Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Speaking as a Former Fetus, I was Always a Human Being—According to Philosophy

This is Part 4 of the "Scream Bloody Murder" series of postings. [For a list of all the postings in this series, scroll to the end of the initial post “Scream Bloody Murder.”]

Many people express doubt that as a fetus I was really a human being and so they see no need to go around “screaming bloody murder” about the killing of human beings in the womb. To answer such a shallow claim we are continuing to look at arguments which show I was always a human being—before I emerged from my mother’s womb and even from the time of my conception.

The last posting looked at the evidence presented by science and medicine. This posting deals with the basic argument from philosophy.

Philosophy Certified my Humanity as a Fetus

[excerpts from Life Training Institute “The Case for Life”]

As Stephen Schwarz points out using the acronym SLED, differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant in the way that abortion advocates need them to be.

S-Size: Yes, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more valuable than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean that they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

L-Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than you and I. But again, why is this relevant? Four year-old girls are less developed than 14 year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that self-awareness makes one valuable. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Six-week old infants lack the immediate capacity for performing human mental functions, as do the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, and those with Alzheimer’s Disease.

E-Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth-canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-valuable tissue mass to valuable human being? If the unborn are not already human and valuable, merely changing their location can’t make them so.

D-Degree of Dependency: If viability bestows human value, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

In short, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments, and degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal (and valuable) because they share a common human nature. Humans have value simply because of the kind of thing they are, not because of some acquired property they may gain or lose during their lifetimes.

If humans have value only because of some acquired property like skin color or self-consciousness and not in virtue of the kind of thing they are, then it follows that since these acquired properties come in varying degrees, basic human rights come in varying degrees. Do we really want to say that those with more self-consciousness are more human (and valuable) than those with less? As Robert George points out, this relegates the proposition that all men are created equal to the status of superstition.

Sadly, opponents of the pro-life view believe that human beings that are in the wrong location or have the wrong level of development do not deserve the protection of law. They assert, without justification, the belief that strong and independent people deserve the protection of law while small and dependent people do not. This view is elitist and exclusive. It violates the principle that once made political liberalism great: a basic commitment to protect the most vulnerable members of the human community.

We can do better than that. In the past, we used to discriminate on the basis of skin color and gender, but now, with elective abortion, we discriminate on the basis of size, level of development, location, and degree of dependency. We've simply exchanged one form of bigotry for another.

In sharp contrast, the position I have defended is that no human being, regardless of size, level of development, race, gender, or place of residence, should be excluded from the moral community of human persons. In other words, the pro-life view of humanity is inclusive, indeed wide open, to all, especially those that are small, vulnerable and defenseless.

Next posting in this series:

Part 5 Speaking as a Former Fetus, I was Always a Human Being—According to Theology

For a more thorough treatment of this subject matter covered in this posting the reader can refer to the information available at Life Training Institute or consult the excellent online treatise by Dr. Stephen Schwarz entitled The Moral Question of Abortion. Also, Dr. Francis Beckwith’s new book Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice can now be purchased. I blogged a little about this book recently.

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