Wednesday, December 28, 2005

You want it? You got it.

A pro-choice blogger named Media Girl recently commented on this article in the Washington Post on abortion in South Dakota. South Dakota's task force on abortion released a report that states that science defines life as beginning at conception.

In her post Media Girl asks,

Here they go with the "science is what I say it is" approach. Does life really begin at conception? Where is this scientific evidence? Does implantation have nothing to do with it? What about gestation?

In the comments section, I left a few quotes from my side panel regarding what science has to say about what happens at conception.

Media Girl also stated, "Unborn children -- a nice, nonsensical phrase, because of course children are not children until they are born. But hey, potential children are almost children, right?"

In response, I asked her how a nine inch journey down the birth canal changes a non-child into a child.

Media Girl's response to my embryology textbook quotes and questions?

1. Spill seed into a woman of chilbearing years
2. Optional: Repeat step 1

And you're done! You have a baby. Oh, never mind the nine months' gestation needed to actually make the baby. That's just irrelevant!

Never mind the nutrition from the woman. Never mind the billions upon billions of processes that must happen for an actual baby to result.

New math: potential baby = baby.

Babies are more than a jumble of genetics, Jivin.

She has no evidence from science to dispute what embryology has to say or any reasoning to back up her assertions so she creates a strawman and goes after it. I never said that a woman's body plays no role in nurturing the growing child. I pointed to the science she asked for. She just doesn't like the answer science has provided. I was also accused by other commenters of being "really into my faith" because I provided quotes from embryology textbooks.


  1. Anonymous8:59 PM

    I'm not familiar with anyone who disputes that a foetus is living tissue. I think pro-choice advocates just don't see it as a *person*.

    How you define "person", admittedly may be a philosophical (or at least lexical) matter, not scientific question exactly, but personally, I'd probably start in defining by setting the ability to think, feel, and reason as the development of, well, "personhood".

    I think when pro-choicers say "life begins", they mean "when personhood begins". I think when pro-lifers use the same term they mean "when living tissue begin”. I'm over-simplifying, no doubt, but there does seem to be a significant gulf in how the terms... or ideas... are used.

  2. Hi smt,
    Thanks for commenting. I think you're right in that prolife people and pro-choice people often talk past each other. In my exchanges with pro-choice people, I try to make it clear that when I use the term human being - I'm using it in a purely scientific sense - as in member of the species homo sapiens. But even then, I'm often confronted with individuals who can't seem to accept the reality of what happens at conception.

    Regarding your definition of personhood - if the ability to reason is a criteria for personhood then aren't you eliminated newborn children from personhood? I have a 1 year old niece and as far as I can tell she doesn't have the ability to reason.

    Also, why should anyone accept your definition of personhood? I mean, couldn't a racist just as easily assert that black human beings aren't persons because their skin color is darker? To me "personhood" criteria seems to be a way from one group of human beings to arbitrarily discriminate against another group of human beings.

  3. Anonymous9:54 AM

    Hello J,
    Thanks for your response. I’ve enjoyed reading over your blog! I especially appreciate your desire to approach this issue from a scientific point of view.

    Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? When is it a person… I’m not saying my (off the cuff) criteria should be the end of the matter for everyone. And of course the ability to reason is difficult to pinpoint. I do however suggest humbly that your niece might have more cognitive powers than you give her credit for though… psychologists would argue that her skills are not very fine tuned yet, but the observation/conclusion process is in high gear right now as she soaks up language, her environment, and general survival skills from you and the rest of her family.

    But regardless, I might suggest a broader concept as a metric for “personhood”, namely self-awareness. That might not be as specific or controversial as the pain/thought/reason suggestion. I can’t see how one might object to defining a person as a “self-aware” entity. I’d consider death the erosion of self-awareness (either suddenly or gradually… I have a relative with Alzheimer’s… I am aware there will be a point when the person I knew and loved will be “dead”, well before the body ceases to circulate blood and oxygen). Self-awareness is certainly a pre-requisite for pain and reason separate from the status of the living tissue that comprises the human body.

    I understand that certain religious perspectives might introduce the development (entry?) of the “soul” at some point as an issue, but I am not sure how it is possible to rationally… certainly scientifically… factor this in. I am not sure there is even any concurrence in religious communities as to what a “soul” is, exactly.

    It is true that the mammalian zygote/embryo/foetus ultimately will develop (with a bit of help from the mother organism) into a self-aware, self-sustaining entity. But at least initially, it is not a thinking entity, and I can certainly see why many cannot conceive the proposition that the foetus should be allotted the same rights and privileges as a fully formed adult person.

    That being said, I can also see why, if someone, for whatever reason, *did* feel that a, say, zygote was a thinking, feeling, self-aware person, they would get outraged at the prospect of it’s termination. To them it would murder, in the same way as most everyone would see the termination of a baby in the late third trimester. But, personally, I’m puzzled as to how someone could develop that perspective from a rational… scientific perspective. Curious, but puzzled.

    As for your analog between defining personhood based on one’s cognitive state vs. the pigment of skin, I must respectfully suggest that I don’t really see the correlation. I know what you are getting at, but the color of skin is a cosmetic, incidental characteristic… I’m not sure how you can compare it to a fundamental state of being like sentience or cognitive awareness. To me yes, I must admit, I see a strong difference between the criteria of pigmentation in the epidermis and the whether or not there is a functioning and processing brain. Do you really equate those with the same gravity?

    OK, I’ve yap-yaped enough… Sorry for the ramble. I hope you find a moment to reply. I await your reply!

  4. Anonymous8:40 PM

    Even if we only give rights to those able to feel, we would have to prohibit abortion after 7-8 weeks, which is when the sense of touch first can be demonstrated in the human embryo (searching for this on google will direct you to many sources, including the easy to read discovery health page). And keep in mind this is only based on observation; we do not know if some haptic sense exists but is not shown through a response. The neural groove, which we could call the early brain, forms even earlier, around 18 days after conception--and brain development is not complete at birth. Having just completed a graduate course in cognitive science, I know that some philosophers have argued that the sense of self is a myth, being merely a name for thoughts, feelings, and sensations--so who is to say that even primal sensations in the developing brain are not a sense of self? Considering that even microscopic organisms demonstrate simple problem solving skills (such as navigating a difficult environment), it is very difficult to define thinking, awareness, and sense of self, or to say that it is impossible for human embryos and fetuses to have these characteristics/abilities. This is why the prolife view is that personhood is based on being a living human being with one's own genetic code, not on hard-to-define cognitive states or abilities. Furthermore, embryos and fetuses do process and react to the environment, including the outside environment. For example, the October 13, 2005 issue of the science journal Nature (which certainly does not take any prolife stance) has an article reviewing a book on the reactions of embryos and fetuses to stress and the effects of this throughout the lifespan. The review was written by a developmental biologist, who also uses the term "unborn baby." This journal deals with heavy science. For example, an article in the same issue: "Plectasin is a peptide antibiotic with therapeutic potential from a saprophytic fungus."

  5. Anonymous12:28 PM

    Hi anonymous, These are interesting points you raise, and I would feel a lot more comfortable if the pro-life/pro-choice argument in America focused on issues such as this, rather than entrenching itself in emotionally based rhetoric, which is abrasive and not particularly productive for either side. You motivated me to do a bit of research, and I did notice the Discovery Health page you sited, plus some others. I also re-reviewed a lot of general material on development of the zygote/embryo/fetus, which I think is good advice you provide for anyone entering this debate.

    That being said, I’m not sure I agree with your conclusions. First, the sense of touch you describe is a reflex function at 7-8 weeks (it is still an embryo at this point)… Interestingly the head is one of the few places at this point not to show this reflex response. The first electrical signals in the neural system are not noticeable until at least the 12th week after fertilization, which I think is really the very first anyone could make for a good case as the threshold of sentience for the developing fetus. And even then neurologists note recently that the component elements for self-awareness (such as pain) do not begin to connect to each other and work as a system until the 3rd trimester. ( I think this, in my humble opinion, is a more obvious demarcation for “personhood”. I note, interestingly an article in the conservative Free Republic website that concurs with this general conclusion. (

    Are you really suggesting the neural tube (on which the neural groove develops) is capable of something approximating thought? I’m not sure what you mean here. I think a description of “early brain” is a bit misleading in terms of describing its capabilities. It is true that the neural system develops from it, but, still… capable of processing thought? I didn’t think so. No pun intended.

    I tried to find the article in Nature you cited, but could not find it online (well, for free at least… I’m cheap), and couldn’t find anything about its author “Michael Sargent” ( Do you have more info on this? That being said, the evidence you are referencing is, after all, just… a book review. Right? Sounds like an interesting book, however (

    Philosophically, I agree, there is a wide spectrum of thought … heck, even lexically, it’s messy. Indeed, one that I find very interesting, if you look at the status of homo sapiens as a purely genetic one, (as you suggest), one can also conceptualize that there is only one entity “homo sapiens” that ever existed, and we are all extensions of it, past present and future, sharing the same ladder of DNA. In this paradigm, we are no more unique entities than a cell comprising a muscle in the finger is separate from the finger… or even the person to whom it is attached. Indeed, our self-awareness and self-identity is even more illusionary that we… well… think. One could even go further and bridge the species together, and postulate there is only one living terrestrial entity that developed about 1.5 billion years ago. Personally, I think it’s all neat to think about, and it’s fun to deconstruct things ad nauseum, but unless you assume self-awareness a priori, just about any argument you develop… for anything… kind of collapses in on itself, and that makes it difficult to take the trash out, program your Tivo, and feed the dog at night.

    Let me cut to the summary of your post as I understand it, to paraphrase, that “because it is so difficult to classify the point of self-awareness, it is better to use genetic development (I’m guessing fertilization) as the point of personhood”. Really? That’s really what you think? I don’t mean to be skeptical, but most pro-lifers I’ve talked with “on the street” tend to say justify their with “the embryo looks like a person” or “because the Pope says so”. Seriously. I don’t mean to be sarcastic, that’s really the level of discourse I have found. I mean, I admit, my view is that a person is a person when (s)he is self-aware, whenever that is. The best evidence I have found for that point is sometime around the 3rd trimester. So, yeah, I agree that non-spontaneous abortions in the third trimester are infanticide if not performed to save the mother’s life. And, my understanding that only about .01 percent of non-spontaneous abortions in the US are late term, and almost all (if not all) of those are for reasons of the mother’s health. But if I see proof that the embryo is capable of self-awareness before that, I’m entirely with you. But the arguments for thought and particularly perception of pain prior to the third trimester really do seem kind of flimsy, and the argument tends to be a “better safe than sorry since there is some doubt” approach. In other words, it seems really apologetic. Show me that I’m wrong… I’m open to evidence and rational arguments!

    The question of “what is self-awareness” has certain ramifications that are interestingly absent in the abortion debate, if I might digress a moment. As a tangent, do I assume that pro-life advocates will also crusade for the rights (based on the argument of possible rudimentary cognitive perception of the fetus) for extremely complex computer programs that approximate intelligence? I know at first blush it sounds ridiculous, but it is mathematically inevitable that at some point there will be artificial sentience (or at least self-awareness) develop purposefully or otherwise as applications (especially AI apps) become nearly as complex as the neural systems of, say, cats and dogs. If they have not already, which, as you point out, is a difficult threshold to pinpoint. Some argue that certain programs currently in place are already on an intellectual (and therefore sentient?) par with insects. Consequentially, I am tangentially curious, why pro-lifers are not also avid animal rights advocates. Surely a cow has at least the sentience as a 7 week old foetus, yes? They are unquestionably more aware of their own existence, regardless of whatever standard you might use for the foetus. And yet cows are slaughtered by the ten thousand every day without a whisper of organized disagreement from the Pro-life community. This disparity makes me wonder if the scientific arguments I see enumerated on countless websites for the anti-abortion movement are not apologetics for a spiritual perspective. It’s no secret that there is a huge… huge… correlation between the religious perspective of pro-lifers and pro-choicers. Obviously there are probably a few atheist/agnostic pro-lifers and a few evangelical pro-choicers somewhere out there, but the overall demographics make me suspect that whatever “scientific” rationale pro-choicers produce, the real raison d’etre is to support their theological… not rational… worldview. Not that is in itself wrong, but I do find it a bit disingenuous that more pro-lifers do not simply come out and say, “I think a foetus is a person just because the Pope… or my pastor… says it has a soul.” Period. I understand the desire to support this then with scientific evidence, especially when attempting to persuade others not of their faith, but I think it would be nice to disclose one’s bias from the beginning.

  6. Hi smt,
    Thanks again for commenting.

    In the second comment, you've left on this post you put forward "self-awareness" as the criteria for personhood.

    I have some problems with this criteria. First, I don't see why this criteria should be accepted over any other criteria. Couldn't anyone assert that any number of factors is what is really important in personhood such as consciousness, pain, etc. - they all seem completely arbitrary to me - I can see no reason why one criteria should endow us with basic rights well the others shouldn't.

    Second, what do you exactly mean by self-awareness because I've had some pro-choicers argue that humans obtain self-awareness in the 24 week of gestation (though their evidence for this was slim) and I'm fairly certain there are other experts who'd say that human beings don't obtain self-awareness until a few months after birth.

    Third, wouldn't the self-awareness criteria allow certain high-functioning animals such as dolphins or apes to be defined as "persons?" Many mature dolphins and apes have a much higher level of mental functioning than a newborn human infant - yet I'd guess (I could be wrong, of course) that you'd think that a newborn should be a "person" well an ape shouldn't be a "person."

    I don't think a human zygote is capable of rational thought. But I don't think that the capability of rational thought, self-awareness, etc. determines whether one is deserving of basic rights.

    I can certainly see why many cannot conceive the proposition that the foetus should be allotted the same rights and privileges as a fully formed adult person.

    I don't think a fetus should have the same rights as a fully formed adult human being - I don't think they should have the right to marry, drive, smoke, drink, etc., etc. But I do think they should have a basic right to life. I don't see how we can arbitrarily give this right to one human being (say a newborn infant who has very limited mental capacities), take it away from a human fetus (who has less but similar mental capacities as a newborn) and never give it to a mature animal who has greater mental capacities than both the fetus and the newborn. If mental capacities matter so, then why are we so off on how we distribute rights. And if mental functioning matters for the right to life, then it seems to make sense that humans with higher levels of mental functioning should have greater levels of the right to life than human beings with lower levels of mental functioning.

    But why is the level of mental functioning a "fundamental state of being" while skin color is merely "incidental?" In the past, we discriminated against other human beings based on the pigment of their skin - your proposal wants us to discriminate against other human beings based on cognition but I don't see why one is a worthy criteria for discrimination while the other is not. They both seem to be "made up" with nothing really backing them up.

  7. Anonymous9:33 PM

    Why self-awareness… thought… brain activity as opposed to any other criteria? Well, termination of self-awareness… ending of brain activity is generally considered legally, socially… and ethically as the end of life, right? I don’t want to assume anything here but I think most people would reasonably agree that you are dead when your brain stops. Even if your heart is still beating and lungs still breathing and digestive system still, well, digesting; if you don’t think and feel, you’re kaput, right? So, I don’t see the development of self-awareness to be that arbitrary.

    And, like status at end-of-life, we can’t always be sure when it’s there, but there is a definable point when you can say it’s not there, right? If there is no electrical impulse in the brain (say, measured by an EEG), there can’t be brain function, and therefore no thought. And without thought, no self (unless you introduce non-rational, non-scientific, non-quantifiable criteria, of course, but then this becomes a religious discussion, not a scientific one, right?) In all my research the only argument to this I have found is that the analogy doesn’t really count because a dead brain can’t regenerate itself, and that inactive pre-neural tissues in an embryo eventually will become functioning, and that somehow invalidates the argument. (It’s all over the ’net, but here’s one citation, for example: I don’t really understand what that has to do with the issue, to be honest. It’s like saying you can’t pinpoint when the day begins at dawn because it’s inevitable that the sun will rise even before that point. Inevitability of an event doesn’t blur its delineation.

    So when is that point when self-consciousness begins? Yeah, it’s tough to say. Who knows, maybe it doesn’t start till you are well out of the womb. But I can say, with some degree of safety I know when it *isn’t* there. It can’t be there if there isn’t brain activity. Actually, from what I see, 24 weeks is not such an unsupported estimate (what is your objection?). 23 to 31 weeks seems to be the point when dendrites, axons and neurons are all in place and working together, as is necessary for thought. (Again, lotsa places, but is one). That’s the stuff that allows us to think, and the stuff we measure in EEGs, right? They exist in components (there are isolated neurons as early as 5 weeks, for example), but not active as a network… like a pile of computer chips can exist as components before they are plugged into a motherboard and run my copy of Pong. Let me know if I’m missing something, here. So, I’d say your guess of 24 weeks seems to be rather valid and medically substantiated as the earliest possible point of self-awareness. It might actually be later, but I can’t see how it would be sooner.

    That being said, there is some objection that brain waves actually occur as early as “40 days” (an objection only in pro-life circles, exclusively, I note… this is not a scientific belief… I called the StateUniversity Med Center about this today, actually). The problem is that this argument is based (if you trace back the footnotes several layers) to an old (1951) study that found electrical activity in fetal cortices 90 days old. The problem is that this is outdated research (replaced by more recent findings using modern technology), and moreover misquoted, and removed from context. There is actually a very well documented (you can verify all references) investigation of this “40 day” figure at Again, I’m interested in evidence to the contrary. (It’s interesting that even those that push the “40 day” figure don’t seem to be satisfied with even that as a metric. I don’t understand why this is.)

    As for your third criteria, I was surprised, because that was pretty the same question I asked in my third post to “anonymous” (Did you by any chance read that comment? I’m sorry, I know I yapped a lot, but I thought I brought up a few interesting points along the way.) But, I’ll go ahead and answer… yes, I think that self-awareness is a good criteria for “personhood”… or “apehood”… or “rabbithood” universally, and yeah I think it’s a bad thing to kill something that has self-awareness. Period. I think it’s bad if you kill a person that has consciousness and it’s bad if you kill a kitten that has consciousness. Or a cow. Or a pig. Or Bambi. My question was, if you protect a life that is not even conscious (say a human blastocyst), do you protect a mature 2 year old steed (clearly capable of thought… certainly more than a blastocyst) heading to slaughter?

    I don’t agree that a fetus has “less but similar mental capacities as a newborn”. I’d say, that until the third trimester-ish a fetus has “less but *none* of the mental capacities of a newborn”. How do you have any mental capacities without a functioning cerebral cortex? Yeah, there is a heart, reflexes, lungs, and even some of the components for consciousness, but no conscious experience. No voluntary action, no remembering, no feeling pain, no feeling anything. Nada. I mean, unless you want to argue that the brain is not the organ of thought….

    And finally, you mention again how you consider development of thought as a “made up” criteria for defining a person, as irrelevant as color of skin. OK, I’m not trying to be snide, but it does seem to me that this is kind of obvious and self-evident criteria for intelligent human life (personhood). I mean, is a person a person still a person if they can’t think? Really? I guess if you say that inclusion of thought as a criteria for personhood is arbitrary, you could also deconstruct any criteria, and a raw scrap of DNA could become a “person”. I know, I know… I have spoken to many many PLers (and they seem to be reading the same talking points).: DNA, or a sperm, or ovary is not “complete”. But, my question is, in response, could one not say that “completeness” is similarly an arbitrary criteria, just as much as sentience? (I know, I’m being kind of a jerk and not answering your question… just throwing it back by asking is there *any* criteria someone could produce that you could not dismiss as “arbitrary”?) As I mentioned in my last post, you could use also raw biological continuity to state that there is only one “homo sapiens” that has ever existed, you know? Any differentiation is really only an arbitrary criteria, right? Why define “birth” at fertilization? Why not ovulation, or development of the sperm? Why not the point where homo sapiens DNA diverged from Homo heidelbergensis? Why not the development of DNA per se? Or the first eurcaryote in the Precambrian oceans? These are all objective, measurable events in the chain of life… (like fertilization or development of brain activity or birth itself). Yeah, it’s kind of stupid, but that’s my point. I guess “completeness” is a much weaker argument in my opinion that “thought” is, and a heck of a lot less arbitrary. (I don’t want to turn to philosophy here, but saying “I am complete therefore I am”, also sounds really odd to my ears.) Every criteria I can enumerate for the experience of life, self, and humanity encompasses depends on development of sentience.

  8. Hi Smt,
    No, the termination of self-awareness is not considered legal death. The uniform determination of death act states "An individual who has sustained either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or (2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead."

    Unborn children who are not yet self-aware have not sustained an irreversible cessation of all functions of their entire brain. Isn't there a difference between not yet and never again?

    It should also be pointed out that there is nothing in the uniform death act which says that a human being can be alive but not a "person" which seemed to be the argument you were making earlier.

    I'm sorry - I didn't fully read your comment to anonymous - and I'm sorry if you've answered this before but if animals fit the criteria for "personhood" then shouldn't they be given more than the right to life. I mean, we wouldn't find it acceptable if other persons were imprisoned behind bars in zoos - so why should self-aware apes be imprisoned? Do you feel it should be illegal to kill animals that are self-aware?

    My apologies, I didn't make it specific that with regards to similar mental functioning, I was talking about the unborn later in pregnancy.

    Intelligent human life = personhood? Isn't that begging the question on your part? Maybe I'm mistaken but if you say that self-awareness matters and makes an organism into a person (and therefore worthy of some sort of legal protection) and I ask "why self-aware and not another criteria" - it seems like begging the question to assert that intelligent human life = personhood. I thought you were trying to prove why a certain level of intelligence matters. Saying intelligent life = personhood seems to assume what you're trying to prove. Plus, why is it only human life? Why can't personhood includes intelligent animal or alien life?

    I wouldn't argue "completeness" - that seems to be a vague term - I'd say that a piece of human dna by itself isn't an organism. I think we can agree that we're both not committing mass murder when we get our hair cut. Eggs and sperm aren't human being unto themselves, they're merely part of a human being. The unborn, well not as intelligent or as developed as other human beings, are still organisms unto themselves.

    What about unconscious individuals? When I had my wisdom teeth removed I was put under for a time. I have no recollection of that experience and I don't think I could be considered self-aware during that time. I had brain waves but wasn't conscious - should I be considered a person during that time?

    P.S. - the internet address you provided for evidence of self-awareness at 24 weeks was cut off - I'd be interested in reading if you could post again.

  9. Anonymous9:56 PM

    Hi J,
    I apologize if my point got lost in my long yapping. To restate, I don’t presuppose that one can accurately determine the exact moment of self-awareness. That’s a philosophical judgment, most likely. But you can empirically state that it *cannot occur* before there is activity in the brain. Right? And conversely, you can’t have consciousness *after* that activity is *gone*. Right?

    So the bottom line is that since legally, medically, and I might suggest ethically, death is commonly measured as the (irrevocable) cessation of brain activity (brain death… yes I know the criteria of death determination), why is there objection to marking “life” legally by the first signs of the same criteria? These thresholds of “life” mark the beginning of what I’m referring to as “personhood” (but you can call it whatever you wish), and (going back to my original observation) this is the quality that many Pro-Choice advocates seem to value first, rather than mere, unthinking, albeit developing matter. It’s not that they disregard “human life”; it is just that they colloquially use the term differently than Pro-Lifers and seem to have a more specific (I’d say reasonable) understanding of what is important to them. This probably means definitions might not be the best way to solve this then, eh? Personally, I don’t understand the attachment to something that can’t think or feel, but that’s just me. (Well, at least since I stopped cuddling with my dear departed teddy bear of youth. Gosh, I miss him.) If you want to value the existence of non-sentient albeit organic matter, be it a blastocyst or a geranium, that’s fine. I trust you at least understand why many people just can’t understand on an empirical level why you wish to give rights to live to a bit of matter with less than 150 cells, and absolutely no ability to think.

    I do think part of the problem is a matter of definition. Words are used differently at different times and different places, especially words like “life” or “person”, and very especially in matters like the abortion debate. And these definitions change all the time. They are terms we all use to mean approximately the same thing, but when it comes to specifics and thresholds of the definition, we run into problems. There is lexically, medically, legally, or scientifically (and even that varies by field) different ways to use the same word. But definition isn’t really the point in the abortion debate, from what I have seen. Would you agree? If it were, all it would take is a simple peek in Webster’s, and matter is lexically resolved right? Pass a law, and it is legally resolved, right? Consult a textbook and it is scientifically resolved, right? I only it were that easy…

    You state, “Unborn children who are not yet self-aware have not sustained an irreversible cessation of all functions of their entire brain.” And ask, “Isn’t there a difference between not yet and never again?” Well, yeah, the difference is between before and after. You can’t “round up” the beginning of an event just because it is likely, or inevitable. Am I missing something? I’m not suggesting a fetus without brain waves is a *dead* person, I’m implying it’s not a “person” yet.

    You differentiate DNA or an egg or sperm (cut hair is actually composed of dead cells, maybe not the best example) from (if I follow) even an early blastocyst, because the former are “parts”, not a “whole” like the latter. (You do qualify this by noting that the early embryo is merely “developing”.) But you criticize my differentiation of self-awareness, or even the broader (and more easily measured) state of consciousness and thought as being arbitrary. I could say that it is every bit as arbitrary for you to define “life” is the part that starts at fertilization, as it is for me to define it at the beginning of self-awareness (or even thought).

    Uhm, I don’t know about “alien life” (?), but yeah, I do suspect that animals have some form of intelligence. (if you use a standard lexical definition, but I am sure there are others.) And to answer your question, like I said earlier actually, yes, in my opinion it is generally wrong to kill anyone … or anything that is conscious, especially in an arbitrary or cruel fashion. That would include a human, a dog, a cow, etc. Call me weird, but I think it is wrong to kill something that can feel fear and pain and is aware of and can understand its environment. Period. Obviously, there are exceptions, like self-defense, or conditions of terminal suffering perhaps, that could be extenuating circumstances why it’s not (as) wrong to kill. But, to be consistent I think you have to extend relatively equivalence to any relatively sentient life form. That’s why I asked my unanswered question about *your* opinion on this matter. Do you consistently advocate for the lives all creatures, or just homo sapiens? And do you demark that quality at conception in all cases? (I ask sincerely).

    Finally, yes, I think any reasonable person would conclude that an unconscious individual is a person, still. There is still brain activity, sometimes even experienced semi-consciously as “dreaming”. To play devil’s advocate, a better question would have been whether a person, during deep states of anesthesia or cardiac arrest (when there is (almost) no EEG activity) is a still alive or still a person. To me that’s a more interesting technical question. Still a technicality, but a more interesting question.

    It almost sounds like, if I could paraphrase and probably oversimplify, that you feel one should consider pre-embryonic, embryonic, and fetal forms should have legal rights to exist, essentially because at some point they *will become* an unqualified “person” by any standard. I mean, there’s no reasonable argument that a thinking, feeling adult homo sapiens is a “person”, right? And there’s no doubt that an embryo has the capacity to become self-same adult (admittedly provided considerable assistance from a mother’s womb) and therefore become a person.

    But I think the assumption that because something *will become* something else, therefore it should be treated as that something else, even before it becomes that second form, is a logical fallacy, or at least a rather tenuous correlation. Some might argue that this is especially significant when it impacts the “choices” others (the mother) might wish to make. But, But the thing is though, and please correct me if I am wrong, but I’ve never met a PL that hasn’t ultimately admitted that ultimately they oppose abortion even of pre-fetal matter because either 1) “my Pope/pastor says that it is wrong, and I must follow this request”, 2) “I believe there is a soul already attached as early as conception, and therefore wrong to terminate”, or 3) “I believe it is God’s will, and it is wrong to tamper with God’s will.” Now these aren’t “bad” reasons, don’t get me wrong, and they don’t philosophically invalidate one’s argument. Heck, I sympathize with these people because they really believe that they are protecting a “person” just as much as they might protect a newborn. But they are not empirical arguments, and really have no place in a secular legal environment. Tell me why it’s sinful, but that can’t be the (only) reason why you want to make it illegal. And I do think it a bit disingenuous to couch a discussion entirely with scientific reasoning (hey, even if it were call correct!) if your main motive came from an entirely different motive. I mean at the very least disclose your bias. So, my second question, what is your “core” belief for opposing abortion?

    Don’t get me wrong; I think there are lots of reasons why a woman shouldn’t have an abortion. I mean, any medical procedure carries risks, and there is the certainly the risk for mental problems like depression, (though I wonder how much of that comes from the relentless and often creepy propaganda from certain PL groups). I just think it’s kind of presumptuous to limit that decision making process of that thinking, feeling adult simply because you feel that legal rights should be attributed to a non-thinking, non-feeling embryo. Especially if this is based primarily on a religious belief. If you could show me that the embryo felt and thought… was conscious… was sentient… self-aware…. It’d be a different story. So for my third and final question, do you really not sympathize who object to your call for forced (legal) rights to a be bestowed to non-sentient matter, especially since it might often conflict with the rights of another, and especially since it is a (primarily, at least) theologically based doctrine?

  10. Hi Smt,
    I definitely agree that there can't be self-awareness when there is no activity in the brain. But I'm still looking for a non-arbitrary reason why the development of mental functioning matters over, let's say, the development of sexual functioning. Or if you think that since mental functioning matters, do you believe that human beings (say Stephen Hawking) with greater levels of mental functioning should have a greater right to life than individuals with lower levels of mental functioning (say a newborn child or someone with a mental disability)?

    The problem with saying that the unborn aren't "living" because they don't have brain functions is that it simply isn't true. They don't fit the criteria for brain death because they haven't suffered irreversible brain loss of brain function. The thinking behind brain death from what I remember is that at brain death an individual organism loses their ability to fully integrate their bodily systems while the unborn at many stages of development don't need a brain or at least a fully-functional one to fully integrate their bodily systems.

    I can see why people don't want to respect the rights of early human embryos but I can also see why some people don't want to respect the rights of other born human beings. Because some people don't respect rights isn't a reason to take away those rights. Plus, the unborn are more than mere organic matter. They're human beings in the earliest stages of development. I've yet to see a good reason why I should accept self-awareness over another criteria. What about self-awareness makes us valuable? You've asserted that you think it makes something valuable but that doesn't seem to be a good reason to me.

    So you don't have an attachment to your car or house?

    How is whether something is an living organism or not as arbitrary as self-awareness? Defining life at fertilization is arbitrary? It's backed by science. Your criteria is backed by your philosophy. There's no scientific fact behind it at all. You can't just assert that self-awareness is when life begins because you think it makes sense and say that it has the same level of arbitrariness as a scientific textbook.

    But the death act doesn't say what you're saying. Your taking something and making it something else. There's no mention of something being a living human being but a non-person in the act but that's the argument you're making.

    So should killing cows be illegal in your opinion? Should it have the same punishment as killing a newborn human being who may have a similar intelligence level? What would you do if an animal with high mental functioning (higher than a newborn) was about to accidentally kill a newborn human being? Would you kill the animal to save the newborn even though the animals mental functioning is higher?

    I'm sorry if I missed your question. No, I don't care about the lives of most animals. I eat meat from dead animals on a consistent basis. They're alive at conception but I don't think they are valuable enough to be granted the right to live. I believe humans have an intrinsic and natural right to live based on the kind of species they are not on any kind of instrumental abilities. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to believe that human beings and other organisms are instrumentally valuable, meaning that they're valuable based on the tasks they can perform or their level of thinking?

    My apologies at the sloppiness of my question - you're smart enough though to get at the point I was attempting to make - do you consider someone in deep anesthia to be a person or even less of a person because their brain activity is severely diminished?

    I don't believe in the whole "personhoood" criteria so the argument you've created for me is completely off. I don't think there exists a non-arbitrarily created category of "personhood" where one group of human beings is valuable because they've obtained "personhood" and another group of human beings is only valuable because they might one day also reach this level (which is really what makes them valuable). I believe human beings should have rights at all stages of development because they're human beings and I see no non-arbitrary way of discriminating against one group.

    My core belief for opposing abortion is that it intentionally takes the life of an innocent human being.

    You seem to be attempting to make my views based on religion and souls and sin (even though I've said nothing of the sort) when it seems to me that your belief that self-awareness is what makes something valuable (including cows) is based as much on faith as anything I've said. There's no science behind "self-awareness makes something valuable" - there's no science that says discrimination based on mental abilities is valid but discrimination based on skin color is invalid.

    Do I sympathize with pro-choicers? Certainly. But that doesn't make their views right. I have more trouble sympathizing with the individuals who won't accept basic scientific facts and create really poor and obvious strawmen arguments. That was the discussion on Media Girl turned into. I didn't bring abortion up. Media Girl asked for scientific evidence about conception - I provided it from scientific textbooks.

  11. Anonymous9:11 PM

    You mentioned unborn “don't fit the criteria for brain death because they haven't suffered irreversible brain loss of brain function” but I didn’t say they did. I was saying that if you have a “brain death”, you should correspondingly have a “brain birth”, right? Right? (I know, I know I could have come up with a better name than “brain birth”. Sounds stupid to me also, but you know what I’m getting at.) So, again, the (first) question is, if there is no problem with “brain death” as being the end of life, why can “brain birth” not be used at the opposite end?

    And, c’mon, I am not trying to be a smartass here (really, I appreciate this dialogue muchly and am having great fun), but I have to stop you when you suggest “integration” is the reason “brain death” is, uhm, death-death. I mean, really… You are reaching just a bit when you say “The thinking behind brain death from what I remember is that at brain death an individual organism loses their ability to fully integrate their bodily systems” Do you really think anyone looks at a dying person and is thinking to themselves, I wonder if they’ve stopped “integrating” yet? Poor fellow. He’ll never integrate again. (And “I integrate, therefore I am”, just doesn’t do it for me any more than “I am complete, therefore I am” does.) Yes, I know if you use “integration” as your criteria, then viola! You now have a criteria for defining birth at fertilization, AND for brain death. But, you criticize me for using “self-awareness”, or even brain activity as a similar self-verifying criteria, yeah? And as I mentioned above, you’ve also used “completeness” or “wholeness” or whatever. But don’t you see those are just as “arbitrary? Aren’t you just defining the terms to suit your argument as well? Aren’t you being as circular? (Second question)

    I don’t think I ever said anything about relative states of intelligence (i.e., “smarter” people should have more rights). Or anesthesia. I’m not sure why you think I would. But I don’t, by the way.

    But, to be completely honest, yeah, on one level I wouldn’t object to legal restrictions on killing *any* sentient life. Late term embryos, adults, dogs, even the aliens you mention. I don’t think I’d be consistent if I didn’t take that stance, right? But, man, I cannot even begin to practically grasp the consequences that would unfold if we extended it legally. Are flies sentient? I admit, I try not to kill things, but I am sure I squoosh things when I cross my lawn. And do we punish the sentient housecat for snapping up a sentient mouse? My head spins at the issues that would exist. So, I dunno. Personally, I wish it weren’t necessary to make laws to do that. I wish it was just self-evident that if something thinks and feels, and hurts, it’s wrong to kill them, and people might appeal to their better nature not to do that… just because it’s wrong. (I’m kind of surprised it’s not already self-evident to most people, you know? But oh, well.) I suspect the ability to make preventing murder of, say, chimpanzees dogs, cats and pigs and cows is more a province of philosophy than laws. I guess. (I have to admit I haven’t given much thought to seriously legalizing the murder of squirrels, not that I could. But I do think it’s mean and wrong to arbitrarily kill a squirrel. Don’t you?) I might be overreaching things at that point to enforce this legally. And for that matter, I don’t have a problem when people to urge women to not abort an embryo on philosophical grounds. I bet you wish it weren’t necessary that you needed to have a blog discussing your views that an embryo should be protected by law, even at the expense of the woman’s wishes. But I bet most people would agree that not all of our morals should be legislated. Poor squirrels. They are awfully cute.

    Let me reverse the question, since you see importance in the state of life at a cellular level (not a sentient level), do you think we should outlaw destruction of even non-sentient life? Bacteria, plants, etc.? Well? (third Q)

    I didn’t get your question about a house addition. Did I miss something?

    Do you mean to say you really… really honestly don’t see a quantitative, qualitative difference between a 150 cell proto-embryo and say, yourself? Really? I mean, really? Come on. “What about self-awareness makes us valuable?” Are you being serious or are you just deconstructing concepts as a philosophical exercise? Self-awareness makes sentient things valuable because it provides the ability to reason, plan, feel, think, sing, dream, feel joy, empathize, create, engage in discussions like this, care for ourselves, solve problems, think abstractly, communicate, comprehend ideas, use language, create anything, feel anything, and learn anything. In fact other than defecate, digest, reflexively react to stimuli, breathe, and circulate various bodily fluids there’s really not much that a NON-sentient human can do, right? And that’s not that much. It certainly doesn’t sound like much to me. Certainly not much to differentiate it from a bacteria or plant. Seriously, am I wrong? (Is that only a rhetorical question? Would that be question four?) So. Yeah, I’d say I think any reasonable person would intuitively say that the qualities that make a person a person are the province of self awareness that could only function by empowerment of brain activity.

    And I’m not really trying to *make* your views “religious”; I’m sorry if it seems that way. I know you haven’t made that connection explicitly, that’s why I was asking. I mean… is it? You do seem to be avoiding the question I’ve asked several times. Is your belief that on abortion based on your religious views? If it’s not, then say so, and end of matter, right? (Pretty sure that’s Q number five)

    Here’s why I’m pushing the issue. And here’s why it matters. If you have an a priori belief that “life begins at conception” (or fertilization, whatever) because that is part of your religion, and approach your research with this as the foregone conclusion then your argument and reasoning becomes eisegetical, and does not have same sort of validity you might if you approached it scientifically, or exegetically. Doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but it is disingenuous not to state your bias up front, and imply you had a foregone conclusion. Is there any piece of evidence, or scientific fact I might present that might convince you that life begins at some other point other than conception? (That’s Q 6) I mean, you ask me why do I delineate at “self awareness”, I ask why “fertilization” over any other criteria (to turn your argument back upon you)? You say you oppose abortion because “it intentionally takes the life of an innocent human being”. But defined as human life when? And why at that point and not another? You see why some might get a bit wary if legislation is proposed based on religious beliefs that large portions of the populace don’t agree with? (I guess that’s Q 7.)

    (I don’t assume you have any interest, so feel free to skip this bit, I won’t be offended. I consider myself a Christian, but I can honestly say my theology provides no inkling as to when life begins, by my understanding. I don’t see anything in the Bible to suggest otherwise, and am sincerely mystified how so many American Christians draw this conclusion and claim it is based on Christian doctrine. But I digress. My dilemma was that on one hand I thought it kind of creepy that some people were arguing it should be legal to kill an unborn baby in (say) the 9th month, BUT I also thought it sounded a little simplistic to delineate life in a legal sense at conception. Simplistic both ways. Everything I have read, researched, discussed and explored since then has eventually led me to the conclusion that the quality of “personhood”, perhaps even differentiated by cellular life, is defined by sentience, a state that cannot exist above and beyond. But it is a position that has evolved; I used to accept that the “40 day” concept until I learned that it was an estimate based on outdated science, and that brainwaves (and sometime thereafter sentience) couldn’t happen until the third trimester. Just to be fair and disclose my own back story).

  12. Hi Smt,
    No, I don't think you should have "brain birth" - the reasoning behind one is completely different than the reasoning behind the other. One represents the end of the life of an organism while the other represents the unknown point when some arbitrary criteria is attained by the organism.

    A few years, in First Things, neurobiologist Maureen Condic did a good job of explaining why.

    "Embryos are genetically unique human organisms, fully possessing the integrated biologic function that defines human life at all stages of development, continuing throughout adulthood until death. The ability to act as an integrated whole is the only function that departs from our bodies in the moment of death, and is therefore the defining characteristic of “human life.”"

    It's long but worth the read.

    Just because average people wouldn't see self-integration as the reasoning behind brain death doesn't mean it wasn't the reason.

    I never said you said smarter people should have more rights or did I? I was trying to ask you if you thought that they did because it seems logical to me that if intelligence or self-awareness or whatever is the criteria for when organisms (or even things that aren't organisms - say articial intelligence) get rights then wouldn't it follow that organisms with a greater levels of intelligence should have more rights?

    I can't really find your conclusion about whether you think killing intelligent animals should be illegal. Say you're the king of world and your decree is law - should it be illegal? Also, what would you do with animals who basically only eat other sentient animals? Should lions be imprisoned for eating antelope? Isn't that the rather ridiculous conclusion your beliefs about the importance of sentience lead us to? I wouldn't put someone in jail for arbitrarily killing a squirrel. But what if it's not arbitrary. For example, my uncle has problems with the squirrels in his neighborhood - he made the mistake of feeding some of them and now there too friendly - they're trying to get into his house and his garage. He's shot a couple of them with a bb gun. Should he go to jail? His life wasn't at stake so it's not self-defense. Should a human being's right not to be disturbed by squirrels allow him to legally kill the little guys?

    Another example, a single newborn human being is about to be accidentally trampled by a group of 50 self-aware animals. You have the ability to stop these animals by releasing a trap door that will drop these 50 animals to their deaths. Do you release the trap door and kill the 50 animals or do you allow the animals to live and let the human infant die?

    I agree not all morals should be legislated but that doesn't mean that none of them should.

    I have no problem with the destruction of most non-senient life. I do have a problem with the destruction of the lives of non-sentient human beings.

    The house and car question was with regards to you saying, "I don’t understand the attachment to something that can’t think or feel, but that’s just me." I should have clarified. My point was that you probably do have attachments to things that don't think or feel.

    I see a difference between myself and a human embryo. I'm larger, more developed, in a different environment and have a much greater level of self-dependence. I just don't see how those differences make me a valuable human being who can't be legally killed while the embryo is worthless or deserving of no rights because she is smaller, less developed, lives in a different environment and relies more on others.

    Self-awareness makes sentient things valuable because it provides the ability to reason, plan, feel, think, sing, dream, feel joy, empathize, create, engage in discussions like this, care for ourselves, solve problems, think abstractly, communicate, comprehend ideas, use language, create anything, feel anything, and learn anything

    I'm being completely serious. Your reasoning is circular reasoning. You're basically saying - "Self-awareness makes things valuable because it allows them to do the things that self-aware entities can do." That's just like saying, "Self-awareness is valuable because being valuable is derived from being self-aware."

    Plus, how many of the things you list could a newborn infant do? Feel, dream, think (in a very basic sense)?

    I thought I've said it before but no my views on abortion aren't based on religion. My religion and my relationship with Christ plays a role in all area of my life but I don't think someone needs to be religious to believe that its wrong to kill a living human being in the earliest stages (embryo, fetus) of their development anymore than it is wrong to kill human beings in other stages of development (infant, toddler, adolescent, etc.) I'm prolife because the prolife position is true. If I came to the conclusion that Christianity was false, I would still be against abortion.

    When life begins isn't based on a religious beliefs it's based on scientific fact from the experts in the field of embryology. Your arguments certainly seem to indicate that you're trying to push me into a corner of someone whose arguments are based on religion when I'm having trouble finding anytime I used a scripture or an argument that only a religious could use.

    Why are you again asking me about the backing of the reality that at conception a life begins? I've backed this up with quotes from embryology textbooks not Scripture. There's no place in Scripture (at least which I've seen) that gives a scientific account for exactly when life begins - do you not recognize the truth of embryology textbooks? Are these experts all lying or basing their beliefs on religion? For me not to believe that at conception a life begins, I would need to see evidence from a wide array of embryology textbooks and/or experts in embryology and some valid scientific explanation as to why the experts I've quoted are wrong. I would guess that they'd also have to provide valid scientific reasoning and evidence that points to some other point of life beginning.

    Philosophical arguments about "personhood" simply won't do when we're talking biology.

    Thanks for disclosing your background story. I also find it odd that some Christians base the belief of when life begins on the Bible. It might be because they haven't been presented with the scientific evidence and don't know how else to defend it. Just curious, how does that view that its wrong to kill sentient animals mold with your theology?

  13. Anonymous11:39 AM

    Hi again J,

    First, I have to say I’m impressed, and appreciative at your willingness to discuss your ideology in such depth…. This has been quite fun and informative!

    The article by Maureen Condic I found very enlightening. I’m actually surprised I haven’t stumbled across it before, that’s exactly the sort of thing I find intriguing. I think she does a fabulous job laying out the arguments initially, and noting that there is consensus that the moment of death can be delineated by brain death, right up until the point she throws out the criteria of “integration”… “What has been lost at death is not merely the activity of the brain or the heart, but more importantly the ability of the body’s parts (organs and cells) to function together as an integrated whole. “ Why is “more important” than “activity of the brain”? And, perhaps more relevantly, is it really fair to say an embryo is “complete”? Really? I mean, it seems to me that the embryo is dependant just a little teeeeny bit on the, you know, mother’s ovaries? I guess you could conceivably define “completeness” or “integration” to exclude the relationship to the mother, but, as you consistently point out, wouldn’t that be circular reasoning?

    Psychologists do note newborn’s ability to feel dream and think. (A blastocyst cannot, for example.) Just FYI. You know, there really is a qualitative demarcation at “brain birth.” (I’m really hoping that term will catch on. OK. Not really. I still wish I had something better.)

    I don’t know if it is logical to assume that since I feel that self-awareness is the qualitative characteristic of rights for a person, that *more* rights should be afforded those that are *more* intelligent. It doesn’t strike me as such. Intelligence is subjective, and really, so is self-awareness, anyway. But, again, and I know I repeat, you can at least determine an absolute criteria to determine when it *cannot* be there. Absence of brain activity.

    “I agree not all morals should be legislated but that doesn't mean that none of them should.” OK, so how do we pick and choose? Even if I agreed it was immoral to kill a non-thinking embryo, as opposed to a thinking person, should that be illegal as well?

    Speaking of which, I’m sorry if I didn’t do a good job answering your question as to whether I thought “killing intelligent animals should be illegal”. The short answer is that morally, philosophically, I do think it’s wrong, at least in an absolute sense. Soooo, my emotional reaction is “Why is it OK to kill something that thinks and feels, just because its DNA is a little different? Sure, I’d want it to be illegal…”. I was probably a bit vague earlier, because this is the sort of thing you can get quoted of context and look real stupid saying, especially if you leave out my following but necessary qualifier, namely, “…BUT practically I think there are overwhelming problems in legislating this particular moral belief of mine, so NO. I don’t think there should be a law outlawing murder of any sentient life, per se.” Although I feel really bad saying that. I just don’t know realistically how to set that sort of legislation up. I know you point out a lot of hypothetical problems that would occur. Actually, if you read my comments, I did too. (By the way, I did note earlier I thought self defense was kind of a given, in regard to the 50 stampeding animals example.) This seems to me a moral value best left out of legislation until someone cleverer than I am can work out the details. Anyway, just my opinion. (Although I do really wonder what will happen when human-level AI inevitably occurs. I mean, its one thing to kill a cow because you can kinda pretend they might not feel pain or fear or happiness, but what if your PC one day asked you not to shut it off because it was scared. Yeah. I know. I sound as silly now as I did with that “brain birth” thing. Oh well.)

    On this note, you say you have “no problem with the destruction of most non-senient life.” But you do “have a problem with the destruction of the lives of non-sentient human beings” . OK. I genuinely believe you have empathy for these non-sentient embryos. You describe in very touching terms how you describe a fetus as something you can relate to, just “smaller, less developed, lives in a different environment and relies more on others” . You know, I can almost understand how, from your perspective you feel it should be protected. I can almost see how you might think that the rights of that developing, non-thinking embryo should be afforded some consideration, even if the already-developed adult female wasn’t really keen on keeping her little passenger for the next 3/4th year. I mean, heck, she didn’t *have* to go and have sex, and all, you know? And then… then, you imply (my apologies in advance if I misunderstand here), that it’s OK to kill inarguably sentient creatures because we have the right to “not be disturbed”. I mean, your uncle didn’t have to go and feed the squirrels did he? (In fairness, maybe you’re differentiating between legality and morality, kind of like I just did in the last paragraph.) We can’t make what your uncle does illegal. But it does seem kind of mean. Don’t you think? And, I must admit that I am puzzled that Pro-Lifers are not more adamant in protecting *all* life, you know? Human, animal, etc. You set a very broad definition of life for humanity, almost as broad as you can get (but not quite!), but I have never seen a corresponding empathy, on any organized or observable level, for other living things from PLers. That puzzles me. It seems to me that I as a human have a lot more in common with an adult chimpanzee (who can even communicate with me) than I do a non-sentient embryo, and yet I don’t see a lot of fuss about the lives or rights of the former from PLers. In fairness, I’m not entirely sure how *you* weigh in… your comments are a bit ambiguous, so I can’t conclude anything, really. And I guess this is kind of a rhetorical argument anyway

    OK, I understand your comment about an addition to the house, now. You’re saying that we can develop attachments to non-sentient things. Oh, of course, I agree. But that doesn’t mean we should extend rights to them, should we?

    This is actually kind of neat, because you may be the very first person I’ve met, or talked to, or written to, that arrived at a “life at conception should be a legal definition” (pro-Life) conclusion entirely separate from religious influence. Now, I will say from the rest of your blog, I don’t think you need to be a sleuth of Holmesean stature to deduce… strong… Evangelical overtones in your interests or self-identification. At least outside of this posting. There’s nothing wrong with that, don’t misunderstand me. But I do find it very odd the strange correlation between Evangelical Christianity and Pro-life ideology in general in America, given lack of Biblical support for that doctrine, as you admit. I know I know, there are also Pro-Life non-Evangelicals, Catholics, and Jews, but the ratios are telling. I’m trying to find a page of statistics I once came across, but all I can find is a few snippets from a 2001 ABC Poll showing 63% of born-again or evangelical Protestants oppose abortion access and that, conversely, 66% of other white Protestants support abortion access. Moreover, 50% of Pro-Life advocates admitted to basing their beliefs on “religious reasons”, but only 9% of Pro-Choice advocates did. I do not doubt you are sincere in your statement that your abortion views are not a foregone conclusion based purely on religious reasons. But I do wonder why there is virtually no support for the Pro-life cause from agnostics or atheists, and if these statistics might point to a collective theological bias overall. Anyway.
    Yeah, I agree philosophical arguments aren’t adequate when we discuss biological matters. And I know you say that the conception (earliest threshold for “integration”) is a biological event (which it is). But so is the origin of brain waves (earliest threshold for “self-awareness”). Both are biological advents, obviously. But is the *selection* of either *not* philosophical? Is it possible to select any point without philosophical bias?

    As for my theology and my opinion that killing thinking, feeling life in general is wrong, I don’t see any Biblical causality of relevance. As a completely unrelated, and absolutely irrelevant note, my personal opinion would be that I think Christ would find the murder of any thinking, feeling, creature cruel and mean…. And wrong. But, that’s a totally unsupportable guess.

    Finally, you called me on not answering adequately the whole “killing animal law” thing, which I think I (finally) answered as conclusively as I could above. Now let me admit I’m still not clear on a question I have asked of you (several times, actually…). Namely, despite your accusations that I am using circular logic in defining personhood by “self-awareness”… aren’t you doing the same thing? To paraphrase a comment of yours… You're basically saying - "Integration makes things valuable because it qualifies them as being integrated.” Or “completeness”, or “wholeness”, whatever. That's just like saying, "Integration is valuable because being valuable is derived from being integrated."

    Isn’t this the same thing? I’m pretty sure any reasoning you can give for picking completeness as being important, I can deconstruct in a similar fashion. Yeah, fertilization marks the earliest point when you can have completeness, but brain activity also marks the earliest point for self-awareness. If you invalidate my reasoning, what differentiates yours?

  14. Hi Smt,
    I think it's fair to say the embryo is complete. They rely on their mother's body (placenta/uterus not ovaries) to provide them with food, oxygen and a safe environment but they're a complete organism. They're just in the process of growing and developing. A newborn infant relies on others for the same things yet you wouldn't argue a newborn isn't complete, would you?

    The unborn (at certain stages) can dream as well, correct?

    If intelligence is subjective then why are you trying to base whether an organism has rights or not on intelligence? Plus, aren't there ways to determine if one being has greater intelligence than other? I know they aren't perfect but it seems that we'd be able to (at least on a basic level) determine that some organisms are smarter than other and then use this criteria to determine what levels of rights should be given. That is if intelligence is what really matters.

    I think intentionally killing an embryo should be illegal as well. I don't think it should be legal to kill an unintelligent or unthinking human being while killing an innocent thinking human being should be illegal. It actually is in some states in some circumstances. Many states have unborn victims of violence laws that punish people who attack pregnant women and their unborn child. If the woman and her unborn child are killed then the criminal is charged with two crimes.

    So you don't think it should be illegal to kill thinking animals but do you think it should be illegal to kill newborn human beings - whose thinking is lower than many animals who you don't want to (or can't think of a way to) legally protect? If so, why? What makes newborn human beings special if it isn't their current level of intelligence?

    Should killing newborns be a moral value best left out of legislation? It seems like a bit of a cop-out to say, "I wish X would be protected, I think X should be protected morally and philosophically but I can't see how it would work so killing X shouldn't be illegal."

    The newborn child isn't defending themselves -so it's not self-defense - you would be defending them. Why is the life a single newborn child more valuable than the lives of 50 animals who aren't trying to intentionally kill the newborn and who are more intelligent than the newborn, especially if current levels of intelligence is what determines value? It seems to me that if current levels of intelligence determines value, then you'd be more concerned with the lives of 50 intelligent animals than the life of one rather unintelliegent human infant.

    Of course, my uncle didn't need to feed the squirrels - it was his mistake and he admits that. Why can't we make what he did illegal? If you're the king of America and your word is law (in my hypothetical) why couldn't you make what he did illegal? It might be hard to catch him or prove his crime but why not make it illegal and provide penalties for that kind of action? Sure, it's mean from the squirrel's perspective) but so are a lot of activities that kill sentient animals like getting rid of raccoons, shooting deer, etc., etc. But should killing these sentient animals be illegal?

    Prolifers don't want to protect all animal life because for the most part we don't see animals to be as valuable as humans. We don't see animals as having a natural right to life based on what they are like we do for humans.

    You may have more in common with an intelligent adult chimpanzee than with an embryo but wouldn't you also have more in common with the same chimp than with a newborn infant?

    I think most prolifers see human beings regardless of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency as being intrinsically valuable - meaning that human beings are valuable based on what they are - while they see animals as instrumentally valuable based on what kind of activities they can perform. I think my cat is valuable to me because she's fluffy and cute not because she's a cat.

    Of course - attachment doesn't mean they should be given rights. But in the same way lack of attachment doesn't necessarily mean lack of rights - which seemed to be your line of reasoning.

    You might be interested in the reasoning of some prolifers you are atheists - one of my favorite atheist prolifers is The Raving Atheist. There is also the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League

    I find it unfortunate that I'm the first prolifer you've run into who bases biological opinions on what biology says. I know many prolifers who recognize the science of when life begins on science.

    The correlation regarding Christians and being prolife may have more to do with Christians feeling the desire to protect unborn human beings (which could certainly be based on religion - "created in God's image") than with them thinking "life begins at conception" is a theological belief. Plenty of pro-choicers will admit the unborn are alive - they just don't think all living human beings deserve the right to live.

    The emergence of brain waves are a biological event but there's nothing from science which tells us that brain waves are the beginning of that organism's life while scientific textbook clearly indicate conception is the beginning of a life.

    Didn't Christ eat meat? Especially fish meat? I might be mistaken but I thought I read that fish could feel pain somewhere.

    I don't think I ever said integration makes something valuable because then all sorts of organisms who integrated themselves would be valuable. I think I said that bodily integration is the reasoning behind whether someone is brain dead or not. I think Maureen Condic does a pretty good job of explaining the thought behind this reasoning.

  15. Anonymous10:47 AM

    Hi Again J,
    I’m sorry if I’m still missing something here, but did you ever answer the question I’ve asked in each of my last 2 or 3 postings: namely, “despite your accusations that I am using circular logic in defining personhood by “self-awareness”… aren’t you doing the same thing with your definition of “completeness” or “integration”?”

    What is intrinsically more valid about your definition of personhood (the state of “life” which should be protected legally) by criteria of “integration” (or “completeness”) than mine? Both can be measured by biological thresholds at which this quality cannot exist before, and which it exist after. Both are biologically verifiable milestone, and they both differentiate the human organism from living human tissue. Your definition differentiates the human being from the sperm, or post-brain-death corpse. Mine likewise differentiates from other states in the process of growth and death. I ask again, why is your logic not as circular as mine? If you reply to nothing else I say, I’m really really really really really interested in how you differentiate these.

    Speaking of which, to answer your first question, as I have said before while I think sentience a reasonable definition to demarcate personhood, or the threshold for legal rights at consciousness anyway, it may be difficult to pinpoint when that actually happens. Given. However, it is obviously possible to state that not only can be no self-awareness before brain activity, there also cannot be any sort of rudimentary cognition, let alone intelligence. So, my suggestion is that brain activity (remember my catch phrase “brain birth”?… I’m still waiting for it to catch on still) can be a threshold for “legal” life just as irreversible “brain death” is for death.

    And I understand that it may be possible to measure intelligence levels in individuals or types of life forms… sure. But I don’t understand your proposition to accord rights based on this. Are you trying to suggest that if people universally adopted a definition of life as something that starts with brain activity that people would then start assigning legal rights in a relative fashion based on relative intelligence? That… seems like quite an assumption. I certainly don’t agree. I might be misunderstanding you here. My apologies if I am.

    OK, so it should be illegal to kill an embryo, even if it has no thoughts, Two questions:
    1) As I asked above, since you admit not all moral perspectives should be law, why this one and not some other?
    2) So the embryo has rights. I’m sure you feel the adult mother also has rights, yes? So, just hypothetically how would you settle a conflict of rights that might occur if the non-thinking embryo was formed from a rape (it happens) and the pregnancy threatened the life of the (thinking) mother (which also happens)?

    I’m aware some states criminalize injury to the “unborn”… but there are a lot of states that don’t. I’m not sure what that means either way.

    Yes. Personally, I think it’s wrong to kill things that think and feel. That includes animals. If I answered otherwise, I suspect you’d rightly accuse me of bias, right? I also don’t see a moral or ethical issue with killing non-thinking living tissue (be it a wisdom tooth or a blastocyst), even if it is possible (probable even) the tissue might ultimately become sentient. I have a Lottery Ticket. If you steal it today, I can’t today claim the value it might ultimately become, can I? Well, I don’t think it’s logical to blur time and say something should be treated today based on what value may ultimately develop. That seems weird to me.

    And, this is important, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be illegal to destroy a blastocyst because it’s “level of thinking is lower than some animals”… I’m saying it shouldn’t be illegal because it has “no thinking”. None. Not a bit. That’s the problem.

    You ask, “What makes newborn human beings special if it isn't their current level of intelligence?” Uhm, I think that’s my point… a human being becomes a person when they start thinking. Even BEFORE birth, actually, I’d say. If you think, then at some point thereafter you’ll have self-awareness, and intelligence, and you’ll dream, and you feel happy and sad, and enjoy Beethoven and the Beatles, and read Shakespeare and Spiderman, and pray or meditate or possibly develop a cure for cancer. You might also listen to old Billy Ray Cyrus CDs, but I’d forgive you.

    As a tangent, yeah, I know it’s kind of a cop out to say I think something is wrong but I’m not smart enough to figure out a way to do it practically. (Specifically, my opinion that it is wrong to arbitrarily kill thinking life, including animals). In my defense, as I realize that it is incredibly improbable this could ever come to fruition in my lifetime, I haven’t really given the whole matter much thought. Also, I like to think that maybe I’m just humble enough to recognize that, given the huge ramifications (seriously, this would be crazy huge), this might not be the best thing to legislate. One of my co-workers is a really mean guy and he treats everyone he works with just awfully. I think that’s immoral, I really do. He’s a jerk. You’d hate him too if you met him. Seriously. But I don’t think Anti-Jeff legislation is really the best think for this country just now.

    By the way, you mention protecting “newborns” a lot in your last reply, I hope you don’t think I oppose legal protection of newborns, do you? I think you and I are probably on the same page together on that one. And, for that matter with “unborns” in the third trimester. If I understand you properly, I think you and I only disagree about the unborn fetus/embryo/zygote/etc. between fertilization and third trimester. Is “
    newborn” just a typo?

    Oh, here’s a confession. You ask about the defense of the infant vs. the 50 stampeding cows. I admit… I’m kind of biased. Defense OR self-defense, if I had to choose, I’m probably going to pick saving the one human even at the sacrifice of the 50 cows. Kind of like, if you replace in your example the human baby with my younger sister, and the 50 stampeding cows with 50 runaway Chinese soldiers, I’d probably also pick to save Sis. I know, I know, I stick up for my own when push comes to shove. I can say, I’d feel really bad afterwards, even if I think I made the right decision from my perspective. Might not be horribly proud, and I understand I might face a nasty fate in Beijing, but I’d do it. Obviously from an entirely clinical perspective, 50 are more valuable than 1. But. Right or wrong, that’s what I’d do. I’m betting most people would make the same choice(s), though…

    Again, just because what I think your uncle did is wrong… even if it’s also a mess of his own creation, I still have a problem with making it illegal. Not every thing that’s wrong should be criminalized. Yeah, I think it’s mean, and cruel to kill something that thinks and feels, even if it’s a nuisance (God forbid someone should be… inconvenienced!), especially if its done in an arbitrary fashion. I think that my inability to conceive a realistic way to expand the criminalization of this with any practical value.

    Actually, as I am sure you know this whole issue with animals is kind of a moot point, since it is already illegal to harm animals and even kill *any* (native) wildlife in most states, so my point is, I don’t know what more… if anything… I could or should do that wouldn’t just lead to an intractable mess. You see? It is possible, depending on what state or county, or city your uncle is in, he may *already* have broken the law. I’d certainly agree with stronger cruelty-to-animals laws I have seen, but I’ll have trouble generalizing even that without more details. But mostly, I just think it’s mean to hurt and kill things that feel pain and fear and can appreciate or even be aware of their own existence. Don’t you?

    Oh, you did answer this. Ouch.

    So… you see animals as valuable only in as much as how they can benefit you? Wow. WOW. That’s … uhm… do you think that’s a little self-aggrandizing, isn’t it? I don’t mean to be snide here, but I’m glad you at least see something intrinsically important about *humans*. I confess I am a bit surprised, I actually thought given your apparent religious orientation, you might have a more compassionate viewpoint towards “lesser lifeforms”. As I admitted to above, I think all of us humans probably carry a pro-human bias. I understand that. But you earlier criticizing the potential of establishing relative worth on something based on its relative intelligence. I have to ask, isn’t that exactly what you are doing? Humans are valuable by nature of being human (you afford them this right even if they are un-thinking, non-sentient), but animals (even, I assume, intelligent animals like chimpanzees) are only valuable due to their respective worth based on the “activities they perform”. (again, WOW.) In an earlier post, you mentioned intelligent alien life forms. Uhm, if we encounter a superior life-form (smarter, stronger, whatever characteristic you wish), do we become subjugated to them? What if they do not find us sufficiently “fluffy and cute”? I sure hope they aren’t Pro-Lifers!

    Thanks for the agnostic Pro-Life sites. I’ve bookmarked them and will definitely take a look! I was sure there had to be some of them out there, as I said (I thought you might know of some!), but no earlier combination of Googling or Yahooing terms could find any for me. Yes, I really expected to find more PLers who had a more developed scientific rationale. Maybe it’s a regional thing. Dunno. I sure have talked to a lot of folks on both sides.

    Interesting thought about religious orientation and opinion on abortion. But how do you explain the difference between self-identified Evangelicals and the rest of Christians (even Catholics)? It’s not just Christians per se, it’s Evangelical Christians (not my earlier quoted statistics) are so statistically disproportionate. So, to turn one of your questions to me back on you, do you think for these Evangelicals that the relative “image” will reflect on relative rights? IE, if man is created in His image, are we most Godlike we are bipedal and fully formed? Are the globular blastocysts not as human as a fetus? And, for that matter, what about a chimp? Chimps looks awfully human to me. And, I guess therefore Godlike. Ceratinly chimps look more manlike than a blastocyst. And I’ve seen chimps that look more like “most humans” (and therefore God) than that annoying guy Jeff from work does. He is really a piece of work.

    Yeah, lots of PCers understand that an embryo is comprised of living tissue. But again they just see it as a person, especially one that should be afforded rights that trump the rights of a pregnant woman to choose to be pregnant, that’s all. I think the way you phrase your question is a bit disingenuous. Like, if I were to say that PCers know perfectly well that a embryo isn’t a person, they just think women shouldn’t have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies. You see? You see how biased that is? I hear both, and I think neither is very empathetic. My two cents.

    Yes, yes, yes… there is life before brain waves. And there is life before fertilization. Is a sperm not alive? Biology says it is. Living cells, right? Sure, the difference is that it is not complete, or integrated, or whole. And that marks a biological milestone. But so does brain activity. You see? Why is one arbitrary, and one not? I think, if I you ask most people to list the qualities that define being a person, being human, being alive, overwhelmingly these qualities will depend upon the function of the brain. You’ll hear traits like emotion, intelligence, abstract thought, reason, spirituality, or faith. (and so on…) I just think it the very rare case that you’d hear “completeness” or “integration of organs”. I know, I’m not saying morality should be governed by consensus. But, you are granting rights to something that conflicts with the rights of someone else (the mother), and you must admit that at the very least complicates matters significantly.

    I didn’t say Jesus was a vegetarian! Pretty clear he ate fish, or at the absolute least the authors of several Gospels reported he did. I just said I personally didn’t think he’d support killing or inflicting pain on anything that can feel or think. My opinion only. That being said, I think it is inarguably Jesus called for peace and mercy. I think it strange that anyone adopting Christianity could also advocate cruelty or death to something that could feel pain or was self-aware. Just baffles me.

  16. Hi Smt,
    I don't think I'm using circular logic and I don't see how you've pointed it out to me especially since I've never said that integration or completeness makes something valuable. If I did then I'd believe that every complete or integrated organism was valuable. I argued that integration is the standard used to decide whether a human being is dead or not.

    I have no definition of personhood so I'm not sure what you're getting at here. I've stated on a few times that I remember that I think "personhood" and the arbitrary criteria people make up for it are simply ways for one group of human beings to discriminate against another group of human beings.

    Is their a problem differentiating between organisms and their tissue? It seems obvious to me that there is obviously a difference between a whole organism and a part of an organism. I recognize the difference between parts of an organism and a whole organism and I recognize the difference between a living organism and a dead organism. How does your definition differentiate human organisms for living human tissue? It does no such thing. It merely uses philosophy (not biology) to say that one human organism is valuable while another is not. I've yet to see any evidence from science provided by you which shows that the unborn aren't organisms. I thought that this scientific fact was something we agreed on. Maybe I was mistaken. You can't simply state that the unborn aren't organisms because they aren't self-aware. There is nothing from biology to back that up. That's a completely incorrect pseudo-scientific claim.

    I would argue that your logic is faulty because it is trying to use philosophy to disprove a scientific fact (namely that the unborn are human organisms).

    My argument regarding intelligence is that if intelligence is that I think that if intelligence is what makes organisms valuable then I think it follows that more value and more rights should be given to organisms that have more intelligence.

    It should be illegal to intentionally kill an embryo because the embryo is a human being. I think it should be illegal to commit an action whose sole goal is to intentionally kill an innocent human being regardless of their stage of development or their intelligence level. While rape is a horrible crime I don't think that the way in which a human being is conceived has any bearing on whether they have rights or not. A human embryo, infant, toddler, adolescent should not be punished for the crimes of their father. There are very rare instances where a woman's life is threatened by the child - in this situation (such as ectopic pregnancy) if the child is not removed then both the mother and child will die. In such a case, I would prefer to save one human being instead of losing two.

    States criminalizing the killing of the unborn shows that embryos can have rights. It's not an impossibility.

    The unborn are more than non-thinking living tissue. They're organisms. Describing them in that inaccurate way isn't favorable for your argument. Here's a scenario for you. If you see no problem with killing the unborn before they can think - would you have a problem with creating a cloned human embryo, gestating the embryo in a consenting woman until a stage right before thinking begins to occur and then aborting the non-thinking fetus for replacement organs. Would you have a problem with fetus-farming? If so, why?

    But you think a newborn human is more special than animals that have a higher level of thinking? What makes them more valuable than the animals that have a higher level of intelligence if intelligence is what matters?

    To me your whole position is completely out of whack. On one hand, self-awareness/intelligence is what makes something valuable. In your position, being a human organism doesn't make us valuable at all. It's just as wrong to kill thinking animals for you.

    On the other hand, you're willing to kill 50 animals with a higher level of thinking to save one newborn human and you're not willing to legally protect thinking animals. So you say self-awareness and intelligence is what makes something valuable but you're only willing to legally protect thinking humans. It's totally inconsistent. You say you have one standard but in reality you have another. Your mind recognizes that there is something special about human beings, even human beings (like a newborn) who aren't as intelligent as certain animals.

    I don't see how your anti-Jeff legislation is comparable. If Jeff killed a newborn human being, you'd want him to be prosecuted, right? Why should Jeff go free if he kills a thinking non-human animal whose level of intelligence is higher than a newborns, especially if intelligence is what matters?

    I use "newborn" (not a typo) a lot because I think you recognize the importance of protecting them yet they aren't as intelligent as many grown non-human animals - which I think causes huge problems for your criteria of intelligence as making something valuable.

    Back to the defense example - doesn't that show that you treat human beings different than animals - even if the animals are smarter? Doesn't that mean that current intelligence isn't the most important factor? Another example, if an infant was about to press a button that would kill 50 animals which are smarter than the infant, and the only way you could stop the infant was by shooting it (which may or may not kill the infant), would you shoot the infant?

    Back to my uncle's example, why should newborn infants be legally protected but squirrels (who are arguably smarter than newborn humans) not be legally protected if intelligence is what matters? Just because you can't think about how it would be criminalize (I'm not asking for that) it doesn't follow that it shouldn't be criminalized.

    Illegal to kill native wildlife? What? My state, Michigan, sanctions the killing of thousands of animals each year from deer, to various types of bird, etc.

    The funny thing to me is that you don't recognize that your position sees all things including humans as instrumentally valuable and not intrinsically valuable. Your stated position that intelligence is what makes something valuable means that no organism has intrinsic value. Your position is that nothing is valuable because it is what it is. It's only valuable because it happened to have attained intelligence at some point. Why do you carry a "pro-human bias?" What is it about humans (even the less intelligent) that makes you want to protect less intelligent humans over more intelligent animals?

    I don't see how my position would have us subjugated to smarter aliens. I think that's what your position does. Your position is the one that says intelligence matters, not mine. I say humans regardless of their stage of development matter. You say intelligence regardless of whether its in a goat or cow is what matters.

    The difference between various religions may have to do with how they grew up rather than what they believe. For example, I know a lot of people who grew up Catholic and would probably call themselves "Catholic" if asked for their religious orientation even though they aren't by any means a practicing Catholic. But I doubt someone would call themselves an "evangelical Christian" if that's just the way they grew up. I think you're taking the word "image" and taking it far too literally. I don't think when the Bible says we're made in the image of God it means that God is a 6 ft. tall man with two arms and legs and hair in various places.

    You're again confusing parts and wholes when you say that sperm is alive. Sure, my sperm is alive but my sperm isn't an organism, it's part of a larger organism - me. Can't we at least agree that there is a greater substantive difference between a part of an organism and an organism?

    I never said you said that Jesus was a vegetarian. You admit Jesus ate fish but don't fish feel pain? Wouldn't he be supporting the killing and the inflicting of pain on fish if he ate them and went fishing?

  17. Anonymous7:23 AM

    Hi J,

    OK, you admit that human sperm is alive, but you differentiate that “life” from a fertilized embryo’s “life”. Right? You also indicate that the embryo, or proto-embryo has a “right to live”, and the sperm (or ovum) does not. So, something about these two things are different and that something imparts the organism the right to life. What is that criteria exactly? My question is why this criteria… whatever you are using… is not arbitrary? Or less “arbitrary” than mine. You say “It should be illegal to intentionally kill an embryo because the embryo is a human being.” And then you state that an embryo is a “human being” because, from Condic, “embryos are genetically unique human organisms”. Is that not circular? You site as justification textbooks but discount those of which you disapprove; I see you dismissed one on March 1, 2005. I mean, really, if I wanted to be picky about this, I could say irrefutably something is not homo sapiens until it thinks *by definition* (“homo sapiens” in Latin MEANS “wise”, or “thinking” man. By definition. Our subspecies is actually homo sapiens sapiens, so I might even say that we are defined as the man that thinks A LOT. But that would take the fun out of this.)

    You say this quality for demarking the beginning of that-which-has-a-right-to-live is *not* “completeness” or “integration”, but you admit those are the criteria you *would use* to define the point one should stop receiving those rights (death). So there are different criteria to distinguish the beginning of life and the end of life? If a water molecule becomes water when you add one part oxygen to two part hydrogen, does not the removal of one of these atoms negate its status as water? Day begins at sunrise, and ends at sunset. If (legally-protected) life ends at brain death, does it not begin when the brain is “born”? You indicate the “important thing” about brain death was the loss of integration. Are you saying that from your perspective the beginning of integration is not therefore the beginning of (legally protected) life? If not, what is it? Why is it not the same?

    As you point out, “integration” is a bad quality to pin yourself down on as beginning of qualification for rights, since then you’d have to include *all* integrated organisms, and you’ve already made it quite clear you don’t see anything intrinsically “valuable” (in your words) about animals, and don’t have problems if they are killed. I can see why you’d want to avoid this. What is this elusive quality then? How would you explicitly define it?

    As for being “valuable” or not. “Value” was a term you first bought up when you asked what about “self-awareness made something valuable”, implying this was an important criteria for you. You also indicated you thought animals were alive, but not “valuable enough” to have the right to live. If you quickly search this page, you’ll see a lot of quotes you’ve made that suggest there is something that connects “value” to “right to live”. I didn’t bring it up, that was your criteria. I mean in this last post you state “if intelligence is what makes organisms valuable then I think it follows that more value and more rights should be given to organisms that have more intelligence”. I certainly don’t believe rights should be awarded based on “value”, as do most modern (post-feudal) authors on this subject, who embrace the concept of rights as egalitarian. (There is a difference in excluding certain adult humans based on a “value” criteria, and determining at what stage the growing human tissue that ultimately forms *all* people, becomes “alive”… or worthy of rights.) You conclude “if mental functioning matters for the right to life, then it seems to make sense that humans with higher levels of mental functioning should have greater levels of the right to life than human beings with lower levels of mental functioning”, but I don’t see how that logically flows. Who is to say right-to-life is not absolute? Either way, it’s still a philosophical conclusion, just like determining when you might forfeit that right (some believe that committing certain crimes invalidates your right to life… I wonder if this means degree of lawfulness establishes degree of rights?). Anyway, I will concede and use “value” in this context as a synonym for “deserving of right-to-life”, if that helps the process of communication.

    And speaking of philosophy. Why should humans have rights in the first place? What are “rights”? Is not the very concept of “rights” intrinsically philosophical? I don’t think you can excuse your argument as being purely empirical if you involve “rights” in it. Your designation that humans (as you define them) have rights at a certain point but not before is a philosophical designation. How is it not? It is true that biology shows us a distinct and significant event occurring at fertilization in the process of a developing homo sapiens, but they also admit that life is continual, for one generation to another as the sperm and ovum are also living organisms. And, by the way, development of thought is just a distinct event as fertilization or development of the ovum. It is not the province of science to determine rights. That’s philosophy.

    On this subject, I think you are confusing laws with rights. You say “States criminalizing the killing of the unborn shows that embryos can have rights. It's not an impossibility.” Well, yeah. But so? I don’t think either of us are arguing over what laws are in place, they can change, and I suppose you are arguing to change at least some of them. You may like some laws, but I’m guessing there are others you don’t like. Laws are interpretation of understood rights. Rights are philosophical concepts. Legality is predicated on philosophy.

    So, as I understand you, if a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, she should not have the right to abort that pregnancy, even if this happens in the second week, when the “unborn human” is actually only a 40 cell blastocyst, and she should be required to undergo the mental, physical, and financial ordeal that will await her for the next 3/4ths of a year? Not… very compassionate is it?

    You claim “The unborn are more than non-thinking living tissue. They're organisms. Describing them in that inaccurate way isn't favorable for your argument.” Actually, I don’t have a problem with this statement. Yeah, they’re organisms. This isn’t actually relevant to my argument. Sperm are organisms, also. I know you might be an exception, as you boast, “sperm is alive but my sperm isn't an organism”. Well. OK… I’ll take your word for it, and I certainly don’t want you to try and produce proof, but you might want to check again about “regular” human sperm, and how biologists view it when it, er, leaves the body. It is a single cell organism, since it is a complex system, adaptive (metabolic), alive and capable of reproducing. And so is an ovum. (Even virus are considered “microorganisms”, because they are not metabolic. They also cannot reproduce without interaction with another species. Humans require another contact, but of the same species. But there is debate on this, as well.) A lot of people do go so far as to define life even earlier than you, as they attack contraception. So life begins at, what then? Erection? Anyway. The definition of “life” is a little murky. I guess it must seem crystal clear to you, and even though I have gradually developed some working opinions, I am always open to new evidence in light of this.

    You ask “would you have a problem with creating a cloned human embryo, gestating the embryo in a consenting woman until a stage right before thinking begins to occur and then aborting the non-thinking fetus for replacement organs?” No, I don’t have a problem. If it’s non-thinking, non-feeling… if there is no brain activity. Especially if that tissue helps someone. (I also don’t have a problem with use of contraception.) Yeah, it’d be kind of weird, and probably pretty yucky to watch, but most surgical processes are. And autopsies? I mean, yeeeech. But they serve a good purpose. So does harvesting organs after brain death (Don’t see problems with that either). And I also think it is great that we are learning how to grow human tissue and perhaps even complete organs via DNA grafts on plants. You suffer from skin burns or loss of a limb and tell me that isn’t a good thing. I imagine your scenario would provide great fuel for bad sci-fi writers, but I have also read bad sci-fi about the dangers of ventriloquism and hypnosis from the 19th century, and computers overtaking their masters from the 1960s, so I kind of take that with a grain of salt. My Computer commands me to.

    You accuse me of being “willing to kill 50 animals with a higher level of thinking to save one newborn human”. Yeah, and as I also said I’d probably (under the same highly unlikely and hypothetical circumstances) sacrifice 50 runaway human Chinese soldiers to save a single human member of my family (even if it meant me paying the consequences afterwards.) Wouldn’t you? And I don’t have anything against the Chinese or soldiers in general, you could substitute runaway Finnish Phone Sanitizers, if you prefer. I admit to an instinctual human bias that would probably influence me in intense and emotionally charged situations, but I also admit I would feel guilt about it afterwards. Yeah even about the cows, because I’m not without empathy towards living, feeling things. I’d make the same decision again, but I’d feel bad.

    You critique that I am “not willing to legally protect thinking animals.” Well, again, that’s not really true. Like I said, there is already a lot of legislation protecting sentient non-human life, and I fully support that and more. Do I think that protection should be maintained or maybe even expanded? Yup. Would this be easy to do? Nope. Would I want to be the one to try and delineate that law? Not really, and I’d certainly do it only with great caution and lotsa caveats (if I were, as you say “King of America”). The issues of defense (and admittedly, it’s not so common to be really threatened by animals these days), and potential use as food (a whole other conversation) are complicated. After all, “rights”, even the “right to life”, for adult humans is also complicated (in some states you forfeit your right if you break certain but not all laws, but it’s OK to kill under some conditions if your own life is at risk, but the Government has the right to kill you if you are a spy for a foreign county, but we can’t kill foreign leaders, though we can kill foreign soldiers if there is a war, and sometimes there’s manslaughter, and sometimes there’s murder, but even then there are different degrees…) You see? Do you really see why I might have trepidation about trying to assemble the legal structure that could take protection for other species if protecting our own species is already so complex? I’m not saying I don’t *feel* like it’s a good thing, I’m saying practically it’s complex and I wouldn’t try and assemble a fair and more comprehensive platform on the spot like this.

    You ask if I “think a newborn human is more special than animals that have a higher level of thinking?” Well, not how I’d phrase it. Since you ask for my opinion though, I actually think *all* sentient life is “special”, whatever that means. I don’t equate any relative value there, but I did clearly admit as a homo sapiens I have some native bias. I also have some native bias towards my family. I’m guessing you might have the same bias… if you have to choose between saving your wife and an unknown but clearly unrelated woman, you will save the person you are closest to. You might agonize about it afterwards, but I bet you’d do it. I’m biased in the same fashion. I admit it. But I don’t have the hubris to proclaim I am empirically and intrinsically “better” than another person or thing. The “better” or more “special” criteria are philosophical ones again, anyway.

    I’m “out of whack”? Because to me “self-awareness/intelligence is what makes something valuable”? Well, first of all, “value” is your term not mine, but OK. For the purpose of argument, I’ll play along. You add, ”In your position, being a human organism doesn't make us valuable at all. It's just as wrong to kill thinking animals for you.” That’s a little skewed, but yes, I see what you’re objecting to. You empathize with the fetus because of its genetic makeup; I empathize with a creature’s ability to feel emotion, feel fear, think and be self aware. I think it’s out of whack that you can express such deep, sincere, and heartfelt concern for an aggregation of less than a hundred cells, and still not feel something that can emote, and communicate fear at its own death (apes have demonstrated remarkable intelligence) is, as you say, only as “valuable” inasmuch you find it useful or “cute and fluffy”.

    Uhm, the anti-Jeff thing… ah, that was just a little joke, you know. I don’t want Jeff dead, just maybe want him moved to, say, Michigan. Humor? Well, an attempt at it, anyway. Sorry, thought it might lighten the mood a bit. My mistake.

    And the newborn thing. I know you seem insistent that I differentiate based on intelligence, but I really don’t. (Hey, I took your word that you argument isn’t all religiously based, right?) So, to me a newborn has the same right to live (I call it personhood, but whatever) as an adult or a thinking 26 month old unborn fetus. The right to live is not acquired in degrees. And again, I repeat, I’m not saying I demarcate the point at which sentience, self-awareness, or intelligence begins, I am just demarcating at the earliest point it is physically , biologically, possible to have any cognition whatsoever.

    You ask, startled, “Illegal to kill native wildlife? What?” Yup. Check out It’s maintained by Michigan State. Which may be nearby you, since you live in Michigan. Which is a state. You’ll want to check out the bit for Michigan at: You’ll note there is in fact already a law (Michigan Comp. Law 750.50b ) that states it is an “automatic felony punishable by a prison term of up to four years for the malicious and intentional torturing, maiming, poisoning or unjustified killing of any animal not excluded by statute.” Don’t worry, there are lots of exceptions like hunting and trapping game, so if you’re clever you can find a way to kill things if it makes you happy. And yes, there are ways to get permits to hunt and kill (select) species at (select) times, including the game you mention, so good news for you! (By the way, as for the “native” bit, in my state, Kansas, there is a law that makes illegal “knowingly capturing, killing, or possessing for profit, selling, bartering, purchasing or offering to do so as well as the shipping or transportation of wildlife.” See that’s where I get the wildlife bit. Native animals?) Anyway, this means, if your uncle is in Michigan, and he is not exempted by 750.50b , he is a felon. And I don’t believe there is an exemption in 750.50b for being “inconvenienced”.

    You say “The funny thing to me is that you don't recognize that your position sees all things including humans as instrumentally valuable and not intrinsically valuable.” I bet you don’t mean funny “ha-ha”, like Adam Sandler funny, right? Maybe funny like New Yorker Magazine cartoon funny, right? You are correct I don’t see something “valuable” (you still mean worthy of rights, yes?) just because it is an organism and not because it is sentient. Well… that’s not entirely true, actually, I think I see the existence of a *species* of non-sentient life as valuable in and of itself, but not perhaps the individual life-forms composing that species. I see the species of rose… or annoying dandelion, which grows outside my window in spring intrinsically valuable and would defend the existence of that species, in principle. But an individual plant… a particular rose plant, I might not defend on principle. However, self-aware organisms, I would defend individually. Since an embryo of whatever species is not yet aware, not yet thinking… I don’t equate to it personhood. Is it philosophy? Probably. But I don’t see how your argument is any less philosophical than mine.

    No no no no no…. I do not equate relative rights based on relative “intelligence”. (as I say again) I don’t think the hypothetical uber-intelligent aliens deserve any more rights than me. Do *you* allow them rights? Hm? If they think like I do, we’ll be lucky and they’ll see us as being intrinsically “valuable”, as you say, and we might all get along OK. ‘Specially if they are vegetarians. But, let’s say they are as species-centric as you are, and if they land, and if they don’t find us particularly “cute and fluffy”, our new Space Overlords might just do away with us fetus and adult alike. They might even get a bit pissed off if you try and explain to them that you don’t find them “instrumentally valuable based on what kind of activities they can perform”. J, if that day comes, please let me do the talking OK?

    I understand you probably don’t like to use the term “personhood”, especially as I have used it to differentiate the unthinking living matter (sperm, embryo, etc.) from a thinking fetus. But you did say earlier “This is why the prolife view is that personhood is based on being a living human being with one's own genetic code.” So, that’s where I was coming from. I’ll try to use “organism-with-right-to-life”, which is what I was using that term to mean.

    It’s such a tangent, and it’s only my opinion anyway, but as for the Jesus & fish thing, I don’t disagree that he ate fish, and probably fished. (Or, again, I don’t disagree that the authors of the Gospels thought so). It’s really comparing apples and shovels, to some extent, since we have a wide variety of dietary options today not extant 2,000 years ago in Palestine like Hot Pockets and Lunchables. It doesn’t prove anything either way. Kind of like asking if Jesus would like the Yankees or the Red Sox*. In general, I do think it is rather self-evident that Jesus advocated mercy and kindness as principles, so I’m guessing he wasn’t planning to break the neck of that little lamb he was always seen carrying about in his arms. I also know that *today* there are plenty of valid opportunities to eschew a diet of meat (and valid reasons why). But again, just my opinion, and admittedly a philosophic matter anyway. But you asked.

    (*You’d probably say “Yankees”, I bet. That’s just the kind of guy you are, J.) ;-)

  18. Hi Smt,
    First off, I'm sorry if this is shorter than my other responses and I don't answer all your points. As much as I wish I did I just don't have time to write multiple page responses every day.

    Embryos are human beings - it's a scientific fact. It's not circular to state a scientific fact. Did you read my March 1 post on that embryology textbook? I think I showed rather persuasively how the author was trying to use completely unscientific means (a review of history and philosophical criteria) to avoid admitting that the life of an organism begins at conception and he even refuted himself. Sperm are not organisms. They can't reproduce. They don't have sex with each other and have baby sperm. They are part of the process in human reproduction. I would doubt that you'd be able to find a reputable scientist would claim that sperm are part of another organism when they're inside me but then turn into an organism unto themselves once they are outside of me. You can try but I think it'd be an enormous waste of your time.

    The argument you could make is that my belief that human beings are valuable because of what they are isn't based on science. Attacking whether the embryo is alive or a human being doesn't work because those are scientific facts not philosophical positions. Attacking whether every living human being deserves might be a better avenue for you. I'll avoid the thinking man line of argument because I think we both recognize that it is not worth are time to go that way.

    At conception, a human being begins to integrate their bodily functions. That integration of course differs in degree and function from a grown human beings integration but that doesn't mean the embryo is self-integrating and directing its own development. Being a living human being is the elusive quality.

    I'm sorry if I got sloppy with terms. I unfortunately gravitate towards doing this probably as a means to save time. "Valuable" is more easy to type than "deserving of such and such."

    But I think this made me recognize a valuable distinction I haven't mentioned previously. To me, the "right to life" is a right that doesn't mean anything if the organism that has that right isn't legally protected. So to me the "right to life" equals "the right to legal protection." I see that as a given. Maybe you don't. It seems odd to me to say that all thinking organisms have the "right to life" but that certain thinking organisms (late term human fetuses on up) have the right to be legally protected while other thinking organisms (the cow, etc.) don't have the right to be legally protected. To me that makes the "right to life" basically worthless if it doesn't mean the right to legal protection. From my perspective, it seems that you're willing to claim every thinking organism has the right to life but only do something to protect thinking human beings. What makes human beings (including those with lower levels of thinking) be worthy of legal protection while animals (some with higher levels of thinking) not worthy of the same protection?

    Who's to say the right to life isn't absolute? Isn't that what you've said when you've created a certain criteria organisms have to have to be given the right to life and when you've said that cows shouldn't be legally protected?

    You're right that rights aren't a matter for science. Science tells us that the human embryo is a living human being but that doesn't tell us if the embryo has rights.

    While I fell great sadness for women who have been raped, I don't see how aborting the woman's unborn child is compassionate, especially to the child. I don't see why one human being (the unborn) should pay for the crimes of her father (the rapist). The question isn't "Is it compassionate?" but "Is it right?"

    I'm wondering why you have "human bias?" What the reasoning behind it? Because it certainly isn't always the current level of intelligence. I can see why you might save a single member of your family - you're emotionally attached to them. I understand that. But what happens if we try to take the emotional attachment away or even shift it on to the animal. For example, what would you do if you could stop an unknown human infant from accidentally killing your beloved Golden retriever but doing so would seriously injure or kill the human infant? If you'd fail to save the dog, why? Is it because you'd be more emotionally attached to unknown human infant that your beloved dog? If so, why is the emotional attachment there?

    Would you have a problem with someone eating the tissue of an aborted unthinking fetus?

    My mistake with the wildlife? I thought you meant it was illegal to native wildlife all the time. But you obviously didn't say that. My uncle is in Michigan but he's not a felon unless he's convicted. Which I don't think he would be because I'm guessing the state would recognize his killing the squirrels as justified. I could be wrong, though.

    I think it'd be dangerous if the uber-aliens saw us as instrumentally valuable - they'd probably then make us slaves or pets or hunt us for meat. I'd much rather prefer they viewed us as intrinsically valuable.

    When did I say the quote "This is why the prolife view is that personhood is based on being a living human being with one's own genetic code?"

    But couldn't have Jesus just survived as a vegetarian. It certainly could have been possible if he really wanted to. Just chow on bread and veggies all the time. Mercy and kindness, sure. But necessarily towards animals. What about when he sent the demon Legion into all of those pigs and they jumped off the cliff? Not very merciful towards them, eh?

    For the record, I'm not much of a baseball fan (I prefer basketball or football) and I don't really like the Yankees or Red Sox.

  19. Anonymous12:51 PM

    Hi again J,

    No problem about brevity (honestly, I thought you’d have dismissed me looooong ago). I’m just glad you’ve stuck it out as long as you have. I’ll probably make up for it with this reply, anyway.  My apologies for my lateness in reply… I notice this post is in the archives now, so I doubt you’ll even read this, anyway. Oh well.

    So a sperm isn’t an organism because they “can't reproduce. They don't have sex with each other and have baby sperm”. As opposed to, say, randy embryos and zygotes who are churning out the current overpopulation of “baby zygotes” and “baby embryos” at the Mall. A sperm does reproduce. It hits that ovum, blends a little DNA, develops for one and a third decade or so, and viola! it can produce more sperm. (Or eggs.) And I didn’t say that a sperm is NOT an organism when it is inside you. Don’t you realize, J, that you might have millions of restless lil’ humans in your naughty bits? OK, they have tails, but, still. What was your cautionary tale about discriminating against humans based on arbitrary criteria?

    Yes, I did read your post about the Gilbert book. I don’t mean to be snotty, but I didn’t find it exactly “persuasive”. No offense. But you selected some quotes out of context (more on that in a minute). And I think you’re exaggerating juuuust a bit when you decry it as the “oddest chapter in any biology textbook that I've ever seen”. Actually, it seems to be fairly well respected, and I notice that a number of pro-lifers even quote his text as defense to their point of views! Specifically, I don’t see the problem in his introducing the issues of life, human life and humanity, with a very respectful introduction regarding the vagaries of defining these terms. Come on. You have to at least admit there is debate about it… I know you are absolutely resolute in your perception, and how it is “scientific” (more on this too in a moment), but jeez, you are awfully cocky here. If the vast majority of biologists were pro-life, I might even agree with you that scientific evidence somehow points to a clear definition of when a “human” becomes a “human” and should be allotted rights. But. There is not scientific consensus, or at least consensus in definition. I think it is fair to say you can be familiar with the science of Biology and still differ on the beginning of “human life” (depending on how you define that term). Since there is great debate about this (ethical) issue, I think he is being fair by acknowledging the diversity of views, including yours. It is a book for undergraduates, after all. Having taught undergraduates, I understand how important it is to show the relevance of the topic. Heck, if I was teaching about the development of the embryo, I’d certainly bring up the abortion debate and various perspectives to gear up interest and establish relevant context. (No one likes to be bored. Some of us even like to try and make lil’ jokes, J.!) I think he has a very engaging writing style, and he does a good job of getting the reader jazzed about developmental biology, which is admittedly not a very sexy topic (pun kind of intended). Hey, he got your attention and started you talking, didn’t he? ;-)

    “Gilbert never explains why the opinions of ancient people with extremely little scientific knowledge about embryology is important”. I’m guessing the vast majority of modern pro-lifers (and pro-choicers for that matter) aren’t exactly crafting their views tabula rasa while perusing this month’s edition of the Journal of Developmental Biology either. It was philosophy in Mesopotamia and it is philosophy today. Abortion rights are still issues of rights, and the matter of rights is still a matter of philosophy. No matter how clearly you understand the process of developing biology, the point where you say “That’s the point that gets to live” is a matter of your philosophy.

    You ask “How can a developing organism possibly not be alive?” Well, if you do not use “life” and “organism” synonymously, perhaps? Hm? Definitions are important, and that’s why I’ve been bugging you about this. After all, you indicated that by your set of definitions a sperm is alive but not an organism. So why can’t something be an organism, but not alive? You see? I’m not saying I agree with this distinction, but the better question is if he is *consistent* with whatever definitions he establishes. “Gilbert is well aware that embryos are alive and that human embryos are in fact human beings”. Here again, perhaps he defines “human organism” and “human being” differently than you? Dunno. “Being” implies “life” to me as well, but that’s just based on lexical evidence, same way “homo sapiens” implies we are what we are by our ability to think. But like I said, that’s why terms are what you define them. Mine… his… and yours.

    It looks like you *really* got fussy though, when you felt Gilbert supposedly suggested that the sperm and egg are comparable to the embryo, and therefore a “quack” (you charmer, you!) and quote him as saying “Both the sperm and egg cells should individually be considered to be units of life in the same respect as any other single or multicellular organism.". Actually, it appears to me that you are drastically misquoting him. From what I can see of the book (on amazon, and other sites, including and excerpts from it (there is also a nice summary at, Gilbert is simply enumerating many different approaches, including, not only the one you mention (the “embryological” view), but also the view *you adopt* (the “metabolic” view)! My view is there also (the “neurological” view). It seems that the quote you cite is explaining one particular point of view, not endorsing it over others. On his own web site Gilbert has a post that repeats this ( stance. Admittedly, the chapters I am viewing on line may be abridged, but I don’t really see him favoring one view over the other. Am I missing something?

    I know you’re fond of decrying that your beliefs are “scientific fact” and “backed by science” and there is “no science” behind anything I’ve said, and that should be the end of the mater. But, I have to pause and ask how you’re using the word “science” exactly? I understand how science can predict and explain natural processes (except you know, evolution, but anyway…), but regarding the “science” I work with and have studied in Academia, I don’t see how it impacts “rights” or “laws” or ethics. And that’s what you’re saying it does. I don’t actually have a problem with anything “scientific” you’ve said… Moreover, I don’t know of any major issue in the science of embryology that is contested right now. (I Googled around a bit, but it was a half-hearted attempt). By that I mean, I think everyone, God forbid, even you and I (gasp!) probably agree on the processes that occur in pregnancy, and concur on the theories that predict them. Yes? What am I disputing? I’m not disputing that the embryo is living matter, and that it carries the DNA of homo sapiens sapiens. (Like a sperm or ovum). The issues are really how you define words (especially words that may be used in variant colloquial, lexical, and technical (jargon) senses.) AND how you assess rights. Which is, again, entirely a philosophical matter.

    I personally believe one gains rights with sentience, and you have another perspective. I can use science to delineate this moment, or the earliest it could possibly happen anyway, and my opinion may change depending upon when science shows this happens. But science can’t show me when one should have rights, can it? I’m still not sure what your criteria are for assessing when exactly one should have rights. I thought it was “completeness”, but I guess I didn’t understand. All I know you feel it is the point when fertilization occurs (I think). But why? When I’ve asked you about that, you answer (as I followed you) that that was the point when certain biological textbooks noted fertilization as “beginning human life”. OK, so you follow that rights should be allotted at the point when certain biology textbooks note the presence of “beginning human life”. But don’t you have to ask how those certain textbooks define “human life”? Is it used consistently? Wouldn’t it be better to avoid the jargon and get right to the defining traits? (It might be less confusing to idiots like me, at least). Pat Robertson says he “follows God”. So does Ayman al-Zawahiri, but I don’t think they’re talking about the same thing. In this way, you can’t point to a textbook and proclaim “It says an embryo is a beginning human being, and therefore it should have rights” and assume we are all talking…. Or thinking about the same thing. . In any event, science isn’t doing a blessed thing in this part of the debate, anyway. It delineates the processes of reproduction, and labels them, perhaps. But the assessment of laws comes after the assessment of rights, and that, my friend, is a purely philosophical issue. Unlike, of course, evolution. But I bet that’s a conversation for another blogger. ;-)

    I wouldn’t necessarily argue that a blastocyst is a “beginning human being”. Or that Abraham Lincoln is a “dead human being”. (Or Captain Kirk was (will be?) a “fictional human being”, for that matter.) I just don’t see either of them having the same rights as a teenager, toddler, newborn or adult. Either way, I suppose I need to know how exactly we were defining “human being”, scientifically, ethically, legally, or otherwise. You remark, “Attacking whether the embryo is alive or a human being doesn't work because those are scientific facts not philosophical positions”. Well, it depends on how you define those terms. What IS a human being? Just going to a textbook, or a dictionary doesn’t really answer a philosophical question like this. I contend there is not complete agreement on the criteria for this definition. (And moreover, I think there may be philosophical bias in many of the attempts to do.)

    Summarizing, you relate, “rights aren't a matter for science. Science tells us that the human embryo is a living human being but that doesn't tell us if the embryo has rights.” But, before I’d concur, and I might!, I have to ask, #1: What *is* the definition of a “human being”? #2: What then tells you that a “human being” has rights? And #3, Why? I should probably go one step further and ask you to define “rights”, while I’m at it. You see where I am going?

    (As an aside, what I meant about rights being absolute is that a modern, egalitarian view of “rights” doesn’t support “partial rights” for certain populations, it’s all or nothing. I don’t think degree of sentience, or even degree of brain activity should determine “partial” rights. That’s all. My bad if I was unclear. I did say I thought I couldn’t )

    You bring up an interesting point about rights and their connection to law. Ands I do agree, I think…. A right is a moral, ethical value, a law (can) reflect it’s practical enforcement. I see scenarios where someone might have a right, but there is no corresponding law to protect that. But there should be. In my opinion, anyway.

    I think you may sell short the connection between compassion and rights, but I won’t argue your defense in the rape scenario. Not because I agree, but mostly because I know you’re probably as amazed that I can be dismissive of what you perceive as a “human being”… albeit a microscopic non-thinking amalgam of 40-150 cells “being”, as I am amazed as you can be so dismissive of the raped woman. It’s just one of those things I doubt we’ll ever concur on.

    What is the “logical” reason behind my human bias? Absolutely nothing. That’s my point. It’s an irrational loyalty to those biologically closest to you. As you admit, you’d save your daughter or wife over a stranger, probably. Not that it is right or good, but you’d do it. I feel the same way towards my family and humans in a larger sense. I suspect it’s instinctual… I don’t think we’re all xenophobic but we are all homo-centric. All species are. It’s hard-wired into most life to preserve the species. Birds flock to save their own, so do dogs, and rabbits. These are just some I’ve seen, I can pull up references if you like, but you know what I’m talking about, right? And… sure, I agree there would be emotional conflict saving a human infant over a family dog. But, yeah, I’d still pick the human. I think all life (sentient) is (intrinsically) important. But. As a human I have a natural bias to members of my own species. Like I said. I don’t really know what you want to get at here, I must admit.

    Do I have a problem eating a unborn fetal tissue? J, you’re staring to weird me out, pal. (I almost said “not if served with a light vinaigrette sauce!”, but I get the opinion you’re not a fan of the jokes, so I’ll back off). I have a problem with eating fetal tissue because it’s yucky, J. I’d also say other yucky things include eating placentas, amputated limbs and cadavers. But I’m probably the wrong one to ask here, because I also think hamburgers are yucky, remember. (And black licorice. I don’t know why.)

    Well, no, your uncle isn’t a felon obviously, I mean, not that I know of. Could be a felon, but, I’m just not aware of it. Anyway, I was just razzing you. You know, good natured banter, just us two kidding around? You and me? No? Oh. Oh well. Sigh. Sorry, I thought you… you know… knew that. My point was, it sounds like he committed a crime that would carry a felony conviction in court. Well, that, and it’s really mean. But I’m guessing there’s no sympathy in the Jivin’ one’s heart for squirrels (however cute and furry they may be) or my light and witty banter. (Well, I think it’s witty. Feh.)

    One retraction I must regretfully make, that you caught me on… the “genetic code” quote was *not your* quote, mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. That apparently was a quote from an anonymous pro-life poster who slipped in a comment in between your earlier (also “pro-life”) replies. I slipped up and mistook his quote for yours. My bad.

    Yeah, believe it or not, I really think Jesus might just show compassion to animals. I know, another one of my weird ideas! Crazy, aren’t I, because he was such a jerk in the New Testament, and demonstrated such a huge lack of compassion overall, especially towards marginalized people. It follows that he likely would be a jerk to animals as well. Right, Good point, J. Actually, as I recall the bit with the pigs, I think there are a *lot* of questions, raised by this admittedly rather weird section. Was the demon-to-pig causal to the pig-to-water jump? And why did they drown? Pigs can swim, after all. Was it pig suicide, pig murder, or what? And was it Jesus’ doing or the demons? Or the pigs? And if it was causal, why did he ruin the poor pig farmers’ livelihood? And why pollute the Sea of Galilee (for humans!) with the carcasses of those dead hogs? And why did it take 2,000 pigs to contain the demon that one person would hold? Is that what the “legion” bit meant? Why did he not just cast the demons into Hell? Why did he honor their wish(es)? Why did he ask the villagers to leave afterwards? I have no idea. Some scholars seem to think that this is a parable, what with the weird issues of “legion” (Roman overtones) and the uncleanliness of the pigs (obviously important to the core Jewish element of his flock). Dunno. Regardless, at the least, I think this story, parable or no, raises a lot of murky questions. Amen.

    I think you did an excellent job of calling it though when you admitted “Being a living human being is the elusive quality.” Which admittedly, seems to contradict, well, what you’ve been saying. This is a murky issue and you, and I are both taking philosophical points of view, and defining this concept is a personal matter. Which is something I’ve been suggesting for a long while. You encourage me (uhm, thanks there, J) “Attacking whether every living human being deserves might be a better avenue for you.” Well, the problem here again that kind of depends on where you define “living human being”. If you define it synonymous with what I call “personhood”, then no. If you define it as synonymous with “beginning human organism”, then maybe. I don’t think you and I disagree that a person… a “living human being” deserves rights. Where we differ is what that term means. Like you say, it is “elusive”.

    It all comes back to why your argument is as circular as mine. Given that what you (and I) are arguing is a philosophical matter from the beginning (I notice you did not deny this?) since we are discussing *rights*, a philosophical concept. There is actually a point of concurrence with you and I and most of our fellow citizens: namely, we feel certain living things have a right to life. And that right should be protected by law. And this requires us to define rather precisely what those “living things” are. More specifically, we use the term “human” “human being” or “person” to encompass at least one of those things that should be protected. You agree we are pretty much in accord up to this point, excepting some caveats here or there perhaps regarding ways those rights might be forfeited? But here’s where we depart; how we define “human being” or “person”. We all pick our point in the recursive spectrum of the circle of life where we delineate the origin and end of this “person” or human being”. To say this is an easy process is disingenuous. We are enforcing an arbitrary demarcation on a very fluid process that may inseparably blur one generation into another (well, that’s one perspective anyway). You think, “fertilization” maybe, I think “sentience”. But they are both points we pick. You (and I) say this thing is “valuable” at point X, and therefore this is when it is a “person”… or “human”.

    You say you prove your point by “scientific” means. Well… not really. We can look at all sots of scientific criteria that differentiate one point from another, and say there criteria that define “personhood” or humanity, or even “life”. So, you feel a fertilized zygote should have rights and therefore be protected by law. And in certain biology textbooks you see this stage described as a “beginning human organism”. So you say, rights should be provided to “beginning human organisms”. Anti-birth control folks say a sperm is alive (or represents God’s will for life, whatever…) and define their argument accordingly. But it doesn’t do you any good to explain your reasoning to them and that this biology textbook says that life begins here, not there. They don’t care. They’re aware of it, and think you’re mean by leaving out the life that is represented (however… I personally think it’s a dumb argument) in the lil’ wigglin’ sperm. They think you are being exclusive in how you define “life”, even if you’re absolutely correct in your biological facts. Sound familiar?

    Oh, and the cows. You muse, “It seems odd to me to say that all thinking organisms have the "right to life" but that certain ones (late term human fetuses on up) have the right to be legally protected while others (the cow, etc.) don't because “rights” are “basically worthless if it doesn't mean the right to legal protection” . Yeah, I’d kind of agree with you, but I distinguish maybe a little more deeply what I (humbly) think *should be* and what *is*. Rights are what “should be”. Laws are “what is”, but vary geographically, and across the breadth of time. So, I still say yeah, I think it’s wrong to kill any thinking, feeling entity (including those cows!) but I recognize it is *legal* in some situations to do this on a wholesale level in the US. I further lamented the practical difficulties in changing this status quo, no matter how much I think it might be the “right thing”. My apologies, perhaps I was being more practical when you were asking me a purely hypothetical philosophical question.

    I guess your insistence that fertilized human egg should have rights but the same rights should be denied even near-human thinking animals (chimpanzees share approximately 99.6% of our active genes) illustrates how your argument is, to me, pretty arbitrary. Or at least, no more valid than other views, including mine. Here’s the thing: For so much of the development of the embryo the human is indistinguishable from many other mammals, especially primates. You don’t see value in the developing chimp, but unless you destroyed the embryo and extracted its DNA, you’d never be able to tell the difference from a human embryo. They are morphologically identical for most of the early development. So is the value purely at a *genetic* level? I doubt you’d say that or imply that human DNA is a “magic ticket” to rights, would you? Actually, I’m having trouble trying to think of any individual quality of homo sapiens sapiens that are uniquely, well, “human”. Or even “unique”, period. Especially qualities that are there from fertilization. So why one embryo and not its morphologically identical cousin? So is it, maybe, a specific “mix” of attributes that make something human? To me, the only thing that makes humans even remotely unique is how we think. (Not even THAT we think, but how we think.) And that’s why, to me, it is more consistent to assign rights to all thinking animals, rather than your view of only human organisms, but at any point it sits biological development past fertilization.

    And about the Yankees, I was just kidd… oh, never mind.

  20. Anonymous9:17 AM

    Oh foo. I think I drained the Jivin' One of all responses, retorts, and replies. I was looking forward to it, too. :-(