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Some thought experiments on “potential life”

An ex-theist emailed to say that, although he has made a lot of changes to his thinking regarding gay rights and race issues since abandoning his theism, the abortion issue still bothers him.

The human egg and sperm are not in and of themselves able to “live” and reproduce/multiply on their own. Once they are joined, something happens that causes them to “become alive” and the cells will them multiply on their own without any external influence other than feeding off the body of the mother.

The glob of cells will in the vast majority of cases eventually become a human and the progression of its growth can not be physically stopped by the mother or father without the prescribed use of a poison pill, or physical instrument where a doctor must physically cut it or smash it until the growth stops.

I’m no legal scholar, but I can not see how this action can not be defined as anything other than “killing” an immature human.

Rather than just send him off to another site, I gave a little more thought to the implications of requiring the care of a fetus on the basis of it being a potential future life as soon as the sperm and egg join. For starters, you can’t go wrong reading Carl Sagan’s essay on abortion from Billions and Billions:

 

Despite many claims to the contrary, life does not begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain that stretches back nearly to the origin of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago. Nor does human life begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain dating back to the origin of our species, hundreds of thousands of years ago. Every human sperm and egg is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, alive. They are not human beings, of course. However, it could be argued that neither is a fertilized egg.

In some animals, an egg develops into a healthy adult without benefit of a sperm cell. But not, so far as we know, among humans. A sperm and an unfertilized egg jointly comprise the full genetic blueprint for a human being. Under certain circumstances, after fertilization, they can develop into a baby. But most fertilized eggs are spontaneously miscarried. Development into a baby is by no means guaranteed. Neither a sperm and egg separately, nor a fertilized egg, is more than a potential baby or a potential adult. So if a sperm and egg are as human as the fertilized egg produced by their union, and if it is murder to destroy a fertilized egg–despite the fact that it’s only potentially a baby–why isn’t it murder to destroy a sperm or an egg?

For context, here’s support for Sagan’s claim of the frequency of spontaneous abortion from the University of Ottowa:
“The incidence of spontaneous abortion is estimated to be 50% of all pregnancies, based on the assumption that many pregnancies abort spontaneously with no clinical recognition.”

So if a fertilized egg is more likely than not to not grow into an adult human being, why draw arbitrary lines in the sand saying that it becomes murder in that particular moment?

For the sake of argument, I’d like you to imagine that time travel is possible in order to consider the following eight thought experiments.

  1. You go back in time and deliberately prevent somebody’s parents from meeting. To be concrete, we’ll call him “Biff”. History has now changed and Biff is never born. Have you killed Biff? (If you’re like me, the answer is “Maybe. I’ll have to think about it a bit.”)
  2. Suppose that, instead of preventing Biff’s parents from meeting, you go back to the night of his conception and strike up a conversation with them. The three of you have a delightful time until late at night, and they never get around to having sex. Again, Biff is never conceived. Again, have you murdered him?
  3. Now suppose that Biff’s parents were already actively planning to have a kid, and so they go at at the next night. A child is conceived but — due to the statistical issues involved — a different sperm implants in the egg, and the genes express themselves in very different ways. Returning to the present, you find that Biff doesn’t exist at all. In his place, his not at all similar brother Griff was born. Is Biff now dead?
  4. In order to fix the timestream, you travel back and prevent yourself from meeting Griff’s parents, thus restoring the original history. Biff is born and Griff is not. Have you now killed Griff?
  5. You and your partner discuss having a child of your own, and almost decide to do it, but in the end you decide that the cons just barely outweigh the pros. Had the argument gone a little bit differently, you might have had a kid. Have you killed your future child?
  6. You (or your wife) are pregnant, but there are complications — possibly not fatal, but definitely not something you would like to deal with. You agree to abort the baby and try again. The original fetus is never born, and the new baby is healthy, happy, and grows to adulthood. If you had chosen to bear the original fetus, you wouldn’t have wanted any more children. By deciding not to have the abortion, would you have been killing the healthy baby?
  7. Some religious groups teach that child bearing is a responsibility and a duty. Protection of any kind is never allowed during sex, and therefore they have fifteen kids. Compare them to a couple who bear two children by choice and then use protection for the rest of their lives. Have they killed the other thirteen children that they might have had? Do thirteen murders simultaneously occur as soon as the man gets a vasectomy? What if they decided to have no kids, is the murder count now bumped up to fifteen?
  8. Similarly, is an abstinent couple committing murder by giving their future children no opportunity to come to life?

Comments

  1. says

    This is a great post, I hate it when "pro-life" advocates set the terms as black and white. Reality is so much more complicated than that and I think the Carl Sagan essay is a very important read for people who still want to draw a line or struggling with not wanting to see the gray areas.

  2. says

    Not only are a large proportion of zygotes spontaneously aborted, but even early stage foetuses can die and be broken down by enzymes and reabsorbed by the mother. Although, it is more common for humans to have a miscarriage.

  3. says

    the question of when abortion is immoral is intimately tied to when the life is conscious/sentient. whether or not it can develop these qualities in the future is irrelevant as shown by this thought experiment.

  4. says

    Terrific points by Kazim.I love the hypocrisy of the pro-lifers who claim to be standing up for the right to life while at the same time are very eager to take away the rights to 'life' of the pregnant woman who will be the one to deliver it and whose life will be forever changed because of it.I say born life outweighs unborn life. So it's the pregnant woman's decision whether she wants to keep it or not. No religious group or organization should have the right to impose their worldview upon others and force them to live their life the way they want to.

  5. says

    I love the hypocrisy of the pro-lifers who claim to be standing up for the right to life while at the same time are very eager to take away the rights to 'life' of the pregnant woman who will be the one to deliver it and whose life will be forever changed because of it.Not to mention that they're the same people who oppose universal healthcare and all other such social programs. So they think it's the government's business to force every potential person to be born — but once they become an actual person, tough shit suckers, you're on your own!

  6. Ben says

    I would try to avoid falling into the trap of defining what is moral or immoral in absolutist terms. The religious believe in subjective morality, but we all know that's not how it goes. What we call "moral actions" are really the social norms of a particular culture at a particular time. But even then it's divided into what individuals themselves believe.So when you say: "the question of when abortion is immoral is intimately tied to when the life is conscious/sentient", what you really mean to (and should) do, is preface that with "I believe…"That doesn't mean we can't try to convince others of our version of what's acceptable and unacceptable (I prefer to use this instead of the absolutist right/wrong), but it's hypocritical to claim that it's anything other than our own opinion on the matter. Though if you have facts on your side, all the better.

  7. says

    The conservative christian's have already solved the problem of abortion. If a young woman upholds high standards, find her ideal mate, falls in love, gets married and has a kid then it will be wanted in the world. In their mind this proves that God's word is real and works so there is no need for abortion to be an issue.

  8. says

    A dog has some degree of personality, intelligence, and sociability. A fertilized egg or embryo does not. To me, it seems counterintuitive to value the latter more than the former.

  9. says

    The answer to the rhetorical questions is no. Conflating a missed breeding opportunity to abortion is just plain silly. Next time just delete abortion emails instead of considering time travel. This is useful for fundamentalists wishing to portray atheists as abortion mongers. Leave the pro abortion arguments to doctors or at least grown ups.

  10. says

    If I may indulge in some self-reference, I posted my main objection about abortion debates on my blog: http://ladyatheist.blogspot.com/2011/02/big.htmlThat was a response to questions about the rights of a newborn, but similarly I think the fantasy of the perfect healthy smiling (white) baby in the minds of fundies clouds their judgment.Religion is based on feeling, not fact or rationality, so despite their attempts to convince themselves otherwise, there's no rationality to the hard-line fundy position. The root of their objection is "awww baybeees I wuv baybeees"

  11. says

    The point still remains terminating a pregnancy is still death of a life. There is no cute argument around it. The only real question is weather or not it should be allowed and that I truly believe it is up to the two parents and the heavy weight is on the woman. She should have the final say. This decision should be a very serious, well thought out and planned decision.

  12. Kestra says

    I'm always more than a bit irked that discussions of pregnancy always revolve around the "rights" and attributes of the fetus/blastocyst. When does it become "alive"? Does it feel pain? etc.Very few people (at least, on teh intranets) seem to appreciate the fact that pregnancy is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. It changes a woman's body hormonally, it can lead to health complications that last for life. Not for the term of the pregnancy: forever. Or conditions that need to be corrected by expensive and risky surgery. And that's leaving aside the incredible costs of pregnancy and birth, which can approach $10,000 even with insurance. I've yet to see a convincing argument that those risks should be undertaken by a woman who doesn't want to accept them. BODILY AUTONOMY: a basic human right.And the "if you don't want the risks, don't have sex" argument doesn't wash with me. Sex is something nearly all adult humans crave to the point of obsession. Abstinence leads to obscene twisting of human lust, the results you can see for yourself in just about any conservative church you care to name. If women can control our fertility before an unintended conception (or even an intended one that later proves unwanted, for WHATEVER REASON), why not afterwards? Making sound decisions about whether or not one is ready to be a parent should be considered responsible, not reprehensible.Furthermore, abortion is a *necessary* medical procedure in plenty of cases. Ever heard of "mermaid syndrome"? Tay-sachs? Pre-Eclampsia? Premature rupture of membranes? Just to name a few. Who is anyone, except the woman and her doctor, to say that these conditions don't require abortion as treatment? Is it my uterus, or isn't it? I decide what goes in, and what comes out.

  13. says

    I do not think it could be considered murder since it's not illegal.I agree with Maximus-Primus in that it is still death of a life.

  14. says

    Anna, pardon me for nitpicking, but it's semantics like that which allows theists to say: 'Oh, Yahwe didn't murder anyone in the Bible. Murder is by definition illegal, and everything Yahwe does is legal, therefore he did not commit any murders. He killed. Therefore it does not contradict the sixth commandment: Thou shalt not murder!"Of course it's still a death of a life. But you never see these pro-lifers protesting wars because their country's soldiers kill people. Oh no, when it threatens them it's okay to kill people. So when a baby threatens a woman's way of life is she not justified in terminating her pregnancy to save her life? I'd hate to equate fetusses to enemies, but still.

  15. says

    I can't help but substitute all the fertilized eggs in the mail with cancer cells. Only when a random mutation occurs they turn into cells that can divide themselves irrespective of outward stimuli. Do they become "alive" at that point? Irrespective of what the future holds for those cancer cells, they aren't any different from cells of a fertilized egg at that point in time.The issue is the potential for life fertilized cells hold and I think Kazim made some good thought experiments for that (although I would've chosen Marty instead of Biff ;)).If something becomes more precious in the future does destroying it before it reaches that point increase the loss? Would destroying cave drawings in stone age times be equally bad than destroying them today? I don't think so and I would argue that life is made precious by living. And consciousness makes all the difference between cutting down a tree and a human, although both have the "desire to live".

  16. says

    @dancesI think his point was that you cannot worry about what the fetus could be, if given luck and time. You have to address the clump of cells for what it is at the moment.

  17. says

    "Not to mention that they're the same people who oppose universal healthcare and all other such social programs. So they think it's the government's business to force every potential person to be born — but once they become an actual person, tough shit suckers, you're on your own!"People need to be careful not to lump all beliefs into "What We Believe" and "What they believe". While Religious people will likely express opinions in line with the doctrines of their beliefs, Non-theist will (or at least SHOULD) think about issues in isolation, and not ball-up a set of opinions because they believe it is the "Atheist agenda".I am hard Atheist, pro public health and education, fiscally and socially centerist-liberal- and uncomfortable with Abortion laws as they stand in most Western democracies.I'm happy to debate the merits of that position, but just want to point out that suggesting holding one opinion means you MUST hold a series of OTHER opinions is what religions believe, NOT non-theists!!

  18. says

    The point still remains terminating a pregnancy is still death of a life.This is an assertion, not a fact, and completely fails to consider the post. How do you define life and how does a fetus qualify in a way a sperm or egg does not?

  19. JJR says

    Still gotta love Monty Python's Meaning of Life…"But Dad, why don't you cut your balls off?""Oh, but God would see through such an obvious ploy…"

  20. says

    Though I particularly enjoy the time travel thought experiments, the rest I have a big issue with.They are all just shifting to a bunch of arbitrary lines.Why not shift the other way? What going and preventing the doctor from getting to the mother, and the child doesn't survive the birth? Or any other "intervention" after birth?As I imagine many are, I am uncomfortable with arbitrary lines. Especially when it comes to ethical questions.There really are only two distinct non arbitrary finite lines. Conception and birth. Other lines like when they can feel pain, or viability can't be pinned down. That is you can't pin point viability like you can birth.I also really never got the reducto ad absurdum of equating the loss of a sperm, or an unfertalized egg to abortion.That all said, I agree there is quite a difference between a cluster of cells, and a 6 month old fetus.As for the mother, I'm sure most would agree that actions have consequences, and that people are responsible for their actions. Getting pregnant is a potential consequence of the act of sex.Yes, it's her body and she can choose what she does with it, and she choose to have sex.If she chooses to have the child, the man is expected to be held accountable for his actions.Not that I agree with that so much either.All that said, I am an atheist, and a libertarian. I certainly don't think abortion should be illegal.In Canada there are actually no restrictions on abortion, as far as late term, etc. But you're not too likely to find someone willing to abort an 8 month pregnancy.Personally I'm very much against abortion as simply another form of birth control, but obviously there are many health related situations where I completely support it as an option. Also, I am far from in a position to say anything about pregnancy after rape. Psychological health is just as real, and as much a potential threat as physical health.So, in the end, whether abortion is "right" or "wrong," I think most would agree reducing abortions would be a desirable goal.Legislating it is about as effective as teaching abstinence only is at preventing teen pregnancy.

  21. says

    One of the biggest problems with these discussions, and it's rampant in even the short e-mail, is equivocating on different definitions of the word "life." There is zero difference between "life" when you're talking about a fertilized egg vs. a sperm or egg alone. Unless your definition of "life" somehow includes "diploid" or "undergoing mitosis," a gamete is just as alive as a zygote; if your definition of "life" does include those things, then abortion is certainly murder. And so is chemotherapy. Hell, so is amputation. When we talk about a person being "alive," we rarely (if ever) mean "carrying out basic cellular processes." We usually mean, at the very basic medical level, that the heart is beating and the brain is active. We don't wait until every last cell in a person's body has ceased basic metabolic processes to pronounce them dead; we judge based on brain-death and cardiac arrest. So I find it strange that anyone could consider a "person" "alive" when that "person" has not yet developed even the rudiments of a heart or brain. Once you have a heartbeat and brain activity, then the matter becomes a little trickier, but there's still a considerable period of time where the fetus is not capable of carrying out its life functions on its own. In this case, at the very least, the mother is acting as a sort of life support apparatus for the fetus (or, less charitably, the fetus is parasitizing the mother). Until the fetus can survive on its own, abortion amounts to disconnecting the life support apparatus. Is it murder to pull the plug on someone whose body only continues to function because it's on life support? What if, for instance, the person is brain dead/the fetus is anencephalic, and will not recover? Is it murder to allow someone to die when their brain cannot sustain their bodily functions on its own? If you cut through a power line that happens to power the hospital's life support machines and people die, have you committed murder? What if your air conditioner happens to be the last straw that causes a citywide brownout? Ultimately, I don't feel like I can have moral compunctions against abortion when I don't have moral compunctions against euthanasia. Or killing animals, for that matter. That the vast, vast majority of abortions occur before the fetus has anything approaching human brain activity or bodily functions only makes the matter simpler.

  22. says

    Tom, there's quite a difference between taking someone who's brain dead off life support, and someone who's brain is functioning, and even then, a big difference between a person who wishes to he taken off support, euthanasia, and someone who does not concent, which would definitely be murder.So the comparison would be a bit flat in those respects.Also, considering murder implies intent, there is also a big difference between, say, intentionally shutting down life support, and causing a blackout. Ignoring, of course, the fact that hospitals would have back up generators and such for this very reason.Not that much of this post had much to do with abortion.

  23. says

    Kestra, your question about women controling their fertility before an unintended conception, so why not after, sure, why not after, after birth? Oh, I'm guessing you're thinking there's a distinct difference there. Sure, there is. But are you really saying there's not a difference between the time before the sperm meets the egg, and during pregnancy? If there's a difference between 39 weeks in the womb, and the first week out of it, before and after birth, then there's certainly a difference between before and after conception.

  24. says

    "The point still remains terminating a pregnancy is still death of a life."Earlier today I ate bread, cucumber and ham. Several lives had to end to enable me to do that."Life" doesn't matter if it's bacteria, a fly or a carrot. It does when it's a human being. The whole point is when can one consider a bunch of cells a person and not just a bunch of cells."Life" isn't of itself anywhere near as hallowed as you imply.

  25. says

    I think GDW encapsulates my thinking exactly.@Tom Foss,I know that the idea of viability being linked to the ability of the baby to live outside the womb is touted as being a reasonable point at which to ascribe human rights to the baby, but it still doesn't sit well with me.The idea is that when the fetus (around 20-24 weeks depending on the jurisdiction) might possibly live if it were born, it is now a person. However, no one would suggest that the Mother should have the right, at this point, to have the birth induced for anything other than dire medical reasons, as the baby at that point is extremely venerable and likely to die or have birth defects and life-long problems.So, we end up with the situation of saying that because the baby might survive outside the womb, it now has the right to stay in it!This, to me, seams a non sequitur. The fact that a Human Being may or may not need external assistance to survive does not, IMHO, infer they have any less right to live.So I am left looking for a different definition of life, and the fact that a ten-week fetus has limbs, digits, a heartbeat and brain-cells in persuasive to me that it now counts as a complex life-form, so I feel the standard must be pushed that way.I also agree with GDW that it seems inequitable that parental responsibility for a woman is optional, but for a man is mandatory!!

  26. Mamba24 says

    @ Anna-…lol. No, just saying you basically proved his point. Not that people wouldn't have considered his point reasonably correct if you hadn't said anything, most people would still agree with him, including me. All you did was confirm his statement.

  27. says

    @gdw: Tom, there's quite a difference between taking someone who's brain dead off life support, and someone who's brain is functioning,There are bigger differences still. What parts of the brain are functioning? If there's a functioning brainstem, the basic autonomic processes may continue without life support, keeping the body warm and breathing and metabolizing and excreting, even though there's no higher thought processes or anything that we would typically define as a "person." Is it still a "person" if it has considerably less brain activity than a housecat or a cow? Is "having human DNA and being alive" the qualification for being a "person"? If so, then what of cancerous tumors? If brains figure into the definition, then what of brain tumors?In the brainstem example, in some cases the only "life support" may be something like a feeding tube. Is it murder to remove the feeding tube from someone who has no higher brain function, thus allowing them to starve to death? What is our obligation to the massively brain-damaged who cannot do anything and have no chance of recovery? and even then, a big difference between a person who wishes to he taken off support, euthanasia, and someone who does not concent, which would definitely be murder.And what of people who can't consent, as in the brainstem example above? That person will continue living, relatively indefinitely, so long as they are fed and cared for (cleaned frequently and turned to prevent bedsores, etc.). Is that murder then?What of people who are otherwise unable to give conscious or verbal consent, like an infant with a painful terminal illness, like Tay-Sachs? Is it murder to euthanize a child who has, at best, four years of painful wasting-away to look forward to, followed by youthful death? Is it more wrong to prevent pain and suffering, or to allow it to happen in order to avoid the moral ugliness of murder?So the comparison would be a bit flat in those respects.The comparison is only flat if you ignore the complexities. "Life" and "death" and "human" and "person" are not black-and-white, but continuua. Also, considering murder implies intent, there is also a big difference between, say, intentionally shutting down life support, and causing a blackout. Ignoring, of course, the fact that hospitals would have back up generators and such for this very reason.Yes, ignoring that fact. I figured the post was long enough as-is. So, if murder requires intent, and I obtain an abortion under the belief that the fetus is not a person, then I'm not guilty of murder? If I'm pregnant, but I go on roller coasters and bungee jump during my pregnancy and miscarry, am I guilty of reckless endangerment or manslaughter? What if I'm not intentionally engaging in those kinds of risky behaviors, but I drive really fast and miscarry after a car accident? Would it be different if I were following the rules of the road and someone else hit me? Does every miscarriage turn the uterus into a crime scene? After all, if a fetus is a person, then shouldn't we investigate its death? Shouldn't we determine whether or not it was natural causes and not foul play? I'll hit the other responses in following posts, rather than deal with Blogger's wonkiness regarding long comments.

  28. says

    @mambo24 except you don't have to be theist to think that murder means unlawful killing. One has nothing to do with the other. Abortion isn't unlawful, so it's isn't murder.Whether or not this applies to the christian god is irrelevant.

  29. says

    @gdw: One or two more things:There really are only two distinct non arbitrary finite lines. Conception and birth. Other lines like when they can feel pain, or viability can't be pinned down. That is you can't pin point viability like you can birth.The problem with treating conception as a "finite [sic] line" is that it's basically impossible to tell when conception has occurred–presuming, of course, that by "conception" you mean "the fusion of gametes." Generally, people don't know they're pregnant until a fairly long time after conception. Moreover, at least half of conceptions do not result in pregnancy; implantation has to occur first. So what of all those poor unfortunate people who were conceived but never attached to the uterine wall? Isn't "implantation" just as finite a line as "conception" (and equally immeasurable, unless you've got some serious medical monitoring)? Personally I'm very much against abortion as simply another form of birth control,I've met lots of people who've had abortions. I've never met anyone who did it as "simply another form of birth control." Like Bigfoot and Welfare Queens, I would like to see evidence of this mythical creature who would spend hundreds of dollars to accomplish what could be done with $20 worth of Plan B. @RossFW: The idea is that when the fetus (around 20-24 weeks depending on the jurisdiction) might possibly live if it were born, it is now a person.That's certainly not my idea. Personhood, as far as I'm concerned, is at least partially a function of having the cognitive processes necessary for sentience. A 20-24 week old fetus lacks that. Heck, so do most newborns. I'm not arguing, either, that we can kill all non-persons without moral qualms either, just pointing out the fuzziness of the term. However, I don't think anyone has the right to physically parasitize anyone else's body. I would think, if Dracula came by to suck your blood, the fact that he needs it to continue living and that it would only cause you minor inconvenience wouldn't be a deterrent to you shoving a stake through his heart. And Dracula is considerably more a person than a 20-week-old fetus. So, we end up with the situation of saying that because the baby might survive outside the womb, it now has the right to stay in it!This, to me, seams a non sequitur.It certainly would be, if you believed that one person had the right to the use of another person's body.

  30. says

    The fact that a Human Being may or may not need external assistance to survive does not, IMHO, infer they have any less right to live.The implication I see here is that we are obligated to keep all persons alive, regardless of what the methods are. If every person has an equal right to life, and that right trumps other people's rights to be secure in their own bodies and to determine what happens to their organs, then shouldn't organ donation be mandatory? Shouldn't every person be required to donate blood, liver lobes, bone marrow, skin, a lung, and a kidney? If one pre-born person's right to live trumps my right to determine what happens to my body, then why should that right disappear after birth? Why shouldn't Joe Dialysis's right to survive trump my right to decide whether or not to keep both my kidneys? So I am left looking for a different definition of life, and the fact that a ten-week fetus has limbs, digits, a heartbeat and brain-cells in persuasive to me that it now counts as a complex life-form, so I feel the standard must be pushed that way.So all apes are also people? I don't necessarily have a problem with that, but I just want to make sure we're on the same page. Does this right to survive, regardless of personal cost, then extend to bonobos? Will they also be added to the mandatory transplant donor/recipient lists? At 10 weeks, there's some brain activity. There isn't enough of a nervous system to take control of bodily functions until 27 weeks, however, and there's no mechanism for sensory input for another month after that. I sympathize; 10 weeks used to be my arbitrary line in the sand as well, for the same reasons. Then I learned more about prenatal neural development, and it made those lines in the sand seem awfully fuzzy. I also agree with GDW that it seems inequitable that parental responsibility for a woman is optional, but for a man is mandatory!! Then it seems to me that you're awfully naïve. The mother, for obvious reasons, is granted absolute authority over her own body, including the decision whether or not to have a child. Once that decision is made, the mother is the primary caregiver under the law, and is assumed to have custodial rights over the child (and the responsibilities those entail) unless she willingly gives up those rights. The father is only obligated to the child financially (and even then, it depends on circumstances and local law), and that's only if paternity is uncontested or demonstrated. If you think that's somehow unfair or unequal…well, I frankly don't know what to tell you. Seems like everyone on the generally-anti-abortion side is pretty quick to say that women assume that pregnancy is a risk of having sex; last I checked, the kind of sex that risks pregnancy requires a dude to make that decision too. If one party is assuming the risks of pregnancy, then both are. And considering that only one party can spend the following nine months without a parasite growing inside them, a little legal obligation only seems like leveling the playing field.

  31. says

    "However, I don't think anyone has the right to physically parasitize anyone else's body."Ermmm…YOU did. Do you feel you unfairly monopolised your Mother by staying alive?Sorry, but that is a very clinical evaluation of the process EVERY human (and most complex life-forms) had to go through. If it were a concious choice on the part of the fetus, that would be different, but the idea that it is unfair for one human to be inconvienienced for several months if it is a requirement for another to live a full life-span, particularly when it was concious choices on the part of one that led to the EXISTENCE of the other, is taking individual rights to somewhat of an extreme."It certainly would be, if you believed that one person had the right to the use of another person's body. "Defining pregnency as the Fetus "USING" the mothers body is an extreme use of semantics. But, if a human life depends on "Using" anothers for a short time? No, I don't think that is unreasonable."The implication I see here is that we are obligated to keep all persons alive, regardless of what the methods are. If every person has an equal right to life, and that right trumps other people's rights to be secure in their own bodies and to determine what happens to their organs, then shouldn't organ donation be mandatory?"Yes I think we do, and personally, I think peoples bodies should become public property upon death, but I don't see the two as in any way analogous. "Then it seems to me that you're awfully naïve. The mother, for obvious reasons, is granted absolute authority over her own body, including the decision whether or not to have a child. Once that decision is made, the mother is the primary caregiver under the law, and is assumed to have custodial rights over the child (and the responsibilities those entail) unless she willingly gives up those rights. The father is only obligated to the child financially (and even then, it depends on circumstances and local law), and that's only if paternity is uncontested or demonstrated. "First up, you are being America-centric by stating legal concepts as they apply in America as if they are universaly accepted- Parental laws are very different from what you state in other parts of the world.But still, at least 18 years of financial obligation for no say in any matter concerning the birth or otherwise of the child, vs 9 months of pregnecy, and complete control? No, I don't think that equitable.Oh, and accusing people of naivety because their opinions may differ from yours may be at the shallow end of Ad-Hominen argument, but it is still in that pool.BTW, Apes and Bonobos- Yes, we do assume unique morals for Humans vs other species. Many will claim the is hypocritical, but you have to put the brakes on the slippery slope somewhere!!

  32. says

    If my girlfriend breaks up with me, can I have her arrested for the murder of all the child she would have had if I'd gotten the chance to knock her up?

  33. says

    I am pretty much in agreement with Tom here. Also I would go even further and say that I consider it more morally wrong to terminate the life of a 4-5 year old animal than the life of a human child inside the womb, who doesn't even compare in the level of awareness to that of the animal.The difference of course is that the human still has much potential and is inseparably tied to the mother. But I think the denial of the potential is trumped by the right for the mother to decide what to do with her body.

  34. says

    @Anna "except you don't have to be theist to think that murder means unlawful killing."Of course not. I was merely pointing out that theists can, have and do use(d) this semantics wordplay to say that whatever injustice God may have committed in the Bible or in the real world even, is lawful, because God is the law and therefore everything he does is lawful. Even when he's killing the firstborn sons of Egypt.

  35. says

    @farmboy, "semantics wordplay" is not limited to theists. The fact is abortion is not illegal. To call it murder is to appeal to emotion, because "murder" sounds worse than "terminated" or "killed".

  36. says

    @Anna Bucci: "semantics wordplay" is not limited to theists. The fact is abortion is not illegal. To call it murder is to appeal to emotion, because "murder" sounds worse than "terminated" or "killed".Only if you define "murder" to mean "illegal killing." The definition of "murder" has somewhat more variability. The problem with hanging your hat on a legal definition is that it means that what you consider "murder" changes depending on where you are. My moral philosophy is the same here as it would be if I were to travel to Saudi Arabia, even if the laws in one place allow the lethal stoning of non-virgin women by angry mobs, and the laws of the other place do not. If instead of "killing that is illegal," you mean "killing that is wrong" when you talk about "murder," then you run into a different set of semantic issues.

  37. says

    @Anna "semantics wordplay" is not limited to theists."Never said it was. It was never my intention to imply a generalization of theists. All I said was that people who have done this "semantic trickery" in order to make the atrocities of the Biblical god seem okay were theists. By definition this habit is isolated to theists, because both atheists and deists wouldn't.(It might seem I was generalizing but I actually did think this through ;) It was never my intention to imply or mislead. I was merely talking from experience.) "The fact is abortion is not illegal. " That would depend on which country you're in. For example, softdrugs is legal in the Netherlands while it's illegal in various other countries. "To call it murder is to appeal to emotion, because "murder" sounds worse than "terminated" or "killed". "Indeed. It's why people insist on calling themselves 'pro-lifers' instead of 'anti-abortionists'.

  38. Mamba24 says

    @ Anna-….And you just keep reaffirming his point. I'm not necessarily saying all theists do this, just that a lot of them do for the exact reasons said above in order to rationalize/apologize for the atrocities in the bible. That's wrong. As for murder, that totally depends on how you're defining the word. You're saying it's killing that's illegal. I would say it's the killing of a person with intent, it doesn't necessarily have to be illegal in order for it to be murder. Maybe in our kind of complex society it is, but in other lower egalitarian societies, murder may be allowed as long as it's justified, meaning the person has a good reason for doing it, like if a family member was killed by someone, the family may pick someone to track down and seek revenge. If I'm using my definition, then to me it's still murder, only in their particular community, it's justified. You may turn around and say it's not murder, but just "killing", your free to do that, because you're just using a different definition.

  39. says

    @Tom Foss, wrong is subjective. while legality may change depending on where you are, "wrong" may change depending on who you are.Can we stop talking about the bible? Is anyone here christian trying to defend the crap in the bible using semantics? Or are we talking about abortion?If you all want to keep going on this derail of what christians do to defend their shitty god, then start a blog post about it.IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ABORTION. Which is legal in the US, and shouldn't be called murder.

  40. says

    @mamba24 do you believe abortion is murder, and I'm just trying to rationalize/apologize for the atrocity of abortion by not considering it murder?

  41. says

    So, in the end, whether abortion is "right" or "wrong," I think most would agree reducing abortions would be a desirable goal.Personally, I think that reducing unwanted pregnancies is a much more desirable goal.

  42. says

    @Anna Bucci: @Tom Foss, wrong is subjective. while legality may change depending on where you are, "wrong" may change depending on who you are.Agreed. Much like the definition of "murder."

  43. Mamba24 says

    @ Anna- In most cases no, because I don't consider a clump of cells(embryo) to be a human being, much less a person. By the way I'm pro-abortion. So in most cases I'm fine with abortion, because it's the woman's decision to do with her body what she deems acceptable and right. The only case where it gets fuzzy for me is late term abortions where the human fetus has developed all the organs and his ready for birth, where it is now considered to be a human baby and almost a person. But seeing as late term abortions are rare, I don't hold them above the vast majority of abortions that are completely acceptable and justified to me.

  44. says

    When I start seeing laws mandating that the parents of any children who require bodily donations (organ donation or blood donation or bone marrow…) in order to survive and continue to thrive, provide those donations…then there will, as far as I'm concerned, actually be a discussion to have. Currently if I have a 1-month-old (or a 10-year-old) who needs an an ounce of blood to survive, as a parent, I would be able to refuse to donate, perfectly legally, even if my child had a very rare blood type, and I was the only immediate source of that life-saving blood. If the child died as a result, no laws would have been broken, and my right to refuse to use my own body to help another survive (including my own child) would prevail. I don't see why pregnant women are uniquely vilified for exercising a right (saying she will not, or will no longer, donate her body directly to sustain the life of another–including her own child) we openly and liberally grant to all other parents, without even a social question or concern.

  45. says

    Leisha, yes, true. Also, of course less unwanted pregnancies would in turn mean, likely, less abortions.I think adoption is such a wonderful alternative. Of course when there are health threats, one wouldn't expect someone to carry out such a pregnancy just to avoid abortion. Though some extremists likely would.I still think it would/will be rather interesting if/when they can transplant fetuses. I'm sure there would still be people who would refuse to do it, if it was ever possible, based on it still being their body, and wanting to control what is done with the fetus.Tracieh, a valid point I think.Then again, we don't consider it "acceptable" for a parent to neglect their child after they are born in most other ways. That is, if a parent simply ignores the child, never picks them up, etc.Why not, it's the parents body, shouldn't they have full say over what they do with it? Why should they be forced to provide and care for the child, any more than they should be forced to carry them to full term?Again, we are responsible for our actions and their consequences.I don't think a person should be "forced" to care for a child, particularly when someone else is willing to care for them instead.

  46. says

    @Jari: If you're talking about American children (since this is an American blog) I think the answer is that it's because they're black, and sometimes they're also too old, for all these supposed willing caregivers to want them.Something to think about.

  47. says

    @tracieh "we openly and liberally grant to all other parents, without even a social question or concern. "uh..I'm pretty sure we also vilify parents who wouldn't donate blood or marrow to help save their kid.

  48. says

    @jari My guess is people are picky. Adoptive parents want a perfect little baby, and adoption agencies want perfect heterosexual parents with upper middle class income.

  49. says

    Come on Kazim! You are arguing like a Christian. First, the assertion that most fertalized eggs dont become human is expressly an estimate based on an assumption. Let's just assume that many don't. Now lets estimate that it is 50%. Wallah! its a fact.Second, lets bring in a dose of supernatural magic (time travel) to attempt to equate the unequatable — existance followed by destruction vs non-existant. How does your logic prohibit outright murder? "Yes, Your Honor, I shot my neighbor. But let's do a thought experiment. IF I went back in time and kept him from being born would it be murder? No? Then how is it murder now? And as for me stealling his car, if I went back in time and kept him from getting it, he would be in exactly the same position as he is now — not owning that car." "Yes Mr. Defendant, I never thought of it like that, you are acquited on all counts!"There has to be a better argument for your position.

  50. says

    I'm curious how many here who are so adamant about this on the basis that it's the woman's body would be so defensive about a pregnant woman who wants to exercise her right to decide what is done with her body in other ways?What if she wants to drink her ass off? Or smoke like a chimney, or shoot up?How about in general, that is, not pregnant? Why be so adamant about bodily autonomy for a pregnant woman, but not for someone who wants to exercise their autonomy in other ways when there is no doubt that they are not harming anyone else?

  51. says

    Come on Kazim! You are arguing like a Christian. First, the assertion that most fertalized eggs dont become human is expressly an estimate based on an assumption. Let's just assume that many don't. Now lets estimate that it is 50%. Wallah! its a fact.[Citation Needed]And actually, citation given. Russell posted a link to one study examining the evidence for that "estimate based on an assumption," which, by the way, is based on what we know medically about pregnancy. Obviously we can't accurately measure the number of pregnancies that spontaneously abort before the person knows they're pregnant; what we can do is extrapolate from what we know about spontaneous abortion and failed implantation from the pregnancies that spontaneously abort after the person knows they're pregnant, and from practices like in vitro fertilization (where multiple zygotes are often introduced in hopes that at least one will implant). In other words, you've confused "estimate" with "wild guess."Second, lets bring in a dose of supernatural magic (time travel) to attempt to equate the unequatable — existance followed by destruction vs non-existant.You obviously have zero experience with moral philosophy, or you'd recognize how silly you sound. The whole edifice of moral philosophy is to test moral claims and rules by devising artificial scenarios that present dilemmas under those rules. The point in some cases (like Russell's) is to perform a reductio ad absurdum on a particular point (in this case, the idea that "potential life" is a moral consideration), and in other cases is to test how different moral rules combine to form a coherent code (such as the "trolley problem"). He's not arguing like a Christian, you boob, he's arguing like an ethicist.There has to be a better argument for your position.This isn't an argument for a position, this is an argument against the "potential life" position.

  52. says

    @Kansas HumanistYou're missing the point. This is not about excusing murder, this is about defining murder. If the pro-lifers keep insisting 'life starts at conception' while at conception there's nothing truly alive about it yet, that means that destroying something with the potential to live is therefore murder. So Kazim therefore reasons that if destroying the potential constitutes murder, he simply following that train of thought towards the absurd conclusions that even abstinence is killing the future children we might've had.And if it is not about the potential but the cells, then amputating an arm might constitute murder.It's insane. This is not an argument for abortion. This is an attempt to demolish the arguments against it and reveal them for the lunacy they are.

  53. says

    @gdw: What if she wants to drink her ass off? Or smoke like a chimney, or shoot up?Should a pregnant woman be allowed to do those things? Sure. Are they wrong? Yeah, I'd say so. Once the woman has decided to carry a pregnancy to term, she's shouldering some of the responsibility of raising a healthy human being, and I think the moral responsibility in that regard circles around limiting or lessening the possibility of suffering. A child with fetal alcohol syndrome, for instance, is probably more likely to suffer than a healthy child, and there are moral implications because of it.But I think all that moral weight and responsibility rests on the conscious decision to bear a child–in other words, the decision to not terminate the pregnancy. Similarly, if I choose to adopt a child, I am shouldering the moral and legal responsibility of caring for that child. Once all the papers are signed and such, I can't just bring my receipt back and get a refund. I can anticipate the response, so let me spell it out: I recognize the decision to become a parent and the decision to have sex as distinct decisions with different moral implications. The latter choice may eventually necessitate making the former, but until the former is made, the moral responsibility of parenthood does not apply.

  54. says

    Tom, one could argue that the decision to carry a pregnancy to term is just as distinct a decision from the one to take care of the fetus, and later, the child when born. If I understand you, you are arguing that the latter is/are responsibilities/consequences of the former. Why is the pregnancy itself not considered a responsibility/consequence of the decision to have sex?Choosing to have a child comes with the risk of problems, physical, developmental, behavioral, etc, in spite of all efforts to prevent it. That comes with the choice. It may not be what you planned for, but is it still not your responsibility?

  55. says

    Tom, one could argue that the decision to carry a pregnancy to term is just as distinct a decision from the one to take care of the fetus, and later, the child when born. If I understand you, you are arguing that the latter is/are responsibilities/consequences of the former. Why is the pregnancy itself not considered a responsibility/consequence of the decision to have sex?It's certainly a possible consequence of the decision to have sex, and I think it's recognized as such. But the chances of having a full-term baby from any individual sex act are rather low, and can be lowered further by taking various precautions. When someone becomes pregnant (i.e., that the egg has implanted, that they're showing symptoms, etc.), the probability of a full-term baby coming out of the process are considerably higher, and the person must make a choice: attempt to carry the child to term, or not. By choosing the "not" option, you shoulder the responsibility of going to a clinic and following the doctor's directions; you face the consequence of potential side-effects and a hefty cost. If you choose not to do that (either deliberately or through inaction), then you shoulder the responsibilities of carrying a fetus to term; this means that the probability of a new human being coming out of the process is fairly high, and someone is going to have to take care of that entity (whether or not that person is you is a separate and distinct decision. The morally responsible thing to do (and if you're the one who will be caring for the eventual child, the pragmatic one as well) is to provide a healthy environment for the fetus, which will limit the suffering of the eventual person, the suffering of the child's caretakers, and potentially your own suffering (for instance, going in for regular check-ups will help insure that the pregnancy will not cause undue harm to the mother). Choosing to have a child comes with the risk of problems, physical, developmental, behavioral, etc, in spite of all efforts to prevent it. That comes with the choice. It may not be what you planned for, but is it still not your responsibility?I guess the point is that, for any act where there are multiple options, there can't be only one consequence or one set of responsibilities. Someone who chooses to go on a date has the choice of whether or not to engage in sex; someone who chooses to engage in sex has the choice of whether or not to use protection; someone who doesn't use protection has the choice of whether or not to get Plan B; someone who chooses not to get Plan B has the choice of whether or not to get an abortion; someone who chooses not to get an abortion has the choice of whether or not to keep the child, and so forth, with each choice conferring consequences and responsibilities, whatever option you choose. With so many intermediate steps and options between "choosing sex" and "choosing to care for a child," I can't see how the one necessitates the other, any more than "caring for a child" is a consequence of "going out on a date" or "going to a bar" or "leaving the house without a burqa."

  56. says

    Farmboy, I do understand the point you refer to. But I am making (at least trying to make) one too. ALL of the arguments on ALL sides of the when does human life begin debate are fatally flawed. There is no “right” answer. There is no bright line. “Thought experiments” can be made to make any offered line appear to be “lunacy” if taken to its logical conclusion. If the point at which an organism contains the complete DNA of a unique human being is not a good point, why not draw the line at when that organism reaches adulthood and allow us to weed out kids headed for a life of crime by “aborting” them at anytime before they turn 18? Or do as the Spartans did and draw the line after examination outside the womb. If the woman is allowed to escape the responsibilities and risks of pregnancy and birth at anytime within the nine months, why does the man get “enslaved” for 18 years of child support should the woman choose to give birth. What about his right to “choose” not to become a father after he has already conceived a child?The problem here is that when all arguments have major flaws when taken to their logical conclusions, trying to settle the dispute by pointing out the flaws in each other’s arguments will only result in wheel spinning because they are all flawed. What needs to happen is both sides of the abortion debate need to stop vilifying each other as “baby murders” or women’s right violators and realize that there is no bright line that can be logically or necessarily drawn and that it is just going to be a judgment call with a major flaw no matter where we draw the line.My ultimate solution: The states have historically decided what constitutes homicide and when it is justified and when it is murder, including when causing a miscarriage is manslaughter and when it is merely injury to the mother. So let this line be drawn by the states through the democratic process. The likely result will be some states will adopt the life begins at conception, some will draw the line at birth and some will draw it somewhere in the middle. Then you can live or travel to I whichever of the places you want or need to. A little something for everyone!

  57. says

    @Kansas HumanistYou think this debate is solely US-based?Your ultimate solution is not an ultimate solution in the slightest. It's just your way of ridding yourself of all responsibility and saying "do whatever makes you feel right" and that just leads to chaos. No, there is no clear line of right and wrong. It's complicated.But the least you can do is let a woman decide her own fate. Born life should trump unborn life. Sometimes you CAN accuse someone of violating women's rights and one SHOULD point that out.And what Kazim was trying to establish here is the lunacy of the other side in their attempts to define murder as whatever they want it to be.Your last sentence reminds me the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode where the alien Kodos posing as Bob Dole addresses a US crowd proclaiming first: "Abortions for all!" The crowd boos. "Very well, no abortions for anyone!" The crowd still boos. *Kodos thinks for a bit* "Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!"While you're trying to appeal to both sides others are actually standing up for their beliefs. You almost sound like some hypocrite ecumanical theist posing as if all religions lead to the same place, when this is obviously impossible. Of course, there's no reason why they can't come to some understanding. (Of course, when are the religious ever reasonable?)No offense intended. I'm just being honest.

  58. says

    If the diversity of opinions on the matter put forth on this thread prove nothing else, it should show that people who think it is a simple black and white issue are terribly and willfully ignorant. We want a logical stance on abortion that doesn't at some point just smack of hypocrisy or contradictions. But, I'm not sure if anyone can be objectively 'right' on every hypothetical situation of the abortion issue. However we get to that best logical stance, it certainly won't be through superstitious beliefs.

  59. says

    FarmboyI think you missed my point entirely and then proved it with your caustic remarks. First, you conflate the procedural with the substantive. My "solution" was procedural. Once we agree that that is the manner in which the decision will be made, then we move to the more difficult substantive issue of actually deciding where we will draw the line in each state (or nation). Second, it is you who are sidestepping all responsibility by just passing the decesion off to the woman. That entirely avoids the question of whether abortion is the kiling of another innocent life. If it is not, then you are right, let the woman do what she will with her body. But if it is, then it is not just her body that is involved and society has the obligation to step in and protect the helpless human being killed. The question is whether it it is just the woman's body involved and your comment eithe sidesteps or assumes the answer to that tough question.

  60. says

    "So, we end up with the situation of saying that because the baby might survive outside the womb, it now has the right to stay in it!"It is a sensical argument because the default logical position is to assume that a sperm or an egg or a sperm and an egg doesn't have human rights as it has not achieved personhood. The assertion behind this argument is that a fetus achieves personhood when it no longer depends on it's mother for life.Your argument against it is nothing but a strawman.

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