Sep 09 2011

Instant personhood

Brilliant. The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled that voters can decide the “personhood” of the fertilized egg – human egg, that is, not chicken egg or salamander egg.

The measure would amend the constitution to extend “personhood” to the unborn, likely rendering abortions illegal in the state if upheld.

Anti-abortion forces hope the amendment, if passed, would ultimately be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, providing another opportunity for the justices to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

“Although our opponents were beaten in this lawsuit, we know that they will not stop in their desperate attempts to deny the obvious truth that life begins at conception and that every life deserves to be protected in the law,” said Steve Crampton, general counsel of the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel. “Not only Mississippians, but all Americans, should support this commonsense amendment.”

He doesn’t mean “life,” the damn fool. He means human life. He doesn’t think every virus  deserves to be protected in the law.

Mississippi is the only state with a “personhood” initiative on the ballot this year. Similar measures are being planned for next year in Florida, Montana and Ohio, say supporters. Efforts it at least five other states are in the planning stages.

Something to look forward to.

H/t Ezra Resnick.



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  1. 1
  2. 2

    “every life deserves to be protected in the law”

    You mean every life except the ones of those your state has killed. Ah, but those don’t count because those didn’t love Jesus.

  3. 3
    The Lorax

    Here they’re arguing about human development…

    Think about this: Consider the simplest form of life that you can fathom. What is it? Is it a single cell? Is it a virus? A bacteria?

    Well, lets take something like that and step it back; lets remove all the bonus stuff it has evolved over four billion years and get right back to its chemical basics.

    Self-replicating molecule.

    Now, I ask you, what are the physics that govern this? What laws of the universe force this self-replicating molecule to do what it does? Atomic theory, quantum physics maybe. You don’t need to be a master of them to acknowledge them, and understand that there are no other things going on here. No mystery, at least in theory.

    Now, this molecule cannot think. It can sustain chemical reaction, it can cease chemical reaction, it can be affected by its environment, it “reacts” to its environment, it cannot think. It cannot feel.

    Suppose this molecule gets a touch bigger; a few new atoms to play around with. Has anything changed? Is it thinking? Did it develop a brain, or is it still reactionary? Well, the same exact physics are still being applied, there’s just more going on, the party has gotten larger.

    Dial forward four billion years.

    Now as yourself, and be genuine about it. Really dig deep into your understanding of the universe as a whole.

    Are you alive?

    Or are you just a series of complex chemical reactions, being manipulated by a complex environment?

    Where do we draw the line between “complex chemical reaction” and “life”?

    Can we even draw a line?

    What if we can’t?

    … what does that mean for us?

    Anyway, something to think about.

  4. 4

    This word has been getting pulled out of me more than usual of late: for fuck sake.

    Yea, it’s life. Yea, it’s human, in a genetic sense. But for fuck sake, it’s not a person. Personhood deals with the capacity for consciousness, and no fucking zygote has that capacity.

    His definition of personhood must be very different from mine.

  5. 5

    Oh, but wait… every dying skin cell might be a potential human life. Every dying cell of any kind might be a human life. So all dying cells must be captured and cultivated, because, with advanced medical technology, there is nothing that might not be construed as potential life. So all life must be banned, because all life implies death…

  6. 6
    Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

    What if we can’t?

    … what does that mean for us?

    Not much. It’s all a question of definitions – just words. They describe things; they don’t make them. Make up a category, call it life. Can’t draw a particularly bright line between when it’s foggy and when it’s raining either, but no one’s going to dispute the existence of rain.

  7. 7
    Svlad Cjelli

    Oh, but wait… every dying skin cell might be a potential human life. Every dying cell of any kind might be a human life. So all dying cells must be captured and cultivated, because, with advanced medical technology, there is nothing that might not be construed as potential life

    They say that the difference is that the zygote will develop if it’s just left alone. Though nobody seems to actually have documented such an immortally idiosyncratic zygote. Most of them can be expected to die pretty swiftly if left alone.

  8. 8

    “…voters can decide the “personhood” of the fertilized egg…”

    Oh, I see, it’s a popularity contest, not science.

  9. 9

    Way to take away from women control over their own bodies. Miscarriage = manslaughter and there you go straight to prison.

    By the way, with all those miscarriages happening every year, how come people are so impressed by 9/11? If you have like a million people dead every year, that’s almost one 9/11 each day. How come you don’t invest a huge amount of federal funds into research to avoid miscarriages? Aren’t those human persons worth it?

  10. 10

    How come you don’t invest a huge amount of federal funds into research to avoid miscarriages?

    “Well basically miscarriage is God performing an abortion, and it is not our place to question His divine will!” /puke

    Logic doesn’t work on people who have made a conscious decision to be insane.

  11. 11

    Personhood is determined by votes in Mississippi?

    Once again… Personhood… Determined… By votes.

    Well, at least now there is a legal mechanism by which they can make women non-persons. Good day to be a fundie.

  12. 12
    Jeremy Shaffer

    The thing that really scares me about these initiatives to allow people to bestow personhood by vote is that, once someone accepts that to be true and it is codified into law, it is not a great leap to decide that voters can also take personhood away by the same methods. Given some of the personalities of the people behind such drives, I have to wonder if that is not a part of the plan.

  13. 13
    Lauren Ipsum

    EEEEEEEEvery sperm is saaaaaaacred, eeeeeeevery sperm is greaaaaaaat….

  14. 14

    every dying skin cell might be a potential human life. Every dying cell of any kind might be a human life.

    That brings up an interesting, if unpleasantly odiferous, question: How much potentially alive/active human dna would there be in poo? More than in a fertilised ovum? Will godbotherer whackjobs have to start blowing up porta-potties because they’re mobile closets of death?

  15. 15

    Could such a person then be charged with trespassing? If age of person is kept hidden (so as not to bias a judge), could one get a restraining order against said person? Do they have the right to peaceably assemble? To keep and bear arms?

  16. 16

    Don’t we already have a federal ruling on when someone is a “person”? Terry Shivo stopped being a “person” when her brain stopped working, so developing humans should start being “people” when their brains start working. (At minimum you could say this is at 8.5 weeks, when the cortex starts synapsing, but I favor the appearance of cerebral cortex activity at 4 to 5 months.)

  17. 17
    Michael Zeora

    I think I’m with Maverick on this one.

    I’m a dog owner, I love my dog, my dog is much like me. It’s quite odd how they want to give person-hood status to a clump of human DNA but a funny functional and alive animal isn’t “quite a person”

    What constitutes person-hood is just as hard to define as Life itself. One would assume at the bare minimal brain activity is required, but past that it would also require the not-quite-unique features we humans have like sentience and language

  18. 18

    Wait till the first rich or famous person is charged with murder because they or their wife had a miscarriage.

    “Did your Doctor tell you to stop drinking and smoking?”
    “Did you?”

    Guilty, lock her away for 10 years and lock her husband away as an accessory to murder.

  19. 19

    What will happen in the case of an ectopic pregnancy? Because you can bet there will be no exclusion for circumstances where continuing the pregnancy will endanger the fetus carrier.

  20. 20

    The forced birthers don’t care about personhood, they just want to ban abortions. I know it is in part so they can force women into adoption. white women, that is. They also ban welfare, in hopes that women will have to depend on a man, and will choose to submit.

    Sound far fetched? I wish it was.

  21. 21

    A large percentage of blastocysts fail to implant. So throwing out tampons would be murder.

    This is the stuff that makes me want to bite people.

  22. 22

    Ok, if a zygote is a person, it surely must have a name and a social security number, right? And in case of a miscarriage, the lump is to fished from the toilet, put in a coffin and buried or cremated. An an obituary published in the local paper. Every miscarriage must also be investigated as a possible murder/manslaughter/reckless endangerment.

  23. 23

    Ok, if a zygote is a person, it surely must have a name and a social security number, right?

    And get a tax deduction. Any pregnancy gets to be counted as a full dependent deduction on that year’s taxes, no matter how short.

  24. 24
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    They say that the difference is that the zygote will develop if it’s just left alone.

    You know I wouldn’t give a damn if it just would. You know, if I could just leave it around somewhere or put it in a parcel and mail it to the next pro-lifer.
    But since it requires me to do all the work on my expense, I’d say the question of personhood is simply irrelevant. We don’t force people to donate a pint of blood, a completely harmless task that takes half an hour and comes with a free cookie for the sake of other people.
    No, not even when the fact of them needing blood is the sole guilt of that person in question.
    So I don’t see what personhood changes about that question.

  25. 25
    greg byshenk

    I just wanted to point out that this question, legal personhood, actually is a political one. Who should be legally defined as a person and when is not a scientific question. Yes the proposed law is stupid, for all sorts of reasons, but being “not science” is not one of them.

  26. 26
    Ophelia Benson

    Or it’s a philosophical question. Or a moral one. Or those and a legal and a political one, but informed by science (so in that sense it is a scientific one). If there were scientific evidence that a zygote is fully conscious in the way you and I are, that would make a difference (even though its parasitism on someone else’s body would still pull strongly in the direction of not letting the zygote boss the host).

  27. 27
    greg byshenk

    Of course the answer needs to be informed by science, but “what is a person?” just isn’t a scientific question. It is in some ways also a moral or philosophical question, but ‘politics’ is how we, as a society, come to legal answers to moral and philosophical questions.

  28. 28
    Ophelia Benson

    Sure. I’m not disagreeing with you – just adding some detail.

  29. 29
    Ophelia Benson

    Well maybe I disagree a little. I think it’s too strong to say ‘“what is a person?” just isn’t a scientific question.’ It’s not a purely scientific question but it’s partly scientific (in a broad sense). Sometimes you need science to figure out if a given entity has the qualities that have been (philosophically, politically, legally etc) agreed to make up a person.

  30. 30
    greg byshenk

    I submit that this is just what it means to be informed by scientific understanding. Whether something has qualities A, B, and C is a scientific question, but whether those are enough of the right sort of qualities for us to deem that something a ‘person’ is not. Part of the issue here is that we don’t have (I don’t think) a well-defined set of qualities from which we can clearly and unambiguously delineate persons and non-persons. Rather, personhood is a constellation of different qualities of which different entities can partake in to a greater or lesser degree. Certainly there are many clear-cut cases, but there are many others that are open to debate, and whose determination may change over time.

  31. 31
    Cammie Jaekel

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  1. 32
    Fertilisation and Personhood « Choice in Dying

    [...] (mea culpa, Jerry, I’m afraid!), and have gone in distinctively different directions. Ophelia speaks of instant personhood, by definition, and then follows that up with a post about the girl who was forced to confess her [...]

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