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Personhood & Abortion Rights
How Science Might Inform this Contentious Issue

Although it has been 45 years since Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), abortion continues to be a highly controversial and polarizing issue within the body politic. At the two ends of the continuum are the radical pro-life and radical pro-choice advocates. The radical pro-life position is that from the moment of conception the human organism is a person that should have full human rights, including the right to life, and these rights should be fiercely protected by the state. On the other side, the radical pro-choice position is that the pregnant woman already has full human rights, including the right to bodily autonomy, and that she can freely decide to end her pregnancy at any time she wishes for any reason at all. Many pro-lifers view the zygote—the one-celled human organism resulting from fertilization—as sacred, and believe that causing the death of the zygote, embryo, or fetus, either directly or indirectly, is murder. By contrast, the pro-choicers believe that the organism becomes a person only after it leaves the womb and becomes disconnected from the life support of the mother. The main purpose of this essay is to articulate a third position that falls between these two extremes. Call it the “pro-person” position. Although it leans more towards the pro-choice stance, it has a much stronger philosophical and scientific foundation.

Most of us would agree that all persons should be assigned the full spectrum of human rights, e.g. rights to life, bodily autonomy, property, etc. But what is a person anyway? When does the human organism developing inside a woman become a person? Traditionally, the answer was left to theologians and religious leaders. The prevailing view during the time of Aristotle was that the human soul entered the forming body at 40 days in male embryos and at 90 days in female embryos.1 On the other hand, during medieval times theologians referencing Genesis concluded that the soul enters the body when the baby takes its first breath. Today, many religious people opine that “ensoulment” occurs at fertilization. As efforts to define, identify, or locate the soul have failed, and as religion has declined in its influence, different thinkers have simply pinned the beginning of personhood to different developmental milestones.

The most popular milestones have included: conception, first heart beat, quickening (fetal movement when first detected by the pregnant woman), onset of pain perception, first brain waves, first brain waves in the cerebral cortex, birth itself, and first breath. On May 4, 2018, the governor of Iowa signed into law a bill which bans most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, occurring usually around six weeks of pregnancy.2 On the other hand, the decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973 accorded importance to fetal viability, but this has obvious drawbacks. Viability depends very much on modern medical technology and the skill of physicians and nurses. With the best of technology, a 20-week-old fetus may occasionally be kept alive, but without it even a 36-week-old fetus may perish. In the future it will probably become possible to sustain a human organism in a special artificial incubator from fertilization for a period of nine months, making viability a moot point. Personhood should not be defined by the fetus’ location, dependence, or connection to another human or to machines. Personhood should be defined by the species and the current capacities of the fetus.

Standard dictionary definitions of “person” are simplistic. Two relevant ones from Merriam-Webster are “human, individual” and “one (such as a human being, a partnership, or a corporation) that is recognized by law as the subject of rights and duties.”3 Three from Dictionary.com are “a human being, whether an adult or child,” “a self-conscious or rational being,” and “the body of a living human being.”4 And finally, the Oxford Living Dictionary defines a person as “a human being regarded as an individual.”5 Wikipedia provides more depth, defining “person” as “a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason, morality, consciousness or self-consciousness, and being a part of a culturally established form of social relations such as kinship, ownership of property, or legal responsibility,” adding that the “defining features of personhood and consequently what makes a person count as a person differ widely among cultures and contexts.”6

Traditional and Cultural vs. Scientific Developmental Milestones

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“What is a person?” is a deep and important philosophical question. When most of us think of a person we think of “the man or woman on the street,” i.e. a human being who is conscious, senses, thinks, feels, behaves, has preferences and values, remembers, learns, makes decisions, communicates, and interacts. Let’s call this paradigm of personhood “the human adult.” And yet, most of us also think that this paradigm does not go far enough. We believe babies and children are persons too. This is probably because they have the rudimentary cognitive capacities that are developed to their greatest extent in the human adult. At the same time, however, we have learned from the biological sciences that the human zygote has none of these cognitive capacities. And so, sometime between fertilization and natural birth the developing human organism acquires a set of basic cognitive capacities that will eventually distinguish it as a human adult from its nearest genetic relative—the chimpanzee. There is one of these cognitive capacities that is easy to understand and appreciate, upon which the others probably depend, and which can serve as our marker of personhood. This is the capacity for consciousness.

We all have an intuitive grasp of consciousness. When we are asleep at night and not dreaming, we are unconscious, and when we wake up in the morning we are conscious. When we are unconscious, we don’t know that anything is happening, but when we are conscious we know that something is happening. William James, known as America’s first psychologist, conceived of consciousness as a stream of experience.7 Now, with this useful intuition, imagine that there was a time when you were in the womb and your brain was so immature that it could not enable consciousness. You had never before been conscious! Now further imagine that your brain, especially your cerebral cortex and thalamus, became large, complex, connected, and structured enough that it enabled consciousness for the first time. Let’s call this event “the onset of consciousness” in the individual human organism. Yes, it was probably a fuzzy or amorphous experience in one or more modalities (hearing, sight, touch, pain, etc.), but nevertheless the “lights were finally on in the house.” I contend that at this time in the 21st century the best answer to the philosophical question “What is a person?” is “any human organism with the current capacity for consciousness.”

A human organism is not a person when it has never before or will never again possess the capacity for consciousness.

An obvious retort to this idea is “That would mean that whenever we go to sleep, we are not persons, but whenever we awaken, we are persons.” This challenge fails to recognize the difference between the capacity for and the state of consciousness. Not until the organism is conscious for the first time may we conclude that it has the capacity for consciousness. After that, the capacity perseveres because it is tied to underlying brain processes, as we shall see later. And so, the sleeping human organism has the capacity for consciousness and is still a person. A related challenge is “That would mean that a person in an extended coma is not a person, and this entails a contradiction.” By the definition I have presented the person who permanently loses the capacity for consciousness would become a human who is not a person. He or she would lack the same defining property of personhood that they lacked earlier as a zygote, embryo, or fetus. These considerations lead to a general principle of “Never Before or Never Again.” This means that a human organism is not a person when it has never before or will never again possess the capacity for consciousness.

Another objection to my definition is that the onset of consciousness must be a process, not a discrete event—a dimmer knob instead of an on-off light switch. This could be, but I doubt it, and if so, it matters little. For now we may just assume that the onset of consciousness is similar to waking up in the morning. There is that first moment when we just know we are aware and are experiencing the world.

Now that we have answered the philosophical question “What is a person?” we may move on to the scientific question of “When in the course of development does the human organism acquire the capacity for consciousness?” One of the most important scientific discoveries of the last 400 years, right up there with the discoveries of the laws of motion, evolution, DNA, and relativity, is the discovery of the dependence of experience and cognitive functions on brain structure. Speaking cautiously by calling it an “astonishing hypothesis” in book title form, Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA, proposed that “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”8 Over and over this hypothesis has been supported by thousands of scientific studies, and there appear to be no disconfirmations of it. And so, the onset of consciousness must depend on or be tied to brain structures and processes. This finding forms part of the naturalistic or materialist view of the world. Even dualists and idealists admit that the brain is absolutely necessary for the mind to function.

So, when does the onset of consciousness occur in the fetus with respect to conception? In the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, writing for the majority, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate.”9 The problem here is that Blackmun and his SCOTUS colleagues were addressing the wrong question— “When does life begin?” Depending on perspective, there were two correct answers to that question that were already known in 1973. Life on the Earth began 3.5 billion years ago. The life of a unique human organism, however, does begin at conception. But the right question for the SCOTUS would have been, “When does the human fetus become a person?” Or as we have defined it here, “When does the human fetus acquire the capacity for consciousness?” Perhaps in 1973 there was not a consensus on that question, but now experts in medicine, biology, neuroscience, and philosophy are honing in on the answer. I will first cite the findings and opinions of experts in fetal development of the brain and then tie these together to reach general conclusions.

Feeling pain is clearly one aspect of consciousness, and the onset of pain may be viewed as a proxy for the more general onset of consciousness. In a 1987 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, K.J.S. Anand and P.R. Hickey summarized findings linking brain structure and pain perception in fetuses and neonates.10 “The timing of the thalamocortical connection is of crucial importance for cortical perception, since most sensory pathways to the neocortex have synapses in the thalamus. Studies of primate and human fetuses have shown that afferent neurons in the thalamus produce axons that arrive in the cerebrum before mid-gestation. These fibers then ‘wait’ just below the neocortex until migration and dendritic arborization of cortical neurons are complete and finally establish synaptic connections between 20 and 24 weeks of gestation.” They continue, pinpointing when, precisely, these neural connections are made:

Functional maturity of the cerebral cortex is suggested by fetal and a neonatal electroencephalographic patterns, studies of cerebral metabolism, and the behavioral development of neonates. First, intermittent electroencephalographic bursts in both cerebral hemispheres are first seen at 20 weeks gestation; they become sustained at 22 weeks and bilaterally synchronous at 26 to 27 weeks. By 30 weeks, the distinction between wakefulness and sleep can be made on the basis of electroencephalo-graphic patterns. Cortical components of visual and auditory evoked potentials have been recorded in preterm babies (born earlier than 30 weeks of gestation), whereas olfactory and tactile stimuli may also cause detectable changes in electroencephalograms of neonates. Second, in vivo measurements of cerebral glucose utilization have shown that maximal metabolic activity in located in sensory areas of the brain in neonates (the sensorimotor cortex, thalamus, and mid brain- brain-stem regions), further suggesting the functional maturity of these regions. Third, several forms of behavior imply cortical function during fetal life. Well-defined periods of quiet sleep, active sleep, and wakefulness occur in utero beginning at 28 weeks of gestation.

Several years later in 1998, D. Gareth Jones from New Zealand summarized relevant findings in his article in the Journal of Medical Ethics.11 “Gertler had proposed 22–24 weeks gestation for ‘brain birth’ on the basis that the neocortex begins producing EEG waves at this time.” “In similar fashion, Burgess and Tawia defined a functioning brain as one where there is identifiable activity of the kind that normal adult brains (cortices) indulge in. They argue that what is required is a critical minimum level of structural organisation, with functional components present and mature enough to perform. On the basis of EEG readings, they conclude that a fetus becomes conscious at 32–36 weeks gestation.” “Also relevant here is the issue of fetal awareness, which has been placed at not earlier than 26 weeks gestation by a 1997 working party of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.”

In a paper sponsored by the Markulla Center of Applied Ethics in 2001, Dr. David L. Perry stated “Partly because of the ambiguity of fetal EEG patterns, it’s difficult to say precisely when consciousness first occurs. But somewhere between 20 and 32 weeks gestation, the cortical neurons become capable of firing in ways that make consciousness possible. The brainstem and nervous system may function before that time, and there may be reflex reactions to stimuli, but there is no one ‘there’ yet to experience sensory inputs—the lights are on, but nobody’s home.”12

In a 2010 newspaper article health reporter Megan Ogilvie nicely summarized much of the scientific work on the onset of consciousness: “What is known is that consciousness cannot occur until the peripheral nervous system joins up with the cerebral cortex, the region of the brain responsible for memory, awareness and language. That connection between the sensory receptors—what allows us to sense the outside world—and the higher brain doesn’t fully occur until about the 26th to 28th weeks of gestation.”13

Again, focusing on pain perception in their 2005 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Lee, Ralston, and Drey concluded: “Pain is an emotional and psychological experience that requires conscious recognition of a noxious stimulus. Consequently, the capacity for conscious perception of pain can arise only after thalamocortical pathways begin to function, which may occur in the third trimester around 29 to 30 weeks’ gestational age, based on the limited data available.”14

Christof Koch, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists who worked for many years with the late Francis Crick, has said “But when does the magical journey of consciousness begin? Consciousness requires a sophisticated network of highly interconnected components, nerve cells. Its physical substrate, the thalamo-cortical complex that provides consciousness with its highly elaborate content, begins to be in place between the 24th and 28th week of gestation. Roughly two months later synchrony of the electroencephalographic (EEG) rhythm across both cortical hemispheres signals the onset of global neuronal integration. Thus, many of the circuit elements necessary for consciousness are in place by the third trimester.”15

A comprehensive review of the relevant scientific literature remains to be done. However, based on the evidence presented here, general conclusions may be reached. The best estimate for the onset of consciousness in the fetus (especially the beginning of pain perception) is at 27 weeks gestational age, which is roughly 25 weeks from conception. (Gestational age is defined as the number of weeks since the beginning of the pregnant woman’s last menstrual cycle. The actual age of the embryo will be less than gestational age.) Greater precision in specification of the onset of consciousness is likely to be achieved with advances in neuroscientific theory and methods. Functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) of the developing fetus will undoubtedly play a great role in the next decade.

Although the available scientific evidence does not yet enable a precise answer to our question “When does the human fetus acquire the capacity for consciousness?” we have an adequate answer for now. The formulation of moral rules and laws cannot wait on a final answer from science, if there is such a thing as a final answer. Blackmun and the SCOTUS realized this in 1973 when they laid out the shaky trimester plan that depended so heavily on the concept of viability of the fetus. But since the early 1970s religion has withered, philosophy and science have advanced, and we are now at a point when we can do much better. A valid personhood amendment today would go something like this:

For purposes of this Constitution and relevant laws, a ‘person’ shall be construed to be any human organism that has the current capacity for consciousness. Based on the best available scientific research and theory, the beginning of personhood in the human fetus shall be construed as the start of the 25th week post conception. Furthermore, the end of personhood shall be construed as the permanent loss of the capacity for consciousness in any particular human organism. This amendment should be reconsidered and updated with advances in science after 25 years.

Human organisms are unique, and surely they do not all become persons at the same time since their conceptions. They are not robots designed to unfold on an invariant schedule. Imagine a graph that accurately describes brain development with respect to consciousness for a sample of a thousand human fetuses. On the X-axis is plotted time in weeks since conception (considered at the end of each week), and on the Y-axis is plotted the percentage of fetuses in the sample that have acquired the capacity for consciousness. The graph is likely to resemble an S-shaped curve. It is reasonable to expect data points at zero percent on the Y-axis for the weeks 1–24, marks at one hundred percent on the Yaxis for weeks 28–39, and marks at intermediate percentages at weeks 25, 26, and 27. Drawing a vertical “personhood line” at the 24th week since conception, such that fetuses before then are classified as nonpersons and fetuses after then are classified as persons, is a conservative approach designed to minimize false negatives, i.e. the classification of a particular fetus as a nonperson when it is really a person, which could lead to aborting a fetus “too early.” In this approach doctors could use “the fetus is at least 25 weeks old” as a proxy for “the fetus has acquired the capacity for consciousness and is now considered a person.” And doctors should be able to make sound estimates of the age of the fetus based on physical tests, scans, and interviews of the pregnant woman.

The philosophical and scientific foundation for the pro-person position is now secured. Both the prolife and pro-choice positions are misguided. The zygote, embryo, nor early fetus are persons as here defined, as the pro-lifers have suggested. But contrary to the pro-choicers, the late fetus is indeed a person. In alignment with this new pro-person position I suggest these moral principles and cultural changes:

  1. No human rights, including a right to life, should be assigned to the human organism during development before it becomes a person. And so, a woman should be able to remove or kill the zygote, embryo, or fetus inside her before it becomes a person for any reason at all without penalty to her or to others who help her.
  2. Human rights, including a right to life, should be assigned to the human organism during development when it becomes a person. And so, a woman should not be permitted to remove or kill the fetus inside her after it becomes a person without penalty to her or her helpers, unless she has a very good reason that could only be that continuing the pregnancy would pose significant risk of permanent harm or death to her.
  3. Abortions should be provided only by licensed medical practitioners under safe conditions.
  4. It should be against the law for a woman to perform a self-abortion, get an abortion from an unlicensed practitioner, or to get a late abortion for any reason other than the very good reason specified above, or for any other person to cooperate in or enable these acts. No person should have a right to privacy to commit illegal acts, even if the act happens to be an illegal abortion.
  5. A violation of abortion laws should carry a penalty of one year and one day in jail. This would make the crime a felony.
  6. Legal abortion should be accessible, free, quick, private, and safe.
  7. Gradually cultural changes can and should be made to reflect the new understanding of personhood. Only after their fetuses become persons, parents should name their fetuses, and should talk, read, and sing to their fetuses. Perhaps eventually, birth certificates can be replaced by personhood certificates, with citizenship in the country established at date of personhood.

The pro-person position, as I have outlined it in this essay, recognizes the late fetus and the host woman both as persons with human rights. When these rights come into conflict, as can occur during the last 15 weeks of pregnancy, then the state must intervene through a clear constitution, laws, and/or policies to resolve the conflict. The pro-person position provides a specific path for resolution. The prolife position has been mistaken from the start. It is indefensible to invoke a magical “ensoulment” and to thereby classify the zygote as a person. While more reasonable, the pro-choice position is also off the mark. It has relied on obsolete notions such as trimesters, viability, and privacy implied in or lifted from Roe v. Wade and the premise that a fully conscious fetus is not a person. On the other hand, the pro-person position corrects all these errors and is based on a solid philosophical and scientific foundation, which can still change as new evidence, reasons, and arguments are brought forth. In summary, the core idea of the pro-person position is that the human organism becomes a human person when it acquires the capacity for consciousness at approximately 25 weeks after conception. END

About the Author

Dr. Gary Whittenberger Ph.D. is a free-lance writer and retired psychologist, living in Tallahassee, Florida. He received his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Florida State University after which he worked for 23 years as a psychologist in prisons. He has published articles on science, philosophy, psychology, and religion, and he is a member of several freethought organizations. He is the author of two books: God Wants You to be an Atheist: The Startling Conclusion from a Rational Analysis and God and Natural Disasters: A Debate Between an Atheist and a Christian.

References
  1. Wikipedia. “Ensoulment.” https://bit.ly/2MzmDsl
  2. CBS News. 2018. “Iowa abortion bill signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds.” 4 May. https://cbsn.ws/2vWzCxb
  3. Merriam-Webster. “Person.” https://bit.ly/2HCXBFa
  4. Dictionary.com. “Person.” https://bit.ly/2vwKWAA
  5. Oxford Living Dictionary. “Person.” https://bit.ly/2vvivmI
  6. Wikipedia. “Person.”Web.17 May 2018. https://bit.ly/2kSnOVK
  7. Carreira, Jeff. 2013. “William James, The Stream of Consciousness and Freewill.” Philosophy is Not a Luxury. 21 March. https://bit.ly/2B6Qwz0
  8. Crick, Francis. 1995. The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul. New York: Scribner.
  9. Blackmun, Harry. 1973. https://bit.ly/2zpCWSv
  10. Anand, K.J.S., and Hickey, P.R. 1987. “Pain and its Effects in the Human Neonate and Fetus.” The New England Journal of Medicine. Vol. 317, No. 21: 1321–1329. https://bit.ly/2J8fTmF
  11. Jones, D. Gareth. 1998. “The problematic symmetry between brain birth and brain death.” Journal of Medical Ethics. Vol. 24: 237–242. https://bit.ly/2vyn3Zh
  12. Perry, David L. 2001. “Ethics and Personhood: Some Issues in Contemporary Neurological Science and Technology.” Markulla Center of Applied Ethics: Better Choices. 11 December. https://bit.ly/2OWbNOt
  13. Ogilvie, Megan. 2010. “The Life of the Brain: Beginnings.” The Star. 9 July. Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. https://bit.ly/2AXnUYC
  14. Lee, Susan J., Ralston, Henry J. Peter, and Drey, Eleanor A. 2005. “Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence.” Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 294(8): 947–954. https://bit.ly/2xRdPe4
  15. Koch, Christof. 2009. “When Does Consciousness Arise in Human Babies? Does sentience appear in the womb, at birth or during early childhood?” Scientific American Mind. 31 August. https://bit.ly/2rKbix5
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146 Comments

  1. Dave says:

    It seems that for this to work, there would have to be widespread agreement on what consciousness is and how it is explained, and apparently that is not the case cuurrently in science or philosophy.

  2. Diogenes says:

    Interesting take. I would have concern about your Rule #4 though. Criminalizing the mother in the act of self-abortion would likely push the behavior even further underground and cause more risk to the mother. A harm reduction approach should be advocated instead.

  3. Kris Dyer says:

    “On the other side, the radical pro-choice position is that the pregnant woman already has full human rights, including the right to bodily autonomy, and that she can freely decide to end her pregnancy at any time she wishes for any reason at all.”

    This false equivalency nonsense, meant to demonstrate the even-handedness of the author, is intellectually dishonest hack writing at its worst. Is there honestly any individual or organization, of any prominence whatsoever, in defense of the right to choose, that advocates for abortion at “any time,” for “any reason”?

    “Sure, gonna take that beach vacation, wanna look good in my swimsuit but I just feel fat, guess I’ll just get this abortion in my eight month. Means nothing to me, the father of the child, my family or friends. Now, which way to the clinic?”

    Who on Earth would believe that this would be the sentiment of any woman anywhere? Such an insult to women it’s unbelievable. Grow the hell up.

    -Kris

  4. Richard scott says:

    All three have valid points., defining life or soul by Consciousness seems appealing but will need more data. Some have thought the souls is formed when the zygote begins work
    I think rule four important and will,not encourage back room abortions. Late term abortions not done by choice and the allegorical woman with large full uterus deciding needs a tiny swimsuit weird.

  5. Jeff says:

    Kris, are you serious? Those sentiments were painfully on display in Virginia last week. The honorable thing would be to do your homework before you accuse others of being dishonest and childish. And then of course you could try NOT accusing people of such things—or anything—and use facts to support your arguments instead.

  6. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is a reply to #1 by Dave.

    Dave, I think this already “works.” I have given a definition and analysis of “consciousness” based on my reading of a sample of the scientific literature. But for my idea to be made into law, at least 50% of the people would need to back it. I think this is certainly possible since my idea resembles Roe v. Wade but it has a better philosophical and scientific basis and respects the late term fetus as a person.

  7. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is a reply to #2 by Diogenes.

    Punishment of the mother is harm reduction! Harm is reduced to two persons, the mother and the late fetus, below what is currently the case.

    You seem to be ignoring my premise that the late fetus is a person! When a woman seeks a late-term abortion for a “bad reason” via an unlicensed practitioner, she is endangering the fetal person inside of her.

    Most of the time when you pass a law with a penalty for violation, there will be an underground enterprise of violation. That is not a good reason to not pass the law and not to enforce a penalty. Laws and penalties do not work all the time, but most of the time.

  8. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is a response to #3 by Kris.

    Most of your comment is ad hominem and hyperbole.

    In many internet discussions I have had, people (almost always women) have expressed the opinion which you say is never held by anyone.

    Also, I suspect that many women who have obtained illegal abortions of the late term fetus (a person, by my account) have held this opinion.

    In addition, laws have to be formulated to take into account infrequent but real violations.

  9. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to #4 by Richard.

    I have neither defined the start of life or a soul, but have tried to define the start of personhood.

    Life started 4.5 billion years ago on the Earth. Even human sperm and eggs are alive for awhile.

    I have found no good evidence for the existence of a soul.

  10. Brad Reddekopp says:

    Rather than consciousness, I think that the capacity for self-awareness (the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment) should be the milestone at which personhood is recognized. Some folks may be horrified at this because human infants don’t become self-aware until about the age of eighteen months. That needn’t be a concern because we can provide younger infants with legal protection without considering them to be persons, as we do for many non-human animals, although we may want the protections for human infants to be stronger than for, say, a dog. We can ethically afford to legally protect “pre-personhood” humans after birth only because we can do so without violating the bodily autonomy of a person (the woman). As I see it, interfering with a pregnant woman’s bodily autonomy for the sake of the foetus values the rights of a potential person over the actual rights of an actual person and I regard that as immoral.

  11. Glen says:

    Gary, I am troubled by the outright dismissal of the “dimmer light” analogy to consciousness. Many mammals express a certain level of consciousness, including complex social hierarchies, emotions, and rudimentary problem solving skills. It is not at all clear that there is a fine line between “someone being in the house” and there being no one home. If capacity for consciousness needs to be considered, then animal welfare ethics would need to be seriously reconsidered. (As I believe they should.)

    In addition, what about capacity for the capacity of consciousness? Surely the zygote, if left undisturbed with an ample supply of nutrition that the mother needs anyway, will develop into a cognitively complex fetus. That to me would be the first objection from the pro-life crowd. I’d argue that every sperm and egg has a similar capacity for the capacity of consciousness, but pro-lifers would cut me off by tying conception to the sex act, as it represents a choice the woman is supposed to take responsibility for. In other words, I don’t think the capacity for consciousness is persuasive due to the arbitrariness of where we assign the defining line.

    Instead, I’d argue for the pro-choice position of wanting to limit harm. If the fetus is incapable of feeling pain, that’s a good enough dividing line for me. (That would mean a woman could still abort if carrying the cognitively complex child to term would gravely risk her own life). It is interesting that the perception of pain is so tied into the onset of consciousness, but it is more intuitive and desirable to me to want to perform risk assessment and damage control for all parties involved rather than appeal to the concept of consciousness, which nobody really understands anyway.

  12. Pieter Uys says:

    The distinction made between a human being and a person as you define it seems to provide a very useful criterion for determining the latest stage when an abortion may be performed. It also clarifies the issue of removing life- support from patients in a hopeless coma.
    I still am concerned, however, about the fact that during early stages of gestation a fetus generally has the potential to become a person. Surely having that potential is a serious consideration? This contrasts with the situation of a patient in a hopeless coma who no longer has the prospect of regaining personhood.

  13. Herb says:

    If you step on a caterpillar, you haven’t killed a butterfly.

  14. Dave says:

    Besides, even if consciousness could be defined and explained to common agreement, the qualifiers “current” and “permanent” would erect an insurmountable obstacle to societal acceptance. Who would be the arbiter of current consciousness and permanent loss of it? In addition, the proposed amendment bites off more than it can chew. It not only is an argument for abortion on the basis of nonpersonhood; it is also an argument for euthanasia on the basis of nonpersonhood, so in effect the amendment applies to more than it explicitly addresses. Also, logically personhood seems to precede humanity: At either end of life, a dead human being is a dead person.

  15. Al Finnell says:

    All the conversation bypasses the very basic question. In law, a FETUS becomes a CITIZEN is after birth. Until being a CITIZEN it is a FETUS. Roe v Wade distinguishes between CITIZEN and FETUS. Until birth, it is not a CITIZEN, thus does not have “rights”. Roe v Wade is correct.

  16. Vince Slupski says:

    Dr. Whittenberger, this is an interesting line of thought! Could you address the occurrence of grave fetal abnormalities that might happen after the onset of consciousness, or be discovered after the onset.

  17. Bev says:

    Thank you, Brad Reddekopp, comment #10. That is the most sensible thing I’ve read on the subject thus far.

  18. Steven Brown says:

    See Brown, M. T. (2018). The Moral Status of the Human Embryo. The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy: A Forum for Bioethics and Philosophy of Medicine, 43(2), 132-158. doi:10.1093/jmp/jhx035

    This is a very good paper, and I agree with the systems reasoning, but I do not agree with the precise system he advocates. He says that an organism is unified when there is a singular system acting throughout as, effectively, one entity, and claims that the circulatory system in the human qualifies a fetus as a person when that system is unified. Since I basically agree with the above (Wittenberger), I would simply claim that the circulatory system is incorrect and the nervous system is what should be considered. This has the advantage of bypassing the controversies about consciousness, above, while maintaining the basic claim.

  19. LindaRosa, RN says:

    Brad Reddekopp wrote that “the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment” should be considered.

    Child development researchers believe this happens at about 6-8 months of life, as demonstrated by attachment behaviors.

  20. t paine says:

    #6 abortion should be free.

    Why shouldn’t all health care be free?
    Why shouldn’t food be free?
    Why shouldn’t housing be free?

    Because this requires the coersive theft of others property, or the enslavement of doctors.

  21. LindaRosaRN says:

    Articles like this impress upon me the need to keep abortion a private decision between a woman and physician.

    As we see here, there are medical realities that are rarely considered in discussions of abortion.

    Some basics:

    Up to 12 weeks, abortions are done by D&C (dilation and currettage). After that, up to 24 weeks, the procedure is a D&E (dilation and evaculation). D&Es are humane procedures for the fetus, taking several days of preparation.

    Elective abortions are only possible up to the 24th week. At this point, the fetal skull bones begin to calcify. The jagged edges of these bones can cause serious cervical lacerations which will bleed until controlled by emergency surgery. Thus, elective abortions after 24 weeks are medically contraindicated.

    Second trimester abortions are vital because fetal genetic disorders and other anomalies are generally first detected at 20 weeks; these are usually wanted pregnancies and very sad cases, made worse by the stigma of abortion. Many of the anomalies involve a fetus that is not viable; and it is cruel beyond imagine to make a woman continue such a pregnancy. Unfortunately, few abortion providers do abortions 20-24 weeks.

    Abortions done after 24 weeks must be extremely rare and would no doubt be part of medical treatment in a hospital setting.

    The myth of the “partial birth abortion” is a merely a clever ploy to outlaw the D&E procedure used from 13-24 weeks.

  22. Cairns Tishman says:

    EXCUSE ME! EXCUSE ME! Why is a man even writing this article, Why is this any man’s business?

    I am a WOMAN and NO man has the right to tell me or comment on how I run my body or what I do to my body. And all the men who have the arrogance to think they even have a right to an opinion of any woman and what they do with the’re body. DO WE QUESTION YOU? TAKE YOUR CHARTS and shove them. Why don’t you take your energy and go take care of the children in cages at the border? Stay in your own lane.

    Talk about men’s health that’s what you have knowledge of not me or any other woman. Put your dick and your entitlement back in your pants. FUCK YOU. COME NEAR ME I’ll CUT IT OFF. Maybe some dick cutting may just be the thing to straighten you, entitled idiots, out. How about that? Women having authority over your DICK?????? Having the power to cut off your dick? Changes things uh????

    Men who have no power or power over there own lives can’t wait to “think” they have power over women! Yea power?

    Man was made in the image of God*. We’re fucked!

    I don’t believe in God so why are we talking abortion?
    Control

  23. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to #10 by Brad.

    You said “Rather than consciousness, I think that the capacity for self-awareness (the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment) should be the milestone at which personhood is recognized.”

    Compared to the onset of consciousness, I think the onset of self-awareness has too many disadvantages: 1) “Self-awareness” is not as well defined. 2) It is also not as detectable by scans in utero. 3) It requires an extra concept of “self” and is thus more complex. 4) Violation of Occam’s Razor by creating more categories for protection. 5) Not politically feasible, especially if self-awareness is marked after birth.

    By my view, the late fetus is not a “potential person” as you claim. It is an actual person which has a right to life which sometimes comes into conflict with the woman’s right to bodily autonomy.

  24. LindaRosaRN says:

    Thank you, Cairns Tishman. In my experience, women’s biology is *terra incognita* to men. But nonetheless, they want to plant their flag there.

  25. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Glenn at #11. Thanks for your comments.

    As I suggest in the essay, there may be a dimmer switch phenomenon in the onset of human consciousness, but it is probably much like waking up in the morning for you. It happens so quickly, when it happens, that the duration is inconsequential to the main issues.

    I don’t deal with the issue of whether animals can be persons. I am strictly focused on human organisms.

    The egg, sperm, and zygote all have the potential to acquire the capacity for consciousness, but they have yet to acquire it. On the other hand, a stone doesn’t have that potential. I am using current capacity, not potential to define personhood. I think the pro-lifers are mistaken.

    Feeling pain is only one type of consciousness. Why exclude others like consciousness of sounds? Also, harm entails more than causing pain.

  26. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Pieter at #12. Thanks for your comments.

    Still, potential is not the same as actual. As another responder has pointed out, even a zygote has the potential to develop consciousness. Should we therefore classify it as a person? I think not. As the onset of consciousness nears, we can say that the potential increases.

  27. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in reply to Dave at #14. Thanks for your comments.

    I only used the qualifier “permanent” with respect to the end of personhood. Society has come to accept “brain dead” as the definition of death. I think a similar change in social acceptance will come with the idea of “permanent loss of the capacity for consciousness.” As with brain death, this will probably become dependent on the agreement of two neurologists.

    I just extrapolated my idea of personhood from the beginning to the end, and I don’t see a problem with this. Yes, two laws would probably be needed rather than one.

    Personhood does not precede humanity. The opposite is the case. The zygote begins with a full complement of human DNA.

  28. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Al at #15. Thanks for your comments.

    My proposal aims to change basic concepts, ethics, morality, and law. I would say that when a fetus becomes a person, it also should become a citizen. Actually, Roe v. Wade already gives more protection to a third trimester fetus than it does a first trimester one. Does the third trimester fetus have a right to life? I suggest that it is treated as such.

  29. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Vince at #16. Thanks for your challenging inquiry.

    I think my answer depends on the nature of those late occurring fetal abnormalities. If the abnormalities entail the permanent loss of the capacity for consciousness, then the fetus would no longer be a person (similar to the end of life issue I mentioned near the end of my essay). On the other hand, if the abnormalities do not entail the loss of the capacity for consciousness, then the fetus is still a person and should be given the rights of any other person with a disability. The fetal person should be afforded the best possible care. However, the parents might choose to put it up for adoption later.

    A case might be made for a mercy killing as with a young child with a serious abnormality which also involves intractable suffering, but I think that goes beyond the scope of my essay. I remain undecided about that issue right now.

  30. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Steven at #18. Thanks for your comments.

    Our brains are what distinguish us from other mammals. It seems to me that personhood should be defined in terms of the features of the brain than those of the heart and blood vessels. “Homo Sapiens” means “wise man” or “knowing man.” We know things through our brains, not our hearts.

  31. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to t paine in #20. Thanks for your comments. Your points are on the periphery of the topic, but I’ll give a reply anyway.

    I believe that all health care, but not all food or housing, should be free. If people are physically and mentally well, then they can work to earn food and housing. If all health care is free, then we are enabling people to be well so that they can provide for themselves and be good citizens.

    Doctors should always be paid when they deliver health care, and people should not be forced to become or remain doctors. I don’t see any enslavement there.

    All health care should be paid for via taxes. All people should pay taxes, on a progressive schedule. Governments should require (force only if necessary) people to pay taxes, and this is not theft. It is merely compelling persons to meet their moral duty to the common good. I don’t agree with your premise that taxing is stealing.

  32. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to LindaRosa (LR) at #21. Thanks for your comments.

    LR: Articles like this impress upon me the need to keep abortion a private decision between a woman and physician.

    GW: If one person kills another person, there is no right to privacy, even if the person is a woman or a physician. So, once again, the abortion issues boils down to the question “When does the human organism become a person?”

    LR: Abortions done after 24 weeks must be extremely rare and would no doubt be part of medical treatment in a hospital setting.
    GW: Yes, they are probably rare and if done at all, should be done by a doctor in a proper medical setting. But morality and law must cover rare cases.

    GW: I don’t think any of the other facts and opinions you have presented are inconsistent with what I stated in the essay. If you think otherwise, then please be more specific.

  33. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Cairns Tishman (CT) in #22.

    CT: Why is this any man’s business?

    GW: This is every adult person’s business. Men are not disqualified from helping to formulate morality and law.

    CT: I am a WOMAN and NO man has the right to tell me or comment on how I run my body or what I do to my body.

    GW: Actually, all men and women who make and enforce the laws do have the right to tell you and comment on how you run your body when that behavior interferes with the rights of another person. If you intend to or actually kill, harm, or endanger another person, then the community has the right to interfere with you or even impose penalties on you.

    CT: Stay in your own lane.

    GW: I am in my own lane. But if you intend to or actually kill, harm, or endanger another person, then you are out of your own lane.

    CT: I don’t believe in God so why are we talking abortion?

    GW: Because we are also talking about ethics and the law.

    GW: The rest of your comments are just uncivil hyperbolic babble. I won’t respond to any more comments from you. In fact, I hope the monitor blocks you from further discussion here.

  34. OldNassau says:

    1. “At the two ends of the continuum are the radical pro-life and radical pro-choice advocates.” A false equivalence. Pro-life is radical by definition: no choice, no abortions, period. Pro-choice is encompassing by definition: a woman can choose abortion, or not so choose. Many pro-choice’ers actually oppose abortions after fetus viability.

    2. “With the best of technology, a 20-week-old fetus may occasionally be kept alive, but without it even a 36-week-old fetus may perish. In the future it will probably become possible to sustain a human organism in a special artificial incubator from fertilization for a period of nine months,”  “kept alive”; sustain”: do these terms mean development, or evolution, towards humanness, or simply organic, vegetative?

    3. “The prolife position has been mistaken from the start. It is indefensible to invoke a magical “ensoulment” and to thereby classify the zygote as a person.” Let’s not conflate “prolife” with “ensoulment”. The reasoning of many pro-lifers is completely secular, with no religious component, be that soul, Bible, or God.

  35. t paine says:

    people do not voluntarily pay taxes, they are compelled to do so under the threat of being put in cages if they don’t. Otherwise, taxes would be voluntary.

    Is it theft if you are only “compelling persons to meet their moral duty to the common good?”
    What if those who decide what the “common good” is, decide that endless war is also for the common good?

    Or abortion is for the common good, or criminalizing abortion is for the common good.

    Or increasing the supply of money is for the common good.

    Or killing all the Jews if for the common good.

    See what I did there?

  36. Jim Maher says:

    Science at this time can’t answer the question of when consciousness occurs, despite what is said above. The connection of the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system allows the CNS to act, but while it is not capable of acting before that, why would that be different than a quadriplegic? Many years ago I worked in a Neonatal ICU and we had a baby born at 19 weeks gestation weighing 1 lb 9 oz at birth. it could move some and be awake and asleep, and seemed to feel pain when an IV was started. Though he died after about 3 months of intensive treatment, by the above standart of 25 weeks he would not have been a person until treated for 6 weeks. And if the ability to consciousness is critical, a comatose patient following a stroke would not be a person, and therefore should be ineligible for government benefits like Medicare or Social Security, and there are numerous other legal issues. Few people I know say categorically that personhood would start at conception, but only that since we can’t say exactly when it begins, we owe the possible person the benefit of the doubt. One could define personhood in many ways– anyone not able to
    live on one’s own could be one choice, but that would mean that exposure of infants, discontinuation of dialysis, eliminating respirators, and so many other things could cost someone personhood. I can’t say I know the answer, but there are problems with any definition I have heard, and this one certainly has its problems too.

  37. Dan Lynch says:

    OK, can somebody give me a number? Just a simple, goddamn number. How many angels CAN dance on the head of a pin? How many elephants?

    Let’s finally talk about the elephant (in the discussion) shall we? Is a child a person? A living, breathing, eating, needy child, that is. With the disclaimer that, “I’m a geologist, what do I know?” I’ll say nobody can deny any child’s personhood. That child is the product of the zygotes and fetuses we’re arguing about, one becomes the other at birth.

    Is that child valuable? That depends. To me, mine is but yours is not. Read all about it! Children go to bed hungry in the richest nation on Earth. Children are homeless in the same country. The public school have been under constant right-wing attack for years. Teachers are going on strike to get the resources they need to take care of their students. About those students later, their education debt is a major danger to the economy.

    So I guess the answer to my rhetorical question is, NO! Not only NO but HELL, NO! Children-persons are just a drain on MY taxes. They’re NOT my responsibility, never have been, never will be.

    If I don’t like kids, why do I love the innocent unborn zygote/fetus? It’s a WEAPON!

    Whittenberger’s reply to Tishman (#33) lays it out perfectly. “If you intend to or actually kill, harm, or endanger another person, then the community has the right to interfere with you or even impose penalties on you.” I.E., On behalf of the weaponized zygote-fetus-person, he can seize control over some woman he’s never met and smash her autonomy to smithereens. In that scenario, SHE is no longer a person, she’s a vessel, container for the holy innocent unborn. By definition, she’s a slave.

    When the Republican Court finally overturns Roe, as the Right expects, do they think American women will just go gently into that good night (of servitude), or will the Right be forced to have Ollie muster the “well Republican militia” of the Second amendment to vanquish the Democratic (sorry, Democrat) foe?

    Interesting times.

  38. t paine says:

    My guess is that if the “republican court” does overturn Roe, it would be an acknowledgement that our constitution, (the law that governs those that govern us) never gave our federal government the power to interfere or intervene in such private matters.

    Therefore, it would be left to the states to interfere or intervene in those private matters.

  39. Kent McManigal says:

    “When these rights come into conflict, as can occur during the last 15 weeks of pregnancy, then the state must intervene through a clear constitution, laws, and/or policies to resolve the conflict.”

    Keep the state out of it. There are legitimate ways to arbitrate a rights conflict. The state isn’t one of them.

  40. Dave says:

    If you illustrated it with a Venn diagram, you would make “person” the bigger circle and put “human being” inside as a smaller circle because the concept of personhood entails the logical possibility of divine and/or angelic beings as well as human beings, which means personhood is actually the broader concept and therefore a necessary but not sufficient condition for being human. Reversing that is to change the meaning of personhood at the risk of introducing the fallacy of equivocation.

    Without changing the meaning of person, the argument would be something like this:

    If a human fetus is not a person, then it is not a human being.
    A human fetus is a human being.
    Therefore, a human fetus is a person.

  41. Jaco van der Colff says:

    The issue is really a lot simpler.

    Our civilization is based on the concept of individual human rights. A fetus, being wholly contained inside the body of its mother, is not an individual and therefore has no rights. The mother (as does everyone) has absolute rights about what happens inside her body, as a legal matter. Everyone else’s ideas or speculations on the humanity or consciousness, or lack thereof, of the fetus, morality, religion etc. etc. are completely irrelevant as far as proper law is concerned.

  42. Diana says:

    Oh geeze, Gary! Get over yourself. When you can bear a child, you can have a voice. But I’m sorry to inform you that no one has a right to use my body but me and those to whom I give my consent. So this whole argument is a moot point. You don’t have a voice in the use of my body. You men who think you have a tight to use a woman like a human incubator are no better than slave owners.

  43. ThysH says:

    In the article – and subsequent comments – two important physical attributes have been ignored: Breath and open eyes.

    There is no doubt that the lungs of a fetus do not function until the first breath is inhaled – and then exhaled. Quite often a fetus exits from the womb, but is unable to breathe and is then declared “still-born”. Brain acticity ceases and therefore that fetus is not a “person”. And quite often it is necessary to slap or shake a born “fetus” so that it can inhale the first breath. Surely that is the moment the “fetus” becomes a “person”.

    I stand corrected as I have no medical knowledge of this, but I have been told by experts (and pictures of fetuses in the womb seem to support this) that the eyelids of a fetus do not open until after birth. If so, it means that even though there is brain activity and even “pain”, the fetus cannot be described as being fully “conscious” – and therefore not a “person”.

    But having said all this, I believe that abortions beyond 24 weeks should only be performed if the life of the mother is endangered, precisely because late abortions could cause damage to the mother as stated by some above.

    And I also believe that abortion should never be a birth-control method – as often seems to be the case. I would therefore suggest that after the third abortion without any good medical reason, the woman should be sterilized to prevent any more pregnancies.

    Abortion is and should remain the choice of the mother (obviously in consultation with the father – if available and known!) and based on medical advice. No other person or government or church or whatever has the right to proscribe or interfere with that right of choice.

    Last note: Religious objections against abortion are mostly based on the wrong KJV (and other early translations) of Genesis 2, verse 7 which states that “…the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Modern and informed translations state that “….man became a living BEING”.
    Surely that is biblical “support” for my statement that a fetus only becomes a “living being” when breath is inhaled!

  44. DR. Sidethink says:

    I never discuss this issue
    this fact somehow entitles people to call me a coward or a liar or paranoid .

    My answer is always
    “beats me because I don’t know enough to make an informed decision

    How about them Broncos ???”

  45. Terry Wall says:

    There is a sentence in the article reading “The zygote, embryo, nor early fetus are persons as here defined, as the pro-lifers have suggested.” Should the word “Neither” appear as the first word in that sentence? Otherwise it could be quoted out of context and appear to be fully supportive of the so-called “pro-life” position.

    I think the article is a reasoned argument justifying what is, in effect, the status quo in the USA and here in the UK. As such it is a useful conclusion to the debate as it gives a logical and moral justification for the pragmatic situation today, namely, “elective” abortions allowable until around the 22nd week.

    In a broader context, it is rare that the views of those holding a middle of the road position (but who can understand those at each extreme) can be reinforced in this way, despite probably being in a substantial majority.

    Having had my first debate about abortion around fifty-five years ago I am grateful for the clarification!

    With regard to a comment (#35) that people do not voluntarily pay taxes, I think that is simply a function of our “tribal” sizes in the (over-)developed world. If we still lived in separate tribes, as we evolved to do, of 30 or 100 individuals, would we not care for those too young, old, or incapable by contributing part of our efforts to support them, in the knowledge that others will do the same for us if necessary? These days, it’s called taxation!

  46. Nathan Chapman says:

    Hi Gary,
    Very interesting and well-researched piece! Two questions:
    How did you determine the one year jail sentence for point 5? There’s no explanation.
    And what if a pregnant woman was assaulted at, say, 24 weeks and lost the not-yet-conscious foetus … no punishment? That doesn’t seem right.
    Thanks

  47. Dave says:

    Denying the personhood of human beings of any age or size on any basis is a form of dehumanization, analogous to the dehumanization 150 years ago of American slaves and Indians by denying their personhood, making them subhuman, hence the three-fifths clause and trail of tears.

  48. Herb Koplowitz says:

    Maybe I missed them, but two points seem missing in the article and the letters.
    First, let’s say you own a property with a well in it and someone falls into the well and is stuck there. Even though it’s your property, we would go into your property to get the person out of the well. If the fall so damaged them that they were not conscious and not viable, we might use rougher means to get them out.
    What I want for a woman is the the right to get something out of her that she doesn’t want in her. If the fetus is taken out before it can survive given current technology, so be it. If the fetus can survive, it might be considered an orphan. The point is that there is a difference between a) murder and b) no longer giving someone what they need to survive.
    Second, the article and some comments refer to the “pro-life” side. If “pro-life” is anything beyond a euphemism for “anti-choice”, if it means anything beyond “right to birth” it means ensuring that people can have a supportive environment. I would like to see what those who call themselves “pro-life” would consider the minimum child support they would demand from their legislators. What taxes would they pay to ensure that every child born gets proper health care, nutrition, education and relationship?

  49. Matt says:

    I find the philosophy questions and answers here pointless. That’s no different than using religion to determine this decision. Whether something is a person should depend on whether the species that thing belongs to is capable of sentience. So far the only species that fits this bill to our knowledge is humans. So we can leave the particulars of this to further philosophical and religious meandering.

    What matters in this debate is not what’s a person, but are they a living human organism. The simplest objective definition for this is, an organism that has a distinct genetic makeup coinciding with the genetic framework of the species homo sapien that exhibits the qualities defined as life. The moment a thing that’s human being (i.e. person) has life, then to destroy that thing is to extinguish its life (i.e. kill it). Under current frameworks of equality and human rights, this thing can not have its rights removed from it. Only in strict application of due process is such a thing remotely possible (and to some even then doing so is off limits; but I’m not here to debate capital punishment or euthinasia).

    We can confidently establish when the resultant of human procreation becomes a distinct human organism (some would argue the gametes are as well) at very near to conception. The biggest question, is when does life begin. We have a mostly objective and widely known definition (taught even to school children) about what qualities science uses determine if something is a living organism. Homeostasis, Organization, Metabolism, Growth, Adaptation, Response to Stimuli, Reproduction. There is obvious debate about when this criterion are met, and whether these are the proper criterion, but it is a widely accepted definition that on the whole is considered correct, though maybe not complete.

    So given all this, and assuming we agree with the above, we can come to some estimations of when a thing in the womb of a human as a product of human procreation becomes a living human organism that is due their human rights. By my estimation, this period comes at about a week after conception, but definitely before the currently understood point of viability framework imagined under Roe v. Wade.

  50. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is a response to OldNassau in 34. Thank you for your comments.

    1. I did not claim that the radical pro-life and radical pro-choice positions are equivalent, as you suggest. I claim that both are mistaken. Most pro-choice advocates are radical in the sense that they do not think the late-term fetus is a person.

    2. It will probably become possible to sustain the human organism in the special incubator for nine months, while achieving the same or better outcomes than the natural womb.

    3. Your point is well taken, but most prolifers are religious and believe in early ensoulment.

  51. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to t paine at 35. Thanks for your comments.

    I didn’t say paying taxes is or should be voluntary. It should be compulsory. Proceeds from taxes should be used to pay for ethical and legal abortions.

    The “common good” is decided by the government, not by individuals in the community. We have a democratic government, so you should be a good citizen and pay your taxes. If you don’t like your government’s definition of the “common good,” then you may protest, complain, vote, run for office, or leave the country. Again, requiring people to pay taxes is not theft.

    Abortion works for the common good under some circumstances and not in others. Again, it depends on when the fetus is a person or not.

    I believe that your logic is fallacious.

  52. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Jim Maher at 36. Thanks for your comments.

    There is general agreement among relevant scientists at approximately when consciousness begins in the fetus, despite your misgivings.

    The lack of the capacity for consciousness is greatly different from quadriplegia.

    Yes, the infant you referenced probably would not have acquired the capacity of consciousness and should not be classified as a person, in my view. As I mentioned in the article, viability is not a good marker of personhood.

    I already answered your concern about comatose patients in the article. Please re-read it.

    Contrary to your experience, many people I know say personhood begins at conception. They are mostly religious people.

    I have given what I believe to be the best definition of personhood. Yes, there are probably some problems with all of the definitions, but the fewest with mine.

  53. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Dan Lynch at 37. Thanks for your comments.

    There is no good evidence for the existence of angels.

    If by “child” you mean a human organism between two years of age and puberty, yes, a child is a person. I believe that all children are partly your (our) responsibility, but mostly the responsibility of their parents.

    Zygotes, embryos, and fetuses are not weaponized. Also, they are neither innocent nor guilty. Pregnant women aren’t slaves. The pregnant woman and the late fetus are both persons with rights. As I said in the essay, their rights may come into conflict and these conflicts must be resolved by morality and law, properly formulated.

    I didn’t design my pro-person position to be a compromise, but it may turn out to be a good one.

  54. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to t paine at 38. Thanks for your comments.

    I don’t think it is or should be a “private matter” if one person intends to, plans to, tries to, or actually causes injury or death to another person. Since in my view, the late fetus is a person, then the host woman has no right to privacy to kill this person. (I mentioned some exceptions.) The same principle applies with a nine year old child.

    Because I believe we have learned the “correct answer” to abortion rights, which I have tried to present in my article, I believe the federal government should implement this “correct answer” in federal law, constitutional amendment, or SCOTUS decisions. I sent a copy of my article to each justice on the SCOTUS.

  55. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Kent McManigal in 39. Thanks for your comments.

    I disagree. The state is already a legitimate way to arbitrate a rights conflict and should remain so. This is especially important where there is a conflict between the right of bodily autonomy of the host woman and the right to life (or well being) of the fetal person. We can’t let one person decide on her/his own to simply kill or injure another person. It is the moral obligation of the state to protect persons from other persons. That is one foundation of civilization.

  56. Gary Whittenberger says:

    My essay only addresses human persons, not persons in general. That is a topic for another day.

    Also, I usually avoid the term “human being” because it has a double meaning, one implying personhood and one not. I prefer the terms “human organism” and “person” because they can be defined more precisely and clearly.

  57. Gary Whittenberger says:

    I disagree with your premise that personhood should depend on location of the human organism. I claim that it should depend on the brain development of the human organism. Since the brain of the fetus acquires the property of consciousness at some point, around 24 weeks post conception, then the fetus thereafter is a person and should be assigned rights, as you and I have.

    I am not accepting law as it is. I am proposing changes to concepts, ethics, and law.

  58. Steve Maricic says:

    Mr. Whittenberger,

    I think you fool yourself right from the beginning by using shifting definitions of what a person is. First you propose:

    “A person shall be construed to be any human organism that has the current capacity for consciousness.”

    Then, almost immediately, you say:
    “…the end of personhood shall be construed as the permanent loss of the capacity for consciousness.”

    That’s a subtle changing of the definition, and that’s frowned on in logical arguments.

    By the first definition, in most cases, someone in a coma is not a person. They do not have the current capacity for consciousness. Something needs to happen to them — some change in their current status — for them to be able to see you, hear you, feel pain, recognize themselves, etc.

    I would argue that the same is true of most people who are sleeping. Currently, they do not have the capacity for consciousness. When they wake up, they have that capacity.

    You think you address this last point when you write:
    “This challenge fails to recognize the difference between the capacity for and the state of consciousness.”

    But, if someone is currently not conscious, they do not have the “current capacity for consciousness”.

    Does a man in a coma have the capacity to see me when I stand in front of him? No. Does a sleeping woman have the capacity to hear me and understand me when I tell her, “It’s raining outside.” No. She has to wake up to have that capacity.

    Later in your essay, you offer a THIRD definition of personhood:
    “A human organism is not a person when it has never before or will never again possess the capacity for consciousness.”

    Imagine a fetus which has just now attained the capacity for consciousness — it has never before possessed the capacity for consciousness. Therefore, by your third definition, it is not a person. Do you see that?

    Of course, most young fetuses will someday have the capacity for consciousness. You felt the need to insert the word “again” in there, didn’t you? If a young fetus will someday have the capacity for consciousness, then it has not been afflicted by a permanent loss of such capacity, and that conflicts with your second definition.

  59. Gary Whittenberger says:

    What would getting over myself mean for you? Agreeing with you? I don’t think I’ll do that.

    You, I, and all adult human persons have a voice. We can suggest concepts, ethics, and laws pertinent to personhood and abortion rights. Are you suggesting that some of us be denied our right to free speech?

    You have a right to use your body, but if you have another person inside of you, then they have a right to life and well being. You just can’t trample willy nilly on the rights of others.

    What if my essay had been written by a woman? Would you want her to be silenced too? I know many women who agree with my pro-person position, presented in the essay.

  60. Gary Whittenberger says:

    Sorry, my response in 59 should have included this:

    This is in response to Diana at 42. Thanks for your comments.

  61. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to ThysH at 43. Thanks for your comments.

    I think breath and open eyes are irrelevant to defining personhood.

    You said “And quite often it is necessary to slap or shake a born “fetus” so that it can inhale the first breath. Surely that is the moment the “fetus” becomes a “person”. I disagree. I think personhood should be defined on the basis of brain development, not lung development. Our brains are what distinguish us from other mammals.

    A fetus can see even with the eyelids closed, although visual acuity is very poor. If a fetus can see, then it has acquired consciousness, and should be considered to be a person. There are several forms or markers of consciousness. Eyelids open or closed has nothing to do with it.

    What if continuing the pregnancy would lead to permanent injury of the pregnant woman? Would you allow that as another exception for abortion of the fetal person? I would, as mentioned in my essay.

    I don’t think I agree with your sterilization suggestion. Other responses can be just as effective and less intrusive and forceful.

    Of course I disagree with your idea that the government should stay out of the abortion issue. The government has a moral duty to protect persons, and since the late fetus is a person, the government has a duty to protect it from harm.

    I think religion is not helpful at all on the abortion issue.

  62. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Terry Wall at 45. Thanks for your comments.

    I think it would have been better had I said: “Neither the zygote, the embryo, nor early fetus are persons…”

    My pro-person position is not “fully supportive” of the status quo, although mostly so. It leans more towards the pro-choice position than the pro-life position, but is different from both.

    You are probably correct that if we lived in small tribes we might not need taxation. But we need it now. I favor compulsory taxation to support the common good of our large tribes.

  63. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Nathan Chapman at 46. Thanks for your comments.

    Good question on the penalty in point 5. I originally had the idea that the jail sentence should be nine months to correspond with the length of a full pregnancy. However, I presented all my ideas to a group of educated adults, and a retired judge in the group suggested that the term should be one year and one day which corresponds to a “felony.” This highlights the seriousness of the infraction. I was persuaded by the judge. I believe the penalty should be neither too lenient nor too harsh.

    I believe that if the fetus is not a person, then it is property belonging to the host woman. An outsider who causes the destruction of this probably valuable property should be penalized too. It might be analogous to destroying a valuable piece of art. I didn’t cover this in the essay because it seems like a peripheral issue.

  64. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Dave at 47. Thanks for your comments.

    I disagree with your premise. Dehumanization is greatly different from the denial of personhood. The zygotes, embryos, and fetuses I talked about are fully human. They have human DNA. But the fetus isn’t a person until it acquires the capacity for consciousness. As I said in the essay, we should assign rights to fetuses when they become persons.

  65. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Herb Koplowitz at 48. Thanks for your comments.

    In your well example, I think if we were certain that the individual at the bottom of the well was either dead or permanently unconscious, then yes, we might use rougher means. But if we first determine that the individual is alive but unconscious, we should treat the individual as fragile, remove them from the well, and then provide a complete neurological exam.

    I deliberately did not use the concept of “murder” in my essay. I think it just clouds the important issues. You seem to give priority to the host woman’s right to bodily autonomy over the fetal person’s right to life or well being, but I don’t. As I said, the rights may collide during the last 15 weeks. I believe that if an abortion is allowed when the fetus is a person, then after removal the fetus should receive optimal medical care.

    Neither “pro-life” nor “pro-choice” are very good names, but they are the names in common use for specific positions which I defined in the essay.

    I believe that if we ensure that all persons receive free medical care and education and adults are guaranteed “living wage” jobs, and if parents have no more than two children, then the children will do fine, in almost all cases. But that issue goes beyond the scope of the essay.

  66. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Matt at 49. Thanks for your comments.

    Although you disparage the philosophical question addressed in the essay, you said “Whether something is a person should depend on whether the species that thing belongs to is capable of sentience,” and that is a philosophical answer. So, you have not evaded philosophy.

    I avoid the term “human being” because its meaning is equivocal. But I agree with you on your definition of a human organism. You apparently believe all human organisms, including zygotes, are persons, and I strongly disagree.

    My pro-person position is that 1) we ought not assign rights to human organisms that are not persons, 2) the zygote, embryo, and early fetus are not persons, and 3) therefore we should not assign rights to them. I don’t know why you’d classify them as persons. They know nothing.

    As I showed in the essay, the biggest question in this context is not “When does life begin?” as you assert here. I completely disagree with you on that point.

    There is no doubt in my mind at all that the human zygote is a human organism and not a person. You provide no reasons at all why personhood should be marked at one week post conception.

    Your position is mostly pro-life, and my essay shows a better position.

  67. ThysH says:

    Your reply at 61 to my No 43 refers.

    You say: “Our brains are what distinguish us from other mammals.”

    Are you implying that “other mammals” do not have brains, cannot think, cannot reason?

    Oh dear! Any zoologist and biologist will tell you that all mammals – and other species – have “brains”. And I am sure that they will tell you that the fetus of any of the apes or monkeys will show “brain activity” at a certain stage. There is in fact no distinction or difference! We are all just “apes”, mammals and animals.

    I’m afraid this single sentence shows your lack of real understanding of this issue, and therefore does not contribute at all to the broad debate. Sorry!

  68. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Steve Maricic at 58. Thanks for your comments.

    I don’t agree that I have posed two definitions of a person with subtle differences, as you claim.

    I think you are confusing “not currently in a conscious state” with “lacking the current capacity for consciousness,” and they just aren’t the same thing! A human organism which has the current capacity for consciousness may or may not be currently in the conscious state. But a human organism which does not have the current capacity for consciousness may have never acquired the capacity before or may have lost it.

    You said “But, if someone is currently not conscious, they do not have the “current capacity for consciousness”. And that is not necessarily true. I’ll offer an analogy which may be helpful. If a room in a new house has a light fixture and wiring to it, then the light may be in a state of on or off. The fixture plus wiring is similar to the capacity for consciousness. But without the capacity, the possibility for the two states is absent.

    What you identified as a third definition of a person is not in fact a definition.

    The fetus which has never had the capacity for consciousness is not a person but when that same fetus then acquires the capacity, it is now a person. Don’t you see that?

    Therefore, there are no conflicts in my statements about personhood.

  69. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to ThysH at 67. Thanks for your comments.

    Other mammals do have brains and can think. But humans have larger and more complex brains which enable much more advanced thinking. There is a huge difference of monkey and human brains and their capacities, even though we are both mammals.

    Sorry, but I disagree with your premise here.

  70. Bob Singer says:

    The fallacy is here: “Not until the organism is conscious for the first time may we conclude that it has the capacity for consciousness. ” We know for a fact that every fetus born has a capacity for consciousness. Therefore the idea that consciousness must be demonstrated before we know there is a capacity for it is mistaken. We don’t need to see it happen every time to know that if we mix baking soda with vinegar we will get carbonation. It has been demonstrated beyond a doubt that it is in the nature of the chemicals. It is in the nature of a fetus to have a capacity for consciousness.

  71. Barbara Piper says:

    @Bob Singer: Dr. Whittenberger can answer for himself, of course, but I did want to suggest that the term “capacity” is a bit ambiguous here. “Capacity” as you use it appears to include a notion of “potentiality”, as in: every fetus has the potential to develop the capacity for [fill in the blank — consciousness, feeling pain, solving calculus problems, etc at some point in its future]. Dr. Whittenberger appears to be using the notion of “capacity” in the sense of already possessing the requisite structures for consciousness. From your point of view, every sperm cell could have the capacity — the potential — to be a Nobel Prize winner; from Dr. Whittenberg’s point of view, only a fully developed human with the requisite neurological structures — the capacity — could perform at a level that could earn a Nobel Prize. Presumably a fetus does not develop the capacity for consciousness in the second sense until late in its gestation.

    That said, I also have a sense that Dr. Whittenberger, a retired psychologist, may be committing the error of when-all-you-have-is-a-hammer. Consciousness seems reasonable to a psychologist as a hallmark of personhood, but there are other features, such as agency, that may also have a claim to demarcate persons from non-persons.

  72. Steve Maricic says:

    Mr. W,

    In your response to my comments, you changed the wording of what I call your third definition of personhood.

    You originally said:

    “A human organism IS NOT a person when it has never BEFORE or will never again possess the capacity for consciousness.”

    You changed that to:

    “The fetus which has never had the capacity for consciousness is not a person but when that same fetus then acquires the capacity, it is now a person.

    You took out the word “before”. That changed the definition. Nice try.

    I say again:

    Imagine a fetus which has just now attained the capacity for consciousness — it has never BEFORE possessed the capacity for consciousness. Therefore, by your third definition, it is not a person.

    That conflicts with your first definition of a person, which was: “A person shall be construed to be any human organism that has the current capacity for consciousness.”

  73. LindaRosaRN says:

    “GW [wrote]: If one person kills another person, there is no right to privacy, even if the person is a woman or a physician. So, once again, the abortion issues boils down to the question ‘When does the human organism become a person?’ ”
    ____________

    You need to leave this issue alone until you can actually define personhood, which is highly unlikely, and then you need to determine what to do with that definition. Until then, you are just rearranging angels on the head of a pin and contributing to forced pregnancies, a horrific scenario if you stop to think about it.

    Meanwhile, women have practical problems to deal with, and I will show below that pushing for “personhood” status isn’t helping.

    The pregnant woman has to consider many factors for the fetus and herself. Can she provide for a child for the next two decades? What is the mental toll to carry a deformed fetus to term, only to see it die at birth? And she has to weigh the high and low risks of pregnancy: placental abruption, hemorrhage, 1st-4th degree lacerations (vagina into rectum); DIC, eclampsia, death, and a hundred other things.

    You might want to familiarize yourself with the common long-term problems of pregnancy before you suggest legislating a woman’s medical decisions: hemerrhoids, gum problems, fallen uterus and bladder (requiring surgery), weight gain, mental changes, stress incontinence, rectocele, increased risk of type 2 diabeters, vericose veins, dyspareunia – and then there’s what all this does to your sex life, marriage, and career.

    These risks are stuff that you’ll never hear academic guys discussing in a forum like this. Never a word of acknowledgement for the biological realities women face while trying to raise other children and have a job, career, and home.

    From a different perspective on the morality: the world is vastly over-populated by humans, so is it moral to force more reproduction on women? Humans are destroying habitats and using up finite resources. Biologists tell us we are in the Earth’s 6th period of “mass extinction.” And you are concern about saving fetuses 0-24 weeks old from elective abortions?!

    Referring to terminating pregnancies after 24 weeks, “GW [says]: But morality and law must cover rare cases.”

    You aren’t paying attention. There are NO ELECTIVE ABORTIONS after 24 weeks. After 24 weeks, there are only problem pregnancies that medically require a pregnancy to be terminated. These are medical emergencies and almost always are wanted pregnancies. And you want to pass laws about this? !

    Here’s a story for you:

    A woman not yet 24 weeks pregnant learned her fetus has no diaphragm. That caused the lungs to barely develop, so the fetus won’t survive birth. She has had two previous C-sections, with both horizontal and vertical scars, making her uterus especially vulnerable to rupture. The pregnancy is further complicated by excessive amniotic fluid, making her appear 9 months pregnant and putting dangerous pressure on that uterine scar tissue. She is clearly at high risk, but the hospital would not do an abortion. She is in no condition to go to another hospital. This woman, a physician herself, got to sit in the hospital waiting room, mourning the loss of a wanted pregnancy, knowing that she might die at any moment. She was in that situation because this hospital was paralyzed and fearful over this “personhood” question.

    Abortion must be a matter between a woman and her physician. Any alternative is unthinkable.

  74. sittingbytheriver says:

    this argument will never end. but women will do what they need to do, and what they want to do. Poor things. Do you think they are necessarily happy about having to make these choices? they are not.

  75. UgoCorda says:

    The author chooses “capacity for consciousness” as a demarcation line. But I imagine that the real target, as somebody already mentioned, should be actual consciousness, i.e. self-awareness (where capacity for consciousness is necessary but not sufficient for actual self-awareness). Since we don’t currently have a scientific theory of consciousness which would allow detection of consciousness by external means (i.e. without being told so by the conscious person), we have to use the more conservative concept of capacity for consciousness. Do I correctly understand the author’s intention?

    (I, by the way, strongly suspect that actual self-awareness happens only after birth, when the new born has a chance to interact with actual objects outside the womb, with other people and/or animals, etc.)

    So my question to the author is whether he would agree to move the demarcation line further down in the case science got to the point of being able to detect actual self-awareness instead of just the capacity for consciousness.

  76. Tony says:

    Hi Gary

    Do you have a view on abortion beyond six months in the case of rape? Do you think the lack of consent is an important consideration when balance the right to life Vs bodily autonomy?

    Kind regards

    Tony

  77. Brad Reddekopp says:

    Responding to Gary @ #23:

    1. As I understand it, Occam’s Razor applies to explanations. I don’t see that it’s relevant here.

    2. The problem posed by fact that the onset of self-awareness is not clearly defined would be offset by legally protecting the infant as if it is a person, which we can only do without violating the bodily autonomy of a person after birth.

  78. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Bob Singer at #70. Thank you for your comments.

    Although your statement “ It is in the nature of a fetus to have a capacity for consciousness” is correct, it is the result of a vast amount of research in which the conscious state was found to be correlated with brain structures and processes. If you note that C is always paired with B, then if you see B, you may assume that C is very probably there.

  79. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Barbara Piper at 71. Thanks for your comments.

    You appear to have a good understanding of my concept of “capacity.”

    I have many more tools than a hammer, but in this case the hammer is the best choice. I am open to considering your idea of agency as the marker for personhood, but can the fetus have agency without consciousness? I am skeptical of this. I see consciousness as more foundational. If the fetus has achieved consciousness, then it knows something – “something is happening” or “what it’s like to have an experience.” The organism with the human DNA then becomes a knowing entity.

  80. LindaRosaRN says:

    “Self awareness” has been studied by child development researchers. They believe the onset is 6-8 months AFTER birth, although it is still hard to tell even at this age, because you can’t get inside the head of an infant. But this is when children begin to demonstrate certain behaviors that indicate they understand that they are different from their environment and grasp the concept of there being individual people. In part, it’s because they begin to show a preference for their caregiver and avoid strangers. The general public, on the other hand, seems to thinks self awareness begins at birth or earlier.

  81. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Steve Maricic at #72. Thanks for your comments.

    “A human organism IS NOT a person when it has never BEFORE or will never again possess the capacity for consciousness.”

    You have classified this as a definition of “person” when it is not, so your reference to three definitions doesn’t hold water.

    In the article I presented only one definition of a person, and here it is: “any human organism with the current capacity for consciousness.” All the rest is explanation, analysis, and inference.

    Suppose you have a young fetus in the womb. Its brain is immature, but it is growing and developing. That brain doesn’t have the neural structures and processes for the function of consciousness at the ninth week after conception. In fact it has never had those foundations. But the brain continues to grow and develop. Finally, it has the neural structures and processes necessary for consciousness. I contend that now it is a person. It has the capacity (or function) of consciousness. Does that make sense to you?

  82. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to LindaRosa at 73. Thank you for your response. It is very long, so I’ll try to each point, one by one.

    You said “You need to leave this issue alone until you can actually define personhood, which is highly unlikely, and then you need to determine what to do with that definition.” In my article I defined personhood and then determined what to do with it. I think you just don’t agree with me. If so, please explain why.

    You said “The pregnant woman has to consider many factors for the fetus and herself” and then you listed several of those factors. I certainly agree with that. My proposal presents an ethical and legal framework wherein those factors should be considered.

    You said “There are NO ELECTIVE ABORTIONS after 24 weeks. After 24 weeks, there are only problem pregnancies that medically require a pregnancy to be terminated. These are medical emergencies and almost always are wanted pregnancies.”

    Of course there are abortions after 24 weeks post conception after the fetus has become a person! (There may be nonelective abortions somewhere in the world, but I am not concerned with them here. Let’s talk about the elective ones for now.) Some of these late-term abortions are done for legitimate reasons, e.g. for protecting the host woman. Others are almost certainly done for illegitimate reasons, but probably infrequently. I hypothesize that most of those done for illegitimate reasons are done on “the black market.” Ethics and laws must be drafted to cover all possible cases, regardless of their fequency.

    In your example, the fetus is not a person, so it would be ethical and should be legal for the woman to get an abortion. Any reason at all would do. It sounds like the hospital was just plain wrong. The patient should sue the hospital and in the suit demand that the hospital pay her a huge financial sum and implement intensive and extensive training for all relevant staff.

    You said “Abortion must be a matter between a woman and her physician.” Yes, but not only. The two should make an ethical and legal decision about the abortion, and thus the community and state are involved. What about the man who was partly responsible for the pregnancy? Shouldn’t he also be involved?

  83. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to sittingbytheriver at 74. Thanks for your comments.

    I know that abortion decisions are usually difficult. My intention of my article was to present a different conceptual, ethical, and legal framework for abortion, based on the concept of personhood.

    You said “this argument will never end.” Never is a long time. I am skeptical of your claim.

  84. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to UgoCorda at 75. Thanks for your comments on my essay.

    A state of consciousness is not the same as either the capacity for consciousness or self-awareness. The latter requires a concept of the self which would not come till quite a bit later, and there is controversy about how much later.

    We do have a “good enough” scientific theory of consciousness to formulate a new and better ethical and legal framework for abortion (beyond Roe v. Wade), and in my essay I presented a sample of studies to show this.

    My answer to your final question is “No.” When the human organism becomes conscious for the first time, then it has knowledge of something – “something is happening” or “what it’s like to have an experience.” This organism is now a person, in my view, even without a self concept. The fetus will have many concepts before the self concept, e.g. the concept of sound.

  85. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Tony at 76. Thanks for your comments.

    I don’t use “six months” as the correct marking point. I use “the fetus is now a person.” See my article for more details on that.

    I do not believe that proven rape is a good reason to have an abortion after the fetus has become a person. After that point the fetal person has rights too, including a right to life. I think it would almost always be the case that the rape would have been confirmed before the fetus became a person, and thus an abortion before then would be no problem.

  86. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Brad Reddekopp at 77.

    I think you are correct that Occam’s Razor would not be applicable in this context. I stand by the other four reasons I gave.

    I really don’t understand your point about an offset. That is not clear at all.

  87. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to LindaRosa at 80. Thanks for your comments.

    Yes, I know that some researchers think self awareness begins 6-8 months after birth, but others put it as late as two years. It depends partly on how “self awareness” is defined. I speculate that a concept of self is developed in the womb! There is no known way to mark by brain structures and processes when the organism acquires the self concept. I think it is the wrong path to take as far as personhood is concerned.

  88. Barbara Piper says:

    @Gary Whittenberger: Thanks for your response. I wear two hats professionally: I teach both anthropology and law, so my views on the issue represent a bit of a hybrid of both perspectives. “Agency” is a common notion of personhood for anthropology, but we usually qualify this as “agentive capacity” in the sense of having sufficient prerequisites for agency — that is, to be the agent of meaningful action rather than merely instinctive behavior. From a legal perspective, to have such prerequisites qualifies an individual for a basic privilege of personhood: the right not to be killed. Within the abortion debate, the assumption that we make is that at some point along the gestational path, a fetus does develop sufficient capacity for agency that it can reasonably be treated as a person, and can be killed only under exceptional circumstances. One difference between agency and consciousness or self-awareness is that a being does not need to be self-aware or conscious to be an agent of meaningful action.

  89. Ugo Corda says:

    Answering 84 from Gary, you said: <>

    It depends on what you mean by “when the human organism becomes conscious for the first time”. If you are only referring to acquiring the “capacity for consciousness”, i.e. the fact that the physical development of the brain has established all the necessary neural connections (which your article is about), talking about “having knowledge of what it’s like to have an experience” at that stage is pure speculation, not supported by current scientific knowledge.

    You might be able to show that, for instance, a sound is converted into signals that propagate through the brain. But you have no idea of whether those signals are actually consciously perceived by the fetus at that stage, and most likely they are not. If we knew that for sure, it would mean that we have complete knowledge of the actual mechanisms of conscious experience (not just of the necessary neural connections), which you know very well we do not have at the current time.

  90. Ugo Corda says:

    Sorry, the quote was cut off from my previous message. Here is the quote:

    When the human organism becomes conscious for the first time, then it has knowledge of something – “something is happening” or “what it’s like to have an experience.”

  91. LindaRosaRN says:

    Gary Whittenberger is still confused about the term “elective abortion.”

    Since abortions are considered too dangerous after the 24th week, they are done because of rare medical emergencies, e.g. fetal demise which can cause a uterine infection. As for these being “elective,” I suppose the woman could chose to die along with the fetus, but that scenario doesn’t seem plausible.

    And then you claim there are “black market” elective abortions after 24 weeks. We already have a system that deals medical procedures that are contraindicated and high risk. Physicians can lose their license for reckless practice.

    Gary Whittenberger continues: “Ethics and laws must be drafted to cover all possible cases, regardless of their fequency.” [sic]

    Whoa…Must?! Says who?

    The law can never anticipate every possible occurrence (especially when in comes to the complex female reproductive system). We have to have some faith in people, and women tend to take the abortion decision very seriously.

    While men can voice their opinions, but it comes to the bottom line, it is immoral to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term and assume the risks, including death (e.g. look up DIC), that a pregnancy poses. Your disregard for women in your search for the holy grail of fetal “personhood” is concerning.

  92. Tony says:

    Hi Gary,

    Thanks for your reply at 85.

    I was using “six months” as a convenient if not precise shorthand for your statement “…the beginning of personhood in the human fetus shall be construed as the start of the 25th week post conception…”.

    My question was an attempt to explore other dimensions to the question of abortion (I had actually advocated a similar foundation the day prior to reading your piece although far far less detailed and without the research) in search of a more comprehensive understanding of the issue.

    I agree that in most cases “the rape would have been confirmed before the fetus became a person, and thus an abortion before then would be no problem.”

    However my question was specific to the position after the foetus had achieved personhood (even if poorly worded). I was trying to consider instance where the woman had come to her conclusion or changed her mind late in the process due to her experience and possible conflicted state of mind. I think your answer in this regard is that the right to life trumps the right to bodily autonomy even in cases of rape.

    This ‘feels’ harsh but is consistent with the position you have outlined. Thanks.

  93. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Barbara Piper in 88. Thanks for your comments.

    How do you define “meaningful action”? Why can’t instinctive behavior be meaningful? How can any behavior performed without consciousness constitute agency? A person who is asleep is not conscious (assume not dreaming). If this person walks in their sleep are they an agent?

    I certainly agree with you that during development, the human individual develops agency, but I really don’t think this occurs before consciousness and I don’t think it should be used as the marker of personhood. An human organism is a person before it is an agent, IMHO.

    Consciousness is not self-awareness.

  94. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Ugo Corda at 89. Thank you for your comments.

    If a human organism has never been conscious, it has never had any knowledge at all, but after it becomes conscious for the first time, then it has knowledge that it never had before, including “knowledge of what it’s like to have an experience.” This is not pure speculation, as you suggest, but a rational conclusion from philosophy and science. I recommend to you the famous paper by philosopher Thomas Nagel on “What’s it like to be a bat.”

    I am using “sound” as a mental or experiential concept here, not as a physics concept. At some stage in development the fetal brain becomes capable of experiencing sound, and by the time of birth the newborn is already able to discriminate the mother’s voice from others’ voices. And so, you are just mistaken on this specific point.

  95. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Linda Rosa at 91. Thanks for your comments.

    Who says? Any philosopher, medical ethicist, attorney, or legislator formulating morality and law regarding abortion.

    Of course the law CAN anticipate every possible reason that a woman might present for requesting or ordering an abortion of the fetal person inside her! This is easily done by specifying the few good reasons, and then defining the thousands of bad reasons BY EXCLUSION. This covers 100% of the set of reasons that could be given. The abortion decision should always be taken very seriously by the woman and anyone else intimately involved, but part of this serious endeavor is making a rational, ethical, and legal decision.

    Do you believe the following is a good or bad reason for a host woman to get an abortion of the fetal person inside her? “I want to go back to college, and I see now that having a baby would interfere with that.” Please explain your answer.

    Yes, it is sometimes immoral to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term, but at other times it is immoral to allow her to have an abortion. My article is very specific about the difference in these circumstances, so please re-read the relevant section of the article. The problem with your opinion is that you are not respecting the rights of the fetal person. You believe that your position is the “holy grail of abortion,” but I strongly believe you are mistaken. All persons have rights, and this includes the host woman and the fetal person. Just because you are a woman gives you no right to ignore or trample on the rights of a fetal person, who may BTW be either female or male.

  96. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Tony at 92. Thanks for your remarks.

    I agree with you Tony that if a host woman requests or orders an abortion of the fetal PERSON inside her because of the reason “I was raped and I don’t want that thing inside me another minute,” then her request/order should be denied, and she should be told about the law and the penalty against having an abortion under those circumstances. She should carry the fetus to term and probably put it up for adoption.

    You may feel that you are being harsh towards women rape victims by taking this position, but please feel that you are being sensitive, sympathetic, and protective of the fetal persons which are under consideration. The right to life is primary.

  97. Ugo Corda says:

    In response to Gary at 94: Thank you for your response, but I am still not convinced. Just looking at Christof Koch’s article in Scientific American, the one that you quote, Koch explicitly states: “I wager that the fetus experiences nothing in utero; that it feels the way we do when we are in a deep, dreamless sleep”.

    That does not sound like something I would call a state of consciousness. That is more like when we are under total anesthesia, i.e. completely unconscious

  98. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Ugo Corda at 97. Thanks for your comments.

    I think you are confusing the state of consciousness with the capacity for consciousness, and they just aren’t the same thing. If an organism has the capacity for consciousness, then at any given moment the state of consciousness may be “on” or “off.” Try this analogy: A room has the capacity for artificial light if it has a wired light fixture in it. Because of this capacity the room may be in light or not in light.

    You picked one quote from Koch that I think is misleading, but especially when taken out of context. The fetus experiences nothing in utero BEFORE its brain has matured to manifest consciousness, but it does experience something in utero AFTER this point. On the other hand, there is no way “it feels” when we are in a deep, dreamless sleep. There is no feeling, no experience, and no consciousness during that time. And yet, even when we are in a deep dreamless sleep, we still have the capacity for consciousness.

  99. skeptonomist says:

    This is mostly a waste of time. The debate does not necessarily hinge on the question of actual personhood; it could be a matter of potential personhood. Even if everyone agreed on the magical instant that a fetus becomes a person, those who cultivate opposition to abortion as a partisan strategy could shift to potential personhood. Probably many would already say they have this attitude.

    This aspect has already arisen in the cases of terminating life support for people who are brain-dead and presumably would not be persons if judged on the basis of consciousness.

  100. Barbara Piper says:

    @ Gary Whittenberger: Thanks for your response, which addresses issues that social scientists have been considering for many years, so any quick answer I provide here is a simplification… First, when I wrote “self awareness or consciousness” I was not equating them, but citing two different grounds for attributing personhood that have frequently been used in the literature. Second, “meaningful action” is a social and cultural judgment, not an objective fact divorced from culture. It is the acquisition of the capacity for being an agent of meaningful action that is the issue: when we ask whether the patient in a vegetative state is moving in a meaningful way, or is simply responding to physiological processes that are involuntary and lack meaning, we are debating whether the patient has lost their capacity for agency. This often involves culturally rooted theories of mind or body or agency. I’ve worked with tribal communities in West Africa, for example, in which one demarcation between action and behavior is the point at which babies know not to crawl into a cooking fire pit… (Of course, if you are a behaviorist, you might assume that the baby can learn this through some kind of operant conditioning, and agency is irrelevant.) Sociologists have worked with this distinction for a century or more — Cliff Geertz called it the difference between a wink and a blink — and though it has different valences in different cultures, one nearly universal observation is that the point at which an individual is believed to be capable of performing meaningful action is the (latest) point at which something like personhood is socially attributed to that individual: thus, infanticide in small-scale tribal communities was often allowed on the grounds that an infant is still behaving instinctively and has not yet acquired the right not be killed, though to do so might be viewed as tragic. Forgive any rambling, but ultimately one way to write past each other might be my assumption that many or most of these judgments are ultimately cultural — and, historically, law follows cultural values rather than science — and the implication of your essay, if I read it correctly, that there is an objective ground for personhood that is independent of culture. Too many issues to cover thoroughly on a Sunday morning!

  101. skeptonomist says:

    Are people in a deep coma persons?

  102. LindaRosaRN says:

    I agree with skeptonomist that the fetus is only the potential for personhood.

    Wittenberg wrote: “Who says? Any philosopher, medical ethicist, attorney, or legislator formulating morality and law regarding abortion.” …in reference that every situation where an abortion might be require or sought after must be prescribed by law.

    His list notably leaves women out of the equation, treating women like petrie dishes, continually ignoring the medical issues and risks I have raised.

    “The abortion decision should always be taken very seriously by the woman and anyone else intimately involved, but part of this serious endeavor is making a rational, ethical, and legal decision.”

    Aren’t you the little dictator of thought and action. How about the 14yo who is pregnant ? Children as young as 12 get pregnant. And these are not rare cases.

    Your morality is not my morality. I place a high value not only on the woman’s right to chose abortion, but also on wanted children. And I also value the need to address the many serious problems caused by over-population. The last thing the world needs is humans forcing their kind to reproduce.

  103. LindaRosaRN says:

    Barbara Piper… I wonder if I experienced something similar in a Shipibo village on the Ucayali River in the Amazon. Infants and toddlers seemed ignored; they needed, to a large extent, fend for themselves. They were a source of humor in their failed attempts to get to food.

  104. Ugo Corda says:

    To Gary at 98: My quote from Koch was not taken out of context. In fact, the statement immediately following the one I quoted says “The dramatic events attending delivery by natural (vaginal) means cause the brain to abruptly wake up, however”. So it is clear to me that when Koch is talking of a “deep, dreamless sleep” he is referring to the entire time spent in the womb, up to the point of delivery.

    I also understand completely the difference between a state of consciousness and the capacity for consciousness. I am just saying that the demarcation line for abortion should extend up to immediately before the actual state of consciousness, not just up to the capacity of consciousness. The only issue right now is that we do not have the exact scientific knowledge to understand when a state of consciousness is actually reached (and statements like Koch’s are just speculative), so I would agree with you that, at the current state of research, using capacity of consciousness is the more prudent and conservative approach.

    But I would not exclude that in the future science would reach a stage when actual states of consciousness could be confidently detected, at which point I would say that an abort should be permitted in all those cases where a state of consciousness is not detected.

  105. Ugo Corda says:

    To Barbara at 100: I completely agree with you that all these judgments are ultimately cultural. Science can inform moral judgments but never determine them (as the philosopher David Hume said, you cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”). In any abortion discussion we are dealing with moral issues, and the resolution of moral issues is never objective but always the result of a cultural process.

    But we can use science to at least make statements about states of affairs that are objective to the best of our knowledge. Still the moral value given to those states of affair (be it conception, acquisition of capacity of consciousness, acquisition of actual state of consciousness, acquisition of capacity for agency, etc.) can only be cultural.

  106. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to skeptonomist at 99. Thanks for your comments.

    The important question is when actual, not potential, personhood begins, despite what some in the pro-life camp might say. There is no magic here.

    According to my pro-life position, patients who have permanently lost the capacity for consciousness are no longer persons. I discuss this near the end of my article.

  107. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Barbara Piper at 100. Thanks for your comments.

    You said “… “meaningful action” is a social and cultural judgment, not an objective fact divorced from culture…” And “This often involves culturally rooted theories of mind or body or agency.” Unfortunately, I don’t think this is very helpful. You aren’t fleshing out any specific theory of agency.

    If you and I were to see “meaningful action” by a fetus, what might we see?

    Again, how do you define “meaningful action”?

  108. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to skeptonomist at 101. Thanks for your question.

    You asked “Are people in a deep coma persons?” This is question begging. Maybe you meant “Are human organisms in a deep coma persons?” I’ll try to answer that question.

    Once a human organism acquires the capacity for consciousness, it is a person and remains a person until it permanently loses the capacity for consciousness. A human organism in a coma may or may not have permanently lost this capacity. That individual may have sustained brain damage so severe that neurologists come to the conclusion that the individual has permanently lost this capacity. This judgement rests with the neurologists responsible for the patient’s treatment.

  109. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Linda Rosa at 102. Thanks for your comments.

    You claimed that “the fetus is only the potential for personhood.” Yes, the early fetus has the potential to become a person and does become one when it acquires the capacity for consciousness.

    Women are not petrie dishes; that is a ridiculous idea. Women are persons with rights. All the medical issues and risks you have raised must be taken into account when a host woman considers abortion of the fetal person. But it is ethical for her to have the abortion of the fetal person only if she puts forth one of a few good reasons. I mentioned two in the article. Do you believe it would be ethical for her to abort the fetal person for the reason “I want to go back to college” or even “My boyfriend just left me”? Please present and defend your answer.

    Calling people “dictators” is ad hominem and has no place here.

    The 12 or 14 year old girl who is pregnant should get an abortion before her fetus becomes a person! This is the rational, ethical, and legal action. I don’t know why you are asking about this.

    Your morality is deficient if it does not treat both the host woman and the fetal person with respect for their rights. Pregnant women who don’t want children should simply get an abortion before the human organism inside them becomes a person! Couples should have no more than one children in today’s world of overpopulation! Forcing women to have children only comes into play during the last 15 weeks when they do not have a good reason for aborting. I don’t know why you are having so much trouble understanding and agreeing with me.

    XXX

  110. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Ugo Corda at 104. Thanks for your comments. This will be a long reply. Sorry.

    Of course your quote from Koch was taken out of context. However, I have re-read the Koch article to better understand your objections and see how we might reach agreement.

    Koch says “Exposure to maternal speech sounds in the muffled confines of the womb enables the fetus to pick up statistical regularities so that the newborn can distinguish its mother’s voice and even her language from others.” Here Koch’s words “pick up” imply that the fetus still in the womb is conscious, but Koch doesn’t say here when this happens in the womb.

    But a little later Koch says “Consciousness requires a sophisticated network of highly interconnected components, nerve cells. Its physical substrate, the thalamo-cortical complex that provides consciousness with its highly elaborate content, begins to be in place between the 24th and 28th week of gestation.” and also “Thus, many of the circuit elements necessary for consciousness are in place by the third trimester.” These conclusions support the hypothesis of elementary consciousness in the womb.

    Then later Koch says “Invasive experiments in rat and lamb pups and observational studies using ultrasound and electrical recordings in humans show that the third-trimester fetus is almost always in one of two sleep states.” This seems a little ambiguous but then Koch clears it up when he says “In late gestation the fetus is in one of these two sleep states 95 percent of the time, separated by brief transitions.” This implies that the fetus is conscious 5% of the time.

    Koch says “What is fascinating is the discovery that the fetus is actively sedated…” A fetus may be sedated and conscious at the same time.

    Koch asks an important question: “So does the fetus dream when in REM sleep? This is
    not known. But what would it dream of?” It would probably dream of the snippets of conscious experience which it already had, although these snippets would likely be vague and amorphous.

    Koch then says “I wager that the fetus experiences nothing in utero; that it feels the way we do when we are in a deep, dreamless sleep.” This statement is inaccurate since there is no way “it feels” when we are in a deep dreamless sleep. There is no feeling at all in this state. I wager that the fetus experiences something in utero – brief moments of amorphous sounds, sights, touchings, movements, tastes, odors, etc. This wager is compatible with Koch’s other statements in the same article.

    He says “The dramatic events attending delivery by natural (vaginal) means cause the brain to abruptly wake up, however.” I wager that the dramatic events preceding delivery cause the fetal brain to wake up before the dramatic events of delivery, but that the fetus had moments of consciousness prior to any of this.

    And finally Koch says “It draws its first breath, wakes up and begins to experience life.” I disagree. It begins to experience life while in the womb. That this is the case is supported by other studies that show that the fetus LEARNED sound preferences and taste/odor preferences while IN UTERO. For example, the newborn already has a preference for mother’s voice, compared to other voices.

    Many of Koch’s statements in his article are compatible with my view, but others are compatible with a view that the fetus has no conscious experiences at all. My view is supported by other authors and studies. Of course, more research is needed. However, I believe that it is important to mark the beginning of personhood in a conservative manner – at the earliest point at which the fetus might be having conscious experiences.

    You said “I am just saying that the demarcation line for abortion should extend up to immediately before the actual state of consciousness, not just up to the capacity of consciousness.” I disagree. The human organism becomes a person at the onset of consciousness. If the organism has been conscious at least once, we can say that it has the capacity for consciousness. After the organism becomes a person, then severe restrictions on abortion are warranted, as I pointed out near the end of my essay. Before the organism becomes a person, no restrictions on the choice to abort are warranted.

    You said “The only issue right now is that we do not have the exact scientific knowledge to understand when a state of consciousness is actually reached…” That is certainly not the “only” issue, but it is a legitimate one. We don’t have the exact knowledge that you desire, yet it is good enough. Our understanding is far greater now than it was at the time of Roe v. Wade, and so we are justified in adopting a new ethical and legal framework, as I proposed.

    I think we differ very little in our positions. Nuances.

  111. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Ugo Corda at 105. Thanks for your comments.

    I disagree with your agreement with Barbara at 100. All these judgments are ultimately philosophical and scientific. Of course, they are influenced by culture, but I am seeking to draw conclusions that are cross-cultural.

    David Hume’s dictum is still commonly accepted, but it is now also under a lot of fire. Please read Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape” for more on this. I am more in alignment with Harris than Hume on this point. I think you can derive an “ought” from an “is” if you use a proper method. For example, don’t bridge engineers derive a set of “oughts” for a set of “is”s when they construct a new bridge. Might ethical philosophers operate analogously?

    The “moral values” we adopt may be traced to what we naturally value as human organisms. For example, regardless of culture, all human organisms value food and water. Knowing this, might we derive “oughts” as an engineer might?

  112. Ugo Corda says:

    Responding to Gary at 111: I read “The Moral Landscape” when it came out and, even though I am an atheist myself, I cannot accept Harris’ main conclusion. I am a moral anti-realist, and there are plenty of moral anti-realist atheists out there that agree with me. (If you google for criticism to that book you’ll find plenty).

    Just to take the bridge example you gave, science and associated technology can easily tell us how to construct the bridge to, for instance, an isolated village that suffers economically because of such isolation, and how the wellbeing of the village people will increase as a consequence. But the actual decision to build the bridge is a completely different story. A Kantian moralist would say that, given the expected positive effect of the bridge on the village people, it will be a moral imperative to build the bridge. A Utilitarian might say that building that bridge will subtract funds from, for example, the construction of a new state-wide power plant, which will decrease the total wellbeing of the state population (even though the village wellbeing will increase), so that the bridge should not be built. A Divine Command moralist might say that, since the population in the village follows a heretic sect which is contrary to God’s divine commands, nothing should be done to help that sect to flourish. And so on and so forth.

    What happens in practice in a democratic society is that all those different moral convictions will come to bear when voting for a morally controversial issue (like abortion), and the result of the vote will be the socially accepted moral resolution (even though a whole bunch of people will inevitably disagree with that decision). And that is the way it *should* be in my personal opinion (clearly not an objective *should* ;-).

  113. Ugo Corda says:

    Responding to Gary at 110: I am glad that our positions are not that far apart. At the same time I would like to bring your attention to the fact that we have to be extremely careful when using words like “picking up” and “learning” in situations like the fetal state. Taking the extreme example, I can say that a heliotropic plant “picks up” the direction of the sun and “learns” how to orient itself, but (almost) nobody would dare say that the plant is conscious (even though there are people out there claiming that plants *are* conscious).

    In the case of the fetus we have to be careful not to anthropomorphize (irony intended) what we observe. It could be actual conscious responses, but it could also be automatic responses involving no consciousness at all. In order to be honest we must say that, lacking a full scientific theory of consciousness, we simply do not know for sure. (The same way we cannot tell for sure in many cases whether a comatose patient has no consciousness left so that we can safely remove his life support).

    There are recent attempts to reach a more objective definition of consciousness, like Integrated Information Theory (also called PHI), but I believe we are far from actually getting there.

  114. Gary Whittenberger says:

    GW: This is in response to Ugo Corda at 112. Thanks for your comments.

    UC: Responding to Gary at 111: I read “The Moral Landscape” when it came out and, even though I am an atheist myself, I cannot accept Harris’ main conclusion. I am a moral anti-realist, and there are plenty of moral anti-realist atheists out there that agree with me. (If you google for criticism to that book you’ll find plenty).

    GW: As I understand the concept, I am not a “moral realist,” but I do believe in Correct Universal Morality, which is allied with most of Harris’ moral philosophy presented in the book. I have read critiques of that book, but I think most of them are invalid.

    UC: Just to take the bridge example you gave, science and associated technology can easily tell us how to construct the bridge to, for instance, an isolated village that suffers economically because of such isolation, and how the wellbeing of the village people will increase as a consequence. But the actual decision to build the bridge is a completely different story.

    GW: I don’t think it is “a completely different story.” “We should engage in the set of behaviors X to build the bridge” is different from, but similar in a general way to “We should build the bridge to village Y” or “We should build bridges to isolated villages.” In all three of these cases we are making “should” statements where there is an implied or explicit goal. I believe that all of morality might be designed on such an engineering framework. And so, “is” facts can be used to guide the social engineering.

    UC: A Kantian moralist would say that, given the expected positive effect of the bridge on the village people, it will be a moral imperative to build the bridge.

    GW: I doubt a Kantian would say that since you are mentioning a “positive effect” which is what Utilitarians would look at.

    UC: A Utilitarian might say that building that bridge will subtract funds from, for example, the construction of a new state-wide power plant, which will decrease the total wellbeing of the state population (even though the village wellbeing will increase), so that the bridge should not be built.

    GW: A Utilitarian might say that or think in that manner, but would probably reach the conclusion to build the bridge in most particular cases.

    UC: A Divine Command moralist might say that, since the population in the village follows a heretic sect which is contrary to God’s divine commands, nothing should be done to help that sect to flourish. And so on and so forth.

    GW: I support Utilitarian morality and believe that both Kantian morality and Divine Command morality are both failures. Surely you do not think that all approaches to morality are equally correct or valuable, do you? If so, then which is correct or best?

    UC: What happens in practice in a democratic society is that all those different moral convictions will come to bear when voting for a morally controversial issue (like abortion), and the result of the vote will be the socially accepted moral resolution (even though a whole bunch of people will inevitably disagree with that decision). And that is the way it *should* be in my personal opinion (clearly not an objective *should* ;-).

    GW: I don’t think taking a vote of layperson citizens is a proper way to determine correct morality. (Do you even think there is a correct morality?) I know I’m going out on a limb here, but I suggest that my stance on abortion, presented in the article, is the correct moral solution for the abortion problem.

  115. Gary Whittenberger says:

    GW: This is in response to Ugo Corda at 113. Thanks again for your comments.

    UC: Responding to Gary at 110: I am glad that our positions are not that far apart.

    GW: I am glad also.

    UC: At the same time I would like to bring your attention to the fact that we have to be extremely careful when using words like “picking up” and “learning” in situations like the fetal state. Taking the extreme example, I can say that a heliotropic plant “picks up” the direction of the sun and “learns” how to orient itself, but (almost) nobody would dare say that the plant is conscious (even though there are people out there claiming that plants *are* conscious).

    GW: I am being extremely careful here. When Koch uses these terms in this context, he is not referring to tropisms but to consciousness or experience in the human organism. “Picking up” here might mean hearing, seeing, feeling pain, smelling, touching, etc. These are just modes of consciousness. Also, how could you learn without being conscious?

    UC: In the case of the fetus we have to be careful not to anthropomorphize (irony intended) what we observe.

    GW: I disagree. We are justified in anthropomorphizing! After all, the organism is human! What we are doing is generalizing from adult, adolescent, child, and baby circumstances to fetal circumstances in the same species. And there is nothing wrong with that.

    UC: It could be actual conscious responses, but it could also be automatic responses involving no consciousness at all.

    GW: I totally disagree. It is not an “either-or” situation. I am talking about an automatic conscious experience which begins to occur during human development in the womb.

    UC: In order to be honest we must say that, lacking a full scientific theory of consciousness, we simply do not know for sure. (The same way we cannot tell for sure in many cases whether a comatose patient has no consciousness left so that we can safely remove his life support).

    GW: Of course we do not “know for sure,” and as I have said repeatedly, we don’t need to know for sure. We only need to know enough to update our concepts, ethics, and laws regarding abortion, which is what I am trying to do.

    UC: There are recent attempts to reach a more objective definition of consciousness, like Integrated Information Theory (also called PHI), but I believe we are far from actually getting there.

    GW: I have read about that, and it has some advantages and disadvantages, but we don’t need that idea in this case. I am using a mental-neurological-behavioral model, not an information processing model, although I think these approaches will eventually be integrated into a cohesive framework.

  116. Ugo Corda says:

    Responding to Gary at 114: You said:

    “Surely you do not think that all approaches to morality are equally correct or valuable, do you? If so, then which is correct or best?”
    and
    “Do you even think there is a correct morality?”

    There we get to the core of the issue. I do not believe there is any “fact of the matter” regarding morality. Morality is a human creation and, not surprisingly, moral conclusions vary from individual to individual, and from society to society.

    There are of course some fairly fundamental “values”: physical pain is usually bad (unless you are a masochist), death is usually bad (unless you are suicidal or a psychopath), food is usually good (unless you are anorexic), etc. So you can expect to find those same “values” in the morality of most people and societies (but there are plenty of counterexamples even with those most basic concepts). When it comes to some less fundamental “values” you will find of course even higher variability.

    So I do not think there is one correct morality, there are many moralities that feel correct to different individuals and societies. I have my own personal preferences, and most likely they are not the same as yours, and they will also be different than those of many other people. And all those preferences are determined by a number of semi-random factors like physical and psychological constitution of a particular individual, upbringing, personal history, societal influences, etc.

    One of my personal moral preferences (which of course I would never label as “the correct moral solution”) is to resolve moral issues by voting relevant laws in an open and democratic society. My rationale for that is that I personally would feel much better living in that type of society than in others where moral issues are determined in other ways. Other people’s mileage most certainly will vary, but I think that is part of the essence of what we call morality

  117. LindaRosaRN says:

    Gary Whittenberger wrote: “Do you believe the following is a good or bad reason for a host woman to get an abortion of the fetal person inside her? ‘I want to go back to college, and I see now that having a baby would interfere with that.’ Please explain your answer.”

    It’s very telling that you provide so very few particulars. You obviously think this is enough info to judge, right or wrong, a decision to have an abortion.

    But regardless of the details, my answer would be the same. It’s not for me or anyone else to judge another’s complex life situation or reproductive choices – or fault any woman for not opting to take on the risks and responsibilities of carrying a pregnancy to term.

  118. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Ugo at 116. Thanks for your comments and questions. We’ve drifted from the topic of my article to a related topic, but that’s fine. I’m enjoying our discussion.

    GW1: “Surely you do not think that all approaches to morality are equally correct or valuable, do you? If so, then which is correct or best?” and “Do you even think there is a correct morality?”

    UC2: There we get to the core of the issue. I do not believe there is any “fact of the matter” regarding morality. Morality is a human creation and, not surprisingly, moral conclusions vary from individual to individual, and from society to society.

    GW2: A “fact” is a true descriptive proposition. “Should” propositions in morality are not descriptions, and thus they cannot be facts. However, I believe they can be correct or incorrect. Just because moral conclusions vary in the way you say doesn’t mean that they are all correct. And so, our job is to produce Correct Universal Ethics (CUE).

    UC2: There are of course some fairly fundamental “values”: physical pain is usually bad (unless you are a masochist), death is usually bad (unless you are suicidal or a psychopath), food is usually good (unless you are anorexic), etc. So you can expect to find those same “values” in the morality of most people and societies (but there are plenty of counterexamples even with those most basic concepts). When it comes to some less fundamental “values” you will find of course even higher variability.

    GW2: You gave three good examples with which I agree, but I would reframe all of them. For example, “All human persons, not having some disorder, dysfunction, or injury naturally value the absence of pain (or devalue pain, or negatively value pain).” That is a fact of biology or psychology which can be used as the basis for “should” conclusions in morality. (I will assume morality and ethics to be equivalent.) The other two can be reframed in the same way. You will have to be more specific about “less fundamental values.”

    UC2: So I do not think there is one correct morality, there are many moralities that feel correct to different individuals and societies. I have my own personal preferences, and most likely they are not the same as yours, and they will also be different than those of many other people. And all those preferences are determined by a number of semi-random factors like physical and psychological constitution of a particular individual, upbringing, personal history, societal influences, etc.

    GW2: Why do you prefer one moral rule over another? Is that entirely due to those semi-random somewhat accidental factors of psychology and culture? Imagine “partialing out” those factors to get to the common basis of homo sapiens. If you do that, I think you can reach those things that we all naturally value, at least the most of us who do not have specific dyfunctions, e.g. biological pain insensitivity.

    UC2: One of my personal moral preferences (which of course I would never label as “the correct moral solution”) is to resolve moral issues by voting relevant laws in an open and democratic society. My rationale for that is that I personally would feel much better living in that type of society than in others where moral issues are determined in other ways. Other people’s mileage most certainly will vary, but I think that is part of the essence of what we call morality

    GW2: Let me try to formulate a moral rule for that. “When people make decisions in a group, they should use democratic procedures.” Why do you prefer this but don’t think it is correct? Don’t you think it is correct for all people at all times? If not, what moral rule would you substitute for it?

  119. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to LindaRosa at 117. Thanks for your comments.

    You did not give a yes or no answer to the question. So, you evaded it.

    It is for you, and me, and everyone else to judge another’s complex life situation or reproductive choices whenever it is necessary to protect the life and well being of another person! You should not be a apathetic moral bystander and just say “People are complex and so we should just let them do whatever they want to do.” People are fallible. They can make ethical errors. Laws regulate behavior in any civilization.

  120. Ugo Corda says:

    Responding to Gary at 118: I understand this is getting off the main subject of your article, so I’ll try to be brief.

    GW: I think you can reach those things that we all naturally value, at least the most of us who do not have specific dysfunctions, e.g. biological pain insensitivity.

    UC: It sounds simple, but in practice there are lots of issues that bring you right back to the conflicting views of the various schools of morality. For example, what if action X avoids my pain but creates pain to others? You will have your answer to that, and a number of other people will have a completely different answer. Are you going to try to convince the other people, confident of the fact that you will succeed where all other moralists in the last couple of thousand years have not? (Just looking at this thread on abortion, it should be clear to you that you are never going to change the mind of a whole bunch of other people)

    GW: “When people make decisions in a group, they should use democratic procedures.” Why do you prefer this but don’t think it is correct? Don’t you think it is correct for all people at all times? If not, what moral rule would you substitute for it?

    UC: The word “correct” implies the existence of a “true morality”, which I reject as an ontological concept. That rule is just my personal preference (explainable by my personal makeup, personal history and the society in which I am living). You have probably heard that many young people coming from mainland China to the US find democracy to be very overrated. That is not surprising, given their background, and you will have a hard time convincing them that your system is better than theirs. You and I too would probably have the same belief they have, if we had had the same background.

    In the end, the prevalence of a moral system over competing ones boils down to relationships of power among different groups and societies, and it has nothing to do with “correct” philosophical investigation.

  121. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Ugo at 120. Again thanks for your comments and questions.

    GW1: I think you can reach those things that we all naturally value, at least the most of us who do not have specific dysfunctions, e.g. biological pain insensitivity.

    UC2: It sounds simple, but in practice there are lots of issues that bring you right back to the conflicting views of the various schools of morality.

    GW2: But I think there is only one legitimate school of morality – rule utilitarianism.

    UC2: For example, what if action X avoids my pain but creates pain to others? You will have your answer to that, and a number of other people will have a completely different answer. Are you going to try to convince the other people, confident of the fact that you will succeed where all other moralists in the last couple of thousand years have not? (Just looking at this thread on abortion, it should be clear to you that you are never going to change the mind of a whole bunch of other people)

    GW2: It is necessary to have moral rules which resolve conflicts of interests, needs, and rights between people. The abortion controversy is mainly about just such a conflict – the conflict between one person’s right to bodily autonomy and another person’s right to life.

    GW2: The main obstacles to Correct Universal Ethics are 1) deficiency in rational thinking skills among people, 2) prevalence of emotionalism, bias, prejudice, 3) pessimism, cynicism, and hopelessness, and 4) religion. There may be others, but those come to mind. Despite the last couple thousand years of disagreement on moral rules, I’m confident that we can and will adopt CUE. It’s just a matter of time and change of attitude. For example, it hasn’t always been the case, but now most people agree “No person should enslave another person.” We are making progress.

    GW1: “When people make decisions in a group, they should use democratic procedures.” Why do you prefer this but don’t think it is correct? Don’t you think it is correct for all people at all times? If not, what moral rule would you substitute for it?

    UC2: The word “correct” implies the existence of a “true morality”, which I reject as an ontological concept.

    GW2: As I explained, I don’t think of “true morality,” but I think of “correct morality.” True necessarily implies correct, but correct does not necessarily imply true.

    UC2: That rule is just my personal preference (explainable by my personal makeup, personal history and the society in which I am living).

    GW2: I think you should shift the foundation for your preference of one moral rule over another to REASON. If everyone were to do this, then we could make faster progress towards CUE.

    UC2: You have probably heard that many young people coming from mainland China to the US find democracy to be very overrated. That is not surprising, given their background, and you will have a hard time convincing them that your system is better than theirs. You and I too would probably have the same belief they have, if we had had the same background.

    GW2: I do agree that the moralities which people embrace are influenced by the culture from which they come, but that can be changed. I not only prefer democracy, I believe it is morally correct to implement democracy. Discussion of that topic would take us too far afield, but my main point here is that we must use REASON to develop CUE.

    UC2: In the end, the prevalence of a moral system over competing ones boils down to relationships of power among different groups and societies, and it has nothing to do with “correct” philosophical investigation.

    GW2: That’s a pretty cynical view. I don’t agree. I believe that in the end it has everything to do with proper philosophical and scientific investigation. Correct morality is at bottom a matter of social engineering through reason.

  122. Ugo Corda says:

    Responding to Gary at 121: I think we have both expressed our points of view pretty clearly, so there is not much else to say. I would only like to point out something about REASON, which you (and people like Sam Harris) emphatically invoke, because it is crucial in our differences. You believe that most people, once they abandon their passions and other irrational thoughts and start using reason, would inevitably reach the same conclusions as you have.

    I think there is a fundamental flaw in that line of thought. Reason is basically the application of the rules of logic to a basic set of foundational assumptions (e.g. all men are created equal, the world essence is materialistic, human essence is spiritual, there is a god, there is no god, etc. etc.). Those assumptions are axiomatic, i.e. not subject to further investigation. You will of course say that your assumptions are perfectly “reasonable”, but people with opposite views will also say that their own assumptions are the perfectly reasonable ones.

    Those who want to abolish abortion starting from conception, for example, will tell you that they are just applying correct reasoning starting from the most reasonable assumptions: there is a god, there is a scripture, the scripture is correct, god and the scripture tells us that life should be protected since conception (never mind that medieval theologians thought that only at birth does the soul get into the body ;-), etc. etc.

    You might say to them: I am using science and science tells me how the world really is, and your fundamental assumptions are wrong. So then you get into the discussion, for example, of whether science shows us the way the world really is (scientific realism); or instead it shows reality as interpreted by us (scientific antirealism) and “true” reality is unreachable. And your choice of scientific realism vs. antirealism will also be based on some axiomatic assumptions not subject to further investigation. And so on and so forth. I am pretty confident that these discussions will never end, so relying on reason to univocally resolve these conflicts is in my opinion a fool’s errand

  123. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Ugo Corda at 122. Thanks again for your comments.

    UC: Responding to Gary at 121: I think we have both expressed our points of view pretty clearly, so there is not much else to say. I would only like to point out something about REASON, which you (and people like Sam Harris) emphatically invoke, because it is crucial in our differences. You believe that most people, once they abandon their passions and other irrational thoughts and start using reason, would inevitably reach the same conclusions as you have.

    GW: Yes, I believe most people would.

    UC: I think there is a fundamental flaw in that line of thought. Reason is basically the application of the rules of logic to a basic set of foundational assumptions (e.g. all men are created equal, the world essence is materialistic, human essence is spiritual, there is a god, there is no god, etc. etc.). Those assumptions are axiomatic, i.e. not subject to further investigation. You will of course say that your assumptions are perfectly “reasonable”, but people with opposite views will also say that their own assumptions are the perfectly reasonable ones.

    GW: I understand what you mean. However, I believe that most of the assumptions you (and others) regard as axiomatic or foundational are conclusions, the result of rational or irrational thinking. This is clear in the case of the assumption “God exists” which is not axiomatic at all, contrary to Alvin Plantingna. The same for “All men are created equal.” Etc.

    UC: Those who want to abolish abortion starting from conception, for example, will tell you that they are just applying correct reasoning starting from the most reasonable assumptions: there is a god, there is a scripture, the scripture is correct, god and the scripture tells us that life should be protected since conception (never mind that medieval theologians thought that only at birth does the soul get into the body ;-), etc. etc.

    GW: Sure, that’s what they might claim or believe, but they aren’t applying “correct reasoning” or the “most reasonable assumptions”. They never learned sufficient rational thinking, reason, critical thought, skepticism, scientific methodology, logic, proper rhetoric, methods of empirical investigation, weighing evidence, etc., or they have been hampered by learning bad habits.

    UC: You might say to them: I am using science and science tells me how the world really is, and your fundamental assumptions are wrong. So then you get into the discussion, for example, of whether science shows us the way the world really is (scientific realism); or instead it shows reality as interpreted by us (scientific antirealism) and “true” reality is unreachable. And your choice of scientific realism vs. antirealism will also be based on some axiomatic assumptions not subject to further investigation. And so on and so forth. I am pretty confident that these discussions will never end, so relying on reason to univocally resolve these conflicts is in my opinion a fool’s errand

    GW: I’m sorry, but I disagree. We are all human beings, we live on the same Earth, and we are all more alike than we are different. Except for a small percentage of us, we can all learn rational thinking skills. These are the foundations for a clear understanding of the world and the formulation of CUE.

    GW: The consequences of accepting scientific realism vs. anti-realism are probably unimportant. Is the Earth really real? Who cares? We must act as if it is real if we are going to survive.

  124. LindaRosaRN says:

    GE: “You did not give a yes or no answer to the question. So, you evaded it. It is for you, and me, and everyone else to judge another’s complex life situation or reproductive choices whenever it is necessary to protect the life and well being of another person!”

    Me: Ah, you slip in the word “person” into this statement. With elective abortions only medically safe up to 24 weeks, one is hard pressed to make the fetus up to this point a “person.”

    After 24 weeks, abortion is ONLY a medical emergency to save the woman’s life/health, with little or no chance for saving the fetus. (After 24 weeks, the risk is too high for elective abortion, but in late case emergencies, that risk is acceptable.) If you want to get on your high horse to moralize and make laws about these rare emergency abortions, then you also need to take responsibility for the emotional distress you will cause to those who were very likely looking forward to being parents but are devastated by the loss of the pregnancy.

    Perhaps you would like to comment about the moral issues to which I have referred to above which I feel are compelling?

  125. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Linda Rosa at 124. Thank you for your comments.

    GW: “You did not give a yes or no answer to the question. So, you evaded it. It is for you, and me, and everyone else to judge another’s complex life situation or reproductive choices whenever it is necessary to protect the life and well being of another person!”

    Me/LR: Ah, you slip in the word “person” into this statement. With elective abortions only medically safe up to 24 weeks, one is hard pressed to make the fetus up to this point a “person.”

    GW: I don’t “slip in” words. I use them deliberately, sincerely, and honestly. The fetus becomes a person when it acquires the capacity for consciousness, which occurs roughly at the end of the 24th week post conception. Read my article for more details.

    GW: You are still evading! You still didn’t give a direct yes-or-no answer to my question, so I’ll ask it again: “Do you believe the following is a good or bad reason for a host woman to get an abortion of the fetal person inside her? `I want to go back to college, and I see now that having a baby would interfere with that.’” Then explain and defend your answer.

    LR: After 24 weeks, abortion is ONLY a medical emergency to save the woman’s life/health, with little or no chance for saving the fetus. (After 24 weeks, the risk is too high for elective abortion, but in late case emergencies, that risk is acceptable.)

    GW: Most states already have laws which prohibit abortion in at least the third trimester and sometimes before, except for good reason. These laws are compatible with my position. Women should not be permitted to get abortions after the fetus becomes a person, except for one of four good reasons. Some women violate morality and law anyway.

    LR: If you want to get on your high horse to moralize and make laws about these rare emergency abortions, then you also need to take responsibility for the emotional distress you will cause to those who were very likely looking forward to being parents but are devastated by the loss of the pregnancy.

    GW: You are moralizing too, so my horse is no higher than yours. I haven’t been talking about “rare emergency abortions” where the woman has a good reason to get one. I have been talking about the need for ethics and laws to prevent, deter, and reduce abortions when the fetus is a person and the woman does not have a good reason to get an abortion! I think you are missing the point.

    LR: Perhaps you would like to comment about the moral issues to which I have referred to above which I feel are compelling?

    GW: I have.

  126. Sheila stone says:

    Haven’t read all the way down yet, so someone else may have commented on this already. I could not get the “reply” function to work. Comment 11: ” Surely the zygote, if left undisturbed with an ample supply of nutrition that the mother needs anyway,” just hit me, at least, the word “anyway”.

    Is this commenter suggesting that pregnancy is easy, and risk free to the mother? Even in this day and country, and even WITH good prenatal care (which is not equally available in all locations and economic sectors), women die during pregnancy and during childbirth. Actually, motherhood is also significantly associated with poverty and preventable health breakdowns.

    The zygote does not develop with just “nutrition”. If it did, we’d be further along with test tube babies. Pregnancy ALWAYS places physiological strain on the mother’s cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and endocrine systems, and among the more vulnerable, mental health and economic viability, meaning food and shelter. Lotta jobs you can’t continue when you are pregnant. Prenatal care for risk reduction actually costs money to perform.

    Pregnancy, not to mention birth, is often accompanied by pain, in some cases unbearable. Women get c-sections at rates that vary by socioeconomic status.

    Etc.
    SS, RN, MSN

  127. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Sheila Stone at 126. Thanks for your comments.

    SS1: Haven’t read all the way down yet, so someone else may have commented on this already. I could not get the “reply” function to work. Comment 11: ” Surely the zygote, if left undisturbed with an ample supply of nutrition that the mother needs anyway,” just hit me, at least, the word “anyway”.

    SS1: Is this commenter suggesting that pregnancy is easy, and risk free to the mother? Even in this day and country, and even WITH good prenatal care (which is not equally available in all locations and economic sectors), women die during pregnancy and during childbirth. Actually, motherhood is also significantly associated with poverty and preventable health breakdowns.

    GW1: I tend to agree with you on these points.

    SS1: The zygote does not develop with just “nutrition”. If it did, we’d be further along with test tube babies. Pregnancy ALWAYS places physiological strain on the mother’s cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and endocrine systems, and among the more vulnerable, mental health and economic viability, meaning food and shelter. Lotta jobs you can’t continue when you are pregnant. Prenatal care for risk reduction actually costs money to perform. Pregnancy, not to mention birth, is often accompanied by pain, in some cases unbearable. Women get c-sections at rates that vary by socioeconomic status.

    GW1: You are correct. Pregnancy is not easy. Anyone who has been pregnant or has a spouse who has been pregnant would know this first hand.

  128. Sam W says:

    I agree that the capacity for consciousness is a reasonable marker for personhood. And the Dr. Whittenberger does a good job of summarizing the current state of scientific knowledge as it relates to this issue. However, this isn’t the innovative stance that he makes it out to be: the bioethicist Bonnie Steinbock, in particular, has defended a very similar position. (At the other extreme, there are pro-choice philosophers who defend the morality of infanticide, so it doesn’t seem quite right to me to characterize the better-known pro-choice position, focusing on women’s bodily autonomy, as “radical.”)

    Moreover, while I’m inclined to agree that personhood should be a consideration when it comes to the morality of abortion, I don’t that believe Whittenberger’s policy prescriptions necessarily follow. If we’re going to let the state force pregnant women to carry fetuses with the rudiments of consciousness to term, then why shouldn’t we also permit it to compel organ donations to fellow citizens, whose personhood no one disputes?

    Even if that objection can be defeated, Whittenberger’s conditions for the permissibility of late-term abortion are overly restrictive. In the real-world United States, women in much of the country face considerable obstacles — financial, legal, social — to obtaining an abortion even in early pregnancy. Further, rare birth defects, some of which entail a short, painful life for a child born with them, are sometimes not detected until nearly the third trimester. Thus, while it may make sense for women to take fetal personhood into account when deciding whether to terminate a pregnancy, it makes little sense for state or federal governments to proscibe termination after consciousness begins to develop, at least not without fairly broad exceptions.

    Finally, I would point out that when it comes to the matter of criminal penalties, Whittenberger seemingly takes a position that is actually to the Right of the mainstream anti-abortion movement. Opponents of abortion have long called for criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions, but not for women who obtain them. They at least recognize, rightly, that no woman who seeks an abortion does so for fun.

  129. LindaRosaRN says:

    GW: “…I have been talking about the need for ethics and laws to prevent, deter, and reduce abortions when the fetus is a person and the woman does not have a good reason to get an abortion! I think you are missing the point.”

    LR: You are not acknowledging medical realities.

    You believe the fetus becomes a person at or about 24 weeks. Well, you should be satisfied that there are no elective abortions after that point, for the reasons I outlined above.

    It’s too dangerous. No abortion clinics offer elective abortions after 24 weeks. (Very few offer elective abortions from 13-24 weeks.)

    MYTH of the 3RD TRIMESTER ELECTIVE ABORTION

    It is potentially harmful to have laws that prohibit 3rd trimester elective abortions, even when they don’t exist, because such laws perpetual the *myth* of the elective 3rd trimester abortion.

    That myth is used by the pro-lifers as the back door to banning the D&E procedure used for elective abortions 12-24 weeks.

  130. Korky Day says:

    Dear editor,
    ‘Abortion Solution’ is your cover headline for Gary Whittenberger’s pseudo-scientific attack on women’s rights in your undated 2018 journal (Skeptic, Volume 23, Number 4, pages 34-39).
    He hardly mentions women’s stances, social role, or feelings, except to categorize them as ‘radical pro-choice’. Rather, his allegedly centrist ‘solution’ would reduce many Canadian women to the grovelling status of many USA women who want abortions. We in Canada have been happily living with nearly free abortion on demand for several decades—for any reason at any stage of pregnancy. There is no strong political movement here to alter that.
    By pretending his analysis to be scientific, your author plays right into the hands of pro-lifers who have tried to commandeer ‘science’ to prove that a fetus is a ‘person’. He positions himself alongside those religious misogynists, with their same arguments about murder, except to move the date of quasi-ensoulment (‘personhood’) around 5 months later.
    There is nothing scientific about that. It attempts to settle a political question with male-dominated scientific decorations built on a foundation of a purely subjective ethics, namely that a fetus with ‘consciousness’ should enslave a woman’s body and life.

    Mr. Korky Day,
    Vancouver, BC, Canada.

  131. Korky Day says:

    Bravo to Cairns Tishman, comment #22, whom the author, comment #33, would like expelled from this e-discussion, because, presumably, he can’t stand the valid criticism and believes not in free speech.

    I also like comments from LindaRosaRN, #24, 73, 91, and 117; Diana #42; and Ugo Corda #105.

    The author is unconvincing, espcially in his rebuttals to the above.

  132. LindaRosaRN says:

    I wrote: “Perhaps you would like to comment about the moral issues to which I have referred to above which I feel are compelling?”

    And GW responded: “I have.”
    ———————————

    I don’t see GW saying anything in response to my comment:

    “From a different perspective on the morality: the world is vastly over-populated by humans, so is it moral to force more reproduction on women? Humans are destroying habitats and using up finite resources. Biologists tell us we are in the Earth’s 6th period of ‘mass extinction.’ And you are concern about saving [human] fetuses 0-24 weeks old from elective abortions?!”

    Nature usually over-produces young in all species, but humans have neutralized many of the pressures that kill off young. We do have birth control to deal with our fertility. But birth control is not perfect.

    Abortion is humane. Overpopulating the Earth is not.

    Thank you, Mr. Day, and hurrah for Canada!

  133. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Sam at 128. Thanks for your comments.

    SW1: I agree that the capacity for consciousness is a reasonable marker for personhood. And the Dr. Whittenberger does a good job of summarizing the current state of scientific knowledge as it relates to this issue. However, this isn’t the innovative stance that he makes it out to be: the bioethicist Bonnie Steinbock, in particular, has defended a very similar position. (At the other extreme, there are pro-choice philosophers who defend the morality of infanticide, so it doesn’t seem quite right to me to characterize the better-known pro-choice position, focusing on women’s bodily autonomy, as “radical.”)

    GW1: Good that we agree on some major points. I am not familiar with Ms. Steinbock’s writings (do you have a link?), but I wouldn’t be surprised if other persons have reached conclusions very similar to mine. In fact, I would expect that. Persons who defend the morality of infanticide have made a false assumption about personhood, IMO. A common pro-choice position is radical in the sense that it defends any reason a woman might give for having an abortion of a “fetal person.”

    SW1: Moreover, while I’m inclined to agree that personhood should be a consideration when it comes to the morality of abortion, I don’t that believe Whittenberger’s policy prescriptions necessarily follow. If we’re going to let the state force pregnant women to carry fetuses with the rudiments of consciousness to term, then why shouldn’t we also permit it to compel organ donations to fellow citizens, whose personhood no one disputes?

    GW1: Because the prospective organ recipients are not directly connected to and not residing inside another person. Also, because those recipients are usually not the child of the prospective donor. However, I think the law should be expanded to cover this case: If a child needs a kidney or some other organ or tissue, if either parent is a perfect match to give one, and if the prospective donating parent would not be significantly harmed by the donation, then the parent should be required to provide the donation. Why? Because parents have special moral duties to their own children. In these circumstances for parents to deny their own child the donation would be a form of child neglect, IMO.

    SW1: Even if that objection can be defeated, Whittenberger’s conditions for the permissibility of late-term abortion are overly restrictive. In the real-world United States, women in much of the country face considerable obstacles – financial, legal, social – to obtaining an abortion even in early pregnancy. Further, rare birth defects, some of which entail a short, painful life for a child born with them, are sometimes not detected until nearly the third trimester. Thus, while it may make sense for women to take fetal personhood into account when deciding whether to terminate a pregnancy, it makes little sense for state or federal governments to proscibe termination after consciousness begins to develop, at least not without fairly broad exceptions.

    GW1: After the publication of the article, I read more and had more discussions/debates with others, and since then I have expanded the good reasons for aborting a “fetal person” from two to four, which I will include in any later updates or revisions:
    1. To protect the host woman from death.
    2. To protect the host woman from permanent injury.
    3. To protect the fetal person from intractable suffering.
    4. To hasten the death of the fetal person who would survive for only a short time anyway even with the best medical technology.
    I think these would cover your concerns.

    SW1: Finally, I would point out that when it comes to the matter of criminal penalties, Whittenberger seemingly takes a position that is actually to the Right of the mainstream anti-abortion movement. Opponents of abortion have long called for criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions, but not for women who obtain them. They at least recognize, rightly, that no woman who seeks an abortion does so for fun.

    GW1: Actually, my position on the penalty, i.e. one year and one day, is far to the left of those who have recommended penalties. I believe those who recommend no penalty for the host woman are just mistaken. Asking for, ordering, or directing any crime by another person is a crime in itself. For example, even though Osama Bin Laden did not fly any planes into towers, he was clearly culpable since he ordered the attack. Back to abortion, remember how Trump first said that the women should be punished and then later retracted that statement? Usually, these persons are disingenuous, responding to public pressure, hypocritical, and/or philosophically incorrect. A one year sentence should be sufficient to deter wrongful abortions by women and doctors.

  134. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Linda at 129. Thanks for your comments.

    GW1: “.I have been talking about the need for ethics and laws to prevent, deter, and reduce abortions when the fetus is a person and the woman does not have a good reason to get an abortion! I think you are missing the point.”

    LR2: You are not acknowledging medical realities.

    GW2: I think I am acknowledging medical realities. If you think otherwise, then describe one that you think I am ignoring.

    LR2: You believe the fetus becomes a person at or about 24 weeks. Well, you should be satisfied that there are no elective abortions after that point, for the reasons I outlined above.

    GW2: None! I don’t believe you. But even if there haven’t been, there could be, so my ethical and legal position would cover these.

    LR2: It’s too dangerous. No abortion clinics offer elective abortions after 24 weeks. (Very few offer elective abortions from 13-24 weeks.)

    GW2: All abortions are elective. None are forced, at least outside China. But I do agree with you that abortions after 24 weeks are dangerous for the host woman and the fetal person. That’s why they need to be very limited.

    LR2: It is potentially harmful to have laws that prohibit 3rd trimester elective abortions, even when they don’t exist, because such laws perpetual the *myth* of the elective 3rd trimester abortion.

    GW2: It is potentially beneficial to have these laws because they may protect some fetal persons from death or serious injury. Abortions of fetal persons should be prohibited except for four reasons.

    LR2: That myth is used by the pro-lifers as the back door to banning the D&E procedure used for elective abortions 12-24 weeks.

    GW2: I don’t accept the pro-life position. I accept the pro-person position, as described in my article. In the period 12-24 weeks, I believe any reason a woman offers for an abortion should be sufficient. Abortion should only be limited in the last 15 weeks.

  135. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Korky at 131. Thanks for your comments.

    KD: Bravo to Cairns Tishman, comment #22, whom the author, comment #33, would like expelled from this e-discussion, because, presumably, he can’t stand the valid criticism and believes not in free speech.

    GW: Tishman was engaged in uncivil speech which is totally out of line for this discussion. I believe in free speech which is civil. Your remark is an example of enabling incivility.

    KD: I also like comments from LindaRosaRN, #24, 73, 91, and 117; Diana #42; and Ugo Corda #105.

    GW: I also like most of their comments. I agree with some of them and disagree with others.

    KD: The author is unconvincing, espcially in his rebuttals to the above.

    GW: Sorry you aren’t convinced. Many have been.

  136. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Linda at 132. Thanks for your comments.

    LR: I don’t see GW saying anything in response to my comment:
    “From a different perspective on the morality: the world is vastly over-populated by humans, so is it moral to force more reproduction on women? Humans are destroying habitats and using up finite resources. Biologists tell us we are in the Earth’s 6th period of `mass extinction.’ And you are concern about saving [human] fetuses 0-24 weeks old from elective abortions?!”

    GW: It is moral to force women to carry their fetuses to term only in the rare circumstances I have described. In the “vastly over-populated world” you mentioned, it is moral to allow women to get abortions during the first 24 weeks for ANY REASON WHATSOEVER.

    LR: Nature usually over-produces young in all species, but humans have neutralized many of the pressures that kill off young. We do have birth control to deal with our fertility. But birth control is not perfect.
    GW: I agree.

    LR: Abortion is humane. Overpopulating the Earth is not.

    GW: Overpopulating the Earth is unethical; we agree. Abortion is unethical and should be illegal under specific circumstances which are currently rare.

    LR: Thank you, Mr. Day, and hurrah for Canada!

    GW: Yes, hurrah for Canada! It gets a lot of things right, but not all.

  137. Cynthia says:

    Gary and I had extensive discussions on this piece on the Friendly Atheist blog. In summary, the following points were made:

    1. I objected to the fact that the article did not deal with the situation of serious fetal abnormalities. Gary acknowledged that this was an additional circumstance that could justify a 3rd trimester termination.

    2. I made the point that Gary’s proposal, as worded, would actually apply to not just intentional abortions but to any induction of labor or c-sections, which represent about half of all births. Gary acknowledged this. After much further back and forth, he clarified that he would exclude births where the induction or c-section did not increase danger to the fetus.

    3. I questioned the need for such a proposal, since 3rd trimester abortions are extremely rare and those that are done very rarely involve healthy mothers with healthy fetuses. He admitted that he did not have any data on this, but didn’t feel that it was needed.

    4. I questioned who would determine whether the abortion, c-section or induction was justified. I didn’t get a clear answer on this, although the most recent response from him seems to be that the opinion of two doctors would be needed. I still have considerable difficulties with this. What happens if there is only one OB on call at night when someone’s water breaks or their blood pressure spikes at 24 weeks?

    5. I questioned the unintended impacts of such a proposal. What if necessary medical procedures were delayed by fears of legal problems – could that put women’s health or lives at risk? Could women who had stillbirths or premature births face a risk of being sent to jail? Would this make women who were experiencing problems less likely to seek medical attention? Gary was fairly dismissive of these concerns, arguing that “experts” would be dealing with cases justly and not dealing with the fact that many articles have shown that fetal protection laws have been applied unjustly.

    In the end, I still don’t believe that there is any objective evidence to support such a proposal, since there is no data to show that it would improve overall outcomes for mothers and babies.

  138. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Cynthia at 137. Thanks for your comments.

    C1: Gary and I had extensive discussions on this piece on the Friendly Atheist blog. In summary, the following points were made:

    GW1: In general, Cynthia is an articulate and civil communicator, even when she disagrees with me or another person.

    C1: 1. I objected to the fact that the article did not deal with the situation of serious fetal abnormalities. Gary acknowledged that this was an additional circumstance that could justify a 3rd trimester termination.

    GW1: That is correct. I think there are two additional good reasons for an abortion of a fetal person:
    3. To protect the fetal person from intractable suffering.
    4. To hasten the death of the fetal person who would survive for only a short time anyway even with the best medical technology.

    C1: 2. I made the point that Gary’s proposal, as worded, would actually apply to not just intentional abortions but to any induction of labor or c-sections, which represent about half of all births. Gary acknowledged this. After much further back and forth, he clarified that he would exclude births where the induction or c-section did not increase danger to the fetus.

    GW1: My proposal is method neutral. The ethics of an abortion depend on factors such as the personhood of the fetus, the intentions of the host woman and her doctor, and the probabilities of harm to the fetal person and host woman. The ethics don’t really depend on method of removal.

    C1: 3. I questioned the need for such a proposal, since 3rd trimester abortions are extremely rare and those that are done very rarely involve healthy mothers with healthy fetuses. He admitted that he did not have any data on this, but didn’t feel that it was needed.

    GW1: Yes, I don’t think such data are relevant to the validity of my proposal, and yet, since my last discussion with Cynthia, I found some data: “According to a 2016 estimate: ‘There are approximately 600 abortions a year after 24 weeks and most are for fetal anomalies.’” http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/02/the-big-pro-life-shift-in-a-new-poll-is-an-illusion.html
    I would suspect that most of these abortions were performed for good reasons and some were not. Also, these are only the reported abortions. There are undoubtedly some unreported abortions, and I suspect that most of them were not performed for good reasons.

    C1: 4. I questioned who would determine whether the abortion, c-section or induction was justified. I didn’t get a clear answer on this, although the most recent response from him seems to be that the opinion of two doctors would be needed. I still have considerable difficulties with this. What happens if there is only one OB on call at night when someone’s water breaks or their blood pressure spikes at 24 weeks?

    GW1: My clear answer has three parts: 1) Method of removal is largely irrelevant to the ethics of abortion. 2) A legislature would determine “good reasons” or acceptable ones for an abortion of a fetal person, and the host woman and two physicians would determine whether the reasons existed in a particular case. If there was disagreement about this, then a hospital ethics board would rule. If there was still disagreement, then a judge would rule. And 3) OB doctors would be well trained.

    C1: 5. I questioned the unintended impacts of such a proposal. What if necessary medical procedures were delayed by fears of legal problems – could that put women’s health or lives at risk? Could women who had stillbirths or premature births face a risk of being sent to jail? Would this make women who were experiencing problems less likely to seek medical attention? Gary was fairly dismissive of these concerns, arguing that “experts” would be dealing with cases justly and not dealing with the fact that many articles have shown that fetal protection laws have been applied unjustly.

    GW1: Q1 – Yes, in rare cases. Q2 – Only if they had abortions for a wrong reason, i.e. not one of the four good reasons. Q3 – Yes, in rare cases. My proposal is that fetal protection laws should be properly designed, implemented, and justly applied. My prediction is that the benefits would exceed the costs or the advantages would exceed the disadvantages. Some people overlook the fact that I have proposed that, in general, women be allowed to have abortions before their fetus becomes a person, for any reason whatsoever.

    C1: In the end, I still don’t believe that there is any objective evidence to support such a proposal, since there is no data to show that it would improve overall outcomes for mothers and babies.

    GW1: In the end there is objective evidence that punishment works, and this evidence can be reasonably generalized to the problem of women aborting their fetal persons for no good reason. There are fetal persons who are killed who shouldn’t be killed. My proposal would reduce the probability of this happening.

  139. Cynthia says:

    In response to Gary #138:

    We do know what the post-24 week abortion situation would look like in a place with both no limits on abortion and universal health care, because that is the situation in Canada.

    The same source quote by the NY Intelligencer, Dr. Jen Gunter, wrote this about Canada: https://drjengunter.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/explaining-ninth-month-abortions-and-feminism-to-the-national-post-and-everyone-else/ Perhaps 60 per year, generally for fetal abnormalities or severe health reasons. So, we know that even without the possibility of criminal laws, there are natural constraints that prevent these abortions except for extreme circumstances.

    It’s important to keep in mind that this proposal would only address the issue of perhaps 1 or 2 abortions per year in the US being done for reasons that you don’t think are good enough.

    The flip side is that your proposal, as you mention, would also include inductions and c-sections that could increase danger to the fetus. Unlike 3rd trimester intentional abortions, these are NOT rare. It is the standard method of dealing with maternal health complications, even among those that are staunchly pro-life. Rick Santorum’s wife Karen, and Michelle Duggar are 2 examples – the Santorum’s baby Gabriel was born after Karen had an infection that could have killed her even though he was so premature that he only lived 2 hours, and the Duggars induced labor at 24 weeks because Michelle had pre-eclampsia and their baby Josie spent several months in hospital.

    The problem with any proposal that potentially bans, with criminal consequences, these births is that you get legislators with no medical background getting into the question of just how close to death the pregnant woman needs to be. This is a current problem in some states: https://rewire.news/article/2019/03/07/not-dead-enough-public-hospitals-deny-life-saving-abortion-care-to-people-in-need/

    Aside from the horrifying suffering this inflicts upon a pregnant woman who cannot get timely medical care, it also means playing chicken with her very life. The problem is that from a medical point of view, the best practice is to act as soon as you know that there is a potentially fatal risk. If there is premature rupture of membranes, we know that there is a serious risk of infection developing. If there is pre-eclampsia, we know that it won’t go away as long as the pregnancy continues. The problem is that if you wait until death is more imminent, there is no guarantee that the problem can be reversed at that stage to successfully save the pregnant woman’s life.

    The other issue is that hospital administrations are naturally risk-adverse. Even if a doctor believes that a birth is medically necessary, it can’t be done if a hospital won’t allow it, and restrictive laws lead to hospitals putting in onerous requirements. This proposal wouldn’t just impose that for abortions, but for premature births as well. Keep in mind that according to the CDC, 10% of births in the United States are premature. This proposal has the possibility of adding layers of unnecessary bureaucracy and regulations which can impact hundreds of thousands of pregnant woman per year and put them at increased risk, for the sake of preventing possibly 1 or 2 3rd trimester abortions. This proposal is more likely to cost lives than to save them.

  140. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Cynthia at 139. Thank you for your additional comments.

    C: We do know what the post-24 week abortion situation would look like in a place with both no limits on abortion and universal health care, because that is the situation in Canada.

    GW: No limits at all? That seems unwise.

    C: The same source quote by the NY Intelligencer, Dr. Jen Gunter, wrote this about Canada: https://drjengunter.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/explaining-ninth-month-abortions-and-feminism-to-the-national-post-and-everyone-else/ Perhaps 60 per year, generally for fetal abnormalities or severe health reasons. So, we know that even without the possibility of criminal laws, there are natural constraints that prevent these abortions except for extreme circumstances.

    GW: In typical clinics and hospitals in Canada, how many of these late abortions are performed per year for other reasons? How many are performed “underground” in Canada? How many are performed in other countries for women from Canada? And for what reasons are they performed? The relevant data set is incomplete. The US is different from Canada. My proposal is designed to prevent unethical abortions, regardless of how many now occur.

    C: It’s important to keep in mind that this proposal would only address the issue of perhaps 1 or 2 abortions per year in the US being done for reasons that you don’t think are good enough.

    GW: How did you come up with that estimate? According to an article I believe I cited to you there were about 600 known abortions after 24 weeks in the US in a recent year. This does not include unknown, underground, or foreign abortions for US citizens. We don’t know what percentage of all these were for bad reasons. It doesn’t really matter much. The main purpose of my proposal is prevention of abortion of fetal persons for bad reasons, i.e. unethical abortions.

    C: The flip side is that your proposal, as you mention, would also include inductions and c-sections that could increase danger to the fetus. Unlike 3rd trimester intentional abortions, these are NOT rare. It is the standard method of dealing with maternal health complications, even among those that are staunchly pro-life.

    GW: Once again, method of removal is not the concern of my proposal. There are only a few ways to remove a fetus. The reason for removal is the focus of my proposal.

    C: Rick Santorum’s wife Karen, and Michelle Duggar are 2 examples – the Santorum’s baby Gabriel was born after Karen had an infection that could have killed her even though he was so premature that he only lived 2 hours, and the Duggars induced labor at 24 weeks because Michelle had pre-eclampsia and their baby Josie spent several months in hospital.

    GW: Were these not good reasons for an abortion?

    C: The problem with any proposal that potentially bans, with criminal consequences, these births is that you get legislators with no medical background getting into the question of just how close to death the pregnant woman needs to be. This is a current problem in some states: https://rewire.news/article/2019/03/07/not-dead-enough-public-hospitals-deny-life-saving-abortion-care-to-people-in-need/

    GW: Not relevant to my proposal. Legislators would not be involved in any day-to-day clinic decisions about abortion. Before they wrote a new law the legislators would need to solicit expert testimony from doctors, developmental biologists, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, criminologists, etc. I propose that they stipulate the good reasons for the abortion of a fetal person, and then the bad reasons would be defined by exclusion, which is what I have done in my proposal.

    C: Aside from the horrifying suffering this inflicts upon a pregnant woman who cannot get timely medical care, it also means playing chicken with her very life. The problem is that from a medical point of view, the best practice is to act as soon as you know that there is a potentially fatal risk. If there is premature rupture of membranes, we know that there is a serious risk of infection developing. If there is pre-eclampsia, we know that it won’t go away as long as the pregnancy continues. The problem is that if you wait until death is more imminent, there is no guarantee that the problem can be reversed at that stage to successfully save the pregnant woman’s life.

    GW: The proper decision – medically, ethically, and legally – should be made as early as possible, of course. Physicians should be well trained in all these aspects.

    C: The other issue is that hospital administrations are naturally risk-adverse. Even if a doctor believes that a birth is medically necessary, it can’t be done if a hospital won’t allow it, and restrictive laws lead to hospitals putting in onerous requirements.

    GW: I’ve already presented the desirable protocol to you, but you keep disregarding it or objecting to it. The pregnant woman (and possibly the male sex partner and relevant parents in rare and special circumstances; that’s another discussion) and two doctors should make the decision about the abortion of a fetal person, and all these persons should be well informed about the medical, ethical, and legal aspects of the case. If there is disagreement or moderate-to-high uncertainty among these primary decision makers, then the decision should be handed to a clinic or hospital ethics panel consisting of at least seven experts from different but relevant fields. There needs to be at least one administrator on this panel, but not necessarily more.

    C: This proposal wouldn’t just impose that for abortions, but for premature births as well.

    GW: Here I assume by “premature births” you are referring to unintended and uninitiated events. Those are not the subject of my essay.

    C: Keep in mind that according to the CDC, 10% of births in the United States are premature. This proposal has the possibility of adding layers of unnecessary bureaucracy and regulations which can impact hundreds of thousands of pregnant woman per year and put them at increased risk, for the sake of preventing possibly 1 or 2 3rd trimester abortions. This proposal is more likely to cost lives than to save them.

    GW: I believe premature births are beyond the scope of my essay. I am not addressing every ethical dilemma in medicine here.

  141. Cynthia says:

    As an update, the author of this piece has apparently just changed his position. He now appears to be arguing that a man has joint “ownership” of a zygote, embryo or fetus, and there should be able to get the government to compel the pregnant woman to continue the pregnancy regardless of what stage it is at. Not because his believes that the zygote, embryo or early fetus is a person, but because the “property rights” of the would-be father can somehow override the rights of the woman not to subject her body to considerable physical strain and risks that include death.

    I have argued that a zygote, embryo or fetus cannot be property, because children are not property and because once implanted, a zygote, embryo or fetus cannot be bought, sold, gifted, transferred or mortgaged. This example makes no sense outside of a space regime, which is obviously immoral.

    https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2019/03/09/an-aborted-6-week-old-embryo-got-a-green-light-to-sue-an-alabama-abortion-clinic/

  142. Cynthia says:

    I am talking about premature births which do not result from spontaneous labor. Your definition covers induction of labor and c-sections, as you have clearly indicated, at any stage past 24 weeks. I don’t know if you intended to do this, but this is the actual result of your proposal.

    Many of these result from risky medical situations where the protocol you describe would result in delay that would elevate risk. In many hospitals, particularly smaller ones, you wouldn’t have 2 OBs on call, for example.

    You also can’t really comprehensively set out all situations in which causing an early birth would be justified. You could set out a general test, but how that test applies will be subject to debate. That’s what the ReWire article shows – if the test is that there is an imminent risk of death, doctors won’t always be sure what that means. Ditto any other test – in countries with more liberal “risk to life or health” wording, almost all abortions are approved because pregnancy, pretty much by definition, will involve a risk to life and health and anyone seeking an abortion would say that their psychological health would be affected by a denial.

    Assembling a 7 person panel in uncertain cases would be even more onerous, especially in smaller hospitals, and meanwhile a woman’s life or health might be jeopardized.

  143. Alexander Alblas says:

    If consciousness is required in order for a being to be a person, would you then say that animals should be considered
    persons too? Because in the last few decades we’ve come to understand that animals certainly do have consciousness.
    And what are your thoughts on killing animals for food? Because if killing an animal, which has in some ways a greater level of consciousness and self awareness then a newborn human baby, is morally justified. Wouldn’t killing a human baby for food be justified too then?

  144. Gary Whittenberger says:

    GW: This is in response to Cynthia at 141. Thanks for your additional comments.

    C: As an update, the author of this piece has apparently just changed his position.

    GW: Since I wrote the Skeptic article I have been testing an update to my position. On a couple of blog sites I have proposed and defended the idea that there may be at least one other situation in which a woman’s right to an abortion should be limited. So far, I have heard no good objections to it.

    C: He now appears to be arguing that a man has joint “ownership” of a zygote, embryo or fetus, and there should be able to get the government to compel the pregnant woman to continue the pregnancy regardless of what stage it is at. Not because his believes that the zygote, embryo or early fetus is a person, but because the “property rights” of the would-be father can somehow override the rights of the woman not to subject her body to considerable physical strain and risks that include death.

    GW: This is somewhat of a distortion of my position, so I’ll try to correct it. The ZEF (zygote, embryo, or fetus) is property jointly owned by the woman and man who had sex, until ownership is fully transferred to one party or until the fetus becomes a person when it acquires consciousness at around the 25th week post-conception (see Skeptic article). At the time the woman discovers she is pregnant and immediately informs the man (or earlier), if the woman wants to abort and the man wants to save the ZEF and he wants to become the resulting baby’s sole caretaker upon birth (these circumstances constituting a small percentage of all cases), then ownership of the ZEF should be transferred fully to the man at that point in time. The state should require the woman to complete the pregnancy and the man to pay “womb rental” not less than $1000 per month. The man’s right to property should supercede the woman’s right to bodily autonomy in this case (and other similar cases) because interference with the man’s right would cause more harm than interference with the woman’s right. “Somehow override” understates my position since there is a strong rational reason for the override. (Of course, you Cynthia do not mention the “physical strain and risks that include death” if an abortion is performed.” These should also fall into the evaluation balance.)

    C: I have argued that a zygote, embryo or fetus cannot be property, because children are not property and because once implanted, a zygote, embryo or fetus cannot be bought, sold, gifted, transferred or mortgaged. This example makes no sense outside of a space regime, which is obviously immoral.

    GW: I totally disagree with you on this point. Since the ZEF (before consciousness) can be, is, and should be considered property, whether inside or outside a uterus, then it is initially owned and controlled by the man and woman who produced it. In the general case, if two or more persons create, invent, assemble, manufacture, or otherwise cause the existence of some product, then by default the product is property owned by all those persons in a manner proportional to their contributions or to their mutually agreed assignment. Decisions to sell, give away, loan, transfer, modify, or destroy the property must be made by all the owners. Destruction of the property is irrevocable and thus should require unanimous consent of the owners.

    GW: I have no idea what you mean by “a space regime.” I am talking about how people should behave in the here and now. This is about ethics.

  145. Gary Whittenberger says:

    This is in response to Cynthia at 142. Thanks for your additional comments.

    C: I am talking about premature births which do not result from spontaneous labor. Your definition covers induction of labor and c-sections, as you have clearly indicated, at any stage past 24 weeks. I don’t know if you intended to do this, but this is the actual result of your proposal.

    GW: Then you are talking about intentionally induced labor which leads to a premature birth. How is this not an abortion? But is it an ethical or unethical abortion? It depends on the reason.

    C: Many of these result from risky medical situations where the protocol you describe would result in delay that would elevate risk. In many hospitals, particularly smaller ones, you wouldn’t have 2 OBs on call, for example.

    GW: The law should require one attending OB and one other OB on call. If these persons are well trained in medicine, biology, the law, and ethics, there should no increased delay or risk. In general, it takes the same amount of time to decide the right action as to decide the wrong action in difficult situations for well trained people.

    C: You also can’t really comprehensively set out all situations in which causing an early birth would be justified. You could set out a general test, but how that test applies will be subject to debate. That’s what the ReWire article shows – if the test is that there is an imminent risk of death, doctors won’t always be sure what that means. Ditto any other test – in countries with more liberal “risk to life or health” wording, almost all abortions are approved because pregnancy, pretty much by definition, will involve a risk to life and health and anyone seeking an abortion would say that their psychological health would be affected by a denial.

    GW: Doctors will and should do the very best they can with their knowledge of medicine, biology, ethics, and the law.

    C: Assembling a 7 person panel in uncertain cases would be even more onerous, especially in smaller hospitals, and meanwhile a woman’s life or health might be jeopardized.

    GW: It would be an extra burden, but it would be rare and still necessary where two OBs could not come to an agreement. You mention the woman’s life and health, but not the fetal person’s. Of course, this reveals your bias. The Hippocratic Oath, applicable in the situation we are discussing, is conservative in nature: “First do no harm.”

  146. Gary Whittenberger says:

    GW: This is in response to Alexander at 143. Thanks for your comments.

    AA: If consciousness is required in order for a being to be a person, would you then say that animals should be considered persons too? Because in the last few decades we’ve come to understand that animals certainly do have consciousness.

    GW: No, because animals do not have human DNA.

    AA: And what are your thoughts on killing animals for food? Because if killing an animal, which has in some ways a greater level of consciousness and self awareness then a newborn human baby, is morally justified. Wouldn’t killing a human baby for food be justified too then?

    GW: The issue of killing animals for food is beyond the scope of my article, and I have not thought enough about it to offer a public opinion. However, it is always ethically wrong to kill human babies for food.

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