Sanctity of Human Life Day

By Sean Carroll | January 22, 2006 6:22 pm

Today is the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It is also Blog for Choice Day. It has also, by way of a sharp stick in the eye to those who believe women should be the ones to choose to have abortions or not, been declared National Sanctity of Human Life Day by President Bush. This is from the President’s proclamation.

National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2006
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

Our Nation was founded on the belief that every human being has rights, dignity, and value. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, we underscore our commitment to building a culture of life where all individuals are welcomed in life and protected in law.

America is making great strides in our efforts to protect human life. One of my first actions as President was to sign an order banning the use of taxpayer money on programs that promote abortion overseas. Over the past 5 years, I also have been proud to sign into law the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and a ban on partial-birth abortion. In addition, my Administration continues to fund abstinence and adoption programs and numerous faith-based and community initiatives that support these efforts.

When we seek to advance science and improve our lives, we must always preserve human dignity and remember that human life is a gift from our Creator. We must not sanction the creation of life only to destroy it. America must pursue the tremendous possibilities of medicine and research and at the same time remain an ethical and compassionate society.

It’s funny, but try as I might, I can’t “remember” that my life is a gift from a mythical Creator. And I wish the President would stop trying to enshrine his personal beliefs as national policy.

But the Culture of Life does crack me up. In this week’s New York Review, Garry Wills reviews the latest book by Jimmy Carter, on the hijacking of moral values by conservatives.

Yet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives, tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the “pro-life” movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination, these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance. Carter writes:

Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany…. It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.

The “culture of life” idea traces its origin to the Catholic doctrine that life is a seamless garment, to be respected from conception to grave — but its American incarnation has dropped some of the inconvenient bits, like opposition to the death penalty. As Governor of Texas, Bush presided over a record spree of executions, while ridiculing death row inmates’ pleas for clemency. Wills continues:

Capital punishment is also a pro-death program. It does not protect life. It aligns us with authoritarian regimes: “Ninety percent of all known executions are carried out in just four countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia—and the United States” (emphasis added). Execution does not deter, as many studies have proved. In states that abolished it, Carter writes, capital crimes did not increase:

The homicide rate is at least five times greater in the United States than in any European country, none of which authorizes the death penalty. The Southern states carry out over 80 percent of the executions but have a higher murder rate than any other region. Texas has by far the most executions, but its homicide rate is twice that of Wisconsin, the first state to abolish the death penalty. It is not a matter of geography or ethnicity, as is indicated by similar and adjacent states: the number of capital crimes is higher, respectively, in South Dakota, Connecticut, and Virginia (all with the death sentence) than in the adjacent states of North Dakota, Massachusetts, and West Virginia (without the death penalty).

How can a loving religion or a just state support such a culture of death? Only a self-righteous and punitive fundamentalism, not an ethos of the gospels, can explain this.

On its anniversary, Roe v. Wade is threatened as never before. Perhaps it will have to be eviscerated beyond recognition before the American public will make an effort to preserve abortion rights.

  • Quibbler

    Ditto Sean.


  • spyder

    “On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, we underscore our commitment to building a culture of life where all individuals are welcomed in life and protected in law.”

    I must question just whom is considered to be included in “all individuals.” Certainly not those whose lives have been snuffed out as collateral damage in US strikes around the world. Obviously those imprisoned in a gulag of rendition and illegally classified, under the edict of “unitary executive authority” (UEA), as persons who have no rights under any laws. When one actually begins to countdown how few would be included as “all individuals” one begins to more fully understand the impact of this sentence. Building an all-white, male-dominated theocracy of the wealthy who are served by human beings that are not part of the culture of life that defines life as that which is deemed appropriate by the UEA.

  • Emily

    One of the things that annoy me the most about the “pro-life” movement is the sheer volume of hypocrites in it. Not just the ones that say that all life is sacred but then go ahead and support the death penalty, but the ones that say that all abortions are murder — but then when they get pregnant, then oh no, their situation is different.

    Very eye-opening and sad link that I saw the other day in Pandagon:

  • Uncle Al

    Human life is one of the least valuable obserables on planet Earth – and one of the most miserable. Our goals should be to have less of it of higher quality. India is nobody’s idea of Eden, nor is China or Africa. US Inner Cities (slums) to Brazilian favelas (slums), the working solution is always a child wanted by parents, not children wanted by gods’ bill collectors.

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    #3 Emily: Let’s consider the inverse. Is it ok to kill the unborn, but not ok to kill the predator?

    Do we, for instance, compromise our status as human beings by executing serial killers? A serial killer declares by way of his actions that life is meaningless. For our part, we can’t regard a serial killer as “human” simply because he physically resembles a human; to do so trivializes the human being. So what, exactly, do we give up when we terminate these strange and evil creatures?

    Is it that there’s an outside chance that we’re killing an innocent person? If so, why is it ok to terminate a fetus which also might be an innocent person?

  • bittergradstudent

    you first have to establish that the fetus is a person. I find it very hard to justify the claim that a blastocyst is a person. this also neglects the fact that this fetus is not incubated in a vacuum, but must grow inside a person, at significant expense and difficulty to that person, and is then born only through a very painful experience that has a nonzero chance of killing that person (even if it’s small, it’s still nonzero) or harming their longterm health.

    But then again, this argument wouldn’t be so enraging if the same people trying to ban abortion weren’t also simultaneously, though much less openly, trying to make birth control less easily accessible and more expensive.

  • Fyodor Uckoff

    Spyder said:
    I must question just whom is considered to be included in “all individuals.” Certainly not those whose lives have been snuffed out as collateral damage in US strikes around the world.


    Obviously those imprisoned in a gulag of rendition and illegally classified, under the edict of “unitary executive authority” (UEA), as persons who have no rights under any laws.

    That’s correct.

    When one actually begins to countdown how few would be included as “all individuals” one begins to more fully understand the impact of this sentence. Building an all-white, male-dominated theocracy of the wealthy who are served by human beings that are not part of the culture of life that defines life as that which is deemed appropriate by the UEA.

    Correct. So what’s your point?

    After enjoying a good laugh at the pompous Spyder’s expense, we should all reflect that the only consistent and sensible position is to support *both* abortion rights *and* capital punishment, as I do. The hypocrisy of *both* left *and* right on these two issues is hilarious. Of course it’s idiotic to claim that a zygote is a human — that’s as stupid as pretending that the contents of death row are human! Give me a break, hypocrites on both sides! Trying to forbid abortion is like shedding tears over the long-overdue demise of good old Tookie……

    “The mere fact that a piece of shit resembles a human being should not prevent us from hitting the flush button.” — me

  • Count Iblis


    A fetus isn’t a person as bittergradstudent explained, and the probability that an innocent person is executed isn’t that small. In the US, once convicted, the original evidence on which you were convicted only plays a minior role in the appeals process. In most other western countries Jerome Campbell’s conviction would have been overturned on appeal. The people in prison now would be the prosecutor’s/police who were responsible for misleading the jury.

    You can argue that this is not a typical case, but that’s not really the point. The important point is that the US justice system has loopholes that allow police and prosecutors to get away with what would be criminal conduct in most other western countries. Even if this is publically known, the innocent person in jail still can’t get out of prison if he can’t rigorously prove his innocence (in this case that’s impossible because all the forensic evidence was destroyed by the investigator).

    Campbell is alive today only because the governor of Ohio isn’t as pro-life as the Governor of California

  • Aaron

    High crime/STD/poverty/death penalty rates in america due to… anti-abortion/”pro-life”? Hardly. These social ills are a result of extremism. Why don’t we just go back to blaming the media?
    Sean, I think you’ve brought up a good point in calling it “abortion rights.” To a true “pro-life” or “pro-choice” person, this matter is neither a civil-right nor religious: it’s a perception rooted in belief, and this belief will continue to shape that person’s decisions whether law or not.

  • fh

    IMO there is little doubt that in the first weeks of pregnancy the few cells belong to the body of the woman, and that an abortion the day before birth is little different from a killing the day after.
    The line between the two extremes can be hard to draw, basically because it doesn’t exist and is arbitrary, but that’s no excuse for avoiding this debate and coming up with a workable answer.

    “High crime/STD/poverty/death penalty rates in america due to… anti-abortion/”pro-life”? Hardly.”

    I think the point was that it’s due to the policies also advocated by the pro life politics in the US. Many of these policies also tie in with the anti fact based, anti science position of these politicians.
    Chief among them is of course abstinency only, which just doesn’t work.

    Brazil turned down US money for fighting AIDS because the conditions under which it was offered were considered more harmfull then the good that could have been done with the money.,12462,1475966,00.html

    “Much of the spending is being channelled to programmes that advocate abstinence, rather than condom use, and cannot be used for abortions or to treat prostitutes.

    But Aids activists in Brazil said the clause would hamper the treatment of infected sex workers and their clients. “

  • Dumb Biologist

    I think “personhood” is always going to be a pointless subject of debate if the opponent is convinced of the existence of an immortal soul. There is, so far as I can tell, simply no way to reconcile the notion of biological autonomy being the “cutoff”, and the creation of human life at conception. At best one could try to indoctrinate the notion that autonomy imbues the fetus with spirit, but it’s no less arbitrary metaphysics than the “pro-life” crowd insist upon, and it would be thoroughly disingenuous for agnostics and athiests to promote such a belief.

    I must confess a rather hopless outlook on the subject, at least at a national level. Fighting the fundies is like whack-a-mole taken to the level of a sisyphusian nightmare. The best I expect (as Alito’s confirmation is virtually assured) is a crazy-quilt patchwork of States and their myriad individual standards smacking up against the Commerce Clause, and precipitation some kind of national crisis.

    Maybe that’s what it’ll take. A bit of separation from JesusLand? Depressingly, I’m moving from resigned to cautiously welcoming.

  • Emily

    To clarify my comment for anyone who may have misunderstood — my point was not about death penalty or the personhood of a fetus (or lack thereof). My point was to point out (through the link I provided, see #3 above) that there is some hypocrisy in the “pro-life” movement, when some women who are supposedly anti-abortion suddenly find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. They get an abortion and then act as if nothing happened, continuing their lives with an anti-choice position, and thinking that their situation was somehow “special” and that every other woman who seeks an abortion is immoral in some way. That was my point.

  • beajerry

    The Australian natives used planking (jumping up and down on a board placed over the pregnant woman’s abdomen until she miscarries) to abort in order to keep their population within the limits of the available resources that sustained them.

    Dangerous, yet smart.

  • David

    What I find interesting is this remark by the president:

    “Our Nation was founded on the belief that every human being has rights, dignity, and value.”

    Somehow this didn’t apply to slaves at the time for which the country was founded. Of course, don’t forget how this applied to females at the time as well. I just love these stupid, hypocritical remarks that come about where history is completely ignored.

  • indrax

    I don’t believe in souls, but I think that biological autonomy is just as arbitrary a cutoff to begin with.
    We will probably require a turing test at least before we even consider granting personhood to a machine, but we set the bar for humans much lower. This is because we believe it is possible to be a person without being able to pass the turing test. We also regonize personhood in people who cannot live without medical assistance.
    This only make sense if personhood is something that only depends on internal mental states or activity. This pretty much rules out blastocysts, but after the formation of the brain, I have no idea where to draw the line.

  • Dumb Biologist

    Biological autonomy is a completely arbitrary cutoff, as are all moral and ethical standards, even when evaluated on evidential grounds, when they’re decided upon by consensus. The esteem we place in consensus itself is a value judgement.

    I guess the point is that it’s impossible to argue with someone that, say, it’s rather paradoxical to worry about injuring an individual that literally lacks the capacity to perceive pain, when their standard for injury is lethal harm to an organism posessing a “human soul”. If you are not convinced of the latter, and they are, the pros and cons of the former are totally irrelevent. There simply are no grounds for debate, beyond diametric opposition. Given the degree to which virulent strains of religion can literally hijack national politics when the electorate is closely divided on secular issues, I tend to wonder how best to seek freedom from its influence. Most often I draw a blank.

  • Quibbler

    Dumb Biologist and Indrax are right. It *is* useless to argue over the existence of the soul and or an arbitrary biological cutoff. If you believe that life begins at the moment of conception, no amount of being told “no, life begins at birth” (or whenever) is going to change your mind.

    The important point in all this is quality of life. There are women who quite simply are not capable of carrying a foetus to term, giving birth, and looking after a child. There could be several reasons for this — the age of the woman/girl, financial instability, not having a partner and not being able to raise a kid alone, medical complications, or emotional complications (rape, etc). Ultimately, regardless of when you think a zygote/foetus becomes a person, the decision to back abortion rights comes from the knowledge that sometimes the hypothetical wellbeing (or lack thereof) of a woman and “child” come first.

    FH, Aaron, and BitterGrad:

    I don’t think anyone who does support abortion rights really believes that abortion is preferable to or an alternative to contraception. That’s a construct of pro-life propaganda. The fact remains that there is a correlation between
    the access to accurate sexual health/pregnancy/sex-ed information and contraceptives, and a reduction in unwanted pregnancies. If you want to reduce the number of women having abortions and the levels of STDs, the obvious way is to provide free barrier contraceptives to the public, and accurate and complete information on sexual health and pregnancy, and easy access to emergency contraception.


  • Kevin, MarkS’ meanie brother

    The State should have no say either case. The fallibility of justice systems should preclude the death penalty. Pre-viability, the State can make no claims on the fetus and legislators tend to make poor medical decisions for YOU.

  • bittergradstudent

    The point is, the burden of the fetus’s personhood should be on the person claiming that the fetus is a person, as they are the one trying to take another person’s rights away. You have to stretch even biblical sources in order to establish this claim

  • Dumb Biologist

    And when has the onus on the extraordinary claimant ever hindered their bald assertions? And when have our elected defenders of freedom ever hesitated to pander to any but the reality-based community?

    What you just said makes so much sense it’s downright frightening it simply doesn’t get through.

  • indrax

    I do think there is an important debate to be had here. I think that the subject of personhood is within the domain of science. Brain states and activity are measuarble. If we can derive a meaningful definition of personhood based on measurable qualities, then we can establish a point at which legal personhood should be granted.
    It would be most convenient if science showed measurable neurologic traits related to mental processes that seem integral to personhood, shared by both adults and newborns but not brine shrimp or maybe even cows or gorillas.
    We may not find such an easy line.
    Regardless, I think any neurological definition of personhood that includes newborns must also delve some distance back into gestation.
    Killing one person for the benefit of another is a very sticky moral issue.

  • indrax

    My philosophy of burden of proof, which works especially well in this case:

    The burden of proof is ALWAYS on the person who cares the most.

    They are saving lives, you are protecting choice, how important is it to you? If it really matters, you should demonstrate the [non]personhood of the fetus.

    they are the one trying to take another person’s rights away.

    This presupposes that the mother is ‘a person’, which is just as unproven or arbitrary as the fetus being a person.
    It could also be argued that the burden is on the mothers/doctors, as they are the ones trying to kill ‘something’.

    I’m not sure if either personhood or nonpersonhood constitute an extraordinary claim. (or both)

  • Quibbler

    It is impossible to prove that a foetus is a person just as it is impossible to prove that a foetus is not a person. Personhood is a fuzzy concept. Individuals can assign boundaries that concur with their beliefs, but there is no non-arbitrary cutoff. It’s that simple.

    Furthermore the argument shouldnt *be* about personhood. It’s about whether that judgement can be a private judgement made on the level of the individual.


  • Johan Richter

    “The republican regard for life begins a conception and ends at birth”.

    The funniest summary of the republican position on the value of life I have seen. And yes I realize that it is not completly fair.

  • Matt McIrvin

    Maybe that’s what it’ll take. A bit of separation from JesusLand? Depressingly, I’m moving from resigned to cautiously welcoming.

    I grew up in a “JesusLand” state, in a liberal family inside a conservative enclave inside a liberal enclave inside a conservative state, and I think that’s why I’m never going to welcome the US splitting into alien red state/blue state societies. I do think it’s sensible to have variations in state law according to local culture; but we have limits on the tyranny of the majority, and the whole rejectionist attitude I see sometimes in coastal liberal areas, “let the yahoos have their patriarchal theocracy in their own stupid states”, just doesn’t wash because a lot of people in those states weren’t consulted and can’t afford to get out. Also, the rest of us eventually end up paying for the social fallout.

    We won’t have to wait for Roe to be overturned for the crazy quilt of abortion restrictions to come into being; through a combination of legislative chipping at the edges, the public vilification of doctors, and capitulation to terrorists, it’s already here—try actually getting an abortion in the Dakotas. There’s not a lot I can do about it, but I’m never going to like it.

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    #8, CI re. #6, BGS: BGS refers to the blastocyst – a primitive organization of a few cells – rather than the fetus – the embryo in its final stages of development. For those of us not guided by the universal certainties of religion, the personhood of an embryo is a moot question that must be addressed by any (non-religious)person concerned with the morality of his/her position on the abortion issue.

    Let’s assume that a baby is a person and a blastula is not. Few of us would argue that it’s moral to kill babies. But, given that there’s no difference in the degree of sophistication between the newborn organism and the organism about to be born, asssigning personhood at birth is obviously arbitrary. My next point is obvious – at what point in the regression from birth does abortion become murder? We can’t know. Ergo, there is a real, albeit indeterminable, possibility that many abortions are murders.

    My point in #5 is that the usual liberal coupling (pro-abortion, anti-death penalty) is no less inconsistent than the standard conservative position (anti-abortion, pro-death penalty) given that in both cases the sanctity of human life is cited, and that in both cases we accept the possibility that innocent human beings are being put to death due to the exercise of policy.

  • Dumb Biologist

    …”let the yahoos have their patriarchal theocracy in their own stupid states”, just doesn’t wash because a lot of people in those states weren’t consulted and can’t afford to get out…

    I’d enthusiastically get behind legislation to support funding for the relocation of refugees from persecutorial regions.

    Yeah, not very realistic, I know…

  • Ken Muldrew

    This story got a bit of play a week or two ago, but not as much as I expected. From the New York Times article:

    “Tirhas Habtegiris, a 27-year-old legal immigrant being kept alive by a ventilator as she lay dying of cancer last month in the Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Tex. Physicians offered no prospect for her recovery. She was hoping, however, to hang on until her East African mother could reach her bedside.

    Ms. Habtegiris had little money and no health insurance. On Dec. 1, hospital authorities notified her brother that unless another hospital could be found to treat his sister, Baylor would be forced to discontinue care after 10 days…. Baylor disconnected her ventilator on Dec. 12, invoking a law signed in 1999 by George W. Bush, then governor of Texas…. Unlike the comatose Terri Schiavo, Ms. Habtegiris was fully conscious and responsive when she was disconnected, according to her brother. She wanted to continue breathing. Her brother and several other family members have described the agonizing spectacle of her death by suffocation over the next 16 minutes. ”

    This law would seem to allow people to withold the necessities of life from those in their care if it represents an economic burden to them. So could a parent claim that they were unable to afford to feed their child and thereby let the child starve to death? Would anyone really prefer infanticide to abortion? Surely anyone who could write a law allowing the willful killing of a conscious human due to economic arguments would embrace the right of a woman to choose an abortion based on economic arguments (even if they rejected other reasons). The “sancitity of human life” seems utterly absent from this Texas law. In fact, the most primitive elements of humanity seem utterly absent from this law.

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    #28 KM: A law that justifies pulling the plug on a fully conscious human being on economic grounds endorses economics as a foundation for morality. Unfortunately, moral philosophy has been overwhelmed by recent developments in science and history; more and more we are unable to convincingly respond to the “It saves/makes money, so why not?” argument – even when it’s used to justify egregious cruelty.

    An economically-based value system is difficult to argue against because it’s quantifiable and therefore readily explicable. “The bottom line” becomes an independent alternative to “Because the Bible says so” for many of those lacking the courage or mental resources to deal with ambiguity.

    What many politicians do is inconsistently related to any given value system. Politics is a magnet for sociopaths; we shouldn’t be surprised at many politicians’ ability to effortlessly leap back and forth between value systems, given that, to the sociopath, morality is merely something to be exploited.

    To be fair, some politicians are decent human beings who are tormented by having to frequently compromise their beliefs to accommodate practical concerns.

  • indrax

    Well said, sisyphus.

    Then it is equally impossible to prove that I am a person, should my personhood be a private judgement made on the level of other individuals? Here there be Dragons.

    I think the concept only appears fuzzy because it is unknown.

  • Quibbler


    not quite. Take the following example — it is possible to tell when someone is definitely bald, and it is possible to tell when someone is not bald. But now many hairs does it take for someone to be definitely not bald?

    Clearly, you and i are people. Anti abortion people say that personhood begins either at fertilisation or at the implantation of the zygote in the uterine lining (there’s some disagreement — people who are anti-emergency-contraception think the former).

    Other people think that personhood beings when a foetus starts to look like a person, or starts showing brain activity, or starts being able to breathe, or is first able to survive outside the mother’s body. But it’s i’mpossible to say *exactly* when personhood starts. The only thing we can say is that someone is definitely a person once he/she is born.


  • indrax

    Baldness is fuzzy (oh irony!) but ‘being able to breathe’ is greatly less fuzzy. I think that ‘being a person’ is more like ‘being able to breahte’ than ‘being bald’ in terms of it’s fuzzyness. The range of states where someone can ‘almost breathe’ is small compared to ‘breathing’ and ‘not breathing’, likewise the period of ‘almost a person’ is brief, if it exists at all.

    The only thing we can say is that someone is definitely a person once he/she is born.

    But that saying is meaningless.
    Regardless of the potential fuzzyness, it is useless to talk about personhood without having some meaningful way to descripe the scale. The concept of ‘baldness’ is only useful because we know it is a function of the number of hairs a person has. Until that is defined we are open to claims of God-given- spectral-headfuzz on some who apear bald and lack of that headfuzz on say, animals that appear hairy.

    If it’s fuzzy we need a reason why certain organisms score .001 person and others .999. What produces that score? Otherwise saying that a newborn is a person is just as meaningless as saying that a zygote has a soul.

  • Quibbler

    yep, but the fact that there is a lack of definiteness means that it’s a losing strategy as far as formulating a pro-abortion argument goes. Anti-abortionists will simply disagree with pro-abotionists about where to draw the personhood line, and neither side is going to convince the other.


  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    #’s 31,33 Quibbler &: Premature babies reach viability at 6-7 months. Is one fetus at 6 months a person because it’s expelled prematurely from its mother’s womb while another fetus, destined to be carried to full term, at 6 months is still 3 months from personhood?

    Perhaps there’s no definite cut-off point, but the grey zone can be pushed back at least to 6 months.

  • indrax

    But there doesn’t have to be a lack of definiteness to the question, the only problem is that science has not seriously tried to find such an answer. Whether or not it’s a ‘winning strategy’ is irrelevant. Learning about the origins of life isn’t about proving the creationists wrong, and learning about personhood is a matter of gaining scientific knowledge.

    If we abandon the question of personhood, we are philosophically open to pure uninhibited amorality.

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    #’s 30, 32, 35 Indrax: Looks like there’s ‘what’ personhood question and a ‘when’ personhood question. If science had a definition of personhood to work with, it could determine when personhood begins. But where will this definition come from?

    You indicate in your close to #35 your awareness of the significance of addressing the question of personhood; we’re in agreement 100% here. Addressing the question of personhood maintains the concept of personhood – in however nebulous a state. But once personhood is defined the concept can be appropriated by those who may not have humanity’s better interests at heart.

    But as you indicate, in the absence of a notion of personhood morality is meaningless.

    IMO the question of personhood should ever be posed, but never quite answered.

  • Godfrey Daniel

    As I read through these comments I thought to myself, is there anything sadder or more foolish than the pure, sterile, and soulless intellect.

    This, was a standout:

    “Human life is one of the least valuable obserables on planet Earth – and one of the most miserable. Our goals should be to have less of it of higher quality”

    Yeah. A real tragedy eugenics never caught on.

  • Count Iblis

    Sysiphus, actually we must also question whether babies are persons. It’s certainly not politically correct to do so, though. I think that somewhere between one and two years after birth does the child become sufficiently developed to be considered a person. Our earliest memories are usually from that period. With some effort we can imagine being a two year old, but not being a baby.

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    #38 CI: Hey – politically correct, schmolitically correct! To the truth-seeker, no thought is off-limits; all concepts are worthy of consideration. As long as we refuse to think the unthinkable, unthinkables will continue to blindside our evolution.

    True, a newborn isn’t a ‘person’ in the sense that you use the word. Perhaps ‘human being’ might be a better term; ‘individual’ might be worse. But, as a term that indicates a basic social status that includes a bundle of fundamental rights, ‘personhood’ seems to work pretty well, though I have no definite idea at what stage ‘personhood’ should be granted.

    #37 GD: Some shocking things can be posted, even on a nice blog like CV – but that’s good. A statement that apalls us may apall us all the more because we know that it’s rational. We just have to dig deeper for an effective reply.

  • Jayme

    You people make me sick! I’m about 9-1/2 weeks pregnant and i believe my BABY to be completely HUMAN. It doesnt matter what it looks like or if and how it responds to pain, just like when its born it will be completely DEFENSLESS and still need my protection and care!

  • Count Iblis


    No one here has advocated killing a baby or a foetus against the will of the mother.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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