Sunday, January 20, 2008

Essentialism and abortion

At the Journal World in Lawrence there has been a lively discussion of abortion-actually lots of name calling so discussion is used very loosely and over at Dangerous Ideas I attempted to bring some rationality to the discussion. But not too many people on either side of the abortion issue seem interested in rational arguments that cannot be encapsulated in a short sentence with consisting solely of 3 letter words one of which must be an expletive.

Some one did finally ask me when I thought an embryo or fetus becomes human. Here is my response:

"If you mean identifiably human as opposed to some other animal then even
the egg and sperm are human. Do you mean developing as a unique entity
potentially capable of developing into an adult? That would be the formation of
the zygote. Do you mean sufficient development of the nervous system to feel
pain? That is later at some stage of fetal development. Or do you mean
sufficient cognitive development to be aware of self? Exactly what are
you asking?

Maybe you are asking the wrong question. To illustrate consider another
one of my infamous thought experiments. Consider a mother whose life would be in
serious peril if she did not abort her potential offspring at different
developmental stages. Would the mother be more likely to put her life at risk
for a zygote or a 4 week old fetus, an 8 week old fetus? A 21 week old fetus? A
bet the mother's calculus would change the closer and closer the fetus is to
full term.

A mother would probably not risk her life for the zygote as readily as when
the fetus was close to term. According to my Church's teaching the zygote
is fully human but would even the best Catholic mother risk her life for a
zygote? For her child yes, but for a zygote?"

By the way the discussion was sparked by a Cal Thomas article on Roe v. Wade. See the article and associated discussion here.
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