Monday, April 19, 2010

Distinguish, people

An embryo is not an adult.  A foetus is not a child. A human cell is not a human being. And a human being is not a cracker—although with some nuts you’d sometimes be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Biologist PZ Myers at Pharyngula takes to task people who lack the simple ability to distinguish one thing from another—and advertise this fact by hoisting billboards around the place to show it.

    “There are groups that are actively blurring the line between embryos and human beings, and I consider them just as wicked as the howling haters lined up outside women's health clinics — they use mistruths to foment attacks on people to defend non-people. One of the biggest, noisiest, and most dishonest is Pro Life Across America, which puts up billboards all across the US; we have a similar outfit here in my state, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.
    “Their work is easily recognizable. They have one theme: fetuses and babies are exactly the same. All of their signs feature cute baby pictures coupled to factoids about development, and they thoroughly enrage me — I see them all along the roadsides on my drive in to Minneapolis. They are basically generating false associations about development.”

Read on here to see some examples, and some skilful debunking: Sunday Sacrilege: an embryo is not a person



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28 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The guy sounds like another whacky, insecure atheist - which really describes the greater segment of libertarians overall doesn't it ?

4/19/2010 12:36:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

May I just say how much I admire the skilful way you dealt with Myers' arguments.

You really should have left your name, so we can praise you publicly.

4/19/2010 12:50:00 pm  
Blogger twr said...

It seems more insecure to me to be constantly worrying what your imaginary friend thinks of you.

4/19/2010 01:27:00 pm  
Anonymous Barry said...

There must be a line drawn somewhere for legal reasons.

At what stage do you propose that someone becomes a human being?

Do that have to be outside the womb? That seems to be wrong because just days before that child could probably have been induced and live a normal life.

A distinction made on the basis of physical development (like pro-life activitsts) seems to be more based on scientific reality and facts that one based on the location (i.e. inside or outside the womb) of a fully developed baby.

4/19/2010 01:35:00 pm  
Blogger Sand said...

"An embryo is not an adult".
You are right, it is definitely not, it is an embryo.

"A foetus is not a child".
You are right, a foetus is not a child, it is a foetus.

"A human cell is not a human being".
You are right, a human cell is definitely not a human being ! It is a human cell.

Now, does a 8 months foetus a human being ? Yes it is. My daughter, Lili, is born at this age.

Does a 7 months old foetus a human being ? Yes it is. My brother is born at 7 months.

So, a foetus is a human being ? I don't know. I guess that sometimes it is.

Now, what is the age limit for a foetus to be a human being, 3 weeks old, 3 months old, 6 months old ?

I guess nobody has a clue. Nobody has the power to decide this. Nor god, nor libertarians. ;-)

When I felt my two babies moving (I felt Jules at 8 weeks old, believe me or not), for me he was a human being. He was moving all by himself, without my intervention.

Well you are right on a point. He was living because he was in my body. He was dependant of myself.

But about myself. I am living, breathing, eating, because I am part of an ecosystem. I am dependant of my environment. I am dependant of other lives. But I am a free, thinking, human being...

4/19/2010 01:37:00 pm  
Anonymous Frankie Lee said...

Actually, I'm inclined to agree with Anon. The post seems to be as much about Myers throwing a tantrum over the fact that Christianity still exists as it is about abortion. To say nothing of the comments thread that followed.....

4/19/2010 01:46:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

We're obviously waiting on the answer on WHEN you become a person (as Barry said).

No doubt you can give a clear definition of the second you become a person.

Don't keep us in limbo PC.

And for good measure also throw in a definition of when you are no longer a person.

4/19/2010 02:13:00 pm  
Anonymous Barry said...

Yes it is a very hard question to answer. But I think it should rest on the physical development of the person.

I don't know the answer. But I do know that no-one has been convicted of murder yet for having an abortion.

Just to stimulate discussion, the point at which a baby has the ability to live outside the womb (if induced) would be used as the date. Otherwise a date when the baby has all the physical characteristics of a human.

I do think the points made by Sand were on the money.

4/19/2010 02:27:00 pm  
Anonymous Dolf said...

The question "when you are a person" answers itself.

If you are taken out of the womb, and you survive, you are a person. Otherwise...

The way I see it, you become a person when your body can survive on it's own. (obviously external sources like food/water will have to be supplied, but that does not really change the argument)

Likewise, if your body can no longer sustain itself, you are no longer a person.

Berend,

It is actually a brilliant idea to apply the same criteria to both scenarios: eg.If you show no brain activity at the end of your life you are considered dead*. We can apply the same rule in the womb.

*I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer, and I have no idea what the criteria is to be "legally dead", but my point stands.

4/19/2010 02:52:00 pm  
Blogger Sand said...

Barry said "But I do know that no-one has been convicted of murder yet for having an abortion".

Well for sure it depends on where you live...

I agree with you Barry.
Even if I don't have the answer to that question I do believe that a woman should be free to decide by herself if she wants to carry a foetus or not.

I just don't see the point of governments, politicians or thinkers when they decide to state when a foetus becomes a human being. I believe it is pure madness.

I think you can reach some answers to this question in a philosophical approach but you cannot make a statement. Otherwise it is "integrism" of an idea (colloquial).

Berend de Boer said "And for good measure also throw in a definition of when you are no longer a person".

I guess we all agree on that point, aren't we ?

Dolf said "If you are taken out of the womb, and you survive, you are a person. Otherwise..."

I don't know many babies able to live by themselves ! One would probably survive 3 or 4 days. A baby is fed by his mother, like intra-utero.

I guess a child would survive in the street or in the jungle at around 3/4 years old, hopefully.

So a 2 years old child is not a person, nor a human being ?

About the electrical activity in the brain, the synaptic construction in utero seems to appear around the middle of the gestation. The brain is on its way since day +20.

http://www.embryology.ch/genericpages/moduleembryoen.html

cf. module 22.

It could be an answer. But I still believe it could.

4/19/2010 03:28:00 pm  
Anonymous Dolf said...

Sand,

The very next sentence in my post covered food and water, since it's red herring. I know a baby is fed, as is a person in a coma.

It has no relevance.

The body "survives" on it's own, in that it has all processes associated with life. The requirement to sustain life is not on the mother, but on another human being (any pro-lifer will do)

Brain function is a proxy for what we define as life. I'm merely suggesting that we use the same criteria to define the start of life as the end. Whatever that may be.

4/19/2010 03:40:00 pm  
Anonymous Jack said...

A distinction made on the basis of physical development (like pro-life activitsts) seems to be more based on scientific reality and facts that one based on the location (i.e. inside or outside the womb) of a fully developed baby.

Location is an objective fact of reality and, as such, matters and can make a lot of difference.

4/19/2010 04:07:00 pm  
Blogger Sand said...

Dolf you are right. Mea culpa.

About the location, no comment.

4/19/2010 04:15:00 pm  
Anonymous Mike said...

regarding the abortion debate

Reason should be used to determine the cutoff point, not just science. Science studies nature, not politics. Politics is separate from natural sciences, but just like science, it needs to be based on reason and logic.

It seems to me that some are trying to completely disregard the concept of individual rights, by appealing to science. There is no science that tells you what is moral, or even how logic works, so you won't come across morality in a biology or physics class.

4/19/2010 04:31:00 pm  
Anonymous Jack said...

About the electrical activity in the brain, the synaptic construction in utero seems to appear around the middle of the gestation. The brain is on its way since day +20.

http://www.embryology.ch/genericpages/moduleembryoen.html

cf. module 22.

It could be an answer. But I still believe it could.


In order to be a rational being, it must first be a being, which means it must be separate from any other being -- your brain, for example, is not a rational being.

Brain function is a proxy for what we define as life.

brain waves are not a claim on someone else's life. No one has the right to exist at the expense of another.

4/19/2010 04:49:00 pm  
Blogger Sand said...

I understand your point Jack. It sounds right. But.

What about Siamese people ? Are you suggesting here they are not human beings ?

Plus, the physical location of a being does not determine the fact of being or not a human.

A birth needs to be considered as a physical expulsion and a psychological transformation. Not as a creation.

After a birth a baby is able to breath by himself.

But. Again.

for e.g. My son is born in water, in a pool. I left him many long seconds under the water before taking him to the surface. He was fine, still living happily because of the umbilical cord.

During those many seconds after his birth, after this change of location, he was still living exactly in the same conditions than he was in my utero.

Was he a human being after the expulsion or after he had his head out of the water ?

Jack said : "No one has the right to exist at the expense of another".

Unfortunately it is the only way for a foetus to exist.

I can tell you how much it cost me to carry my 2 kids. For both my mind and body health.

But funily I never considered my kids as criminals in my moral.

I guess I had experienced here something that men can't and that liberty lovers like Ayn Rand for e.g., didn't.

Experiencing a theory is science base. Even in an objectivist way, with all your emotion aside, of course.

4/19/2010 05:35:00 pm  
Anonymous Sandi said...

At what stage do you propose that someone becomes a human being?

To be fully human means being volitional and having a rational faculty. However, this is difficult to ascertain. Therefore, protection by the law must start when we can no longer be certain that a being is not human, i.e. birth.

this point is not arbitrary. A human is an individual. That is man's nature. Man does not exist as a part of another human. A being that exists as part of another being is therefore not human. It may become human when it is no longer part of another organism, but a potential is not an actual.

as for arguments on the basis of brain activity/brain waves and/or genetic/DNA makeup these are based on an improper definition of the word, "man"/"human".

4/19/2010 06:59:00 pm  
Blogger Sand said...

In the XVI century, in Europe, the law - made by the Catholics - stated that a living body was a becoming a human being from baptism.

That is not far from telling it is from birth. Or worst, telling that two Siamese persons are not human beings (Christians did the same with Africans, Aboriginals, Maoris, North America indians)...

Do we need to play here on the same ground as they did - and still do ? Do we need to play the obscurantism card to share a simple idea, that abortion can be morally legitimate ?

A woman can freely choose what she wants to do with her body. She definitely don't need to wait the 4th month of her pregnancy to do so, as a thinking and respectful human being.

But we definitely can tell now, that a baby in womb at 25 weeks, around 6 months or more can live out without any matter.

I would probably won't agree to make a law about this evidence. Here again, it is common sense.

4/19/2010 09:42:00 pm  
Blogger Sand said...

BTW embryo and foetus definitions are very different...
Embryo is from 0 to 11 weeks (2 months and half).
Foetus is from week 11.

4/19/2010 10:13:00 pm  
Blogger Blair said...

An embryo is definitely a human being, just not a very important one, considering half of all embryos are expelled from a woman before they have a chance to become foetuses.

I don't see the Catholic Church running a "save the embryo" campaign, so I am guessing some embryos are more equal than others.

4/20/2010 02:32:00 am  
Anonymous Lew said...

When does a foetus become a person? There is an easy way to tell: at the moment when it is viable without its mother (not without some mother or other, simply outside the womb in which it has formed) then it is a person. It is independent of its mother and can carry on a life of its own (given sufficient support, nourishment, etc.) Until that point, all going well, it will be a person at some point in the future but isn't one yet. It is functionally a part of its mother, such that separating the two results in certain death.

At present this line is somewhere around 24-26 weeks gestation. It's beyond this point which I generally object to abortion, since beyond to this point I figure the baby (for it is such) deserves a chance to strike out on its own under whatever surrogate care can be arranged for it.

L

4/20/2010 08:30:00 am  
Anonymous AGibbson said...

A foetus becomes a person when it developed into a humanlike form that the male partner can't have sex with the pregnant mother anymore, since in that case, the male partner has to respect the individual right of the yet unborn baby. He would be violating those rights if he’s still going to have sex after that point, because he is hurting the unborn that is still in the womb.

4/20/2010 08:47:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

This was such an easy issue to solve.......... until my wife and I had children of our own!

Lew writes, "At present this line is somewhere around 24-26 weeks gestation. It's beyond this point which I generally object to abortion, since beyond to this point I figure the baby (for it is such) deserves a chance to strike out on its own under whatever surrogate care can be arranged for it."

Timing sounds about right. There are some realted issues. Technology is going to shift that line some (OK, a lot) but let's assume that the test is that the baby has to be able to survive without relying on its mother for direct life support. How does one know exactly when that point is reached? In other words, how does one recognise where the line may reside in a particular instance?

LGM

4/20/2010 08:58:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

"How does one know exactly when that point is reached? In other words, how does one recognise where the line may reside ...?

Simply put, one begins by recognising that there is a line between foetus and child, and that philosophy and science can (and should) determine precisely what it is--even if that bright line changes with new knowledge, which it will.

But one does not begin by pretending that an embryo is an adult, or a human cell is a human being.

4/20/2010 09:08:00 am  
Blogger Sand said...

PC, I am glad to read this comment here, and to read this extension about this line between foetus and child. I completely agree with you and share your view about this question.

I definitely believe that there is two stages for a foetus.

4/20/2010 09:19:00 am  
Anonymous Lew said...

LGM, yeah, I've really just paraphrased Dolf, though this is something I've argued before, and not a very contentious cutover point.

There are some realted issues. Technology is going to shift that line some (OK, a lot)

Oh yeah, that's why I say "at present". A decade ago it was somewhat later. A century ago it was pretty close to full-term. It gets more and more ethically sticky as that line moves further forward in the term of the pregnancy, but that's how things are: ethical choices are difficult.

Other issues in play include the welfare of the mother, and so on. Ultimately, where a conflict occurs between her wellbeing and the child's, there's an enormous moral hazard to allow anyone else to choose what course of action to follow.

but let's assume that the test is that the baby has to be able to survive without relying on its mother for direct life support. How does one know exactly when that point is reached? In other words, how does one recognise where the line may reside in a particular instance?

Epistemologically, we can't know the moment, and we have to rely (as PC says) on the best approximation we can -- science. Science may get it wrong; that's how things are. I think 24 weeks is still only a 50/50 change of survival, and that must be taken into account. But we nevertheless must fall back on the best we have, and try to make that best better and better.

L

4/20/2010 10:34:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

Lew

Thanks for your comments. Certainly to think about.

I'm of the opinion that the mother should choose what to do. Having conceded that my preference would be that the child be born and, if not wanted by the mother, it can be adopted out to someone who does want it.

LGM

4/20/2010 12:17:00 pm  
Anonymous LGM said...

PC

"But one does not begin by pretending that an embryo is an adult, or a human cell is a human being."

Yup.

They are not the same.

LGM

4/20/2010 12:19:00 pm  

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