Dec 19, 2009

OF VIOLENCE & VIOLINS [personhood post part 5]



I am always astonished at how enamored abortion advocates are with Thomson’s bodily autonomy argument. To me, it just exposes the core cold-heartedness of the abortion defense quest. I think the argument demonstrates the utter moral ineptness underlying the whole premise of elective abortion. Pro-abortion proponents probably fancy it because it is the only pro-abortion argument that is not mere question begging. It stands alone as the sole exception in that it “grants” (even if for the sake of argument) personhood status to the unborn. The idea that pregnant mothers have an absolute right over their body in every way – regardless of what negative effects may come upon other persons as a result - is what gives the argument its thrust.

Thomson gives the well-known violin analogy, which I will cite here:

“You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you." Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. "Tough luck. I agree. but now you've got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him."


The pro-abortion argument “works” in this scenario (in a sense) as far as it goes, but is the analogy accurate? Is abortion merely detachment and is being pregnant akin to being hooked up to a helpless violinist? If the answer is “no” to either question – as I think it is – then the analogy (and the argument) fails.

First is the problem of the person who is attached. In the analogy, it is a complete stranger who presumably has his own parents. In pregnancy, the person attached is the daughter or son of the mother! The child is not a parasite, invader or predator; for the mother’s womb is where it belongs, the womb is its natural and normal environment. Furthermore, the unborn has no intent to do the mother any harm, either purposely or inadvertedly (I wish the same could always be said the other way around). Legal scholar Eileen McDonagh argues in a way similar to Thomson and paints the child as a “trespasser”.

Remember, it was the mother’s action that brought the baby into this situation in the first place; it is not as if the baby slipped in unannounced when the mother was not looking … you could even say the baby was “summoned” by the mother.

Another huge problem is the nature of the attachment. To quote Greg Koukl,
“the violinist is artificially attached to the woman. A mother's unborn baby, however, is not surgically connected, nor was it ever "attached" to her. Instead, the baby is being produced by the mother's own body by the natural process of reproduction.”


Another big problem is abortion is not mere detachment; it is active termination. It is not merely withholding nourishment or unplugging, it is bloody and violent. To be true, the analogy would have to go more like this:

“After unplugging the unconscious violinist from my body, I asked a hit man to terminate him. The professional hit man came into the hospital room with a drill, bore a hole into the back of the violinist’s skull (right at the base of his neck) and subsequently sucked the violinist’s brains out into a bag. The hit man then threw the violinist’s body into a large furnace and promptly incinerated him – along with hundreds of other dead violinists. After that, I paid the man and merrily went on my way.”


Now I pose a question: which takes more care; a baby in the belly or a toddler out of the tummy? Obviously, the toddler is the greater “imposition” than the unborn. As a parent of three kids, all under four years old, trust me, the toddler is harder. Now if the mother is not obligated to care for a person dependent upon them in a passive way – via a tube or what have you – then why would the mother be required to engage in the much more active task of parenting the toddler?

Here we have another major flaw in Thomson’s analogy: it proves too much. If valid, then we should exonerate women like Susan Smith of North Carolina (who drowned her two children in the bathtub), Amy Grossberg (who with the father of the child gave her newborn a skull fracture before leaving the body in a dumpster) and Melissa Drexler (the infamous “prom mom”, who gave birth in her high school’s bathroom during prom and left the child – dead - in the trash before going back to dancing). Or we could just excuse it.

Case in point is another bright from MIT – Steven Pinker – who sees this all as simple evolutionary biology:

“parental investment is a limited resource, and mammalian mothers must "decide" whether to allot it to their newborn or to their current and future offspring. If a newborn is sickly, or if its survival is not promising, they may cut their losses and favor the healthier in the litter or try again later on. In most cultures, neonaticide is a form of this triage. Until very recently in human evolutionary history, mothers nursed their children for two to four years before becoming fertile again. Many children died, especially in the perilous first year . Most women saw no more than two or three of their children survive to adulthood, and many did not see any survive. To become a grandmother, a woman had to make hard choices….” – November 2 1997 New York Times Magazine “Why They Kill Their Newborns”


Pinker continues:

"Several moral philosophers have concluded that neonates are not persons, and thus neonaticide should not be classified as murder. Michael Tooley has gone so far as to say that neonaticide ought to be permitted during an interval after birth. Most philosophers (to say nothing of nonphilosophers) recoil from that last step, but the very fact that there can be a debate about the personhood of neonates, but no debate about the personhood of older children, makes it clearer why we feel more sympathy for an Amy Grossberg than for a Susan Smith."


Why more sympathy for one than the other; both acted as if it was unreasonable to expect them to have any obligations towards their own children – much like Thomson’s argument. In short, if Thomson’s argument works for abortion, it works for neonaticide, too. What is neonaticide, you ask? It is the term Peter Singer used to create a middle ground between abortion and infanticide. Further, does not Thomson’s argument teach us that we have the right to kill anyone who inhibits our liberty in any way? Hence, Thomson’s analogy from the violinst is an analogy for violence.

Another way that it proves too much is that it has to reject wholesale the idea that parents have any obligations or duties towards their offspring. Once again, Greg Koukl comments on this:

“Blood relationships are never based on choice, yet they entail moral obligations, nonetheless. This is why the courts prosecute negligent parents. They have consistently ruled, for example, that fathers have an obligation to support their children even if they are unplanned and unwanted.”


He further adds,

“Thompson is mistaken in presuming that pregnancy is the thing that expropriates a woman's liberty. Motherhood does that, and motherhood doesn't end with the birth of the child. Unlike the woman connected to the violinist, a mother is not released in nine months. Her burden has just begun. If Thompson's argument works, then no child is safe from a mother who wants her liberty.”


Another key difference, following John Wilcox, is that the Thomson analogy presents pregnancy as inherently bad. In fact, it is viewed as a diseased state. In most cases, pregnancy is healthy and safe for both mother and child. In fact, one reason the woman is pregnant in the first place is due in part to the fact that she is healthy – her reproductive organs are definitely working well, that’s for sure.

It is true a woman may experience nausea and insomnia, especially during the first trimester. Up until the 1960’s doctors in Canada and Europe would prescribe a drug called Thalidomide to fix this. Eventually it was discovered the drug caused severe birth defects, such as malformations, abbreviated arms or no arms at all. (thalidomide.ca/en/information/history_of_thalidomide.html)

Interestingly enough, both David Boonin and McDonagh list nausea and insomnia as part of the physical cost of pregnancy (one even calls it a serious injury to the mother). Richard J. Poupard asks a key question:

If it is permissible … for a mother to kill her unborn child in order to stop experiencing these symptoms, it ought to be permissible for her to take a medication such as thalidomide that would cause sub-lethal harm to her child in order to treat her symptoms, since, although the fetus would be harmed, he or she would not be harmed as much as in elective abortion.

How can Thomson et al. avoid this inescapable conclusion to their argument? Earlier in his article, Poupard puts all this in perspective:

If the right of bodily autonomy is absolute, as it needs to be defend the act of intentionally killing a human person, how could we fault the mother … which is worse: causing harm to a child or intentionally killing that same child? If autonomy, then it is unreasonable to disallow her to harm the same child using the same reasoning.


As a foster parent I have seen up close many abused children. My wife and I have had kids in our care who screamed bloody murder anytime I would go to hug them because of what they anticipated. We have had kids who smelled like smoke for a month after we first received them because they were so saturated with it. We had a child who was so dirty he turned the bathtub mud-black the first time he took a bath at our house on the night we got him. We have had children with Star Trek-like bugs literally coming out of their ear holes (and other various sundry holes as well). We have had infants who were neglected so badly by their birth parents that a fire man had to give CPR to resuscitate them; we are talking about a one-month old baby here! We have had a two-year old who walked with a permanent limp (resulting in an oddly humorous gait) because his father had beat him so severely. We even had one toddler whose scrotum was beat black and blue – I am not exaggerating – and a fractured skull and broken arm to match. This little boy was two years old and only weighed 20 pounds – severely underweight. I even remember one baby girl who screamed shrills of terror every night in the other room because her birth mother was on acid and the baby was having residual hallucinogenic trips.

When I reflect on this, I can not help but think that we are living in a brave new culture that increasingly treats precious human life as the undesired dirt on the bottom of an otherwise clean shoe. Abortion is just one more way we use to scrape off the human refuse … I can not help but think that Thomson and her arguments are only sharpening the knife.

NOTES:
*To his credit, Jim Lippard does recognize the analogy isn’t quite tight when he says, “The problem with this scenario is that it isn't quite analogous to pregnancy except in case of rape.” I wonder if Jim is aware that some pro-choicers do say pregnancy is almost identitical to rape. Eileen McDonagh comes to mind.

Eileen McDonagh, Breaking the Abortion Deadlock: From Choice to Consent (New York, Oxford University Press, 1996).
John Wilcox, “Nature as Demonic in Thomson’s Defense of Abortion,” The New Scholasticism 63 (Autumn 1989), 463-484.
David Boonin A Defense of Abortion (Cambride, England: Cambrideg Univ. Press, 2003), 137.
“Suffer the Violinist: why the Pro-Abortion Argument from Bodily Autonomy Fails” Christian Research Journal vol. 30, no. 04 2007, 32-40.

21 comments:

  1. vocab,

    I have a number of problems with your arguments in part 5. First, you predicate your argument with the assumption that the pro-choice argument "grants" the fetus is a person, when I believe the argument is that the issue of personhood is not a prerequisite to the argument, not that the personhood assumption is granted.

    This presumption is only valid in late term abortions. Late term abortions are only legal when the life of the mother is in jeopardy, in which case the argument is a self-defense argument, which I do not believe you reasonably address.

    In early term abortions, the status of personhood becomes relevant. I don’t believe any pro-choice advocate would claim a bunch of cells with unique DNA, but not a developed individual with a functional brain (capable past or present of having beliefs, desires, etc.) and other fundamental properties of rational human beings, is a full person, so less than full rights are appropriate. You claim a single cell is a complete person, and that pretty much ends this argument. Unfortunately, you carry on this argument as though your opponents grant personhood to some barely differentiated cells.

    The next problem I have with your position is equating the degree of difficulty of care between pregnancy and toddler. This ignores the fact that there are additional options for care after pregnancy, such as giving up an infant for adoption. Many states have laws that allow infants a year or older to be given up in order to prevent infanticide. Given such options, the comparison with pre-viable fetuses fails. Since the option to separate the mother from the “person” begins with fetus viability, and the laws restricting abortion are based on this, your infanticide analogy is irrelevant to the pro-choice position (which is not pro-infanticide).

    Finally, I find your discussion of pregnancy discomfort to be rather dismissive of your opponents. Avoidance of simple pregnancy induced nausea is not a justification for abortion made by most pro-choice advocates. That is not a slippery slope argument from the self-defense justification for toleration of abortion.

    You exacerbate this last argument with a claim in your footnote that "some pro-choicers do say pregnancy is almost identical to rape." Since that is hardly the argument Jim has presented, this is a strawman. While I find this Eileen McDonagh attribution outrageous (the position, not the attribution), I do not find it nearly as outrageous as your claim that a single cell can be a full person deserving full rights of personhood. I find that horrendously devaluing of what it means to be a person, for which we strive so hard to establish moral and legal rights which we expect all to respect.

    -- Alan

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  2. Alan said...
    "First, you predicate your argument with the assumption that the pro-choice argument "grants" the fetus is a person, when I believe the argument is that the issue of personhood is not a prerequisite to the argument, not that the personhood assumption is granted."

    I am saying that every other argument for abortion - save Thomson & co's bodily autonomy argument - denies the personhood of the unborn. Thomson "grants" it in her argument.

    Alan said ...
    "Late term abortions are only legal when the life of the mother is in jeopardy..."

    Oh, how I wish that were so ...

    Alan said ...
    "I find your discussion of pregnancy discomfort to be rather dismissive of your opponents. Avoidance of simple pregnancy induced nausea is not a justification for abortion made by most pro-choice advocates."

    I mean this with all due respect but perhaps you are not all that familiar with the more high-brow arguments for abortion. Boonin and McDonagh do list these things as PART (notice I did not say WHOLE) of the physical cost of pregnancy. Remember, they are arguing from bodily autonomy so it makes perfect sense they would factor these in.

    Alan said...
    "I find that horrendously devaluing of what it means to be a person, for which we strive so hard to establish moral and legal rights which we expect all to respect."

    I agree ... except this is what ABORTION does, not pro-life arguments!

    vM!

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  3. vocab,

    Please consider the whole of my comment. You quoted me and responded:

    Alan said...
    "I find that horrendously devaluing of what it means to be a person, for which we strive so hard to establish moral and legal rights which we expect all to respect."

    I agree ... except this is what ABORTION does, not pro-life arguments!


    However, you left out my main point, that considering just "a single cell can be a full person deserving full rights of personhood" is devaluing what a person is. I find a person is far more than a single cell with DNA. A single cell cannot steal, or murder, or lie, or violate any one of the biblical Ten Commandments in any way whatsoever. We are talking about an object thoroughly incapable, past or present, of violating any law, or infringe on the rights of anyone else, or have any other relevance to any behaviors attributable to a developed person. To say such a cell is equivalent to a conscious person is devaluing to an extreme extent those properties of a person that a cell does not have.

    -- Alan

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  4. Alan said -
    "A single cell cannot steal, or murder, or lie, or violate any one of the biblical Ten Commandments in any way whatsoever."

    Alan, are you aware that an embryo is only a single-cell for a very short time? You are way overstating your "case".

    Further, since when does the power to commit a certain crime a prerequisite for personhood?

    Alan said -
    "We are talking about an object thoroughly incapable, past or present, of violating any law, or infringe on the rights of anyone else, or have any other relevance to any behaviors attributable to a developed person."

    If this "object" does not infringe on anyone's rights, then the argument from bodily autonomy for abortion fails.

    Further, why would you want to justify terminating such an innocent one as this?

    vm

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  5. Anonymous10:47 AM

    [please excuse anonymous posting, but sign in is failing now - this is Alan!]

    vocab: Alan, are you aware that an embryo is only a single-cell for a very short time? You are way overstating your "case".

    Let us assume the embryo is a single cell for one nanosecond. Will you concede that it is not a person for that nanosecond?

    vocab: Further, since when does the power to commit a certain crime a prerequisite for personhood?

    It is not crime potential per se. I was trying to demonstrate that there are enormous ranges of things, thoughts, emotions, etc. that are capabilities for which some subset are necessarily part of being a person, and that an embryo has NONE of these abilities. Only at some time after the point of having some subset of these abilities is it rational to describe these cells as a person. Prior to that point, these embryonic cells are living, but so are every other form of life we know.

    vocab: Alan said -
    "We are talking about an object thoroughly incapable, past or present, of violating any law, or infringe on the rights of anyone else, or have any other relevance to any behaviors attributable to a developed person."

    vocab: If this "object" does not infringe on anyone's rights, then the argument from bodily autonomy for abortion fails.

    The "anyone else" was not meant to include the single person whose life is being infringed (see the violinist argument Lippard referenced): the mother. Sorry that my exclusionary reference was poorly stated. (I can only wish that my writing was as clear as yours and Jim's!)

    vocab: Further, why would you want to justify terminating such an innocent one as this?

    I would NOT want to terminate the embryonic development. However, this discussion is about balance of rights and not about isolated rights or isolated desires. I often have to do things I do not want to do. Things like self defense is seldom a desired situation, but is usually an easily justifiable situation. Even harm to innocent people can be justified when rights of many are in conflict.

    -- Alan

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  6. [Sign in is now working. The above was really from me! -- Alan]

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  7. Not trying to rush you, but in case you missed the question in my last post, I asked:

    "Let us assume the embryo is a single cell for one nanosecond. Will you concede that it is not a person for that nanosecond?"

    -- Alan

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  8. Alan -

    Sorry I haven't been able to respond to these comments as I should have. There's still a ton over on Jim's blog that I wanted to interact with but sometimes I find myself having to use my time either to post a new blog or respond to comments from previous ones. So far, I usually end up opting for the former. For that I apologize.

    As far as your question, my point was that you were overstating your case by constantly referring to an embryo as a single-cell, when that is the case only for a very short time.

    Nonetheless, it is true that it is a single-cell for a short time. My understanding is that it is longer than a "nanosecond"; not that you were proposing that, I'm just clarifying.

    To be consistent, I don't see how I can draw an arbitrary line there since it is not justified to draw such a distinction any place else.

    In short, what I'm saying is that, no, I can not "concede" the embryo at that stage is not a person and the reason is because scientifically we KNOW that the embryo at that point - and every other, for that matter - is human, and all human beings by definition are persons and therefore deserve the rights and protections which all humans deserve simply be their inherent value.

    I see no way around this if we are to be ethically moral and philosophically consistent. In fact, I celebrate the infinite worth built-in to every human who has lived and will ever live - whether that be for a short time or a long time - because all human life is precious and valuable.

    Vm!

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  9. vocab: In short, what I'm saying is that, no, I can not "concede" the embryo at that stage is not a person and the reason is because scientifically we KNOW that the embryo at that point - and every other, for that matter - is human, and all human beings by definition are persons and therefore deserve the rights and protections which all humans deserve simply be their inherent value.

    This is purely circular reasoning. There is NOTHING scientific in this point! It is only a definition, and not even a generally accepted definition, and certainly not part of any science definition. A human cell is not a human being, any more that it is a human eye, or a human emotion, or a human race. It has the genetic encoding may enable it to become a human being, but it is not a being. It is not a person. A potential to become a person does not make it a person. Your statement is an illogical assertion with no scientific basis, and minimal moral or ethical basis, save for some religions, and is clearly not found in many other religions.

    vocab: I see no way around this if we are to be ethically moral and philosophically consistent. In fact, I celebrate the infinite worth built-in to every human who has lived and will ever live - whether that be for a short time or a long time - because all human life is precious and valuable.

    I agree that human life is precious and valuable. So is gold. The claim of infinite worth is a meaningless claim. Your argument is a religious one, and not a scientific one. Your religious argument is contradicted by other religions. The premise that a cell is a human being is an assertion based on a very narrow religious morality that is as odds with science, and devalues those properties of human-ness which truly are precious and valuable, such as kindness and caring and love, none of which can be found in a cell.

    -- Alan

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  10. Alan -

    My assertion that all humans are person is the point of contention but it is not really a debateable point that scientifically the embryo is human. It is not merely a “human cell”. To be honest, I think this point has been settled by the science of embryology with no room for disagreement. The literature on this is massive and I tried to summarize it in my first post. I apologize if I did not make it clear as it is.

    In your rebuttal you mentioned a “human emotion” is not a “human being” nor is a “human race”. I really don’t understand what you are saying here. Could you please elaborate?

    It is a philosophical debate whether all humans are persons, not a scientific debate. This is why we must both appeal to metaphysical presuppositions. At some point, both arguments become circular. The question is, is it a vicious circle or a gracious circle?

    As far as many other religions disagree, what does a competing claim to truth have anything to do with whether or not any other claim is true? Do competing claims to truth somehow invalidate the truth? Alan, the fact that you even mentioned this as an argument against mine betrays the fact you have some confusion in your understanding of epistemology. Perhaps that is where some of our disagreements come from?

    Also, how is my philosophical argument that all humans are person strictly a religious argument? In the course of our discussion, the only person who quoted a Bible verse in defense of his position was actually Jim Lippard – not me! Both arguments make claims about metaphysics, the question is which one is corresponds to reality? Attacking mine as “a religious argument” does nothing to prove the validity of your argument or the perceived error of mine, anyway. It is merely a certain kind of ad hominem attack.

    Your statement that human life is precious and valuable but “so is gold” is ironic, considering you say one of the reasons embryos are not persons is because they can not display “kindness and caring and love”. It seems by this definition, many advocates of abortion would not be persons, either …

    vm

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  11. [part 1 of 2]

    vm: My assertion that all humans are person is the point of contention but it is not really a debateable point that scientifically the embryo is human.

    You claim above that it is a scientific fact. It is not even meaningful to say that; it is hardly a scientific fact.

    vm: It is not merely a “human cell”. To be honest, I think this point has been settled by the science of embryology with no room for disagreement. The literature on this is massive and I tried to summarize it in my first post. I apologize if I did not make it clear as it is.

    The only thing I can find in your part I is tied to footnote 6. Is this the correct reference? If so, it is merely an assertion on your part. Could you point to a scientific reference in a peer reviewed embryology journal that equates a human cell to a human being? If the literature is massive, as you claim, this should be easy to find, but I can not find any such claim.



    vm: In your rebuttal you mentioned a “human emotion” is not a “human being” nor is a “human race”. I really don’t understand what you are saying here. Could you please elaborate?

    I am suggesting that a human being is a very complex organism with many capabilities and properties. For example, when I look up “human being” in my computer dictionary, I get “a man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.” Wikipedia says, “Humans are bipedal primates belonging to the species Homo sapiens (Latin: "wise man" or "knowing man") in Hominidae, the great ape family. They are the only surviving members of the genus Homo. Humans have a highly developed brain, capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, and problem solving. This mental capability, combined with an erect body carriage that frees the arms for manipulating objects, has allowed humans to make far greater use of tools than any other species.” These are definitions that cannot be applied to a single cell of any kind.

    I know of no definition of a human being or person outside of some religious contexts that could reasonably be interpreted to be applicable to a single cell. To be a human being, you need human cells (neuron cells, liver cells, bone cells, etc.), emotions, functioning human organs, and so on. Sure, some things can be missing (a person on an artificial heart is still a human being), but a single cell is missing virtually EVERYTHING necessary to be a human being, except for the instructions on how to BECOME a human being. That is what I meant for my reference to “human emotion” as an example of something a human being has that a human cell does not.

    To elaborate on my reference to “human race” comes from the other extreme. I would define a human race as a collection of human beings sharing some mostly unique set of genetic codes. If you can accept this definition, then I think you can see that a single person, while possibly a member of a race (depending on how you define a mixed-race individual) is not, as an individual, a human race. The analogy that a race is a collection of individuals is analogous to a human being as a collection of human cells. A single cell is no more a person than a single person is a race.

    [continued in part 2]


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  12. [part 2]

    vm: It is a philosophical debate whether all humans are persons, not a scientific debate. This is why we must both appeal to metaphysical presuppositions. At some point, both arguments become circular. The question is, is it a vicious circle or a gracious circle?

    I sorry, but I do not see any debate here at all. All I see is a definitional word play assertion with no value outside of a religious context. I know of no other context where a cell could be considered a person. It reminds me of a discussion I had with a good friend who was explaining to me that, per his religion’s teachings every person violates every one of the Ten Commandments every day of their lives (Lutheran ELCA, and he was sharing this with me from a church publication). I’m sorry, but an unmarried person committing adultery is a logical contradiction, except by the bizarre definition of adultery used in this religious context.

    vm: As far as many other religions disagree, what does a competing claim to truth have anything to do with whether or not any other claim is true? Do competing claims to truth somehow invalidate the truth? Alan, the fact that you even mentioned this as an argument against mine betrays the fact you have some confusion in your understanding of epistemology. Perhaps that is where some of our disagreements come from?

    I think you are confusing epistemology with theology. The reason that I am addressing religion in my arguments here is precisely because I can only comprehend what you are writing about cells from a theological perspective. No other theory of knowledge or belief allows me to make any sense out of the claim that a single cell is a person. Your claims of scientific basis is also completely meaningless to me, unless I apply a very different meaning of “scientific” to what I know is scientific. I don’t think you are intentionally playing word games here, but it is what I see. The only times I see this kind of argument from intelligent, well meaning people (which you obviously are) is when a very strong religious or political perspective is the basis. (I have ruled out political here!)


    vm: Your statement that human life is precious and valuable but “so is gold” is ironic, considering you say one of the reasons embryos are not persons is because they can not display “kindness and caring and love”. It seems by this definition, many advocates of abortion would not be persons, either …

    This is a non-sequitur. I used “kindness and caring and love” as an example of complex emotion and behavior that people may demonstrate that a embryo can not. It does not follow that all humans must display kindness and caring and love at all times. I’m guessing that your ellipse was a typo for a smiley face? Besides that, I could argue that an advocating for an abortion can be an act of kindness and caring and love, for example, when it is necessary to protect the life of the mother.

    On a side note, I hope you don’t misconstrue my lack of tack in this discussion for a lack of respect to you. I have multiple demonstrations of poor writing (e.g., the very obvious in hindsight need to explain my use of emotion and race in the previous post). The more I try to write clearly, the more I think I appear to become detached from any personal connection in the discussion, which is not intentional.

    -- Alan

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  13. Alan -

    As far as your writing, I think it's clear enough, as you are obviously bright. As far as your demeanor, no sweat, you seem to be a very nice person. And as far as "religious arguments" go, if you want to hear me make those then join me this Sunday @Roosevelt Community Church [rooseveltchurch.org] as I will be preaching on the sanctity of human life as found in the book of Exodus.

    Pursuant your last comments, here are some quotes:

    • Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd Edition: “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization ... is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.” (p. 8)

    • Before We Are Born: “Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an oocyte and a sperm, is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” (p. 2)

    • Langman’s Embryology: “Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote.” (p. 3)

    • Ralph P. Miech (Brown University): “Human embryos and human fetuses are human beings, each with their own unique genetic DNA.”

    • C. Christopher Hook (Mayo Clinic): “When fertilization is complete, a unique genetic human entity exists.”– quoted by Richard Ostling in an AP news story, 9/24/99

    • David Boonin: “Perhaps the most straightforward relation between you or me on the one hand and every human fetus from conception onward on the other is this: All are living members of the same species, homo sapiens. A human fetus, after all, is simply a human being at a very early stage in his or her development.” (p. 20)

    • Peter Singer: “It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’. Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being; and the same is true of the most profoundly and irreparably intellectually disabled human being, even of an infant who is born anencephalic –literally, without a brain.” (pp. 85‐86)

    • Wayne Sumner: “A human fetus is not a nonhuman animal; it is a stage of a human being.“ (p. 10)

    SOURCES:
    Christopher Hook quote: Richard Ostling, AP news, 9/24/99: www.ardmoreite.com/stories/092499/opE_moral.shtml
    • Ronan OʹRahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd ed. (New York: Wiley‐Liss, 2001), p. 8
    • Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects, Sixth Edition (Philadelphia: Saunders, 2003) p. 2
    • T.W. Sadler, Langman’s Embryology, 9th Edition (London: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2004), p. 3
    • David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge University Press: New York), p. 20
    • Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 85‐86.
    • Wayne L. Sumner, Abortion and Moral Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 10

    *These quotes also appear in an article by STR's Steve Wagner titled "No One Knows"

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  14. Alan -

    As far as your writing, I think it's clear enough, as you are obviously bright. As far as your demeanor, no sweat, you seem to be a very nice person. And as far as "religious arguments" go, if you want to hear me make those then join me this Sunday @Roosevelt Community Church [rooseveltchurch.org] as I will be preaching on the sanctity of human life as found in the book of Exodus.

    Pursuant your last comments, here are some quotes:

    • Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd Edition: “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization ... is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.” (p. 8)

    • Before We Are Born: “Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an oocyte and a sperm, is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” (p. 2)

    • Langman’s Embryology: “Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote.” (p. 3)

    • Ralph P. Miech (Brown University): “Human embryos and human fetuses are human beings, each with their own unique genetic DNA.”

    • C. Christopher Hook (Mayo Clinic): “When fertilization is complete, a unique genetic human entity exists.”– quoted by Richard Ostling in an AP news story, 9/24/99

    • David Boonin: “Perhaps the most straightforward relation between you or me on the one hand and every human fetus from conception onward on the other is this: All are living members of the same species, homo sapiens. A human fetus, after all, is simply a human being at a very early stage in his or her development.” (p. 20)

    • Peter Singer: “It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’. Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being; and the same is true of the most profoundly and irreparably intellectually disabled human being, even of an infant who is born anencephalic –literally, without a brain.” (pp. 85‐86)

    • Wayne Sumner: “A human fetus is not a nonhuman animal; it is a stage of a human being.“ (p. 10)

    SOURCES:
    Christopher Hook quote: Richard Ostling, AP news, 9/24/99: www.ardmoreite.com/stories/092499/opE_moral.shtml
    • Ronan OʹRahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd ed. (New York: Wiley‐Liss, 2001), p. 8
    • Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects, Sixth Edition (Philadelphia: Saunders, 2003) p. 2
    • T.W. Sadler, Langman’s Embryology, 9th Edition (London: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2004), p. 3
    • David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge University Press: New York), p. 20
    • Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 85‐86.
    • Wayne L. Sumner, Abortion and Moral Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 10

    *These quotes also appear in an article by STR's Steve Wagner titled "No One Knows"

    ReplyDelete
  15. I asked for “scientific reference in a peer reviewed embryology journal that equates a human cell to a human being?” You replied with eight references, which I reference in part below, in the order you posted, prefixed with vm1 through vm8. I tried to align your sources (in square brackets) with the references as best I could, and apologize if I didn’t get each correct.

    vm1: • Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd Edition; “distinct human organism”
    Of course a living cell is an organism, but that is not a claim that it is a person.



    vm2: • Before We Are Born: “Zygote [...] is the beginning of a new human being” [Moore & Persaud]
    It claims the beginning of a human being. You could call architectural plans for a planned skyscraper the beginning of a building is a similar way, but that does not make the plans themselves a building. I know a cell is more that just the plans for a person, but the logic of the claim holds for this analogy.



    vm3: • Langman’s Embryology: “give rise to a zygote.” [Ostling, AP news: www.ardmoreite.com/stories/092499/opE_moral.shtml {page does not exist error}]
There is no claim here that a zygote is a person.

    
vm4: • Ralph P. Miech (Brown University) [Ronan OʹRahilly and Fabiola Muller]
    This highly published scientist should be a good source for a peer reviewed scientific reference. Have any?



    vm5: • C. Christopher Hook: a unique genetic human entity”– an AP news story [T.W. Sadler]
    The is no claim here that an entity is a person.

    

vm6: • David Boonin [Boonin]
    Boonin is a philosopher, not a scientist.



    vm7: • Peter Singer [Singer]
    Singer is a philosopher, not a scientist.


    vm8: • Wayne Sumner [Sumner]
    Sumner is a nurse, not a scientist. 


    Your vm1, 2, 6, 7 & 8 are text books, while vm3, 4 & 5 are AP news reports. None are peer reviewed scientific journal references. Most are not scientific references at all.

    Please justify your claim that a zygote is a person is an accepted scientific fact. (I use the term “fact” in non-scientific way here, but I do not believe this is a point of contention.) An accepted “scientific” definition is one that finds use in peer reviewed scientific journals (where a “working definition” is not needed to be delineated for a non-standard use of a term). You made a very big point about this; I challenged that point; and you replied with irrelevant references to support your claim.

    Most of your references stress that a zygote is alive, and I agree with that. I think we are also in agreement that my reference to the “single human cell” is more properly called a zygote. I still contend that relevant peer reviewed scientific journals, such as embryology journal, would not accept references to a zygote as a person.

    The term “human being” is a bit more nebulous. I was using the term synonymously with person because that is how I understood your use of the term for this claim, and it is in this context that I contend human being would not be allowed in a peer reviewed scientific journal as an unqualified synonym for a zygote. I have no problem with a qualifications such as used in vm1 (distinct human being), vm2 (new), and vm5 (unique) as a being a relevantly qualified use of human being.

    I take issue with qualifications such as “beginning human being” as used in vm2, and as used in vm7 by defining human being as having the right number of chromosomes (this a properly qualified “working definition” for the purposes of the article itself).

    The philosophical arguments that a zygote is a person are more interesting, but I am not willing to move on to them while there is still a scientific claim on the table!

    In case I am not very clear, my whole micro point at this junction is that the “person” comes into existence for all rational purposes at some point strictly after being a zygote, and that there is no significant scientific basis to the contrary.

    -- Alan

    ReplyDelete
  16. Alan -

    So in your view a quote from an actual "standard in its field" textbook on Embryology is not sufficient? How is a text book in the field from which med students learn not scientific? Are the textbooks filled w/pro-life propaganda or something?

    Also, if I am wrong on this, then why do Singer, Boonin, and Sumner get their info? They are all very strident abortion advocates and yet agree with the main point! Do you have any quotes that agree w/you? That an embryo is not human? Here are some more quotes from the other side:

    "…each of us has a unique beginning, the moment of conception … As soon as the 23 chromosomes carried by the sperm encounter the 23 chromosomes carried by the ovum, the whole information necessary and sufficient to spell out all the characteristics of the new being is gathered … a new human being is defined which has never occurred before and will never occur again … [it] is not just simply a non-descript cell, or a ‘population’ or loose ‘collection’ of cells, but a very specialized individual …" [J. Lejeune, A symphony of the preborn child: part 2. (Hagerstown, MD: NAACP, 1989) ]

    “Science has a very simple conception of man; as soon as he has been conceived, a man is a man.” ~Jerome Lejeune, M.D., Ph.D., former professor of Fundamental Genetics, Hôpital des Enfants Malades, Paris, France

    “I think we can now also say that the question of the beginning of life—when life begins—is no longer a question for theological or philosophical dispute. It is an established scientific fact. Theologians and philosophers may go on to debate the meaning of life or purpose of life, but it is an established fact that all life, including human life, begins at the moment of conception.”
    Dr. Hymie Gordon, Mayo Clinic

    “It is incorrect to say that biological data cannot be decisive. … It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception, when egg and sperm join to form the zygote, and this developing human always is a member of our species in all stages of its life.”
    Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth, Harvard University Medical School

    Also, the Miech & Hook quotes I cited in my last comments are found on side 1, panel 1 of the Justice For All Exhibit - jfaweb.org

    I am getting the feeling you are fundamentally predisposed to even considering changing any of your thoughts on this, regardless of what I show you.

    vM!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Oops, I meant "WHERE do Singer, Boonin, and Sumner get their info?" in the first line of the 2nd paragraph ...

    ReplyDelete
  18. vm: So in your view a quote from an actual "standard in its field" textbook on Embryology is not sufficient? How is a text book in the field from which med students learn not scientific? Are the textbooks filled w/pro-life propaganda or something?


    I’m not challenging this claim exactly, but which reference are you saying is a standard in the field, and exactly what support do you have for it being a standard (e.g., can you identify a few major medical schools that use the text as part of their curriculum)?

    
vm: Also, if I am wrong on this, [...] Do you have any quotes that agree w/you?

    You made a very specific scientific claim. I asked you to provide scientific support for the specific claim you made. You have not done so. It is not my responsibility to prove it wrong. You asked me where some philosopher gets their data. It is not my job to find out where, or, more importantly, if the source is a valid scientific source which should have been the support for your claim to begin with. Nor do practicing physicians or nurses or scientists expressing their view outside of their fields constitute support for your claim. Especially a pro-life Catholic pediatrician (Lejeune). Unless they have published a paper in a scientific, peer reviewed journal making the specific claim, then you are not answering my specific request to support your “scientific” claim.

    Peer reviewed papers are carefully reviewed by supposedly objective experts in the field who raise objections to any and all errors they find in submitted papers. Unless the author(s) can correct, or substantiate all concerns of the reviewers, the paper will probably not get published in the journal. Texts used for teaching have less stringent review, such that many personal opinions are likely to be acceptable to publishers and schools, especially if the opinions are clearly opinions and not scientific claims.

    I am not arguing that scientists do not ever consider a zygote to be a person, as many clearly do. I am arguing that it is not an accepted scientific fact, in stark contradiction of your claim, and I am doubtful that you will be able to find a paper supporting your claim in a relevant journal, which is the scientific gold standard for what constitutes scientific knowledge.

    vm: I am getting the feeling you are fundamentally predisposed to even considering changing any of your thoughts on this, regardless of what I show you.

    Kettle calling the pot black, perhaps?! More than saying you are wrong, I am asking you to support your very specific claim with convincing evidence, or retract your specific claim about science. I could be very wrong. I am not an embryologist. I have not read much in embryology journals (quite a bit, actually, but most of it from college in the ‘70s as a biomedical engineering student). However, I believe your claim is a philosophical and theological claim, with significant political importance, but is hardly relevant to science at all. You have made this a fundamental premise of your argument, which I can not understand from a scientific perspective. Rational arguments from contradictory premises do not get very far!

    -- Alan

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  19. I am trying to clearly understand what you mean when you say that single cell is a person. This is a scientific perspective, but is not intended to be (or become) a challenge to your previous scientific claim.

    Will you accept the following description of what happens to a zygote in the first few days, assuming the zygote is allowed to develop as normal:

    1) Upon successful fertilization of a sperm and an egg, a zygote is created. It is a stem cell that has the ability to become all cell types needed in an adult, or can become placental cells, and this ability to become any kind of cell is called todipotent.

    2) The zygote divides a few times while traveling to the uterus. Since there are no nutrients being absorbed, each division results in smaller cells, which together are the same size as the original zygote, and each of the first cell, then two cells, then four cells and then eight cells are stem cells that are all todipotent.

    3) After the third division, the cells divide into two different kinds of stem cells; those that will become the adult (pluripotent), and those that will become placental which will form the connection between the embryo and the mother, providing nutrition to the embryo. (Current scientific consensus seems to be exactly three divisions, but this is not an important point for this argument.)

    4) Further cell division in the embryo results in semi specialized stem cells (multipotent). Some will become neural cells, some bone cells, etc. At this point the stem cells have limited ability to become any kind of adult cells, but are not yet fixed (unipotent) to the specific cell type (skin, muscle, nerve, liver, etc.) that successor cells will become.

    Since this much is pretty well established and well accepted science, may I assume you have no significant problem with the claims 1-4, above?

    The question I have is about the two, four, or eight cells that lead up to step three. If the bond which holds these cells together breaks, then you will likely end up with two, four, or eight fetuses (with any subset, or all surviving). Let’s assume we get two, which will be identical twins. Was the first cell that you claim is a person, really two different human beings? Or, did that cell just have the potential to become two different people? Or, was that cell a single person, that just happened to split into two different people? Or, was that cell destined to become two different people? Or, is it something else?

    -- Alan

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  20. Alan -

    It seems you have the facts correct. Of course, I claim no expertise in this area, for I am not an embryologist. I just want to preface my response that way because I feel all I can honestly do at this point is cite the work of others who are more informed in this area. My general understanding is that we still don't even completely understand many aspects of twinning.

    Remember, only SOME individuals have the ability to twin/recombine and it seems to run in specific families. Francis J. Beckwith points out, “monozygotic twinning has a genetic cause. It seems, therefore, that some zygotes have a basic duality prior to their splitting – an intrinsically directed potential that is not present in most other zygotes.”

    To me, this seems like a valid response and is consistent w/a robust pro-life position.

    Beckwith later says, “Suppose, however, that the early embryo were to possess an intrinsically directed potential for twinning that may be triggered by some external stimulus. This would only mean that the human being, early in its existence, possesses a present capacity (i.e., twinning) that becomes latent after a certain level of development, just as some latent capabilities become present later in its existence (e.g., the ability to do algebra).”

    I think he is saying that environmental factors can play a part here and we should recognize this.

    Beckwith also mentions Edwin Hui, who said, “the two beings that emerge as twins are in actuality two from conception, although in a ‘latent’ form.”

    These quotes are from "Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice" by Francis J. Beckwith. If you want to see an informed critique of his work, read http://jme.bmj.com/content/34/11/793.abstract

    You have to pay to get the full text, though =(

    Vm!

    ReplyDelete
  21. vm: Remember, only SOME individuals have the ability to twin/recombine and it seems to run in specific families. Francis J. Beckwith points out, “monozygotic twinning has a genetic cause. It seems, therefore, that some zygotes have a basic duality prior to their splitting – an intrinsically directed potential that is not present in most other zygotes.”

    This is an assumption. That twining is genetic is more likely to mean having the genes that correlate with twining make twining more likely, and not that having those genes means there must be twins. A more plausible assumption would be that the “twins gene” cause the binding of the todipotent embryo cells to be more fragile; more easily separated. Your assumption may “be consistent with a robust pro-life position,” but that is putting the cart before the horse; letting the end belief determine how the evidence will be interpreted, while ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

    You go on to say “I think he is saying that environmental factors can play a part here and we should recognize this.” However, you say nothing further that recognizes the environmental factors! If you recognize that environmental factors contribute to twining, then you must acknowledge that those factors which cause the single cell zygote to become twins is a factor that happens after the conception, when environmental factors can act on the existing embryo, and therefore, it makes no sense to require (repeating your quote from Hui): “the two beings that emerge as twins are in actuality two from conception, although in a ‘latent’ form.” How else could you recognize these environmental factors without an arbitrary (and silly) assumption that only environmental conditions present prior to conception can play a part?

    -- Alan



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