Monday, November 4, 2013

Why I Would Argue for the Earliest Definition of Life




    In my last two blogs, “Abortion: Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Both Right?” and “Abortion: Why Both Sides Will Lose in the Supreme Court (Again)” I explained why the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was not a clear win for either pro-choice or for pro-life supporters and why I thought that both sides would once again be disappointed if a modern Supreme Court consented to review the case. 

    But while my reading of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, modern medicine, and our current political climate lead me to believe that a review of Roe would not be substantially different than it was in 1973, I do think that there are compelling reasons that argue for a dramatic change.  Instead of beginning with biblical, theological or doctrinal reasons (which I obviously have), let’s begin with reason and logic. 

    As I have explained, Roe v. Wade was a decision that attempted to find a balance between two rights guaranteed by the Constitution, a right to privacy on the part of the mother, and a right to life on the part of the infant.  In my reading of the court’s ruling, it seems that there was never a question that both rights existed and the both deserved to be protected.  The question was, if two rights are in conflict, which has a superior claim and when (or if) does that superiority change?  I have a right to privacy in my own home, but if I were to commit criminal acts, particularly those that harmed other human beings, my right to privacy is superseded by the other person’s right to life and liberty.  This delineation is well accepted as both moral and legal.  This same question, when brought into the realm of abortion, becomes a question of a) is a pre-born infant a human being, and if yes, b) when does it become one?  The Supreme Court answers to these questions in 1973 were a) yes, and b) at the earliest point at which the infant is viable (with medical intervention).

    In 1973 the womb was something of a “black box.”  We knew that an infant developed in the mother’s womb and developed from a fertilized egg, we had all sorts of microscope slides and fetuses in jars that had been aborted at various stages of development.  What we didn’t have were the spectacular images that we have today.  Today expectant parents can sit in the office of their OB/GYN and see live 3D images of their child.  They can see that preborn infant scratch its nose, cough, sneeze, and suck its thumb.  So real are these images, that 78% of women who were considering abortion changed their minds after they had seen them.

    I’m not saying we were ignorant in 1973 and we are now “enlightened,” but what we know and what we have learned, seem to make it much harder to draw a line in the sand and say that “this” is a person with Constitutional rights, and a moment earlier “that” was not a person.  Does an infant become a person because it’s larger than it was yesterday?  If so, do tall people have more rights than short people, or do adults have a stronger right to life than children?  Does it suddenly become a person because it is no longer in the womb?  The human rights of any other “person” do not change based on location.  A person in Detroit, Michigan has no more or less rights than a person in rural China.  Location cannot, logically, convey basic human rights or take them away.  Is a preborn infant not a person because it is dependent upon its mother?  If so, then do adults on life support surrender their right to life?  We are all, in one way or another, dependent upon others for our lives.  Simply because an infant needs its mother cannot imply that it somehow has fewer rights than an infant only days or weeks older.  At other times in history, groups of people were declared a separate “class” of human being so that their rights could be denied, Jews, Gypsies, Blacks, and others.  Can we, in good conscience, declare a group of human beings, with measurable human DNA, to be a separate “class” of humans that are not entitled to human rights? 

    Biblically speaking, we know that God loves all of his children equally.  All human beings are of sacred worth.  The redemption of every person on earth was purchased by Jesus Christ at the cost of his own life.  We cannot gamble that God cares more about an infant more today, simply because yesterday it was in the womb and today it is not, or because today it is one day older than yesterday.

    I have heard various arguments from the position that Old Testament references did not consider an infant to be a “person” under the law until after it was born.  While this is arguable on a number of points, it assumes that people who lived four thousand years ago could have known any differently.  Asking this question would seem to place an unfair moral burden on ancient cultures.  How would any culture with little understanding of fetal development, no ability to detect a fetal heartbeat, no ultrasound, and no modern medical understanding of neural development have fairly ruled that a preborn infant is equal to one who independently draws breath?  Their decision on personhood was, much as it was in 1973, based upon viability.

    Please understand that I value my privacy as much or more than anyone, but regardless of my feelings or personal opinion, privacy has always taken a backseat to more important rights, and the right to life is among these.   Legally, I understand that declaring an infant to be a person too early can create other difficulties, such as the potential for criminal investigations against women who have miscarriages and certainly I understand those who struggle with knowing at what point an infant ought to be considered to be a person, especially in the earliest stages of development.    For me, however, I have few such doubts.  I believe that morals, logic and scripture declare in chorus that an infant is a person, and if an infant is a person at any point, it must be one from the very beginning.

To me, these arguments seem reasonable and logically sound.  If you can find error in the logic, I am interested in hearing your viewpoint.

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6 comments:

  1. John, I have read many of your blogs and posts but never responded to them. I m responding because you asked. I have no argument with anything you stated but the use of the word infant implies after birth and by that definition I whole agree. However, until the infant is born it is a fetus and as such not a human being especially if it is not viable to survive outside the womb. This is just my opinion I seriously feel that what delineates this issue has to be viability.

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  2. Just throwing this out there...my son was born at 28 weeks and not only survives but thrives as a six year old today. We were told six years ago that "fetuses" born after 24 weeks of gestation many times could survive, sustain and grow to live a normal life. Therefore, a "fetus" at 24 weeks of gestation would be viable to survive outside the womb and that would make a "fetus" at 24 weeks viable as a human.

    Not wanting to argue, just showing how gray the lines are.

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  3. Randy, I deliberately used the word "infant" and not "fetus" in most of my writing because the "lines" seem artificial to me for the reasons that I outlined. I understand that many of us still want to use viability as a measure of some kind, but *why*? Logically, what changes to make this creature a "thing" one moment, and the next a "human"? I used to think so, but the more I thought about it, it didn't make any logical sense. Either it is human, or it isn't. I cannot find any rational explanation for what suddenly might imbue an inanimate, or even animate, "thing" with humanity. What magically happens at "viability" that makes this thing a person? According the arguments that I already laid out... not a darn thing.

    Anonymous, you are exactly right. Drawing lines is hard and often they are drawn with no particular logic. Thanks for contributing your experience.

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  4. The 'right' to abort a baby is the holy grail of the Left. It must be preserved at any cost. Appeals to logic, science and morality will not work with this crowd.

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  5. The viability difference to me is the difference between a human being and what also meets the definition of a parasitic organism. Until the fetus can be viable outside of the host mother it could be perceived as just that. And to some the removal of said fetus is no more than the removal of just that a parasite. Once the fetus becomes viable then I feel that it is a human and as such needs to be respected and protected, but before that stage of survivability it has no such needs or rights. But this entire argument will lead me down a path of the discussion on the right of man to use medical technology to alter/thwart natural progression of life.

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  6. Randy, using the definition of a parasite is fraught with problems of its own and does not address the fundamental problem of determining whether or not the fetus/infant is "human". If an infant is a parasite, it is one not only before viability, but many YEARS afterward. A two year old still contributes nothing to the health or life of its parent/hosts but is just as dependent upon them. If "parasites" are not human by virtue of their dependency, then a great many hospital patients are no longer "human." There is no argument that a fetus/infant is "dependent", the question is whether or not dependence can cause the loss of humanity. In no other case does dependence cause us to believe, or even consider, that what is human is no longer human. How do we decide that this particular class of dependent humans is NOT human when all other dependent humans are?

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