Posted by: Ken Brown | September 16, 2008

Abortion and Moral Equivalence

From Inhabitatio Dei (a great blog I just discovered), Moral Equivalence, War, and Abortion:

I am utterly against the liberal platitudes that would seek to minimize the importance of abortion within our public discourse. But likewise I am utterly against the sort of ethic of innocence that is utilized to establish abortion as an utterly unique instance of horrific violence that trumps all others. What makes forms of violence morally serious cannot depend on the innocence or non-innocence of those who suffer them. What makes violence morally serious is not that it falls on people who are innocent, but that it falls on persons who are human.

As such I get uncomfortable at the way many conservatives seek to elevate the issue of abortion to a pedestal above all other issues of violence and coercion in our culture. To use the seriousness of abortion as a shield against having to think about the moral severity of militarization, torture, and genocide is just as reprehensible as those who use such issues to downplay the seriousness of abortion. John Paul II was correct to include all of these horrors within his indictment of the “culture of death.” Seeking to do some sort of moral algebra within the culture of death to determine which is the “worst” seems like an utterly wrong question.

Read the whole thing.

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Responses

  1. What is the relative incidence of spontaneous as opposed to induced abortions? I thought God was the greatest abortionist of all. If so, in the eyes of religious people, abortion can’t be entirely wrong.

  2. What is the relative incidence of natural death to murder? I guess murder must not be wrong either! See this post.

  3. Murder is unlawful homicide, by definition. Killing is lawful in various circumstances. What makes the difference between the lawful termination of a pregnancy and its termination by Mother Nature (or God)?

  4. Murder is not “unlawful” homicide but unjust and intentional homicide. Laws can be good or evil just as actions can be, so just because abortion is legal does not make it moral. It was legal for American slave owners to beat their slaves to death, for Hitler to slaughter the Jews, for Stalin to kill millions of his own people. Was that not murder?

    In what circumstances do you think intentional homicide is just? The only significant reasons I’m aware of are: 1. In self-defense, or 2. As a punishment for grave evil (though this is arguable). The first of those applies to very few abortions (and no one disputes that these should be legal); the second applies to none.

    Miscarriage is not intentional termination by “Nature” (as though Nature were a person), nor can you equate God with nature as though he were intentionally killing babies (that would be to confuse Christian theism with pantheism). Miscarriage is simply a broad category covering all the reasons a fetus might die, and the reasons fetuses die are as varied as the reasons infants and adults die. The fact that all of us die for some reason does not, itself, justify our killing intentionally.

  5. *I should clarify that I mean “self-defense” to be taken very broadly, such that it might include defense of one’s family, community, country or even of another person. The point is that it is moral to kill someone to prevent them from killing someone else (though only if there are no other feasible alternatives). Again, however, this only applies to abortion in the very small number of cases where the mother’s life is at risk.

    I also want to emphasize the point of the post, that whatever strength these arguments have against abortion, they have just as much strength against “militarization, torture, genocide” and other such atrocities. Too often the American political system forces us to choose between these evils, when all together should be condemned and rejected.

  6. Ken,

    I’m looking for God’s guilt for killing people in various circumstances. You mention the importance of doing things intentionally. Doesn’t God kill a fetus intentionally when he causes a miscarriage?

  7. Who says God “causes” miscarriage? Again, you are confusing Christian theism (which affirms that the universe is an entity distinct from God) with pantheism, which equates God with the universe. Since the universe is not God, the fact that people die of natural causes (of whatever age) does not mean God killed them.

    Or are you disputing the justice of creating a world of mortals at all?

  8. the fact that people die of natural causes (of whatever age) does not mean God killed them.
    ———————————

    What does he do? If he’s as good as non-existent, why bother about him? Let’s just approach the question of foetal abortion from another angle altogether with no mention of supernatural beings?

  9. Hugh,
    What does he do? If he’s as good as non-existent, why bother about him?

    Let’s say I create a virtual world filled with artificial intelligences. In order to ensure that their choices are meaningful, I make them mortal–they can be killed by one another or by various features of their environment or genetics (which are randomized to a certain degree). I do not actively kill them–I want them to prosper!–but I do offer to teach, guide and befriend them, perhaps I even occasionally protect them (though not so constantly that their autonomy is destroyed). I also offer them hope of life after death. Should my virtual creations dismiss me as irrelevant?

    Let’s just approach the question of foetal abortion from another angle altogether with no mention of supernatural beings?

    Since you were the one who raised the issue of “supernatural beings,” by all means! None of my arguments against abortion depend on any particular belief about “supernatural beings.” Rather it is you who have tried to derive from certain beliefs about God (beliefs I do not even hold) a justification for abortion.

  10. Let’s leave the supernatural beings out of it. We can discuss the issue in a reasonable way.

    I wonder why your moral sense is disturbed by abortions allowed by the decisions of democratically elected legislators, acting on the advice of medical experts and requested by women who, presumably, are as well able to make the right decision as you are.

    Do you see some difference between natural and induced abortions?

  11. Hugh,
    I wonder why your moral sense is disturbed by abortions allowed by the decisions of democratically elected legislators, acting on the advice of medical experts and requested by women who, presumably, are as well able to make the right decision as you are.

    First, abortion was not (at least here in the US) legalized by “democratically elected legislators” but by non-elected judges, and except for in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger, there is no clear majority concerning abortion. But in any case, I am not arguing for whether abortion should be illegal, but for whether, except in a small number of cases, it is just. Adultery is, and should be, legal, but it remains reprehensible and immoral.

    Second, just like everyone else, women, “medical experts,” and “democratically elected legislators” can all be mistaken in their moral judgments. Moral questions are not to be decided by majority vote, even if law should be. Do you think George Bush’s moral choices–for instance, his policies on torture–are beyond question, just because he was “democratically elected”?

    Do you see some difference between natural and induced abortions?

    It’s simple: spontaneous abortion is unintentional, while induced abortion is intentional. The distinction is exactly the same as that between accidental death and homicide: Some people die by accidentally falling off ladders; that doesn’t give me the right to push you off one.

  12. Do you see some difference between natural and induced abortions?

    i dunno, do you see some difference between induced death (such as murder) and natural death (such as old age)?

    well, let’s see…

    Murder is unlawful homicide, by definition. Killing is lawful in various circumstances. What makes the difference between the lawful termination of a pregnancy and its termination by Mother Nature

    simply because something is “lawful” does not mean it will agree with someone’s “moral sense,” to borrow your phrase.

    simply because a law is passed by elected representatives after it has been requested by intelligent people and experts have given their opinion does mean other reasonable people have no reason to disagree with it.

  13. Ken,

    The question is whether the result is desirable or not, not whether it is intentionally brought about or not. So, a miscarriage may be a fortunate event for a women, saving her career, her marriage, being, on the whole, beneficial. Medical intervention to induce this process would not seem obviously wrong. Why would you prefer your moral judgment to that of many millions of women who consider they are doing the right thing?

    A false analogy with murder seems to be your only argument.

  14. simply because something is “lawful” does not mean it will agree with someone’s “moral sense,” Jeb
    ———————————

    Agreed. How do we decide between the countless millions of women who believe they are making the right decision and those who want to force an unwanted child on them?

  15. Hugh,
    So, a miscarriage may be a fortunate event for a women, saving her career, her marriage, being, on the whole, beneficial.

    Just because something is fortunate for one person does not make it the right choice, if it harms another person. If I steal something from you, and you are the only witness to the theft, it would be “fortunate” to my future prospects for you to develope amnesia, but the mere fact that I might be better off does not make it moral for me to whack you on the side of the head or attempt to brainwash or otherwise silence you.

    Moral questions must take into account all persons involved, not just the potential benefits of the one making the decision (that is precisely what distinguishes a moral decision from a self-serving one). I do not see how this is changed simply because one of the persons in question is still in utero. If you beleive otherwise, by all means, present an argument.

    A false analogy with murder seems to be your only argument.

    An analogy with murder is not my only argument, but I fail to see why I should raise another one when you have yet to show why this one is mistaken. Simply asserting that it is “false” won’t do.

    How do we decide between the countless millions of women who believe they are making the right decision and those who want to force an unwanted child on them?

    Moral choices are influenced by cultural context. Until recent times “millions” of people felt no moral compunction over racism, but that doesn’t mean their racism was moral. And why was/is racism immoral? Not (primarily) because it harmed those who were racist (I would think the average slaveholder enjoyed a much higher quality of life than they would have without slaves), but precisely because moral claims must take account of the harm one does to others.

  16. The question is whether the result is desirable or not,

    what, exactly, do you mean by “desirable?” an “induced miscarriage” would be ‘desirable’ for a woman if it saved her marriage and/or her career prospects?

    so does that mean it would be moral to allow that same woman to lie, cheat, and/or steal in order to gain a promotion at work? that would be beneficial for her career, and she would think she was doing the right thing (for herself), so do either of us have a right to condemn her for it? would it be moral for a woman to peek into her husband’s personal email account just to make sure he wasn’t having an affair? she would *think* she was doing the right thing for their marriage. does that mean no-one else ought to condemn her for violating her husband’s privacy?

  17. Ken,

    What is a person? I guess it’s what a North American male with 100times her income calls a collection of cells without a nervous system in the womb of a starving African woman.

  18. she would think she was doing the right thing (for herself) Jeb
    ———————————-
    You’ve got expediency mixed up with morality. I think we all understand the difference.

  19. Hugh,
    What is a person? I guess it’s what a North American male with 100times her income calls a collection of cells without a nervous system in the womb of a starving African woman.

    A person may steal because they are starving, and you’d have to be heartless to condemn them for it, but theft is still wrong, and in most cases unnecessary. In the same way, the fact that abortion sometimes seems the only option does not make it a morally neutral choice. In the US and most western nations, the highest abortion rate is among 20-25 year olds, a segment of the population quite capable of supporting a child. And a fetus is a human child. From conception it has a full and unique set of human DNA and will as naturally develop consciousness as you or I naturally wake from sleep. The fact that it is not yet conscious no more justifies its destruction than that you and I are not conscious while under anesthsesia would justify ours.

    You do, however, raise an important point too often overlooked by folks on my side of the fence: To truly be pro-life means not just affirming that everyone has a right to be born, but to do everything in our power to help those already born, whether they be one day or 40 years old. This goes right back to the problem highlighted by the post: People on both sides justifying their lack of concern for certain sorts of tragedy on the grounds that something else is “worse.”

  20. You’ve got expediency mixed up with morality. I think we all understand the difference.

    really? what’s the difference?

    not trolling, actually, i’m genuinely curious as to where you draw the line between ‘expediency’ and ‘morality,’ largely because in my experience, most people i’ve met have disagreed on what that difference was.

  21. From conception it has a full and unique set of human DNA and will as naturally develop consciousness as you or I naturally wake from sleep.

    Poor analogy, I think. We do not sleep for nine months at a time, nor do we grow limbs in so doing.

    I mean, there are tangible differences between a human being and a human fetus that I’ve yet to see you acknowledge, Ken. It is one thing to believe that a human fetus has every right to live as a human being, but I think it would be better for all involved if you drew a line and the sand somewhere.

  22. i’m genuinely curious as to where you draw the line between ‘expediency’ and ‘morality Jeb
    ———————————–

    That’s easy. When you recognize actions as lying, cheating, stealing etc., you know they are immoral.

  23. N. Adam,
    Poor analogy, I think. We do not sleep for nine months at a time, nor do we grow limbs in so doing.

    What relevance does the length of time that a person is unconscious hold for the legitimacy of killing them? What difference does growing (or losing) limbs make to one’s humanity? Is an amputee less a human being than one with four limbs?

    I mean, there are tangible differences between a human being and a human fetus that I’ve yet to see you acknowledge, Ken. It is one thing to believe that a human fetus has every right to live as a human being, but I think it would be better for all involved if you drew a line and the sand somewhere.

    I have always been clear about where I draw the line in the sand: At conception. After that all is relative, for human beings never stop growing and developing. Before conception, there is no human being, just two gametes, neither of which has a full complement of DNA, and neither of which by itself can nor will develop into anything other than a gamete. Unfertilized gametes will naturally die within a few days and are not, genetically nor in any other way, fully human.

    None of this is true of a fertilized embryo, which (barring any genetic or environmental abnormalities) will naturally and inevitably develop all the traits of any other human being. This is precisely why a positive pregnancy test never fails to invoke a strong reaction from the parents (whether positive or negative): everyone recognizes the great difference conception makes.

    But no one knows where to draw a line after conception. Is a fetus human when they have a nervous system and a heartbeat? That is true before many people are even aware that they are pregnant. Or is it when it has four limbs and looks human? Again, lacking limbs later in life is not (I hope you agree) relevant to one’s humanity, and anyway, abortion is still considered acceptable long after this. Or is a fetus only human once they acquire consciousness, sentience, or “personhood”? These are all subjective phenomena and it is not possible to identify precisely where they begin or end for someone else. Tying human rights to any of these traits is precarious at best and, at worst, ends up justifying our denying or reducing the dignity of those who, whether because of developmental disabilities or later damage, lack them to one degree or another.

    My point is not that there are no differences, that humans do not develop, or that there is a “moral equivalence” between choosing to, say, smother an infant and aborting a fetus, but the moral difference lies primarily in the killer’s frame of mind, not in the human status of the one killed. Most women getting abortions do not see themselves as killing a child, so they are not culpable in the same way that an infant killer would be, but the one they are killing is still human. And if one has to draw a ine in the sand (as we must), conception provides the only clear place to put it.

  24. When you recognize actions as lying, cheating, stealing etc., you know they are immoral.

    er…what? could you explain further? i *think* i may understand what you’re getting at, but i’m not sure, so i don’t want to misrepresent your position.

  25. Jeb,

    The conscience or moral sense tells us the difference between right and wrong. This moral sense is part of the psychological machinery which has enabled the human race to survive. That is not to say that individuals do what they know is right in principle. Nor does it mean that they understand the situation well enough to see the best way of following these principles.

  26. That is not to say that individuals do what they know is right in principle. Nor does it mean that they understand the situation well enough to see the best way of following these principles.

    yes, precisely! the thing is, though, that abortion is one of those instances where well-intentioned people who think they know what’s right in principle can’t understand the situation well enough to see the best way of following those good principles. it may seem like a good idea for many women (where’s the harm, right?) but it actually isn’t, at least not in the long run.

  27. jeb said… it may seem like a good idea for many women (where’s the harm, right?) but it actually isn’t, at least not in the long run.
    ———————————-

    You’d have to ask women about it. How would you or I know?

  28. You’d have to ask women about it. How would you or I know?

    well, how do you know i’m not a woman? :-*

    I joke, I joke…of course, there’s no way to tell on the internet, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that i’m a man. of course, i’ll also have to assume you’re a guy as well…D:

    however, to answer your question seriously, you’re right, neither you nor I would have as much at stake in this question as actual women would. unfortunately, women don’t agree on this topic much more than men do. there’s no shortage of women who are as vociferously pro-life as their male counterparts are. so if you believe neither ken nor i should oppose abortion, do you think pro-life women ought not to oppose abortion as well? 😡

  29. if you believe neither ken nor i should oppose abortion Jeb
    ———————————
    Among the moral principles our brain generates is, ‘Be nice to babies’ for obvious long-term reasons of species self-interest. Calling a fetus a baby is not a statement of what it is but of what it will become at a later stage of development. Halting this development is not, as a matter of fact, ‘killing a baby’. Therefore a reasonable argument on the subject would have to be based on some other grounds.

  30. Among the moral principles our brain generates is, ‘Be nice to babies’ for obvious long-term reasons of species self-interest. Calling a fetus a baby is not a statement of what it is but of what it will become at a later stage of development.

    really? how do you know we’re not ~*hard-wired*~ to protect foetii as well? and why can’t foetii be considered babies, anyways? 😡

    and besides, didn’t you just say we’d have to “ask women about it, because neither you nor I would know?” yet now we’re allowed to put forward a “reasonable” argument based on that wonderful ~*natural programming*~ of ours (refined through Reason, of course!) So you gotta forgive for being a bit confused, bro. who should we ask? women, or our ~*instincts as refined by thousands of years of civilization*~?

  31. I have always been clear about where I draw the line in the sand: At conception. After that all is relative, for human beings never stop growing and developing.

    The issue is not whether or not humans stop growing or developing. The issue at hand is your hesitance to acknowledge that there is are any tangible, and distinct characteristic between a human fetus and a human being, retreating instead to rhetoric and relativism. This is so not relative it is not even funny. I mean, using your rationale, a child is actually an adult based solely on the fact that he has the potential to become an adult. Not to be a gratuitous guest, but this is utter nonsense.

    Implicit in the fact that there are different stages of human development is the fact that said stages are, in fact, different. Argue, if you are so incline that a fetus has every right to live as any human but let us not continue the charade that is, in point of fact, a born human.

    What relevance does the length of time that a person is unconscious hold for the legitimacy of killing them?

    A lot, actually. Length of time has everything to do with how long a comatose victcim should I lay.

    Is a fetus human when they have a nervous system and a heartbeat? That is true before many people are even aware that they are pregnant. Or is it when it has four limbs and looks human? Again, lacking limbs later in life is not (I hope you agree) relevant to one’s humanity, and anyway, abortion is still considered acceptable long after this. Or is a fetus only human once they acquire consciousness, sentience, or “personhood”? These are all subjective phenomena and it is not possible to identify precisely where they begin or end for someone else.

    Since you have been kind enough to define your line in the sand, allow me to draw mine: at birth. A fetus becomes a person at birth. An event that is neither arbitrary nor trivial nor subjective. (Again, not to argue that it should have no rights before birth.)

  32. Thanks for continuing the conversation N. Adam! Now to your points:

    I mean, using your rationale, a child is actually an adult based solely on the fact that he has the potential to become an adult. Not to be a gratuitous guest, but this is utter nonsense.

    Not at all. I never said a human fetus was a human adult, but that at all stages–fetal, infant, adult, geriatric–we are human beings with a right to live. A child is not an adult any more than a fetus is, but surely you don’t think a child’s right to life and dignity is proportional to its adulthood.

    Length of time has everything to do with how long a comatose victcim should I lay.

    Since you are unconscious while comatose, you will not feel the time passing, whether it be 30 seconds or 30 years. But if you could be assured that at the end of 9 months you would wake up, I doubt you would agree to let someone pull your plug.

    Since you have been kind enough to define your line in the sand, allow me to draw mine: at birth. A fetus becomes a person at birth. An event that is neither arbitrary nor trivial nor subjective. (Again, not to argue that it should have no rights before birth.)

    Thank you for being explicit as well. Now let me ask you this: What difference does birth make, particularly when for the last third of a pregnancy most fetuses would be viable outside the womb? You imply that it might still have some “rights,” but which and on what basis, if it doesn’t even have a right to life?

    If you are saying that you accept that only certain reasons for abortion are consistent with the fetus’ (reduced) rights, we might be able to have a helpful discussion here, but if you are going to insist that a woman has the moral right to terminate for any reason right up til birth, then your appeal to fetal “rights” is entirely gratuitous.

  33. What difference does birth make, particularly when for the last third of a pregnancy most fetuses would be viable outside the womb? You imply that it might still have some “rights,” but which and on what basis, if it doesn’t even have a right to life?

    The difference is that, unlike the date of your conception or the day you entered your third trimester, the date of your birth has some hundreds of social implications.

    As to the second question, it is simply a matter of values and circumstance. I value the life of the mother over the fetus, therefore I would not blame her if she terminated her pregnancy if she were a rape victim or if she were in a country where her virginity was a matter of life and death or if the pregnancy threatened her life or if she were to give birth to a child with severe mental or physical defects in a country that had no realistic means of care.

    Further, I am more prepared to accept the consequences of my line than I am for yours. Your line prevents thousands of responsible people in monogamous relationships (which you apparently value) from becoming pregnant in the first place and it also prevents embryonic stem cell research; something which could improve the quality of life for untold millions.

    Since you are unconscious while comatose, you will not feel the time passing, whether it be 30 seconds or 30 years. But if you could be assured that at the end of 9 months you would wake up, I doubt you would agree to let someone pull your plug.

    One wonders how such an assurance could be made, my being unconscious and all.

    A child is not an adult any more than a fetus is, but surely you don’t think a child’s right to life and dignity is proportional to its adulthood.

    There is no doubt that, when you are young, many decisions are made on your behalf and that as you grow older you aquire more rights. That is, so long as you maintain a certain presence of mind.

    Question: do you believe in childhood circumcision?

  34. N. Adam,
    The difference is that, unlike the date of your conception or the day you entered your third trimester, the date of your birth has some hundreds of social implications.

    Implications which are socially construction and can be changed. A 40 week fetus/child is not significantly different within the womb as outside it; it is only the rights we grant it that make a difference.

    As to the second question, it is simply a matter of values and circumstance. I value the life of the mother over the fetus, therefore I would not blame her if she terminated her pregnancy if she were a rape victim or if she were in a country where her virginity was a matter of life and death or if the pregnancy threatened her life or if she were to give birth to a child with severe mental or physical defects in a country that had no realistic means of care.

    It is one thing to accept that, in a crisis, the mother’s life should take priority over her fetus’, but to appeal to what we “value” to render the choice of whether or not to intentionally kill another human being (whether a “person” or not) morally neutral is absurd. I value my own kids more than I value anyone else’s, but this reflects only my level of concern, not their intrinsic right not to be killed.

    Further, I am more prepared to accept the consequences of my line than I am for yours. Your line prevents thousands of responsible people in monogamous relationships (which you apparently value) from becoming pregnant in the first place and it also prevents embryonic stem cell research; something which could improve the quality of life for untold millions.

    There is no concrete evidence that either of these is true. As for IVF: It is entirely possible to fertilize and implant one ovum at a time; we just consider the cost too great to bear. As for ESCR, there is as yet no proof that this will provide the miracle cures promised, while non-embryonic stem-cell research has already provided one breakthrough after another. Surely we ought to exhaust our other options before we need justify creating human beings for the express purpose of canibalizing them.

    But if you could be assured that at the end of 9 months you would wake up, I doubt you would agree to let someone pull your plug.

    One wonders how such an assurance could be made, my being unconscious and all.

    If comas were, as pregnancies are, only temporary, we would never think it just to unplug someone without their consent. Do you agree?

    There is no doubt that, when you are young, many decisions are made on your behalf and that as you grow older you aquire more rights. That is, so long as you maintain a certain presence of mind.

    Of course, but those making the decisions must keep in mind the child’s own present and future welfare. The fact that we as parents have the right to make decisions for our children, even life altering ones, does not give us the right to intentionally harm them, much less kill them.

    You can’t have any rights at all without life.

  35. Implications which are socially construction and can be changed. A 40 week fetus/child is not significantly different within the womb as outside it; it is only the rights we grant it that make a difference.

    Yeah, but you aren’t drawing the line a the forty week mark, are you?

    There is no concrete evidence that either of these is true. As for IVF: It is entirely possible to fertilize and implant one ovum at a time; we just consider the cost too great to bear.

    In otherwords, I was completely right on a practical level.

    s for ESCR, there is as yet no proof that this will provide the miracle cures promised, while non-embryonic stem-cell research has already provided one breakthrough after another.

    As adult stem cells are necessarily less complex (and carry less controversy) than embryonic stem cells, it should come as no surprise. Howbeit, the properties of an embroynic stem cell are such that it oppurtunity is ripe for investment.

    Surely we ought to exhaust our other options before we need justify creating human beings for the express purpose of canibalizing them.We should collectively invest in all promising avenues if it means stopping the suffering of millions.

    Of course, but those making the decisions must keep in mind the child’s own present and future welfare. The fact that we as parents have the right to make decisions for our children, even life altering ones, does not give us the right to intentionally harm them, much less kill them.

    So I will ask again: childhood circumcision, yes or no?

  36. uhh…n. adam, whether or not circumcision is beneficial or not is a debate for another day, but i’d say the “harm” done to a baby by circumcision, if any, isn’t equatable to the harm done to a fetus by ‘induced miscarriage.’ at the very least, despite the horrible, interminable suffering endured by not having a foreskin, circumcised people have the chance to lead happy, fulfilling lives in other ways. an aborted fetus is just dead, it has no chances at all.

  37. N. Adam,
    Yeah, but you aren’t drawing the line a the forty week mark, are you?

    The point is that your stated line of “birth” is abitrary, that there is no significant ontological difference between a human’s state after birth as before. In contrast, there are clear and fundamental ontological differences between a gamete and a concieved embryo, which you have not shown to be trivial.

    In any case, if there is any doubt at all about the status of a fetus, should we not err on the side of caution? I note that you have not answered whether you would consider it acceptable to unplug coma victims (without their consent), even if you could be certain that they would wake up within a few months. With pregnancy, we can almost always be certain of this.

    In otherwords, I was completely right on a practical level.

    Let me get this straight: Your argument is that, since the alternative is expensive, we are justified in intentionally implanting more embryos than can survive, knowing that we will most likely have to go back and selectively cull their number?

    As adult stem cells are necessarily less complex (and carry less controversy) than embryonic stem cells, it should come as no surprise. Howbeit, the properties of an embroynic stem cell are such that it oppurtunity is ripe for investment.

    I guess you’ll just have to be thankful that I’m not the one making the decision then, because I don’t see how any “opportunity” can justify cloning human beings for the express purpose of slicing them up and harvesting their components.

    So I will ask again: childhood circumcision, yes or no?

    Jeb’s response is quite right. There is no comparison between the two. In any case, I don’t know if circumcision should be done or not, but I see no reason to believe that those who do it are intentionally harming their children. Certainly, they are not trying to kill them.

  38. The point is that your stated line of “birth” is abitrary, that there is no significant ontological difference between a human’s state after birth as before. In contrast, there are clear and fundamental ontological differences between a gamete and a concieved embryo, which you have not shown to be trivial.

    Again, the fact of the matter is that there is a standing medical difference between a human fetus and a human infant. These differences are neither trivial nor arbitrary.

    I note that you have not answered whether you would consider it acceptable to unplug coma victims (without their consent), even if you could be certain that they would wake up within a few months. With pregnancy, we can almost always be certain of this.

    Just as the decision whether or not to unplug a coma victim ultimately be made by the family so too should the decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy be made by the mother. Furthermore, there are differences between the rights of a fetus and the rights of a comatose victim; generally speaking, one has them and the other does not.

    Let me get this straight: Your argument is that, since the alternative is expensive, we are justified in intentionally implanting more embryos than can survive, knowing that we will most likely have to go back and selectively cull their number?

    Yes.

    I guess you’ll just have to be thankful that I’m not the one making the decision then, because I don’t see how any “opportunity” can justify cloning human beings for the express purpose of slicing them up and harvesting their components.

    Again, human embryos are not human beings. Seriously, you might as well be calling a skin cell a human being, that is so ridiculous. I have no problem whatsoever destroying a thousands of embryos if it means curing one disease. There are religious folk who argue, just as passionately as you, against donating organs or blood transfusions or vaccination. Those are their values; (with the exception of vaccination) I do not care if they themselves refuse such treatment. They have no basis whatsoever push those values on other people (including their small children).

    Likewise, if you want to value the life of a human embryo as a human being, then do so. Given that there are obvious medical, scientific, lawful, lingual, and social (in other words non-arbitrary and non-trivial) differences between an unconscious collection of cells and a fully development human; you have everything ahead of you if you want an objective basis to justify your belief. Still, if those are your values then you are welcome to them; just realize that they belong to you.

    Myself, I care about human beings that I can do not have to arm myself with a microscope to see, bigoted as that may sound and unlike your belief, mine is not simply a matter of subjective opinion, but one grounded and recognized fundamentally and institutionally.

    I don’t know if circumcision should be done or not, but I see no reason to believe that those who do it are intentionally harming their children. Certainly, they are not trying to kill them.

    uhh…n. adam, whether or not circumcision is beneficial or not is a debate for another day, but i’d say the “harm” done to a baby by circumcision, if any, isn’t equatable to the harm done to a fetus by ‘induced miscarriage.’ at the very least, despite the horrible, interminable suffering endured by not having a foreskin, circumcised people have the chance to lead happy, fulfilling lives in other ways. an aborted fetus is just dead, it has no chances at all.

    The point is that I find it, on some level, hypocritical for some to argue tirelessly about the innate rights of a fetus then turn around and say that an infant (or teenager) has no right to his or her own body. I am not comparing and contrasting the amount of suffering, I am instead demanding a little internal consistency. If a fetus is entitled to live then should not a child be entitled to their own body?

  39. I am not comparing and contrasting the amount of suffering, I am instead demanding a little internal consistency. If a fetus is entitled to live then should not a child be entitled to their own body?

    thing is though, the ‘amount of suffering’ is the matter at hand, not internal consistency per se. to use an anology, i’m sure some secular humanists such as yourself would claim it’s “child abuse” for parents to force their children to believe in Catholicism, but i doubt you’d claim it would be child abuse if they forced their children to eat broccoli at dinnertime.

    the difference, in your view, would be that catholicism (and/or any religion) is a bad thing the world would be better off without and that causes significant psychological harm to children, whereas eating broccoli is merely unpleasant.

    your view isn’t internally inconsistent, you merely acknowledge that parents do have certain rights over their children, perhaps enough to cause them a degree of discomfort, but not enough to actually harm them.

    the same logic is applied to those who support circumcision but oppose abortion. in their view, even at its worst, circumcision causes at worst some discomfort to a child over the course of his life. that’s not serious enough to justify dictating what a parent can or cannot do. on the other hand, since abortion would be literally killing the child, in their view. once again, this is internally consistent if one acknowledges that parents do have certain rights over their children, perhaps enough to cause them a degree of discomfort, but not enough to actually harm them.

  40. the same logic is applied to those who support circumcision but oppose abortion. in their view, even at its worst, circumcision causes at worst some discomfort to a child over the course of his life. that’s not serious enough to justify dictating what a parent can or cannot do.

    The offense of childhood circumcision is not simply its side effects, it is the idea that another person can elect for you which part of your body you are allowed to keep. In other words, it is about rights. How can you talk about the rights of a fetus and then, without the slightest sense of irony, turn around and hack off a part of a child’s body.

    Further, while the psychological effects of male infant circumcision are minimized due the limitations of memory, the same cannot be said of the curcumcision of older children, especially females. In those cases, it is a ginuely terrifying experience that is, as far as I am concerned, unjustifiable. No parent has any right to do that to their child.

  41. The offense of childhood circumcision is not simply its side effects, it is the idea that another person can elect for you which part of your body you are allowed to keep.

    no, the offense of childhood circumcision *is* what deleterious side effects it may have. I think I may not have made my point clear. Allow me to put it another way:

    Parents have full rights over their children’s body parts as long as they cause their child nothing more than, at worst, mild discomfort rather than profound physical or emotional pain.

    For instance, to take another example unrelated to circumcision, hair and fingernails are, technically, parts of the body, right? yet no-one would accuse my parents of child abuse because they gave me a haircut I didn’t like or cut my nails in a way I didn’t like. This is because the discomfort caused by
    an unpleasant haircut or bad nails is relatively minor and not worth impinging on a parent’s right to raise their child as they see fit.

    On the other hand, a parent who cut off their child’s arm or leg would undoubtedly be guilty of child abuse, because while they may have the authority to cause their progeny mild discomfort at worst, they cannot go so far as to cause him or her actual physical harm.

    The same applies to circumcision. Again, I’m sure you believe infant male circumcision is a terrible, barbaric practice that causes untold amounts of psychological and physical harm to Jews, Muslims, and anyone else who does it to their children for religious reasons (i dunno if you feel the same way about people who do it for secular reasons, though I doubt it), but even if we were to take that view and insist that chopping off someone’s foreskin is as bad as chopping off their arm, it still wouldn’t be as bad as abortion. To use another funny example, you will very likely be punished more severely for chopping off someone’s head than merely chopping off their arm. By the same token, even if you “disregard a baby’s right to autonomy” by hacking off one of its body parts, so long as you do not kill it you are at least respecting its right to life. On the other hand, assuming fetuses have the same rights as babies, destroying a fetus is not the same as circumcising it, since you are disregarding its right to autonomy *and* its right to live.

    Hope that makes my position clearer.

    the same cannot be said of the curcumcision of older children, especially females.

    well, yes, you’re exactly right. I deeply suspect this is a non sequitur, however, since in all the years I’ve been on earth, I have never heard a Jewish or Christian proponent of male circumcision attempt to defend female circumcision. I’ve certainly never heard of an anti-abortion activist who approves of male infant circumcision also attemtp to justify female circumcision. I’m certainly not, and I apologize if I gave that impression, and I’m sure Ken agrees.

    Again, though, this strikes me as a non-sequitur. You are well aware that the only kind of circumcision Ken or any of his buddies here would care to defend (although that’s not very many…so far as I can tell, I’m the only one aside from Ken who has much of an interest in sparring with you and Hugh) is the common one practiced by most Jews and Muslims, i.e infant male circumcision. I assume you were attempting to compare that to abortion, although perhaps I was misinterpreting you and you were also referring to female circumcision/circumcision performed on older children as well.

  42. N. Adam,
    Again, the fact of the matter is that there is a standing medical difference between a human fetus and a human infant. These differences are neither trivial nor arbitrary.

    You keep saying that, but you’ve yet to provide any convincing reason to accept that the differences are morally relevant.

    Just as the decision whether or not to unplug a coma victim ultimately be made by the family so too should the decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy be made by the mother.

    That’s all well and good, as I’ve said previously that there may well be good reasons to think that a woman should have a legal right to make that decision. My question, however, is and has always been a moral one: Do you think it right to kill a comatose victim, without their consent, even if you know that they will wake up good as new in less than 9 months?

    Furthermore, there are differences between the rights of a fetus and the rights of a comatose victim; generally speaking, one has them and the other does not.

    Rights that we grant. The question is, why should we grant them to the one and not the other?

    Again, human embryos are not human beings. Seriously, you might as well be calling a skin cell a human being, that is so ridiculous.

    Funny, how often do your skin cells grow into babies? Seriously though, a skin cell, brain cell, even an unfertilized sperm cell will never develop into anything other than what they are currently. An embryo, unless killed, will always develop into a unique human being. This is hardly a “ridiculous” distinction.

    Moreover, unlike a skin cell, an embryo is not one of it’s mother’s cells at all, but a distinct (proto)human with its own unique DNA. And again, by the time many people discover they are pregnant, it already has its own heartbeat and the beginnings of a nervous system. Thus, we are not talking about a woman destroying some of her own cells, but those of her (potential) child.

    I have no problem whatsoever destroying a thousands of embryos if it means curing one disease.

    I’m curious: If a couple has a young child with diabetes, would you consider it morally acceptable for them to get pregnant, allow the fetus to develop to term, then (just before birth) perform in utero surgery to harvest the fetus’ pancreas to transplant into their sibling, thereafter performing an abortion? (They can, you know, perform surgery on babies still in the womb.) After all, if it is birth that grants human rights, what would be wrong with this situation?

    The point is that I find it, on some level, hypocritical for some to argue tirelessly about the innate rights of a fetus then turn around and say that an infant (or teenager) has no right to his or her own body. I am not comparing and contrasting the amount of suffering, I am instead demanding a little internal consistency. If a fetus is entitled to live then should not a child be entitled to their own body?

    And why do you think it objectionable to circumcise an infant, if not because of the immediate suffering it causes? Are you not thereby saying that the child’s future development must be taken into account? After all, an infant, who has not yet developed to the point of puberty, has no use for a foreskin. Why do you think it wrong to prevent one part from developing, but have no problem preventing the whole person from developing?

    Would you consider circumcision morally neutral if only it were performed in utero? If you would not, why abortion?

  43. For instance, to take another example unrelated to circumcision, hair and fingernails are, technically, parts of the body, right?

    Yeah, and so are dead skin cells. I guess I must be against bathing too!!

    I am sorry, but this is a ridiculous analogy. Hair and fingernails (both of which you’ve gained governance over by the time you are a teenager) grow back quite naturally. Foreskin does not. Hair and fingernails do not contain nerve endings. Foreskin does.

    I deeply suspect this is a non sequitur, however, since in all the years I’ve been on earth, I have never heard a Jewish or Christian proponent of male circumcision attempt to defend female circumcision.

    So, because you’ve only heard of female circumcision from the religions of the brown skinned people, it doesn’t count? Not accusing you of racism, by the way, but that does seem to be the implication, however unconsciously.

    True enough that the damage is a matter of gradation, however, gradation that my position does not have to justify–only concede. If you believe that childhood circumcision is wrong then you do not have to waste your time excluding different religions according to circumstance.

  44. Ken, at this point, nearly every one of your retorts is based on the dubious assumption that a human embryo is a human being. What is dizzying is how you on the one hand want to make it a moral question then, with the other, introduce objective facts like the unique composition of chromosomes. If are going to make a secular, scientific argument that a human embryo is a human being, then please resist the temptation to demand from me the moral question. Whether or not a human embryo is a human being is not a question to be decided by one’s morality.

    In other words, when I say that there are fundamental and institutional differences between a human embryo and a human being, asking me to make a moral distinction is a non sequitur. From there, saying that you were always making a moral argument against abortion would seem to conflict with your invoking the scientific facts whenever they just so happen to serve your case.

    Would you consider circumcision morally neutral if only it were performed in utero? If you would not, why abortion?

    I would consider it morally wrong to circumcise a highly developed fetus for the same reason that I would consider it morally wrong for a mother intending to give birth to get drunk every weekend.

    Though, I believe that the right to live is granted at birth, the intentional handicapping of potential child beforehand would obviously interfere with other rights. Supposing a child born from a drunken mother has brain damage, well, a lot of the child’s rights would have unnecessarily be taken from it. The child was robbed. just as, albeit on a smaller scale, the rights of a person to decide for his or her own self to get circumcised is robbed.

    It must say something about my arguments that you’ve twice now retreated to the most unlikely of scenarios. It reminds me of the way people argued defended unjustifiable wiretapping by invoking the fictional ticking time bomb.

  45. I am sorry, but this is a ridiculous analogy. Hair and fingernails (both of which you’ve gained governance over by the time you are a teenager) grow back quite naturally. Foreskin does not. Hair and fingernails do not contain nerve endings. Foreskin does.

    True, to an extent, although I have heard of foreskin restorative procedures before, so I’m not 100% certain circumcision would be absolutely permanent.

    In any case, though, let’s assume your opposition to circumcision is based on the fact that a: it cannot be reversed, and b: the foreskin is an importanrt part of the human body, since it has nerve endings. Therefore, cutting it off causes irreversible pain and suffering to the child and ought to be opposed for the same reasons abortion ought to be opposed (from the perspective of Ken and I–ironically enough, in your view, a mother shouldn’t be able to decide if her child should be circumcised or not, but ought to be allowed to decide whether it can be born or not).

    However, if “irreversible pain and suffering” caused intentionally by parents is the source of your opposition to abortion, then when you think about it, you’d have to be opposed to a lot of other things as well. Take, for instance, the question of names.

    Now, I know you’ll say, “Well, that’s yet another silly example! A child’s name is no more significant than hair or fingernails!” But just hear me out for a second. Guys with normal names–Adam, Fred, Harry, etc.–get by in life pretty easily. But what about kids with unfortunate names (a “boy named sue” would be the most well-known example), odd or foreign names (Pierre, Adil, etc.)?

    These kids won’t get along quite so easily. As a child, I distinctly remember a kid named Pierre, for instance–a normal guy in pretty much all other respects–mercilessly mocked and tormented by a few people for having a silly French name. At the very least, he endured a significant amount of emotional pain because of this.

    Now, could he change his name when he turned 18? Sure. But that wouldn’t magically undo the years of suffering he went through as a child. For all intents and purposes, the emotional suffering he endured as a result of his parents being struck by an ill-advised bout of Francophilia was both permanent and severe.

    So tell me, n. adam. If you oppose circumcision because the physical damage it causes (removing an irreplacable body part that has nerve endings) is both irreversible (even surgical foreskin replacements can’t match the real thing) and ostensibly severe, would you also oppose a parent giving their child a strange name (whether it’s foreign, strange-sounding, hard to spell, or whatever) because the emotional damage it causes is both irreplacable (even if one changes his/her name at 18, the bad memories will still be there) and severe?

    So, because you’ve only heard of female circumcision from the religions of the brown skinned people, it doesn’t count? Not accusing you of racism, by the way, but that does seem to be the implication, however unconsciously.

    Well, I *am* a brown skinned person, although as far as I know female circumcision isn’t that common in Bangladesh. My parents never mentioned anything about it, though I never asked, so perhaps it is a big problem there.

    But in any case, my point was not that circumcision of older children/female circumcision is justified, my point was that neither ken nor I support it and neither of us care to defend it. If you want to ask us how we can simultaneously support circumcision while opposing abortion, that’s fine. However, at least specify that you’re asking us how we can support *male infant* circumcision while opposing abortion, because nobody here supports any other kind of circumcision, making it pointless for you to bring those up.

    Now, if you wanted to ask us how we could oppose female circumcision while finding male circumcision to be unobjectionable, that would be a perfectly legitimate question. I’d be happy to answer, but perhaps at another time and place; it would be bad manners to get *too* off-topic in someone else’s blog…

    Anyhoo,

    Though, I believe that the right to live is granted at birth

    Wait, hold on a second. If the “right to live” is granted only at birth, and not before, why in the world should any other rights be granted to a child beforehand? An unborn fetus may not have a right to live, but it does have the right to…uh…not be circumcised, or not be exposed to alcohol? You’ll have to forgive me if I find this absurd. If you believe intentionally handicapping a child before birth (by drinking, or by circumcision for that matter) robs it of its rights to pursue liberty and happiness (since a handicapped/circumcised child would be less happy and less able to utilize his rights as a citizen), why do you not believe that killing a child before birth robs it of its right to life?

  46. Now, I know you’ll say, “Well, that’s yet another silly example! A child’s name is no more significant than hair or fingernails!” But just hear me out for a second. Guys with normal names–Adam, Fred, Harry, etc.–get by in life pretty easily. But what about kids with unfortunate names (a “boy named sue” would be the most well-known example), odd or foreign names (Pierre, Adil, etc.)?

    These kids won’t get along quite so easily. As a child, I distinctly remember a kid named Pierre, for instance–a normal guy in pretty much all other respects–mercilessly mocked and tormented by a few people for having a silly French name. At the very least, he endured a significant amount of emotional pain because of this.

    Now, could he change his name when he turned 18? Sure. But that wouldn’t magically undo the years of suffering he went through as a child. For all intents and purposes, the emotional suffering he endured as a result of his parents being struck by an ill-advised bout of Francophilia was both permanent and severe.

    I do not think that a stupid name can compare to removing a part of your body. I really don’t. That said, the crux of my argument is not pain and suffering, it is, once again, about rights.

    Now, if you wanted to ask us how we could oppose female circumcision while finding male circumcision to be unobjectionable, that would be a perfectly legitimate question. I’d be happy to answer, but perhaps at another time and place; it would be bad manners to get *too* off-topic in someone else’s blog…

    Shame.

    If you believe intentionally handicapping a child before birth (by drinking, or by circumcision for that matter) robs it of its rights to pursue liberty and happiness (since a handicapped/circumcised child would be less happy and less able to utilize his rights as a citizen), why do you not believe that killing a child before birth robs it of its right to life?

    Because you are not killing a child, you are terminating a fetus. A distinction, frankly, that I am growing tired of underlining. A child has rights and a fetus does not.

    Why do I believe that intentionally handicapping a fetus is wrong yet believe that terminating a fetus is justifiable? Because a terminated fetus will never become a child, unlike a crack-baby.

  47. I do not think that a stupid name can compare to removing a part of your body. I really don’t.

    I understand. After all, the foreskin is one of the most important parts of the body. I mean, it has nerve endings AND it can’t grow back! It’s self-evident that any discussion of the ethicality of circumcision ought to revolve around those two points. The pain caused by a childhood of torment surely cannot compare to any of that.

    And, of course, while a child and/or fetus has a right to all their body parts (which have nerve endings and do not regenerate, of course), their right to decide what they want to be called is granted only at the age of 18, or whatever the legal age to change one’s name is wherever you may be. If you wouldn’t mind, though, perhaps you may forgive lesser intellects for wondering why a human being has a “right” to its body parts (again, which have nerve endings and don’t regenerate–the most important characteristics of all!) the moment it pops out of the womb while it only gains the “right” to choose its own name at a later date.

    Because a terminated fetus will never become a child, unlike a crack-baby.

    Ahhh, but a fetus exposed to alcohol, or crack, or whatever, will not necessarily be born either. As Hugh mentioned above, plenty of births end in miscarriage anyways even without the aid of abortion, and since we actually do have that delightful little procedure, it’s entirely possible that our poor, beknighted fetus can be easily killed off before it is born and it attains *any* of its rights. So when you say that a pregnant woman is robbing a fetus of its (future) rights by intentionally handicapping it, what you meant to say was “Assuming she intends to give birth to it, a pregnant woman who drinks/smokes/otherwise intentionally handicaps her fetus robs it of its rights. If she aborts it later on or ends up having a miscarriage, though, it’s all cool.”

    I can agree with that, I suppose. At the very least, it’s self-consistent, if not the most noble-sounding meditation on human rights I’ve ever heard. Which, admittedly, is not very many.

  48. N. Adam,
    Ken, at this point, nearly every one of your retorts is based on the dubious assumption that a human embryo is a human being.

    I’d like to know where in my last comment I “assumed” a fetus is a human being.

    What is dizzying is how you on the one hand want to make it a moral question then, with the other, introduce objective facts like the unique composition of chromosomes.

    What do you think morality is to be based on, if not such “objective facts”? If we are to determine whether a fetus ought to have any right based on whether it is a “human being,” then how can it not be relevant that the fetus has its own unique human genome, its own brain, heartbeat, lungs, reproductive organs, digestive tract, bones, endocrine glands, blood vessels, arms, legs, fingers, toes, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, teeth, tongue, everything that an infant has? After just the first few weeks, a fetus will respond to pain the same way as an infant, it will move on its own, it can even (apparently) hear and remember its parents’ voices, just like a newborn.

    You claim that a fetus is no more a human being than one of its mother’s skin cells, but I’d like to know how you define “human being” such that all of the above can be dismissed as irrelevant.

    If are going to make a secular, scientific argument that a human embryo is a human being, then please resist the temptation to demand from me the moral question.

    Since you continue to appeal to “rights” (which is a moral category) to dismiss the scientific arguments I raise, you can hardly complain if I press you on the moral justification for your claims. Since you seem absolutely unwilling to consider any rights for a fetus, I have no choice but to offer analogies.

    In short, whether a fetus deserves to have rights is precisely what is at issue here, so your continued appeals to your own (unjustified) opinion that they do not is entirely circular.

    It must say something about my arguments that you’ve twice now retreated to the most unlikely of scenarios.

    It says that your continued and unjustified embrace of such an extreme dichotomy of “rights” leaves even these scenarios in play. The fact that you think it would be worse to cut off a fetus’ foreskin than its head says it all.

  49. What do you think morality is to be based on, if not such “objective facts”? If we are to determine whether a fetus ought to have any right based on whether it is a “human being,” then how can it not be relevant that the fetus has its own unique human genome, its own brain, heartbeat, lungs, reproductive organs, digestive tract, bones, endocrine glands, blood vessels, arms, legs, fingers, toes, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, teeth, tongue, everything that an infant has? After just the first few weeks, a fetus will respond to pain the same way as an infant, it will move on its own, it can even (apparently) hear and remember its parents’ voices, just like a newborn.

    Your last four words are what I am talking about when I point out, repeatedly, that a fetus is not a child. I am convinced now that you must not realize that you are doing it.

    You claim that a fetus is no more a human being than one of its mother’s skin cells, but I’d like to know how you define “human being” such that all of the above can be dismissed as irrelevant.

    That is just flat wrong. I said that to call a human embryo a child is akin to calling a skin cell a child. And how I define a human being should be clear by now.

    Since you continue to appeal to “rights” (which is a moral category) to dismiss the scientific arguments I raise, you can hardly complain if I press you on the moral justification for your claims.

    I am sorry, but you are not making a scientific argument. Medical science draws a very clear distinction between a fetus and an infant; one which is neither arbitrary nor trivial. What you are doing is using scientific facts to loop common threads between a fetus, a human embryo and a human being and then making the moral argument that because all three of these things share certain properties, or one might lead to the other, therefore the approach toward all three should be the same.

    Since you seem absolutely unwilling to consider any rights for a fetus, I have no choice but to offer analogies.

    You know, Ken, I think I have gone out of my way to acknowledge that your are entitled to your belief a human embryo should be viewed as a human child. Why can’t you acknowledge that, because there are substantial differences between a human embryo (or fetus–even at late stages) and a human child, some people just aren’t going to see it that way?

    The fact that you think it would be worse to cut off a fetus’ foreskin than its head says it all.

    What are you talking about with cutting off the head of a fetus? Seriously. Perhaps we should stop.

  50. Medical science draws a very clear distinction between a fetus and an infant; one which is neither arbitrary nor trivial.

    Why should this distinction be relevant to Ken? Any of us here could pick and choose which scientific facts to emphasize with our moral decision. You point out that society as a whole judges “personhood” as the moment an infant pops out of the birth canal, Ken may feel that someoone ought to be considered a person the moment a sperm joins with an egg. You’re certainly correct in saying that there are significant differences between an embryo, fetus, and child, but there’s no reason those differences, in and of themselves, ought to result in different treatment. ,

    Why can’t you acknowledge that, because there are substantial differences between a human embryo (or fetus–even at late stages) and a human child, some people just aren’t going to see it that way?

    Aside from the fact that this is his blog and he’s not obligated to acknowledge anything from you (or me), I think it’s pretty obvious that he recognizes you don’t see it the way he does. He simply believes you should.

    What are you talking about with cutting off the head of a fetus? Seriously. Perhaps we should stop.

    he’s referring to your belief that aborting a fetus is preferable to circumcising it (or an infant). if you’d like to stop though, by all means don’t let either of us keep you here.

  51. Why should this distinction be relevant to Ken?

    he’s referring to your belief that aborting a fetus is preferable to circumcising it (or an infant). if you’d like to stop though, by all means don’t let either of us keep you here.

    Aside from the fact that this is his blog and he’s not obligated to acknowledge anything from you (or me)

    If it is his blog then why do you feel obligated to speak for him? Just saying.

  52. If it is his blog then why do you feel obligated to speak for him? Just saying.

    i don’t feel “obligated” to, i just feel like it. by the same token, you’re not ‘obligated’ to be here ot say anything or whatever, you’re here simply because you want to be. so, as you said, if you really want to stop, by all means do so, nobody is going to go out of their way to keep you here.

    by the same token, nobody is going to go out of their way to force you out either, since if ken found *either* of us particularly irritating, he would have banned us by now. if you’d like to continue the discussion, such as it is, go ahead and do so. i’ll return the favor, so long as our host is willing, but, of course, i’ll stop if Ken thinks i’m getting tiresome.

  53. N. Adam,
    It seems clear that we have an intractable difference of opinion on this and it may simply be time to set the conversation aside for the time being. But I can’t help feeling that you are thoroughly and consistently misunderstanding me. Therefore I will try to be as explicit as I can (so please forgive the length of this comment), but don’t feel obligated to respond in kind:

    Your last four words [“just like a newborn”] are what I am talking about when I point out, repeatedly, that a fetus is not a child. I am convinced now that you must not realize that you are doing it….

    That is just flat wrong. I said that to call a human embryo a child is akin to calling a skin cell a child.

    I am not saying a fetus is a child; I have explicitly agreed that it is not. Rather, I am pointing out that the step from fetus to child is both inevitable and remarkably short. In contrast, there is no step between a skin cell and a child, short or long. What I am honestly curious about and continue to try to get you to explain is why you think that a fetus does not qualify as a human being (or, in case I have misunderstood you so far, why you think it is a human being but, nevertheless, does not deserve a right to be born).

    You have done nothing to show why the differences between a child and a fetus–differences no one denies–outweigh these countless similarities (you have not even been particularly forthcoming about which differences you think important) nor why these are sufficient to prove that the former deserves none of the rights of the latter.

    I am honestly trying to understand your position, but no matter how many different ways I have asked or tried to clarify this question, you refuse to be specific, instead accusing me of prejudging the question.

    And how I define a human being should be clear by now.

    I’m afraid it is not clear (at least not to me) how you define “human being”. If you have given a definition somewhere I must have missed it (I say this truly; I’m not trying to be sarcastic). It seems clear that you deny that a fetus is a human being, but as far as I can see you have not explained why the distinctions birth provides justify this claim.

    If you are simply appealing to current US law, then it is obvious that it does deny a fetus full human rights. But, unlike you seem to be implying, it does not deny all human rights to a fetus. Partial-birth abortion is, after all, illegal, and late term abortions are rarely performed except in emergencies. Which is to say: Birth is not the only distinction either the law or the medical establishment recognizes when it comes to a fetus’ right to life.

    More to the point, it is not obvious, and you have not attempted to prove in any detail, that current US law is necessarily correct in how it assigns human rights to the unborn. Other nations (such as Ireland) still do grant a right to life from conception on, as we ourselves did until 35 years ago (meanwhile it was only a few decades ago that we denied full human rights to African Americans, and I assume to agree with that expansion of rights. For that matter, Switzerland recently granted more rights to plants and animals than they grant to human fetuses. Do you think they are right to do so?).

    Therefore, who or even what deserves a right to life cannot be settled by appealing to current law. The question is not whether we do grant that right to a fetus in some or all circumstances, but whether we should, or why we should not.

    I am sorry, but you are not making a scientific argument. Medical science draws a very clear distinction between a fetus and an infant; one which is neither arbitrary nor trivial.

    “Medical science” draws important distinctions, to be sure (I have never denied that), but what “medical science” are you referring to which affirms that a fetus is not a human being? That it is at a different stage of development than a child is clear, but that this change of stage grants human rights is something you have not once defended with any actual arguments, you simply repeat the claim again and again.

    Why can’t you acknowledge that, because there are substantial differences between a human embryo (or fetus–even at late stages) and a human child, some people just aren’t going to see it that way?

    I suspect that part of the reason we seem to be talking past each other is because, in an attempt to clarify my point that future development should be taken into account, I have lately been focusing on the distinctions (and particularly similarities) between a full-term fetus and an infant, while you seem to think I am claiming the distinctions and similarities between an embryo and an infant are the same. This is not and has not been my point. Rather, I have been trying to establish the principle that future development must be taken into account, even before birth. For if this is accepted of a full-term fetus, then (logically) it ought to be accepted for an embryo as well (even if only in a reduced form).

    In any case, I am not demanding that you agree with me on this. I’m simply asking that, if you are going to insist that I am ignoring crucial differences which explain why the future development of an embryo or fetus (but not of a child) need not be taken into account, that you be explicit about which ones and why they are morally relevant.

    There are important differences between every stage of human life (For instance, there is no real cognitive difference between a full term fetus and a newborn, but there are dramatic cognitive differences between an infant and a toddler. Why are these differences less important than the differences which occur at birth?). Apart from vague appeals to “rights,” “social implications” and “medical science” (which you leave undefined and unspecified), you have given no reason at all to accept why these differences (between a fetus and a child) matter so much more than all the rest (such as those between a gamete and an embryo, or those between an embryo and a fetus, or for that matter those between an infant and a toddler).

    What are you talking about with cutting off the head of a fetus? Seriously.

    Perhaps I was being overly dramatic. I was referring to the fact that in an abortion, the fetus–which already by eight weeks gestation has a head and brain (not to mention limbs, a heartbeat, etc.)–is typically dismembered and scraped or vacuumed out. I was trying to make visually clear the implications of your insistance that we do not need to take account of the future development of a fetus unless that fetus will subsequently be born alive. By insisting that we must take account of the fetus’ future right to have a foreskin (assuming it will be born), while denying that we need take account of its future right to live, you are maintaining an inconsistency that I find absurd.

    Perhaps we should stop.

    Perhaps so; maybe we can return to the matter when we’ve all had a chance to cool our heads.

  54. […] less for one person to do alone. Nor is abortion a solution to this, for even leaving aside the moral question and (debatable) claims of psychological harm, abortion carries its own physical risks, including […]


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