Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Debating Personhood

A blogger named Zed (I always think of that creepy scene in Pulp Fiction when I hear that name) at Resonant Information is blogging about the unborn and personhood.

Zed is pro-choice but interestingly admits that, "How a "person" is defined by anyone is weirdly arbitrary, and is very much at the heart of this matter." I rarely ever encounter someone who is pro-choice but is willing to admit that the defining of personhood is arbitrary. I commend Zed for this. He goes on to list numerous criteria for personhood that people have and then says, "the choice will be arbitrary because there's absolutely no scientific basis for declaring someone a person before the reactions are present that allow us to recognize something as intelligent life."

I agree with Zed that "personhood" is a criteria that is wholly arbitrary but I think he fails to see to the word "personhood" is solely being used by one group of human beings to discriminate against another group of human beings.

Zed continues by saying, "In my mind, in a conflict of interest between something that might be a person, but for which the question is controversial, and someone that is definitely a person, the definite person wins every time."

First, the interests are equal - the unborn's interest is their life - the mother's interest is not her life is the vast majority of abortions.

Second, if there is a possibility that one is worthy of protection doesn't that mean we should make sure before we kill 1.3 million entities each year that could be worthy of protection. After 9/11, rescue workers used buckets not bulldozers because they thought there might be human beings worthy of protection under the rubble. Did their interests of clearing the rubble take precedent over the possibility that a human being could be saved.

Another scenario, I'm hunting and I see something move in the bushes. It could be the 10-point buck I saw in that area earlier but it could also be a fellow hunter. Do my interests of shooting a big buck take precedents over the possibility that I might be shooting a fellow human being in the head.

Plus, how do we know born children are persons if the criteria is arbitrary? What about a Satan worshipper whose religion tells her that her newborn child isn't a "person?" Should she be allowed to kill that child because she thinks the child isn't a person?

Zed then goes on to post a creative scenario similar to Ronald Bailey's "ten embryos or one child." The basic idea is that you have to choose which you will save. In the comments section, a blogger named Abby provides a similar scenario I posted on Third Wave Agenda's blog. Thanks Abby.

In the comments section, Zed tries to refute my hypothetical by 1. trying to make a hyptothetical not hypothetical (my choice doesn't matter) - yes, it does. That's the hypothetical. 2. Assuming the position he is attempting to prove (the Indians are people) - exactly, that's the point. Choosing something you're more emotionally attached to doesn't mean that the human beings you aren't emotionally attached to aren't worthy of protection. 3. Confusing the issue - the issue is whether or not the unborn are worthy of protection not whether the abortionist (the person to be jailed) is choosing between the woman and her embryos. The abortionist isn't choosing between the two - he's killing one to make money. Putting his intentions equivalent to saving the mother's life isn't a proper hypothetical for abortion.

Zed continues his original post by asking, "Can you jail someone for preventing the mother and child from a risk, or preventing them from "merely" being burned or inhaling some smoke, at the cost of cooking twenty embryos?"

This hypothetical attempts to put the abortionist in the position of decision maker between saving the life/reducing the risk of the women or saving the embryos. But this is almost completely unparallel. It avoids the reality that abortion often puts the woman at risk. It avoids the reality that the abortionist intentionally cooks the embryos himself - not merely letting it happen. It also acts like the abortionist has same high set of motives when that is usually not the case.

Zed's post then takes a turn for the worse as he accuses prolifers of really just being "pro-birth" and saying that "Support of anti-abortion laws is nothing less than the intent of jailing others for having a difference of faith."

This is a weak jab at the motives of prolifers and an attempt to protect the killing of human beings under the guise of religious liberty. Would Zed want to jail a satanist for sacrificing her born child simply because she has a difference of faith? What about Islamic extremists who think that killing Americans is what Allah wants them to do? Should they be punished for practicing their religion?

Also of note is that in the comments section Zed links to probably the worst explanation of the beginning of life in any "biology" textbook that I've ever seen.

"Is a zygote or an embryo alive? Is a zygote or an embryo a human being? These are intricate philosophical questions that often incite intense debate"

Anyone that thinks that whether something is alive or is a member of a certain species is a question for philosophy isn't being honest with themselves. The author then quotes books/journal articles on abortion instead of embryology textbooks. Who needs embryologists and scientists to tell us what embryos are when we have a bunch of philosophers?

I'll post more on this later. For now, I'll direct those who think that the beginning of life is up in the air to my sidebar.

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