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December 23, 2004

Comments

Chuckles

I dont see them making any headway with this argument.
That Embryos are naturally flushed out doesnt mean jack.
Old people die naturally too. Does that mean folks can up and kill them, simply becomes nature sometimes does?

Which do I save? Substitute the embryos for a really old man...and the choices are still as problematic.

Abiola Lapite

"Which do I save? Substitute the embryos for a really old man...and the choices are still as problematic."

You mean to say you find having to choose between a 3-year old and 10 embryos anywhere near as "problematic" as having to decide between saving the child and an old man? Are you for real?

Andy

When I've asked this question of those who maintain personhood begins at conception, the response I've gotten has been either "You're being disingenuous" or else they demur and duck the question, trying to say that it would be problematic. I've never gotten a straight answer.

I like to rephrase the question in terms of a natural gas leak and a sleeping 3-year-old, because then the 3-year-old doesn't suffer any pain.

Phil Hunt

Just shows what happens when you ascribe human rights to something you can only see in a microsope.

Chuckles

No...What I am saying is that the formulation of that argument really doesnt present any headway into a standing rebuttal.

Of course I would save the 3 yr old - but how does this inform as to whether the Embryo is a person or not?

I assumed this was the crux.

i.e. 3 yr old baby and an Old Man. I would save the 3 yr Old. But this doesnt mean the Old Man isnt a person.

i.e. The choices only reflect social value ascriptions and not actual personhood.

Abiola Lapite

"i.e. The choices only reflect social value ascriptions and not actual personhood."

Uh? How about Old Man vs. 10 Embryos then?

Chuckles

Nice One.

Old Man of course.

But what does this have to do with the personhood of the embryo?
If personhood is intrinsic, the debate will have no end. If it is extrinsic - Hello Holocaust!

Abiola Lapite

"But what does this have to do with the personhood of the embryo?"

If you seriously felt that the life of each embryo had as much value as that of an actual living, breathin human being, you'd opt to save even two embryos over a 3 year old child, much less an old man. That you don't suggests you're playing verbal games when you talk of "intrinsic" versus "extrinsic" personhood - your revealed preferences show that you believe nothing of the sort yourself.

razib

i've tried this sort of thing. hard-core prolifers tend to dodge the question, or assert that it doesn't prove anything. when i put up a post asserting that there was a spectrum of personhood implicitly in the way people value zygotes vs. embroyos vs. fetuses vs. infants, one prolife site simply responded that "i was wrong, i didn't 'get it' at all...." no rebuttals beyond that, after which, they proceeded to deconstruct my own viewpoint.

Chuckles

But I dont believe that 10 or 20 embryos have more value than a living, breathing human being.

What I am saying is that the fact that embryos have less value doesnt make them non-persons.
The fact that an old man has less value doesnt make him a non-person.

Embryo < Old Guy < Prime of Life Human.

The construct above is clearly prejudiced with respects to its ascription of value, but that doesnt mean either one of the 3 is a non-person.
The importance of this is in situations that arent either-or; and all you have to save is the life of the Embryo.

Sure, embryos have less value...so?


Razib: Why is there a spectrum of personhood implicit with value ascriptions? Couldnt it be a spectrum of Utility instead? Does utility = Personhood?
Even if there were a spectrum of Personhood; so?
What do you do when you arent in an either-or situation?

I believe the idea in the Reason article revolves around Personhood?

Abiola Lapite

"But I dont believe that 10 or 20 embryos have more value than a living, breathing human being.

What I am saying is that the fact that embryos have less value doesnt make them non-persons.
The fact that an old man has less value doesnt make him a non-person.

Embryo < Old Guy < Prime of Life Human."

But that's so ... reasonable (not to mention utilitarian). What I was hoping for was a maximalist defense of the rights of zygotes along the lines being pushed by those who equate stem cell research with murder. If a person is a person is a person, and a zygote is a person, then one ought to be even more willing to save 20 zygotes than one would be to save a single toddler, and as a matter of practical policy, that is indeed the attitude held by many "pro-life" activists, who see no inconsistency in insisting on the "rights" of blastocysts even as they wish to cut public provision for deprived children.

Joseph Hertzlinger

On one hand, it is preposterous to think that a fetus is an inanimate object a minute before birth but a full human being a minute after birth. On the other hand, some people cannot believe that a single cell can have rights. On the gripping hand, there is no clear dividing line.

The question of whether a fetus is a human being can be divided into two separate questions:

1. Is the embryo part of a human body?

The answer is clearly yes.

2. Which body?

This is less clear. Fuzzy logic might be appropriate. You can think of the mother and child as two different beings with a fuzzy boundary in space–time. If you cannot believe that an embryo 1 second after conception is not a separate human being but an infant 23 million seconds later is a separate human being then maybe the embryo could be considered 1/23,000,000 part of a human.

In that case, it would clearly be inexcusable to destroy over 23,000,000 one-second embryos.

Abiola Lapite

"If you cannot believe that an embryo 1 second after conception is not a separate human being but an infant 23 million seconds later is a separate human being then maybe the embryo could be considered 1/23,000,000 part of a human.

In that case, it would clearly be inexcusable to destroy over 23,000,000 one-second embryos."

I would not hesitate to save even a terminally ill, grouchy, mean-spirited old man over 23,000,000 embryos in petri dishes.

I simply don't accept that a bunch of cells without anything resembling a nervous system deserves any more consideration than any other bunch of random cells with a full complement of chromosomes; if we accept that zygotes deserve any special consideration, then there's no reason not to extend the same consideration to, say, skin cells, which are also capable of growing into full individuals, as cloning efforts have demonstrated. Would anyone take seriously a person who claimed that, say, too vigorous a buffing of oneself in the shower was murder, simply because skin cells had been killed in the process? Is a surgeon who extracts enough pieces of tissue from his patients the equivalent of a drive-by killer? Yet these are the sorts of logical absurdities one is led to by treating blastocysts without nervous systems as "persons"; that a thing is alive and has human genes is not enough to call it a human being.

João da Costa

This discussion, like the old questions around abortion, shows again how much, sets of moral propositions NEVER close themselves in fully non-contradictory systems independently of the efforts one put on trimming them.
I gave some hints about this in a previous debate.
Neither Chuckles´s nor Abiola´s position are free of contradictions, in my view.
As Abiola showed, to see embryos as fully persons would mean that also random body cells should be seen likewise (clonning procedures open a path from cell to fully functioning organisms, so a cell is a part but also somehow equivalent to the whole!).
But Abiola himself cannot explain clearly where does he draw the line between a non-person and a person in the path from fertilized egg to newborn human baby.
Possession of a working nervous system seems to him a way out of the conundrum. But is he sure of this?
Let us assume that Abiola is a lawmaker and he should decide how much time from conception can we give to a mother until she cannot (lawfully) abort a fetus. How would Abiola decide? 1 week, 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months...?
And if he chooses some point in time why not a bit earlier or a bit later?
I suspect that this problem is unsolvable from the point of view of (moral) principles (in practice one has always a solution!) whatever are they!

Abiola Lapite

"But Abiola himself cannot explain clearly where does he draw the line between a non-person and a person in the path from fertilized egg to newborn human baby."

Oh, nonsense. I've explained quite clearly, you just don't happen to like my explanation.

"Let us assume that Abiola is a lawmaker and he should decide how much time from conception can we give to a mother until she cannot (lawfully) abort a fetus. How would Abiola decide? 1 week, 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months...?
And if he chooses some point in time why not a bit earlier or a bit later?"

This is just the same tired old Sorites argument. Do you mean to say we can't distinguish black from white because shades of grey exist??

João da Costa

Abiola:

Give me a CONCRETE answer please!
How much time exactly?
If you were a lawmaker you would clearly understand that the problem I pose is real because you would be forced to make a CONCRETE decision.
About colors, I remember something...human colors indeed:
Apartheid lawmakers were always with problems in defining boundaries between races. Their laws included terms refering to races so they were forced to define them precisely and this was really very problematic! Not between "black" and "white" because they assumed a middle category "colored". But that amounted to new boundaries: who is "black" and not "colored" or vice-versa? Or, who is "white" and not "colored" or vice-versa?
For lawmakers concrete decisions must be made and this is always problematic!

Note: Another ambiguous boundary is the age of consent for sexual relations. Who is minor and who is an adult?
If you look at different countries you will notice different choices for age of consent. If it was so clear-cut why the disparities?

lamin

The alternatives posed are like the old "mother and wife" choice. You are in a boat and it's sinking but you can reach shore only if you make the load on the boat lighter. You are the only oarsman with a sense of direction--whom do you save--mamma or madame? And both are staring at you knowing that you have to make a dreadful choice. I guess it all boils down to the issue of "value".

Same with the embryos and the 3 year old toddler. Suppose the embryos are those of the potential rescuer and his wife but the toddler is that of an unknown person. Note too that the production of the embryos cost several thousand dollars. Quoi faire?

Or suppose the rescuer knows that the 3 year old is the last child of 10 siblimgs and the rescuer is a pre-menopausal woman desperate for a child--again quoi faire?

But such options are just trivial games: in real life--if I can save save the embryos I can just as easily save the toddler--except under conditions of risk. And even so risk would be evaluated to some kind of personal probability calculus: there's a fire and the embryos are harder to get at than the child, etc, etc.

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