The Shotgun Blog
« King Joe, or, why workers in capitalist countries are kings compared with workers in non-capitalist countries | Main | Alberta NDP launch petition to protect teachers from “parental rights” in opposition to pro-family group »
Friday, May 08, 2009
Operating on a non-person
"Toronto doctors perform heart surgery on fetus." A wonderful accomplishment. A medical marvel. But, remember: in this crazy, mixed-up country of ours, that fetus was not a legal person. Accordingly, at any time between the life-saving operation and the due date, the mother could have changed her mind about carrying the child and aborted it. Completely legal. Mother's choice. End of story.
Crazy, mixed-up country....
I choose life.
I believe in the sanctity of human life.
To save a developing human life in mother's womb was an honourable, moral and correct thing to do.
What a wonderful thing it is that medical science can give this child a future.
What a despicable and evil world the child was born into.
May he (or she) have the strength to enjoy the gift of life and gratitude that his parents had the compassion and love to find a way to ensure his survival.
May those who have no children of their own but purport to know better than those who are parents shut their mouths, mind their own business and try to improve their own sorry lives.
Posted by: set you free | 2009-05-09 11:56:21 AM
PMJ, an unborn child, or foetus, is a separate life from that of the mother; not merely a tumour to be medically removed from her body. We do not own our children even though we have a responsibility to care for them and to raise them to the best of our ability. So the topic is life, human life, that we either recognise and value or do not.
But Alain, people like myself are not denying it's a "separate life form". I make it quite clear--earlier on--that this is not what is being debated. What is being debated is the definition of personhood. Which is to imply, that it's not "life" that is valued for some, but rather personhood. I don't think that pro-life people even disagree with this. If they did, they would not support the killing of animals, or plants! So clearly the quality of having "life" is not the basis of something's constituent objective value.
You are essentially making a prima facie case that because it's a separate life form, it is clear that it's a person. But you cannot really do that, without simply being ignorant of the counter-arguments.
This is not about self-ownership or property rights..
For some people it clearly is a matter of these things. What is your basis for saying it's not?
Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-09 12:01:43 PM
With regards to the comment that even if the fetus is a person, a woman has a right to control her own body, that's similar to the point made by a philosophy professor I recently debated at the University of Ottawa. He argued that just as a child, if dying, may not demand his mother’s kidney if that is what’s needed for his survival, nor can an unborn child demand his mother’s uterus even if that’s needed for his survival. I responded by pointing out a critical difference: the kidney exists for the health and proper functioning of the body of whomever it belongs, but each month the uterus gets ready for /someone else’s/ body. So, while one does not have a right to another’s kidney, the unborn do have a right to the uterus which exists for /them/.
Further proof that the uterus exists more for the unborn than the adult, consider that a woman can live without her uterus but a fetus, for a portion of pregnancy, cannot.
Imagine if the tables were turned and it was men who got pregnant. If they chose to dismember, decapitate, and disembowel their own offspring, women would rightly be outraged that they abandoned their parental responsibility to care for their weak, vulnerable offspring. So why aren't we outraged when women abandon their parental responsibility to ensure for the care of their own children?
Posted by: Stephanie Gray | 2009-05-09 12:45:20 PM
I shall make one last comment on this topic in response to Mike. So if the foetus is not a person, just what is it and what does it become if not a human being? Regardless of all the philosophically tortured arguments put forth, it is a separate human life and not a impersonal tumour. Nor is one a person only if one has a name, a career, a house or whatever.
I have already stated that we do not own our children, therefore there is no case of self-ownership. Even if one accepts that a woman owns her body, the unborn child is not her body. Concerning private property rights one would have to believe that the owner has the right to murder and destroy anyone else who enters the property if he so choses. We do not have such a right, unless it is for self-defence or the defence of one's family and belongings. An unborn child is almost never a threat to the mother's life.
Posted by: Alain | 2009-05-09 1:13:09 PM
So if the foetus is not a person, just what is it and what does it become if not a human being?
There have been plenty of alternative definitions of what constitutes a person put forward: sentience (the ability to feel pleasure and pain), self-awareness, viability outside the womb, etc.
You're trying to present a prima facie case that all of these alternative definitions are inherently flawed. But it's not intellectually honest to do so.
You also setup a false dichotomy with loaded language: it's either a human life or an "impersonal tumor". As if any of us are trying to say that it's an "impersonal tumor". We're not, and this just continues to develop my problem with the pro-life crowd--in that they refuse to enter into an intellectual discourse. Instead they just throw out platitudinal like: "You either believe in the value of human life or you don't"--which is false reasoning in the sense it denies alternative definitions of personhood and life. That's not intellectually honest.
I have already stated that we do not own our children, therefore there is no case of self-ownership.
Once again, you assert a premise without justification, draw a conclusion and then affirm it's consequent. That's not how you have a reasoned debate.
If, for instance, our definition of personhood is different--then that disagreement must be resolved before any consequences of the constituent premises can be properly explored.
S: "Collecting interest on loans is wrong because God says it's wrong."
M: "I don't believe in God"
S: "So you think it's okay to collect interest on loans?"
S: "But you don't have the right to make that determination"
M: "Why not?"
S: "Because it's immoral."
M: "Says who?"
S: "It's a natural law."
M: "I reject that natural law. I believe it's perfectly fine to collect interest."
S: "Look, either you believe in ethical banking or you don't".
That's essentially what it's like having a debate here. You don't want to address your justification for having the ethical position to begin with. You think it's all "evident" that you're right.
Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-09 1:42:03 PM
When considering this question, was it Aristotle who made the case that whatever has human potentiality has human rights?
Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-05-09 2:19:37 PM
Alain is arguing res ipsa loquitur, not prima facie, that it's self-evident that a human foetus will become a human being.
Posted by: eu | 2009-05-09 5:18:31 PM
I remember seeing you debate Jan Narveson at the University of Waterloo several years ago.
But I'm not sure I see the force of the counter-argument you made - there's an awful lot of teleology packed into it, and that makes me suspicious.
If the self-ownership thesis is true in its most robust, libertarian form, then I don't see the normative significance of the teleology.
Sure, the "function" of my kidneys is to keep me alive, etc. But if libertarian self-ownership is true, it should be morally permissible for me to have one of my kidneys taken out and baked into a pie.
And it should be permissible for me to eat that pie.
So, similarly, while the function of the uterus may involve keeping a fetus alive, the ownership of the organ has to trump. If Jane owns it, she has the right to exclude others from using it.
Ownership trumps teleology, for the same reason that -- according to most libertarians -- the right trumps the good.
If libertarian self-ownership is rejected or weakened, another argument would have to be made, of course.
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-05-09 5:32:34 PM
"Ownership trumps teleology", unless it does harm. Removing and eating your kidney, if there is harm, is self-inflicted. It's self evident that a human foetus becomes a human being, therefore removing a foetus and eating it in a pie is murder.
Posted by: eu | 2009-05-09 7:04:54 PM
Thanks for the response, but I'm not sure it does the trick.
First, let me say that I'm suspicious of the self-ownership thesis in general, especially in the form libertarians give it. At this point, I'm just following the logic of the position.
I'll grant that with current medical technology, removing the fetus always involves harm to the fetus.
However, the libertarian thinks that it can be permissible to harm another in defense of one's property. If the only way to remove a trespasser is to harm him, ownership - including the right to exclude - may make it permissible to inflict that harm.
Therefore, it may be permissible for a woman to harm the fetus, if that is what is necessary to exercise her right to exclude.
I'll grant that I was too flippant when I said "Ownership trumps teleology." It doesn't; at least, not always.
But ownership, as I understand it, doesn't require a person to use his property in ways that would be teleologically best. Rather, ownership of property - in libertarian terms - gives owners moral permission to inflict harm in certain cases, e.g. to exclude, even when the exclusion is not the best thing, all things considered, that could be done with the property.
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-05-09 7:51:14 PM
Thanks for the response.
Isn't there a degree of reasonableness required when inflicting harm to remove a trespasser? It may result in killing a trespasser, but it does not necessarily need to mean death. Aborting a foetus does not just cause harm/injury to the foetus, but will always result in death.
Posted by: eu | 2009-05-09 10:33:23 PM
"When people put their children up for adoption, Peter, they are evicting those children from their lives. It's a harsh thought, but it's true."
There is a HUGE difference between an adoption and an abandonment of your child which is implicit in the idea of "eviction".
And Terrence, (as a complete aside) -- THIS is exactly the kind of thing I mentioned to you...
You said you could not believe people said such things about birthmothers.... Well -- This is what you can expect from certain quarters.
And they dont even see the contradiction -- between being in-your-face pro-life and having THAT kind of sick attitude towards birthmothers who did the right thing.
I am soooo outta here.
Posted by: MW | 2009-05-10 12:43:20 AM
I'm not sure I understand. I can see that "eviction" isn't an inherently neutral term, but I think it was intended to be one in this context. It wasn't meant to imply a judgment of the birth mother. At least, I don't think so.
Shouldn't the standard be something like "the least amount of force necessary to remove the intruder"?
Unfortunately, when it comes to the fetus, and with present medical technology, the least amount of force necessary will also be fatal.
But I think there might be something slippery here that I didn't see initially: surely, if the intruder is already on his way out, it would be wrong to shoot him in the back. On the other hand, if he won't be leaving for nine months?
Hmm! I'll have to think about this.
Thanks for the conversation!
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-05-10 1:18:33 AM
There is a world of difference between throwing your kids out into the street without any acknowledgement of your responsibility as a parent or even just as a human being who places a premium value on human life - and the actions of women who go through the process of adoption.
Most adoptions in the US that don't involve adoptive parents flying across the world to get their baby's and instead only take place domestically are open adoptions these days.
The old days of birth mothers sneaking off when they start to show and giving birth and never having anything to do with their children again are over. Open adoptions allow for adoptive parents and birth parents to come up with a healthy way so that adopted children can at some point develop a relationship with their biological roots... The process is one of inclusion and bringing two families together rather than one of cutting ties and exclusion, secrecy, shame and all the toxic aspects that were part of the old days of adoption.
Sadly however -- even if the process has changed -- hard line fundamentalists have not dropped these old toxic attitudes about adoption.
Ask yourself about how popular culture treats the subject of adoption in films, or tv. Invariably the birthmothers are portrayed as drug addicts, or mentally ill and unstable. They are portrayed as selfish people --- either for just "abandoning" their babies -- OR, for changing their mind at the last minute. The closest glimpse you see of the reality of adoption from the point of view of a birth mother are daytime talkshows where they reunite mothers and children for the viewing pleasure of their audience. You don't see the years of silent pain -- shame, or humiliation that comes from popular attitudes about adoption. All you see are the 5 minutes dramatic reunion moment -- where everybody is happy again. And don't even get me started on the made-for-tv movies about adopted kids in some cheezy horror film that turn out to be serial killers -- or members of the adoption triad showing up in the lives of either the adoptees family or the birth family to enact some elaborate revenge fantasy.
Have any of you reading this ever seen a film, tv show about adoption that did not rely upon these trite and facile devices in it's portrayal of the subject or the people involved?
I've met lots of birthmothers from a variety of different situations and places in life. Without exception, they all wanted their children to have a better life. What they did -- the sacrifice they made was NOT to deprive their children of love, support and care (per eviction reference)-- but to ensure that their children got the best possible world to grow up in... because that *is* your obligation as a parent who brings a life into the world. To do your absolute best to insure that your children have the best possible life available to them. Real love for your children always involves doing what's best for your kids even if it almost kills you to do it,.
I would view "abortion" in the catagory of "eviction". But not adoption.
Anybody who has ever gone through it would understand the distinction.
I know that people perhaps don't mean to say weird stuff -- in a strange twist of irony today -- it's far easier for a woman to talk about having an abortion than it is to talk about an adoption.
A lot of people who are VERY pro-life should educate themselves about adoption. They would do far more good as activists in "saving lives" if they have and promote healthy attitudes about adoption -- instead of perpetuating myths, lies and stereotypes from popular culture about adoption. And that is a huge irony that I find in the pro-life movement.
People in the pro-life movement aren't going to convince anybody to make that choice by continuing to engage in very old fashioned and out-dated attitudes towards adoption.
Posted by: MW | 2009-05-11 1:52:25 AM
I am very strongly pro-life, based on the scientific fact that a fetus is a human being. He or she has unique DNA, fingerprints and a beating heart. NatGeo had an excellent series called "In the Womb", where one can view high-tech imaging done of a human being in the very first stages of development - I urge all to check it out on their site. To compare this to killing animals or plants is ridiculous. We are talking about human rights, which are different from animals for various reasons. WS is not known for buying into the vegatarian PETA worldview. We are talking about our own species. The argument that a fetus is not self-aware and therefore may not be a person of value is also morally contemptible. How many 6 month olds do you know that are self-aware? How many 90 year olds with Alzheimer's? People with serious mental disorders? Who are we to decide that they do not have value?
I am not religious and ou do not need religion to validate or disprove any of the above. It is a scientific fact that a fetus is a human being.
Now, the more relevant discussion in terms of legal rights involves the fact that at the time being a fetus cannot survive outside of his or her mother's womb until about 25 weeks along. A woman has a legal right to her own body. I believe that this legal right should remain, however abortion should not be publicly funded.
Also, we should be intellectually and scientifically honest as a society about what is actually being killed. It is a human being. The argument that 1/9 pregancies end in natural miscarriage is also irrelevant. Humans die in many ways, most of which are not murder. Do deaths by natural causes provide philosophical justification for murder?
A woman has a legal right to her own body, however we should be looking at women who choose life as heroines. Abortion is comparable to a person witnessing a child drowning. There is no legal requirement to save the child, but most would consider it the moral thing to do and the rescuer would be considered a hero. If the bystander had a near-certain risk of death by rescueing the child, we would not look upon her as morally cowardly. To me, this is the most relevant comparison to abortion.
In these times of environmentalist hand-wringing over "overpopulation", it is more important than ever that conservatives celebrate life and women who give birth as heroes. One cannot rationally deny the scientific fact that a fetus is a bioligically unique human being. If Mike Brock, Matthew Johnston or Terrance Watson had been aborted, there would never have been another person like them. Ever. Ponder that thought while imagining the world without your favourite musician, writer or your spouse. Over 100,000 human beings were lost last year in Canada - and with them all their unique talents and ideas they would have brought to the world. There will never be another person like any of them.
Posted by: Elizabeth | 2009-05-11 7:05:24 AM
You nailed it. Oddly enough the longer I've been a libertarian, the more and more I have drifted towards being pro-life.
I know that probably seems like a contradiction to many people --but it's actually not.
My standard caveat is that as a libertarian I don't trust government to be able to sort out this issue on a personal level for any woman. There are all sorts of values that come into play when it comes to a woman deciding how to cope with an unplanned pregnancy -- things that I never see even brought up in most ideological battles about this issue. I simply don't think government, as a rather stupid and blunt force is capable of making decisions for people better than people are capable of making those decisions for themselves.
Posted by: MW | 2009-05-11 3:16:09 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.