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View Diary: Is Heaven Populated by Blastulae? (235 comments)

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  •  Good Diary ( from a pro-lifer/anti-choicer) (4.00)
    This diary does raise a thorny issue for people who are pro-life/anti-choice for religious reasons.  But I think it presumes a rather simplistic concept of human spirituality and the afterlife.  

    One doesn't have to believe in heaven or hell to believe in the existence of a human "soul" whose worth is greater than the biological matter of their bodies (whether they be blastulae, fetae, infant, child or adult).  What that soul is, whether it is discrete or continuous, where it comes from (and when) or where it goes when the body dies are all issues beyond our comprehension (but not speculation).  

    We don't need religion to tell us that human life in all forms must be accorded respect, protection, and indeed -- rights.  For those of us who believe in a consistent ethic of life, the "heaven" argument is irrelevant.

    The "burning fertility clinic" argument is a trap that anyone can fall into.  The fallacy stems from the tension between objective equivalency of lives and subjective inequivalency.  If a school was burning, and you had the choice of saving your own child or two of someone else's children, what would you do?  Humans have a closer subjective link to children than to blastulae.  It's natural for a human to choose to save the one child rather than the five blastulae.

    As I've said in another recent diary, we don't have to get caught up in all of this crap. There is common ground on abortion.  We all can do more to make abortion rarely necessary without overturning Roe v. Wade.  This is not a yes/no issue and the true crime has been the pro-life/pro-choice lobbies' dogged determination to either make abortion completely illegal or keep it available without any restrictions.  Let's stop fighting about legality and start fighting to make abortion rare.  That's why NARAL's Prevention First Act and their open letter to the pro-life community are, IMHO, brilliant, and should be supported by all who are ethically opposed to abortion.

    •  The problem arises... (none)
      when people don't distinguish between "human life" and "personhood".  Scientists can take cells from my body and keep them alive in a petri dish for decades, and those cells will definitively be "human life", but they will never, no matter what the scientists do, be "persons".  Those cells lack self-awareness, a necessary criteria of personhood.  A baby born without a complete brain may be alive, and may even be able to breath and live for a while with assisstance, but it will never be self-aware, and thus will never be a person. The same applies to a brain-dead human being that may have once been a person, and is totally alive, and totally human, but will never be self-aware again, and thus can never be a person.  

      The difference between personhood and human life is an important distinction, because we grant certain rights to persons that are not granted to non self aware life.  Those hypothetical cells in the petri dish will never be granted a right to live, no matter how long we keep them alive.  The baby and brain dead person are another matter.  Some would keep them alive because they are alive and are genetically human, even if they have no hope of ever achieving self awareness and the concommitant personhood.  But some feel that a complete set of dna in the form of a human being is enough to grant personhood, and therefore society is obligated to care for these individuals.  

      In the fire example, the difference between the toddler and the zygotes isn't some mythical bond, it is the existance of personhood.  The toddler is beyond question a person.  The zygotes... well, some would grant them personhood, but they are beyond doubt not self-aware, and thus most would relegate them to the category reserved for the cells kept alive in a petri dish - human, and alive, but not persons.  

      Wheeee. Okay, that takes care of my philosophical ethics for the day, where is the latest Gannon/Guckert thread.  ;-)

      •  I hear you, but... (none)
        How do you define self-awareness?  Is an infant self-aware?  Is a fetus at some stage?  There is research that shows fetal brain tissue displays chemical activity in response to its mother's voice, feels pain, etc. as early as the second trimester.  Is it self-aware?  Last week, a baby was discharged from the hospital who was born after only 26 weeks of gestation.  When was it self-aware?

        And on the fire example, what about the other question: whose child would you save, your own or two of someone else?  This is an example of a well-known cognitive phenomenon perhaps best described as "identifiable death vs. statistical death."  

        From: "Past research has shown that human empathy differs reliably toward actual, 'identified', victims on the one hand, and more abstract or 'statistical' victims on the other (Fetherstonhaugh, Slovic, Johnson, & Friedrich, 1997; Small & Loewenstein, 2003)."

        •  That's a good point (none)
          As for when self-awareness occurs, I would say that it occurs some time toward the end of the 2nd trimester or during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, on a limited scale.  That is why I support unlimited abortions until that point, but would restrict them to cases where a woman's life was at stake or the foetus/baby had no potential for surivival.  That's quite a compromise for a pro-choicer, by the way. It means that for several months during gestation, a woman would lose control over her body - I'm saying that at that point the foetus has rights, and the woman is obligated to not kill it unecessarily.  It's hard to reconcile that with my belief in self-control of our bodiea, but it would be harder for me to justify allowing a woman who was 9 months pregnant abort the foetus instead of giving birth.  Ethics is full of conundrums like this.  

          As for the "whose child would you save" argument... that's another of those hypothetical conundrums that isn't a problem in real life.  In rality, an ethical person in that situation would probably save any of the children they thought they could save.  I can't imagine a person simply abandoning any children in a fire - it's not a matter of numbers, it's a matter of how close physically they are to the children, how hot the fire is, etc.  So I'm goint to sort of cheat and say "the person should try to save all of the children".  I suppose there are rare situations in which a person really has that kind of choice, and in that case I suspect that the person will choose to save their child, because biology dictates that they should do so in order to protect their genes.  

          •  I admire (none)
            your willingness to discuss these issues.  I think that both sides of this debate can compromise.  It's the pigheadedness of those absolutists on either side whose "all or nothing" approach has frozen debate for 30 years.

            My hope is that NARAL's Prevention First Act is the first such compromise (it does for the first time, in some way, imply that abortion is not a good thing).  I hope that NRLC and others respond in kind -- perhaps by admitting that banning abortion in any circumstances is a socially irresponsible and probably unethical policy.

            Thanks so much for proving to me that there are people out there who are willing to truly engage each other on these issues.

    •  "soul" (none)
      I don't think that discussions of "soul" have any place in the debate about abortion legality.  That's a theological/spiritual issue and the government should have no say in the matter.
      •  Technically correct, but bullshit nonetheless... (none)
        Why does government restrain an adult's right to end the life of another adult?  Because human life is somehow special.  I call it spiritual/soul/etc. -- you can call it whatever you want.  If we all, as adult human individuals, are nothing more than a collection of cells, then government would have no place in keeping us from offing each other.
        •  no (none)
          The government isn't interested in it because of the "specialness" of someone's human spirit/soul or whatever.  Yes, the government restrains an adult's right to kill another adult - but it also restricts his right to kill the person's dog, or blow up the person's home, or put a fence on the person's property, etc.

          The government has an interest in lots of things aside from human life, and many that are merely collections of atoms with no animating spirit.  Also some that are just ideas and imaginary entities (corporations, etc.).  It has an interest in these things because it has an interest in maintaining order and administering justice.

          •  Framing the issue (4.00)
            by using the notion of soul is very useful.  Yes, I agree that you can't write ensoulment into the law.  However,

            1. It helps reach an understanding with people who are anti-abortion.  Do you think that someone who honestly thinks abortion is murder gives two hoots about a "right of privacy" or a "right to choose".
            2. The law at least as regards something as basic as murder is merely codifying an unwritten moral code.  Regardless of how the law is written, people think murder is wrong because there is a specialness about a human being.  Killing a dog is wrong but for different reasons and to a different degree.
            3. There is psychological research being put forth that posits that notions of a soul are inborn.  (With "soul" used as a general and perhaps ill-defined notion, without any particular lofty theological edifice built around it--i.e., something more than just "mind" but as the essential nature of one's personhood.)  People like Paul Bloom and Steven Pinker actually believe there is no reality to the soul, just that people inherently think there is.
            •  response (none)
              1.  We don't need to "reach an understanding" with people who are anti-abortion.  Understanding is a two-way street and they're unwilling to compromise.  They are the ones insisting on imposing their morality on others.  We are not.  The law doesn't force anyone to have an abortion against her will.

              2.  Yes, throughout human history, murder has been considered a terrible crime.  However, abortion hasn't been.  This is a complicated issue and for centuries philosophers, theologians, church fathers, legal experts et al. have been all over the map on it.  Suffice it to say that our culture considers your personhood to begin on your date of birth, not on your conception date.

              3.  Interesting.

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