Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Regarding Personhood

I was writing a post regarding this subject matter, but my mind wandered into another dimension. Gomen. Here is the thing I am refuting: the pro-choice viewpoints on personhood. You see, the whole argument stands on the moral permissibility of an abortion at a certain stage in the pregnancy. The pro-life position, particularly for Catholics such as I, is that a human person is at stake in every stage of pregnancy from conception on and should be given the same natural rights as people who are already outside of their mother's womb. The most basic of these natural rights is the right to life. No one has the right to just take your life, naturally speaking. The death penalty may be applied on certain people, but that is a matter of legal rights moreso than natural rights. In truth, the government and no one else, has the right to take someone's life, though they may deem it necessary to save other people from having their lives taken. Truly, if the death penalty must be applied, it should only be done in extreme circumstances. In any case, all humans have the same natural rights based on the simple fact that they are human. For the pro-choice advocate to be right, everything before having a more recognizable human form in the womb must be a non-human and therefore cannot be afforded the same natural rights as everyone else. This would mean one cannot conflate abortion (at that point, at least) as a murder. Murder, after all, is the taking of a person's life. That is why it is wrong. They harmed another person, something that we should not do. If abortion is not that, then it is not a murder. I believe differently for both logical, scientific and religious reasons. For the sake of brevity, I will focus on the logical and scientific aspect: it is illogical, and rather silly, to insist that a baby is only a baby when it is accepted or has reached a certain state of maturity. It simply does not make sense, if you're truly being sensible and open-minded. Since all pro-choice people cannot agree on when the growing "little one" (read: fetus) reaches the plateau of personhood, I will focus on the following: 1.Physical maturity is the measure of personhood. There is a certain stage of physical development where a being will possess all, or at least most, of the qualities that we can recognize in living human persons. To respond to this notion, I would first like to note that such standards of personhood appear to be very arbitrary. It is just as arbitrary to insist that people in "primitive" societies are not persons because they lack certain trappings of our "civilized" society. They are savages or mongrels, certainly not people deserving of our love and respect. Three common standards of (arbitrary) personhood are as follows: 1. Brain activity 2. rational activity 3. personal activity (meaning the ability to engage in the human world with the 2 previous activities and to be alive in general) For #1, the response is obviously: what sort of brain activity is necessary for personhood, and why is brain activity even necessary for personhood? Some people will bring in argument number 2 at this point, but others will say that certain points like the ability to feel pain, or something of the sort. It should go without saying, but there are many different creatures who possess brains and therefore possess brain activity. Can we call them persons as well? What would that say to our eating them? Clearly, no one is clamoring to say that other animals are persons. That just doesn't make sense. They may then say, I mean human persons need a certain amount of activity to be considered human. This again does not address why brain activity is important to being human and leaves the door open to a wide variety of questions: does the brain activity need to be willful--and so on. Upon dropping general brain activity, a person may fall back on rational brain activity, the ability to choose, plan and other activities. Here the fetus would cease being a human person, because their brain activity is not yet equipped to do so. It is not until outside of the womb that they become persons with rational (though limited) abilities. This is, once again, a curious line to draw. While it is true that humans possess reason, what with being the "rational animal" and all, they will possess it at different capacities during their lives. Some people may, in fact, no get very far in their rational growth, or rationality may deterioate due to dementia. Most people would agree that an infant is not fully able to rationalize anything, in fact we know that the brain goes through developmental stages where such things become more and more possible. A 3rd year old's reasoning is no where near that of a 10 year old's, much less an adult. Did that child become MORE human as their grew? Is there a distinction to be made in regard to having the possibility of reasoning and the actual ability to do so? If there is, then it would seem to follow that we become more human as we grow and lose our humanity as we get sick, old or die. Clearly, a patient suffering from Alzheimer's is losing their grip on their humanity, not just their mind, if you take that distinction to it's logical conclusion. Furthermore, what does this say about people with different intelligences? Am I superior in my humanity because I can reason well and a friend of mine cannot? I would say that that idea is ludicrous, and many pro-choicer's would agree, but it does not follow from their argument. Now, they could try and back track, eliminating a distinction between possibility and actuality. This actually would serve as a way for them to corner themselves, because the growing child is filled with possibilities that are actually probabilities. If the child is carried to term and successfully delivered, then the child will engage in rationality more and more. This would mean that they were human from the start, with the same possibilities. The final argument combines the other two and runs into the same issues. The line eliminates many people whom we might consider human beings, the comatose or person with down syndrome. They cannot participate in the larger society very much due to their condition. They are in possession of a human body, but not in possession of humanity through some logic loop. At least, that would be true if the idea is carried to its conclusion. If you are a human only when you can do certain things that other humans can do, then we each have varying humanity. It's hard to argue for equality under the law if this is true. Why should people who are less human than others get the rights of those who are more human? If a person loses their humanity, they lose the rights that came with their previous station. Having shown the absurdity of those arguments, I would like to provide an alternative. Here are my basic points: 1. we have scientific verification that, upon conception, there is a new, growing and living "thing" within the woman who gets pregnant. 2. There is no way that these newly formed cells are going to change into the cells of a dolphin and produce a freak dolphin/human baby. 3. Even at its earliest stage, the developing creature is a human creature. 4. All humans are persons by virtue of their humanity. My first point is simple: once the sperm fertilizes the egg, a new genetic structure is formed, a combination of the parents DNA. The new creature is neither its mother nor its father, but a result of "two becoming one" and is therefore an individual. If everything goes like it should, the fertilized egg latches onto the uterine wall and continues the process it had already begun. As the cells continue to divide, they end up becoming a fetus and then later a newborn infant. This is not a process that we can consciously stop without committing a heinous evil. Does the creature LOOK human? No. But, since when does disfigurement (for whatever reason), lessen someone's humanity? Why then should being in an earlier stage of development matter? Some children will have troubles in their development and develop certain traits that make them appear different from other people, and I would still say they are human, just as we would say about any child with down's syndrome. Some things, unfortunately, went wrong in their initial formation, thereby making it difficult for them to engage in all that their humanity has to offer. That circumstance does nothing to diminish their humanity, their personhood. In the end, people are constantly developing, even while we are old and we therefore are not doing anything that much different from when we are just a fertilized egg. The difference is only in degree. Just as a young child cannot lift 100 pounds, a developing fetus can lift nothing. Neither is less for their lack of their ability, and they both may very well gain that missing ability later through practice. My second point is that the fertilized egg is a human egg and the sperm cell that entered the egg, whilst unfertilized, is a human sperm cell. The DNA that is created at that moment is human DNA. All of that combined tells us that the creature that is developing is of the species homo sapiens. Without direct intervention from an outside source (like the ooze in ninja turtles), the creature will develop more and more fully take on the bodily form of humans we all recognize. There is no change in species: a human fetus is a human fetus, a chimp's is a chimp's. Since being of the species homo sapiens makes you a human, you are a person. simple. The third point is along the same line: it is not going to be a surprise that a human child is born, though we may be surprised by its gender, if we so choose. A human birth is what expected and it would be awkward if a woman went to the doctor and laid an egg. The developing creature can be nothing but what it is: human. The fourth point is an assertion. Basically, it is based in the belief of natural rights--the rights given to all persons. being a human means being a human person and their humanity is never in question. I'm clearly delirious. Here's a final metaphor: what is the difference between that fertilized egg cell and the singularity that started the big bang? Nothing beyond scale. The Big Bang brought forth matter from that singularity and that could not have happened if it was not already there, that is: if it was not already in it's DNA, so to speak. WOOT! *sleeps*

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