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Dating Mating Sex and Reproduction, evolution, philosophy, science

A Fertilized Egg is Not a Human Being

I have mentioned before that the question of when life begins is a question of politics, not science, and today, I’d like to return briefly to this concept.  Make no mistake — both an egg and a sperm are alive, and there is no time at which either stops being alive during fertilization.  You and I are continuations of the same life that began several billion years ago.  As “life,” we all began to exist at the same time.

Of course, this explanation is not satisfying to us when we’re discussing issues like civil rights or abortion.  We want to know if a fertilized egg is a human.  Typically, scientists shy away from such questions, but not for the reasons you might suspect.  I’ll get to the explanation in a moment, but before I do, I want to quote one of the foremost authorities on embryology in the world, Lewis Wolpert.

“What I’m concerned with is how you develop.  I know that you all think about it perpetually that you come from one single cell of a fertilized egg. I don’t want to get involved in religion but that is not a human being. I’ve spoken to these eggs many times and they make it quite clear … they are not a human being. ”   — Lewis Wolpert

I am not usually fond of quoting authorities, but I feel like it’s important to let you see the context in which scientists consider such questions.  As you read this quote, or watch the video on the linked page, you will note a sense of flippant dismissal.  It’s as if Professor Wolpert is so tired of hearing the question that he’s dignifying it with an answer that it does not deserve.

So let’s just get this out in the open — scientifically speaking, a fertilized egg is not a human being.  You have it straight from the mouth of a man who would know as well or better than anyone on the planet.   I know some of you will want to object, but please save your objection until I’ve explained why this question really doesn’t matter.

We humans are very fond of dichotomies.  We like things to be on or off, black or white, straight or gay, right or wrong.  This predilection towards fixed boundaries is a result of the limits of our perception.  We see things on a “macro” level, and we perceive time in terms of human lifespans.  While it’s certainly helpful for us to see a particular collection of atoms as a tiger, it’s a bit of a hindrance when we consider abstract concepts which were not important to us in our evolutionary environment.

Yesterday, I made mention of the ring species Heron gull/Lesser black backed gull.  This population of animals will make a very useful analogy for understanding the beginning of life.  (Here, I am talking about the first, and only true beginning of life.)  When we look at a Heron gull that is on the end of the ring, we can clearly see that it is all Heron gull, and not any part black backed gull.  However, there is no line at which we can say with certainty that a heron gull has become a black backed gull.  When we get to the other end of the ring, the animals we observe are most definitely black backed gulls.  They are two distinct species, and they do not interbreed.  The tricky part for our dichotomy-friendly brains is that there is no concrete dividing line.  As we move around the ring, herons become more black-back-like, and at some point, had we not been aware of our intentional journey through “animal-space” we would say that a particular specimen “must be” a black backed gull because it doesn’t look at all like a heron gull.  But this is a trick of our mind, not a function of reality.

The reality, paradoxical as it may seem, is that the entire group of heron/black backed gulls is a spectrum.  In fact, perhaps visible light is a great example of this concept, since it’s something we’re all more familiar with:

 

We’ve all seen this, and we’ve all probably noticed that there is no clean divide between colors.  If you look at the area in between orange and red, for instance, there is no point at which you are seeing red beside orange.   We could draw a line exactly half-way between orange and red, and call that the “true” boundary, but the line is arbitrary.  We call these colors “orange” and “red” because we like to put things in boxes.  Our labels are handy for us because they allow us to speak intelligently of things like the orange wall or the red food coloring we used to make fake blood for a play.  The reality, though, is that visible light is a continuous spectrum.  We humans simply have no way to coherently consider it as such because we see things as discreet entities.  That car is definitely green, and the sky is definitely blue.

Now that we’ve seen two examples of things that are definitely different, but lack specific dividing lines, we can get to the heart of the “origin of life.”  Like light in a visible spectrum or birds in a ring species, life is a continuum, not an on/off switch.  Difficult as it is for us to imagine, there was not a distinct moment when something that was previously “non-living” suddenly became “living.”  If we were able to play a video of the origin of life at a superhuman speed so that we could watch a billion years pass in a matter of minutes, we would see the precursors of DNA (whatever they were — perhaps clay crystals) gradually changing in much the same way that heron gulls gradually change into black backed gulls.  At some point in the film, we would realize that we were looking at “life,” but no matter how many times we rewound and replayed the film, we would never discover the exact moment that life began, anymore than we could discover the exact dividing line between herons and black backs.  It’s true that life had a beginning, but it is not true that there was a moment at which life did not exist, and the next moment, life did exist.  Like gulls or light, life has fuzzy edges.  At some point, we must say that things are alive, but as we move backwards through time, all we can say is that things are less like life, until eventually, it becomes obvious that there is no life.

This concept extends to species, as well.  As much as we might like to believe that mice, dolphins, E coli, and puppies are all distinct “kinds” of animals, the reality is that they, too, are part of a continuum.  The difference, in most cases, is that all of the intermediate creatures are no longer alive.  There is a continuous line of DNA stretching from humans to monkeys, but because of the process of natural selection, large chunks of it no longer exist.  If you can imagine compressing time into a single plane, upon which we could lay out every single organism that has ever lived, there would be no gaps.  Every species would meld into every other, and there would be no borders — only fuzzy edges of “between-ness.”*

Once we have grasped this concept of fuzzy borders, we can see why scientists typically refuse to answer the question of humanity.  It’s not that the answer makes them uncomfortable or threatens their research.  Instead, it’s because there is no hard, fast answer, and it’s very difficult to explain this to people who don’t understand science and want a dichotomy.

Embryonic Development

Embryonic Development

Hopefully, you can see that the scientific answer to the question of humanity is that there is no answer to the question of humanity.  We can look at a fully formed adult Homo sapien and say that it is a human, and we can look at a zygote and say that it is not a human, but like life itself, there is no unequivocable line before which a mass of cells is “non-human” and afterwards is “human.”

What impact does this have on the abortion debate?  A lot, and none.  It certainly puts some arguments against abortion rights on shaky footing, but anyone attempting to argue against abortion on scientific grounds is clearly not very familiar with science.  Abortion rights are a question of politics, not of science, and no self-respecting scientist would take a hard position on when a fetus becomes human.

I began this entry with a quote from an authority, and I think it fitting to end it with one as well.  I was inspired today by an entry in Pharyngula, so I will quote P.Z. Myers in the hopes that between my explanation and the words of two of the most qualified scientists on the planet, I will have laid this argument to rest at least in the minds of a few readers.

************
* To be fair, there are such things as macro-mutations, like frogs with eyes in their mouths, and we cannot rule out the possibility that some speciation events were saltations, but it has been well argued that even if there have been odds-defying successful saltations in evolutionary history, they must have been incredibly unlikely anomalies, and would not be considered significant in any workable theory of natural selection.

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Discussion

76 thoughts on “A Fertilized Egg is Not a Human Being

  1. The issue for me is not whether or not the zygote is a human being or whether or not there is a clear line when it does.

    The issue is that we know it becomes a human being. Whether or not there is a defining stage when that happens is irrelavent.

    Other pro-lifers will argue that life begins at conception, but I don’t see the relavence.

    Posted by Alison | March 17, 2009, 4:21 pm
  2. Actually a zygote has the POTENTIAL to become a human being. Many zygotes never reach this potential even without human intervention with abortion. The same lost potential lies with most eggs and the vast majority of sperm.

    If abortion in the first trimester is “murder” then the same could be said for every unused egg and sperm.

    I’d hate to live in a society where we start throwing blame around for wasted potential. All of us would be convicted.

    Posted by Watcher | March 17, 2009, 5:00 pm
  3. Not that this post is an argument for abortion — it’s not, but I’ve never been convinced by the potential argument for a couple of reasons. First, and probably most important, drawing an arbitrary line at fertilization is just that — drawing an arbitrary line. A zygote is just as much a potential human as either an egg or a sperm. Neither sperm nor egg nor zygote is a human. It may feel emotionally satisfying to suggest that because the zygote is an important step in the direction of becoming human, it should be sacrosanct, but in the end, if it’s not human, it’s not human.

    I’ve heard it argued that because a zygote, left to its own devices, will turn into a human with no further action necessary, it is in a special category. Again, this is just an arbitrary line. Male humans, left to their own devices, will attempt to impregnate women, and women, left to their own devices, will attempt to get impregnated. Genes are always trying to continue to reproduce. A zygote is just one phase in the continual process.

    As Watcher has astutely pointed out, countless eggs, sperm, and zygotes never reach their potential of becoming human, and that’s perfectly natural. Our evolutionary design is such that all three are quite expendable. Even though eggs are far less numerous than sperm, the average woman will reach menopause with several hundred thousand eggs not reaching their potential. I’ve never seen the number, but the average male probably consigns trillions of potential humans to oblivion in a lifetime. Even fertilized eggs are routinely flushed out of the body for various reasons which are not entirely understood.

    In the earliest stages of zygote development, the cells that will become the placenta technically have the potential to become a human being, as the placenta is literally a genetic clone of the fetus.

    When it comes right down to it, though, there’s a fundamental problem with the argument from potential — it’s missing a very important piece of information. As it’s normally stated, the argument goes something like this:

    A zygote has the potential to become a human being.
    Therefore, we shouldn’t abort them.

    If you’re familiar with logic, you’ll recognize that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise. In fact, in order to be able to reach a conclusion, we need a second premise that addresses potential:

    A zygote has the potential to become a human.
    Potential to become a human being is X (where X is something which will lead to the conclusion)

    If we just flippantly state that potential to become a human is something that should always be allowed to continue without interference, we commit ourselves to an unsupported position. Why is this so? Where is the argument that makes this a rational conclusion? What moral imperative are we drawing upon? What is its support? Why should this be universal?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 17, 2009, 6:34 pm
  4. I think that you are familar with my abortion arguments, so no need to re-hash.

    I personally would rather avoid having to draw the line of when to abort or not by not getting pregnant in the first place.

    Posted by Alison | March 17, 2009, 11:43 pm
  5. I agree. However there are a lot of times when birth control does not work. What then? What if a young girl is raped and becomes pregnant? Regardless of how hard we try to prevent an unwanted pregnancy they are still going to occur.

    Posted by Watcher | March 18, 2009, 10:50 am
  6. By the way, Alison and Watcher, I intend to do a blog on abortion in the near future, so we can certainly plan on hashing this out in more detail then if you like, but for now, I’d like to make an observation, primarily for Alison to think about. In general, I think if you took an average sample of a hundred women who believe in abortion on demand, ninety five of them (or more) would probably agree with you that the best of all situations is not to get pregnant if you don’t want a baby. Abortions have gotten easier with better technology, but they’re still invasive, have side effects, cost money, and have a slight risk of causing permanent problems. I think nearly everyone would agree that avoiding them is better than having them.

    So let’s take it as read that everybody on all sides agrees that in general, abortion as birth control is the least desirable of the available options. The reason I bring this up is that in our discussions, you continue to return to this as some sort of trump card, as if I or anyone else disagrees with you. What someone *should* do is a different discussion than what someone is *allowed* to do. It’s legal in America to drink until you pass out, but is it wise? No. The law doesn’t advise us on how to be the wisest person we can be. It sets the *outer limits* of what is permissible. If there is a reason why abortion should be illegal, that’s fine. Present your reason and let’s talk about it. However, if, like alcohol, there are responsible and irresponsible ways to use it, then I believe you must concede that it is not for the law to decide.

    By the way, before you mention drunk driving, please note that it’s not the drinking part of DUI that’s illegal. It’s the driving. So that analogy isn’t going to work.

    Posted by hambydammit | March 18, 2009, 1:10 pm
  7. I don’t think abortion should be illegal, I say it should be regulated.

    Drinking until you pass out is stupid, but it only hurts yourself. I bet 95 or more of the same women will say you shouldn’t drink while pregnant.

    You’re right the driving part of the DUI is illegal, but notice how it’s a regulation of drinking? Do not drive after you drink, it is still putting limits on drinking. If you want to drive, don’t drink.

    So drinking isn’t illegal it’s regulated.

    Like I said before, abortion should be a absolute last result.

    Posted by Alison | March 18, 2009, 2:51 pm
  8. Alison wrote: “Drinking until you pass out is stupid, but it only hurts yourself.”

    And a woman without a human in her belly who chooses to remove some cells from her uterus… who else is she hurting?

    Alison wrote: “Drinking until you pass out is stupid, but it only hurts yourself. I bet 95 or more of the same women will say you shouldn’t drink while pregnant.”

    Drinking while pregnant is potentially harmful to the fetus. No doubt about that. For women who intend to give birth to a human, drinking while pregnant is not advisable. What does this matter to a woman who does not intend to give birth to a human, and plans to have a blastocyst removed from her uterus?

    You see what I’m getting at, Alison? Everything you’re saying is true, and none of it has anything to do with abortion rights.

    Alison wrote: “You’re right the driving part of the DUI is illegal, but notice how it’s a regulation of drinking? Do not drive after you drink, it is still putting limits on drinking. If you want to drive, don’t drink.”

    I don’t think most abortion rights activists would oppose bans on third trimester abortions in exchange for abortion on demand before that. What other regulations would you like to impose?

    Alison wrote: “Like I said before, abortion should be a absolute last result.”

    Do you wish to legislate what counts as a last resort?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 18, 2009, 3:24 pm
  9. My point was that drinking should be used responsibly. Just like sex should be used responsibaly. If you don’t want friends drawing on you or taking pictures of you doing stupid things when you’re drunk either don’t drink or limit your drinking.

    If you don’t want to get pregnant or impregnate a girl, then either don’t have sex, or limit the times you do it and use protection.

    Posted by Alison | March 18, 2009, 5:35 pm
  10. If I use a condom every time I have sex, and a girl I’m having sex with — who wants to have sex with me, and doesn’t want to get pregnant — gets pregnant because of condom failure, would you agree that we’ve both been responsible?

    Or, are you suggesting that people should only have sex if they want to get pregnant?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 18, 2009, 5:54 pm
  11. …Well, Hell, even if I have a lapse into irresponsibility (as all human beings do, here or there) and have sex with someone without using protection, why is it that I would apparently just plain ‘deserve’ to carry a pregnancy to term? That claim just makes no sense to me.

    If we go back to the example of a DUI, if a person driving while drunk flips their car and it starts on fire, do we just wag our fingers at them for being naughty and watch them burn alive in their vehicle? For a more mundane example, if I do something irresponsible the night before a big school exam and bomb it, does that immediately result in me failing the entire class?

    It is not a realistic expectation to insist that a person act %100 responsibly; to impose or otherwise enforce permanent punitive penalties on someone for not meeting such an unrealistic expectation is barbaric at best, totalitarian at worst. My biggest problem with most anti-abortion proponents is this portion of their meta-argument, where they frame the world as having two types of people: responsible people and irresponsible people.

    The world doesn’t work like that. We’re all a rather mixed bag.

    Posted by Kevin R Brown | March 18, 2009, 10:18 pm
  12. Yes, but you would also have to take responsablity for what happened, her becoming pregnant.

    You know what could happen, and once it happens you have to take responsability for it.

    Kevin wrote:
    “If we go back to the example of a DUI, if a person driving while drunk flips their car and it starts on fire, do we just wag our fingers at them for being naughty and watch them burn alive in their vehicle? For a more mundane example, if I do something irresponsible the night before a big school exam and bomb it, does that immediately result in me failing the entire class?”

    When something happens to a DUI driver, do we not try to discourage similar actions?

    Do they just shrug it off and say people are going to drive drunk anyway, or do they do their best to avoid it by increasing police patrols to catch DUIs.

    Or should they just shrug and “meh, it’s going to happen anyway, so no point in trying to prevent it.”

    Yes, Kevin, we should treat the unjuries of the driver, but if that person crashes into another person and kills them, do we not charge the driver for that offence? (I believe that it’s manslaughter in Canada)

    Just because something happened that they didn’t want to happen doesn’t wave them of the responsability.

    Posted by Alison | March 18, 2009, 11:05 pm
  13. Alison, as Hamby said, you keep constructing a strawman to attack. Nobody is suggesting that we ‘wave people of responsibility’; what I said was this:

    “It is not a realistic expectation to insist that a person act %100 responsibly; to impose or otherwise enforce permanent punitive penalties on someone for not meeting such an unrealistic expectation is barbaric at best, totalitarian at worst.”

    What happens to our unfortunate DUI accident injury victim once we’ve pulled him or her from their vehicle and treated them? Well, they first have to deal with any injuries they’ve received as a result of the natural ‘penalties’ physics imposed on him (permanent scars, long-term psychological trauma, etc), and then we (in Alberta, anyway) would likely suspend their driver’s license for a period of time.

    In your example, where the drunk driver has actually hit and killed someone, we also usually put them in jail for a period of time, and they will have some other related baggage to deal with (namely, having killed a person being permanently on their conscience).

    Note that the legal system does not give a one-size-fits-all solution, nor does it impose permanent punitive judgment for one mere transgression. I think that most people here would agree that it would be unreasonable for a government to throw a person in jail for life or permanently take away their ability to drive a vehicle for one DUI incident?

    Yet this is precisely what advocating to take away a woman’s right to abortion does. It imposes a permanent penalty on someone who acts irresponsibly, even just on a single occasion (this issue is then *compounded* by the fact that such legislation would also harm responsible adults in a variety of circumstances, as well as the fact that irresponsibly having sex isn’t nearly a criminal act – certainly no more than daring to actually birth a child is at this point, anyway).

    Yes, Alison, *of course* acting with diligence and using contraceptives is the better approach. However, neither yourself nor any other anti-abortion proponent has managed to impress with a logical argument as to why – failing these two things – a pregnant women shouldn’t also have the ability to abort an unwanted pregnancy.

    Posted by Kevin R Brown | March 19, 2009, 12:56 am
  14. Alison: “Yes, but you would also have to take responsablity for what happened, her becoming pregnant.

    You know what could happen, and once it happens you have to take responsability for it.”

    Okay; I’m not sure I get what you’re trying to say (I’m not trying to grill you here; I do that elsewhere. 😛 ). If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that casual sex (sex without the intent of getting a female pregnant) is irresponsible?

    To be specific – if I want to have sex with someone, and there is mutual unwillingness to carry a pregnancy to term, having sex is irresponsible?

    Posted by Kevin R Brown | March 19, 2009, 1:27 am
  15. Kevin I am talking about sex without the willingness to accept the responsibilty of getting pregnant.

    There is a difference between not wanting to get pregnant and not willing to accept responsibility for it.

    When I write my exams, I go in with the intent to pass, does not mean I shouldn’t study before hand.

    So even when I intent to pass, I am also willing to accept the responsibility if I don’t, otherwise I wouldn’t study.

    Posted by Alison | March 19, 2009, 2:16 am
  16. The difference here is what we term responsibility. If someone does not want a child and somehow managed to become pregnant, then I agree, they need to take responsibility for the fact that they are pregnant.

    Past this point our views start to differ wildly.

    You are of the position that responsibility lies in allowing the zygote to continue to develop into a sentient being. However, that is not the only option. Abortion is another way of taking responsibility.

    Abortion is not some easy little thing like getting your hair done at the beauty parlor.

    I am off the mindset that whatever my opinion is, I DO NOT have the right to impose my opinion on other people. Do you feel like you have such a right, Alison? And if so, why?

    Forcing a 14 year old girl to try and raise a child I think would be rather irresponsible.

    Posted by Watcher | March 19, 2009, 9:24 am
  17. Why is it that people just present a specific situation and then try to generalize to everything?

    It’s as if that if something is justifiable in one specific situation, it automatically becomes justifiable for every situation.

    As I said before, abortion should be used as an absolute last resort such as a medical reason, not some way of dumping a kid you don’t want.

    Then they play the card “Well what right do you have to impose your opinion on everyone else?!?!”

    I am also of the opinion that you shouldn’t rob banks, but what right do I have to impose my opinion on others?

    Posted by Alison | March 19, 2009, 11:11 am
  18. Kid? When is it a kid, Alison?

    By the way, we have already attempted your idea and illegalized abortion except when it endangered the life of the mother. Why don’t you read about how well that worked out?

    [quote]
    ABORTION WAS criminalized throughout the U.S. between the late 1800s and 1973. But during that time, millions of women sought and obtained abortions anyway.

    Of these, tens upon tens of thousands died from illegal abortions or complications arising from them. One 1932 study estimated that illegal abortions or complications from them were the cause of death for 15,000 women each year. Current, more conservative, estimates of the death toll still stand at between 5,000 and 10,000 deaths per year.
    [/quote]

    http://socialistworker.org/2005-2/562/562_06_Abortion.shtml

    (Alison wrote:Why is it that people just present a specific situation and then try to generalize to everything?

    It’s as if that if something is justifiable in one specific situation, it automatically becomes justifiable for every situation.)

    Its as if you only responded to one line of my comment and generalized everything I said to only relate to that.

    (Alison wrote:As I said before, abortion should be used as an absolute last resort such as a medical reason, not some way of dumping a kid you don’t want.

    Then they play the card “Well what right do you have to impose your opinion on everyone else?!?!”)

    Are you going to answer the question?

    (Alison wrote:I am also of the opinion that you shouldn’t rob banks, but what right do I have to impose my opinion on others?)

    You are starting to flounder there. Determining theft of other peoples property is completely different than the determination of what constitutes a human during development, wouldn’t you think?

    Posted by Watcher | March 19, 2009, 11:38 am
  19. Alison, you didn’t answer my questions:

    1 Do you want to legislate what counts as a “last resort”?
    2 What restrictions would you like to place on abortion on demand?
    3 Do you believe people should only have sex when they are ok with having a child?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 19, 2009, 12:45 pm
  20. Dear Hambydammit,

    I’d like to comment on your post, “A Fertilized Egg is not a Human Being.” I have to say that many so-called “scientific” arguments raised against the pro-life position in this post are attacking straw men. There are solid philosophical grounds for regarding a fertilized egg as a human being with the same right to live as you or I have, and they have nothing to do with spooky “souls”, numbers of chromosomes or the potential of the fertilized egg. If you want a summary of these arguments, and a refutation of common counter-arguments, let me refer you to my Web page at http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/prolife.html . I would also suggest that you read the scholarly articles that I link to on my Web page.

    We keep hearing the mantra that life is a continuum, and that there are no absolute boundaries in science. This is both irrelevant and untrue. First, having a right to live is an “on-off” property: you either have it or you don’t. Now, you might regard rights-talk as meaningless – some philosophers do. However, the framers of the American Declaration of Independence and the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights would strongly disagree with you – and so would the vast majority of people around the world (including those with a college education). It’s rather difficult to have a fair legal system without the concept of rights.

    You may object that having a right to live is not a “scientific” concept – but then, neither is being wrong (as you obviously think pro-lifers are). Like it or not, science is built upon a bedrock of underlying meta-scientific, philosophical concepts, and you simply cannot do science without invoking at least some of these (e.g. true/false, valid/invalid argument, entity or substance, property or quality, event, law of nature, observer, observation, fair test, action, choice, and so on).

    Second, some scientific categories are well-defined. Gold is element number 79. That’s open-and-shut. I am familiar with ring species, but this natural phenomenon is not applicable to Homo sapiens, as you know perfectly well. At most, your argument demonstrates that it might be difficult to say exactly when rights-bearing animals first appeared on Earth. (Do Neanderthals qualify, for instance?) But even if this were true, it would not follow that there is no clear moral dividing line in the following sequence: an unfertilized ovum, a fertilized ovum, a blastocyst, a morula, an implanted embryo, a fetus and a baby. Arguments about the historical development of life on earth carry no implications with regard to moral arguments over the rights of embryos and fetuses – unless one subscribes to Haeckel’s long-discredited thesis that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

    In any case, if you want a first human rights-bearer in history, then I’ll give you one. Presumably, there must have been a point in history when someone conceived of the notions “true” and “false” for the first time. Search as you will, you cannot find a culture in the world today lacking these concepts.

    “True” is not a pragmatic concept. “True” does not mean “what works”, “what best fits your present circumstances” or “what makes you feel good.” A statement may be true, even though it does none of these useful things, and it may be false, even though it does all of them. Whoever first recognized this profound insight was undoubtedly a human being – and the same would apply to his/her progeny. Now, it may be difficult (given the paucity of fossil evidence) to determine at what point human beings became preoccupied with truth, but that does not entail that there was no such point. It just means that we have more digging to do.

    Finally, I am tired of hearing that pro-lifers have no right to impose their morality on others. My answer is: why ever not? Every time you break up a fight, shout down a racist, or report a terrorist to the police, you are imposing your morality on others. The only relevant question is: are your moral beliefs right?

    And by the way, let’s stop rehashing bad statistics about thousands of women dying from back-alley abortions in the bad old days when it was illegal for most reasons. Here are some quotes (which you can check at http://www.eadshome.com/mm/Nathanson.pdf )from Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a doctor and founding member of the NARAL, who presided over 60,000 abortions in his career, before becoming pro-life:

    “One of the major functions of NARAL and its executive board was the dissemination of false statistics regarding illegal abortion and deaths from abortion.”

    “The figures that we were releasing to the press were largely dead-designed to influence American public opinion. They had very little link or nexus to reality at all.”

    “The statistics that we gave to the American public about illegal abortions annually; the statistics we fabricated regarding the number of women dying from illegal abortions annually; all of these matters were pure fabrication and still persist to this very day.”

    “We spoke of 5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year. I confess that I knew the figures were totally false. It was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?”

    Jane Roe (of Roe vs. Wade) had the good sense to recant her pro-choice views, after working for many years at an abortion clinic. I would invite you to reconsider your views, too.

    Posted by Vincent | March 19, 2009, 1:20 pm
  21. You write to Alison:

    “[Y]ou didn’t answer my questions:

    1. Do you want to legislate what counts as a “last resort”?
    2. What restrictions would you like to place on abortion on demand?
    3. Do you believe people should only have sex when they are OK with having a child?”

    Alison can fend for herself perfectly well, but here are my answers, for what they’re worth.

    1. Last resort: (a) the mother would be in danger of death, or her expected life-span would be reduced by several years, as a result of not having the abortion; or (b) there is a high likelihood (in the opinion of three qualified physicians) that the mother would lose a limb or vital internal organ as a result of not having the abortion; or (c) the embryo/fetus has no prospect of survival whatsoever, and continuation of the pregnancy would result in substantial bodily harm to the mother (e.g. rupturing of internal organs; permanent loss of fertility).

    2. Make abortion illegal in all cases, except as a last resort as defined above. Doctors performing abortions in cases where the conditions were not satisfied would be liable to a 5- to 10-year prison sentence, which could in extraordinary circumstances be commuted by a Board of Review (as there are always some hard cases where an injustice would be done by applying the law in a rigid fashion – which, by the way, is no argument for doing away with laws!)

    Don’t imprison mothers, as there is substantial evidence that mothers who abort, even in America, are often coerced. (I remember reading once about a survey conducted by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which showed that 34 per cent of women having abortions felt pressured into doing so by their partners.)

    3. Yes. And if that strikes you as quaint, consider the fact that there are dozens of other ways of achieving climax without penetration, so the set of laws I’m proposing could hardly be construed as robbing teenagers of their fun, as they still have plenty of alternatives – although as it happens, I believe in abstinence.

    Posted by Vincent | March 19, 2009, 1:39 pm
  22. Watcher that is why I advocate counsling to any woman wanting an abortion. It will provide help to seek alternatives and determine whether or not the abortion is apprioate for the situation

    Hamby

    1) Yes. Just like there’s lesglation that you can’t drive while drunk. It still opens up the option to drink, but places limits on it.

    2) Mandatory counsling. Provide the woman with any social services she needs.

    3)Well, with the chance of pregnancy with proper protection (for example both a male condom and the woman on birth control pill or patch), then the chance is rather low, so if you limit your sexual activity, the chances are practically nil.

    So to avoid sounding like a prude, don’t be overly sexual.

    Posted by Alison | March 19, 2009, 3:46 pm
  23. Oh forgot something in answer 2)

    an example of a restriction would be that the mother can have the baby healthy, it places no danger to her and a family member is willing to take care of the child.

    And Watcher, I just noticed that the stats are from 1932, where medical technology wasn’t as good as it is today, so those deaths could have occured even if it was legal.

    That is the legal abortions could have resulted in the same number of deaths due to inadequate technology.

    Posted by Alison | March 19, 2009, 3:51 pm
  24. Hmm.. You didn’t really tell me what I wanted to know. I’m trying to figure out how to ask it differently so you understand what I want.

    Question 1 was getting at this: Do you want to legislatively prohibit certain women from getting abortions and force them to have the baby because their situation isn’t “last resort” enough for your liking?

    If so, which women would you like to force into motherhood?

    With your answer to 2, are you suggesting that any woman can get an abortion for any reason, so long as she attends a mandatory session with a psychological professional? What would the psychologist be required to say to her? Would psychologists be required to discourage abortion, even if it went against their particular beliefs? Who would be in charge of the counseling?

    For 3, I feel like it’s my duty to not let you off the hook. What does “overly sexual” mean? How many times a week do you think people ought to have sex so that they’re not prudes, but not risking pregnancy overmuch for your liking?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 19, 2009, 4:02 pm
  25. “Alison wrote:And Watcher, I just noticed that the stats are from 1932, where medical technology wasn’t as good as it is today, so those deaths could have occured even if it was legal.”

    How many back alley chopshops for illegal abortions do you think will have modern medical technology today?

    Posted by Watcher | March 19, 2009, 4:33 pm
  26. 1) Yes if she does not have a legitimate reason, than it should be prohibitat.

    I already gave the example of the woman being ‘forced into motherhood’ if she can have the baby and somebody is willing to take care of it.

    Hamby wrote”are you suggesting that any woman can get an abortion for any reason, so long as she attends a mandatory session with a psychological professional?”

    No, it would be kinda like a suicide hot line. That is provided alternatives and seeing if the abortion is medically necessary.

    It also may improve the life of the mother as well if she has access to social services.

    Hamby” What would the psychologist be required to say to her? Would psychologists be required to discourage abortion, even if it went against their particular beliefs?”

    They would do their best to avoid the abortion, even if the psychologist or social worker personally believes that abortion should be provided on demand. When you call a suicide hot line, they don’t tell you the lethal dose of anti-freeze.

    “Who would be in charge of the counseling? ”

    The service will be provided by the health care company. Maybe even Planned Parent Hood will be able to provide this service. In Canada, health care is provided by the government.

    3) I don’t really know. I think the best indication would be the less you are willing to accept the responsibility the less you should do it. I don’t know maybe once or twice. The less you want to crash to the ground, the less you sky-dive.

    And Watcher you seem to be using the argument people are going to do it anyway. People still rob banks and last I checked that was illegal.

    And I’m quite sure that illegal medical procedures such as organ transplants are done by a doctor, in a modern hospital room, it’s just that the doctor isn’t suppose to be doing it.

    Posted by Alison | March 19, 2009, 5:55 pm
  27. Still you compare a person getting a zygote removed from their body to an individual stealing property from others. Are you serious with this comparison?

    Of course people are still going to try to rob banks and murder other people even though we keep it illegal. However to compare depriving others of their property or life cannot honestly be compared to denying people the right to say getting drunk or getting a medical procedure performed on their own body.

    A) We don’t want people to rob banks because we keep our money in banks.
    B) We don’t want people to kill others because we don’t want ourselves or our loved ones killed.

    EQUALS

    C) We don’t want people to get drunk because we don’t want to get drunk.
    D) We don’t want people to get abortions because we don’t want to get abortions.

    You do realize the fundamental difference here do you not? You are trying to put your morals on others even though it does not affect you.

    Posted by Watcher | March 19, 2009, 6:04 pm
  28. Thanks for clearing that up for me, Alison. I think I understand where you’re coming from now.

    So… a basic foundation of law is that we restrict behavior when there’s a good reason for it. What’s your sound argument that preventing a woman from having an abortion is a good idea?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 19, 2009, 6:48 pm
  29. I don’t see how the rights of something should only start when it’s out of the uterus. Like I said before it’s a developing human.

    Now you asked where should we draw a line, men will seek to impregnate women, women will seek men to impregnate them etc…

    The line is that the zygote requires no more external stimuli. It develops by itself, with the mother providing the space and nutrients.

    Now you may say that the mother is external stimuli by providing nutrients, but it’s a natural process as in she doesn’t need to conciously do it.

    The man seeking to impregnate a female does have the potental to impregnate a female, but requires an external source: a female.

    So no a male left on his own will not produce a human life. He requires another ingredient.

    Same with sperms and eggs. The sperm needs an egg to produce a zygote.

    A sperm alone or an egg alone are still missing the ingredient to produce human life.

    That is why I draw the line on the zygote.

    Second there is a good reason to provide counsling to mothers seeking an abortion.

    The mother may have issues, and the counsling can provide her with useful alternatives, and prevent it from happening again.

    Posted by Alison | March 19, 2009, 10:38 pm
  30. So, let me see if I understand your argument.

    1. A zygote needs no other outside stimuli (save the mother’s body) to eventually turn into a human being.
    2. ???
    3. Therefore, women should not abort zygotes.

    It seems to me there’s something missing.

    Posted by hambydammit | March 20, 2009, 1:19 am
  31. hmmm how should I put this….

    If a construction crew is building a building, and I knock it down with a bulldozer, isn’t that the same as knocking down the building if it was complete? Either way, there’s not going to be a building there.

    Not even a two year old is fully developed, doesn’t mean it’s okay to interfere with that process.

    So I guess 2 is that it’s immoral to interfere with the development of a human, regardless of what stage it’s in. And that process starts with the zygote.

    Posted by Alison | March 20, 2009, 2:06 am
  32. Alison wrote: “So I guess 2 is that it’s immoral to interfere with the development of a human, regardless of what stage it’s in. And that process starts with the zygote.”

    Why?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 20, 2009, 4:34 am
  33. Why it immoral to interfere with development or why the process starts at with the zygote?

    For the former, because by interfering with the development you are robbing them of oppertunities.

    For the latter, because that’s when the process takes over on it’s own. Like a rock rolling down the hill, you don’t have to do anything else and have to go out of your way to stop it.

    Posted by Alison | March 20, 2009, 3:06 pm
  34. Alison, you’re not making an argument, I’m afraid. You’re just going around in a circle of description. Ok, so abortion is “robbing zygotes of opportunities.” Why is this immoral?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 20, 2009, 3:14 pm
  35. Vincent, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry your posts got held up in the queue for so long. They got sent to the spam folder, rather than the approval queue, probably because you’ve included more links than my filter allows.

    I hope you’ll also forgive me for not doing a point by point rebuttal of your post at this time. As I said, I plan to do an actual entry on abortion in the relatively near future, and you can rest assured that your post will help me in its formulation.

    Posted by hambydammit | March 20, 2009, 4:56 pm
  36. You may say that a zygote is just a bunch of cells, then again a building is just a bunch of bricks.

    The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

    It’s just as immoral to hurt an adult as it is a two year old child, but the two year old child is a developing adult.

    Just as it’s immoral to hurt a just born child, but a zygote is a developing first born child.

    100% of people who advocate abortion on demand were once zygotes. If they were aborted then they wouldn’t have existed in the first place, yet it’s immoral to kill them, but moral to abort the zygote.

    Posted by Alison | March 20, 2009, 5:38 pm
  37. Again with the descriptions, and nothing to support the claim that it’s immoral. An analogy is not an explanation, Alison. You know that. People used to be zygotes. So what? If I had been aborted, I wouldn’t be alive. So what? You keep telling me things about zygotes, and what I’m looking for is a justification for a moral principle. You’ve been around me long enough to know what an argument is.

    Look, rather than rake you over the coals for several more repetitive posts, let me just spell this out for you. Morality must be some kind of an abstract construct, because it’s about the value of actions. In order to argue that something is of low moral value, you must set your scale. Is morality based on utilitarianism? Pragmatism? Egalitarianism? The Greater Good? (If the Greater Good, what in the hell does that mean?) A Moral Imperative? The perpetuation of the species? Reducing suffering? Increasing happiness? Maintaining peace?

    Once you choose, you must answer why morality is based on whatever you have decided. Then, you must demonstrate that removing a zygote from a woman’s body is of low value on the scale you have devised.

    This isn’t territory for neophytes, Alison. It’s one of the trickiest fields in philosophy. If you want to have your position taken seriously among thinkers, you’re going to have to do a much better job of attempting to justify it.

    Posted by hambydammit | March 20, 2009, 6:00 pm
  38. Ok Vincent,

    If you want to poo all over Roe Vs Wade then what do you think of this?

    [quote]
    Unsafe Abortion = Maternal Mortality

    Alai-amlatina
    September 28 Campaign

    Unsafe, clandestine abortions are a direct result of criminalizing abortion. Illegal abortions put women’s health at risk. Hygienic conditions are unregulated and people trained to protect the patient’s life, unavailable.

    5000 women die each year as a result of complications from unsafe abortions in Latin America and the Caribbean. –more than 1/5 of all maternal deaths. On a global scale, complications from unsafe abortions result in 21% of all maternal deaths.

    In 1996, the Panamerican Health Organization revealed that abortion is the primary cause of maternal death in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Abortion is the second leading cause of maternal mortality in Costa Rica, and the third in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua.

    Death is not the only consequence of unsafe, illegal abortions. Between 10% and 50% of all such abortions require medical attention for complications. Incomplete abortions, hemorrhaging, and infections are all risks stemming from abortions conducted in circumstances where the women’s health and life are unprotected.

    Health Alert

    13% of the approximately 600,000 pregnancy related deaths worldwide result from unsafe abortions, according the PHO.

    The abortion mortality rate is 0.2-1.2 per 100,000 abortions in countries where abortion is legal.
    The mortality rate in countries where abortion is penalized is 330 per 100,000.
    The PHO estimates that 20 million abortions are induced each year.

    Despite the risk, millions of women resort to unsafe abortions to terminate unwanted pregnancies each year. How should governments respond?

    Legislation encouraging and facilitating access to safe abortions must be passed and implemented. This is the only manner to effectively eradicate clandestine abortions.
    [/quote]

    http://isla.igc.org/Features/Globalization/AbortionsEng.html

    Posted by Watcher | March 20, 2009, 6:01 pm
  39. Alison: “100% of people who advocate abortion on demand were once zygotes. If they were aborted then they wouldn’t have existed in the first place, yet it’s immoral to kill them, but moral to abort the zygote.”

    This is silly, Alison, and it doesn’t jive with what you had earlier said about birth control. 100% of people and zygotes were formed via the union of sperms and eggs, yet it’s immoral to kill them and moral to prevent the union, correct?

    Why don’t you answer Hamby’s question? What’s your second premise?

    Posted by Kevin R Brown | March 20, 2009, 6:01 pm
  40. Vincent: “3. Yes. And if that strikes you as quaint, consider the fact that there are dozens of other ways of achieving climax without penetration, so the set of laws I’m proposing could hardly be construed as robbing teenagers of their fun, as they still have plenty of alternatives – although as it happens, I believe in abstinence.”

    It doesn’t strike me as ‘quaint’ so much as ‘unrealistic’.

    It doesn’t matter whether or not you ‘believe in’ abstinence; we already know that preaching/pledging abstinence does not work. The study’s been done.

    Posted by Kevin R Brown | March 20, 2009, 7:27 pm
  41. Hamby, I think we can both agree that we should not willingly take a life [any life] without a legitimate reason and that is based on why the life should be terminated and the value of that life [a cat vs a human vs an ameboa].

    If the mother can have the baby healthy, and has the resources to care for the baby or can give it somebody that does, then what reason why should she get to terminate the zygote, who will become the baby?

    Posted by Alison | March 20, 2009, 8:34 pm
  42. Kevin, I already addressed those points.

    Posted by Alison | March 20, 2009, 8:35 pm
  43. Haha!

    Alison, are you intentionally being charming? That last post was cute in its apparent naivety. I’m not foolish enough to fall victim to the classic “You think killing indiscriminately is ok, and therefore you’re a nut job so I can ignore your troubling question” ploy. Regardless of whether I agree with you or not, if I am to use your premise as a foundation, I must have a reason for that foundation.

    Assuming, Alison, that we can agree that we should not willingly take a life without legitimate reason, upon what foundation should we base this directive? (And don’t be coy and say “because it’s immoral.”) What makes it wrong?

    Secondly, upon what grounds can we rule out the desire of the potential mother as a legitimate reason?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 20, 2009, 10:20 pm
  44. “Acorn” does not equal “oak.” It’s really that simple. Why the controversy?

    Oh. You don’t get all emotional about trees, but you do get all emotional about fertilized human eggs. And your point is?

    As it turns out, I don’t get all emotional about any small clusters of cells, even human cells – so I don’t find these various blatant appeals to emotion persuasive. What else you got?

    Nothing, huh? That’s what I thought.

    Posted by G Felis | March 20, 2009, 11:35 pm
  45. Taking a life is wrong because I wouldn’t want others to take it from me without good reason. It’s my life and nobody has the right to interfere with it unless I am interfering with somebody else’s.

    If I wanted to play the orgins of morality game, than I would have asked Watcher why robbing banks is immoral when he said that robbing banks and abortion are two different things.

    Now that we got that outta the way,

    The question I presume you are refering to

    “You know that. People used to be zygotes. So what? If I had been aborted, I wouldn’t be alive. So what? You keep telling me things about zygotes, and what I’m looking for is a justification for a moral principle.”

    By aborting a zygote, you are interfering with it’s life cycle. Just as it would be wrong for me to interfere with your cycle now, I don’t see how interfering with it when you were a zygote makes a difference.

    ya mind telling me why it makes a difference and on what moral code you base it on? Teach me oh wise one.

    Now, should I crack open my cultural anthropology book and find the first moral code of the Homo erectus?

    I am well aware I was being sarcastic, no need to point it out.

    Posted by Alison | March 21, 2009, 12:26 am
  46. Oh, Alison, don’t judge me harshly for being a little snarky. The thing is, you’re going around in circles, and you’re avoiding a rather obvious question, which G Felis has expressed for you very succinctly:

    You personally feel like it’s wrong to dig up an acorn and smash it on the ground, but other people think it’s ok if they want to use the ground for something else. What makes your position better than theirs?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 21, 2009, 12:33 am
  47. “Alison wrote: If I wanted to play the orgins of morality game, than I would have asked Watcher why robbing banks is immoral when he said that robbing banks and abortion are two different things.”

    Please don’t hide from me, Alison. I’m a big boy.

    Golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Let me repeat what I said earlier since you obviously missed it.

    “Watcher wrote: A) We don’t want people to rob banks because we keep our money in banks.
    B) We don’t want people to kill others because we don’t want ourselves or our loved ones killed.

    EQUALS

    C) We don’t want people to get drunk because we don’t want to get drunk.
    D) We don’t want people to get abortions because we don’t want to get abortions.

    You do realize the fundamental difference here do you not? You are trying to put your morals on others even though it does not affect you.”

    Someone robbing a bank affects you if you keep your money in that bank.

    Some girl getting an abortion does not affect you personally.

    Posted by Watcher | March 21, 2009, 12:50 am
  48. For the acorn bit, I do consider a buried acorn a potiental tree. I feel you shouldn’t cut down a tree for no reason, just like you shouldn’t smash an acorn for no reason.

    As to this

    Hamby “You personally feel like it’s wrong to dig up an acorn and smash it on the ground, but other people think it’s ok if they want to use the ground for something else. What makes your position better than theirs?”

    That would depend on who owns the land. It would be wrong for somebody to cut down a tree on your property.

    The woman does not necessarly “own” the zygote, the zygote is it’s own life. It has seperate DNA from the mother.

    If you want to get into the argument that the mother “owns” the zygote, you have to remember that the father provided half the material and hence should also own the zygote, so who gets the greater say?

    Watcher, a lot of people alive today enjoy life and would not have want to be aborted.

    Posted by Alison | March 21, 2009, 1:07 am
  49. “Alison wrote: Watcher, a lot of people alive today enjoy life and would not have want to be aborted.”

    If I tied you up in a basement, raped and impregnated you repeatedly, and gave the resultant offspring up for abortion I’m sure many of our children would be happy to be alive.

    Does that mean its ok? Do the results justify the actions?

    I get the feeling that you are trying to anthropomorphize zygotes.

    Posted by Watcher | March 21, 2009, 1:17 am
  50. Alison, I’m afraid you’ve moved into being plain old wrong. An acorn is just as much a potential tree as a human zygote is a potential human. Ask any evolutionary biologist.

    Sorry, kiddo. You may not think so, but if this is your final answer, you’ve lost the debate. That’s not opinion. I can map it out for you in symbolic logic if you like.

    Posted by hambydammit | March 21, 2009, 1:21 am
  51. Okay hamby

    acorn grows into a tree-> acorn a potiental tree

    Zygote develops into a human -> The zygote is a potiental human

    the zygote is a developing human -> part of the human life process/\it is immoral to interfere with a human’s life process

    What’s the problem?

    Watcher that is an immoral act, no the children being happy does not justify the action since the children would not have been born other rise.

    I do not see how that is comparable to a women being pregnant from consensual sex.

    Posted by Alison | March 21, 2009, 1:37 am
  52. Alison wrote: Okay hamby

    acorn grows into a tree-> acorn a potiental tree

    Zygote develops into a human -> The zygote is a potiental human

    the zygote is a developing human -> part of the human life process/\it is immoral to interfere with a human’s life process

    What’s the problem?

    The problem is that you are just saying it’s immoral. You’re not justifying it.

    Posted by hambydammit | March 21, 2009, 2:24 am
  53. I wrote “Taking a life is wrong because I wouldn’t want others to take it from me without good reason. It’s my life and nobody has the right to interfere with it unless I am interfering with somebody else’s. ”

    Is that a good guage as to if something is immoral oh wise one?

    Like Watcher said the Golden rule.

    Posted by Alison | March 21, 2009, 3:58 am
  54. [quote]
    The abortion mortality rate is 0.2-1.2 per 100,000 abortions in countries where abortion is legal.
    The mortality rate in countries where abortion is penalized is 330 per 100,000.
    [/quote]

    So you agree that if an extra 229 women per 100,000 pregnant women will die from having abortion illegal then illegalizing abortion is “immoral”, right?

    Because then everyone that voted to illegalize it would be interfering with their life cycle.

    Posted by Watcher | March 21, 2009, 10:40 am
  55. Watcher do you agree that the counsling part could significantly reduce or eliminate the illegal abortion death rate? Because speaking to a psychologist or social worker may help the mother coup more and be less likely to seek an illegal abortion.

    Posted by Alison | March 21, 2009, 4:03 pm
  56. Alison, you have two major problems:

    1) Humans take non-human life all the time, and nobody gripes about it. Zygotes are not humans. What’s the problem?

    2) You keep going on about good reasons. Supposing that we say we shouldn’t end life without a reason (it’s not a human life, remember), why isn’t the mother’s choice a good enough reason?

    Posted by hambydammit | March 21, 2009, 4:46 pm
  57. 1) I already addressed this
    2) This too.

    Posted by Alison | March 22, 2009, 12:25 am
  58. 1. No you haven’t
    2. Not this either.

    Posted by hambydammit | March 22, 2009, 2:46 am
  59. Hambydammit, Watcher, you are telling Allison her argument is nonsense without explaining why it’s nonsense. I don’t think she’s being stubborn or obtuse, she simply doesn’t understand why her argument isn’t really an argument at all, and goodness knows her reasoning failure is a common one – so I’ll try to explain.

    “Taking a life is wrong because I wouldn’t want others to take it from me without good reason”

    Notice that the rational basis – the only justification – that you are offering here depends on the logical extension of your way of living in the world (your wants, your preferences) to others:My life is important to me, and I wouldn’t want anyone to take my life or otherwise treat it as unimportant. That’s a fine sort of moral instinct – very Golden Rule-like. And it’s a good general moral rule when applied properly; unfortunately, you are misapplying it. You see, this reasoning only gives you a good reason to respect the interests and well-being of someone who is sufficiently like you – who has desires, who thinks some things are important and others aren’t important, etc. That is to say, you are basing your moral argument on quite a well-developed set of cognitive tools – and a human fetus has no more of that level of cognitive sophistication than an acorn – not until very late in development, arguably not until after being born and living in the world for a while.

    Your confused version of the Golden Rule, which is sadly common, is the basis for a peculiar kind of emotional sympathy – Gosh, if I was an acorn or a seedling, I wouldn’t want to be destroyed. But that emotional appeal has absolutely no rational force because it is self-negating: An acorn or a seedling, much like a blastocyst or a growing fetus, is not an *I* – not a conscious, thinking being with desires and preferences. If you were an acorn, you wouldn’t WANT anything at all because acorns aren’t the kinds of things that have wants or desires or life plans. If you were fetus – and at one point you were, so let’s say WHEN you were a fetus – you were not at that time an *I*, you were not a person with preferences and desires and life plans which it would be wrong to thwart without some very serious counterbalancing justification.

    It’s not that your moral instincts are wrong: “Treat others as you would prefer to be treated” is certainly a good place to start your moral reasoning. But you must recognize the limits of that reasoning and not apply it to entities which aren’t “others” – things which do not and cannot “prefer” any sort of treatment because they do not have the cognitive basis for preferring.

    Even when we teach children about morality, we make such distinctions: If a parent sees their child being rough or cruel to another child or even a family pet, the parent might say “How would you like it if someone treated YOU that way?” But if you overheard a parent telling an older child who was playing too roughly with a toy the same thing, you would at the very least find it odd, if not downright crazy: Even toddlers know the difference between sentient and non-sentient things, although of course they sometimes pretend that their teddy bear (or whatever) has feelings and could be physically or emotionally hurt – and if very young, a toddler might actually even confuse imagination and reality in such matters. But you are presumably a grown-up and should know better: You can pretend that acorns and fetuses have feelings and preferences and life plans that ought to be respected if you wish, but no one else is obliged to take that game of pretend seriously.

    And to forestall any predictable but confused attempt to say that the potential to someday in the future have desires and preferences and life plans and all that somehow retroactively grants special moral status to a fetus, I can say only this: In the future, we’re all dead. You don’t just have the potential to be a corpse someday; it is in fact inevitable that you will be a corpse one day. So should I bury you now? If you don’t think so, then don’t be so hasty to base conclusions about how someone should be treated in the present based on the properties they might (or will) have in the future.

    Posted by G Felis | March 22, 2009, 3:18 am
  60. Look hamby, I don’t even have to type anything new
    for 1 and 2

    I wrote “Zygote develops into a human -> The zygote is a potiental human

    the zygote is a developing human -> part of the human life process/\it is immoral to interfere with a human’s life process”

    So the answer to 1 is it’s part of the human life process, and 2 is that it’s immoral to interfere with the human life process.

    As to why it’s immoral

    I wrote “Taking a life is wrong because I wouldn’t want others to take it from me without good reason. It’s my life and nobody has the right to interfere with it unless I am interfering with somebody else’s. ”

    Is that a good guage as to if something is immoral oh wise one?

    Like Watcher said the Golden rule.”

    And G Felis, I’m talking about interfering with the life process, when I was a zygote and if I was aborted, I wouldn’t even get to experience life. Just because I will be a corpse in the future, doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t still get the experience.

    Posted by Alison | March 22, 2009, 1:41 pm
  61. G. Felis:

    You suggest that Alison is misapplying the Golden Rule to zygotes because they are not sentient. I have already dealt with this objection on my prolife Web page at
    http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/prolife.html . Alison is quite right.

    You also write: “‘Acorn’ does not equal ‘oak.’ It’s really that simple. Why the controversy?” Don’t you consider it just a little embarrassing that Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who was one of the leading proponents of the slogan, “An acorn is not an oak”, back in the 1960s, is now pro-life? Oh, and I forgot to mention Jane Roe and Sarah Bolton.

    In any case, (i) neither an acorn nor an oak has a right to life, so the comparison with human beings is beside the point; (ii) the terms “acorn” and “oak” refer to different developmental stages of the same entity, but the whole point of the pro-life argument is that having a right to life has nothing to do with how developed you are; (iii) for that matter, a newborn baby is not an adult, but I’m sure you’d credit both with the same right to life.

    Hambydammit:

    You write that “An acorn is just as much a potential tree as a human zygote is a potential human.”
    For the umpteenth time, prolife arguments have nothing to do with the potential of the zygote. Please refer to the above link.

    Watcher:

    You write: “The abortion mortality rate is 0.2-1.2 per 100,000 abortions in countries where abortion is legal.” Nope. The abortion mortality rate is 100,000.2 to 100,001.2 per 100,000 abortions, in countries where abortion is legal. The maternal abortion mortality rate is 0.2-1.2 per 100,000 abortions in countries where abortion is legal.

    You also write that “Humans take non-human life all the time, and nobody gripes about it. Zygotes are not humans. What’s the problem?”
    Now, I could understand if you were arguing that zygotes are not human persons, as Peter Singer does, but to argue that a zygote is a form of “non-human life” is “just plain wrong” – to cite your own words.

    Kevin R. Brown:

    You write: “It doesn’t matter whether or not you ‘believe in’ abstinence; we already know that preaching/pledging abstinence does not work. The study’s been done.”

    If you’re talking about contemporary America, I agree. There’s no way that a culture which tunes to “Sex and the City” can effectively promote abstinence. The message gets drowned out. But in some cultures, that’s not a problem. Believe it or not, there are at least two 20th-century cultures that managed to stop the vast majority of young people from having sex until their late twenties: Mao Zedong’s China and pre-1970s Ireland. I don’t mean to praise these examples; I simply want to point out that it is possible for societies to stop young people from having sex. Given this fact, and given that young people who have sex sometimes have abortions, which involves the destruction of a human person (as I’ve argued above), the moral question then becomes: are we prepared to implement the massive counter-cultural changes required in order to prevent young people in our own society from engaging in practices which often result in the deaths of innocent human beings?

    You will probably say that people in Ireland and Mao’s China were sexually repressed. So what? Isn’t repression preferable to homicide? And whose attitiude to sex do you think is more balanced: that of our forebears 100 years ago, when a gentleman would not think of uttering a crude or profane remark in the presence of a lady, or our insane 21st-century culture, where sexually precocious nine-year-old boys are liable to ask their female classmates questions such as: “Do you spit or swallow?”

    Regarding maternal mortality from backyard abortions, you might like to read this article from http://www.lifenews.com/int776.html . I shall quote an extract:

    “Remember that Nicaragua made abortion completely illegal in 2006 and then reaffirmed that prohibition in 2007. The overall positive results for Nicaraguan women have been just amazing.

    The abortion promoters screamed that making abortion illegal would cause women to die in droves because of more back-alley abortions, but that didn’t happen. In fact, the opposite is true – fewer women are dying now!

    A recent publication by Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health noted that the overall maternal mortality rate decreased by 58% in the year that abortion has been made totally illegal. There were 21 maternal deaths for 2007 compared to 50 maternal deaths the year before. This is a stunning reversal!

    The lie that women will die from back-alley, “unsafe,” abortions is nothing but a scare tactic to coerce pro-life cultures into compliance with abortion. The truth is that abortion-free cultures have a greater respect for women and babies and are not subject to that degrading pall of killing that lies over the medical profession.

    In the case of Nicaragua, their rejection of abortion in 2006/2007 coincided – not surprisingly – with a greater provision of basic pre-natal services for pregnant women and accompaniment in childbirth which is what led to the surprising turn-around in the maternal death rate. Even aside from legal protection of babies, pro-life cultures just protect women better, it’s that simple.

    Something to think about. In any case, I’m not advocating an absolute ban on all abortions, as I’ve already listed exceptions which I’d make, in a previous post.

    Posted by Vincent | March 22, 2009, 2:16 pm
  62. “Alison wrote: I wrote “Taking a life is wrong because I wouldn’t want others to take it from me without good reason. It’s my life and nobody has the right to interfere with it unless I am interfering with somebody else’s. ””

    Here’s the thing, Alison, you keep anthropomorphizing. There is no “I” in a zygote. None. You keep looking from the present into the past. Life doesn’t run that way. It moves from now into the future. If the zygote that eventually developed into you had been aborted, you would have never existed. For you there would have never been an “I”.

    The golden rule doesn’t apply to zygotes.

    Do you understand the implications behind this? There was no “I” that missed out on life. There was no “I” snuffed out in its prime. You would never have existed as surely as if your parents have never met. It makes as much sense as someone saying they should bear a child with every fertile member of the opposite sex they have ever met or they are denying an “I” from experiencing life.

    And as far as not interfering in someone else’s life, you try growing a baby in your womb and not having it interfering with your life.

    Posted by Watcher | March 22, 2009, 3:37 pm
  63. “Vincent wrote: You write: “The abortion mortality rate is 0.2-1.2 per 100,000 abortions in countries where abortion is legal.” Nope. The abortion mortality rate is 100,000.2 to 100,001.2 per 100,000 abortions, in countries where abortion is legal. The maternal abortion mortality rate is 0.2-1.2 per 100,000 abortions in countries where abortion is legal.”

    That’s called copy and paste, genius. I didn’t write that.

    However, in countries where abortion is legal the number of zygotes killed is 100,000 out of 100,000 with the added deaths of 0.2-1.2 humans killed.

    In countries where abortion is penalized the number of zygotes killed is 100,000 our of 100,000 with the added deaths of 330 humans killed.

    Posted by Watcher | March 22, 2009, 3:42 pm
  64. Watcher wrote “You would never have existed as surely as if your parents have never met.”

    My parents just meeting would produce a rather small chance of me existing, the zygote produces a much higher chance of me existing.

    Watcher wrote “And as far as not interfering in someone else’s life, you try growing a baby in your womb and not having it interfering with your life.”

    But I will recover, I will still get to experience life. A zygote cannot be unaborted.

    Posted by Alison | March 22, 2009, 6:12 pm
  65. Alison wrote: “My parents just meeting would produce a rather small chance of me existing, the zygote produces a much higher chance of me existing.”

    If the probability is the only thing you are concerned with then you need not worry. An aborted zygote has just as much chance as becoming a human as one that never existed.

    Alison wrote: “But I will recover, I will still get to experience life. A zygote cannot be unaborted.”

    That’s not what you said. You said: “It’s my life and nobody has the right to interfere with it unless I am interfering with somebody else’s.”

    So by your own words zygotes do not have the right to interfere with your life if you chose not to let it.

    Posted by Watcher | March 23, 2009, 8:54 am
  66. Watcher wrote “So by your own words zygotes do not have the right to interfere with your life if you chose not to let it.”

    But it was by my actions that the zygote was formed ergo I am responsible for it.

    Even if it was interfering with my life, it doesn’t give me the right to kill it. People interfere with my life all the time, and I don’t shoot them.

    Posted by Alison | March 23, 2009, 10:08 am
  67. Alison wrote: “But it was by my actions that the zygote was formed ergo I am responsible for it.”

    However a zygote isn’t a person. It doesn’t have a nervous system, a brain, etc. Heck it is barely enough to equal a small tumor in the brain of a fly.

    Posted by Watcher | March 23, 2009, 4:20 pm
  68. LoL stoped reading after that rediculous quote>

    “I’ve spoken to many eggs”… ? WTF?

    I mean really? if your trying to imply that because eggs are not talking to you therefore their not human>> how are you going to explain to people that can’t talk that their not human since they can’t talk??

    Principle of Identity on which all human life is based on…
    “Each being is what it is. It cannot both exist and not exist at the same time.”
    If there is a baby, fetus, fertalized egg, call it anything you like, as long as it has been acknowledged as being, you can’t claim it’s not existent”

    Do your research properly before you publish anything, especially dealing with hugely biased quotes or arguments. Scientists? try Dr. Jerome Lejeune at 8 WEEKS the fetus already has eyelids and is responsive to light, with hair!!! 9 weeks? their already sucking their thumb and moving around. If my tumor was doing something like that. I’d be scared as fck.

    Posted by Pissed | June 6, 2009, 4:34 pm
  69. “zygotes never reach this potential even without human intervention” -Watcher

    Exactly, if it’s something that happens naturally, there was no “intent” for murder. We can’t put time under trial ‘cuz it kills people it’s the nature of things and that’s just how it goes. But as soon as you eliminate an “existence” (I won’t even call it “life” if you’d wish) there is the intent of distruction and that’s what becomes the problem. Even apart from “religion” and morals, in the court of LAW murder becomes defined as a pre-concieved intent to do harm.

    Posted by Phil | June 6, 2009, 5:40 pm
  70. @ Pissed: “LoL stoped reading after that rediculous quote>

    “I’ve spoken to many eggs”… ? WTF?

    I mean really? if your trying to imply that because eggs are not talking to you therefore their not human>> how are you going to explain to people that can’t talk that their not human since they can’t talk??”

    If you had only kept on reading you would know that was not the argument. You should follow your own advice and do your research properly: read the damn article so you know what it actually say before you try to discredit it.

    @Phil: “in the court of LAW murder becomes defined as a pre-concieved intent to do harm.”

    This is incorrect, because it’s wrong and it leaves a critical part out. If I go and kick my brother in his groin right now, have I committed murder? It fulfils all the requirements of your definition: it was pre-conceived and it had the intent to do harm. However, that’s still not murder, is it? I mean, a kick to the groin might hurt, but there’s a fair chance that you’ll survive the experience, and so it can’t be murder – because a murder requires that someone is actually dead.

    That’s the part that’s wrong. The left-out part is that your definition doesn’t discriminate based on the victim, so even if we changed “do harm” to “kill”, it still wouldn’t suffice. Or do you perchance think that I’m a murderer because I enjoy fishing? After all, when I go out fishing, I do so with the pre-conceived intent to kill the fish I catch (unless they’re too small, or of a kind I don’t find tasty, or something like that – but that’s not important to my point).

    If you’re sane, the obvious answer is that no, it doesn’t make me a murderer. So, for it to be murder, the dead must have been another person, another human being.

    Zygotes are not human beings, therefore aborting them isn’t murder.

    Posted by Eastopia | June 8, 2009, 12:30 pm
  71. That is another failed analogy. There is nothing vague or blurred about the color spectrum, it can and is actually defined clearly with numbers and decimal points down to every last detail and every so slight fluctuation.

    The chart was a nice touch though, at least for those looking to skim down to the point where you take their side of the not so fine lined fence, not even bothering to notice even their own intelligence was just insulted in this post.

    Posted by gripe | July 30, 2009, 6:21 pm
  72. I’m sorry you don’t understand the nature of analogy. If two things are equal, they are not analogous. Two analogous things must, by definition, have differences. The existence of a difference between them doesn’t disprove an analogy.

    However, your objection is worth refuting. It is true, of course, that light is made of discreet waves, and that each wave can be labeled with a letter or number, such that light is not really, at it’s most basic level, truly a continuum. However, this characteristic of light is not the quality I was using in the analogy. Our eyes do not perceive discreet waves of light. We see a composite. We see a continuum when we look at the spectrum. The continuum that we see is a sufficient example of a continuum to illustrate for the reader the concept of something which genuinely IS a continuum — the development of a fetus.

    My argument was not that both light and fetuses are continuums. Rather, it was that the fetus’ development from inception is a continuum. Human perception of light as a continuum is a good example of the concept of a continuum. It’s an illustration to get the reader to understand the concept.

    Though your pomposity is to be admired — really, it’s quite effective if only the reader ignores the content of your post — your objection has not addressed the content of my argument in the slightest.

    If, however, your intention was to prove that a thing can be two things simultaneously because of the limits of perception, kudos to you for an unrelated pedantic nitpick. Gee… humans are living beings, but they’re also collections of discreet units of matter… and they’re also quantum doo-hickey thingies that nobody understands. All at the same time!

    Yes, gripe. Light can be reduced to quanta. Thank you for your comment.

    Posted by hambydammit | July 30, 2009, 7:16 pm
  73. “If, however, your intention was to prove that a thing can be two things simultaneously because of the limits of perception, kudos to you for an unrelated pedantic nitpick. Gee… humans are living beings, but they’re also collections of discreet units of matter… and they’re also quantum doo-hickey thingies that nobody understands. All at the same time!”

    *chuckles*

    Posted by Watcher | July 31, 2009, 10:11 pm
  74. Okay, maybe I’m three years late, but I just came across this site by accident (I was looking for information on black-backed gulls).

    There is so much wrong with this article, it is difficult to know where to begin. But I’ll try.

    First, what is science? Fortunately there is a link near the top of this page to an article on Science Vs Religion. I suggest you read (or reread) the first part of this article, because it gives a pretty good idea of the way science works. (Unlike the second half of the article, which is just absurd.) Science is a process, involving observation, thought, hypothesising, experimentation, more observation, conclusion. It is not just a matter of quoting some authority – no matter how eminent. I know little about Wolpert’s credentials – it is clear from the video that he is an accomplished experimental embryologist – but his attitude here (“I’ve spoken to these eggs many times and they make it quite clear … they are not a human being.”) is very unscientific. (And the concept of Wolpert and Myers being “two of the most qualified scientists on the planet” is a bit rich; if Myers is “most qualified” in anything, it is being an internet personality.)

    Even more unscientific – in fact, downright incomprehensible – is the suggestion that the question when life begins does not deserve an answer. For thousands of years, the question what is life has been one of the greatest – probably THE greatest concern of philosophers. Now is it somehow beneath contempt, just because an “authority” doesn’t want to talk about it.

    In any case, the Wolpert quote is a non sequitur, since it follows a statement that the question of when life begins is a question of politics, not science. And why politics, for Heaven’s sake? Why do people want to reduce everything to politics these days? Surely religion, philosophy and ethics are all more appropriate categories for dealing with questions of life and death than politics. What would the average politician know of such matters?

    The major confusion of the article appears to be etymological. The author appears to be very confused between the meanings of life in the general sense, referring to the sum total of living things, and the life of an individual. the terms are of course closely related, but the differences are crucial. And while it is arguable that the origin of life may have shown a “fuzzy” zone between life and non-life, it is not a scientific argument because there is zero evidence about the process; this is why the various hypotheses about it vary so radically.

    Coming to the development of an individual life – well, yes, an individual human life IS a continuum – from zygote to embryo to foetus to baby to child to young adult to middle aged to elderly. Being a continuum, the division into stages is completely arbitrary. The only stage which is not arbitrary is fertilization, the time when a new, genetically unique individual is formed. There may be a few hours of indecision, but once the two nuclei join the identity is formed. Thus, fertilization is the only possible time at which humanity can be defined.

    Posted by Stephen Hitchings | October 2, 2012, 2:29 am

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