Sunday, November 20, 2011

What is a person, anyway?

Many moral debates hinge on the concept of person. Arguments against abortion, for example, often involve the claim that fetuses are people. Here's a common argument for the conclusion that abortions are immoral.

(1) It is wrong to kill an innocent person.
(2) A fetus is an innocent person.
(3) Therefore, it's wrong to kill a fetus.

Assessing the soundness of this argument is difficult. There's much to be said about the first premise and about related issues involving the notion of a right to life. But we can save these issues for another day. What I'm concerned about here is the second premise and how one is to determine what it is to be a person. Mississippians are set to vote on a measure that involves settling on a legal definition of personhood. This vote could have a tremendous impact on various policies, not just those related to the legal status of abortions in that state.

So what are the criteria for personhood exactly? I am a person but my dog is presumably not. What are the relevant properties that morally distinguish us? It better not simply be that I'm a member of the species homo sapiens or that I have a higher IQ than him. This is because species membership and intelligence (like race, religion, gender, or taste in music) are not markers of moral status. These seem to be morally irrelevant properties. I don't care much for Nickelback, but I certainly don't think fans of the band have a lower moral status because of their taste--or lack thereof--in music. What we need to find are morally relevant properties that I have but which my dog lacks. These would be the properties relevant to personhood. Once we discover what these properties are exactly, we can then see if fetuses have them. And this is what we need to do if we are to answer the question of whether fetuses are people (in the moral sense of the term where this means that fetuses have a right to life or are deserving of deep moral consideration).

I'm curious what you find to be the morally relevant properties required for personhood.

UPDATE 11/9/11:
The votes from Mississippi are in and Measure 26 did not pass. This indicates that the majority of voters did not feel comfortable with legally defining fetuses as persons. It may be that the rather strong implications of passing the measure are what dissuaded many voters. The measure was likely to effect more than just the practice of abortions in Mississippi. It was likely to have an impact on certain forms of birth control, fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization, etc. It's not clear to me what conclusions one ought to draw from this vote. Polls strongly indicate that the majority of folks in Mississippi are anti-abortionists and think that fetuses are people. But the vote indicates that, despite this position on the status of fetuses, most Mississippians (that voted) are not prepared to enact the policies involved in the measure. This is fascinating.

UPDATE 12/19/11: A preliminary poll on this blog regarding this issue resulted in 31 votes for considering a fetus a person and 46 votes for not.


Anonymous said...

This is a thought provoking blog and thinking is crucial. I like the sidebar contents as much as the main content.
What is the distinction between 'morally relevant' properties and 'relevant properties'? You use both terms in posing the question of distinguishing between entities. While you at it, can you tell me what 'moral status' is.
Thanks for putting this together. I'm especially interested in checking out the book.

Jesse Steinberg said...

Anonymous--Thanks for commenting. I don't mean to be drawing a distinction there. I just mean that there seems to be something about us that makes us deserving of deep moral consideration, renders us the sorts of beings that have rights, etc. Other things aren't like this. The lamp on my desk doesn't have rights and doesn't have, as some philosophers put it, "membership in the moral community." My dog presumably doesn't have the same kind of moral status that I enjoy--he doesn't have the same rights or privileges. He is deserving of some kind of moral respect, I think. But many people would say that he's lower on the "moral food chain" than you and me. The issue I'm curious about is what sorts of properties (these would have to be morally relevant properties) are markers of being members in the moral community. What is it about us that makes us morally special in this way? And, furthermore, do fetuses have these properties too? As is obvious, a lot hinges on answering this set of questions. I hope this makes things clearer.

Anonymous said...

It does indeed. Now I see you are not simply asking us to identify properties that are relevant to making a distinction between categories, but asking us to consider/determine what ARE moral properties and how they are useful or distinguishable (?). I think that's what your saying.
I'll have to consult with my dictionary before commenting any further.

Jesse Steinberg said...

Anon--I think we're on the same track now, but I don't know if using a dictionary will help resolve these issues. Let me know if you find anything useful.

Mary said...

This is a heated debate in many of the philosophy courses I have taken. It seems that abortion goes both ways, meaning, it can be seen as beneficial but also unethical. A fetus certainly is not given the same "moral rights" as say, you or me. The fetus may have potential to someday live a long life, but until the fetus is born and has, as Mary Anne Warren would argue, the 5 criteria to life-- consciousness, reasoning, self-motivated activity, ability to communicate, and self-awareness-- the fetus has no moral values, because the fetus is not a person yet. However, this is a sticky argument when pressed upon. After birth, when is it that the, now baby, has rights? Perhaps the child has rights after birth because we can hold them to a higher neurological level. For instance, take a new born baby who, we can argue, can communicate by crying and is obviously conscious, he/she is considered to have a higher status in the moral world because he/she possesses 2/5 of these criteria, which in turn, shows a higher neurological matter. If it is legal, and seems morally permissible, to “pull the plug” on a “vegetable” because they lack the neurological matter, than what is wrong with abortion? Another way to look at it is through the mothers’ moral obligations to citizens and the fetus. Obviously, it seems we have the option of adoption, not having to keep the child but supporting it until able to be given away (after birth). However, say the woman does not want to be seen pregnant and doesn’t want to explain to people about her pregnancy. Isn’t this immoral to force her to be miserable for her pregnancy; regardless, if it was her fault for consenting to unprotected sex? I can explain this more, but this is just to get us started on this subject.

Jesse Steinberg said...

Mary- Thanks for commenting. As you said, Warren claims that there are a handful of psychological properties and physical abilities that one might rely on to assess whether an organism is a person. Her argument is often criticized for setting the bar too high. If we require that an organism be self-aware, be capable of communicating, engage in self-motivated activity, etc., then it would appear that a one-month-old baby would not count as a person. This is because what Warren means by things like "self-motivated activity" or "ability to communicate" are fairly high-level sorts of activities. For example, my dog can communicate in a certain sense. If he wants to go outside, he'll stand by the back door and wag his tail. But this is not enough for Warren. What she means by "communicate" is more like what people do by uttering words or using sign-language. So this would rule my dog out from being a person. But setting the bar this high also rules out babies from being people (in the moral sense). And that's obviously a problem.

Of course, one might suggest that we should set the bar lower than Warren does. The problem with this suggestion is that it's not clear how low the bar should be set exactly. If we set it much lower, then my dog will count as a person. We presumably don't want that. But how do you set the bar at the right level so that babies --which are clearly deserving of deep moral consideration/should be considered members of the moral community--count, but dogs (mice, pigs, bees, etc.) do not?

One might call the predicament we find ourselves in here "the Goldilocks problem." We can't seem to find the "just right" level of these kinds of traits.

In addition to this issue, we have the problem of where fetuses fall in the spectrum. If we are to rely on psychological properties of a certain level of sophistication and/or physical attributes of a certain level of complexity, then where do fetuses end up being exactly? It appears that fetuses are on par with "lower" organisms in terms of psychological and physical traits. This is especially true at the earlier stages of development, say in the first trimester of pregnancy. So if we think the kinds of properties Warren highlights are the morally relevant properties, then it looks like fetuses (depending upon the stage of development) are morally on par with organisms like bacteria, worms, mice, dogs, etc.

It looks like we have at least a couple options at this point: (a) we could say that Warren's suggested properties are misguided and find new ones that are actually relevant to personhood, or (b) we could say that fetuses are not persons since her suggested properties are the ones relevant to personhood.

If we opt for (a), we have the problem of identifying the relevant properties. If we go for (b), we have the Goldilocks problem. Of course, if we opt for (a) we still seem to be saddled with the Goldilocks problem, just in slightly different clothing. So maybe (a) is the tougher path. But this doesn't mean that it's the wrong path. If Warren is wrong about those properties being relevant, then what are the morally relevant properties?

One of the things I've been thinking about quite a bit lately is why psychological properties should be thought of as morally relevant. If IQ and preference in music don't matter morally, why should self-awareness matter? It may be that there's something very different and morally important about being conscious or having the ability to communicate. But I'd like to see a better argument for WHY these kinds of properties are morally significant.

Joshua said...

There are two major pieces I feel have not been brought up: the question of potentiality and the question of subjective morals.

I think instead of framing the question as “what gives an individual moral status”; a better way to frame the question is “what defines murder”. I am not talking about killing: a soldier killing a soldier during a war is not a purposeful or malicious act to extinguish another person’s life.

If I were to prevent you from breathing and you died from asphyxiation that would be considered murder, an immoral act. If I had an abortion that would not be considered murder. We recognize murder of adult humans because of the potential for life that is extinguished when they die: how is a fetus any different?

I feel the reason societies feel murder is wrong, for the most part, because you are taking that final judgment of the person into your own hands: once that person is dead he has no rights (because he is dead). I state this because the act of killing a fertilized egg is an act of killing a potential person. Sperm are not potential people and neither are eggs: but a fertilized egg will grow into an adult. How the mother lives her life, including whether or not she gets an abortion, directly affects that potential person. This is why smoking or drinking excessively while pregnant is a crime in most states. It directly affects that potential person against their unspoken will.

The second piece is how we choose to define morals.

I feel strongly that speciation is a shortsighted frame of mind for looking at morality: we choose to give dogs a higher moral status than a pig. Other cultures choose to make dogs lower on the moral totem pole. Neither of these cultural outlooks seem relevant in determining what has moral status: they are both subjective societal decisions about what is wrong or right. For example, if we still followed subjective societal morals people with higher concentrations of pigments in their skin and people with two sex-linked X chromosomes wouldn’t be allowed to vote and in some cases, even own property.

What is the difference between an unborn baby not having rights and a woman not having rights?

The ultimate answer in my mind if a matter of potential: a fertilized egg has the potential to grow into a human. Societal perception is irrelevant, regardless of whether we are a democracy or not. We like to believe we’re our own masters but our societal choices are not unbound of morals simply because we have personal freedom.

Jesse Steinberg said...

Joshua- Thanks for commenting. You made some interesting points.

We can, as you suggest, certainly change the subject and examine a different question. We could focus more on what constitutes murder or a wrongful killing. But this isn't the question I was focusing on in my original post. Nevertheless, I also share your interest in that other question.

It seems to me, however, that we cannot fully and accurately answer your question without first settling on the moral status of fetuses. If a fetus is morally on par with bacteria or mice, then it presumably wouldn't be a wrongful killing if one aborted a fetus. But if a fetus is morally on par with a baby, then we might have the resources to explain why aborting a fetus is wrong. So the issue I was originally worried about seems logically prior or more morally fundamental than the question you've brought up. But, again, I think both questions are good ones to contemplate.

One thing worth examining more closely is the issue of invoking potentiality. Here's an argument that's only a slight modification of the argument in my original post:

(1) It is wrong to kill an innocent potential person.
(2) A fetus is an innocent potential person.
(3) Therefore, it's wrong to kill a fetus.

With some of Joshua's remarks in mind, one could argue that the original argument need not be delved into since we have this alternative argument that relies on potentiality. And since fetuses are the sorts of things that will eventually be babies and then eventually adults like us (i.e., persons in the moral sense), we needn't worry about whether fetuses are persons. Rather, all we need to keep in mind is that fetuses are potential persons.

But is being a potential person enough to demonstrate that fetuses are deserving of deep moral respect, that they have rights, or that they are "members of the moral community"? Is it really wrong to kill a potential person? In other words, is this alternative argument a sound argument?

Consider these cases: I am potentially the governor of PA. Does that entail that I get the rights and privileges of being the governor, such as the ability to pardon convicted criminals. My brother isn't old enough to collect social security, but he has the potential to do so in a couple of decades. Does that mean he has a right to collect social security now? Suppose you're a very bright student and have the potential to get a fantastic grade in my class next semester. Does that mean that I should give you an "A" now. My point is that we typically don't grant rights or bestow privileges on something simply because of its potential. More precisely, we don't treat a thing as if it is X when it is merely potentially X. So it's not clear to me that invoking the notion of potential person is going to help here. What we should be worried about, in my opinion, is whether the fetus (which is certainly a potential person) is a member of the moral community and so is deserving of the kind of deep moral consideration you and I are deserving of. And it seems to me that one needs to determine what it is to be a person in order to answer this question. So we're back where we started...

Anonymous said...

Great Blog!

I have been reading a great book by Lewis Petrinovich called, "Human Evolution, Reproduction and Morality." In there, he argues that personhood begins at birth, where the child has moral standing and is given moral consideration as evidenced by responsibilities and duties of individuals in society.
He argues that viability of the fetus will not do, as this is problematic in that the likelihood of survival at different ages varies with given specific conditions and the advance of technology (there is no general agreement regarding the point at which viability occurs).
There is a great discussion of criteria that have been proposed for personhood,including:
1) capacity to experience pleasure or pain;
2) capacity to have desires;
3) capacity to remember past events;
4) capacity to have expectations;
5) awareness of the passage of time;
6) being a continuing, conscious self
7)being self-conscious;
8) having mental thats that involve beliefs and desires;
9) capacity to have thought and intentions;
10) capacity to reason;
11) ability to solve problems;
12) capacity to use language;
13) abilty to interact socially with others;
14) the property of being autonomous.

For various reasons, he argues that none of these will do.

So- the question remains: do things that happen at birth, like independence from the mother; the instinctual tenderness and protectiveness people feel towards babies; the formation of social and moral bonds that support the identity of the infant as a unique individual; the induction into the social contract; the entrance into public, biographical life; and entrance into the complex matrix that constitutes human society.

What do you all think about trying to give personhood a kind of evolutionary explication? I'm not quite sure that this will work.

Anonymous said...

I might be said that the concept of a 'person' or the notion of 'personhood' is rather vague in ordinary language, without there being necessary and sufficient conditions for something to qualify as being a person. This is in contradistinction to the concept of a triangle, where if something is a plane, enclosed, three-sided figure, it is a triangle, and if something is a triagle, it is a plane, enclosed, three-sided figure.)

If this is right, then attmepts to more precisely define the concept of a 'person' really amount to STIPULATION. That is, such attemps assign a new meaning to the term (with some agenda in mind). This is similar to the modern medical definition of 'death,' where, because of new medical technology that can keep people on respirators, 'death' is now being defined as the lack of spontaneous heartbeat and respiration, with an absence of brain activity as indicated by a flat EEG over a certain period of time. The new technology underlies the need for a more precise (stipulated) definition.

One comment about the post talking about Petrinovich - he ultimately defines 'personhood' in terms of beings that have moral agency (having moral duties to and from others in a moral community) and thereby possessing rights.

Infants are just entering the moral community at birth. Now infants are not accountable at birth as moral agents(neither are comatose patients), but they qualify for moral agency in that they will (or did) have this status. So, not all persons are moral agents, but all moral agents are persons.

Jesse Steinberg said...

Annon-- Thanks for commenting! The list of traits from Petrinovich appears to be an extension of what Warren offered. Such traits are either psychological or physical attributes that most adult human beings have. One might be tempted to define personhood in terms of such traits, but (as I said above) it seems we have a problem regarding where exactly we set the bar. If we require too robust of mental or physical traits, then babies and the comatose will not be deemed people. If we set the bar too low, then my dog or maybe even a mouse or a worm would count as a person. So I share Petrinovich's worry about these traits being part of a plausible analysis of personhood.

You mentioned that he considers birth to be a significant moment because it is at this point that the baby is independent from the mother; social and moral bonds begin to form that support the identity of the baby; etc. This is a fascinating suggestion.

We might wonder what sorts of inferences we can make on the basis of this observation. People do indeed treat babies as independent beings at birth. Perhaps this is partly because social and moral bonds are formed at that time that support the identity of babies as distinct individuals. But this is only the beginning of an explanation for what makes a thing a person or, really, why we might TREAT a thing as a person. What are the criteria for personhood exactly? Is it simply being born? Surely that's not Petrinovich's suggestion. Is it being born and having society treat the individual in certain ways/the individual having a certain relationship with society-such as entering "the complex matrix that constitutes human society"? What if a baby is born that doesn't enter that matrix? A baby might be born on a deserted island and not have the same kind of social and moral bonds with a social group, it might not be "inducted into the social contract," etc. Is that baby then not to be considered a person in the moral sense? Does Petrinovich consider these questions? I wonder what he says/would say about this issue.

Thanks again for commenting and for raising such interesting issues.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jesse for the thoughtful response to some of the ideas of Patrinovich.

He does make a distinction between what he calls "moral agents" and what he calls "moral patients." The baby and the comotose individual are, according to him, moral patients. Certainly an elderly individual suffering from Alzheimer's disease cannot be morally accountable (and is therefore not a moral agent) - but is nevertheless a person because of his/her past personhood. Similarly, the baby is not accountable (not a moral agent YET), but is entering society (contrary to the fetus or embryo) with social recognition of rights had and duties owed. His point is that birth is a marker for this social status. And I guess he would say that this approach to personhood is based on empirical evidence about the way the elderly and babies are treated around the world - that his account has empirical support.

Finally, babies born on deserted islands (with or without a mother present) get their status as persons in a drivative fashion - which would not be true of a dog that was born on a deserted island.

I wonder what the other readers of this blog think about all of this.

James said...

This, for me, is a pretty simple argument. I'm going to sound like Dawkins a lot here, but I think you have to be scientific when you define 'person'.

That is, you can't bestow something with the title of 'person' based on potentiality, as Jesse said. If the collection of cells that is a fetus has the potential to one day be a person, that's irrelevant when at the time of abortion they are not.

I stick to science on this one because you are not going to find anything else that's as objective. Everyone else will have certain points in time where they think a fetus becomes a person. Conception, three months, etc. Scientifically, it happens when they have a working nervous system. I think that's what we need to go with.

Jesse Steinberg said...

Thanks for commenting, James.

Could you say a bit more about what you mean by "a working nervous system"?

I think scientists will have a tough time in articulating exactly what level of development/complexity an organism's nervous system needs to be in order for it to be considered a person. We again seem to have the Goldilocks Problem. But maybe you've got a clever way out of this problem.

Sherry Troutman said...

Well....I think that anything thats developing is a person.
It may take a while for the development to occur--but if the fetus has arms, legs, a head, a body and a small brain it's a person. Why? Studies show babies in the womb respond to outside stimulation. The tone of your voice, the music you listen to, the noise around you everything the baby hears. And they respond by kicking. The movements you feel in your womb are the baby's response to what it hears in the outside world. And to deny that innocent life during meaningless circumstances would be morally unacceptable.

Sherry Troutman said...

I want to defend myself a bit further. Say the person has careless sex like Mary described--Just because she wasn't doing what she should be doing to keep herself from getting pregnant doesn't--and she doesn't want to be frowned upon for her mistake because people in this society tend to frown upon unwed mothers--if she didn't want the baby acting selfishly to protect her status in society is morally wrong. There are always adoption services available and many people who want children, have stable homes, but for some reason are unable to conceive. I believe that to be true to the topic at hand one must have empathy for the innocent. Empathy is also an important part for morality to exist. What is morality then without empathy? There must be an empathetic component for morality to exist.

Heather Costello said...

First I would like to say just because someone does not feel that it is right to preform an act does not necessary make that act in question "wrong" from a moral stand point. However, I have had the opportunity to have gone with a friend for an abortion and my conclusion is this... When the person has the abortion because of an inability to cope with the birth and raising of said creation they still do not seem to ever get over the fact that they had the abortion. If the act doesn't plague them immediately it catches them later. Every single person I have ever talked to of sound mind that has had an abortion wishes at some point they may have reconsidered. Now to me this seems to strongly resemble the emotions and feelings that go along with someone that has committed a crime..any crime from stealing clothes to committing 1st degree murder. The act of having an abortion creates: Regret. I think that any act that creates regret in hindsight over and over again no matter how you serve it should be removed from our society. Some examples of things we have or are trying to remove from this world because they cause regret are but not limited to war, genocide, rape, larceny, torture, communism. All of these acts have been committed over and over again and we are trying to illuminate them not just because they are "wrong" but because that create regret of what was, what could have been and what ought to have prevailed.

Anonymous said...

I believe that as a fetus grows inside a person it'd be hard to destroy what you created. The baby or fetus is a person and deserves to have life on this earth even if you feel like you cant take care of it, there are other ways to help your child have a life you want it to have.
i agree with sherry about the fact that the fetus in your womb does react to the surrounding environment. they react to your voice, they consume what you eat in order to grow, and to me that is a living person inside your stomach that is attached to you and to your blood. i personally could never abort my child, but im not competely against someone else doing it because that is there choice, but for me its morally wrong to destroy a baby that you created and to destroy something that is a part of you.

Audrey Wenger said...

I am a person that is against abortion. I feel that the embryo, fetus (whatever you want to call it at its different stages) deserves the same right as humans. I read the article by Warren and she lists some criteria that she thinks qualifies who should be considered "human." I disagree with some of her points. One of her points is that humans experience pain. Although, you may not verbally hear the fetus cry inside of you, I believe a fetus can feel pain. If a mother was to accidently fall on her stomach, this could cause quite abit of damage or pain to the fetus. I did some additional research, and found a medical site, that said a fetus can feel pain. The site states that nocioceptors are what enables us to feel pain and the thalamus is what interpets that pain, therefore the cerebral cortex does not need to be fully developed to feel pain. The site also mentions that they are able to measure these impulses.(

Secondly, I would like to say Warren mentions that a human needs to be able to reason, solve complex problems, and be conscious of themselves. If we consider those who are in a coma, or have some mental problems, we give these people the same rights as humans. Individuals with mental conditions or in a coma are not always able to have sound reasoning or be aware of themselves, so why should we kill a fetus because they do not have this capacity yet?

Warren also mentions that a fetus does not have all the characteristics of an adult and therefore they just have the potential to be humans. Which doe not qualify them as a person, and therefore you can kill them. How can we say that we have the right to say who gets to continue and maybe reach this 'potential' to be a human? If someone has the potiential to die from cancer, we don't kill them and decide, they get to go through treatments and they watch how the disease progresses. Therefore, why do we get to choose wether or not the fetus gets the potiential to be a human?

Audrey Wenger

Torrey Johnson said...

I believe there is many features that can distinguish a person from other animals but are not exactly features of person hood. Features such as shape of body parts, a well-developed brain, and walking on two legs could all be seen as features of people. Most of these could create a sense of what a human is but to find what a real human is the source of creation needs to be found. Obviously if an animal gives birth, the creature that gave birth created the infant. It is part of the genetic code to pass the animals traits on to the infant. This would be the exact same with a human. When a human gives birth the child will be human. Just because the human is in the early stages of development does not mean it is not human. Every person that is alive today was not aborted during pregnancy so how can anyone who is alive be for abortion. Another point is that for some people killing a person during early development would be fine but if that person was not aborted but killed any time after birth it would be considered a crime. People cannot be looked at as animals that should not exist because of different characteristics. Do fetuses have meetings and votes on how to kill us? I don't think so. I do not mean to be judgmental but I feel this viewpoint is important to this argument.
Torrey Johnson

Andrea Cunnigham said...

I believe that a person is something that impacts a someones life. A baby (fetus) defiantly impacts someones life but if those parents are not capable of giving that baby a good life then they should be able to have an abortion. I dont look at it as killing a life I look at it as they are helping themselves continue on with their lives and not throwing a wrench in everything. But I feel like one should only be able to have one abortion because that is not right for people to use abortions as birth control thats is just wrong. I think it is morally wrong to use abortions that was accidents happen but there are so many different kinds of birth control out there that is just not right to let it happen more than once. And there is a big difference in getting an abortion and killing a older human being. This baby hasn"t came in to the word yet it is just a cluster of cells that is reproducing, it doesnt have friends. it doesnt have emotional bonds with other human beings. I personally dont view abortion as killing a human being because that baby cant survive with out being inside of its mother. i just think that arent ready to be a parent then you could use protection.

Joe Burns said...

One criterion that I believe should be considered in determining personhood is where this "thing" came from. The offspring from two people, a man and a woman, is a person. At the time of conception, personhood can be defined, and at that point, the right to life ought to be granted. Individuals may say "what if that child has a bad life?" I say "what if that child has an excellent life?" It would only be appropriate to give the person, fetus, or whatever it may be, the opportunity to live a life. We all have difficult times so I don’t believe that this is a valid reason for an abortion. Everyday I’m thankful for my life, and at no point have I ever thought to myself, "Jeeze, I wish my mother would have aborted me." Even without defining personhood, I do believe that at the point of conception an opportunity has been created, and that it should be pursued for the sake of that individual, person, fetus, or whatever it is believed to be.
Joe Burns

nicki kellogg said...

Abortion is an age old debate that probably will never be solved. As a moral issue however I belieev the issue lies in WHY you committ the abortion,not the abortion itself. There are numerous cases where abortion is the better option. However if you are just having careless sex and committing an abortion after abortion then you are an inmoral person due to the fcat that you are clearly not learning from your mistakes. So the argument im trying to make is that you dont need to define a person in this argument, you need to analyze why and what your reasons are for committing the abortiion and then decide if it is moral or inmoral

Casey Hoffman said...

I also believe the point of the abortion debate lies in the reasoning one has for getting an abortion. I'm in no way a deontologist but on this issue I guess I am because the intentions of the action are what matters to me. I completely condone an abortion in the situation of rape because not only does the woman have to endure the pain of childbirth with a baby she may not want, but it would be a constant reminder of probably the worst moment of her life. However, if the woman is having sex with no plans for reproduction and an unplanned pregnancy happens, I don't believe it's right for her to abort the baby because she doesn't want it or whatever reason.

Michael Eiswerth said...

As a few other people have stated above, Warren has her five points for defining a person; consciousness, reasoning, self-motivated activity, ability to communicate, and self-awareness. I myself, totally agree with these properties that she believes define a person. One obvious argument from above is that she sets the bar to high with these properties one must have to be a person.

I myself, ask one question that I think sets the bar just right. On top of Warrens five criteria, I believe something needs to have the ability to live on its own. A fetus doesn't have this ability. It needs to be connected to the mother. It's like the mother is a machine, and without it, the fetus will die. There needs to be a little explanation here in what I mean by "need its mother." The fetus needs to physically be attached to the mother (or some kind of other means to simply survive). Yes, a baby needs its mother right after it is born, but if the baby could take care of itself, then it would be fine. For example, take the situation where you would leave your already born baby asleep in its crib for an hour. That baby would be fine on its own for an hour and survive. However if you take a fetus out of the mother for an hour it will not survive. So you need to ask yourself; when can the baby become physically unattached from the mother or not need extreme medical care and still live?

To determine this we can go to more scientifically proven facts about how premature a baby can be born and still survive. Babies born before the 28th week (start of the third trimester) have a significant cut in the chances of survival. I believe this is the line where a fetus can be called a person because if they are born during or later than the 27th-28th week there is a very good chance for survival. Prior to this point, I don't believe the fetus has rights because it is not a person and the choice is still up to the mother.

Jacob Klock said...

As many people can see everybody seems to have a different idea of what is considered to be a person and deserving of rights. This is obviously going to differ from person to person. In my personal opinion though I do not believe that a fetus should have the rights that you or me would have. My reasoning behind this is they are not able to survive on their own, they are dependent on the mother to survive. On top of that though I also think that as the fetus progresses in age it starts to develop more rights. What I mean by that is that the older it gets it should end up being safe from an abortion. I do not think that it is right if it is a few months old to then abort. By that time I think the child has started to at least gain the right to survive as long as its survival will not in the end affect the life of the mother. Other than that my opinion on this matter is indifferent, I think that it should be left up mother, and if she feels she can provide a good life for the baby.

Kayla Swartz said...

Some of the people that commented on this really aren’t addressing the actual intent of the discussion. This discussion isn’t for the debate of whether or not it is morally permissible to have an abortion; it’s for what the definition of person hood is. With that said, I thought Michael E had some very interesting points, along with Jacob K. I also agree with Michael about Warren’s criterion. I think in order to define personhood a set of criteria or standards should be set to go along and “rank” people by moral status.

I like what Jacob had said about the fetus developing more rights as it ages. A good example of this is children and their parents. As one ages, it is likely they will gain more rights and moral status. While I still live in my parents’ house, I live by their rules, but as I have aged, they allow me to be more independent and to do more things than I was allowed to while I was growing up.

Another example can be drawn from laws. For example, when one turns 12, you no longer have to legally wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. When you turn 14, you’re allowed to get a job. When you turn 16, you can drive, and so on and so forth. This can be correlated with personhood. As you age, you gain independence and moral status.

With all of this said, as a fetus, one doesn’t have much moral status, and the mother carrying the fetus always will have more moral status. Therefore, I believe that when dealing with this aspect of the debate, abortions should be morally permissible, if used with appropriate intentions, which goes into a completely different aspect.

Alyssa McQuirns said...

It can be hard to determine what is a person because there are so many factors and examples that have to be looked at to come to a solid argument. When it comes to the idea of abortion this idea becomes even harder since most people have the morals that tell us not to kill. I also agree with Jacob with his idea that the fetus develops it gains more rights. When the fetus is only a couple weeks old, it can be anything. It is stem cells that stil have the potential to become anything, making it not really a person quite yet. When these cells start to specialize and develop into being a human than this fetus has gained more rights. I beleive when the cells begin to specailize is when it is immoral to abort but before while it is still stem cells, it is morally okay to abort.