The comments have made some additional interesting points that have given me much food for thought.

    Nee
    who does not fart in your general direction, at least not this time

  196. Nigel Depledge

    David D. said:

    @Nigel–

    I understand that this whole question will necessarily involve arbitrary delineations. JRice’s original post made no mention of fetal rights, only the woman’s right to decide. Most often when those argue that it is solely up to the woman to decide, there is no mention of a time-limit. To me, that seems to imply that at anytime, a woman can decide to abort/kill her fetus in utero.

    OK, fair enough. Maybe JRice should have mentioned something about that.

    In my view, I think it is fair to recognise that there are two distinct (but obviously related) questions:
    (1) Should the woman have the right to choose whether or not to carry to term once she discovers she is pregnant;
    (2) What time limit should be allotted for the decision to be made.

    I happen to think that the way we do this in the UK (abortion is legal, up to 24 weeks) is about as good a compromise as you are likely to find anywhere.

  197. Nigel Depledge

    bigjohn756 said:

    There is only one recipe for making a human — one human egg and one human sperm. When these are combined you have a human being.

    No. This is out of date (you can make a human by genetic manipulation of an egg cell – no sperm required), and also wrong anyway.

    The recipe for a human (ignoring cloning possibilities) is: 1 ovum + 1 spermatozoa that has out-competed all of the other sperm; implantation in the lining of the womb; gestation for 40 weeks; parturition; feed and nurture for anything from 6 – 26 years (i.e. until it is able to survive without your assistance).

    If we follow your recipe, we would have a fertilised, but dead, ovum.

    It is, therefore, up to society to determine what, if any, limitations are to be placed on the treatment of this burgeoning person.

    Don’t call it a burgeoning person – that brings us back to the potentiation argument, which is pointless. Call it what it is: a fertilised ovum, blastocyst, embryo, foetus or baby, depending on developmental stage.

    There is no need to impose any religious restrictions or privileges to the treatment of such a being. If society determines that is acceptable to kill this, or any other, person under certain conditions, so be it.

    Now you are calling it a person. You are framing your comment in such a way as to polarise opinion. I think there are several fairly strong arguments that can be made against calling the blastocyst or the fertilised ovum or the embryo or even the foetus a “person”. Not least of which is the commonly-understood meaning of the word “person”.

    I have no problem with using the cells of an embryo or an aborted fetus for scientific research or future medical procedures, and, I imagine that there are enough others of the same persuasion that we might influence the rest of society to agree. So aren’t you glad that I straightened that out for y’all.

    I only wish it were that simple.

  198. Jeffersonian

    Again I get a chance to point out how much of xtianity in this country is modern, made up, extra-biblical insanity. As Rev. Chris points out above, “in Biblical times, a child was not given full status as a human being until they were 3 months old.” Not only that, but the Bible several times describes life beginning at first breath (xtian scripture in this regard is lacking though, as usual, the xtians just swipe Jewish scripture and interpret it as fits their desires). And why would it be otherwise? It’s not like superstitious ancients were well-studied on the microscopic aspects of reproductive biology…
    As is said, the xtian right is neither. And they’re making it up as they go along AND they’re trying to legislate their inanities.

    And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
    Genesis 2:7

    The breath of the Almighty has given me life
    Job 33:4

  199. Nigel Depledge

    Evolving Squid said:

    If we say that the woman has total reproductive freedom, does that not also come with the responsibility for birth control and raising the child? What if dad wants the child but mom doesn’t (there have been cases of this before the courts)? Why can a woman pin support costs on a man when she could terminate the pregnancy? Why is it acceptable for a woman to deliberately try to get pregnant, then pin support on the man in the equation? These questions are part of the legal minefield.

    Good point, well made.

  200. Nigel Depledge

    Rayblast said:

    You are missing the whole point. The point is states’ rights versus the federal government. Why shouldn’t states have a right to vote on religious issues such as sanctity of life. Why should we all be forced to adopt a particular worldview. If the majority in CO want life to be defined at fertilization then they should have that right.

    Seems to me it is you who has missed the point.

    The science is uambiguous :- We simply don’t know.

    Applying some random definition to the beginning of personhood (and the point of fertilisation is just as random as any other) is irrelevant. The point is that any definition will be arbitrary.

    The debate can only make headway once all participants are able to recognise this fact. It then comes down to assembling a compromise with which the majority of people can live.

  201. Grant

    JackC wins the thread. Three internets for you, sir.

    Meanwhile, according to Don Snow, we have to accept all things at least one millenia old by virtue of their age. So I guess we’re ok hereditary monarchy, genocide, the black plauge, and British food. :) Also, amendments to the US constitution are right out.

  202. Nigel Depledge

    Rayblast said:

    Mrs.Schaarschmidt, if you could convince the majority to define Elephant as a small fuzzy pink lizzard then sure.

    This is quite clearly utterly ludicrous.

    No-one should have the right to define reality as anything other than what it is. If we do not know what the reality is (as is the case in the beginning of personhood), then we must acknowledge this ignorance. That is why any definition is arbitrary – because we simply do not know, and we currently have no way of finding out.

    One of the problems is, of course, that the concept of personhood is so fuzzy, and means different things to different people.

  203. Peter B

    Here’s another little thought experiment for people to consider…

    First part: an IVF clinic creates some embryos for a couple. The couple then die, and neither has any living relatives. Presumably, under this proposed legislation, if the clinic was to destroy the embryos, they’d be guilty of murder.

    Second part: on the basis of the legislation, the clinic decides to keep the embryos in cold storage. Some time in the future, artificial wombs are developed. The clinic raises the embryos to full term, and the babies are born. Who now is responsible for raising these children? What if the couple’s assets (which we can presume were kept in trust against this possibility) are insufficient to pay for their raising, should the state pay?

  204. Great little video on Youtube. A guy asks a bunch of Anti-abortion people what the punishment for having an abortion is if it is murder. The answers are GREAT!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uk6t_tdOkwo

  205. Andres Villarreal

    Humanity is getting nearer to the point where population control will no longer be a question of choice or religion, but one of survival of the species.
    We have to, at least, get some definitions written into law. And it will not be easy, but without this the main reasons for this discussion will be never addressed. A group of cells is not the same as a fetus with a functioning brain, and is not the same as an almost fully developed 20 week old fetus, whose capacity for thought, memory and sensory perception and processing are essentially all there.
    You cannot give a lethal injection to every pharmacist that sells an Intra-Uterine Device, but you can expect some rights to be given to a 40 week old fetus that is only receiving food and oxygen from his mother.

  206. Pop

    I opened the blog hoping to see something to go gaga over – in a scientific sense. Instead what has BA done. He has continued politics on a day when I was hoping it would all end, at least for a while.

    I’ve tried to read all the blogs and keep track of who said what, but my “Senior Moments” brain could not keep up.

    As to when a DNA described collection of living flesh becomes “human,” let me say that I’m 67 yoa and I’m still becoming human. I’m more human now than I was at 50, or 40, and especially when I was a teen. I hope I become a human before I die, but I ain’t counting on it.

    All your arguements back-n-forth amount to nothing. We invented religion and used it to make laws. We will always have religion shaping laws. Science has nothing to do with religion if both are kept in the truest form. Unfortunately, we are too close to the subject to see how and where religion colors law and even our daily lives.

    Someone here accused BA of trying to foist off his “religion” (science) on us. Maybe he is, but even when he naysays this he will be wrong. Each age has its beliefs of truth. It’s only decades, or centuries, or millennia later we see the error of our science and beliefs.

    As an aside, I’ve wondered what folks two hundred years from now will think of our personal hygiene? What do we think of the folks two hundred years ago? I guess my point is that we simply can not say with certainty what is good law, what is the beginning of life, when we become human, or any associated questions. It comes down to what works for the most of us now, most of the time.

    I hope we can move on to something about a new vent on the far surface of Mercury, or some spectacular picture from the Hubble. How about it BA? Give us some diversion from politics. We had it going now for what, 20-22 months? Please?

  207. Pop

    Not flaming or taking a shot at anyone, but here’s a quote from Nigel Depledge, “The science is uambiguous :- We simply don’t know.” I’m sure its been stated before in this series of blog replies. Maybe BA said someting similar.

    Now, I’m not a walking OED, but doesn’t unambiguous mean something is not ambiguous? Or another way – something is quite clear with no misunderstanding.

    So, if he is saying science is clear, and science doesn’t know, then it is ambiguous, not clear. And if that’s the case, the first part of the statement is wrong. Therefore, science must be ambiguous. ARGH!

    Well, on to “Sponge Bob Square Pants.” At least there are no mind numbing twists of logic/false logic to think about. No politics to contend with. Just simple suspension of belief. BTW, Patrick Starfish is my favorite.

  208. Nigel Depledge Says:
    > Richard said:
    > Rene Descartes “Ergo cogito sum”
    > “Therefore, I think I am”?
    > Methinks you have that mixed up …

    How about “Cogito ergo sum, cogito”
    (I think, therefore I am, I think).

    – Jack

  209. José

    “Caveat emptor, Roy”

  210. If not already stated, can they vote at 17 yrs, 3 months? and drink at 20 yrs, 3 months? Give or take of course, premies would have to wait until later. It’s only fair.

    But does that also make the population of Colorado higher immediately? And will the life expectancy age go down because of miscarriages?

    Legislation like this is designed to get the religeous nuts out, same with same sex marriage, and so on.

  211. The non-religious philosophical case for the personhood of teh new embryo is made in Robert P. George’s and Christopher Tollefsen’s book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. (George is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.) Anybody who doesn’t engage their argument is just being anti-intellectual.

    Deciding when human life is worth protecting is a political necessity. We can’t just claim a convenient agnosticism.

  212. JP

    One of the arguments going on is the use of religion in politics. For better or worse, EVERYONE’s political views are determined or at least influenced by religion of lack thereof. I’m a Roman Catholic, and admittedly the first thing I look for in a politician is pro-life and other social issues. However, please do not assume that all religious people are ignorant/stupid/your adjective here. I also heavily consider the other issues, giving the most urgent issues the highest priority.

    And voters are not the only people that do this. Would McCain and/or Obama have had a different platform if they had not been raised religiously the way they had?

    “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
    -Albert Einstein

    “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.”
    -Pope John Paul II

  213. I am certainly of the opinion that a blob of cells are “human” if they are able to survive apart from the “womb” with minimal mechanical assistance (ie humidicrib and assistance breathing until muscles strengthen much like someone in a coma) at that point in time. Ie, the time at which if you did an C-section and removed the *cough* child and it could live at that point I would say HUMAN (whether inside the womb or not)

    This will necessarily be different for each child, but science can tell us with measurements what that point would be I would judge.

    Did that make sense?

  214. Damien

    Phil,

    Actually you might want to look around a little bit. Not all pro lifers are necessarily religious. Its a stereotype.

    You might want to check this website out.
    http://www.godlessprolifers.org/home.html

  215. Negatron

    Phil,

    Watched the vid, interesting reactions. That is the kind of nebulous belief you generally see in people opposed to an issue for religious reasons, but haven’t really thought through the issue. Of course, that is an attitude that is not entirely restricted to religiots.

    They clearly think abortion is murder, but have compassion for the woman. This is not entirely unlike my beliefs, I am opposed to abortion personally, but I am not a woman and think they should have a choice. So, I am pro life yet pro choice as well. Can you say waffle?!

    It’s like someone said, if men could get pregnant, there would be abortion clinics next to every starbucks.

  216. According to MSNBC the measure seems to have failed in Colorado as well as its analogue South Dakota. Sorry, no link it was on the news channel live, so I think it’s still too fresh.

  217. Didn’t read all of the people’s notes above, so this may have been pointed out…

    The issue isn’t defining a Human as in existence from the moment of fertilization. It’s defining a Person. It’s some interesting wordplay the nutjobs are using there, because they’re making the two sound like the same issue. We say a tadpole is still a frog (as they point out), and I would argue that yes, an embryo is technically a human. It’s an organism that will eventually grow unto an adult human just as the tadpole will grow into an adult frog; however, that has nothing to do with the legal rights that should be afforded them. Personhood I would define as a much more specific case, namely when a member of the species homo sapiens actually passes from the birth canal and exists separate from the mother. To argue that a Person exists at the time of fertilization only really has weight if one believes in a “Soul” or “Spirit” that is infused in the species, and I’ve yet to see evidence of that particular evolutionary benefit in our DNA.

  218. Ruadhan

    Phil:

    I don’t think you’re asking the right question. What is human? I’d say that yes, the cells in the Petri dish, and in your liver, and tossed away in the used condom, are all human. A fetus in utero is also human, as is the child ex utero. Compare to non-human things: a chimpanzee, a ham sandwich, your mother’s rosebush, Mt. Rushmore. A human embryo is human; a chimp embryo is not. Ergo, humanity is an inherent trait; we have it whether we want it or not, and so does every other member of our species, born or not.

    The pertinent question IMO is: what is a person? A bundle of cells, fertilized or otherwise, in that same Petri dish is not a person. Neither is the big-eyed lizard-tailed thingie you see in embryology classes as one of the stages of development. But a newborn baby is a person… and so is an unborn baby who is capable of breathing on his own if you give his car-crash victim mother a C-section in time.

    Personhood is not inherent. It is a trait we develop, much the way we develop hands or hearts or hipbones. I could agree with the presence of brain activity to be one indicator along the continuum from ‘potential person’ to ‘person’. For one thing, I find it difficult to call an anencephalic child a person, whereas I have no trouble using the word for any of the wide variety of mentally challenged kids out there. Just because their brains don’t work right doesn’t mean they don’t work.

    But brain activity is only one factor. I think I’m with Gail on this: there must be some assurance that the fetus is capable of independent existence outside the mother’s body (whether technologically assisted or otherwise) for it to legitimately lay claim to the title ‘person’. And once received, that title cannot be relinquished; even profoundly damaged people (such as Terry Schiavo) should be considered persons, inasmuch as legal and/or medical decisions about their best interests are concerned (and I leave any such decisions up to their nearest and dearest, who would presumably know their personal wishes best.)

    I am also with Gail on her comment that the line separating person from not-yet person is fuzzy, and changes from child to child. I’ll also say that as technology advances and medical science refines its techniques, that line can be–and will be–pushed earlier and earlier into pregnancy, and that will change the definition of ‘person’, too. The biggest mistake is not in defining ‘person’ wrong–but in being too rigid in your definition.

    In short, I’m with you: Proposition 48 is poorly conceived–pun intended. YMMV.

  219. Rand

    I read a great column about this, actually. It showed pretty definitively that human life does start at conception, but that we need to get over labels and don’t just assume that once human life “starts,” all rights go along with it. I think a lot of people lose this debate because they start trying to say that a human starts earlier or later or whatever, and that isn’t the point at all. It isn’t a question of science, it’s a question of ethics. Even if science could determine the exact nanosecond that something becomes “human,” would you really feel comfortable dumping all rights right at that moment, none before and none later? Of course not.

    Boom, an egg gets fertilized. Now what? Time to stop looking for the easy answer of trying to redefine the terms of the problem and look to the hard question of trying to decide if that really matters.

  220. Bryan

    Nigel — No need to apologize. Consider, I have 3 daughters, all look fairly similar, and raised as identically as I could possibly raise them. Yet they are so stunningly different in interests, aptitudes, desires, drive, etc. Could all that be nature?

    Are only facts that can be measured or monitored by you “real”? Can you measure how much I love my wife? The real problem posting here is that most folks reading these comments discard religion/spirituality as “fantasy”; yet spiritual effort yields spiritual fruit, which is something you feel inside, not see or hear. I can’t measure it, but I also can’t deny it. However with all the “openness” of thought here, discussion of spirituality is pretty heavily downplayed. Maybe that’s science staying separate from religion, probably a good thing, but what I really dislike is science laughing at religion because its instruments are perceived to be fine enough for use everywhere.

    Phil — the criteria for spiritual “entrance” into the body may be totally different from the criteria for exit. Bottom line, I agree this is a poorly worded proposition, but the real root of most of this problem is that women (and men) are demanding “choice” when they should be *developing* self-control, and being accountable for their actions.

  221. harpe éolienne

    intriguing discussion (tho’ i haven’t read all of the comments above ;) ), and a very well-thought-out and yet crystal-clear post.

    i fully agree that human genetic code is not the same thing as human just as a blueprint of a building is still not the building no matter how complex and delicate these designs are. this is like, proteins are not life itself – any more than building blocks are a house.

    i’d also tend to think higher cognitive brain function (e.g. learning, memory, communication, etc) is the most essential requirement for an organism to be called a human, but here we approach a slippery slope – as some already said – without a clear boundary to differentiate human and nonhuman.

    for instance, if one refuses life support, would it be considered suicide or if one turns off a life-support equipment on which someone is kept alive, would it be regarded as murder?
    if yes, would organ transplants from brain-dead donors be not allowed?

  222. Nigel Depledge

    Pop said:

    Someone here accused BA of trying to foist off his “religion” (science) on us. Maybe he is, but even when he naysays this he will be wrong. Each age has its beliefs of truth. It’s only decades, or centuries, or millennia later we see the error of our science and beliefs.

    Not really. You see, science offers us a way of knowing that is different from preceding attempts. Its conclusions are based on evidence and rigorous logical criticism of ideas.

    So, the state of scientific knowledge at any time is our best understanding based on the information we have. It may change and improve, or simply become more detailed. However, some of our scientific theories have sithstood the test of time for so long that we can draw an additional conclusion about these theories: even if they are wrong, they are at least a good approximation, in the same way that Newtonian gravitational theory, although wrong, is a good approximation in nearly all circumstances.

  223. Nigel Depledge

    Pop said:

    Not flaming or taking a shot at anyone, but here’s a quote from Nigel Depledge, “The science is uambiguous :- We simply don’t know.” I’m sure its been stated before in this series of blog replies. Maybe BA said someting similar.

    Now, I’m not a walking OED, but doesn’t unambiguous mean something is not ambiguous? Or another way – something is quite clear with no misunderstanding.

    So, if he is saying science is clear, and science doesn’t know, then it is ambiguous, not clear. And if that’s the case, the first part of the statement is wrong. Therefore, science must be ambiguous. ARGH!

    What I meant, Pop, was that the obvious conclusion from the available information is that we do not know, and we have no way of finding out.

    This is the only rigorous statement we can make about the beginning of personhood. As such, it is unambiguous – there is no room for fuzzy thinking such as “oh, well, we know some of it but not other bits” or “well, there are three competing hypotheses between which we cannot choose” or anything like that. We really have no clue.

    “We don’t know” is a perfectly valid scientific conclusion.

  224. Nigel Depledge

    Kevin J Jones said:

    The non-religious philosophical case for the personhood of teh new embryo is made in Robert P. George’s and Christopher Tollefsen’s book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. (George is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.) Anybody who doesn’t engage their argument is just being anti-intellectual.

    I’ve never heard of these guys. Any chance of a quick précis?

    Or linky?

    Deciding when human life is worth protecting is a political necessity. We can’t just claim a convenient agnosticism.

    As I have said over and over – we don’t know when personhood begins, and we have no way at present of finding out. Therefore, any definition will be arbitrary. However, this does not prevent a society from arriving at a compromise that the majority of people can live with.

  225. Nigel Depledge

    JP said:

    “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
    -Albert Einstein

    “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.”
    -Pope John Paul II

    Whether or not I agree with these sentiments, arguments from authority hold no sway here.

  226. Nigel Depledge

    Bryan said:

    Are only facts that can be measured or monitored by you “real”? Can you measure how much I love my wife? The real problem posting here is that most folks reading these comments discard religion/spirituality as “fantasy”; yet spiritual effort yields spiritual fruit, which is something you feel inside, not see or hear. I can’t measure it, but I also can’t deny it. However with all the “openness” of thought here, discussion of spirituality is pretty heavily downplayed. Maybe that’s science staying separate from religion, probably a good thing, but what I really dislike is science laughing at religion because its instruments are perceived to be fine enough for use everywhere.

    Feelings and emotions are real. I never suggested otherwise. “Spirit” on the other hand, cannot be perceived in any way, shape or form. Its existence is posited by the mind-body duality camp. If you consider that “mind” is an emergent property of the brain, then there is no need to invoke “spirit” to explain our consciousness and perceptions.

  227. MarkW

    FWIW:
    Colorado Proposition 48 to define a zygote as a person
    For: 494,058 – 27%
    Against: 1,353,078 – 73%

  228. MarkW

    D’oh!

    I swear that update wasn’t at the top of the OP when I posted that!

  229. petroushka

    The comments thread seems to be bumping up against a problem of terminology, re the question ‘what defines a human being’.

    The embryo created by a human egg and a human sperm is a human embryo—as opposed to a chicken or a lizard or an orangutan. That’s never in question. It reminds me of a critical remark made to E.B. White, after the first edition of “Stuart Little” was published, that Mrs. Little’s second son couldn’t be “born,” as it said in the book, because he was a mouse; the line was subsequently changed to “arrived.”

    What is in question is, when does that embryo become a person, as the proposition states, entitled to the individual rights we grant to members of the human species—rights we pointedly do not extend to other species, many of which we eat or experiment on for the benefit of humans.

    I don’t have an answer to that, though I tend towards the viability outside the mother reasoning. I think we would all generally agree that while other humans can step in to look after an infant or child in the case of its parents’ death, the environment the biological mother provides is, at least with the limits of our modern technology, irreplaceable up to a point. As other commentors have made clear, that point shifts as technology improves. But so far, the limit seems to be the development of the organs and brain, i.e., whether these have developed enough during the period of gestation to allow the child to survive.

    Can we grow a human embryo through its entire gestation outside a human womb? As far as I know this is still science fiction; I don’t know how they do it with animal cloning—do we have the technology but balk at the ethics of growing humans in pods?

    In the Netherlands, they have a policy that they don’t exert superhuman efforts to save fetuses under 24 weeks because of the high risks of severe brain damage. The UK chose not to impose such a strict limit because the risks do vary by individual. But it all does suggest that unless we are willing to put fetuses in sci-fi-type pods to complete their own physical development if they’re born prematurely (or their mothers wish to abort them), they simply aren’t viable independent of a human female womb until somewhere around 20–24 weeks. We’re not going to speed up human embryonic development, no matter how good our technology gets. So viability seems to me as good a definition for when “personhood” can be said to begin as any other we’re likely to come up with.

    What I find particularly chilling, though, in this and other propositions regarding fetal “rights” and “personhood”, is how it sidelines the woman who is carrying the fetus. A video put out by opponents of proposition 48 told some stories about women who’ve already been affected by these debates: One woman trying to give birth naturally at home after having an earlier child by C-section (and having found no doctor willing to let her try a ‘vaginal birth after cesarean’) was arrested, had her legs strapped together, and dragged to a hospital where doctors were debating whether they could force her to have a C-section. Another woman was arrested for homicide because she chose not to have an elective C-section 2 weeks before her due date, and one of the twins she was carrying was stillborn. A third woman diagnosed with a terminal illness during her pregnancy, who decided with her family that she wanted every effort to be made to keep her alive as long as possible, was forced by doctors to have a C-section in order to try to save the baby. Both mother and baby died as a result of the procedure.

    The thought of being strapped down and forced against my explicit wishes to undergo major surgery because someone else has decided what is best not for me, but for the child I am carrying and the hospital in which I will probably deliver that child, makes my blood run cold. Women have been fighting for equal rights with men for centuries. Subsuming womens’ rights to those of their unborn children just shifts the terms of that debate. It makes women nothing more than vehicles for perpetuating the human species. Rather like those pods I hypothesized about above. It negates women’s own independent value as individual human beings. This is where the law’s attempts to balance competing rights has to come into play. And honestly, if the competition is between a woman and an embryo that cannot exist independently outside of her body, I give it to the woman.

    I also find it interesting that most of the commentors on this thread are men…..

  230. Nigel Depledge

    petroushka asks:

    Can we grow a human embryo through its entire gestation outside a human womb? As far as I know this is still science fiction; I don’t know how they do it with animal cloning—do we have the technology but balk at the ethics of growing humans in pods?

    No. Cloned embryos are implanted into surrogate mothers, in a process not entirely unlike IVF. The technology to grow a mammalian embryo into a viable organism without a mother is still science fiction.

  231. Nigel Depledge

    petroushka said:

    What I find particularly chilling, though, in this and other propositions regarding fetal “rights” and “personhood”, is how it sidelines the woman who is carrying the fetus.

    Agreed. And I found your reports of the treatment of pregnant women quite disturbing (although, of course, one cannot really arrive at a judgement without the full facts of the case). There is more to the issue than simply the choice of whether or not abortion should be legal.

  232. Nigel Depledge

    petroushka points out:

    I also find it interesting that most of the commentors on this thread are men…..

    Is that a reflection of the fact that most of Phil’s readers may be men, or most of the people that comment on Phil’s blog may be men, or that men really do find more to debate in this set of issues than do women…?

  233. Seneca

    One last contribution to this thread: “human life” is a social concept, not a biological one.

    Being human is not identical with being a specimen of the species homo sapiens.

    Ancient rites of passage which have survived in the form of various modernized rituals (bar mitzva and quincianera come to mind–I’m sure you can think of others) mark teen ages as the point of human recognition.

    And the list of which individuals are recognized by society as human has changed over time as society has developed and changed.

    There was a time in our savage past when human-ness was determined solely on the basis of membership in localized family groupings. Cannibalism was common in this period of our history. Revulsion at the very idea of cannibalism is deeply imbedded in us today, but among those societies that had not developed past this stage, there was nothing more normal than killing and eating other members of our own species. They were not considered human.

    Denouncing someone as “an animal” is a relic of this distant past. It is not so much a description of behavior that reminds one of another species, but that their behavior or some other characteristic marks them as alien, someone whom is not considered part of normal human society, and who therefore is not considered to be deserving of protection from exceptional force and violence.

    There are plenty of examples from our species’ history that can illustrate the difference between being homo sapiens and being considered human. Even transitional forms–like the designation in the U.S. Constitution of African slaves as semi-human–can be found. The measure of being considered human has not been static. (And not because gestation periods were unknown millenia ago. That’s old news.)

    (In fact, there are some political forces who are campaining to expand the concept of human-type protections to other species: anti-fur activists and various vegetarians for example. I’m just saying…)

    Additionally, there are mitigating circumstances recognized by every society which absolve the individual from penalties for taking the life of another of our species. Wartime slaughter, legal execution, and personal self-defense come to mind.

    There is a reason that individuals considered “okay to kill” are demonized in imagination and propaganda: we all have a deep revulsion against killing each other, and you won’t find the explanation for that revulsion in the genome.

    It is completely fruitless to search for a biological test for “human-ness”. The Colorado ballot measure was ill-conceived for that reason alone, and the idea that the authors may have simply mis-identified the correct time setting for the qualitative transformation from “other” into human being only expands and validates this error in logic.

    There can be no biological test, because being human is not a biological question. It never has been.

  234. AAzure

    Hi Walruss,

    The definition of human is very clear. I believe any confusion to ‘what is human’ is purposely muddled by those that have an evil agenda. They always use this muddling to justify mass killing – whether in death camps for ‘sub-humans’ or in clinics. The end is the same – create doubt and confusion in the minds of the public to justify killing humans on a mind-blowing scale.

    I have full confidence that over a billion tests, you will have no problem pointing out that ‘this one is human’ and ‘this thing is not human’. I have full confidence that you will get it 100% correct.

    Walruss: “Phil has tried to explain how “life” is poorly defined as well. For example, a bacterium moves, consumes, grows, reproduces, changes its environment, grows old, and dies.”

    This is a red herring. We are not talking about virus or bacteria or rocks or green aliens from Mars or Alpha Centarui. We are talking about humans. We are not talking about genetic manipulation, test tubes, stem cells or the like. We are talking about aborting humans pre-birth.

    Walruss:”It’s just like the question of whether Pluto is a planet – the concept of “life” and “human” (and “human life”) is a human invention to help us communicate and reason. “

    I disagree – it is not the same as your analogy. Planets are purely a human concept. Pluto really cannot care whether humans call it a planet or not. Dirt has no issue to whether you call it “really, really small rocks” – I doubt Mt. Rushmore will level a lawsuit against it! ‘Pluto’ is merely a name – a label, as is the word planet a label, attempting to describe a big object in orbit around the sun a good distance away. To get all tripped up over labels must be embarrassing!

    However, life is not a human concept. Humans are not human concept. Life is. Humans are. A struggle to understand life or humans does not make life not exist nor humans not human.

    Nigel: “Not so. He disagrees with their attempt to force their version upon him. Phil’s argument stands irrespective of his own personal beliefs. What right does anyone have to force their own religion on anyone else? In the USA, this is protected in the first amendment.”

    Ah, Nigel, you give me so much ammo – ;0

    So if I may be so bold to paraphrase you – standing by watching another person slaughter others is required, since to intervene would be ‘forcing my moral code’ (ie: religion) upon another!

    Religion is merely an expression of some sort of moral code. Whether one pontificates a formal name around it, or simply refuses to label it, it is still a religion. “Phil’s personal belief” is a religion – it may be no large a community then one person – but size does not make a religion either (size is merely a matter of popularity).

    So the question here to you (and Phil) is: ‘When can you justify killing another human and when can you justify interfering against the killing of another human?”

    Nigel: “Well, either you did not read it or you did not understand it. This example was to point out exactly the kind of absurdity of which you accuse Phil. IF the proposition is passed, it means that any pregnant woman is actually two people. In fact, she is legally two people before she is even aware of being pregnant.”

    I have no issue understanding that an unborn baby is human, unique from the mother. That does mean, very simply, that there are two humans … your muddle is to believe that a single human (Mother) is really a dual. She is not. She is unique, as her baby. They are two unique humans. She is not ‘two’ people.

    Nigel: “No, Phil never said he believed fire to be alive. He said that he could propose an argument that fire is alive. This is trivially simple. just think about how you would define aliveness.”

    As I already said to Phil, anyone can argue from a point of view of irrationality. That does not make the argument valid. You can certainly argue that 1+1=3 but why bother with such irrational arguments?

    Nigel: “Your “definition” is utterly arbitrary. It is not based on any actual reasoning, it is merely your opinion. And anyone else’s opinion is just as valid as yours.”

    Really? It is a fact. I hope that fact is a reason to you. But maybe not. If not, then you are irrational, and no rational argumentation between us is possible.
    .
    Nigel: “Your definition does not conflict with science, but neither does a definition that says humanness starts at birth”

    Since it was a unique human life upon the joining of egg and sperm, therefore any time after that point the cell mass would remain consistent with being human. I am glad you’ve at least achieved this much of understanding ;) Or do you believe before it was born these cell mass is a dog?

    Nigel: “ The point that you missed here is that science does not have an answer. Any definition is therefore arbitrary, and will not be based on hard evidence.”

    In fact, science has the answer. But further repeating this to you is futile.

    Nigel: “If you have any scientific reason for saying that a single fertilised ovum should have the same human rights as, say, yourself, I’d like to hear it. “

    That is my point. Legalities, politics and religion have no basis in science. If you ask me for a political or religious reason to provide human rights to another human, we can talk. But asking science to justify a political statement is asking like asking what color is the number 10.

    Science demonstrates what is human and when is human. There is no confusion. Science doesn’t give argument to whether this excuse to slaughter or prevent slaughter of humans is valid or not. Science cannot offer any argument either way. If you politically justify killing someone, it is not a matter of science. It is a moral issue. Don’t get caught muddling the two – it obviously confuses you.

    Nigel: “Again, this is your opinion, not a scientific fact”

    In fact, it is a fact. If it is not human, then what is it?

    Aside: Reminds me of Churchill’s definition of a Canadian. They’re not French, not English, and not American.

    Nigel:” Humanity is not an intrinsic property of anything – it is a journey. “

    Here is the crux of your belief system (ie: religion). You are attempting to transcend science into becoming some philosophy of religion. “Humanity … is a journey” is a statement that belongs in a religious bible, philosophy text or self-help novel. It has no place in science.

    Once you can gulp that, then the real question – when do human RIGHTS apply?

    Nigel: “This is a separate question. However, those supporting this proposition have attempted to answer it in the same way that you have – by claiming that the fertilised ovum is “obviously” a human being, and therefore should have the full set of rights.”

    Aghast! How dare you! I have made no such claim! It’s bad enough that you are utterly confused between philosophy/religion and science – and have no idea when a human is a human (though I’m positive you’d get the answer right 100% if I flashed a million different examples). Now you make up claims on my behalf without my permission!

    I claim a fertilized egg is human.

    I have made no philosophy on human rights whatsoever. (PS: ‘full set of rights’ ?? – begs the question of ‘what are the half-set of rights’?)

    JohnW Says: “I don’t believe life begins at conception”

    LoL! So, in the meantime, the growing set of cells are dead? Or the living-dead like zombies?

    Leaving science as science, the question is merely politics (therefore religious).

    The answer to abortion can be derived from application of first principles of moral behavior. Simply answer the first question: “When does a right to kill a human exist?”

    After that, the flow of questions and answers quickly evolve to conclusion. I guarantee the conclusion, no matter how well reasoned in argument, will be unpalatable by a large number of people.

  235. AAzure

    I believe Senca has the concept right – but still falls into the trap of moralize ‘human’ and ‘human being’ as some airy concept. This is always were the confusion in arguments begin.

    His examples are accurate to a point. What he was missing was to say was the concept of human rights did not exist in a modern form within the last 2000 years and at best solidly understood merely 400 years ago. To describe the being called ‘human’ was the best understood concept of ancient savages to describe what we would today say are ‘human rights’. With this clarity, it now makes much more sense that one got certain ‘human rights’ when they belonged to this tribe, vs belonging to another tribe. So, again, where he says measuring ‘human-ness’ is changing – well of course that is nonsense. Humans are, were and will be human. What he really intends to say (IMO) is that the measure of human rights evolves; this is observably and historically true.

    I agree – leave the biology behind – pro-abortionists will lose badly if they try to invalidate the humanity of pre-birth humans. It simply can’t be done.

    Abortion is not a question of what is or is not human. Abortion is merely and only a human rights issue and the question of when human rights become inviolable.

  236. Fairly decent argument that I happen to agree with. It won’t change anyone’s mind that is anti-abortion. But consider this: an ejaculation is also a potential human, as is a period. The two together is just goop. You can’t kill goop. I don’t mind regulating abortion to keep it within the first 3 months of pregnancy, but to make it illegal would be a religious law, and this ain’t Islam. We have to keep separation of church and state a high priority!

  237. Seneca

    AAzure sez: ” I believe Senca has the concept right – but still falls into the trap of moralize ‘human’ and ‘human being’ as some airy concept. This is always were the confusion in arguments begin.”

    Nope, you missed my point.

    My contribution was not a moralization, but an argument that human-ness is a set of social relationships that has changed as society has changed. There is nothing airy or abstract about that. It’s a down-to-earth observation, and I cited evidence for that change over time.

    The point of my post was to support my contention that logically, there can be no biological determination for a social concept–hence, the question, “when does a human become a human?” is a non-sequiter for the question up for grabs in Colorado–and thankfully, smashed in practice yesterday. It was an application of pseudoscience, and it was denied.

    The question posed by the Colorado ballot issue, as I argued in a previous post, was actually the very concrete political question of whether an arbitrarily-specified biological development (with absolutely no logical connection) can be successfully used to gather sufficient support for a campaign to deny women’s reproductive freedom.

    It’s a political question, not a scientific one. And the big point is to get better at arguing our side of the question.

  238. Todd W.

    @AAzure

    What is it that makes a fertilized egg a person? Please provide citations to support your answer, if at all possible.

  239. Scott H.

    “Can anyone here give me a reason, besides a religious one, that a fertilized egg is a human being?”

    For me, it’s basic. Sperm, by itself, will only ever be sperm. An egg, by itself, will only ever be an egg. Whichever gender you are, you produce (and lose) several of these over a lifetime. However, once an egg becomes fertilized, it sets off a chain reaction, the end result of which is a baby. It seems completely logical to me to define that moment of change as the beginning of life.

    However, I can see why someone else might have a different opinion.

  240. Chris A.

    Personally, I go with Carl Sagan’s definition from “The Dragons of Eden” (I’m paraphrasing here):

    Life begins with activity in the neocortex. Period. It’s straightforward to measure (happens around the start of the second trimester), unambiguous, and science-based.

    That being said, I’d be slightly more willing to listen to religious arguments that human life begins at conception if someone could point me to where in the Bible it says as much. The closest thing to that I’ve heard has to be one of the most convoluted, flaming-hoop-jumping cases of tortured logic ever. Wouldn’t you think if it was that important, it’d be on one of Moses’s tablets in concise and unambiguous terms?

  241. Damien

    Scott H,

    “Can anyone here give me a reason, besides a religious one, that a fertilized egg is a human being?”

    Well you could check out this website,
    http://www.godlessprolifers.org/home.html

  242. AAzure

    # Todd W. Says: “What is it that makes a fertilized egg a person? Please provide citations to support your answer, if at all possible.”

    What is your definition of a ‘person’?

    Please provide citations for your reasoning and definitions of a ‘person”.

  243. AAzure

    Chris A. Says:
    November 5th, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Personally, I go with Carl Sagan’s definition from “The Dragons of Eden” (I’m paraphrasing here):

    Life begins with activity in the neocortex. Period. It’s straightforward to measure (happens around the start of the second trimester), unambiguous, and science-based.

    So before then, what was it? Not alive? Not life? Not human? A dog? A zombie? A non-living, but growing….(blob?)?

  244. AAzure

    # Seneca Says:
    My contribution was not a moralization, but an argument that human-ness is a set of social relationships that has changed as society has changed. There is nothing airy or abstract about that. It’s a down-to-earth observation, and I cited evidence for that change over time.
    —-

    You missed my point. It is the abuse of semantics that contributes to the emotion of the issue. Nothing changed regarding human-ness. It has been the same human for a few hundred thousands years – if not longer.

    What has changed is the concept and extent of human rights. We see the transition from chattel to slavery to liberty. By any measure, a thousand years ago, a slave wasn’t ‘human’. But that is not the case by definition. Of course they were humans – but humans without the same human rights as their owners. Once you lose the ‘human’ vs ‘not human’ semantic stupidity, the question suddenly becomes very clear – it is a question of human rights conflicts and nothing else.

    # Seneca Says:
    The point of my post was to support my contention that logically, there can be no biological determination for a social concept–hence, the question, “when does a human become a human?” is a non-sequiter for the question up for grabs in Colorado–and thankfully, smashed in practice yesterday. It was an application of pseudoscience, and it was denied.

    ——
    Non sequitur? Hmm… no. Their question is not an argument. The question itself exposes the entire muddle and confusion. By using the same term ‘human’ to equate ‘human – the science’ and ‘human – philosophy of rights’ makes everyone twist into a knot.

    Had the question been actually made “When does a human get human rights?” would have made the question and discussion far clear.

    As far as pseudoscience and politics. There is no matter of politics where science has any statement. Period.

    # Seneca Says:
    The question posed by the Colorado ballot issue, as I argued in a previous post, was actually the very concrete political question of whether an arbitrarily-specified biological development (with absolutely no logical connection) can be successfully used to gather sufficient support for a campaign to deny women’s reproductive freedom.

    It’s a political question, not a scientific one. And the big point is to get better at arguing our side of the question.

    —-

    It is merely a political/religious/philosophical question. When does a human have the right to kill another? This question is completely independent on whether it is a woman or man.

    A woman has reproductive freedom. She can refrain from sex. The consequences of making the choice to have sex does not give her a grant to kill.

    You have the mobility freedom. You can refrain from driving. The consequence of you making the choice of driving does not give you the right to kill. The excuse of accident has no weight of argument to allow you to kill another human. In fact, there is no excuse for you to kill while exercising your right of mobility.

  245. Jamie

    Great article and interesting comments.
    (btw WOOT! I have read every comment so far!)
    I don’t think I can say anything more that hasn’t already been said.

  246. Kenage

    Before trying to answer the question, when is a human, human? let me ask you, isn’t that a bit righteous?

    There is not such a line where you stop being a disposable organic product subject of other person’s will, and become a full acknowledged human being with constitutional rights and protection form the law, we need a step(or a series of steps) that represents something that should be treated with respect and care because is not just alive and has individuality but also the potential to become a human being and therefore should be recognized as that nothing more, nothing less.

    Sincerely

    Ken.

  247. Kidtony

    I would venture to say that a human is not a human until it has developed a sense of “self”. In my case that was at about two years of age. This is also the earliest age from which I have memories.

  248. Todd W.

    @AAzure

    You seem to be using “human” to mean an individual human being. I just wanted to use “person” to avoid confusion. For the purposes of my question, I will go with whatever definition you are using. Just specify it so that we’re on the same page.

    Thank you.

  249. Nigel Depledge

    Aazure claims:

    The definition of human is very clear.

    Not so. The definition of the human species is clear enough (which, in and of itself, is quite unusual – many species are not nearly so clearly delineated). However, the definition of a human being is not. Specifically because we can only place arbitrary limts on it. We have no way of measuring when “human-ness” begins and when it ends, and so we cannot know with the certainty that Aazure craves.

    I believe any confusion to ‘what is human’ is purposely muddled by those that have an evil agenda.

    Rubbish. You are trying to muddy the waters. People who are thoughtful, rational and honest with themsleves acknowledge that we cannot define it in anything other than an arbitrary way.

    They always use this muddling to justify mass killing – whether in death camps for ‘sub-humans’ or in clinics.

    Rubbish (again). Mass-killing is justified by people who profess certainty. For instance, in the 1930s, the Nazi party defined anyone non-Aryan as sub-human. I am sure we would all prefer to have a certain and definite answer, but we don’t. The doubt and uncertainty arise when people are honest with themselves.

    The end is the same – create doubt and confusion in the minds of the public to justify killing humans on a mind-blowing scale.

    Rubbish (again). It is the creation of cxertainty in the minds of the public that is used to justify killing.

    I have full confidence that over a billion tests, you will have no problem pointing out that ‘this one is human’ and ‘this thing is not human’. I have full confidence that you will get it 100% correct.

    Well, you’re wrong. Get over yourself.

    This is a red herring. We are not talking about virus or bacteria or rocks or green aliens from Mars or Alpha Centarui. We are talking about humans. We are not talking about genetic manipulation, test tubes, stem cells or the like. We are talking about aborting humans pre-birth.

    The definition of life is relevant, by means of an illustrative parallel.

    Since we cannot even define life (something that surely must be simpler than defining humanity), how can we expect to define humanity or personhood with any surety?

  250. Nigel Depledge

    Aazure pontificates:

    Religion is merely an expression of some sort of moral code. Whether one pontificates a formal name around it, or simply refuses to label it, it is still a religion. “Phil’s personal belief” is a religion – it may be no large a community then one person – but size does not make a religion either (size is merely a matter of popularity).

    This is utter garbage.

    Religion is the codified veneration of some superhuman agency. Go find it in a dictionary, lackwit, and you will see a more precise definition.

    Your definition of religion – that a religion is what someone believes – is constructed simply to be argumentative, so that you can assert that someone who denies any religion still has a religion. But you are wrong. Religion demands faith – belief despite an absence of evidence (or belief in the face of contradictory evidence). But there is a second type of belief – that based on experience and evidence.

    I believe the sun will rise tomorrow because I know something about how the Earth-sun system behaves – I have seen the evidence and understood its meaning. There is nothing religious about this belief.

  251. Nigel Depledge

    Aazure posits:

    So the question here to you (and Phil) is: ‘When can you justify killing another human and when can you justify interfering against the killing of another human?”

    This question is pointless. Obviously, I cannot ever justify killing a human being, and neither can I justify a failure of society to intervene against the killing of a human.

    BTW, if you live in the USA, you live in a country that still has the death penalty, so maybe you should check out the walls before you throw stones.

    Your pointless question devolves back to the definition of what is a human being (did you read the title of Phil’s post?). And we do not have any definite, unambiguous answer. Any definition we may apply is, by its very nature, arbitrary.

    You have claimed certainty in the definition, but you are wrong. Your opinion is no more valid than anyone else’s. And at least the ones who respond “We don’t know” are being honest with themselves.

  252. Nigel Depledge

    Aazure claims:

    Nigel: “Your “definition” is utterly arbitrary. It is not based on any actual reasoning, it is merely your opinion. And anyone else’s opinion is just as valid as yours.”

    Really? It is a fact. I hope that fact is a reason to you. But maybe not. If not, then you are irrational, and no rational argumentation between us is possible.

    It is not a fact.

    You have not even attempted to deomnstrate why you think it is a fact.

    You have not supported your assertion with any attempt to reason it through.

    You are the one being rational. You are using the “it stands to reason” argument as if that settles the matter. Your claim that the moment of fertilisation (which, as Phil points out, is not a moment, but takes time and requires several events to occur in order) is the point at which the embryo should be considered human is nothing more than your opinion. It is equally valid to say that each egg cell should be considered human, and that the embryo should be considered human from the moment of implantation, or from the start of brain acitivy, or from the time the first heartbeat can be detected, or once the lungs are developed enough that the foetus could breathe if prematurely born, or indeed even the moment of birth. All of these are equally valid opinions. None of them is any more right or wrong than the others.

    The point that you have missed is a very simple one.

    We. Don’t. Know.

    Any delinieation of when an embryo should acquire human rights is perforce arbitrary.

    And if you disagree, perhaps you could take the trouble to formulate an argument, rather than simply contradict me and reiterate your opinion. If you cannot do that, then you are incapable of rational debate.

  253. Don Snow

    TheWalruss Says:
    November 4th, 2008 at 7:39 am
    @Don Snow:
    I agree that the US Constitution is an excellent framework for lawmaking and governance.

    However, we all know it (like any document) is up to interpretation. Otherwise there’d be no point in having a Congress making bills and a Supreme Court making sure they are constitutional. And with the amount of noise made about appointing Supreme Court justices it’s obvious that there is lots of room for subjectivity (and thus partisanship) in the interpretation.

    But my point isn’t really about the Constitution – one document can only go so far and it’s only “enforced” insofar as the Supreme Court rulings. My question is about what we now use and what we should use, in light of the Constitution, to support legislation.

    I think I don’t understand your question. Because my first response would be, we already have existing government and private structures, to support legislation, and we should use those. They are imperfect and fallible, but I can’t see any really better methods.

    By private structures, I include:
    1. The detested good-old-boy networks of rich and powerful individuals;
    2. The ridiculed church systems;
    3. The accepted private charity and community help resources;
    4. The education system.
    5. And the totally overlooked ability of individual self-responsibility.

    For lack of the latter, we have a lot of the former.

    Or, are you and I on two totally different philosophical planes?

    Can you present other means, which don’t abridge nor infringe our present individual and community rights and liberties? That’s why I want to stick with what we have.

  254. Don Snow

    With some little dread of being ridiculed and mocked, I will state why I honestly go with the definition of personhood at moment of conception. I am cynical about education and government establishments having a say about personhood and life. I trust the church establishment has the proper place to rule on this.

    That’s it. Although I love to think for myself, there’s times I must defer to an authority, because the pros and cons have already been weighed out by that authority. I choose the church, not the state nor science, as my authority, in matters of life or death. I consider AMA and education as perfunctionaries of the state.

    Go ahead, have a ball. I’ll take the consequences of my freedom of choice.

    I surmise that different establishments have different definitions of personhood. Or, when is a human a human. I agree that any defition would be arbitrary, in this secular sense.

  255. petroushka

    Aazure says: “A woman has reproductive freedom. She can refrain from sex.”

    Now I recognize that what I am about to point out is not applicable in all cases, and does not speak generally to the question of abortion. But that statement is not always true: Violent rape. Date rape. Incest. Coerced sex, for any variety of reasons. Sex as a marital “duty” (which in some societies it is still considered to be, by both women and men, whether the woman wants to at any given moment or not). Moreover, a woman may not have freedom to choose birth control, and thereby avoid pregnancy without having recourse to abortion. This choice may be taken away from her by the man with whom she is having sex, who refuses to use a condom; or by a pharmacist who refuses to fill her prescription for the pill; or by a community that argues contraception is itself sinful.

    As someone else pointed out earlier in the thread, humans are given the right to kill all the time: war, self-defence, death penalty, etc.. We are even given the right to kill innocent children and babies, in war, as long as someone has decided that the military advantage outweighs the loss of civilian life. The United States is currently doing that in Afghanistan quite a bit, with its strategy of aerial bombardment. It may not be breaking any laws at all as it does so, because there might be general consensus that the military advantage is sufficient to justify these actions.

    Why does a general get to decide to kill men, women, children—born and unborn—in the interests of his military strategy, but women and men who choose abortion do not get to make that choice about one unborn child in the interests of their lives? It seems to me rather hypocritical, if one’s argument against abortion is a moralistic one.

    As for human rights, I will point to Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are _born_ free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” (emphasis mine”.

    Note that according to this, the principal vehicle by which human rights are articulated, rights are granted to humans once they are born.

    @Nigel— I suspect the reason for the predominantly male voices in the comments stream is that more men read this blog. But I pointed it out not because I thought it was sinister or anything, simply because it seemed to be a very philosophical discussion among men about something that affects them much less personally than it does women. And by this I don’t mean at all to imply that the death of a child doesn’t affect both parents equally, but simply that women, as the bearers of unborn children, have an immediate, direct and personal stake in this debate and the policies that arise from it, in a way that men simply do not. That makes women’s voices important in this kind of debate, whatever position they hold. (Though I understand of course that the readership of blogs is self-selecting, and therefore not necessarily representative.)

  256. Todd W.

    @Don Snow

    Totally respect your opinion and stance on the issue. I will not ridicule you for that, and I hope others will keep their comments civil. The only thing I will say is that, as far as secular matters such as law are concerned, religion should not be the basis and should not be forced upon others.

    Kudos for stating your views on a blog where you’ll likely get chaff.

  257. Nigel Depledge

    I said (in a response to Aazure):

    You are the one being rational…

    Heh. Must proofread before clicking “submit”. I meant, of course irrational.

    It’s not often I get accused of irrationality after making such a detailed and thoroughly-reasoned rebuttal.

  258. Nigel Depledge

    Don Snow said:

    I am cynical about education and government establishments having a say about personhood and life. I trust the church establishment has the proper place to rule on this.

    I don’t get this.

    If you are cynical about elected authorities or about authorities appointed through merit, why are you not also cynical about church authorities? Certainly, religious leaders have demonstrated no more integrity in the public arena than politicians (as in, for example, the “faith healer” whose audiences were required to fill in a questionnaire before the show, and whose wife prompted him with facts taken directly from those questionnaires over a radio link – I’m sorry, but I cannot recall this person’s name).

    For what reason do you consider the church to have the “proper role” in this matter? And which church? Roman Catholic? Society of Friends? Baptist? Islam? Hindu? The Church of the FSM? Etc.

    What about atheists and agnostics? Why should their lives be ruled by a church, even in this one aspect? After all, these people have examined the available churches and found their teachings wanting. Why are you now asking them to accept the authority of the church?

    Also, one of the keystones of the USA (freedom of religion) has a secondary consequence. Freedom of religion is also freedom from religion. Are you saying that this aspect of the Constitution should be overturned? If not, how can this be compatable with your stance on this issue? If so, why only on this issue and not others?

    I seek to understand, but as you can see, your post has prompted many questions in my mind.

  259. Nigel Depledge

    Aazure, again missing a point:

    As I already said to Phil, anyone can argue from a point of view of irrationality. That does not make the argument valid. You can certainly argue that 1+1=3 but why bother with such irrational arguments?

    Phil’s point, which has apparently passed right over your head, is that he can make a convincing rational argument that fire is alive.

    In case you are unable to join the dots, it would go something along these lines:

    Living things require oxygen. So, too, does fire.
    Living things require food or chemical fuel. So, too, does fire.
    Living things can move (not necessarily very fast, as in the case of plants). So, too, does fire.
    Living things respond to external events. So, too, does fire.
    Living things can reproduce. So, too, does fire.
    Living things expel waste. So, too, does fire (smoke and ash).

    Thus, if to qualify as “alive” something must require oxygen, require food, be able to move, respond to external events, reproduce and produce waste, then fire is alive. this is a perfectly rational argument. It is often used as an example to point out how difficult a thing it is to define what it means for something to be alive.

    Of course, as I have pointed out in a comment above, more recent attempts to define life include a boundary, so fire (which we now know is not alive)fails on this criterion.

    However, the broader point (which you also have utterly failed to get) is that if we cannot even define the difference between “alive” and “not alive”, how can we hope to define something that is more subtle and less obvious such as “a human being” versus “not a human being”. The reason that this is subtle and less obvious is it opens up the question of what it means to be a human being. It seems to me that most of the people who are trying to define the fertilised ovum as a human being have some agenda other than protecting the rights of human beings (e.g. a religious agenda).

  260. Nigel Depledge

    Aazure again:

    Since it was a unique human life upon the joining of egg and sperm,

    No. Quite demonstrably not unique. Identical twins arise from a single fertilised ovum. Yet they can become two very alike people.

    Also, quite demonstrably not always a human life. Since most fertilised ova quite naturally fail to implant, they fail to give rise to human life. You are, again, using the potentiation argument without acknowledging it.

    therefore any time after that point the cell mass would remain consistent with being human.

    You are conflating being genetically human with being a human being. It takes most of us many years to become a human being. You appear still to be trying – because you refuse to acknowledge the validity of any opinion but your own.

    And, before you accuse me of the same thing, note that I have already acknowledged that your opinion is just as valid on this topic as anyone else’s. What I pbject to in your posts is that you have failed to demonstrate why you believe your opinion is the right one, you have failed to recognise that you draw an unjustified conclusion (your conclusion being that full person status must be granted to the fertilised ovum, despite there being no rational reason to prefer this conclusion above any of several others), and you have failed to acknowledge the validity of any opinion but your own (or those of people with whom you agree, which does not amount to a concession, exactly, does it?).

    I am glad you’ve at least achieved this much of understanding

    Based on your posts here, I understand far more biology than you do.

    Here’s a radical thought – maybe I actually know what I’m talking about. Didja think of that?

    Or do you believe before it was born these cell mass is a dog?

    This is not an argument, it is just ignoring and trivialising my genuine and substantive objections to your claims. Of course it is genetically human, but so is every skin cell I shed when I scrub my skin in the shower. There is nothing special about the fertilised ovum, apart from its potential to develop into an entire human being.

    And this must be recognised – it is only potential; nothing is guaranteed.

  261. José

    @Nigel
    I’m sorry, but I cannot recall this person’s name

    That’s good old Peter Popoff. He’s also the dirt bag selling Miracle Manna in infomercials over here.

    And he bears some resemblance to Uri Geller, so you know he has to be evil.

  262. Voting rights for Soylent Green. Because… Soylent Green is people…

    ;-)

  263. Chris A.

    @AAzure

    > Chris A. Says:

    > > Personally, I go with Carl Sagan’s definition from “The Dragons of Eden” (I’m
    > > paraphrasing here):

    > > Life begins with activity in the neocortex. Period. It’s straightforward to measure
    > > (happens around the start of the second trimester), unambiguous, and science-based.

    > So before then, what was it? Not alive? Not life? Not human? A dog? A zombie? A
    > non-living, but growing….(blob?)?

    Sorry, my original post should have read:

    “Human life begins with activity in the neocortex.”

    Before that, it’s a mass of living cells, not unlike an organ. A fetus without neocortical activity is no more an individual human than my liver.

    IMO.

  264. DGKnipfer

    Have you ever watched a train wreck and been completely unable to turn away? That’s exactly how I feel right now.

    Not an argument for or against; simply commenting on an earlier post. Somebody brought up the “Good little Catholic girl being raped” argument. If she’s really a good little Catholic girl she’ll give the child up for adoption after birth or raise and love the child regardless of how that child came into existence because the church tells her that abortion is wrong. IMO; it would be a crappy life to have to endure going through the pregnancy, but if you really have faith that God has a plan then this must be part of it as well. I find that to be frightening, but true faith must follow all the tenants of the chosen religion no matter how painful they may be to live with. Probably one of the reasons I am not a believer in religion or God.

  265. harpe éolienne

    all the more reason not to impose religious faith on women even if they are believers.

    if i were to choose between a petri dish with a dozen of fertilised human eggs and a chimpanzee fully capable of feeling, i’d rescue the chimp without hesitation. evolutionally speaking, there is no rational basis for believing that there should be a clear boundary to differentiate homo sapiens and pan troglodytes.

  266. Don Snow

    Todd W. Says:
    November 6th, 2008 at 7:34 am
    @ Todd W.

    Your text:

    “@Don Snow

    Totally respect your opinion and stance on the issue. I will not ridicule you for that, and I hope others will keep their comments civil. The only thing I will say is that, as far as secular matters such as law are concerned, religion should not be the basis and should not be forced upon others.

    Kudos for stating your views on a blog where you’ll likely get chaff.”

    My reply –

    A lot of people share your position. I have an atheist friend, who has opened my eyes, that not everybody in my life shares my position, on this.
    Since you and I disagree, I would like for us to agree to disagree. I think neither one of us is going to change the other. smile.

    I appreciate the reasoning behind your position and thank you for the civility of your response.

  267. Don Snow

    I have copied your entire text, so as to keep your quotes in context.

    My replie shall follow your entire text.

    “Nigel Depledge Says:
    November 6th, 2008 at 8:23 am
    ‘Don Snow said:

    I am cynical about education and government establishments having a say about personhood and life. I trust the church establishment has the proper place to rule on this.’

    I don’t get this.

    If you are cynical about elected authorities or about authorities appointed through merit, why are you not also cynical about church authorities? Certainly, religious leaders have demonstrated no more integrity in the public arena than politicians (as in, for example, the “faith healer” whose audiences were required to fill in a questionnaire before the show, and whose wife prompted him with facts taken directly from those questionnaires over a radio link – I’m sorry, but I cannot recall this person’s name).

    For what reason do you consider the church to have the “proper role” in this matter? And which church? Roman Catholic? Society of Friends? Baptist? Islam? Hindu? The Church of the FSM? Etc.

    What about atheists and agnostics? Why should their lives be ruled by a church, even in this one aspect? After all, these people have examined the available churches and found their teachings wanting. Why are you now asking them to accept the authority of the church?

    Also, one of the keystones of the USA (freedom of religion) has a secondary consequence. Freedom of religion is also freedom from religion. Are you saying that this aspect of the Constitution should be overturned? If not, how can this be compatable with your stance on this issue? If so, why only on this issue and not others?

    I seek to understand, but as you can see, your post has prompted many questions in my mind.”

    I hope you’re not flat out anti-religioin. If so, I don’t know if I can bring you any understanding of my position.

    I’m not as cynical about church teaching as I am about policy and procedures of government and public education. Government authority can be permament or very difficult to change, once administered by law. And, although the church no longer shares that public authority, it does provide an umbrella of different reasoning, another view from which to apply logic; further more, the church’s responsibility is the life and death, temporal and afterlife of its congregants. I much prefer life and death to be in the hands of the church, than under government or other civil authorities, because the church no longer shares the same public power as the secular authorities.

    There are unreliable clergy, just like there’s offensive judges and politicians, who go out of bounds. Let me point out, I’m not including TV evangelicals; nor am I precluding evangelicals who live their faith, hope and love without fanfare. Since all the authorities seem to have some sullied people in their ranks, then it boils down to which authority because of what it teaches.

    That may not make sense, at first. It boils down, to with the church I have freedom of choice on how to live my life; but it is the law which forces one group’s opinion upon the rest of society, because the church now has little civil authority. That’s the best I can render my view on why the church.

    This next may include what I deem a ‘trigger’ word, so please read further to see what immeadiately follows the probable ‘trigger’ word.

    I consider the church to have the more appropriate role, just because of the faith, hope and charity upon which its teachings are based. The law neither reviews nor forwards faith, hope and charity. Now, some educators do teach any subject from that viewpoint, with a good integral approach to their students, at all levels of education. However, the establishment of education does not base its criteria on faith, hope and charity. Nevertheless, imho, the Judeo-Christian establishment shares a similar faith, a common hope and a like love (charity), between the congregants of synagouges and churches.

    That should answer your question of which religious establishment and why. Because no other religion, to my knowlege, teaches the same Messiah and commandments, nor has the same hope in the afterlife (I guess that could be another ‘trigger’ word, but please calm yourself and bear with my viewpoint), nor bears the same love for all creatures, in or out of the womb.

    Thank you, for wording your concern about atheists and agnostics, “Why am I asking them to accept the authority of the church?”
    Because they can say “no” to religion, but we cannot say “no” to the law. Again, freedom of choice remains with religion, but not with the law. Once a law has been passed, if an oppressive law, all are bound by that law, with no choice in the matter thereafter. But,with the church, each individual can determine and answer, “yes” or “no” and is not bound by law.

    To clarify, there are many things of faith and hope and love which are not codified in civil law, just because of separation of church and state. In passing, some of the Ten Commandments have found their way into criminal and civil law, and remain encased in law, because the Commandments were and are good law. And, in this paragraph, rests the heart of the pro-life and human at conception movements. Ancient religious law, modern law and post-modern law all agree: “Honor thy father and mother…”, “Thou shalt not kill”, “Thou shalt not steal”, “Thou shalt not lie about your neighbor” and “Thou shalt not envy any of the property of thy neighbor.” Even, “Remember the Sabbath…” has come across in a five or lesser day work week, and we still take off work on some Holidays (Holy Days). Let me back up to, “Thou shalt not kill.”, and to the faith, hope and love of neighbor, respectively.

    These two commandments, “Thou shalt not kill.” and “…love thy neighbor as thyself…” go together. Yet post-modern civil and criminal law cannot and do not legislate love. Here’s the heart of why the church and synagouges, instead of law. And, why I choose these two religions. Which church? Any church in all Christendom. Which synagouge? Any synagouge which teaches the Ten Commandments. The first Commandment has been refined to “Love the Lord thy God….”. So, the teaching of love, charity, is why.

    So, with that teaching in mind, I hope you can see we do not have to overturn the Constitution, which leaves the teaching of Divine love, parental love and neighborly love to religion; and gives us freedom of religion so that we may choose which religion. Again, it is now law and not religion, which deprives us of freedom of choice.

    What about the woman’s choice?
    Then, what about the sire’s choice to keep the flesh of his seed, once born from the woman’s womb? That seed and half that baby is the man’s as much as the woman’s. But, all of the baby is entrusted to the woman’s womb. Yes, the woman has the freedom of choice to break that trust, if she’s a woman and not a fifteen year old child. When a child, it’s the parents’ choice. Yet, there are those who would pass laws oppressing the man’s and parents’ freedom of choice, when appropriate. However, the church enjoins both the woman and the man, the pregnant girl and the parents to “Love thy neighbor…”. And if an infant in the womb isn’t the closest neighbor a girl or woman will ever have…?

    You don’t kill who you really love, or at least I don’t.

    I hope you have gleaned some understanding from my reply, on this complicated issue. I don’t expect you to agree, as you’ve probably made up your mind, and aren’t going to change it. But, I hope I have brought some undersanding to you, with my opinions and why I have them.

  268. Nigel Depledge

    Don, thank you for such a detailed and extensive response.

    I’m not sure I was following you all the way, but I think it has given me at least some insight into your choices.

    There’s quite a lot there, and I don’t have time today to address all of it, so I’ll try to respond to some of the highlights.

    If what you are saying is that each church should be free to decide for its own congregation what decisions should or should not be made in relation to this issue, I can live with that, provided everyone is free to leave if they don’t like it. This includes anyone who achieves their majority, irrespective of what their parents’ wishes may be.

    However, the proposition in Colorado was to apply to everyone – it was, if you like (and if successful), the preferences of one congregation being applied to the whole of society.

    In terms of freedom of choice, the law does not force one group’s preferences on everyone else – instead it applies a consensus view. The law represents that compromise with which most people are satisfied. And the law can be changed. If enough people decide that a law is inappropriate or does not work, it will be changed. Again, this process applies a consensus view, not the view of only one group. As I understand things, the USA has several laws that protect the rights of minorities from a potential “tyranny of the majority”.

    You mention the Commandments, so if you want to bring the Bible into the picture, perhaps you’d like to address why your definition of the beginning of a human life (the moment of conception) is different from the definition set out in Leviticus (three months after birth, as mentioned by another commenter above – possibly way, way above, since this has turned into a huge thread)?

    I also do not understand how and why your definition is any less arbitrary than any other. There is nothing special about the fertilised ovum, the unfertilised ovum, the blastocyst or whatever stage of development, apart from the potential to form a new person. And the potentiation argument is pointless, because it does not have a recognisable start or finish point.

  269. Mark

    It’s been a while since I read James Trefil’s book “Are We Unique?”, but it contained some relevant information on the question of when human brain activity starts. IIRC, there are no neurons until after a month, so at an absolute minimum it seems rather safe to say that meaningful human brain activity could not possibly begin before this. Furthermore, there are no synapses connecting the neurons together into a network until the beginning of the third trimester (month 7).

    BTW, I enjoyed that book and would recommend it. There were many nit-picky things I disagreed with in the first half of the book comparing human intelligence with animal intelligence, but I still agreed overall. I very much disagreed with much of the second half of the book comparing human intelligence with future artificial intelligence, but the book was still very interesting throughout.

  270. TehCrim

    I’d just like to point out that I agree with defining conception as life, and also that I’m an atheist. It’s due to the fusion of genetic material and the “Official” pregnancy beginning. At that point, you’re making a new life. At that point, if you don’t want a child, take it to term (unless it will be harmful to the mother, obviously) and give it up for adoption. If you don’t want to give a child up for adoption because you think they’ll have such a horrible life in group homes (which I’m not arguing are sometimes horrible), and would rather just not create the life at all, don’t have sex.

    We need a definition, and if you can’t figure one out, one’s been figured out for you. If you’ve got a better idea, suggest it, but not supporting one that’s been done because it doesn’t support abortion isn’t about the life at all. You’re politicizing it.

  271. TehCrim

    Adding on: Why are we not shifting attention to the horrible group homes rather than spending so much time worrying about abortion, anyway? Why is it so vital that women are allowed to do it, when adoption could be a perfectly viable alternative, and one that does not hinder actual life.

  272. Don Snow

    @ [B]Nigel Depledge[/B]

    First, thanks again for keeping this to a conversational tone, rather than a shouting match. I try to do the same.

    Yeah, I did bring the Bible into it, having forgotten the earlier post pointing out the three month Levitical decision, from the OT. I had meant to look that up. But, I haven’t. Well, go with the disparity.

    Remember, I wrote that although I love to think for myself, at times I defer to an authority acceptable to me. (I would defer to a physicist if the topic were string theory. Since the topic is life or death, I defer to the church. BTW, when I write church, I mean the consensus view of all Christendom, which encompasses any church preaching the teachings of Jesus Christ and the clergy and congregation [or most of each] doing those teachings). Now, the church to which I defer and in which I participate is the HRC. I accept the Catholic definition that life begins the moment of conception. It’s an individual life. I have not the education to argue personhood, on deep theological or deep philosophical levels.

    However, aside from the church, let me offer an old, old allegory. When I take a tomato seed, and plant it, I don’t expect watermelons, a rose bush nor the proverbial mustard tree. I expect a tomato plant.
    Likewise, when a man plants his seed in a woman, it enters her egg, and they produce the very first joined tissue: those two cells have the DNA of each parent, joined into an individual. The living individual mentioned above, which appears the moment of conception. That DNA encompasses much of the phsyiological and emotional characteristics of the person that will grow in the womb, endure live birth, and mature. I would say, that makes a valid arguement, that the basic personhood of the person is present at conception.

    I will in advance agree, that I arbitraially expect a human, not a pony nor dog, to ensue from the seed planted by the man into the woman. Just like I would like to arbitraially limit the discussion to natural rather than clinical procreation.

    Anyway, that’s how I think and how I choose. I do not exclude medical, legal, philosophical nor other peoples’ opinions on this. I merely submit the framework, within which I work and live. I do not try to impose this framework on anyone, except myself. Other individuals have their own belief systems. From all this variety, we gain our American way of life.

  273. Nigel Depledge

    Doon Snow said:

    However, aside from the church, let me offer an old, old allegory. When I take a tomato seed, and plant it, I don’t expect watermelons, a rose bush nor the proverbial mustard tree. I expect a tomato plant.

    And what do you do on those frequent occasions when you get nothing? Do you accuse the soil of tomatricide (or whatever the correct term might be)?

    Besides, there are many differences between a seed and the fertilised human ovum (aside from the genetic ones, of course) – a seed comprises many thousands or millions of cells (depending on the type of seed). The germination of a seed is very roughly equivalent to the birth of a mammal. It is certainly not equivalent to conception (of which the closest equivalent occurs when pollen fertilises a flower). So, your analogy actually argues for birth, not conception, as the moment “personhood” should be conferred.

  274. Nigel Depledge

    Don Snow said:

    Since the topic is life or death, I defer to the church.

    Why? If you defer to a physicist on the topic of string theory, why not defer to a biologist when the topic is life?

    After all, biology is the study of life. Biologists spend their careers studying life. Why would you choose to defer instead to a group of people who have devoted their lives to the study of one book (however good that book may be)?

    BTW, when I write church, I mean the consensus view of all Christendom, which encompasses any church preaching the teachings of Jesus Christ and the clergy and congregation [or most of each] doing those teachings).

    Erm … pardon me for paying insufficient attention, but what consensus?

    And why only Christendom? Why should not muslims, Jews, hindus, sikhs, buddhists and so on not also have some say?

    Now, the church to which I defer and in which I participate is the HRC. I accept the Catholic definition that life begins the moment of conception. It’s an individual life.

    I can accept that you choose to accept the Catholic church’s opinion on the matter, but you must see that it is no more than an opinion. Since there is no knowledge backing up that selection, it is no more valid than any other opinion. And if you follow the letter of the Bible, humans are considered less valuable until three months after birth, if the preceding comment was correct.

  275. Nigel Depledge

    Don Snow said:

    Likewise, when a man plants his seed in a woman, it enters her egg, and they produce the very first joined tissue: those two cells have the DNA of each parent, joined into an individual.

    Erm, no. Not always. Identical twins arise when this “individual” splits in two.

    So, when does the independent status of an identical twin arise? At the moment of conception? Or at the moment the fertilised ovum divides into two individuals? But if the latter, then why should twins be given special status? Why not define the moment the individual arises as the moment the fertilised ovum divides into two cells (whether to form twins or to form one individual).

    My point here is that there is nothing special or unique about the “moment” of conception. And, as Phil pointed out in the blog entry, it takes time, and comprises several distinct stages.

    The living individual mentioned above, which appears the moment of conception.

    So, what do you think should happen when a fertilised ovum fails to implant (which is a common occurrence – for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s half the time)? According to your definition, a human being has just died. Should the coroner be called in? Should a murder investigation be instigated?

    Well, no, of course not. But why do you then distinguish that “human being” from one that has been carried to term? Why is that person not to be treated with the same respect as one that has reached the point of birth?

    I ask these questions to illustrate that any distinction we make is arbitrary.

    That DNA encompasses much of the phsyiological and emotional characteristics of the person that will grow in the womb, endure live birth, and mature.

    Well, I agree with you about the physiology, but I cannot agree with you about the emotional characteristics. It is very hard to determine if any particular emotional characteristic of an individual is the result of genetics or upbringing. If I understand correctly, many approaches to psychiatry adopt the approach that emotional characteristics arise mainly through upbringing and experience. Otherwise, why are toddlers so emotionally immature?

    I would say, that makes a valid arguement, that the basic personhood of the person is present at conception.

    I disagree, as I hope I have demonstrated. And I also hope that I have demonstrated that the argument you propose has flaws that cannot be ignored or worked around.

  276. José

    @TehCrim
    We need a definition, and if you can’t figure one out, one’s been figured out for you.

    And many other people have come up with many other definitions of when human life begins, so where does that leave us? I personally don’t think there is a right answer, but there are definitely wrong answers. To me, the moment of conception falls into the wrong answer category.

  277. When I told someone about this proposition, the first thing they thought about was not that it was an attempt to ban abortion in a roundabout way, but rather than it would ban certain forms of stem cell research. Two birds with one stone, I guess.

  278. Don Snow

    @ Nigel Depledge

    Nigel Depledge Says:
    November 8th, 2008 at 2:43 pm
    Don Snow said:

    DS: Likewise, when a man plants his seed in a woman, it enters her egg, and they produce the very first joined tissue: those two cells have the DNA of each parent, joined into an individual.

    ND: Erm, no. Not always. Identical twins arise when this “individual” splits in two.

    So, when does the independent status of an identical twin arise? At the moment of conception? Or at the moment the fertilised ovum divides into two individuals? But if the latter, then why should twins be given special status? Why not define the moment the individual arises as the moment the fertilised ovum divides into two cells (whether to form twins or to form one individual).

    DS: I have an identical twin brother, believe it or not.
    I agree with your definition, the moment the fertilized cell divides into two cells, for identical twins.
    I stand by the church definition, that one cell does not have to divide into two cells, before it’s an individual.

    ND: My point here is that there is nothing special or unique about the “moment” of conception. And, as Phil pointed out in the blog entry, it takes time, and comprises several distinct stages.

    DS: We disagree and I missed Phil’s earlier analysis. Ya’ll can divide hairs on exactly when you opine that conception occurs. It won’t change my belief system.

    The living individual mentioned above, which appears the moment of conception.

    ND: So, what do you think should happen when a fertilised ovum fails to implant (which is a common occurrence – for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s half the time)? According to your definition, a human being has just died. Should the coroner be called in? Should a murder investigation be instigated?

    Well, no, of course not. But why do you then distinguish that “human being” from one that has been carried to term? Why is that person not to be treated with the same respect as one that has reached the point of birth?

    I ask these questions to illustrate that any distinction we make is arbitrary.

    DS: Well, when the fertilized ovum fails to implant or when there’s a miscarriage, yes, an individual has died. I stick by my arbitrary definition.

    I don’t really distinguish the above, from an infant carried to term; nor from an adult, nor an elder in need of care. Each of these are a living individual. Back to momement of conception.

    I’m not aware that I made any distinction.

    That DNA encompasses much of the phsyiological and emotional characteristics of the person that will grow in the womb, endure live birth, and mature.

    ND:
    Well, I agree with you about the physiology, but I cannot agree with you about the emotional characteristics. It is very hard to determine if any particular emotional characteristic of an individual is the result of genetics or upbringing. If I understand correctly, many approaches to psychiatry adopt the approach that emotional characteristics arise mainly through upbringing and experience. Otherwise, why are toddlers so emotionally immature?

    DS: I anticipated such a rejoinder. Although I agree that many personality traits are acquired after birth, on the other hand, I think at least three emotional responses have become autonomic: Sad, happy and escaping pain. I submit, that when you think about it, a baby is born with these emotions. It sure cries, when the doctor slaps its bottom and coos when fed. If you poke it, it will try to evade. Doesn’t have to be taught those, they’re part of a package deal, I think.

    I would say, that makes a valid arguement, that the basic personhood of the person is present at conception.

    ND: I disagree, as I hope I have demonstrated. And I also hope that I have demonstrated that the argument you propose has flaws that cannot be ignored or worked around.

    DS: Well, I disagree that your demonstration subdued my arguement.
    Mr. Depledge, why don’t we choose at this point, to agree to disagree?

    If you like, you may reply to what I’ve written, so you can have the last word. But, I think we’ve chewed this bone of personhood at conception fairly thouroughly, by now.
    I understand we’re you’re coming from, and I’m not going there. At least, I have an understanding of your position. I hope you’ve gained an understanding of my position, from my effort.

  279. Don Snow

    I wish I’d seen that you divided your replies into thirds, the first time. I apologize that I did not. I have pasted the other two thids below.

    Nigel Depledge Says:
    November 8th, 2008 at 2:21 pm
    Doon Snow said:

    However, aside from the church, let me offer an old, old allegory. When I take a tomato seed, and plant it, I don’t expect watermelons, a rose bush nor the proverbial mustard tree. I expect a tomato plant.

    ND: And what do you do on those frequent occasions when you get nothing? Do you accuse the soil of tomatricide (or whatever the correct term might be)?

    Besides, there are many differences between a seed and the fertilised human ovum (aside from the genetic ones, of course) – a seed comprises many thousands or millions of cells (depending on the type of seed). The germination of a seed is very roughly equivalent to the birth of a mammal. It is certainly not equivalent to conception (of which the closest equivalent occurs when pollen fertilises a flower). So, your analogy actually argues for birth, not conception, as the moment “personhood” should be conferred.

    When no plant grows, try again on different ground.
    I couldn’t find the rest of my analogy in your reply, where I said, Likewise when a man plants his seed in a woman, he expects a human, not a pony nor a dog.
    Nigel Depledge Says:
    November 8th, 2008 at 2:29 pm
    Don Snow said:

    Since the topic is life or death, I defer to the church.

    ND: Why? If you defer to a physicist on the topic of string theory, why not defer to a biologist when the topic is life?

    After all, biology is the study of life. Biologists spend their careers studying life. Why would you choose to defer instead to a group of people who have devoted their lives to the study of one book (however good that book may be)?

    DS: The biologist studies the effect; the church includes the Cause of that effect as well as the Holy Bible. The book’s about 3,500yo and the Cause is eternal: to spell out the belief system of the authority to which I defer, and which I share.

    BTW, when I write church, I mean the consensus view of all Christendom, which encompasses any church preaching the teachings of Jesus Christ and the clergy and congregation [or most of each] doing those teachings).

    ND: Erm … pardon me for paying insufficient attention, but what consensus?

    And why only Christendom? Why should not muslims, Jews, hindus, sikhs, buddhists and so on not also have some say?

    DS: I’m sure they do.

    Now, the church to which I defer and in which I participate is the HRC. I accept the Catholic definition that life begins the moment of conception. It’s an individual life.

    ND: I can accept that you choose to accept the Catholic church’s opinion on the matter, but you must see that it is no more than an opinion. Since there is no knowledge backing up that selection, it is no more valid than any other opinion. And if you follow the letter of the Bible, humans are considered less valuable until three months after birth, if the preceding comment was correct.

    DS: Cutting to the chase, whether science, church, philosophy, history, math or the media, all we have, remains an educated opinion about the interpretation of any fact.
    I gets my choice of with which interpretation and opinion, to agree.

    And, you gets your choice.

    I’d like to agree to disagree, and let you have the last say.
    I appreciate the time and interest you have given to my position; and most of all, I appreciate your courtesy.

  280. Nigel Depledge

    Don, thanks for your responses.

    I do, with all due respect, largely disagree with your position.

    I also feel that you have not made a strong enough argument to support your position. For instance, I do not understand why you consider the moment of conception to be so special – the argument you present for this does not convince me. Neither do I understand whether or not you feel a coroner should be called in to fill out a death certificate for a “human being” that has failed to implant in the womb lining. There are, after all, practical issues to be considered here as well as a philosophical point.

    Still on the practical side, while I respect your right to follow the church of your choice, I do not see how any one church’s position on this issue could ever be codified into law without violating the Constitution. And it seems to me that your assumption of a consensus among Chrtistian churches is unjustified (IIUC, the Anglican church is happy to leave the decision to the medical profession).

    There is one point you made with which I agree entirely:

    Don Snow said:

    I stick by my arbitrary definition.

    My point all along has been that any definition of when an embryo should be considered human is arbitrary. The choice cannot be informed by our knowledge, because no-one can identify a distinct, unambiguous and evidentially-supported moment of transition from “a cell or cluster of cells with human DNA” to “a human being”.

    In the knowledge that any distinction is arbitrary, we must take a pragmatic approach. What definition is the fairest compromise to both mother and child? What definition is easiest to apply in the real world? And so on.

  281. Patrick K. Harris, P.E.

    This says it all:

    USCCB News Release

    08-129
    September 9, 2008
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Bishops Respond To Senator Biden’s Statements Regarding Church Teaching On Abortion

    WASHINGTON—Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman, U.S. Bishops Committee on Doctrine, issued the following statement:

    Recently we had a duty to clarify the Catholic Church’s constant teaching against abortion, to correct misrepresentations of that teaching by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on “Meet the Press” (see http://www.usccb.org/prolife/whatsnew.shtml). On September 7, again on “Meet the Press,” Senator Joseph Biden made some statements about that teaching that also deserve a response.

    Senator Biden did not claim that Catholic teaching allows or has ever allowed abortion. He said rightly that human life begins “at the moment of conception,” and that Catholics and others who recognize this should not be required by others to pay for abortions with their taxes.

    However, the Senator’s claim that the beginning of human life is a “personal and private” matter of religious faith, one which cannot be “imposed” on others, does not reflect the truth of the matter. The Church recognizes that the obligation to protect unborn human life rests on the answer to two questions, neither of which is private or specifically religious.

    The first is a biological question: When does a new human life begin? When is there a new living organism of the human species, distinct from mother and father and ready to develop and mature if given a nurturing environment? While ancient thinkers had little verifiable knowledge to help them answer this question, today embryology textbooks confirm that a new human life begins at conception (see http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/fact298.shtml). The Catholic Church does not teach this as a matter of faith; it acknowledges it as a matter of objective fact.

    The second is a moral question, with legal and political consequences: Which living members of the human species should be seen as having fundamental human rights, such as a right not to be killed? The Catholic Church’s answer is: Everybody. No human being should be treated as lacking human rights, and we have no business dividing humanity into those who are valuable enough to warrant protection and those who are not. This is not solely a Catholic teaching, but a principle of natural law accessible to all people of good will. The framers of the Declaration of Independence pointed to the same basic truth by speaking of inalienable rights, bestowed on all members of the human race not by any human power, but by their Creator. Those who hold a narrower and more exclusionary view have the burden of explaining why we should divide humanity into those who have moral value and those who do not and why their particular choice of where to draw that line can be sustained in a pluralistic society. Such views pose a serious threat to the dignity and rights of other poor and vulnerable members of the human family who need and deserve our respect and protection.

    While in past centuries biological knowledge was often inaccurate, modern science leaves no excuse for anyone to deny the humanity of the unborn child. Protection of innocent human life is not an imposition of personal religious conviction but a demand of justice.

    For media inquiries, e-mail us at commdept@usccb.org
    Department of Communications | 3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington DC 20017-1194 | (202) 541-3000 © USCCB. All rights reserved.

  282. Tritius

    I have thought for sometime what might be a good way to get the federal & state governments to keep their nose out of the “when life begins” question. If they want to say that life begins at fertilization, then every embryo gets a social security number and becomes yet another dependent deduction on taxes. That first tax year the law is in effect would be quite the drain on the coffers, not to mention all the pregnancies that (regrettably) never come to term. Somebody would definitely think twice.

  283. bipolar2

    ** the real issue is social control **

    • persons may or may not be human beings

    ‘Person’ won’t be found in a medical dictionary. Persons don’t have DNA. A person is a cultural entity (an abstract concept) defined by tradition and by law.

    A human being becomes a person when a culture bestows “membership” on someone formerly outside the group. Considering newborns in traditional cultures, not all who are born get chosen to be persons.

    Infanticide or abandonment of infants often features in fairy tale and myth — Sophocles’ play, Oedipus Rex, does not lose its hold on us 2,500 years since its premier. But, for reasons well documented by Marvin Harris in “Cannibals and Kings” females run a greater risk of becoming non-persons.

    And, of course, myth and religion bid us believe in non-human, even disembodied, persons: ghosts, goblins, godlings, gods, and God.

    • embryo-as-person is a piece of paternalist ideology

    The real issue is about control — male domination of women, including dismissing their rights over their own bodies. By trying to extend the concept of a person backward to cover fertilized human eggs and zygotes, male legislators hope to return control to the paternalistic “norm” promoted by so-called great monotheisms — judaism, xianity, and islam.

    bipolar2 ©2008

  284. Nigel Depledge

    Patrick K Harris, quoting Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Lori, said:

    The first is a biological question: When does a new human life begin? When is there a new living organism of the human species, distinct from mother and father and ready to develop and mature if given a nurturing environment? While ancient thinkers had little verifiable knowledge to help them answer this question, today embryology textbooks confirm that a new human life begins at conception (see http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/fact298.shtml). The Catholic Church does not teach this as a matter of faith; it acknowledges it as a matter of objective fact.

    In what sense do you mean “this says it all”, Patrick? Do you mean “these Catholics are crazy”, or do you mean “Quod Erat Demonstrandum“?

    Either way, this quoted paragraph is pure fiction.

    First of all, the bishops frame the question in such a way that they have an answer:

    When is there a new living organism of the human species, distinct from mother and father and ready to develop and mature if given a nurturing environment?

    This is such a leading question, but even so it does not lead to a biologically unambiguous answer. The answer could be the time of conception, but it could equally well be the time of implanation in the womb lining, or the point at which the foetus’s lungs are sufficiently developed that the foetus could survive a premature birth. It all depends on how one defines the “nurturing environment”.

    This statement:

    today embryology textbooks confirm that a new human life begins at conception

    is entirely dependent on how one defines a “human” life. If you mean a genetically unique entity with a human genome, then you can indeed say that conception is the moment this begins. But how many of us would actually recognise a fertilised ovum as a complete and independent human being? I don’t think anyone would (unless they have a hidden or alternative agenda in addition to answering this question).

    To back up their argument, the bishops link to a page on their own website, which is a pretty feeble way of backing up such a bold statement. If they had linked to two dozen articles in developmental biology journals, then I mioght have paid a bit more attention. But they cannot, because there is no scientific evidecne that clearly and unambiguously indicates anything special or distinctive about the fertilised ovum.

    A bit more biology here, BTW: Not only can the fertilised ovum divide to form identical twins (in the which case these two individuals only become unique some time after conception), but the ovum can be fertilised by two spermatozoa and give rise to one person who does not possess a unique genetic make-up (DNA tests using samples from different parts of their bodies can turn up clearly different results). These chimaeric individuals are one of the reasons that biological ID systems are unreliable. But this also means that you do not always get a genetically unique individual at all.

  285. a step back

    As a turn to the argument, if you admit that you cannot say when it is or it isn’t human, are we not risking murder by killing a fetus regardless of it’s age? Once we draw the line, I’ll allow you to say that the anti-abortion argument is religious, but it is true that there is more than one argument for removing abortion outside of rape and incest, and you said it yourself! We don’t know when it’s human and therefore when it would be murder.

    Take a step back and see that due to this ambiguity, (in cases outside of rape/incest… very small percentage of abortions) we must lay the burden on the people having sex at will. They are admitting by your account that they cannot say that the possible conception is or isn’t human, and they admit that if the condom broke, they’d zap the fetus. could be murder I’m afraid.

    So, before you even decide to reproduce (even for fun) you must consider the problem of when it is a human. If you can’t say and you feel that you’d abort it, you are admitting that you may be murdering what could be human.

    Stop dealing with the problem of abortion. In cases of rape and incest, the answers are usually easy. It is problematic when we don’t think of these issues before and while having optional sex. There is always a chance to fertilize a woman when sex is involved and we all ought to be more responsible.

  286. @a step back

    Just to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Let’s take an even further step back. If you say that one cannot know exactly when it is a human, and that one risks murdering a human because of that, then there is also the risk of murdering a human every time a man ejaculates (either through direct stimulation or through dreams) or a woman has her period. Because we can’t say with certainty when something is human, then individual spermatozoa and ova are no less deserving of the moniker.

    Why, then, place the burden on people having sex at will? Perhaps that is only because you place the development of “human” at some point after the union of the sperm and egg, which is just as arbitrary as what Nigel has pointed out.

    I understand your message that people should be more responsible in how and when they have sex, but I also detect some moralistic undertones suggesting that sex should only be done for procreation, so as to avoid the “problem” of abortion. Sex has multiple roles: procreation, certainly, but also pleasure, enhancing the bond between two people, reassurance, the release of stress or anxiety. But all that is beside the point and off topic for Phil’s post.

    The decision of where to draw the line between “human” and “not human” should not be based out of fear that it may be murder, lest we have people incapacitated by guilt every time they have a racy dream or get to “that time of the month”, let alone loving couples wracked with remorse every time they engage in loving acts that reinforce their relationship.

    Don’t get me wrong. It is an important discussion to have, and we should work toward a reasonable consensus, a compromise, that can be accepted by, if not all, at least a great majority of the people who will be affected most by the decision. But any such decision should have some rational basis, rather than making emotional pleas.

  287. @ Todd W.

    Check out Genesis 38:1-10 (click on my name).

  288. Jacquie Meade

    Although I am not at all religious, this extract from an article in the Daily Mail (http://tinyurl.com/59paec), dated 6th March 2008, made me think deeply about “when does life begin?”; it is about a former nurse’s experience in helping a doctor carry out an abortion:

    “The baby breathed. It was lying in a bedpan – it was a little boy and I saw him breathe. I said to the doctor: ‘I am going to get the crash team (emergency resuscitation medics).’

    “And he got hold of my wrist, pulled me into a cubicle and said: ‘We are not on the labour ward. What are you doing?’

    “He said that the only way I would be able to prove that the baby was alive was to drop him into a bucket of water and see if he floated! I ran out in tears.

    “Later, the ward sister jabbed her finger at me and said: ‘You should seriously think about whether you should be a nurse.’

    “What got me was the total lack of regard for human life. I have no issue with abortion at the right time. But this is murder.”

    […]

    Recently, she watched an abortion at 19 weeks in a North London hospital.

    “A baby aborted at 19 weeks is given a lethal injection into the heart. It is the most scary and unbelievably horrible thing to experience. This is Death Row.

    “The needle goes into the heart and then the baby is left for 48 hours. The foetal monitor is checked until the heart stops.”

  289. Kevin

    Would it help to not believe in religion…?

    Then maybe life is, indeed, nothing…

    I say, “There’s life when there is a heart.”

  290. calico

    Beware, women! Because the common birth control you rely on (the pill, Plan B) may help prevent pregnancy by not allowing the zygote to implant in the uterine wall. And if a fertilized egg is a “person”, the can easily restrict access to The Pill based on the potential to hurt “people”.

    And if a fertilized egg is a “person” and a woman miscarries (as up to 50% of fertilized eggs are believed to result in), can she be charged with manslaughter? Why or why not?

    Regarding the nurse with the dramatic recount of seeing an abortion: as someone in nursing school the first thing we’re taught is to not judge to try to control others. That “nurse” had no business be working on a ward where her personal feelings clearly cloud her judgment and harm her effectiveness. At best she is insubordinate, but she borders on dangerous.

    Regarding the right-to-lifer comments: what I’d like to know is who is going to take all these unwanted babies? Where are the clinic protesters? Cause they sure are NEVER at my state’s foster care or adoption offices (!!!)

    Re: Kevin’s comment: “There’s life when there is a heart.”
    By your definition someone who is brain dead must be forced to stay on a ventilator, even if that goes against wishes. By this definition, an elderly patients Do Not Resuscitate order would never be honored. Having a pulse is not sufficient to prove “personhood” and we as consenting adults risk losing our right to choosing our own care (or refusing care).

  291. dartigen

    Calico is right. Are we going to prosecute a woman every time she has a period? And some women need The Pill for very serious medical conditions that can cause infertility, pain, or even death.
    “And if a fertilized egg is a “person” and a woman miscarries (as up to 50% of fertilized eggs are believed to result in), can she be charged with manslaughter? Why or why not? ”
    Exactly. Lawyers are going to be tearing their hair out over this. I’m sure half of it would end up being dismissed – because, let’s be serious, who can be bothered? It’s a waste of time – lawyers and judges are needed for far more serious cases, and the courts are clogged up enough as is.
    Besides, zygotes and blastocysts die off for no medically apparent reason all the time. It’s not murder, it’s not manslaughter – it’s just something that happens for no reason that we have yet discovered. And let’s not start on the number of things that can kill off a developing fetus which are nobody’s fault.

    As far as I am concerned, a human is not a seperate person from their mother until they are born. Until then, the baby is a part of the mother’s body*, and therefore they are the same legal entity, until such a time as the umbilical cord is severed thereby seperating them into two legal entities.

    However:
    “When is there a new living organism of the human species, distinct from mother and father and ready to develop and mature if given a nurturing environment?”
    This, to me, means ‘when fetus could actually survive outside of the womb without serious medical intervention’. IIRC, a baby born at 7-8 months can generally survive on its own; at 6 months, it will be a close scrape and they will have a number of serious problems but they can survive with serious medical intervention. Any further back than 6 months, it’s highly unlikely that they will survive at all, and it is likely that if they do survive birth, they will not live for very long. So, by that definition, a person is a person at 6 months pregnancy. But I don’t think it’ll hold up, to be honest, and I’d really rather keep the definition of a person as beginning at birth – keeps things from getting ridiculous.

    (With that being said, there is something for giving certain rights to a fetus – exemption from malpractice waivers (well, they didn’t sign it, did they?) would possibly be one.
    Anecdote warning: My brother was born at 8 months, and yet there was no medical reason for my mother to have had labour induced – she was perfectly healthy, and so was he. He was in a humidity-controlled crib for 5 weeks, and had to be given steroids to survive. He now has severe asthma and heart problems, and is missing one of the the cruciate ligaments in his knees, resulting in two partial and one full knee reconstruction before 40 – he will have a second full reconstruction in a few weeks, after damaging his (partially-reconstructed) knee *running after a bus*. I don’t joke when I say that is how easy it is for him to do catastrophic damage to the joints – not to mention the trouble my mother had teaching him to walk.
    Apparently, he was covered by the malpractive waiver, so as a consequence he cannot sue the midwife for damage. I have heard similar stories from other women whose children were suffering because of stupid and unfounded decisions on a midwife’s or doctor’s part, who were angry that neither they nor their child could do anything about it. I’m sure that if doctors knew that the kid could later sue the daylights out of them, this sort of thing would never happen again – it doesn’t happen often, granted, but it shouldn’t be happening *at all* IMO.)

    *: pedants: I know this is not medically true. Please don’t bite my head off.

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