Is a fetus a human being?

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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby Richard on Mon Apr 05, 2010 4:30 pm

I apologize for appearing to overlook your first question. Reading ahead to the second question it seemed to make little deifference as to the defining when something becomes a human-being. Science can prove a fertilized egg has the same makeup as a 70 year old man as it can do the same for an acorn and an oak tree, but the same science can establish the great deal of difference in the current composition and existance of each as well. For this first question I will propose that one is not a "human being" unitl such a time as you can live on your own even with all of societies assistance in the form of medical assitance. Prior to this, it pains me to say, one is just a beautiful parasite upon an undesirous host.

We have all seemed to overlook that we have unknowingly admitted the point:

We do not issue Conception certificates??

If we have a miscarriage, there is not death certificate??

Our age is not counted from conception??

I can go on, but the point is we have all made the observation of when life truely begins!

Only recently have we seen inflamed attempts to throttle human emotions by making cemetaries for the unborn in from of churches. ( A whole different discussion)

I will point out that I abhor abortion. That in most cases it can be so easily avoided. Science and appearance also seem to make 5-9 month abortions even far more difficult to tolerate as anything but horrible!!

I await your response and enjoy the chance to discuss the difficult issue.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby gnomon on Mon Apr 05, 2010 4:51 pm

Specifically, is a fetus a human being?

The abortion debate has resulted in a lot of split hairs, but little in the way of universal moral laws. The simplest assumption is that a fetus, from conception onward, is indeed a human being. If we can all agree on that factual matter, then we can work on the moral implications.

When a fetus is deliberately killed, that act can be classified in various ways depending on our cultural traditions and legal precedents. One precedent for legally killing a human being is state-sanctioned (or god-sanctioned) warfare. The deity of the Old Testament repeatedly ordered his chosen people, usually via human prophets, to commit genocide. Hence, by implication, people could sometimes kill other "innocent" people without being labeled murderers. So we can dismiss the untenable notion that killing a human (fetus or adult) is always an illegal and immoral act.

That's why our legal systems make allowances for degrees of homicide, and for degrees of punishment, including capital. An accidental or unintentional killing may be labeled "manslaughter", and punished less severely than "murder". Moreover, a deliberate killing in the name of the state, or of the god, may even be praised and rewarded. But we still debate a fetus' inalienable right-to-life, as if it was a stone-graven Biblical or Constitutional principle.

The only relevant case of infanticide in the Bible, that I am aware of, involved two men in a fight, who inadvertently hit a pregnant woman, resulting in an accidentally-induced abortion of the fetus. In that case the, presumably divinely-sanctioned, punishment was a small fine*. Throughout history, a fetus has seldom been valued as highly as an adult, until recently.

The moral and legal evaluation of abortion has traditionally been graded on a curve, rather than as an absolute assessment of right or wrong, moral or immoral, misfortune or murder. So, while the humanity of a fetus is pretty obvious, the moral value of its life is not so clear, and is legitimately debatable.

*
Exodus 21:22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Mon Apr 05, 2010 10:51 pm

Richard wrote:For this first question I will propose that one is not a "human being" unitl such a time as you can live on your own even with all of societies assistance in the form of medical assitance.

Well, no newborn human can live without assistance from others. It is not until years later that the most well adjusted of children might be able to become completely self-sufficient. So you seem to be defining humanness in terms of whether it can live on its own through medical care as opposed to direct life support via the womb. What is key here is potential. So if a fetus 8 1/2 months into term can live outside the womb merely needing medical care, then it is defined as a distinct and independent human being, but if the most advanced medical technology cannot keep this being alive if it were taken from the womb and put in an incubator, then it is defined as being part of the woman's body. Well, this definition of humanness is actually dependent on the advancement of medical technology at any given time. Decades ago, this would have restricted the definition of what is human to fetuses that were near the full 9 months of gestation, while with contemporary medical technology, a fetus would be defined as human perhaps as early as 5 months of gestation in some cases. In the future, an advanced incubator could theoretically be engineered that could mimic the functionality of a womb so closely that a baby could be fully developed from conception in one. In this case, a fertilized egg would never be completely dependent on the body of the mother and therefore, under the rules for defining humanness that you provided, a fetus would be defined as a human from the moment of conception. Do you now see how flimsy these rules are? I think it only makes sense to define humanness in terms of what it is physically, and the best way to do this is to define a distinct and independent human being as one that is genetically distinct and forming a body where all cells are connected and work as a functional whole. This is the case for fetuses from the moment of conception.
Richard wrote:Prior to this, it pains me to say, one is just a beautiful parasite upon an undesirous host.

Well, even parasites are genetically distinct from their hosts. It is difficult to define exactly what a parasite is. There was a recent episode of the NPR program "Radio Lab" where a parasite researcher tried to make the case that even humans are parasites because we rely on the nutrients of external organisms to survive. Well, I don't agree with this guy though. I'll say that a parasite is an organism that is attached to another organism and is feeding off of it. A fetus in a womb is not actually feeding off of the mother the same way as a parasite feeds off of its host though. You see, the mother's body actually takes the active role of providing food to the fetus, whereas a parasite takes nutrients from the host without the consent of the host. You may say that many women do not provide consent to their body being used by the fetus, but it is an automatic thing for the woman's body to volunteer its resources for the fetus. It does not matter what the woman says. Her body has already consented, and if this were not the case, she would spontaneously miscarry.
Richard wrote:We do not issue Conception certificates??

It would be hard to pin down when a conception occurs. Most of the time, women do not know they are pregnant from this moment. It would be pretty much impossible to legally consider one's age to start from the day of their conception because of this. Birth certificates make much more practical sense.
Richard wrote:If we have a miscarriage, there is not death certificate??
There are in many parts of the world, upon request of the parents.
Richard wrote:I can go on, but the point is we have all made the observation of when life truely begins!

Well, all you are saying here is that we should define life based on when we first see it, regardless of what might have happened before this. Of course, with sonograms we do know full well that these babies that suddenly appear upon birth did in fact exist some time prior to this.
Richard wrote:Only recently have we seen inflamed attempts to throttle human emotions by making cemetaries for the unborn in from of churches. ( A whole different discussion)

Actually, burials for the unborn in some cases go back centuries, usually for some unborn child that was highly anticipated.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Mon Apr 05, 2010 11:26 pm

gnomon wrote:The only relevant case of infanticide in the Bible, that I am aware of, involved two men in a fight, who inadvertently hit a pregnant woman, resulting in an accidentally-induced abortion of the fetus. In that case the, presumably divinely-sanctioned, punishment was a small fine*. Throughout history, a fetus has seldom been valued as highly as an adult, until recently.

The moral and legal evaluation of abortion has traditionally been graded on a curve, rather than as an absolute assessment of right or wrong, moral or immoral, misfortune or murder. So, while the humanity of a fetus is pretty obvious, the moral value of its life is not so clear, and is legitimately debatable.

*
Exodus 21:22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

This biblical quote is quite interesting. I suppose I will have to agree that unborn life, in its early and barely detectable stages, has an unclear moral value. I try to stick with reasoned principles, but to some extent I realize that often the best we can do in society is that which is practical, meaning that which works towards our current ends and seems to make sense based on our intuition. Some things require a great amount of reasoning to arrive at the best conclusion, and I really can't expect everyone to do this. It really shouldn't take that much reasoning to understand that a fetus that appears human in ultrasound is fully human, but for one that is microscopic, intuition for many people tells them that it is not quite human yet. Careful reasoning tells me that it is, but I don't know how I could expect everyone to reflect just as carefully on this as I have. I am an amateur philosopher with a lot of time to think about these things, and many pregnant women have little time or resources for these kinds of things when they are faced with unexpected pregnancies. I cannot condone abortion, but in the uncertain and often morally ambiguous world in which we live, it is understandable in some cases I suppose that others in difficult situations would make the decision that abortion is the right thing to do. I would like society to be more oriented towards helping such women keep their babies and I think we can work towards this goal.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby guest on Wed Apr 07, 2010 6:21 pm

Is a human being a fetus? We can all claim that we were all once One. Life begins when, if you don't kill it, it goes right on living.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby guest on Wed Apr 07, 2010 6:54 pm

Gromon, So while you debate the moral value of a fetus, why not let them all live until you have an answer? Wouldn't it be nice if all fetus's were able to debate their fate? Their defense would have, at least, a fighting position against their Parents.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby gnomon on Thu Apr 08, 2010 9:47 am

guest wrote:Gromon, So while you debate the moral value of a fetus, why not let them all live until you have an answer? Wouldn't it be nice if all fetus's were able to debate their fate? Their defense would have, at least, a fighting position against their Parents.

Yes, but in fact they can't defend themselves. So we have to do it for them. The abortion debate is polarized into incompatible interpretations of the moral status of a fetus. Some believe that abortion is a medical procedure, and the fetus is a dispensable bodily organ. Others hold that abortion is murder, because the fetus is a living human being, and because God said "thou shalt not kill", period; end of discussion.

Unfortunately, in real life, it ain't that simple. Some moral choices have no perfect thus-saith-the-lord answer. Philosophers analyze hypothetical scenarios where you have to make a lose-lose choose between the life of one person or of many. Most societies have accepted the pragmatic necessity to tolerate, or even encourage, the taking of life in us-or-them situations---such as the "just" war in Afghanistan, and the unjustified war in Iraq. And most morally-grounded societies tolerate the voluntary termination of pregnancy in some cases, where it is judged better than the alternative.

The problem for our society is to decide which abortions are justified and which are unjustified. And the solution won't come from the never-ending win-lose, black & white debates. Just as we do in courts of law, we will have to decide on a case-by-case basis, and move on. We are the moral agents, God is not going to do our job for us. Like jurors, we must accept the responsibility to make hard choices, and to compromise on points where universal principles are in conflict.

Thou shalt not kill. Except when necessary. Hence, abortion is usually wrong, but sometimes justified. ??? :?
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Thu Apr 08, 2010 5:55 pm

gnomon wrote:Yes, but in fact they can't defend themselves. So we have to do it for them. The abortion debate is polarized into incompatible interpretations of the moral status of a fetus. Some believe that abortion is a medical procedure, and the fetus is a dispensable bodily organ. Others hold that abortion is murder, because the fetus is a living human being, and because God said "thou shalt not kill", period; end of discussion.

Unfortunately, in real life, it ain't that simple. Some moral choices have no perfect thus-saith-the-lord answer. Philosophers analyze hypothetical scenarios where you have to make a lose-lose choose between the life of one person or of many. Most societies have accepted the pragmatic necessity to tolerate, or even encourage, the taking of life in us-or-them situations---such as the "just" war in Afghanistan, and the unjustified war in Iraq. And most morally-grounded societies tolerate the voluntary termination of pregnancy in some cases, where it is judged better than the alternative.

The problem for our society is to decide which abortions are justified and which are unjustified. And the solution won't come from the never-ending win-lose, black & white debates. Just as we do in courts of law, we will have to decide on a case-by-case basis, and move on. We are the moral agents, God is not going to do our job for us. Like jurors, we must accept the responsibility to make hard choices, and to compromise on points where universal principles are in conflict.

Thou shalt not kill. Except when necessary. Hence, abortion is usually wrong, but sometimes justified. ??? :?

What you are saying here does seem to be reasonable on the face of it. The problem is when you look more closely. How do we judge if something is justified or not? We go from our own experience. We have the experience of life, and thus we judge that it is unjustified to take another's life. We have the experience of wanting happiness, and thus we judge that it is unjustified to cause suffering in others. We have the experience of free will and wanting to carry out our will, and thus we judge that it is unjustified to keep others from carrying out their will.

This all makes sense, but then if we realize that it is impossible for us to act in a way that guarantees everyone perfect life, liberty, and happiness, then we see that there needs to be some sacrifices. Gnomon, you seem to be arguing that we sometimes need to balance these three goals. You are arguing that sometimes the life of an unborn child needs to be taken in order to preserve the happiness and freedom of the mother. You are drawing a parallel to fighting a war, where an enemy soldier's life needs to sometimes be taken in order to preserve our own freedom and happiness.

While this seems to be a common ethical theory these days, I do have to disagree with this. Because freedom and happiness are only possible for someone who is actually alive, we have to recognize that life itself is immeasurably more important than any degree of happiness of freedom. There is simply no other principled way of approaching this. I don't want to get into the slippery slope argument here, but it is quite true that the ethical theory that attempts to equally balance life, liberty, and happiness can lead to the killing of many people for no reason other than to promote more happiness and freedom in others. This has happened in several infamous cases in history and it does continue to happen at at a smaller level every day.

If we want to stay clear of condoning any situation such as these, and by this I mean if we want to formulate ethical principles that leave no possibility for something as abhorrent as genocide to occur, then we will have to find a way of balancing the goals of life, liberty, and happiness in a way where life is in a higher tier than the other two goals. It is just unreasonable to find a balance where some degree of happiness and freedom can add up to a life, even if this amount is very high. You would have to somehow quantify the other two goals and then to come up with a number, and this number would have to be completely arbitrary.

We are looking for ethical principles here where if everyone followed them, there would be no possibility of killing others for one's own benefit. This may be tough to accept, but life must be considered sacred. This is not necessarily a supernatural term. Sacred, for me, means that its worth is immeasurable. So in practice, this means that we first find a way of protecting everyone's life and then we balance the other two goals of liberty and happiness.

With regards to the abortion question, this means that taking the life of an unborn child is always immoral, even if this child is the product of some horrible act such as rape or incest. Sorry, I'm just being principled here. This is not "so sayeth the lord", this is the most reasonable conclusion I can come to. I can't, in good conscious, endorse any ethical system that can leave open the possibility that people could be killed just for the benefit of others.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby gnomon on Thu Apr 08, 2010 7:17 pm

We are looking for ethical principles here where if everyone followed them, there would be no possibility of killing others for one's own benefit. This may be tough to accept, but life must be considered sacred.

Absolute ethical principles may apply in the Garden of Eden, where the lion will lay down with the lamb; where all fetuses are healthy, and are born to loving parents. But the real world only permits Relative ethical principles.

The religion of Jainism holds, as an absolute principle, that life is sacred, and more specifically, every living soul is potentially divine. That's why they cover their nose and mouth to avoid inhaling godly gnats, and they carry brooms to sweep angelic ants out of harm's way as they walk. Do you take such extreme precautions to avoid taking innocent lives? If not, why not? If your principles are absolute, you have no right to draw arbitrary lines between human life and non-human souls.

The utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer also holds, as an absolute principle, that all life is sacred. For that reason, he believes that killing and eating animals is unethical. Are you a vegetarian? If not, why not? Are your principles less than absolute and all-inclusive? How can you justify condemning cannibalism while condoning consumption of animals, except as a pragmatic principle? Are there degrees of absolute sacredness?

I make no pretense of holding and abiding by absolute principles. Only G*D is absolute. Imperfect humans in a relative world must make compromises among their principles. Pure Ethical principles are like Aristotelian Logic, they only apply in perfect, ideal cases. All other situations call for Fuzzy Logic and Flexible Principles. In practice, all morality is relative.

Again, we don't have a single answer for every ethical conundrum. Many of our dilemmas are Solomonic. 'When one perfect principle conflicts with another, one must give way, or both will be annihilated. The Utilitarian moral calculus was intended to make morality as simple as arithmetic. Sorry, pregnant mother, it's nothing personal, the numbers just didn't add-up for you; so the fetus must live, and you must die.

Moral choices are always personal, and never perfect. Like it or not, humans are forced to choose and to act, with imperfect knowledge and understanding of all relevant factors. So when we do draw our lines between right and wrong, there is always an element of arbitrariness to it. We all make ethical compromises all the time---even those who reject moral relativism on principle. Thankfully, we seldom have to justify our pragmatic choices before G*D, or worse, before idealistic philosophers. We simply have to live with, and own our moral acts. I can sleep at night after eating a hamburger. Could I sleep after condoning an abortion? It depends. :)
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Thu Apr 08, 2010 8:40 pm

Thanks for your response. Looks like I've got a few things I need to clear up.
gnomon wrote:Absolute ethical principles may apply in the Garden of Eden, where the lion will lay down with the lamb; where all fetuses are healthy, and are born to loving parents. But the real world only permits Relative ethical principles.

Well, first of all lets agree that in this context "absolute" means something happening with perfect regularity without exception. "Relative" is not the appropriate opposite in this context, but in another sense of the word "absolute" where it means a quantity that is not purely comparative. Relative quantities are those that are comparative. But this is another matter. In your post you used the terms "fuzzy" and "arbitrary" and these are probably the best opposite of "absolute" in the sense of "without exception". If there are exceptions of rules, then these rules are fuzzy and when the exceptions occur is arbitrary.

Now, it seems to me that you are objecting to the ethical rule that life should be sacred and that, when making moral decisions, we should first protect all life and then balance the other goals. You are arguing that there should be exceptions to this rule. I am not in principle opposed to exceptions to this rule, I just don't think that they should be arbitrary and I don't think that any ethical rules should be fuzzy. If there are situations that you can think of where this rule would not lead one to act appropriately, then the most reasonable thing to do would be to figure out why these exceptions exist and then to reformulate the ethical rules to take this into account. The rules can be as complex as necessary, but they just shouldn't be fuzzy and the exceptions should not be arbitrary but based on nuanced principles.

For example, you alluded to situations where the life of a pregnant woman is in danger. Can she then have an abortion, or should she be forced to die to save the child? In this situation, if it is honestly the best judgment that both souls cannot survive, then we have to make a choice for who lives, and I suppose the mother would be the best one to make this choice. I do want to limit this exception to situations where our best analysis shows that one of the two will die.
gnomon wrote:The religion of Jainism holds, as an absolute principle, that life is sacred, and more specifically, every living soul is potentially divine. That's why they cover their nose and mouth to avoid inhaling godly gnats, and they carry brooms to sweep angelic ants out of harm's way as they walk. Do you take such extreme precautions to avoid taking innocent lives? If not, why not? If your principles are absolute, you have no right to draw arbitrary lines between human life and non-human souls.

I have reasonably concluded that, among living beings, only humans have souls. I have written about this at length within this site. Please see the threads for What kind of beings have phenomenal consciousness and pages 2 through 4 of Do souls exist? for my explanation.

gnomon wrote:Are there degrees of absolute sacredness?

First, if something is sacred, then the word for this state of being is "sanctity". Also, according to the definition, it is probably redundant to speak of "absolute sanctity". To answer your question: no, according to the definition I am going with, there are not degrees of sanctity. Something is either sacred or not sacred.

gnomon wrote:Imperfect humans in a relative world must make compromises among their principles.

Which is fine. One important aspect of life is the ongoing effort to figure out the best principles to live by. If a situation arises where it seems best to compromise one's principles, then so be it, and after the fact we should analyze the situation and reformulate our principles as necessary. Life is just naturally complicated. The best rules to live by are sure to be complicated as well. When we first come into this world, we know nearly nothing and when we first undergo the process of figuring out the best rules to live by, they will certainly be quite simplistic. When we are young, we haven't yet had enough different experiences to allow us to formulate rules that take into account the complexity of life. But this does not mean that life is infinitely complex and can only be dealt with through fuzzy rules and arbitrary exceptions forever. As time goes by and our experience becomes more stable, there should be fewer and fewer exceptions and ethical rules that are detailed, nuanced, and clear. There might occasionally be times where life gets shaken up and things happen that are quite unlike anything before, but we should still be able to approach a system of ethics that is increasingly stable as life goes on.
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