Bodily Rights and a Better Idea

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A positive review of “Bodily Rights and a Better Idea” has appeared in Life Matters Journal Volume 5 Issue 1 — April 2016, written by LMJ Deputy Editor C.J. Williams.

 

For a reasonable number of readers, I can provide a Word version of the essay. The Word version contains bookmarks and hyperlinks to make cross-referencing different parts of the essay easy. Email me using the address on my About page.

 

George McFall clearly needed some of David Shimp’s bone marrow more than Shimp needed it. When Shimp – McFall’s first cousin – refused to give it, McFall took him to court.

The judge’s gavel came down. He wasn’t enthralled with Shimp as a person, but every speck of the bone marrow in Shimp’s body was, in the eyes of society, private property – Shimp’s private property. McFall’s eyes closed on the world, for the last time, before his 25th birthday.

A caring society views both such persons as equally valuable. Such a society has an interest in seeing both thrive and not come to harm. It would seem completely logical for society to have instructed Shimp to hand over some bone marrow, and if he did not do so peacefully, to have taken it forcibly. Why doesn’t society do that? Is society wrong not to do that?

Society sometimes grants to its citizens surprisingly strong body-related rights – body-related rights that are out of proportion to what a rational fairness would seem to demand. I don’t think that that is necessarily wrong. People are psychologically constructed with a strong sense of ownership of their bodies. [Edit: Ownership of any kind has no foundation in science, and a strong principle of individual body ownership would be very debatable philosophically, but the psychological sense is a reality. And due to sharing that sense, which is to say, due to belief in the validity of that sense – or due at least to a pragmatic recognition of the strength of that sense – society sometimes grants to its citizens surprising rights such as those of Shimp that we have just seen. A belief in the validity of that sense could also be termed a moral intuition (whether or not it is a correct moral intuition) that near-inviolable body ownership ought to be respected.]

I basically support such rights, at least in this part of this century. Perhaps Shimp should have been sentenced to a lot of community service for refusing to help McFall. But I say that I basically support such rights because I do not think he should have been tied down and his bone marrow removed forcibly.

It is important that the laws and conventions of society should give that psychological sense of ownership, and the actual ownership that society tends to think underlies it, its due. But is the current concept of bodily rights the most logical and coherent way to accomplish that?

The bodily-rights argument for legal abortion is usually advanced through thought experiments that create analogies with pregnancy – analogies in which our sympathies will be on the side of a right to refuse to let one’s body be used. And those arguments are usually contested by showing the disanalogies between the situations of the thought experiments, and the situation of actual pregnancy. In this essay, however, the approach will be to analyze the concept of bodily rights, rather than to deal with thought experiments that elicit our intuitions about bodily rights.

SYNOPSIS

I wrote, “People are psychologically constructed with a strong sense of ownership of their bodies. . . . And . . . due to belief in the validity of that sense, society sometimes grants to its citizens surprising rights . . .” I will first try to show that the current concept of bodily rights reflects some awareness of that psychological reality, but (among other problems with the concept) the awareness it reflects is an unclear one. The concept misleadingly suggests that some defined degree of trespass of bodily boundaries will always do a defined degree of psychological harm; that is, that any trespass of bodily boundaries will harm and that deeper trespass will harm more. This off-target concept of bodily rights in turn easily lends itself to a kind of absolutism about infringements on bodily boundaries, which is then used particularly by advocates of abortion rights to argue for their cause.

Bodily-rights arguments against abortion restrictions show us that denial of abortion is a degree of trespass on one’s bodily boundaries similar to the degree of trespass involved in other situations (such as the forcible appropriation of a body part) which nearly everyone’s moral intuitions agree are wrong. Bone marrow or a kidney is located deep within the body, and the uterus is located deep within the body. The arguments thus tend to persuade us that denial of abortion is also wrong. But as I will show, it is only the offense to one’s psychological sense of body ownership that is a real harm (a real mental harm) caused by trespass per se, and the degree of that offense is only partially and unpredictably related to the degree of trespass. Real mental harm is somewhat independent of the degree of trespass.

The moral intuition that body ownership ought to be respected seems to stem, as mentioned earlier, from the wish to spare our fellow human beings the mental harm of offense to their strong psychological sense of body ownership (which sense is an undeniable reality). So to answer the question whether there should be a right to refuse the use of one’s uterus – a right comparable in strength to the right to refuse to donate one’s bone marrow – we have to answer the question whether the mental harm to a woman when abortion is denied is really comparable to the mental harm that would occur if one’s bone marrow or kidney were taken forcibly. Since I think I can show that real mental harm is somewhat independent of the degree of trespass of one’s bodily boundaries, it is not enough to show that the uterus is deep within one’s body, just as bone marrow and one’s kidneys are deep within the body. Rather, the degree of real mental harm when abortion is denied could be approximately determined only by psychological study focusing on the psychological phenomenon of harm in that specific situation, not by possible biological similarities with other situations.

In the present undeveloped state of psychology and neuroscience, we have to rely on our empathy and intuition about the degree of that harm, and then rely on our moral intuitions, to decide whether the degree of that harm for a pregnant woman, as we estimate it to be (taken together with all the other physical and mental harms of the denial of a particular abortion), is so great as to outweigh the harm of death for the child, with the consequence that we would feel it right to let that child die rather than to so greatly offend the sense of body ownership of the woman. To understand it in this way is to liberate our minds from the misleading features of various analogies, as we seek our most correct moral intuitions about abortion.

The moral intuitions of nearly everyone agree that the harm of offending Shimp’s sense of body ownership by forcibly taking his bone marrow (when added on to the modicum of physical harm to him) would have been greater than the harm of death for McFall, but as mentioned, what counts is “the psychological phenomenon of harm in [a] specific situation,” not “biological similarities with other situations.” And the moral intuitions of many, many people (though I won’t say of everyone or nearly everyone) do NOT agree that in the specific situation of a typical proposed abortion, the harm of offending the pregnant woman’s sense of body ownership (taken together with all the other physical and mental harms of the denial of a particular abortion), is so great as to outweigh the harm of death for the child.

In this essay I will not prove that abortion should be illegal, but I think I will at least show that if the virtues and defects of the bodily-rights concept are correctly understood, there is no strong bodily-rights argument against making many abortions illegal.

(The entire argument of my essay can be outlined in eleven points – see below. The foregoing three paragraphs can be broken down into points 1-9 of the outline.)

Moreover, if society holds and sustains a “right not to be unjustly harmed physically or mentally,” and the idea of “harm” incorporates an understanding of the psychology of ownership, including body ownership, that will serve all purposes, and society can dispense with the off-target and therefore sometimes misleading idea of bodily rights. (This sentence can be broken down into points 10 and 11, i.e., the last points, of my outline.)

I would like to proceed now according to the following outline:

1. Rights are only meaningful and useful in terms of protection against wrongs, that is, against unjust harm, so the concept of bodily rights can be meaningful and useful only if and as there is a potential for unjust harm to be done that is defined solely by trespass of one’s bodily boundaries.

2. Harm can be only harm to the body or harm to the mind.

3. In terms of a right to freedom from bodily harm, the concept of bodily rights doesn’t add anything to more obvious ethical notions. So though the current concept of bodily rights aims to protect against both physical and mental harm caused by trespass of bodily boundaries, in relation to bodily harm, the concept is not particularly useful.

4. In terms of a right to freedom from mental harm, the concept of bodily rights could be meaningful as one possible way of framing that right. (Even if it is not the best way.) People have a sense of ownership of their bodies, such that trespass on their bodily boundaries can be a source of mental harm, and “bodily rights” would be one way to protect from that mental harm. But it is the degree of that psychological harm (which is only partially and unpredictably related to the degree of trespass on the body), taken together with the degree of more obvious harms, that become the real yardstick of a right to refuse the use of one’s body.

5. Because of the sense of body ownership (and the actual ownership assumed to underlie it), in a situation of opposing interests between two innocent people that involves one person needing to use the body of the other, society does not make a simple decision in favor of the person who is likely to suffer the greater harm of obvious kinds — that is, of kinds other than offense to the sense of ownership. It counts that kind of mental harm as harm, which weights its decision in the direction of the person whose body stands to be used by the other.

6. Society weights its decision in this way so strongly, that in many cases it decrees that a particular offense against one person’s sense of body ownership is not justified even if the other person will die.

7. Although the concept of bodily rights is often expressed as a very simple absolute principle, when people actually apply it to different real-life situations, we see a patchwork of different attitudes, depending on each situation. This renders the concept vague and confusing as a yardstick in any situation that has not yet been resolved, such as a proposal to abort. It turns out that the degree of mental harm caused by offense to one’s sense of ownership, which society believes to be morally meaningful, is inconsistently related to the degree of trespass on the body – which is morally meaningless apart from harm. Since it is inconsistently related to the degree of trespass, the degree of that harm when abortion is denied could be approximately determined only by psychological study focusing on the psychological phenomenon of harm in that specific situation – not simply by knowing the degree of trespass.

8. Proponents of the bodily-rights argument for abortion rights claim that because society decrees in many cases that a particular offense against one person’s sense of body ownership is not justified even if the other person will die, there must therefore be a universal principle to that effect, i.e., society must so decree in all such cases – or claim at least that the situation of unwanted pregnancy should not be an exception. This claim does not hold up.

9. Some actions that trespass a person’s bodily boundaries without the person’s consent are countenanced or supported by society in general (meaning that society in general does not take very seriously any offense to the sense of ownership in such cases). In my personal view, still more such actions should be countenanced or supported.

10. What matters, in terms of the rights that society should choose to sustain in this area of law and ethics, is that those rights should reflect a recognition of the sense of body ownership and its nuances – and of the possibilities of mental harm based on that sense of ownership and its nuances.

11. If society holds and sustains a “right not to be unjustly harmed physically or mentally,”
and the idea of “harm” incorporates an understanding of the psychology of ownership, including body ownership, that will serve all purposes, and society can dispense with the idea of bodily rights.

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What’s Wrong with Killing?

Among all who get involved in discussions about moral issues, killing and violence seem to have, in general, a bad name. How many times have you heard the remark, in refutation of some view, “By that logic, it would be okay to kill someone” – ? Killing is the default that we turn to when we need some example of doing wrong.

One would think that in the abortion debate, agreement on the wrong of killing would give us some common ground. But it turns out that although killing is universally disreputable, it’s disreputable in a nebulous way. When we say “Killing is wrong,” we don’t all mean the same thing. We disagree on exactly what is wrong with it.

1. To my moral intuitions, it is clear that what is most wrong with killing is that it deprives an organism of its future conscious life (which in the case of human beings usually includes a chance to improve morally). If I don’t deem it to have much of a future life or don’t deem that its future life will be very conscious, as I don’t in the case of a mosquito, then killing it is less wrong. I think it’s permissible to kill a mosquito for a provocation or even a threat that would not justify my killing a human being.

2. But many people think that what is most wrong about killing relates to the species of the victim without regard to its future conscious life. They say that the lives of all human beings are exactly equal in value and that human lives are special. Thus the worst wrong is to kill any innocent human being. (Well, there are some who say only, “The lives of all born human beings are exactly equal in value;” but the fundamental assumption is the same – those who say that simply don’t apply the assumption to the unborn.) Thus the life of a person in an irreversible coma (even granting the assumption that we really know beyond doubt that the coma is complete and irreversible) is as valuable as your life or mine.

Many Christians think in this way because of a belief that any human being, yet only a human being, is an imago dei.

I disagree with vesting all belief in what is wrong with killing in the simple humanity of the victim, because my moral intuitions tell me that in a triage situation – for instance if that person in a coma were in a hospital where there was not sufficient life-support equipment for two patients, and there was another patient in need of the equipment who was conscious or expected to regain consciousness – I would clearly prioritize the second person, though that person is not more human.

I think I would even preserve the life of a dog who could expect to have years of conscious life ahead of it (I believe dogs to be among the animals with highest consciousness), rather than that of a human who was sure never to come out of a coma.

The life of any human being is very important to me. We should not take anyone off life support if we can help it (unless they wrote an advance directive). But I wonder if some of my concern for even a human being in an irreversible coma, stems from my knowledge that humans in general are highly conscious.

3. Some think that what’s wrong with killing is that it frustrates a desire, on the part of the organism, to live.

I was lucky enough not to have to try to analyze this particular view on my own. An analysis of it co-authored by Kelsey Hazzard of Secular Pro-Life, and me, appears as a post on the SPL blog. Here I will just add a couple of further comments:

In the blog post, we remarked about that view, What is being said here is that an organism’s caring about its future life is important, but the future life itself that the organism cares about is not important. One more way to put “what is being said” would be: “Beings’ future lives don’t matter, but if they cherish a desire to live based on the illusion that their lives really do matter, then that foolish desire matters.”

We have implied in the post that an equation between caring about living (wanting to live) and caring about one’s future life; but can there really be much debate about that equation? For myself, I think that people who don’t want to live are invariably people who don’t want to go through the future life that they expect; and people who do want to live have at least a little hope for a little future happiness.

Also, in using expressions such as “the only harm that we can see in the frustration of a desire for one’s future life” in relation to the topic of the wrong of the killing, we have suggested that wrong involves harm. If there is any moral wrong unrelated to harming somebody, it seems to me that it would be a very abstract wrong compared to the wrong of harm.

And, it might be worth identifying a possible difference between the frustrates-a-desire-to-live view that we mainly discuss, and Peter Singer’s view, which we also mention. Singer focuses on the importance of a capacity to care (to hold preferences, as he puts it), but I’m not sure whether he ever singles out the importance of caring about life. Thus his thesis may not undermine itself as much as does the other, which inadvertently implies the importance of future life. Yet he equally ignores the relevance of future life when we consider killing someone.

(And lastly, in that article we said, “. . . okay, it’s true, embryos haven’t yet started to care about their future, and probably won’t for some years.” But were we 100% correct in saying that? The fact that they are biologically programmed to do everything possible to live, and that that biological longing is designed to ensure that the later conscious longing will have its day, means something to my personal moral intuitions. But let’s leave that aside for now.)

I think of the above as the three main competing views as to what is wrong with killing. In addition, there are some views as to what may at least add to the wrong of killing:

4. Killing may involve inflicting pain. On the wrong of inflicting avoidable pain, there is almost complete common ground in society. Even hunters who kill for fun do not find as much fun in it if they inflict significantly more pain than usual. Even pro-choicers who do not see anything wrong with killing the unborn in itself would like it to be done as painlessly as possible. Even if there really exist proponents of the “sovereign zone” bodily-rights argument who say that a pregnant woman should have a legal right to torture her unborn (because she is doing what she wants with her body and its contents), they would probably say that it would be morally wrong for her to do so.

5. Killing will often involve emotional distress for people other than the victim. It will particularly cause distress if the victim had in their life developed positive relationships. This has some small relevance in the abortion debate, because a born person, unlike an unborn, may have developed such relationships. Killing the unborn may be less wrong in that particular way.

6. Killing will often involve a loss of a utilitarian kind. And again, it is only born people who may be confirmed to be making a positive utilitarian contribution to society.

If we are to consider people’s utilitarian value in assessing their worthiness to live, we have to note that the utilitarian value of some born people will be greater than that of others, and that the contributions of certain born persons have been confirmed to be negative. Still, if carrying a pregnancy to term might negatively impact a woman’s ability to take care of her born children, that would assign a certain negative utilitarian value to her unborn child, and if there is no one who can help with the born children, that would be a factor to some degree, for the permissibility of abortion in that particular case.

 

In relation to the “frustrating a desire” belief about the wrong of killing, I wrote, “Ultimately we can’t argue logically with moral intuitions.” Logical arguments can be very important in helping people find better intuitions in themselves, but ultimately we can’t reject, on logical grounds, any of the above intuitions about the wrong of killing. I have written elsewhere regarding how I think differences in moral intuition ultimately resolve.

And I have said a number of things here indicating that I don’t give equal value to all human lives. Philosophically I don’t and probably many people don’t, but it would not be wise for society to try to implement, in practice, some objective calculation of value. Because if it were known that everybody was being rated in terms of their expendability, that would cause tremendous tension in society. We have to maintain the existing social convention “everyone’s life is of equal value,” and continue to codify that convention in terms of equal legal rights. (Except in a triage situation where the rubber meets the road and we have to make some differentiations.) I also think that the existing social convention should be upgraded so that “everyone” includes the unborn. I think that mainly because the unborn, also, have a future conscious life.

© 2015

Abortion as Problem-Solving through Might Makes Right

 

Secular Pro-Life has published an article of mine under their paid blogging program.

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

Dismantling the Bodily-Rights Argument without Using the Responsibility Argument

 

Clinton Wilcox of Life Training Institute was kind enough to read the semi-final draft of this post and provide a brief but insightful critique. This does not mean that he necessarily endorses any of the final contents. However, I wish to take this opportunity to thank him.

 

The strongest argument for abortion rights is usually considered to be the bodily-rights argument. Perhaps the most effective variation of it that I have seen appeared in a (negative) comment under Kristine Kruszelnicki’s March 11, 2014 guest post on the Friendly Atheist blog:

They [both mother and unborn child] are entitled to their own bodily rights. So exactly how does a fetus have the right to co-opt another person’s body without consent?

Let’s say for example medical science has progressed to the point of being able to transplant a fetus into another human being. In an accident a pregnant woman is injured to the point of immanent [sic] death, does that fetus have the *right* to be implanted into the next viable candidate without consent?

The commenter was arguing, in other words, “A woman who is a candidate to be made pregnant in that futuristic way would have a right to refuse to let her body be so used – everyone would agree. Therefore, why should a woman who has become pregnant in a more usual way not also have a right to refuse to continue the pregnancy?”

In the context of the abortion debate (and, significantly, in hardly any other context), the term “bodily rights” comes up often. Synonyms still more commonly used are “bodily integrity” and “bodily autonomy,” but I will say “rights” because it is rights that have practical consequences. If anything can help determine the practical outcome “Woman goes through with abortion,” it is a right, not an abstract “integrity” or “autonomy.”

The above fetus-implantation version or any version of the bodily-rights argument could be rebutted by pointing out that most pregnant women voluntarily engaged in a sex act that caused the pregnancy in the first place, and therefore have a responsibility for the child (the “responsibility argument”); but this rebuttal does not work in cases of rape, and is not convincing to some people in any situation – for reasons which I need not discuss here but will refer to in an appendix. Thus the argument remains logically strong. But is it logic alone that makes an argument strong or weak? I would like to approach this from the perspective that an argument is an instrument for changing some of another person’s brain circuitry, and the ideas that correlate with that circuitry, to resemble part of one’s own circuitry and ideas, and that some value-related circuitry and ideas are better for us as individuals and as a species than others. I will contend that though logical demonstrations (such as the above thought experiment) and their rebuttals have an important place in the debate about bodily rights, there is no clear logical resolution to the debate one way or the other; that in seemingly logical demonstrations there are psychological factors at play apart from factors which are purely logical, and that those factors sway us from our normal intuitions; and that those factors can be neutralized by understanding them and by other techniques.

I would like to see people question where their convictions come from, because I think that the more they examine where they come from, the more they will move toward better convictions.

I would like to proceed according to the following outline:

1. Morality and moral principles, including our moral principles about when morality should be backed by legislation and when it should not, derive ultimately from intuition.

2. The intuitions of many people, particularly of most pro-lifers, say that the unborn children of pregnant women should be legally protected against abortion in some (not all) situations.

3. The intuitions of most pro-choicers differ from ours in the first place and say that the unborn children of pregnant women should not be afforded any legal protection.

4. There are some people who are, in terms of moral intuitions, “on the fence,” undecided.

5. Some people’s moral intuitions are better than those of others; in this particular area of moral investigation, the intuitions of pro-lifers are better. (Keep reading!)

I think that just as “there is no clear logical resolution to the (overall) debate one way or the other,” the correctness or incorrectness of any moral intuition cannot be logically proved, but that logic can nudge us toward correct moral intuitions, that is, help us find the correct moral intuitions within us. Under this point 5 below I will include a long section analyzing logically the concept of bodily rights. It is designed to nudge us toward more correct moral intuitions about the importance of bodily rights.

6. Though the intuitions of most pro-lifers say that unborn children should in many cases be legally protected against abortion, the intuitions of many pro-lifers also agree with pro-choicers (as do the intuitions of many undecideds) that a woman who is not pregnant (as in the above thought experiment) should not be legally subject to the forcible implantation in her of a child she did not conceive, even to save the child’s life. (And our intuitions also usually say that a violinist to whom we are hooked up should not be given legal protection from unhooking; and our intuitions also agree with various other pro-choice thought experiments designed to reject, in certain situations, legislative enforcement of a broad right to life.)

7. Human logical powers are limited, and therefore a particular situation, situation A, may seem parallel to another situation, situation B, in all the important morally-relevant ways that the human mind can think of, without the two situations necessarily being morally equivalent.

8a. The situation depicted by a thought experiment always includes some imagery of greater or lesser vividness, and some emotional content. If to our logical minds (momentarily or over a longer term) some outrageous situation, A, depicted by a pro-choice thought experiment, does seem parallel to situation B – a legal prohibition on abortion in a normal pregnancy – then the imagery and emotions of situation A get temporarily transferred to situation B. Let’s call this a process of “outrage transfer.” (Below I will touch on the search for an understanding of how events such as outrage transfer might actually work neurologically.)

b. Moreover, if we are subject to an over-fascination with logic, which many people are, then our consciences/intuitions will work with wrong information (the belief that logic can completely prove or disprove the moral equivalence of two situations) and may tell us that if there seem to be strong parallels between the situation of a pro-choice thought experiment that militates against legal protection of some living being, and the situation of pregnancy, then we should discard legal protection of the unborn in pregnancy – in spite of our earlier intuition supporting such legal protection.

8a and 8b are what I had earlier called “psychological factors at play apart from factors which are purely logical.” I had said that those psychological factors “sway us from our normal intuitions” and I had gone on to say, “those factors can be neutralized by understanding them and by other techniques.”

9a. The effects of outrage transfer will fade over time. Moreover, the outrage transfer of a pro-choice thought experiment can be offset or more than offset by pro-life thought experiments such as those involving the separation of conjoined twins, or the “Cabin in the Blizzard” thought experiment of Stephen Wagner et. al. (It can be “more than offset” if only because our minds are impressionable and are always most strongly affected by the imagery and emotional triggers that stimulated them most recently.)

b. Though human logical powers are not sufficient to tell us conclusively about the moral equivalence or otherwise of two situations (as mentioned in 7 above), they are sufficient to convince us of said insufficiency, and thereby to free us from an over-fascination with logic and restore our original trust in our intuition that the unborn deserve legal protection.

 

Someone will say that I am discarding logic and that moreover I am saying that a pro-life position can only be defended by discarding logic. But that is not what I am doing. We should always apply logic to the fullest extent possible, and there are good logical rebuttals to the forcible-implantation and other pro-choice thought experiments, and I will discuss them in brief; but we should not think that logic, even on a base of intuition, can give us final answers to all moral questions, specifically the question of whether a right to life overrides bodily rights in the case of pregnancy.

Continue reading

Personhood

If we are to pinpoint the moment of beginning of personhood that has the best scientific grounding, out of all the moments that are candidates, that will certainly be the beginning of the single-cell stage. A minute before, there were two spatially-separated haploid cells, each with insufficient genetic information ever to become anything resembing a full-grown person; a minute after, there is a single definable organism with the exact genetic information that it will carry throughout life, at 1 month of gestation, at 4 years, at 60 years.

Here Dr. Maureen L. Condic writes:

Structures capable of new functions are formed throughout embryogenesis. For example, grasping becomes possible once hands have formed. But the fundamental process of development proceeds continuously, both prior to and after hand formation, and the onset of this function reflects an ongoing developmental process. Given the continuous nature of development, to argue that embryos and fetuses become humans once some anatomical or functional landmark such as “consciousness” has been achieved is to assert some kind of magical transformation; i.e., that at some ill-defined point, a non-human entity spontaneously transmogrifies into a human being, without any change whatsoever in its behavior, its molecular composition, or any other observable feature.

I reject this argument. For something actually to transform into a different kind of thing, a change must take place in its composition or in its pattern of biological activity. For example, sperm and egg are two specific human cell types that fuse to produce a distinct cell (the zygote) with unique molecular composition and with a pattern of organismal behavior that is distinct from the behavior of either sperm or egg. A clear, non-magical, scientifically observable transformation from one kind of entity (two human cells) to another kind of entity (a distinct human organism) has occurred. . . .

Building the complex architecture of the brain is a continuous process that is initiated at sperm-egg fusion and proceeds through orderly steps under the direction of a ‘builder,’ that is, a human organism that is present from the beginning. The presence of an agent capable of constructing the mature body, including the brain, is the only sustainable definition of a human being. This agency should not be misconstrued as some kind of mystical or spiritual element that is merely attributed to an embryo or fetus based on personal or religious belief. The fact that the embryo acts as an agent is entirely a matter of empirical observation; embryos construct themselves. . . .

. . . science does not dictate that citizens have a right to equal protection under the law, but. . . . science has clearly determined when human life commences, and this determination legitimately dictates that equal protection under the law must extend to human beings at embryonic and fetal stages of development.

For more scientific sources attesting to the personhood of the zygote, see Appendix 1.

Though the beginning of the single-cell stage has the best scientific grounding among all the moments that are candidates for the beginning of personhood, some will debate against defining “personhood” in this way. And “personhood” or “person” is not the only word that can be debated. While some will maintain that a zygote is “a human being, but not a person,” others, since they can’t deny that it belongs to the species Homo sapiens, will insist, with an equally straight face, that it is “human, but not a human being.”
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Personhood and Citizenship

(This post, first published August 1, 2013, is an explanation of why there should be no termination without representation.)

The unborn babies of the world today, January 7, 2015, are living their lives just as you and I were living our lives a short time ago, and as each of us may, in the view of many, soon be living our lives again. What you are today is you as you are today, and what you were not long ago was the same you, as the unborn baby that you were then. An unborn baby is a typical person, operating as one would expect a typical person to operate at its age. It should be considered a citizen of its respective nation or nations, or a citizen of the world, with the rights of a citizen. The era in which we treated the unborn, legally and otherwise, as second-class and “other,” will in future be seen like the dark ages.

One can define personhood, or define anything, in any way one likes. But to view any object of the universe, not to mention an unborn child, with disregard of its potential, would be a very reductive and disconnected way of seeing reality. Full human potential exists at the zygote stage.

And yet, an unborn baby is “a citizen who complicates the life of another citizen.” Let’s look at an example of what this means: Continue reading