On Abortion and Vaccines

At first glance, it might seem strange to combine an evaluation of abortion with vaccination, but the two are inexorably linked. At their cores, they are both rooted in the same issue: the right to bodily autonomy.

Of all rights, the right to control one’s own body seems the least controversial. If rights exist at all, then the right to make choices regarding what happens to your body should be paramount. In a way, it is from this right that all others derive—the right to free speech is the right to use your body to speak. The right to be free from physical violence is the right not to have your bodily integrity damaged by another. The right to privacy, where it exists, is to regard a person’s private space as an extension of their body. Property rights are useless without the right to use tools being implicit within the right to bodily integrity.

Before we move on, let’s address the question of whether—and how—rights exist. The religiously minded answer to the question of whether rights exist is inevitably “Yes, of course they exist. God gave them to us.” This answer is not satisfactory, and not only for the not quite trivial reason that no such beings exist, so they cannot “give” us anything. That point aside, rights are legal privileges that dictate what actions a government can and cannot take. The “right to free speech” is a legal principle that forbids a governmental body from restricting the speech of its citizens. This is a powerful principle, and much of the developed world takes it for granted, yet it is not present everywhere. There are countless people for whom speaking out against the dominant ideology would mean political suicide—or very conceivably death.

We needn’t consider such an extreme example, however, to realize that rights are not inviolable. Even the United States recognizes that “free speech” does not allow a person to say absolutely anything they desire. Even in the context of a free society, some speech must be limited for the public good. These exceptions are not immediately apparent upon hearing the phrase “free speech,” but there can be no question that the majority of the developed world, this concept is treated with great reverence. The list of examples of speech that can or should be restricted has been fleshed out over time; as it became apparent that new instances of speech were particularly troublesome, they were considered and argued by legal scholars. Thus, we see that rights are social constructs, and while they may not be “endowed by [our] Creator,” they are still very much real, and they contain just as much nuance as any other area of legal scholarship.

With the example of free speech, we see that a right is contingent upon something else to exist—rights are not self-evident. But what? The answer seems to be harm: rights apply only as long as the application of that right prevents harm. We do not allow speech that directly invites harm—we censor lies, threats, and provocations of violence and lawlessness because each of these things has a palpable risk of harm if left unchecked. We recognize that shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater carries an immediate risk of panic (which carries an immediate risk of harm), and even though we may possess the ability to respond by shouting “There is no fire!” in return, quelling a mob is significantly harder than inciting one, and what damage has been done cannot be undone by such a counter-exclamation.

To the case of abortion, then. The arguments in favor of keeping abortion legal by and large make an appeal to the right to bodily autonomy—the principle that demands “I am the ultimate arbiter of what happens to my body.” We instinctively recognize this right in ourselves, yet some people seem to have difficulty extending the idea to others. We do not recognize the government as possessing the power to forcibly tattoo citizens. If agents of the government sought to enforce a policy of compulsory body piercings, there would be outrage. “No government can force me to pierce my nipples,” men and women alike would shout. Similarly, the government has no reasonable basis for banning the voluntary practice of navel piercing, but it does have a reasonable argument for regulating the practice—by establishing health standards, the government is justified in demanding that such procedures, when voluntarily undertaken, be done in ways guaranteed to mitigate the threat of harm. We would never abide a policy of involuntary violinist-tethering; if, however, a violinist were in dire need of an organ transplant, we do have voluntary donor programs that serve this very function!

Those who oppose abortion have traditionally adopted a stance of moral indignation, suggesting that a woman’s pregnancy has rights that exceed the woman’s right to autonomy. This approach, enduring though it may be, is utterly baseless. We do not grant rights equally to an adult, a child, a dog, a statue, and a box of paints. We recognize that each item in that list has fewer rights than the item preceding it. The paints have the potential to become a portrait, but we would never dream of hanging them on our wall. The statue may have all the same external physical characteristics of a person, but it gets no rights afforded to human beings because it isn’t a person. We recognize that the dog has some rights due to being a living, thinking creature. We see that dogs feel pain, thus they should not be subjected to needless torture; however, we do not seriously discuss a dog’s right to free speech or to the freedom of doggy-religion. Because children are capable of speaking, reasoning, and feeling pain, they are entitled to more rights than the family pet, but by virtue of their inability to engage in higher reasoning and to understand the consequences of their actions, we do not grant them the full rights and privileges of an adult. With these factors in mind, it seems we must conclude that rights—including the right to bodily autonomy—are contingent upon and proportional to one’s ability to feel, to plan, and to reason. Due to their reduced capacity for these things, the child’s and the dog’s rights to autonomy are consequently entrusted, at least partially, to their respective caretakers for as long as (and to the degree that) they lack the ability to do these things. Inescapably, then, a fetus can have no rights of its own because it has no more ability to engage in these higher-level activities than the statue or the box of paints.

Some anti-abortion activists suggest that because an embryo has the potential to become a person, it is entitled to the rights of a person, but this is absurd. A thing’s value is not determined by what it might one day become but rather what it is. If this were not the case, we would punish the amateur artist with prison for destroying a canvas’s ability to become the next The Starry Night when they fail to produce anything more moving than a painful self-portrait. An embryo’s ability to become a person is contingent upon an exhaustive list of conditions that are not guaranteed to occur, just like how any given blank canvas has the ability to become the Mona Lisa. It is incoherent and frankly offensive to insist on the treatment of potential as the equivalent of reality. To regard a cluster of cells that has the potential to become a person as having all the same rights as an actual person, is to fundamentally misunderstand the entire spheres of morality, legality, and biology.

But even this obscene false equivalence of potentiality to actuality is not what the anti-abortion crowd advocates. Instead, they would rank the well-being of this potential life above the woman’s by denying her the right to bodily autonomy. I don’t think there is any contention over whether children have the “right to life”—they certainly do! (Although I would stress that a “fetus” is not a “child.”) Children, however, do not have the right to be raised by their biological parents: we are free to give our children up for adoption, as abortion opponents just love to remind us. In the same sense, even if an embryo had any right to life, it would not have the right to impinge upon another’s right to bodily integrity. If such a right existed at all, I would insist that it exercise that right in someone else’s womb—someone who actually wants it there.

Yet we should always remember that rights are conditional. Just as the right to free speech does not guard against harmful speech, we must consider the potential harms of abortion. Does an abortion harm the fetus? There may be reasons to answer this question with a yes, but we cannot simplify rights to a false dichotomy of “harm exists” and “harm does not exist” because such a binary standard would be functionally unworkable. Instead, we have to look at a sliding scale, acknowledging that some actions are more harmful than others, and conceding that there is a certain threshold at which harm becomes inexcusable.

How do we draw this line? I don’t claim to have the perfect answer, but a good first guess would seem to be to use pain as a standard. A shoe does not feel pain. An amoeba does not suffer. A tree does not weep. These kinds of discomfort require neural activity—not just that, they require a sufficiently developed nervous system. Pain is a mental state, so things that are not capable of mental states cannot experience it. This is why we feel no remorse for killing and eating carrots. Most aborted fetuses lack this capacity. If it comes down to a choice between a pregnant woman’s bodily autonomy and the fetus, which is incapable of suffering, only someone with no moral compass could choose the latter, just as a choice between the rights of a woman and a park bench is easily decided in the woman’s favor. Where, approximately, is the line separating an acceptable imposition of pain from an unacceptable one?

To answer that question, let’s turn to the topic of vaccination. There can be no question that a government mandate requiring a person to be vaccinated is a suspension of their bodily autonomy, but we’ve already seen that rights can be suspended, so this alone is not a worthwhile question. Instead, let’s ask whether it is an acceptable violation. Violating the right to free speech is judged permissible when doing so prevents larger harms. For the most part, forbidding people from speaking freely in public can be seen to have very negative repercussions on that society in, for example, being subjected to official sanctions for actions that do not cause harm (as does sometimes happen). Thus, there must be some nuance to interpreting the acceptability of constraining rights. Let’s turn to cost-benefit analyses to better understand this.

In a cost-benefit analysis of forbidding “blasphemy,” we see the following:
Cost: People go to prison for disagreeing with religious claims.
Benefit: Religious believers don’t have to endure the inconvenience of hearing someone disagree with them about their religion.
Conclusion: Having the occasional person disagree with you is significantly less damaging than being imprisoned over disagreeing with someone. That cost does not justify the harm.

How about forbidding calls to violence?
Cost: People can go to jail for saying things like, “Hey everyone, let’s go firebomb that building!”
Benefit: Fewer buildings get firebombed.
Conclusion: If enforced, this leads to a very plausible deterrent effect, strongly suggesting a more stable society as a result of having less crime. This fairly convincingly outweighs the inconvenience of having to express yourself without asking people to commit themselves to violent actions.

What about vaccination, then? Well, contrary to popular urban legend, vaccines do not cause autism. There are recorded instances of vaccines having unfortunate side effects, but these have been largely corrected for through the wonders of modern medical science, wherein scientists identify the mechanisms that cause sickness and address those mechanisms—you know, instead of just hoping really hard. (There is actually a lot of misinformation about vaccines that is constantly spread around by anti-vax ideologues with no grasp over science.) On to the cost-benefit analysis, then:
Cost: In the case of the MMR vaccine, a less than one in one million chance of severe side effects.
Benefit: A breathtakingly effective way to avoid the harms of diseases that ravaged preceding generations for hundreds or thousands of years.
Conclusion: When you calculate the difference, you see that the risk of harm from the disease is over ten times greater than the risk from the vaccine.

With these cost-benefit analyses in mind, why should we compare abortion to vaccination? At first glance, the issue of whether or not we can legislate abortion seems to need the same answer as whether or not we can legislate vaccination—if bodily integrity requires that abortion be legal, then mandatory vaccination must also be illegal, right? Or, conversely, if mandatory vaccination can be legal, then we should be able to declare abortions illegal on the same reasoning, right?

No.

In the case of mandating vaccination, the benefits demonstrably exceed the costs. The temporary violation of the individual’s right to bodily autonomy is offset by the drastic improvement in that same individual’s quality of life. Also, by contributing to herd immunity, that individual’s vaccination also improves the well-being of every other member of society. What are the benefits to outlawing abortion? Doing this would endow a fetus—a potential human, rather than an actual human—with rights more powerful than the woman’s own right to bodily integrity. At best, the result of this is that a new, unwanted child enters the world. But this interpretation is a white-washing of the normal physical and psychological effects pregnancy has on a woman’s body, the potentially very serious complications of pregnancy, and the increased trauma of being forced to bear a child against her will, which has been likened rather convincingly to forced organ donation.

In my eyes, this is an open-and-shut case. Government mandated vaccinations are low-risk inconveniences akin to, well, being forced to go to the doctor’s office. At the worst, they bring a slight risk of harm well below that brought on by the diseases they prevent.* Government mandated child-bearing, on the other hand, introduces a guaranteed substantial investment of time and energy. This forces a woman to undergo a torrent of physiological changes that will very likely result in permanent and unwanted changes to her body. This is a guaranteed harm. If we are going to permit the temporary suspension of the right to bodily autonomy, which I contend we must, let it be only in cases where doing so is overwhelmingly beneficial to the person whose rights are being overridden. Demanding that women relinquish their right to bodily integrity to carry out a policy of mandatory pregnancy would be nothing short of the abrogation of moral reasoning.

So, dear reader, does this sound like a reasonable interpretation of these two issues? Why or why not? I welcome your feedback.**

*I guess you also have those incessant spurious pseudoscientific claims that endure in spite of being regularly debunked by the scientifically literate. Some might say that that’s a pretty big drawback, but it certainly doesn’t outweigh the health benefits of immunization.
**If any of this didn’t make sense, I blame the fact that I faced a constant stream of interruptions while writing this. Feel free to point out any indecipherable bits.
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24 responses to “On Abortion and Vaccines

  1. ” Because children are capable of speaking, reasoning, and feeling pain, they are entitled to more rights than the family pet, but by virtue of their inability to engage in higher reasoning and to understand the consequences of their actions, we do not grant them the full rights and privileges of an adult. With these factors in mind, it seems we must conclude that rights—including the right to bodily autonomy—are contingent upon and proportional to one’s ability to feel, to plan, and to reason.”

    In speaking of rights in general you have obscured a specific right in question here, namely the right to life. Do we decide which human beings have the right to life based on their level of development? Saying that we do not grant children, freedom of expression, movement, etc. because they are lacking certain abilities needed to appropriately exercise those rights is one thing – but saying that we should grant human beings the right to life based on their capabilities is a tad outrageous, (don’t you think?) as is the claim that anybody’s right to personal autonomy (if such a thing exists) supersedes another’s right to life, thereby giving them the right to kill the other.

  2. Also, can you explain why you think a fetus is not a child? Surely it is not because they do not have tiny arms and legs, fingers and toes and hearts – the majority of them do. So, at what point does a young human being become a child, exactly?

  3. In speaking of rights in general you have obscured a specific right in question here, namely the right to life.

    Nope, I addressed that.

    Do we decide which human beings have the right to life based on their level of development?

    Yes.

    but saying that we should grant human beings the right to life based on their capabilities is a tad outrageous, (don’t you think?)

    No, I don’t think that’s outrageous at all. If you’re braindead and only being kept alive by a respirator/pacemaker combination, you don’t have a right to life–you’re already dead.

    And before you try to twist my words, I’m not saying that someone with disabilities does not have a right to life.

    as is the claim that anybody’s right to personal autonomy (if such a thing exists) supersedes another’s right to life, thereby giving them the right to kill the other.

    What you’ve said here doesn’t make any sense. At all. It’s like suggesting that my right to maintain personal hygiene gives me the right to steal your mattress. The “right to life” is not the “right to be a parasite.” YOU do not have ANY right to my body, and if you were the violinist, you would have no right to demand that I hook myself up to your life support.

    Also, can you explain why you think a fetus is not a child?

    I don’t “think” a fetus isn’t a child. A fetus isn’t a child. When you want to eat a salad, you don’t buy a pouch of lettuce seeds–the seeds aren’t the vegetable. When you want a chicken sandwich, you don’t eat an egg–an egg is not a chicken.

    Surely it is not because they do not have tiny arms and legs, fingers and toes and hearts – the majority of them do.

    If this is your standard for personhood, you’re obligated to give a statue all the rights of a child.

    So, at what point does a young human being become a child, exactly?

    This question is an affront to the English language. You’re going to have to define what you mean by “a young human being” if you want me to be able to answer it.

  4. Well, I believe that if you’re dead, you still have the right to life. You just no longer have the capability to exercise that right. Nobody can take away your life. It’s already gone. However, abortion doesn’t try to kill a dead human being. So saying dead people do not have the right to life is not the same as saying we grant the right to life based on capability. To say we grant the right to life based on ability you need to be able to point to a class of livingpeople and say these people don’t have x, y and z, so they do not have the right to life; and then justify that distinction. That is, if you want the distinction to be meaningful.

    “It’s like suggesting that my right to maintain personal hygiene gives me the right to steal your mattress. The “right to life” is not the “right to be a parasite.” YOU do not have ANY right to my body, and if you were the violinist, you would have no right to demand that I hook myself up to your life support.”

    I believe it is easy to recognize that the unborn are in a certain position where their life depends on their mothers. Note the words you use here. You talk about stealing another person’s mattress because you have the right to life. You compare the unborn to parasites. The fetus isn’t stealing anything here. He/she didn’t ask to be conceived. Nor did he wish to find himself in the womb of a mother who happens not to want him. The right to life is the right not to have your life forcefully taken from you when you have done no wrong. Your geographical location does not change that.

    Think about it: What you are saying is that a woman has the right to kill another human being living inside her because it is in her body. Basically, you are promoting an understanding of rights that deprives the weakest and most vulnerable among us of their lives because they happen to be in a location that nature determined, of which they had no choice. Where I come from a woman has the responsibility to care for those weaker than herself. She does not throw her own young, weak and vulnerable children out of her house because it is her house. That is cruel. It is injustice. If this care means offering them temporary housing for nine months, she does it, because she is a human being.

    ‘A fetus isn’t a child. When you want to eat a salad, you don’t buy a pouch of lettuce seeds–the seeds aren’t the vegetable. When you want a chicken sandwich, you don’t eat an egg–an egg is not a chicken.”

    I actually had to smile at that one. No, a seed is not a lettuce, neither is an unfertilized egg a chicken. But a fetus is not the equivalent of a seed. In many cases, the difference between a fetus and an infant is that one no longer lives inside its mother. They’re both living human beings, who look remarkably alike. Geographical location – that’s the difference between the infant born prematurely at 8 months and the one still unborn. As far as I can see, they are both still children.

    “This question is an affront to the English language. You’re going to have to define what you mean by “a young human being” if you want me to be able to answer it.”

    A young human being is… umm… a human being that is well… young. Some of them walk, some crawl, some can barely sit. They’re babies, usually. Let’s just say that a young human being is a human being below a certain age (depending on how you define ‘young’).

  5. However, abortion doesn’t try to kill a dead human being.

    Agreed. It’s akin to eviction, not murder.

    To say we grant the right to life based on ability you need to be able to point to a class of livingpeople and say these people don’t have x, y and z, so they do not have the right to life; and then justify that distinction.

    Did you actually read this post, or did you just skim it? I addressed the distinction. In order for something to have rights, it has to be capable of cognition.

    You compare the unborn to parasites. The fetus isn’t stealing anything here. He/she didn’t ask to be conceived. Nor did he wish to find himself in the womb of a mother who happens not to want him.

    I compare the unborn to parasites because they are parasites. That doesn’t mean a fetus can’t have value, but the person who determines whether it does is the woman playing host to the fetus.

    The fetus didn’t ask or wish for anything because a fetus is physiologically incapable of doing these things. A cancerous tumor didn’t ask to grow on a person who doesn’t want it, but so what?

    What you are saying is that a woman has the right to kill another human being living inside her because it is in her body.

    Wrong. A fetus is not a human being. It is a cluster of cells that has the potential to grow into a human being, given proper environmental conditions. That is fundamentally different.

    Where I come from a woman has the responsibility to care for those weaker than herself. She does not throw her own young, weak and vulnerable children out of her house because it is her house.

    Pardon the partonization, but that’s nice. There are three different things to consider here:

    1. A woman who throws her children out of her house.
    2. A woman who gives her children up for adoption.
    3. A woman who has an abortion.

    If you think any of these is the same as another, I would challenge you to defend that assertion. You’re just begging a whole lot of questions here, and I reject your characterization of a fetus as a person. It isn’t.

    But a fetus is not the equivalent of a seed.

    Of course it is. A seed is not a pumpkin, but if it’s left in the proper soil, it can become one. A fetus isn’t a person, but if it’s left in its proper soil, it can become one.

    the difference between a fetus and an infant is that one no longer lives inside its mother

    If you think this is the only difference, you are in dire need of biology classes.

    They’re both living human beings, who look remarkably alike.

    Most vertebrate embryos look remarkably similar. So what? Potential life is not the same thing as actual life.

    Let’s just say that a young human being is a human being below a certain age (depending on how you define ‘young’).

    Let’s not. You’re still not defining any of your terms here. We have different words for different developmental stages because these stages are fundamentally different. An ovum is not a zygote, is not a fetus, is not a baby, is not a child, is not an adolescent, is not an adult–an embryo is not a person.

  6. Meh, I edited the end of that comment slightly to make my intended meaning clearer. (In case you’re reading the comment in your email and not re-reading it here.)

  7. Now, I didn’t take Biology after high school but I like to think that we learned enough to understand the difference between a human being and another creature. Specifically, human beings reproduce after their own kind. This means that any creature conceived by a human female is of the same species as its mother. It will invariably be at a different state of development, (from zygote to fetus, to infant, to toddler etc.) but it is still a human being. Just as we don’t think toddlers are not human beings because they are not as developed as teenagers, we cannot say fetuses aren’t human because they’re not as developed as toddlers. That’s because level of development does not determine one’s species . A less developed creature is of the same kind as its mother. For instance, a seek from an oak tree is not a tree, but it is an oak. It is of the same kind as its parent. That is basic biology.

    “the difference between a fetus and an infant is that one no longer lives inside its mother”

    Why did you chop up my sentence? That’s not morally responsible is it? The complete sentence reads: “In many cases, the difference between a fetus and an infant is that one no longer lives inside its mother”. I provided you with an example you didn’t address. An infant born prematurely at 8 months and a fetus of the same age still in its mother’s womb. The only significant difference between them is their geographical location but I’m sure that killing the former will earn you jail time anywhere. (Or I hope so).

    Now if a child born prematurely at 8 months is a human being, possessing the right to life, so is the one still unborn (unless you wish to argue that the trip down the birth canal magically endows them with human properties). An abortion is significantly different from an eviction because, by design, it kills the child. This is not a mother giving up her child for adoption. This is the equivalent of a mother leaving her infant by the roadside to die because she doesn’t want it using up her living space, time or money. (How dare it, huh? Cancerous tumor stealing the hard earned money the woman would otherwise care for herself with.)

  8. Specifically, human beings reproduce after their own kind.

    If you learned this in biology class, you need to go back to bio 101 because “their own kind” is not a coherent concept, nor can it be found in a biology textbook.

    Just as we don’t think toddlers are not human beings because they are not as developed as teenagers, we cannot say fetuses aren’t human because they’re not as developed as toddlers.

    We can, and we do. A toddler is an autonomous entity; a fetus is not. A toddler can live outside its mother; a fetus cannot. That’s a pretty substantial difference.

    That’s because level of development does not determine one’s species … If you’re still going to argue that a fetus is not a human being, do tell me: what species does it belong to, then?

    This is trivial to the point of meaninglessness. I’m not talking about species; I’m talking about rights.

    Human DNA does not automatically have human rights. Your finger is possessed of a complete set of human DNA, but your finger doesn’t have any rights. You have rights, and one of those rights includes the right to bodily integrity, which says no one may cut off your finger, but if, for some reason, you find a disembodied finger on the ground one day, that finger has absolutely no rights whatsoever. (And, I should note, that finger is far more developed, biologically, than a fetus.)

    Why did you chop up my sentence? That’s not morally responsible is it?

    You know what’s not morally responsible? Pretending that “killing” an 8 month old fetus has anything at all to do with this conversation. Abortions happen for a variety of reasons, including the fetus being improperly developed to the point of unlivability. Oversimplifying abortion to “killing a baby” when you have no way of knowing whether that “baby” is even alive to begin with is deeply offensive.

    In any case, almost zero percent of abortions happen in the third trimester, so your comparison is mind-numbingly irrelevant. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_abortion_by_gestational_age_2004_histogram.svg

    At a gestational age of 8 months, if the fetus is viable, healthy, and so on, induced labor accomplishes the same end result. I would hope that in such a case, the woman would just deliver the baby, but that’s not my decision. I will absolutely defend her right to bodily autonomy however she chooses to handle the situation.

    An abortion is significantly different from an eviction because, by design, it kills the child.

    So is it murder if a landlord evicts a tenant for nonpayment and they die homeless on the street?

    This is the equivalent of a mother leaving her infant by the roadside to die because she doesn’t want it using up her living space, time or money.

    An infant is not the same as a fetus. An infant has rights; a fetus does not. Unless you can come up with a good reason for why they should be considered morally and legally equivalent, stop comparing the two. Your begging the question by merely stating that it is so is tiresome.

  9. Most of my previous comment was a response to your unambiguous claim that a fetus is not a human being. In your last reply, you seem to have dropped the topic altogether but I need to know where we stand before we can go further.
    1. Is a fetus a human being?
    2. Do all human beings have certain rights by virtue of their humanity? E.g. the right to life.

  10. 1. No. It has the potential to become a human being, but only if it’s free of genetic and environmental anomalies. A seed is not a pumpkin, and a fetus (i.e., a person-seed) is not a person. Genetically, it possesses human DNA, but so does a disembodied finger. Neither is granted personhood.
    2. No. Someone with zero brain activity has no right to life.

  11. I should also add that all rights can be revoked, including the right to life, as evidenced by jurisdictions that impose the death penalty. We also don’t consider someone a murderer or morally culpable if they kill their attacker in self defense (unless they escalated the violence themselves). Rights are situational.

  12. Well, if we don’t agree that a fetus is a human being, it’s easy to see why we disagree so sharply about abortions, isn’t it? This is obviously a foundational issue. Why don’t you tell me:

    1. Why you think a fetus is not a human being? So far you’ve used analogies, but analogies function as explanations and clarifications, not arguments. Can you outline an argument for that idea?
    2. How you deal with my previous statement that being conceived by a human female makes a fetus a human being, since a human being cannot conceive a creature of any other species.
    3. What species you think a fetus belongs to, since it is not human. You previously said that you are talking about rights, not species, but you have asserted that a human fetus does not belong to the human species, so we are talking about species.

  13. I’ve already addressed every single one of those questions. I’ll summarize:

    An egg is not a chicken. An acorn is not a tree. These things are basically genetically identical, and their DNA is obviously the same as their “parents,” but they are fundamentally different from their parents until they undergo development. Human DNA is not a person in any legal or moral sense. Other factors must be present besides. A fetus is genetically homo sapiens, but that does not mean it’s a “person.” Rights are separate from genes.

    I’m not sure why you believe the burden of proof lies with me, here. You are asserting that a fetus is a human being. You need to back that up with an argument.

  14. You seem to be using the terms ‘human being’ and ‘person’ interchangeably. A ‘human being’ simply refers to a member of the homo sapiens species, according to thefreedictionary.com. So, by saying that a fetus is genetically homo sapiens, you’re saying that it is a human being. I can see no reason why that should be controversial. It’s basic biology and common knowledge.

    Are you equating ‘human being’ with ‘person’ and trying to argue that a fetus is not a person, perhaps?

  15. Are you equating ‘human being’ with ‘person’ and trying to argue that a fetus is not a person, perhaps?

    Yes.

    I don’t think I can accept that definition because a disembodied finger is every bit as homo sapiens as a fetus, genetically speaking, yet we wouldn’t say that a finger is a human being. A finger and a fetus are equally capable of surviving in the world, and one of the characteristics of a “being” is that it is animate.

    In any case, even if you apply a definition that includes fetuses in the category of “human being,” it doesn’t really make a difference. Merely having human DNA is not sufficient to endow a thing with rights. There’s got to be something more.

  16. Notice that I didn’t say that a fetus is a human being because it has human DNA. Neither did I say that having human DNA gives you the right to life. If that were true, then a finger would be a human being too and possessing of the right to life. Rather, I said that since a fetus is a being conceived by a human female, it is a human being. Denying that would lead to the absurd claim that a human being has conceived a creature of a different species. If you still can’t call a fetus a human, being, perhaps you would benefit from reading a biology textbook again.

    “Merely having human DNA is not sufficient to endow a thing with rights.”

    Of course. A finger does not have the right to life, but being a human being is different. Remember that we got started on this route when I asked if your position was that a woman has the right to kill another human being if that human being is living in her. It seems even more certain that that is your position, since you suggested that you are in support of abortions even at 8 months. I suppose you are for abortions right up till the moment of birth, then?

    “There’s got to be something more.”

    Well, then. What is this something more? Why do you think it exists? A lot of people say that we need certain things for a human being to be deserving of the right to life – intelligence, a certain age, birth, etc. And all those boundaries share the quality of being arbitrary with no reason (that I know of) being given for their adoption. So I would like to hear your reasons for believing that those around have the right to live, not just because they are human, but because of something more.

  17. since a fetus is a being conceived by a human female, it is a human being

    Well that’s a fine example of circular reasoning. “Since a fetus is a being, it’s a being.” You’ll forgive me if I don’t accept this argument.

    If you still can’t call a fetus a human, being, perhaps you would benefit from reading a biology textbook again.

    Show me a reputable biology textbook that defines a fetus as “a human being,” in those specific words, and I’ll eat my metaphorical hat.

    Mind you, being genetically human alone does not endow you with rights. All rights are situational, so establishing a thing as being biologically “a human being” still says nothing about its rights.

    A finger does not have the right to life, but being a human being is different.

    You seem to be operating under undefined terminology here. If you believe my interpretation is incorrect, what exactly do you propose establishes the existence of rights?

    I suppose you are for abortions right up till the moment of birth, then?

    Of course. I would hope that a woman pregnant with a healthy 9 month old fetus would simply induce labor, but it’s ultimately her choice, not mine. Do be careful, though, about making assumptions here. Abortion might be terminating the pregnancy, or it might be terminating the fetus–similar grammar, but very different outcomes. This is also an absurd hypothetical, as the statistics I’ve shown demonstrate. There’s no reason to expect that a woman that far pregnant would choose an abortion except under extreme circumstances.

    What is this something more?

    I’ve already gone into this. Basically, brain activity. The ability to make choices. The ability to feel and reason and live on your own.

  18. Well, here you go.

    Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. pp. 16, 2.

    Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoa development) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.

    A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo)….[B]irth is merely a dramatic event during development resulting in a change of environment.

    You can find it on Amazon

    According to one of the reviewers, it is required reading at many medical schools. I can’t verify that, but it seems pretty legit (to borrow a phrase from my college minister)

    I’ll keep my eye out for more.

  19. Sure, but “a zygote is the beginning of a new human being” is not the same thing as “a zygote is a human being.” “Human development begins at fertilization” does not mean “personhood begins at fertilization.”

    But that’s not even the most important point. Even if you can find a respectable biologist who defines a fertilized egg as a human being (in that exact verbiage), it won’t matter because the mother still isn’t obligated to carry it to term. One person’s bodily autonomy takes precedence to whatever “right to life” you want to argue exists. No one has the right to forcibly impose upon someone else’s body.

  20. I found this. It’s not a textbook, but I don’t think the consensus of specialists in a field becomes more credible just because it is given a hard cover. It is old, though.

    According to Dr. Alfred M. Bongioanni, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania to the Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, 1st Session 1981, stated:

    I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception…. I submit that human life is present throughout this entire sequence from conception to adulthood and that any interruption at any point throughout this time constitutes a termination of human life….

    I am no more prepared to say that these early stages [of development in the womb] represent an incomplete human being than I would be to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty…is not a human being. This is human life at every stage.

    The same report concluded,

    Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being – a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings.

    Hat tip to John Barron of Sifting Reality for helping with my research.

    I found a whole bunch of them here, but the latest of them is in the late nineties.

    http://www.princeton.edu/~prolife/articles/embryoquotes2.html

    You can read the 1st chapter of the textbook “Bioethics and the New Embryology” here

  21. Haha. No. I posted my last comment before I saw your response. Yes, I get you. A human being living inside another human being lives only at the whim of the woman.

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