Babies And Bathwater, Where Are The Lines Drawn?

There are few issues that are as divisive as abortion. There are few issues that people adopt with such polar extremes as abortion. I think this is an issue that won't be reasonably discussed in any meaningful way, ever. The reason I feel this way is that most of the pro-life side of the debate is made up of people who hold to their position mostly due to religious conviction. The problem with that is that religious conviction is rarely open to compromise or rational debate. Now before you think I am just going to bash religious folk, I do see a problem with the pro-choice side of the debate too. While it is undoubtedly motivated in part by a knee-jerk response to the religiously motivated absolutist position adopted by the opposing side there is a nearly identical absolutist position adopted by the pro-choice side. On both sides, an all-or-nothing position is the most commonly held.

As with most things in life the truth of the matter likely lies somewhere in between. The notion that an invisibly small collection of mindless cells should have the same or better rights than a fully actualized human with thoughts, feelings, relationships etc. is completely absurd and would undoubtedly be accepted by everyone of not for fanciful notions of souls and gods. On the flip side, the idea that even a fully actualized person should have absolute say over what happens to another thinking entity right up until the moment of birth seems just as flawed to me. It will take a wiser and more knowledgeable person than me to determine where the line should be draw but the debate will go nowhere until both sides are at least willing to admit that maybe the line is not sitting at one extreme end or the other of a broad spectrum.

This is an issue which tackles some of the trickiest of moral obstacles and often indistinct concepts and not well understood science. It is a genuinely hard problem. I won't bore with my personal opinion on the topic. It is frankly more useful right now to get a consensus that this is not a simple problem with an obvious right answer. Let's start by at least acknowledging the challenge it poses and maybe we have a shot of getting somewhere. I don't hold out much hope that this will happen anytime soon, maybe never but it can't hurt to at least put it out there.
TimeCounts TimeCounts
2 Responses Apr 1, 2012

First thing's first: what's an entity? 1 cell, or a whole human? That's a big part of the argument.

I would say it is the nature of the entity that we are really trying to get at. After all a single ***** cell is an entity, just not one we feel a pressing moral duty to.
I don't think there can be any serious disagreement about a zygote or similar very early stage fetus. It has no experience. It feels nothing and the only moral issue is that it has the potential to become a person later. This is assuming that that no attempt is made to invoke religious ideas of souls and the like. Unfortunately such propositions are unfalsifiable and if someone chooses to adopt that position, no evidence or argument will move them.
A dead body is human in a fully developed way but we don't apply the same moral considerations to a corpse that we do a living person. I would say that is because the corpse has no experience. It doesn't think anything or feel anything. It is this experience that we value and that we ascribe rights and moral considerations to. When this experience is not present I personally don't think the entity involved can be called a person in a meaningful way. It's potential is of course a major factor but that potential must be weighted against the wishes and rights of an entity which is already a person and has thoughts, feelings, relationships and the full gamut of human experience. It is this clashing of rights and interests that makes this such a thorny issue.

It is perhaps the thorniest of moral issues with reasonable worries on both sides. If I might ask, what side do you come down on yourself and what are your thoughts in general on the issue?