'A Foetus is Biologically a Person, But Not a Person Morally Speaking'

A comment has been made on my blog by 'Magdalena'.

'Look, a foetus is biologically a person, but not a person morally speaking. If a couple expect a child and that expectation shapes their plans for life, their ambitions for the future etc, then the loss of that child, through miscarriage, is a tragedy. But there are millions of spontaneous miscarriages each year. In trying to conceive, the average couple will 'lose' 6 foetuses before one implants itself. According to your argument, that is 6 dead children. Who is the murderer then? Well, God designed the human body, so ....

But this of course assumes you accept a foetus is a moral person. It is not, it is a biological being with the potential to become a person. You can talk about a child that survived abortion and ruminate upon 'what ifs', but you could also ask 'what if your mother had not had sex the night she conceived you?' - you wouldn't be here. Scary to think that your life is that contingent, but it is. No reason to panic, no reason to force people to have unwanted children (or shall we just encourage couples to have sex all the time and have as many children as they possibly can?)

The fact that a couple do not grieve for the 6 spontaneously terminated foetuses is because they do not, at the time, expect a particular life to come intot he world, do not have plans for it etc. Death is a tragedy on account of the living, not the dead. If I get hit by a bus, it is not because I lose my life that my death is a tragic one, it is because my parents and my son lose my life. Similarly, the death of a child is tragic because the parents lose their child. But the termination of an unexpected (or unwanted) foetus, whether by God's or nature's sloppy design, or by human choice, is clearly not tragic in this sense. For all the moral philosophy you can cite, this is simply an intuitive truth of human existence. I would greatly appreciate your reply here, as I think this is an important debate, and that you happen to be wrong!'

Firstly, personhood is not something which we, humans, persons, confer on an individual. Personhood simply is, you don't even have to include the Creator of human beings to believe it, but then again it helps. The psalmist says, 'For You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.'

Humanity, or personhood, is not something we achieve of our own efforts, but something which is given at the moment of conception. Now, you can say that what you have in a day old foetus is 'a person at the very early stages of development', but you cannot (though you may insist) deny that the foetus has personhood. If you do deny that, then you have to, quite arbitrarily, point to an exact moment in development when this personhood suddenly appears or is conferred, not by God, or by that foetus's mere existence, but by us.

And that is the problem with moral relativism. For while the unborn child him/herself is not yet a 'moral being', capable of knowing right from wrong, or making moral decisions, we are moral beings who are capable of distinguishing between right and wrong and of making moral decisions.

Secondly, there can, as we are witnessing in a country in which over 200,000 abortions take place every year, be no doubt that the removal of the status of personhood from the unborn child has had an absolutely disastrous impact on the innocent human being in the womb, and, I might add, many, many women who have come to regret ever having had an abortion.

If a woman miscarries naturally, as you say, that is a tragedy. Yet it is not so tragic as abortion, which amounts to the direct intervention of the mother (and a doctor who by his oath is sworn to the protection of human life) in order to kill, or end, or 'terminate' the human life still growing within her.

An 'intuitive truth of human existence' is that it is wholly unnatural for a mother to kill her own child. I haven't always been Catholic or 'pro-Life', but, I do grow more and more aware of how contingent my existence is upon my own mother and father having not stepped into my life when I was a foetus, and ended it. I am glad they didn't do that before I was born and I am glad they didn't do that after I was born. Life is a gift and you, and I, are lucky in as much as we were shown mercy by our own mothers and fathers (who, it is well known, are often highly culpable of putting pressures on girlfriends/wives to abort) upon whom we were utterly dependent. Perhaps this is why as well as the commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill', exists another commitment, 'Honour your mother and your father,' since they were merciful and did not reject us or seek to end our lives. Mothers and fathers are not perfect, of course, nobody is, but we owe them.

So, in answer to your question (and I know you didn't directly ask me), yes a miscarriage is a tragedy. The womb is not always a safe place for a foetus. But how much more dangerous is it now, in 21st century Britain, to be a foetus, in a country which not only defends the wilful killing of the unborn, but, indeed, often actively promotes it?

Finally, an unborn child has no choice about whether he or she lives, or dies, as the case in Italy illustrates all too well. That child was utterly dependent, as all children are, upon those in his care. Mothers, fathers, doctors, nurses, governments and, indeed all of us, do have a choice to protect human life and cherish it, or to snuff it out and pretend to ourselves that our victims were 'sub-human'.

We can choose to show mercy to the unborn, or we can choose not to show mercy to the unborn, the most dependent and vulnerable human beings who, yes, indeed, exist. Furthermore, while the Church preaches that the taking of the life of the innocent human being in the womb is a great sin and a crime against the child, against Heaven and against God, mercy, as the book pictured above displays, is what the Church dispenses to all those who yearn for it and, if there is one thing about the guilt, regret and pain which are hallmarks of abortion, mercy is something for which many, many yearn.


Patricius said…
"Look, a foetus is biologically a person, but not a person morally speaking." This assertion appears absurd. On what basis can it be claimed that someone who is a person in "biological" terms is not a person in "moral" terms? It seems to me the same sort of error committed by the early American owners of slaves who declared all men to be created equal but excused their treatment of black men by asserting that they were not really men.
mum6kids said…
I have lost 3 babies to miscarriage and have grieved for each one of them. Of course my grief has been largely private because I am not allowed to grieve for unborn children in this benighted culture.
The pain of losing a child is acute. The pain my friends who have aborted their children is, I think, worse.
If we had a culture that really cared about mothers and children we wouldn't have abortion and we would be able to grieve as we needed when we miscarried.

Laurence you should have a column in the Catholic Herald-you write well.
Magdalena said…
Laurence: Thank you very much for your reply; since this is your blog I was implicitly asking you and am very grateful that you have deigned to answer. I made my remarks with a sense of trepidation; after all, if I am wrong I am defending murder. Yet your response has not, I am thankful, suggested that I am wrong. Given the potential gravity of the issue I would like to offer a reply.

Firstly, my apologies to Patricius for the fact that I appeared to use the term ‘personhood’ in an inconsistent manner; all I can say is that this inconsistency seems written into the anti-abortion consensus. I merely meant to acknowledge that a foetus is biologically a human being, but that this ought not to oblige us to accord it any special status. ‘Moral personhood’, as I put it, indicates that someone, rather than something, exists in a relationship with other persons. As this is not (necessarily) true of a foetus, it is not (necessarily) a person.
Magdalena said…
Now, ‘mom6kids’, I am very sorry to hear of your tragic loss of three children, but if you re-read my initial comment, I did already acknowledge that was a tragedy. My point was quite explicitly that a miscarriage is often tragic since it occurs late in the pregnancy, and the couple whom it affects are expecting a child. As such, that unborn being is a person; it has entered into relations with other persons, shaping their expectations and desires. A foetus which is spontaneously terminated as a result of the natural inefficiency of the human reproductive system in the days after copulation is not a person in the same sense. The fusion of sperm and egg may have created a biological human, or an aggregation of matter with the genetic mark of the human being, but to insist on the personhood of this aggregation seems to be as arbitrary and relativistic as anything else. You must take my point here: you know of three miscarriages that you have had, and they are three tragedies. But if you have 6 children, you will inevitably have had many more ‘miscarriages’, ‘terminations’, or ‘failed implantations’, since the average failure to success rate of foetus implantation is about 1 in 3. But you were not aware of this, and consequently were not expecting a child; hence these terminations are not deemed tragic.

To backtrack somewhat, Laurence, when you say that, by denying biological human foetuses have personhood I am ‘arbitrarily’ putting a marker on when a being becomes a person, I think I will agree that this is precisely what I am saying. It is an arbitrary matter when a couple begin to love there child if you take the word arbitrary to mean ‘deciding one’s own direction’. A person decides when they want to nurture a child and when they want a child to be a part of their lives; at this very moment the being becomes a person engaged with other persons. Your definition that personhood begins at conception is no less arbitrary, since you have chosen to appoint personhood to that moment. In this sense, you seem to be equating the unique biological identity of the foetus with a unique person – well, what of genetically manipulated cells? They are biologically unique – ought we to regard them as persons? I think you will see how easy your position is to challenge here.

I will not respond to your other specific points since they are only convincing to one who already accepts your basic premise (and I do not accept it). You say it is not necessary to believe in God to accept your views, then proceed directly to cite the scriptures (an opaque translation of them at that; if you’re so interested to know what God actually said, why don’t you learn NT Greek & Aramaic?). You say you live in a country where there are 200,000 abortions, but you may as well tell me there are 200,000 appendectomies, since for the statistic to be shocking I would have to already accept abortion is the murder of morally engaged human person, and I do not. You say you are glad your mother did not abort you. I am glad to exist too, but you could similarly say you are glad your mother had sex with your father on the night that you were conceived as it would amount to the same thing. That simple thought would not oblige your mother to have sex in order to produce a being which one day many years in the future would reflect upon its own existence happily. It is pointing out the obvious to say that if you were not conceived, or if you were terminated, you would not be here to have such thoughts.
Magdalena said…
Gregory (responding to the previous thread); thank you very much for the references, I will do my best to locate copies. I am sorry if it seemed like I was not grateful for your guidance, I simply meant to indicate that, in a debate of this nature, there are accusations of murder, but little evidence that such is the case. I would hesitate to accuse a person or a society of genocide in the absence of such proof. I have tried to show above why abortion is not murder, and that you are wrong to take it as such.
At what point is it morally permissable to abort an unborn child?
Days, weeks, months? Up to term? Beyond term?
Magdalena said…
Ah, the slippery slope, insinuating that if I do not specify a precise date as an absolute then any date I do specify is arbitrary and unconvincing. Well, it doesn't seem to be a problem in the laws dictating the age at which one may vote, consume alcohol, legally drive a car, consent to sexual intercourse, and a whole range of other activities. Of course the judge knows that one does not miraculously become capable of giving informed consent to sexual congress at the age of 16, but not a day before - he or she simply states that, if we must set a date for the law to come into force, around the age of 16 would seem sane and in keeping with commonly held moral ideas, therefore let's make it precisely 16 and punish those who fall on the wrong side. This makes a lot of sense, it is the only way to set laws. Ok, well let's ask how this relates to the foetus.

As I said, the personhood of a foetus is generated in the minds of its parents before the being itself becomes aware. My own son was a person long before he knew who or what he was, since I expected him to arrive, wanted him to arrive, and cherished his existence. We might ask then what the point of ANY law relating to abortion is (why put a cap on it at all?).

To this I would respond by asking what the point of the law is. It seems that we have laws to protect and preserve our intuitions concerning right and wrong (hence different nations and creeds have different laws protecting their intuitions). Since most people intuitively feel that, 3 months into a pregnancy, a person (the mother) can reasonably be expected to have considered her options, and to have decided whether a child is for her or not, we can set it there.

In this way the law on abortion would work like any other - we would be saying that it is wrong for someone to be prevented from changing their mind immediately prior to birth because we, as a society, think they ought to have made their minds up sooner.

The problem here is that your 'personhood begins at conception' spiel is no less arbitrary and problematic, since it requires that one accept genetically unique biological existence as a sufficient definition of moral personhood, and no one does (or most people do not, and the laws are made to protect the customs of the majority)
I'm not talking about 'the law'.

Man-made law is the kind of law that also involves ASBOs and traffic offenses.

When does an unborn child become a person who YOU think (since we see that it is arbitrary) deserves protection and whose rights should be defended.
Magdalena said…
Sorry, I meant to say that someone OUGHT to be prevented from changing their minds immediately prior to birth
Magdalena said…
I already told you, when I decided that the biological entity inside me was going to be my son and to share my life. Prior to that moment I had no notion that I was pregnant, hence there was no person in me. I wanted a child, and when I discovered that I was pregnant, my life changed dramatically. I was no longer just one person, but was a mother. I changed my habits, I moved to a new flat, I went to ante-natal classes. I did all this because I wanted a child and that desire shaped my world, as such, I would have protected my child from anyone as it belonged to my world.

Please answer now how it is that the simple fusion of sperm and egg can create a human person and not merely a biological code. And would genetically modifying a cell to give it a unique DNA structure create a human person? If not why not
Magdalena said…
I must say, your response is entirely unconvincing and nothing has changed my mind. You say (repeatedly it seems) that abortion is murder and ought to be punished as such, but you can only justify this outrageous assertion by asking hypothetical questions rather than advancing simple proofs (i.e. by saying 'if life does not begin at conception then when does it begin?'); asking this question is a significantly different matter from proving that abortion is murder
I think therefore I am. Descartes

I think the child in my womb is a child, therefore he is. Magdalena

Human life does not revolve around the 'I', the self. You posit a distinctly self-centred vision of life, Magdalena, which refuses to see beyond the self and recognise the 'other'.

The human life in the womb may be dependent on his or her mother for that life, but he or she is a person who does not depend on the mother for their identity as a person.

You are basically saying, "If I, as a mother, decide it is a child, then it is. If I decide it is not a child, but merely a 'biological organism with a DNA' then that is what it is.

The identity of the unborn child is therefore that of 'person' or 'biological growth in my womb' entirely depending upon whether you welcome that child as the gift that s/he is...or not.

The Church says in rather different words, 'Sorry, love, it is a child whether YOU like it, or not."

Ergo, if you have an abortion and kill that unborn child then you are committing child murder.
Magdalena said…
Sorry, you didn't listen. I will repeat my points. I am a person, I relate to other people and impact upon their lives as they impact upon mine. To kill a person is either to remove a conscious human entity from the world or to remove a human being who is engaged in relations with others. The wrongfulness of murder is therefore based on one of two facts: 1) A conscious human being with desires and ambitions is prevented from realising them by another person's wilful act.
2) A human being who is engaged in relations with other human beings is destroyed by a person's wilful act.

As you can see, fact 2) precedes facts 1) chronologically; that is, the baby is a presence in its parents' world before it is a presence in its own world. Hence my point is that a foetus becomes a person (is related to other persons) when 2), its parents bring it into a relation with their world by expecting it and imagining it as part of their lives. The tragedy of miscarriage is that this person, who though unconscious is a very real presence for the parents, is destroyed.

This definition has the advantage of explaining our intuition that the foetuses which are spontaneously destroyed immediately following copulation (i.e. fusions of sperm and egg that do not implant in the womb successfully) are not mourned.

I am explicitly NOT saying that I can, however, decide when I should be allowed to ACT on my desires - that is why I said we must have hard and inflexible laws governing actions. I am merely explaining where our moral intuitions come from, in a way that you cannot. If you are correct, and life does begin at conception, then there are a few consequences.

1) We must hold funerals each time we have sex but do not fall pregnant, since there is a high probability that conception has taken place but that the foetus did not develop into a person

2) Any unique human genetic code is a person, since personhood is identical with this code. A cancer cell is therefore a person, as is each sperm

3) If you are obliged to mourn the loss of biological life whether or not there are any relationships formed between yourself and that life (my definition of personhood for pre-conscious human entities), then you are obliged to mourn each person's death as if it were your own mother's - why would you be permitted to be more sad about one death than another if the fact of forming relationships is not, in itself, significant for our understanding of personhood?

Again, your definition is more arbitrary and more confused than my own here
Magdalena said…
By the way, you STILL have not EXPLAINED why abortion is murder - you just said 'the Church says it is'. I know they do. But I think that they, and you, are wrong

I have explained why it is that a belief in the moral permissibility of abortion is both intuitively defensible and not tantamount to murder. You have merely repeated the point that life begins at conception.

As I said above, it is you who are guilty of conflating biological personhood and moral personhood, since you are assuming that the creation of biological life is equivalent to the creation of personhood (an absurdly reductive definition which in no way captures how we actually think about the meaningfulness of human life)
Magdalena said…
Finally, your unfounded accusation that I (and by extension anyone who defends the permissibility of abortion) is only concerned with themselves, really seems to get to the heart of your philosophy here. You are concerned that sexual license is being granted to selfish, decadent, and wanton men and women. You are concerned that there are people out there having sex for purposes other than producing children, and you can only libel them by accusing them of murder.

My opinions on abortion are not based on a selfish desire to put my life before all others, they are based on my intuition that a meaningful life is a life which is engaged with other lives, not a ball of cells sitting in a womb. I suspect your accusations of selfishness would extend beyond abortion in any case, and cover all those unmarried people who have sex for recreation, to further their love for one another, or simply because they want to (hence the Catholic prohibition on condoms is an important aide to the prohibition on abortion). I must therefore respond to your unfounded suspicion with one of my own: this is not a question of murder, it is a question of lifestyle. You publicly celebrate your 'opposition to the world' and hatred of the permissive society as any fanatic does. Right before blowing himself up/negating his existence for the imagined worthy cause. The problem here is that you are simply mistaken. The world is not hopelessly decadent and corrupt, people do not mill around in a blind void which can only have meaning if one accepts the premise that an all powerful God put them there. That is the world of a moral psychopath, and to ensure that your psychopathic delusion about other people is justified, you project them onto the world

I have listened to your views, which, unsurprisingly, I do not believe change the status of the unborn child as a person in his or her own right, with rights which we can and should defend, regardless of what circumstances you would like to suggest.

It may be that nothing I say will change your mind on abortion. Likewise, nothing you say will change mine. Yet, surprise, surprise, I'm the fundamentalist fanatic here, not you, who too are defending a stance.

You were once a ball of cells, and so was I. You were once a 6 month foetus. So was I. You were once a new born baby. So was I. All the Church asks is that the same rights accorded to you and I, to LIVE, be accorded to every person who is now where you and I once were.

If human life is defined by 'meaningfulness' or 'how we interact with others' then what value do you place on the life of an adult who does not enter into as developed a meaningful relationship of interaction as you or I?

Some adults due to various disabilities are unable to engage in the same way in human relationships as you and I. Though, even saying that is offensive, I say it because some people suffer from 'developmental' disorders. Are these lives less valuable?

Every human life has value. Every human life is precious and to be cherished, not because we feel like defending it and cherishing it, but because it simply is.

The Nazis, before gassing the Jews, ensured that the status of 'human' was gradually removed from the Jewish population. That is HOW they were able to achieve the Holocaust, because in order to achieve the industrial killing of human beings you first have to strip them of their humanity and reduce them to the level of 'sub-human'.

That is what is happening to the unborn. The Church stands in defense of EVERY human being. You, Magdalena, for all of your diatribes against the Church and my comments cannot say that. You can only say that you stand up for some.
Magdalena said…
1) Your position was said to be akin to fundamentalism only insofar as your stance relied on the supplementary hypothesis of defending God's life against the decadence of the world (in spite of your earlier suggestion that God was not a necessary part of your explanation). I was not defending any hypothesis, but merely explaining the grounds of human moral intuitions

2) I was indeed once a ball of cells. Before that ball was formed there was a sperm and an egg. Had my parents not had sex on the night of conception I would not be here. Had they had sex again a year later perhaps I would have another sister. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. These ruminations do not demonstrate that abortion is murder, but that if the contingent circumstances which preceded your existence changed, you would not exist. I repeat: It is scary for some to realise they are a contingent being, but this does not make abortion murder

3) My definition above specified two elements according to which murder was wrong. The first was that it removed a conscious human being from the world. This holds whether or not that person has relations with others, since they remain conscious. My point was to explain WHY we intuitively feel murder is wrong, infanticide is wrong, late term abortion may be wrong, but not that spontaneous, God-created termination of 3 foetuses for every 1 that survives is death in the same sense. I adequately captured that intuition, there is no ambiguity or absurdity in my position, and it is quite transparent that people do in fact think about life in these terms (in our society at least; I am aware that there are tribes who believe that, for a year following death, a corpse is still a person. But we need only explain our own moral intuitions here).

The Church was instrumental in arguing that the peoples of the New World were not human beings, that they lacked a soul etc. It was not merely the Nazis who denied people their humanity. But it doesn't matter, since according to the position I have carefully outlined, the Nazis would clearly be guilty of murder. Hence you and I BOTH say the Nazis are murderers, but you supplement this with a hypothesis that they are so because God valued the lives of Jews (speaking of which, I wonder what theological tradition informed the German attitude that Jews were a different type of being...... After all, Judaism was traditionally a persecuted religion since it represented a theological dissent from the orthodoxy of Christian lands)

Once again, all your arguments are quite easy to counter, yet you insist on the self-evidence of your abortion=murder stance.
Magdalena said…
BTW, I explicitly prefaced my comments that you were behaving as any other fundamentalist who clothes his beliefs in an imagined divine will by labelling it an 'unfounded assumption'. If that, as you say, can be reflected on me (making me a fundamentalist), then so be it; it was a piece of pop-psychology anyway! However, a consequence is that your similarly unfounded assumption that those who do not define personhood as beginning at conception are guilty of selfishness can equally apply to you. Why is it that THEY are selfish for defending a moral belief but YOU are not? After all, you are only trying to get others to do what you think they should so that the world looks as YOU want it to (you with your God complex!)
catholicofthule said…
Magdala, are you suggesting that if a born person is unloved and isolated, we are not wrong in murdering him or her?

Are you suggesting that because some people die from illness (analogous to miscarriage), this has some bearing on whether it is right or wrong to kill them on purpose? Could your muddled reasoning not be used to support the following statement: Sure, people die all the time, and this person is clearly unloved anyway, so there can't be anything wrong with me taking their life! Nobody cares about them, so I can kill them. People die from natural reasons, so I can kill them so long as nobody will grieve!

In order to be consistent, it would seem that you would agree with the above, but I'm pretty sure (i.e. I sincerely hope!) you do not.

Then why do different rules apply to the unborn child? It can't be that you're arguing the unborn child is not biologically a human being, because you have already conceded that. And according to your definition of when someone is morally a human being, it appears to me that it should not at all be wrong to kill a person who is unloved.

Please take a moment to consider these things. I pray that you do.
Magdalena said…
1) No I am not, that's why I said 3 months seems like a good time to set a hard and unflexible deadline for abortions. After which time, the law punishes for infanticide. I was quite clear that this did not follow from my argument.

2)I do not need to agree with your statement to be consistent, I need only ask what moral intuition is being captured when society deems such practices to be wrong. You may say it is the intrinsic value of a person, I am merely pointing out that this is not a necessary or sufficient assumption. I, for my part, would say that we do not kill the infirm because a) we can imagine ourselves in that position and note that it may happen to us [this does not apply to a foetus] b) we can sympathise with their conscious suffering [this does not apply to a foetus] c) we (that is, their friends and family) remain in a relationship with them, and as I made quite clear, I do not think one ought to be able to terminate these relations as and when one sees fit [again, this does not apply to a foetus, which has not necessarily entered into any sort of relation to others]

3) I repeat, a final time, and with great forbearance IT IS NOT OK TO SIMPLY KILL AN UNLOVED PERSON. That is because THEY ARE CONSCIOUS, and THEY ARE A PERSON. A foetus is not conscious, and is not a person (i.e. it is not in a relationship with other human beings).

Please, you must understand here that you simply do not have a more logically precise point, you seem to be blind to the fact that your argument (abortion=murder) is not really an expression of a fact but an appeal to a certain lifestyle (i.e., don't have sex if you don't want kids)
Magdalena said…
Sorry, with regard to point 1) I mean to say that your conclusion (we can kill the unloved) did not follow from my argument, not that my own conclusion did not! [though I suspect you will be more inclined tot he latter view!]
catholicofthule said…
What if I love the child within someone else? What if I care and cherish it, but the mother does not? If moral personhood is somehow conferred by relation, by being loved, then how can a child that I care about not be a child even if he or she is in someone else.

I pray daily for the unborn, so in fact, I exist in a relation of love to them all. I am not the only one. Should that not mean that we have in fact conferred moral personhood on them according to your very own criteria?
Magdalena said…
I suspected it would come to this, and it is a fair point. What if....

What if I really want someone to have a child and they don't?

What if I want to have sex with someone and they don't?

What if I really think homosexuality is sinful and want gays to stop right now?

It seems that any society I would want to live in (you may disagree) puts limits on the ability of one person to coerce another simply because they WANT them to do something. You might WANT people to stop having abortions. You probably WANT them to stop having pre-marital sex, or to stop using condoms. Should we therefore set the police on them? Of course not, because what you want should have no bearing on anyone but yourself.

So, when I say that a person necessarily exists in relation with others, this does not mean that anyone who is upset by abortion has a legitimate right to interfere just because they are upset, or the consequences would be unthinkable.
Magdalena said…
I must further observe that, far from an anti-individualist selfless gesture, this has boiled down to a basic position of self-interest: you are upset by certain lifestyles and therefore would like the law to prohibit them
Magdalena said…
But further, one could say that yes, if enough humans DID exist in such a relation to the unborn, then we WOULD have to confer personhood upon them. You are correct in this regard, it does seem to follow. But then a lot of other things *could* follow from this (if enough people believed that animals were persons, then the law would have to change)

My point is not to explain what must happen, since what does happen tends to depend on people's moral intuitions - I am simply explaining why it is that society does not, in fact, think like you. And that your position, that abortion is murder, is not only wide of most people's intuitions, but not logically consistent (or if it is, your behaviour is inconsistent, since you do not mourn spontaneous terminations, which occur, on average, three times each conception, whether or not any human chooses to have an abortion)
catholicofthule said…
I accept that you believe that a conscious person is a person through their own consciousness and so you are then consistent in arguing that human beings who are not conscious are not persons according to your criteria, but that these do not apply to conscious persons. I read only the initial post, and not your answers to all the other comments, hence my misunderstanding of your position. Of course, I strongly disagree with it.

However, can you answer why you claim the occurence of miscarriage has any bearing whatsoever on the argument?

And noo, my belief that abortion is the taking of the life of an innocent human person is not contingent on my view that one should not have sex outside marriage and when ready to accept a child. I have proof of that. I myself became pregnant when I led a very very very different lifestyle, and I had the very same view then. I could not take the life of a child. This was not because I loved the child when I first heard I was pregnant. My first reaction was shock! My second reaction was to answer the doctor's question (asked in a country where abortion is illegal btw) as to whether I wanted an abortion, by a clear no. I didn't have to think about it. Why? Because I knew that the life of an innocent human person was not mine to take...regardless of the fact that I was not Christian and did not think that casual sex was wrong.
Regardless of the fact that I did not want the child at first.

Thankfully, by the time I suffered a miscarriage, I very much loved my child. But his or her value or humanhood was in no way dependent on my love. I did not believe it was then, and I do not believe it now, though my moral views are now very different.
catholicofthule said…
Magdalena, even if you say that I cannot force anyone to have their child if I don't want them, do you accept that my love has conferred humanhood on them? Do you accept that my love makes that abortion murder?

Because I can tell you, most societies to have laws against murder. Most societies do have laws against forcing one's will on another person, and especially to the degree where you kill them, which is what the mother is doing to the person within her.

Now you have just said that the personhood of a human being who is conscious of herself is not dependent on another person's view on them, so I assumed you felt that our human personhood was also dependent on our biological humanity so that we can't confer personhood on animals or plants. Is your argument really to claim that we can confer personhood on any living thing? Well, so what? If I confer personhood on a cow, by that argument you cannot kill itYou're the one who's arguing that I might. You still must acknowledge that an unborn child I love (and through prayer i love them all) is a person, and the taking of their life is to kill a person.

And, I do pray for the unborn who die from miscarriage no matter what stage of pregnancy, so I am perfectly consistent. And sometimes I think of the children I may have had and lost and grieve (also acknowledging my guilt if any were killed through my inadvertent use of abortifacient contraceptives which I used in my pre-Catholic days before I knew they were abortifacient).

I don't know why you would assume that I do not care about children who die through miscarriage, but it is an assumption entirely.
Magdalena said…
If I may illustrate with some (very rough) data:

a) "One study testing hormones for ovulation and pregnancy found that 61.9% of conceptuses were lost prior to 12 weeks, and 91.7% of these losses occurred subclinically, without the knowledge of the once pregnant woman"

Thus, out of every 100 conceptions, 60 are terminated/destroyed. God's design therefore stacks the odds 60/40 against the innocent. My maths is poor, but I think (please correct me here) the sum to do is therefore divide [number of births per hundred that did survive] by 40 and multiply the result by 60 [number per hundred who did not survive].

b) 791,000 babies were born in the UK last year

That gives 1,186,500 (1.18 million) dead fully human persons who have committed no sin. The perpetrator of this slaughter house? Either nature or God, depending on your perspective. Suddenly the 200,000 MURDERS Laurence protests at seems like a paltry number - after all, his God has just butchered a million beings he claims are moral persons. Oh dear, what a world eh

This figure of deaths vs lives is still too low, as there is still a high miscarriage rate after conceptus, but I do not want to be flippant about this latter as, like I say, I deem these to be tragic losses to parents.

Life begins at conception is, I repeat, logically fallacious, factually unjustified, and if taken seriously, the gravest indictment of God there is. So please do not tell me abortion is murder
catholicofthule said…
BTW, you did not say that ENOUGH PEOPLE had to be in a relation of love to your unbornson to make him a person before he had consciousness. You only stated one person as a precondition. So why does anyone other than me have to be in a relation of love to all the unborn children of the world to confer personhood on them?Isn't that rather arbitrary? And, as I said, there are many many many many of us.
Magdalena said…
Like you I became pregnant and decided to have a child. I did not 'plan' my pregnancy, but I did want a child. I would never have an abortion, my point has nothing to do with personal preferences - it is more specifically that there is no sound moral justification for deeming abortion to be murder.
I would add the question:

Why does society (and it is the majority of society that believe this) believe that different moral conditions exist in the womb to outside of the womb?

If I take a knife to a baby after the baby has been delivered I get taken down for murder and rightly so.

If, on the other hand, I kill the child 3 months earlier, as a doctor who performs abortions (for 24 weeks is 6 months), I am praised for having respected a woman's 'reproductive health and rights'.

Why are the moral conditions inside the womb different, Magdalena?

The Church is nothing but consistent on matters of life and death. You have to give Her, for She is a indeed a Mother, credit for that, Magdalene.

It's like the Government and society saying, "You can't kill anyone. Murder is illegal. Apart from inside pubs. You can kill people in the pub, but not outside the pub."
catholicofthule said…
I amy fully aware that many babies die naturally before their parents are even aware of their existence. As I am also aware that many many many people die of illnesses after they are born. I do not see how that impinges on the argument whatsoever. It seems to me a random way to decide when people become people. Besides, it is also completely unrelated to your argument, according to which criteria I can confer personhood to a child from any given time, also pre-implantation.
Magdalena said…
No I do not accept that. You might love a shoe, it doesn't make it a person. Many people think animals should have rights, they are (I think) wrong. It is easy to get wrapped up in saccharine notions of innocence (where the unborn come to harbour all our pent up desires for sweetness and love). This does not mean you make them persons, since they are not a palpable fact of your world in the same sense that they are a palpable fact of their parents' world. If they are, they ought not to be: to give an analogous example: after the Oklahoma bombings a man who said he grieved for a child who was tragically killed as a result moved to the city to be near her grave. He argued that he felt her loss just as her mother did. She, understandably, took out a court order preventing him from living there. The intuition the judge captured there is as follows: it is not up to you to concern yourselves with other people's children, even though your grief may be profound and sincere you are crossing a line
catholicofthule said…
Magdalena, the inclusion of my personal story was not to infer anything at all about whether you personally would have an abortion or not. It was simply to illustrate that I, for one, am not pro-life in order to defend a sexual morality. I am pro-life because I believe that life starts at conception. I did not, in fact, make the connection between that and the fact that a life of chastity makes sense even in these terms before much much later.

I do have a Catholic view of morality now, but my view that the unborn child is a human person worthy of our protection from deliberate slaying is not dependent on this.
Anonymous said…
Sigh: Laurence - See above. Yes there should be laws preventing infanticide. No there is no absolute moment at which, as a property of logic or nature, a foetus becomes a person. If you think there is an absolute moment then when is it? Conception? Ok, at conception a person is formed and the death of that person is like the death of any other person, to be mourned as such.

1.18 million persons die at the hands of God's sloppy design, go burn the churches and curse his name. Or shut up about the comparatively insignificant numbers of foetuses that die following abortions.

Anyway, if there is a God, then you needn't worry need you, since they are all with him now, both those we killed and those he killed
Magdalena said…
No sure, point taken - but Laurence has made his views on sexual morality (and its relation to the abortion debate) quite clear elsewhere.

Anyway, my basic stance has not changed a jot throughout - 1) there are perfectly clear ways of defining murder that do not cover abortion

2) defining abortion as murder has not logical or empirical support, but relies on the arbitrary assertion that life begins at conception - which leaves 1.18 million murdered last year by God alone
catholicofthule said…
Magdalena, how and why did you decide that only a parent can confer personhood on a child?

Also, I'm not arguing that one can confer personhood on an animal. I don't think that one can confer personhood on anyone. I think a human person has human personhood in his or her own right from conception. I was just answering your objection.

Furthermore, 'm not the one saying that anyone's grief or love makes anyone a person. You are. I'm just arguing that if someone's love does, why not mine? How do you decide that?
catholicofthule said…
Actually, your basic stance may not have changed, but your argument has been disproved. Even you have admitted as much when you said that:
"But further, one could say that yes, if enough humans DID exist in such a relation to the unborn, then we WOULD have to confer personhood upon them. You are correct in this regard, it does seem to follow."

You just won't go to the extent of agree that it should be illegal to kill such a person. I don't know why. Your arguments that we can't stop people from doing what they want to do does not hold water, because we do attempt to prevent people from taking the life of other people and we do have laws against it. Your argument that only the mother or father can confer personhood just is not logical at all on the basis of the criteria for personhood you yourself set forth.

According to your own criteria it seems random of you not to change your stance. Does it matter to your "objective" criteria that some who argue against abortion have mixed motives?

But I am neglecting my prayer time, which is hardly going to help. :-)
Magdalena said…
I would extend it a little beyond the parents to the immediate family. How and why? Because those are the people who are likely to be significantly affected by the introduction of a child, and upon whose love and support the child depends. If you happen to fall pregnant without intending to, there really is no person created. You have a sperm and and egg fusing in you, sure, but why is this a person? If you want a child and expect it to feature in your world then it is a person, sure. But your child does not affect my world directly. So if you fall pregnant, and want to have an abortion then, no matter how objectionable I may privately find such a practice, I can hardly appeal to the fact that your actions upset me as a compelling argument. Surely this is simply a plausible explanation of how people do, in fact, think

I simply do not think that a sperm and egg fusing creates a person. The word itself is a clue, since it relates to personality. What do we mean by that? A human being with distinct characteristics which relates to other human beings. We do not speak of the personality of a ball of cells, we should not speak of them as persons either. Life may begin at conception, but personhood manifestly does not.

Finally, I am glad to hear you have the capacity to love the unborn, but I regret to point out that you are not the mother of these children. You may love them, but unless you are personally offering to raise every child who would otherwise be terminated then I think your love amounts to nothing more than the abstract claim that you are a caring person, which I do not doubt. But that fact should not mean abortion ought to be criminalised, or equated with murder. There is, after all, a distinction between your private moral psychology and what should or should not be a matter of national health policy.
Magdalena said…
You say my argument has been disproved (because I was generous enough to give it some latitude; that's moralists for you!).
In saying that "if enough humans DID exist in such a relation to the unborn, then we WOULD have to confer personhood upon them", I am simply indicating that the law can and does change to reflect people's shared sense of right and wrong. Until 1990 it was not legally possible to rape one's wife. That law changed. There was no abstract fact that made it change, people just stopped viewing the wife as a piece of property. Petty theft used to be a capital offence. That changed. There was no logical or empirical fact etc etc. Abortion laws COULD change. I am simply acknowledging how values do, in fact, work.

This is not however to say that one must simply reduce question of right and wrong to what people think is right and wrong - I am clearly preserving the possibility of independent moral evaluation against the masses. Hence my two fold definition of murder, which is both logically consistent, and pleasingly able to capture moral intuitions. I did not disprove my argument as you suggest, I simply indicated we may one day live in a society where abortion is deemed criminally liable

My suggestion that the immediate family decide when to consider the life that will come into the world a person is very consistent and clear; it is these people who know of the life (which is invisible to others) and who envision it as part of their world. It is for these people whom the loss of the child is a tragedy (since it is their plans which get disrupted). This explains how it is that a person can precede a conscious human, since it is invariably the case that the parental bond is forged before the child acquires consciousness. But it does not mean that the person is formed at conception, which, as I have repeatedly pointed out, leads a) to undesirable consequences (the need to mourn the 1.18 million persons God kills each year) and b) fails to explain why no one in their right bloody mind does think a ball of cells is a person with a personality. Saying you love such balls of cells and mourn for them does not change that fact
'I simply do not think that a sperm and egg fusing creates a person.'

Gosh...I see sex education lessons really do need improving!

Your statement runs contrary not just to the Catholic Church but to GCSE biology.
An aborted foetus (part of) at 10 weeks.


Clump of cells?

Magdalena said…
I was not aware that GCSE biology included elements of abstract moral and social philosophy. While it is clear that a biological person is formed at conception, it is similarly clear that a moral person is not. Hence the entire discussion above. Hence the title of your post. Hence we do not mourn the 1.18 million deaths per year reproduction alone causes. That is not taught in GCSE biology is it now?

Don't be fatuous, you are simply repeating your point. That is of course natural; you have a story and you are entitled to stick to it. But please do not pass your story off as inherently more plausible, logical, or factual, since it is not.
Magdalena said…
See my first post, which included words to the effect of 'if you have such a persuasive logical case, why is it you have to frighten people with images of human forms covered in blood?'


An image of gametes fusing. A person with a unique personality or a ball of cells?
Sorry, did you view the image I posted?

I was only trying to illustrate that a 10 week foetus does not look like a 'clump of cells'.
Magdalena said…
yes I did, but that is irrelevant. My point is that if personhood begins at conception (which my image demonstrates does look like a clump of cells) then you are making a peculiar mistake. Those cells may develop into something that looks like a human baby because, er well, it is a human baby. But not a human person. None of these images correct the root of your error, which is both a logical and empirical one (the baby is not conscious - empirical definition, nor is it necessarily engaged with other persons - logical definition)
catholicofthule said…
Magdalena, I do not base my argument on feelings. My feelings has nothing to do with it. Nor, in fact, is my discussion on the basis of your own criteria based on feelings. It matters not whether I feel upset or not.What matters, as regards your argument, is that I have a relationto them.

I see now, though, and perhaps my error was in jumping into the discussion in the middle by making a comment on the initial post, and then answering your posts to mine as they came, that you are talking simply about legal 'personhood', which I guess now that you are. My fault and I apologise for that confusion as it was my responsibility.

I guess, then, since you are talking about legal personhood, and not the child actually becoming a human person in any meaningful real sense, I see that you do not have to concede your argument until in fact enough people are convinced to change the law. I sincerely hope that happens!

I do not, however, see that law defines reality in this sense. Moreover, I would suggest that it is the responsibility of the law, if it really were just, to opt for the safe option in such a matter. If somebody blew up a building and had not done enough to make sure nobody was in it, they would at the very least be guilty of criminal negligence if someone actually were in it and died. So, we have human life, should the law not err on the side of caution to preserve life rather than on the side of recklessness to destroy. We can prove that we have human life and life starts at conception. At the very least we cannot be sure that we do not have personhood and human value and dignity. Is it not at least criminal negligence to opt for recklessness?

Anyway, when it comes to the law, you are right. I am going to have to wait until enough people are convinced. Because, sadly, the law has opted not to protect the weak and not to opt for caution, but for recklessness on this one important matter.

Just a comment on the theme of abortion as murder. I would like to point out that while I believe the act objectively is murder, I do not believe that the subjective disposition of every person who has an abortion is that of a murderer. Some are misinformed, some are under such emotional stress they cannot think straight, some know what they are doing and still do it (as you can probably concede in the case of late term abortions, though extreme stress and denial is involved here too in many cases). So it's not the case of pro-life persons being out to get or attacking the women involved. I sincerely believe that it is in the best interest of the women themselves to be helped not to have an abortion.

It seems to me that taking a human life when one cannot disprove that that human life is a person and has human value, is at the very least a tragedy. It seems to indicate recklessness not to see any tragedy here whatsoever, because a life has value in itself.
catholicofthule said…
On the subject of lifestyles, I do not actually want the government to forbid every lifestyle I believe is harmful and self-destructive. I just want the law to stop people from taking human life. Most of the time, such taking of human life is due to a consequence of one's freely chosen actions, which makes it the more reprehensible. As I said, even if one cannot prove personhood, one certainly cannot disprove it. Everything that is at all hereditary is there and there is life from the very start. So, is it not at least, AT THE VERY LEAST, a tragedy of criminal negligence to blow the building when one cannot reasonably ascertain that there is no one within. In this sense, should the law, at the very least, not compel people to take responsibility for the consequences of their lifestyle by erring on the side of caution when human life, with every hereditary trait already present, has been conceived?
'It is a human baby. But not a human person.'

Read 'sub-human'.

I am sorry, Magdalena, that you hold such a view of the unborn child.

You are welcome to comment here, since your comments (quite a few at that, I see) indicate that walking into a room of Catholics does not constitute walking into a lion's den.

That said, you are in the wrong forum for attempting persuasive dialogue on this matter. The Catholic Church (and this blog endeavours to reflect Church teaching) is not a debating society and Truth is not up for debate and it is highly unlikely you will change anybody's mind on this matter who are loyal Catholics.

The Church deals in Absolute Truth - absolutes - and, indeed Absolution. We all fall short of the very high standards of the Gospel (nothing other than the imitation of Our Lord Jesus Christ) but Catholics do (or should) adhere to the Faith as passed down from Christ to the Apostles to the Church as we know it today. Yet it is a thinking faith. As St Thomas Aquinas said, 'Faith seeks Reason'.

Reason alone, of course, or making Reason into your Faith can lead us some pretty terrible error. Endorsement of abortion is just one of those errors.

Your rather brutal, cold and reductionist analysis of what constitutes a human life and what constitutes a sub-human life (a life unworthy of protection) is, to me, depressing, if not at all surprising.

Your following words on the subject gloss nicely over a human being's existence in the womb.

'None of these images correct the root of your error, which is both a logical and empirical one.'

We do not philosophise about a being's human life in the womb Magdalena, since while men and women philosophise about that life and whether it is or isn't a life, other men and women are killing those children.

t's a bit like the UN's role in Rwanda. "Shall we save these people or have another game of cards and get out of here?" Answer: "Sod the cards, let's get out of here. This place gives me the creeps."

You then give a more detailed summary of my 'error'.

'The baby is not conscious - empirical definition'

Not 'conscious'. So, a human being who is not conscious permits the ending of their life? It's okay to kill your husband while he's asleep!

In effect, mothers are allowed to kill babies when their babies are asleep or on life support. As long as the baby is not conscious its fine!

Moreover, if I fall into a coma someone can come in and put a pillow over my head? I mean, I'm not 'conscious' then am I? Or should I be knocked down by a bus and be left unconscious for good time or even a week, my life is up for debate and grabs?

The unborn child, as an aside, is conscious of pain. It may not be conscious of the 'meaning' of pain and be able to discuss the philosophical intricacies of pain, but feels pain nonetheless, especially when being aborted/torn limb from limb.

You yourself said this in your criticism of the Italian case. 'The baby suffered pain', you said in words to the effect, 'therefore a more clinical/efficient way must be found to do it'.

Finally you really destroy my argument with these words...

'Nor is it necessarily engaged with other persons - logical definition.'

A newly born baby is not necessarily engaged with 'other persons' either, Magdalena, apart from, of course his or her MOTHER.

An unborn child is in direct relationship with and indeed is 'engaged' with, his or her mother.

It may not be discussing Sartre or Nietszhe, but there is a definite relationship in which the baby is fully 'engaged' going on in there!

Finally, given your words earlier regarding miscarriages and the like: You are right, miscarriages are always a tragedy. Given that being conceived is no guarantee of being born, we should try to save the lives of as many babies as we can and cherish every one of them...No?
Ronan said…
Good response there, Loz, pretty comprehensive, to the point that my own comment may well be redundant, but I'd already written it before reading that, so here goes...

You need to do a bit more legwork to argue convincingly that it is 'arbitrary' to say conception is the start of a unique human life. Before conception you have gametes from two genetically distinct human beings. If conception is not the start of human life, then what is this mysterious third entity which is neither mother nor father? It seems you can only maintain that "it isn't human" by reference to some vague sociological definition.

You seem to be trying to turn the tables on prolifers by claiming they (we) are motivated by a desire to stop people having casual sex. I think what really bugs you about a prolife stance is that accepting it would logically require of one an attitude of reverence and respect for sexuality which precludes extramarital sex for the good of the resultant children. Conservative sexual values flow from respect for life, not the other way round.

You say 'there are perfectly clear ways of defining murder that do not cover abortion', and that seems to be the problem here. You are not defining murder and applying such definition consistently, but are trying to pick your definition to excuse abortion. That's why prochoicers need to build up a load of clauses in their definition of murder to explain why it's OK to abort but not to kill old/sick/disabled/demented people.

Finally, your trumpeting of your own logical/empirical fortitude would be laughable were we not discussing killing children. You talk about 'moral intuition', but that is entirely vague and fuzzy and relativistic, for your moral intuitions do not reflect those of a great many people.
Magdalena said…
Catholicofthehule: I am very sorry if I insinuated your arguments were based on feelings alone (I can’t see where exactly). I firmly believe all arguments are ultimately based on feelings however, since one tends to select the reasons which support deep-seated convictions. Hence the central point I have repeated again and again; the case for or against abortion is not inherently more rational, and those who state that abortion is murder and that this is a clear and self-evident rational fact are, when pushed, ultimately forced to say ‘look I believe that this is the case and you can’t convince me’; which is an entirely different matter from claiming that it is a self-evident rational truth.
Of course your point is a very good one – law does not define reality. I did try to make it clear that I did not think ‘mass opinion’ should translate into one’s own ethical stance. Hence my point was to make it quite clear that a) mass opinion is not inclined to the Catholic position on this matter, but that in any case, b) the Catholic position here is in itself not an inherently rational argument. Since in defence of the catholic position Laurence has been forced to appeal to the fact that he is not concerned with engaging in logic and that an aborted foetus sometimes looks like a new-born baby he has made it perfectly clear himself that his concerns are with visceral and emotive issues and not the rational case for or against abortion.
You say the law ought to err on the side of caution. This would be a strange proposition for a judge to defend. There may very well be an eternal soul in a ball of cells so let’s ban abortion. Furthermore, it is not clear what ‘risk’ the law is protecting against here; the potential for the eternal soul to suffer in Hell for not being baptised? In that case we ought to revert to Medieval law and oblige baptism and church attendance for all. This is prima facie a convincing case (why not just ban abortion in case there are people being killed), but it boils down to absurdity once again. I repeat; a person is not an abstract but a concrete entity. You do not become a person at conception; it is not some mysterious quality of the universe.
I do however agree with your observation that abortion should not be the automatic choice for a female who is concerned about a pregnancy. Often there are great pressures put on people, and the likes of Laurence going around putting up pictures of dead foetuses can be very upsetting to them. But to take that as proof in itself that people ought not to behave a certain way is rather like saying that a gang of racist thugs going around writing ‘pakki’ on boarded up windows ought to deter an Asian family from moving into a particular area since one could say that ‘clearly these images can be disturbing’. The point should be to explain to the thugs that such abuse, including using images of dead foetuses. Incidentally Laurence, if you believe that foetus is a person, shouldn’t you accord it him the dignity he deserves by not using an image of his bloodied body to sell your point?
Magdalena said…
Very finally, I can say that your closing remarks suggest you acknowledge but cannot address the thorny issue of the 1.18 million fully human persons God chooses to murder as a spontaneous result of the reproductive system. I will presume you have a wife. If you do not, imagine you do. Let us suppose you are trying to conceive together. One night, after doing your husbandly duty, your wife goes to the doctor and has a check up. The doctor informs her that it was the wrong time of the month for a successful implantation, and that the fused sperm and egg likely got flushed down the toilet. Do you say ‘OK, let’s keep trying’, or do you call your friends and family and tearfully inform them of the funeral you will hold for your son? Flippant though it may be, it is clear that I am simply correct here – you do not, I am convinced, relate to this fusion of gametes in the same way as you relate to a child, or to a baby you have mutually nurtures in expectations of a birth in your wife’s womb. Hence, once again, your much trumpeted ‘absolutism’ is subject to (perhaps unwitting) relativistic modification.
Magdalena said…
Roan: Conception is arbitrary for the following reasons. Let us begin with biology. What constitutes a biological human life? A ball of cells? A baby? A child? An old age pensioner? These are different states of the same creature, which, like all creatures, develops through time. Gametes do come from two genetically distinct human beings, but the male gametes are not themselves genetically identical, they undergo mutation, and hence would be subject to your definition of ‘unique life’. In any case, to make the argument against abortion depend on genetics seems flawed, since most geneticists do not accept it (and I figure they would know), and it suggests that prior to the 1950s there could be no meaningful argument against abortion. The arguments against abortion are almost historically invariant however (since they relate to sex more generally, genetics is immaterial to this argument, which is about the appropriate use of the sexual body). The mysterious third entity is a biological being, but it is even more mysterious to explain how and why that is a person. Let’s not muck about here – I am not questioning that reproduction produces new beings. My cat just had a litter, I was not confused about that. I do however question the baffling absurdity of attributing the label ‘person’ to the fusion of sperm and egg, which is (that list again) illogical, leads to unfathomable consequences, and is way wide of our moral intuitions.
Finally – an admission! I am not bugged at all by your chosen lifestyle. If you want to restrict yourself sexually because you feel it brings you into a more disciplined relation to the sacred then that is a fully comprehensible and laudable ambition. I similarly am in awe of the self-control of the Hindu mystics who can restrict their diet to water and leaves for years on end. Self-control forms the basis of many moral systems, both ‘civilised’ and ‘primitive’, and is perhaps a natural human response to scarcity. So no, it does not bug me. What bugs me is that a belief system which is, at heart, concerned with a delusional social portrait, where wanton sexuality and personal misery flounder in a meaningless void, forms the basis of a wild and illogical claim concerning murder. I’m not sure what ‘conservative sexual values’ are, though it gave me an unpleasant image of Cameron on the go (with his squinty little eyes drawn even tighter). I wouldn’t say I have decadent sexual values. I just do not think abortion is murder. To think this does not oblige me to whore myself out to all and sundry, since I do not base assessments of fact on my loins, or deduce the use of my loins from sober assessments of fact. You seem to be confused as to this, potentially because your picture of the varied moral beliefs of contemporary Europe (variously referred to as ‘the world outside the church’, the ‘material world’, the ‘world of sin’ etc) are not based on any empirical evidence that people are, in fact, cold and unloving, but that they might be having a ball-shatteringly good time. I can quite assure you that such is not the case; the average citizen does not live in the Playboy Mansion, having endless sex.
Finally, I assume your last claim about my arguments being laughable if they did not apply to killing the innocent is a very good joke. If not, I will explain that 1) ‘killing’ is an ambiguous label, presumably you mean murdering, 2) ‘murder’ is the wilful act of taking a person’s life, 3) the whole debate concerns the propriety of labelling a conceptus a person, so to accuse me of defending murder misses the entire point. And, yes! There we go again! Yet more talk of ‘fuzzy relativism’, in spite of the fact I have repeatedly offered clear propositions, and you have not even bothered to define in what sense my arguments are more relativistic than your own. The charge of relativism is here simply a relativistic; relative to your idea of the perfect society I disagree, therefore I am bad. You are a bloody relativist (and an incredibly fuzzy one at that)
Magdalena said…
Sorry - this should come before 'very finally', the original post was too large and I had to cut it up...
On to Laurence’s points…… You begin by going back to the weak insinuation that I am a Nazi (by using the term sub-human). In what way does saying that a particular aggregation of biological matter does not constitute a person suggest I am claiming it is less than human? It is either fully human or not human. The question is what do we mean by humanity? You confuse biological humanity with attributing personhood. I do not claim a foetus is less than a person, I claim it is not a person.
Moving on to your claim about my presence here being out of place. Firstly, I have seen your posts on other blogs (hence I was directed here). If you can try to point out the flaws in the arguments of others, expect it back. After a year or so of chest thumping and posturing on other blog posts, to claim that you are really just running a modest members-club is absurd.
Furthermore, I am not trying to change anyone’s opinion here, I am simply trying to point out that the general terms in which the abortion=murder case is made are a rag-bag of spurious logic which leads to unfathomable consequences, pictures of dead foetuses which scare young children, appeals to the authority of the Church, and some sort of vague social critique about decadent values which does not appear to be supported by a scrap of evidence.
Frequently this latter is appended to a charge of ‘relativism’, though what this means is never defined. I take it to generally mean that a vale is said to be good or bad in relation to a particular standpoint, which must presumably be true of all arguments (your argument that abortion=murder is only intelligible in relation to the standpoint that regards it as such; as I have repeatedly argued, you can’t demonstrate that it is inherently true, and when you struggle you whip out the old relativism chestnut). Further, I must note that you, Laurence England, are a relativist. I have just read a few of your posts, in order to ensure that I am not making some big mistake about your assumptions, and have noted that, aside from a pathological fascination with the act of sodomy, you have made several whinging statements to the effect of ‘the media is always accusing the Catholic church of child abuse when there are even more sex crimes committed in schools’. This is undoubtedly true, since of the 60 million people in Britain today, each one attended a school, and was therefore exposed to the risk of abuse. Probably less than a few thousand, at a generous estimate, were left with priests unsupervised for prolonged periods of time. But without even needing to question your inference from the data, what seems so puzzling is that you essential are saying ‘the child abuse committed by the Church is not as frequent therefore not as bad as that committed by the State’. If you understand what relativism means, you will see that this is a relativistic argument. If child abuse is a sin in QUALITY, irrespective of any perspective, outcome, or QUANTITY, then your argument is flawed. Yet you repeatedly and intuitively think and speak as a relativist. You do not of course ever clarify what the alternative is, and how it works.
The supplementary waffle about a faith based on reason is spurious indeed, since when reason tells you something you don’t like you appeal to faith. In this sense, faith is simply the truncheon wielding policeman to the well-groomed statesman of reason you present. When the charm offensive of spurious reason fails, you bring out the authority of faith.
Magdalena said…
You then move on to rhetorical strategy number two; appeals to pity. I am cold and overly rational (actually the chief Nazi critique of the Jew – they, like you, had no real argument and had to rely on lampooning their great enemy as a scheming reasoner. Your great enemy, the supposed sexual decadent, is supported by the same logic.) It isn’t a bit like playing cards in Rwanda I’m afraid; your metaphor does not work on any level.
Let’s get onto the meat of your counter claims: You say that if a non-conscious being can be killed I could murder my husband in his sleep. 1) I made it clear before that there were two elements to my defence of abortion. Consciousness and the ability to engage in personal relations. Since a conscious person is engaged in personal relations even in his sleep then that would constitute murder. In any case your argument relies on a deliberate misreading of what consciousness would entail here. Presumably you would say a human is a conscious being (meaning a being capable of conscious reflection), yet you know very well that humans are not conscious when they sleep (meaning they are not, at that instant, making conscious calculation). This piffling trifle of an argument can therefore be dispensed as the deliberate fraud that it is.
“The unborn child is conscious of pain” – yet, it is a biological being. All biological beings have motor-reflexes, that is how the mammalian nervous system works. Are all mammals persons? No, because the word ‘person’ and ‘personality’ refer to social facts, not to biological ones. As such it is fatuous for you to equate personhood with the biological state.
Your, ahem, coup de grace runs as follows: “A newly born baby is not necessarily engaged with 'other persons' either, Magdalena, apart from, of course his or her mother.” Yes, I made it quite clear that it would not do to have people changing their minds and killing new born babies. I said this precisely because – and I made this very clear – by around 3 months of pregnancy, we can assume that a mother has had ample time to consider her options. If she has decided to nurture the pregnancy, and has done this for nine months, then changes her mind, tough. She had time and opportunity enough. That is how all attributions of social responsibility work in our society. So, again, your point is not a valid one.
catholicofthule said…
Magdalena, I do not believe the law should deal with the fate of the human soul in order to mandate baptism. It should,however, protect human persons from being killed. I believe the law ought to err on the side of caution in the case where one has human life and uncertainty as to whether that human life constitutes a living human person.

Now if a driver sees a human shaped object lying on the road and proceeds to drive over it, I think the argument that they did not know whether it was in fact a living human person or else simply a dead human body or an object that looked like a human body would not be quite sufficient to acquit from blame if the object turned out to be a living human person when one was able to ascertain this.

In this case we are talking about an entity which we may argue from science is clearly alive and clearly human and clearly separate from both mother and father (even if dependent on the mother), whether it has gotten to the stage where we can see that it has the shape of a human person or not. We can distinguish it from just a part of the mother's body, and we know that it is a living thing. So, are we justified in being negligent in our treatment of this being in terms of whether we accord it the right of a person? I think not, and those are not particularly emotive arguments. They are arguments from the premise that we should show due cauation when dealing with human life and that we have a duty to do so.

I see we are not going to agree on this for the time being, and do not wish to extend this debate beyond that which is fruitful. However, I just wanted to make clear that I am arguing the law should err on the side of caution in protecting the life of human persons. The side of caution here also includes the case where we have a human life and, imo, have no sufficient reason to conclude that we may have human life without human dignity, inherent human value and human personhood.
When we are talking about potentially destroying a living human person we should not place the burden of proof on showing that we are, in fact, talking about a living human person but on the side of prooving that we are not talking of a living human person.
catholicofthule said…
I should have said, though, that I still do not see how the issue of natural miscarriages have any bearing on this. We do not know the reasons. It is not necessarily the case that they are all to do with the human reproductive system. Some could be caused by common medications. Anti-inflammatories do, according to a doctor I spoke to, change the lining of the womb. Some could be, like illnesses, part of the fallen world rather than God's original creation. Just like illnesses kill people after birth, they may do prevent implantation or cause early abortions. You may or may not blame this on God or the state of the world as a fallen world or a random flaw in nature if you do not believe in God, but it does not change the argument to favour the morality of abortion more than natural deaths after birth changes it to favour the morality of killing born people. It is simply irrelevant to the argument because high natural mortality rates simply does not justify the deliberate taking of life.
I am sorry, Magdalena if you are upset or angered by this discussion. If we appear as fools to you for defending the right to life of every human being, from conception to death, then we allow ourselves to be taken as fools for Christ's sake.

You write very passionately in defense of your view, which to put it bluntly, is that unborn children should not be accorded the inviolable and universal right to life, since it is up to parents to decide whether the unborn child constitutes a life or not. Your position is relativistic, the Church's position is Absolute, as in, do not, absolutely, do not, kill children in the womb or outside of it.

You know what the Catholic Church's position is. You are on a Catholic blog. What on earth did you expect, Magdalena?

Your argument, therefore is not with me, or Ronan, Patricius or any other commenter on this blog, no, but Jesus Christ Himself who founded the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as handed down to St Peter and the Apostles, the Church at which He is Head, King and High Priest enthroned in Heaven.

There is, by virtue of pre-natal scanning, a LOT more evidence in the 21st century for the both the humanity and the reality of the very human life that exists in the womb. Kicking, even somersaulting, sucking thumbs etc are evident.

Despite that evidence and as I posted a link to a rather grim picture of an aborted foetus, yet further evidence of the humanity of the unborn chil (sorry that that picture offends you, but don't all journalists expose horror taking place in our midst?), you continue to hold your opinion, opinions which, though terribly erroneous, objectively, you are entitled to hold.

In response to your last point, human life is not ours to take. It really is as simple as that, and, as far as the Church is concerned (and it has believed this SINCE the time of Christ and the Apostles) the unborn child is very much alive, human and to be respected and cherished as such.

We defend life from conception to death. When it is our time to go and answer to our Maker, that is His choosing, not ours. Hence suicide and euthanasia too are taught to be moral evils.

Nobody knows the day, nor the hour of their Death and Judgment. Those who die before Baptism before or after birth, we entrust to the mercy of God, as we do all men, women and children, whether we agree with them, like them or consider them to be defenders of the right to commit infanticide.
Magdalena said…
Catholicofhule: Thanks once again for the response, your points are very stimulating. I do agree that we can never resolve this deadlock, our starting assumptions about language are simply too different. This is most clear in the suggestion that there may be any ‘uncertainty’ surrounding the definition of a foetus as a person. To see this you have to imagine you do not already hold your views on abortion (and I have to imagine I do not hold mine), which is very difficult. If, however, you imagine that you do not think a foetus is a person, imagine someone telling you ‘let’s be cautious – there MAY be a person in that ball of cells’. Your first response would be confusion. There can be no mistake. There is no possibility that there is a person there, since a person is defined in his or her conscious ability to interact with others. You may say the law is ‘erring on the side of caution’ but why would this not apply to other laws? Perhaps being homosexual is a sin which meets with God’s wrath. Let’s just err on the side of caution and prohibit it. Perhaps the Pythagoreans were right and all animals have souls. Let’s just ban the use of animal labour and meat to err on the side of caution.
Speaking of souls…. you remove the soul from the question, yet surely to even suppose a foetus or a conceptus can be a person is to invoke the soul? In what other sense is a clump of cells a person if it is not because it possesses some essential and inherent property of soul? What distinguishes the meaningfulness of human life from blind bio-mass? I say it is the human’s phenomenal capacity to interact, to forge bonds, to relate to other humans, to have conscious thoughts, and to have one’s world disturbed by the disappearance of other human with whom one is ethically engaged. This is not a property of the conceptus. And if the conceptus is not a meaningful fact of its parents’ world, it is not a person, since we mean by person ‘that human biological form which is related to other people’.
Magdalena said…
In short, the soul is crucial here, since, if I am wrong, then I am only wrong because a soul is involved (there is no alternative non-arbitrary definition according to which personhood could be said to begin at conception). I am not lampooning you with this view, I am simply pointing out you are either making a conceptual mistaking by equating the idea of biological fusion with the meaning the term person, or you think gamete fusion is the moment at which a person is created, which, to avoid conflating biology and personhood, involves a soul.
Your analogy about a driver spotting a human form in the dark falls a bit flat because the driver has to make a judgement call in a split second against the background assumption that human persons do sometimes fall down on roads, while a society assessing the moral permissibility of abortion can assess over the course of time what we mean by personhood in the first place. A more exact parallel would be to ask: If scientists started synthesising human forms out of biological matter, but these forms were known to be ancephalous, would we regard them as persons? The answer is no, we would not, since the meaning of the term ‘person’ is not ‘that which simply looks like a human’, but ‘that conscious or pre-conscious human form which relates to and is therefore taken to be a human by other humans’. The basic problem here is again confusion over the meaning of the term person. I have offered (or tried to offer) a clear and consistent definition which captures the way in which people actually use the word while leaving room for critical evaluation. The alternative offered seems to be that a foetus looks a bit like a baby if you let it develop for a while. That is not an explanation of what we mean by the concept of the person, it is a simple statement of visual resemblance.
Your final argument (the potential independence of the foetus) is, I think, the strongest case against abortion, but still not a correct argument. There are a host of arguments commonly cited against this assumption (‘the talented violinist’ etc.), but I am not myself convinced by them. The argument of foetal independence simply confuses me, since it once again relies on conflating biological and moral personhood (hence it is a conceptually fuzzy argument). Each of these arguments comes back to the same error – a particular biological being can feel pain, looks human, or can live independently, therefore it is a person. But we can apply some, if not all, of these conditions to other species or to synthetic products, yet we do not conclude they are persons. We do not do so because personhood is not a biological fact, hence all appeals to biology are flawed here.
Magdalena said…
Catholicofhule: But my argument was that you do not intuitively hold a funeral for the spontaneously terminated conceptus. I do not doubt that you can say it is all part of God's plan for the fallen sinners, but I do doubt that you respond to the death of a conceptus as you respond tot he death of your son. Because you do not consider it your son. Because your son is a person and a conceptus is not.

Yes children die as a result of illness. This may or may not be part of God's plan. But we mourn their loss. That is why I asked why you do not intuitively respond to the loss of a conceptus when you fail to conceive. The fact that you do not suggests that there are logical entailments of your position that even you do not accept. In short, if abortionists are heartless murderers, then those who fail to hold funerals for 1.18 million conceptuses in britain each year are heartless and indifferent to the deaths of their own children. To assert otherwise is to be a relativist (absolute life is a tragedy when lost, what ever the cause)
Magdalena said…
Laurence. You begin with the pity move again, and are evidently an astute follower of the Classical Orators. Get them by the tear-ducts before laying out a case for the defence. I do not defend the right of parents to chose when to terminate their children, I made that quite clear. We should have laws, and we should punish those who violate them harshly. I simply doubt that anyone in their right sodding mind thinks that a conceptus is a person, or a child. I have showed why you yourself do not appear to think this (if you do, you are heartless for not crying each time you have sex and do not produce a child).
You seem to be a bit confused over the meaning of absolutism as an ethical doctrine though. Simply stating 'Do not do X under any circumstances' is not enough, sine the question could still be asked 'In relation to what logical truth is X wrong'?. Stalin was an absolutist in your terms. He said absolutely under no circumstances can private individuals own property. He supported this belief with the arsenal of the State. But he was no an ethical absolutist, since he did not think there were invariant logical truths supporting this claim.
Similarly, one can be a absolutist and hold no beliefs in God whatsoever (as did many Greek philosophers who believed in absolute laws of thought, in reference to which an argument was good or bad, but had no notion of God)

How can I make this more simply - I DO NOT WANT TO CHANGE CHURCH TEACHINGS. You can believe what you bleeding like. But when you seek to change the law to defend your belief, to scare people with pictures of the dead, and to try to capture the rational and ethical high-ground on the basis of weak and flimsy arguments, then I must say, you are asking for someone to question you.

The picture you posted was unpleasant. As I said before, I find grotesque images of hospital life unpleasant. You can put up images of old ladies' corpses to try to protest the horrors of age and I will find them unpleasant. Quite what that is supposed to prove, other than an innate human revulsion for blood and dead flesh, is beyond me. As I said, I was particularly confused that a person who insists on the dignity of the foetus was able to bring himself to give that particular person such an ignominious final outing, but there you go. I suppose you would say the indignity you made him suffer was worth it for converting the minds of the undecided or the ignorant who judge on visceral emotions alone. You may say that, but you would be making a relativistic case (the ends justify the means). Once again, it is you who are the relativist, you simply do not realise it (possibly because you use the terms relative and absolute in such wildly inconsistent ways)
catholicofthule said…
I did not remove the soul from the equation, or at least I did not intend to do so. It would be helpful if you could point out which part of my argument suggests that I did. I guess whether or not we need to speak about a soul to determine whether an embryo is a baby (a human person) or not, depends on how you identify a soul, but I did not specifically exclude the soul from the argument.

What I did was to attempt to remove the need for certainty about the personhood and human dignity of the foetus, arguing that the burden of proof actually should be on the other side.

Human personhood is not divorced from our human nature of which biology is an integral part and thus not divorced from biology. According to your criteria of relationship an animal may in fact be deemed a person. No matter how much we love and include them in our lives and relate to them. I love animals, but I cannot make them persons, because that is related to human nature, in which human biology is very intimately involved.

A human person does not lose his or her human dignity if he is shut up in a room and can never relate to anyone else or if he falls unconscious over a short or long period of time. If it were possible for someone to actually be raised by wolves such as legends suggest, we would still know that the human person had the rights and dignity of a person and not a wolf even if he attempted, as far as a person could, to relate to us as a wolf.

I am not arguing that a human person is that which looks like a human. In fact, I am arguing that that "blob of cells", as you call it, and which does not look like a human, is a human person because it is a separate human life, whether or not it has reached the stage where it looks like a human. And I am arguing that the burden of proof lies with those who argue that one may have a human life without human dignity and personhood.

All attempts to identify something to give us human dignity and value which we can safely divorce from our merely living physical organism will fail because we can all think of some example or other where our definition does not apply. So maybe we should assume that where we have a living human body this something is also present. We can not quite think of anything we can specifically point to and prove the presence of which does not in some cases fail where we know the person still has human dignity and life. Your relational category is not an exception.

Can one have a living biological entity which is independently human without a truly human life/human spirit? I think not and I believe the burden of proof should be to provide evidence in the negative.
catholicofthule said…
Magdalena, my response to the death of a person is not directly related to the level of their human dignity. In that case, I can argue that the thousands of people who die every die of illness, war and famine are of less value than my friend or close relative because of the amount of my grief. This is an argument from emotion if ever I saw one.

Reality is not determined by my ability to perceive it and feel emotions that correspond to it either. People die all the time and I do not respond to it in the way I would someone close to me.
catholicofthule said…
Also, one cannot have a funeral where one has no knowledge that someone has died and no body present. If I knew my baby had died pre-implantation, I would pray. And I pray for any babies I possibly had and never knew about. Your argument is simply irrational.
Magdalena said…
Catholicofhule: If my arguments can apply to animals then why cannot your own? After all, this whole debate has revolved around what is inherently a rational move, not what one does in fact take to be rational in any given context (i.e. I am discussing absolute, not relative values of reason). It is perfectly plausible that one could claim an animal has a soul (hence my point about Pythagoras above).

I also do not take animals to be persons. We are on the same page there. I do not do so because an animal cannot engage in complex forms of duty and responsibility, which is why we do not punish them or hold them legally or morally guilty in courts. And, lo and behold, this is EXACTLY the same reason I gave for not reckoning the foetus to be a person. So, my definition is even stronger, since it pleasingly explains moral intuition regarding gametes, and why we do not regard animals as persons. My case, it seems, just gets stronger.

Your other examples (being raised by wolves etc) do not flagrantly fall foul of my definition. In any case, even if there was 'medical proof' (what ever that may be) that the fact of having been raised by wolves had made a human brain take on wolf-like characteristics I do not think we would leave the person to live with wolves (though, we may still ask, if this WERE proved, why not - the wolf-child may be happier with its own kind anyway). What is clear is that we would not treat the wolf-child as a person. We may flatter ourselves on being humane, we would certain TRY to educate it and hope its brain changed (after all, this would be one of the most fascinating cases for science there is), but we would not pop it into a family and let it maul the children. And what if it did? Would we punish it as a human, or pardon it as a wolf? Again, your assumption leads to problematic consequences, and it is by no means clear how we are to respond to this particular case
Magdalena said…
"I am arguing that that "blob of cells", as you call it, and which does not look like a human, is a human person because it is a separate human life." - This is a circular argument. To regard X as a separate HUMAN life you have to already accept it is a human life (unless you offer some independent standard, in reference to which it is a human). It is human biologically, I already accepted that. It is not a human person, since you do not appear to respond to it as such. I have made this so clear I need not go over it again

Yes, we can have a human entity without postulating a non-human life entity (soul). Let's be clear about this. Do we accept that a cat is a cat with or without having to assume there is a 'cat-substance' floating around before and after its manifestation on Earth? Yes, we do.
Why can I not define the human as I have above - a being phenomenally gifted at interaction, with unparalleled capacities to suffer, appreciate pain, forge relations, contemplate the cosmos, and to engage in this type of debate. You will tell me that, unless there is an eternal soul, it's all for nought. You may think this (I do not), but that does not make your postulation of the soul in any way a necessary one. It is similarly contingent and arbitrary. Hence, my initial point: the theological case is no less relativistic or arbitrary than the non-theological case
Magdalena said…
Regarding grief: surely that was precisely my point? You DO regard your mother or son as being of greater value to your life, because you understand their life and share it. We can't share in everyone's life can we. Of course we extend our sympathies to others, by analogy we understand the tragedy death entails for others. But that is a tragedy for the living, not the dead. The dead are dead, their living friends and relatives suffer. But the living relatives of a conceptus do not suffer, they do not share its world. They do share the world of a 6 month old baby (i.e. one in the womb). I am merely describing how humans actually do think about life.

Now, my point is not that you do not respond tot he death of other people's progeny. But you do respond to the death of your own. If a mother (or father) lose a child they are devastated. But if a doctor tells you that, directly following copulation, gametes fused but did not implant, you are not similarly devastated. Why not? You know as well as I do it is because you have given a faulty definition of personhood here.
catholicofthule said…
"If my arguments can apply to animals then why cannot your own? "

Sure you can apply my arguments to animals if you like. I never said you couldn't, but I can't see where it would get you because I am relating human value and even human personhood specifically to human nature. So, an animal, by that very definition could not have human personhood. That's what I meant by saying that no matter how much I love my animal, it would not make them a person, and no matter how much they respond to me, it would not make them a human person.

I'm not so sure about your argument, though, because I can tell you that an animal can relate to human beings on a level which seems to be comparable, and even more responsive, than what we observe in a wee baby which has just been born? Would you suggest that the animal is more of a person or of more value and should be more protected by the law?

Also, you seem to be chopping and changing a wee bit from rooting human value/personhood/dignity from their response to us or in our response to them.

"I also do not take animals to be persons. We are on the same page there. I do not do so because an animal cannot engage in complex forms of duty and responsibility, which is why we do not punish them or hold them legally or morally guilty in courts. And, lo and behold, this is EXACTLY the same reason I gave for not reckoning the foetus to be a person. So, my definition is even stronger, since it pleasingly explains moral intuition regarding gametes, and why we do not regard animals as persons. My case, it seems, just gets stronger."

This is an example of your chopping and changing. Now the subject must be able to engage in complex forms of duty and responsibility to be considered a person. So, iow, your justification for allowing the killing of the child in the womb could equally well be taken as a justification for allowing the killing of newborns and infants up to at least a few months.

Your case is getting stronger? Yes, the implications of your case is getting stronger, but I hardly think they are the implications you wish to be identified with.

So, what about the brain damaged? What about the unconscious?

I do not believe that the brain of a human would ever be like the brain of a wolf, but I am starting to believe that many would not live up to your expectations of interactions to be considered a human being.

Do I believe that you intend these consequences of your arguments? No, I do not, but I think you should be able to see them and feel a little troubled by your inability to fit them into your system.
Magdalena said…
Yes, but my argument also specifically related to the capacities unique tot he human. When you say we could bend the definition (i.e. change the one I gave) to apply it to animals, I am merely pointing out that this is just as permissible for any supposedly absolute notion of soul. God can choose to put a human soul in a man, a holy ghost, or a potato if he wants. If you accept that the soul is given with God's mercy then you can't start laying a priori restrictions on how He gives it and to what.

I am not disputing that your loving an animal makes it a human person, I was not aware that I ever said it would do. I made it quite clear my argument was restricted to humans, since humans alone have the capacity to engage in personhood and the relations that entails. If, however, a dog was born with these capacities, and talked to us, we would surely treat it as a person. Or would you say 'it has the soul of a dog so let's keep it in a kennel'? Similarly, if aliens came to earth, and displayed emotive and intellectual capacities similar to humans, wouldn't you extend human empathy to them? As such, the postulation of a human soul is entirely irrelevant to how you intuitively respond to human (or human-like) beings.
Magdalena said…
I would say that an animal may relate to humans in a complex way but cannot BE RELATED TO in the same way a baby can. We humans defend human values, and we defend human babies. A baby transforms one's world, and we relate to it in a way which is unimaginable for a dog. We do not talk to a baby, but we imagine its future life. We discuss with our families and partners what it will accomplish, how we will support it, what sacrifices we will gladly make. We therefore have an entirely different relationship to a child than to a dog. As such, a baby is a different kind of being. Indeed, it is a human being.
catholicofthule said…
"Regarding grief: surely that was precisely my point? You DO regard your mother or son as being of greater value to your life, because you understand their life and share it. We can't share in everyone's life can we."

But surely you are not arguing that the human dignity and objective value or personhood of the stranger is any less than that of those you do not know? They may be more value to you, but not in themselves. They are no less human.

And, again, I do pray for the souls and lives of the progeny of people I do not know. The level of my grief is not an accurate gauge of their human dignity and value. If it was, then we would have trouble speaking of human rights and human dignity at all.
Magdalena said…
When you say I am chopping and changing, you are wrong. I am never departing from the initial definition, I am merely applying it to fresh cases. I was pointing out that an animal can never be considered a human because we do not imagine it relating to our world in the same way as a baby (see above). We never imagine a dog becoming a judge, but we can imagine our sons and daughters becoming judges. I have never once given you any indication I think infanticide is permissible. I have explained repeatedly why it is not. A baby OUGHT to be a part of its parents' world. If they do not take it to be and so kill it, they should be punished. This is perfectly consistent with my thought on ethics more generally. A grandmother OUGHT to be a valued part of our world, so we can't kill her: that is, we can empathise with the elderly, and so can say that they ought not to be killed, and use the law to enshrine this principle. We have similar intuitions about babies, and late-term pregnancies. But not about conceptuses.
Magdalena said…
"But surely you are not arguing that the human dignity and objective value or personhood of the stranger is any less than that of those you do not know? They may be more value to you, but not in themselves. They are no less human."

Correct, I am not. I know by analogy that a stranger grieves for the loss of his mother, or the loss of her son. I do not think they are any less dignified than my own relatives. My point was simple and clear. If my son dies, I grieve for the loss of a person. If a conceptus fails to implant, I do not grieve for the loss of a person. Nor does anyone else. Because a conceptus is not a person. Therefore, the life of a person does not begin at conception. simple, clear, intuitive, and consistent
catholicofthule said…
And I am saying that a baby OUGHT to be a part of their parents world from conception. You have to resort to 'ought to' because the definitions you otherwise use cannot be used to cover all cases you would like it to cover. So you say they should. I may as well say that I think people should love their babies from conception, or as soon as they know about them.

You are right that we are talking about humans alone because of something that humans alone possess, but it is a capacity in the sense of something that does not need to be fulfilled equally in all humans or at all in order to give that human dignity. It is something that is not easy to pin down because there are always some that are unloved or do not have the full capacity to love, so it must be something we posess simply by sharing in human nature. And possessing human nature can only be reduced to possessing a human biology if we really want it to cover all the cases you also intuitively seem to think it should cover.

And so, when we have a living human organism, we should not assume that human nature and that value in human nature is not present. Hence we OUGHT to respect them as human persons from their conception. So my ought to follow from my argument, which tries to go by the lowest common denominator rather than a reference to the spiritual soul I do believe in.

I do not think or suspect that you want to argue for or support infanticide or killing the elderly. I am not claiming that you support it. What I am saying is that you suddenly have to make the jump from people do relate to people ought to relate to avoid doing so. That's just not good enough. Defending human life against infanticide of the born does not follow from your argument, but from a sudden jump from what people do to what they ought to do.

Any appeal to capacity that covers all cases is one that should also be extended to the independent biological human organism we have from conception. It would be an appeal to the capacity of human nature, and human nature can only be pinned down to the living human body to cover all cases. And this is exactly my point.

Anyway, this is not going anywhere. It really isn't and I feel that you do not understand what I am trying to say. That may be my fault in that I do not know to put it well enough, but, even though I can't claim to have much of a life, I think there is no point from my part in continuing this conversation until I learn how to explain what I think about this in a better manner, and I also have other things I should be doing and which I am neglecting right now.

I will read your responses if you want to say something else to me (as I don't want to get in the last word and close the door), but I wish yourself and anyone who may be reading the discussion not to presume anything from my lack of responses after this post.
Magdalena said…
Why is this a problem? Do you think I would have a conception of ethics without using the word 'ought'? What is ethics if not the science of the 'ought'? When I say a parent ought to love her child, I say no more than we humans expect a parent to love her child. We intuitively plan a child's future and regard it as a person, but we do not regard a conceptus as a person intuitively. We do not mourn its loss in the same way etc etc. I can still say a person 'ought' to do such and such a thing surely? I can tell my son he 'ought' to study for his exams without creating any big ethical conundrum. I am merely expressing how I think a person should comport themselves. This is clearly what the law is. Why do women wear short-skirts now when 100 years ago you would get arrested for showing a bit of ankle??? Because 100 years ago society accepted women 'ought' to cover up, but not now.

Human nature is surely only the result of a particular piece of human biology: the brain. Well, of course a person is 'embodied' as well, that is, the bodily appearance and capacities shape character. None of this suggests we ought to regard a conceptus (which is neither a body nor a brain) as full human.
Magdalena said…
Catholicofhule: You certainly don't need to apologise for a lack of clarity (or was that just a ruse to make people think 'if she is like this on a bad day, imagine her on a good day?'!!!). I have tried to understand you, as you have tried to understand me. I do agree it is going nowhere, we simply have radically different starting points. I have however valued your comments, and am very grateful for the opportunity for this debate. Please do have the final word as I also don't want to look like a door closer! In any case, I was just about to suggest we let this get to 80 posts and no more, as that is rather a lot for a single blog entry. I think that, in making my post to a previous thread, the intent was to ridicule it (hence the title was supposed to make my case appear non-nonsensical). I do hope that it has emerged that my opinions are manifestly NOT nonsensical or ill considered defences of murder, but the result of a very patient and long considered ethical position that helps make sense of the world
Magdalena said…
Sorry, I mean: In making my reply to a previous post into a main entry itself, the intention was to ridicule it as the ramblings of some wet behind the ears liberal

A part of the reason I am finding coming up with a precise response to your comments (and I am fast considering not responding at all) is that you are, to be frank, ranting, even if you are doing so coherently.

Is there any chance you can be a bit more pithy. For every comment I make, you make two to three essays. You are defending your corner, and, it is a corner, and I respect that, but I find it hard to read such lenghty prose.

Yes the Soul is critical, but you could argue strongly that that is not the reason why we are encouraged not to kill other human beings.

I am yet, for instance, to hear a court judge say, "You shouldn't have killed that man. He had a Soul don't you know!"

It is perfectly possible, with the help of medicine, technology and science to, in a court of law, put up some live footage of a baby in the womb and convince a jury that this is, indeed a human being with the same rights to live as us.

We are, with surely only one or two exceptions, among the only creatures on the planet who kill their own children. What gives? I mean, it is almost as if that old conundrum called Original Sin is true.
And yes I do appreciate that it is one pro-choicer Vs two or three pro-Lifers (an unusual situation if ever there was one), so you have to be more verbose.

We can bullet point our points quite easily on this and most issues (apart an exegesis of The Blessed Trinity).

*Don't kill people
*Unborn babies are people
*Don't kill them then

No 'ifs', no 'buts', just plain old common sense.

Magdalena said…
I wilt at the thought of doing this, but Laurence, there are many animals who not only kill, but who eat their own infants. Secondly, the fact that more do not, is because biological life would never have evolved if parents had a predisposition to kill all young, it would never have had a chance to. None the less, humans are not unique among the animals in controlling their fertility
Original sin is a great argument isn't it eh? Life may be shitty but that's because someone ate an apple once.
catholicofthule said…
Magdalena, I know I said I would not post again, but you were asking a specific question to something I realised I had expressed extremely badly in the post above, and so you had every reason to wonder at my comment and I feel I should explain it.

You asked:

"Why is this a problem? Do you think I would have a conception of ethics without using the word 'ought'? "

My point was not that you should never use the word ought or think that people ought to do some things and not others. My point was that it seems to me as if you are saying that the cases of the born children who are not given value by their parents loving and engaging with them in a complex manner, and who are too young themselves to engage with their parents in any complex manner, should be covered by the fact that these parents ought to love their children. I don't understand how this 'ought to' can confer on children the personhood which their parents are not conferring on them by actually thus engaging with them (as per according to what I understand your argument to be). Why ought they love living human forms that cannot yet qualify as persons by something inherent in themselves, even if they are their offspring? And if the 'ought to' will do, why won't another 'ought to' by someone else do for younger babies.

I may have misunderstood you in this point, in which case others may also have, and then you now have the opportunity to clear that up. I thought my obvious failure to clearly state what I meant was enough of a reason to break my 'promise' even if we are now also above the 82 pages which you stipulated, and I don't have any other way of contacting you.

And I don't think you will look like a door closer by leaving the conversation either now or at any point at this stage because we have certainly gone on for a while! We could go on forever answering each other and forever posting a point someone thinks should be answered.

Perhaps when we have time to think more and mull things over we may see what each means better and maybe have a more fruitful debate at another time when we can avoid some of the misunderstandings at least, even if we may never agree. This is an issue which people understandably feel strongly about and have very strong views on and it is easy to misinterpret the other person's arguments and thus suffer from much needless confusion and misunderstanding. It is also a point on which it takes a lot for people to change their minds once they have first reached an understanding and conclusion.

I will not say that the debate has been completely fruitless for myself, though, because it is always useful to be given fresh arguments from the opposing point of view to mull over.
Magdalena said…
Catholicoghule: Fair point: ["I don't understand how this 'ought to' can confer on children the personhood which their parents are not conferring on them by actually thus engaging with them"] - this however is covered in the system I outlined, since society steps in to protect what it feels SHOULD be the attitude of a reasonable parent toward their infant. i.e., we do not, generally speaking, and as a pretty indisputable fact, belong to a species which is naturally inclined to murder its young. That is partly because we, as all animals, have some innate drive to care for infants, triggered by the sights and smells of a new born, and perhaps even the physical appearance of a gravid female. However, I would say it is more likely to be because we come from a species which has the peculiar ability to imagine future situations, and to form relationships based on this ability. When we have a child, we imagine that they are more than they actually are. I think it is pretty indisputable that, even if you say a baby is a person on account of some eternal soul, you are in fact merely projecting any qualities onto the baby, which often just lies there crying for more milk (for about 9 long and painful months I remember!). That is to say, we do not base our intuitions as to what a child is on the reality of a baby, but on a mixture of an innate desire to protect, and a very real 'presence' of this child as a being with a future presence. Why then, you reasonably ask, does this not apply to the conceptus? Firstly, I need not go into my argument again about precisely why it is relativistic and inconsistent to accord personhood tot he conceptus on the basis of a 'life begins at conception' argument. This argument demonstrates flaws in the contrary opinion, but not that, as you indicate, I may be arbitrarily choosing to say a baby is a person but not a conceptus. My explanation runs as follows:

Though the argument from 'innate biological predisposition' is a relatively shoddy basis for human ethics, we can definitely agree that human beings do not respond to the fusion of two cells in the same way that they respond to a 6 month old gestating infant, or a new born baby. They do not, that is, accord it the status of personhood. Because the immediate product of sex may be an accident, entailing no being necessarily exists as a presence in the parental future, and so we cannot expect them to, necessarily, decide to bring this being forth.
Magdalena said…
As far as I can see, unless there is a good, solid, and irrefutable reason to consider the fusion of sperm and egg (i.e. a single cell) to be a human person, and not merely another cell in the human body with genetically distinct features (which amount to bits of sugar on a string of protein, not a human person with a personality and a future relating it to the community around it), then we have no reason to expect either the parents who have just copulated to transform their worlds or society to step in and take over out of concern for our mutual interests.

I ask again, why is it that we deem murder to be wrong (though this is a slight tautology)? Since there are perfectly consistent and rational ways of explaining the wrongfulness of killing in these circumstances, but that these explanations do not apply to a foetus, then we can say that abortion is not murder.

Hence, 1) a foetus or conceptus is not a person because they do not posses any of the characteristics we do, in fact, use to define personhood: Any attempt to come up with a definition of 'person' which covers both the conceptus and the adult tends to be entirely reductive and unconvincing, as in 'it possesses human DNA' or some such. Fine, take a piece of human DNA, modify it slightly so that it is unique, and put it in a bovine cell. Do we have a new human person? It is quite easy to imagine any number of these examples which demonstrate that the definition of human being used here is weak. Furthermore, if I ask you what is so special about your own humanity, you probably won't tell me 'it has a unique genetic structure', since that is true of every sexually reproducing plant and animal, and we do not accord them the status of persons. You will likely give me a definition based on capacities and characteristics which are manifestly absent from the single cell fused after sexual intercourse.
Magdalena said…
2) Yet this does not oblige us to say that 'only fully formed and self-aware beings can be protected and we can murder everyone else'. This is an insinuation Catholics (see Laurence) often make to try to make their arbitrary case for the defence seem a little more solid, but it is patently absurd. Firstly, no one defends it. Or at least, any example you can give of a society that does (the Nazis, almost inevitably) is given not on the basis of any deep understanding of the actual historical and social developments which led to the murderous instincts of that society, but on the grounds of a facile and ridiculously thin claim that 'they turned away from the sanctity of the person, therefore they killed'. This has been given (again, by Laurence) in an even more absurd form to explaint he decline of past civilisations (i.e. the Egyptians did not believe in God and therefore crumbled). Quite how this explains why they did manage to survive for a few thousand years, certainly more than Christendom has, or will, is never actually addressed. But, I digress. The most obviously weak thing about this type of argument (abandoning X moral system necessarily leads to slaughter) is that it can function whenever you need to retrospectively condemn something, since it is impossible to imagine Catholics would ever discover anything that does not meet its conditions but which does need to be condemned. But this is true of all moral claims. I can just as easily use my own argument to condemn the Nazis. Hence it is an empty truism. In any case, why not ask 'What WAS so evil about the Nazis?' - how do you answer this question? By appealing to the moral conditions of dignity, personhood etc? But in that case why use the Nazis at all, since in saying 'look what happens when you turn away from these values' and pointing tot he Nazis, you assume either that a) the person with whom you are speaking already accepts your views which makes the claim pointless, b) they do not accept your views but still find the Nazis to be a barbarous and evil group, which is the whole point of using the Nazi example anyway. But if they do not accept your views and are persuaded by the emotive appeals to anti-Nazism, then you have implicitly just disproved the need to accept your views to condemn fascism!
Anonymous said…
Of course I can also defend an absolutist system of values and then go on to murder 6 million people. I can claim to respect the dignity of the human but then argue slaves are not human (as did many Catholics). I can start a Crusade against Muslims on the grounds that they are not human in the same sense. Catholicism is shot-through with this type of fuzzy moral relativism and despicable self-serving ambivalence (see my earlier comments about the Catholic tendency to become relativists by refusing to condemn child abuse in the strongest terms on account of the fact that Church abuse was less bad relative to state abuse)

So let's put the 'either absolutism or moral chaos' theory to bed. We are not obliged to defend some reductive and weak definition of the human person to prevent slaughter. We can still say a mother ought to love her child. Fortunately, it is a rare thing indeed that a mother kills her child and as a variety of studies have shown, it has become increasingly more rare. In proportion to population (though actually also in gross terms), the nineteenth century marked the high age of infanticide. This was long before sophisticated forensic methods and government health registrations as well, which would undoubtedly have detected many more cases. So we can happily say that we live in a better world than our forebears, not a worse world (as a lot of Catholics love to imagine). We treat women and children with dignity and humanity, when we used to regard them as insignificant property. Why is this I wonder? After all, it is the 'decadent' West that largely abandoned religion following the first World War, precisely the time when the recognition of dignity and humanity was being extended. Oh and why was it that the Catholic countries of Southern Europe tended to resist this recognition of the dignity and humanity of women and children more fiercely? Oh wait, it is because there IS NOT ONE SHRED OF EVIDENCE that the world has in any way become worse, has neglected the dignity of humans, or is heading toward the apocalypse since the abandonment of religion. That is because respect for life, the recognition of dignity, and the creation and protection of a loving world have nothing to do with accepting an abstract proposition about the dignity of the soul. I would suggest, in fact, that making such a nugatory and reductive definition of humanity count as the sine qua non of ethics tends to encourage a disrespectful and negligent attitude toward, you know, actually doing good things. How many terms have you heard it said: 'I might sin but at least I respect the dignity of the human person'....
Magdalena said…
Opps, a long answer again. Sorry, another rant - I promise I will stop now. In short, you have not misunderstood, you have understood me perfectly well but do not agree. Which is about as good as I could have expected (I wasn't anticipating any converts!). I am glad that we can talk about these issues in an adult and mature fashion though, without having to resort to name calling or putting up horrible pictures of women who have died as the result of botched back-street abortions, or of foetuses that priests have fished out of hospital bins in between saying mass. I respect your views and your insistence upon the value of life, I simply think to insist on the value of life life has to have a value (i.e. to be a human life), hence I do not insist on the value of a conceptus (which is a cell, not a person). Thank you for your comments however, I have enjoyed speaking with you

Magdalena said…
A much simpler and shorter not rant would be to say: We can assume a mother will love her new born baby since nearly all mothers do, but if she does not, perhaps as the result of mental illness, we can and should protect the child as this protects our intuition that a mother ought to love her child. We do not intuitively think of a cell as a persons, principally because it is not a person, therefore we can leave this choice up to the mother (or couple). If she/they WANT to have a child, they can choose to do wait until that ball of cells has become a being with a future presence. If however, they then decide 'actually nah, let's not have kids now', society can step in and say 'sorry, you chose to nurture that ball of cells on the expectation that it would become a person, in so doing you have shown that you had a concern with personhood, so to violate that concern is murder.' That is, after all, a very plausible definition of why infanticide is socially recognised as murder, but that a single cell falling away from the lining of the womb, as happens naturally every day in sexually active couples, is not.

I think you need to distinguish between the non-existent, yet to exist, might exist in the future, unborn child, which is purely speculative and the fertilised egg which constitutes a human life.

As I said earlier, no scientist, or indeed priest recognises either a sperm or an egg in isolation as a human life in its earliest stage.

Plenty of scientists recognise the human embryo as a human life in its earliest stages.
Magdalena said…
Though whether or not that makes it a human person is precisely the subject of this debate. In any case I have read (references to follow if required) many a scientific work questioning the salience of the 'life begins at conception' argument. Admittedly these are what might be classified as 'pop-genetics', but are none the less written by reputable geneticists and cytologists. Their whole point is that to define life in terms of unique genetic structure (let alone to infer from a form of moral significance from this) is far too messy to be consistently applied, since you will necessarily be pushed into labelling certain things 'new lives' (and perhaps, if you attribute moral significance, 'new persons'), which you would not want to fall within your definition. It seems here that your problems stem ultimately from the fact that what you want to say is 'sex should only be conducted in order to produce a child and not for recreation' [please correct me if this is NOT your opinion about sex], and are trying to infer from that a definition of the person which supports your stance. But I hardly see this as necessary. Suppose you, Laurence England, are given unbridled and unrestricted political power. What do you do? Ban abortion perhaps? On theological grounds? Then why not ban sex outside wedlock as well? You may well wish to do this. Unless one is worse than the other. But then you would seem to be ignoring Anslem's maxim:
“The destruction of the universe is not as bad as a venial sin”

So I return to the puzzling fact of using pictures of babies to sell your case. Why not use a picture of a couple engaged in sex for reasons other than producing children? This venial sin is as universe destroying as an abortion, since it stems from the same turning of one's back on God's commands

We're not 'bible-bashers'. None of us are so holy as to claim to be defending God from 'sinners' while we are 'just'.

Our pre-occupation with raising awareness of the unnjust killing of unborn children is not motivated by the sinfulness of the action, but by the abject horror of its reality, when considered in the light of the Truth.

We maintain not only that abortion is a grave evil and a mortal sin, but that every time it occurs, an innocent defenseless baby is killed and another human being has been deprived of HIS OR HER life, before he or she has been able to get outside of the womb.

That is not just a sin, that is a great scandal and should be to all men of reason (not just faith). It is a crime not just against God but against humanity itself, for the most vulnerable in society are under attack and killed unjustly every day, across the Globe.
And, I might add, Magdalena, that abortion was indeed illegal in this country until relatively recently. The Abortion Act came in in 1967. In terms of British legal history that is very, very modern.

Of course, what some call 'progress', we call 'diabolical and wicked attack on the weakest in society'.
Magdalena said…
For the sake of all things holy and profane, I will just repeat an earlier point which you have STILL not countered. A man and a woman copulate intending to produce a child. They are good Catholics, hold life to be sacred, and all the other stuff. But, as the odds are against them, after the sperm and egg fuse, creating "an innocent defenceless baby", the conceptus does not implant on the lining of the womb, and passes out as waste. This happens six more times before they finally conceive. When they are asked if they have children 5 years hence, they reply yes, we have 7. They no longer believe in God though because, as far as they can see, he is a bumbling maniac who defines personhood as beginning at conception but then designs a system of producing persons which tends to murder far more than its saves. Through absolutely no fault of there own. That is the thing about absolutism Laurence, if you appeal to it, you have to understand what it means. There can be no softening of this charge against the almighty, if a conceptus is murdered by abortion it is murdered by the reproductive system. How do you defend this act of divine slaughter? What were the sins of the 6 innocent dead cells that He chose to terminate? If you even suspect this argument to be flippant or besides the point, then take a deep breath, and expel the relativism you are allowing into your mind. It is not becoming of an absolutist to indulge such inclinations.
Magdalena said…
Laurence, the first explicit mention of abortion in British law was not until 1813. The law then specified that 'quickening' (movement of the baby in the womb at around 14 weeks) defined personhood and would constitute an independent life capable of being murdered. Before this time it was relatively common for women to control their fertility with a variety of concoctions, which was not prohibited by law. Once again, you are simply wrong
Magdalena said…
In any case, the point is whether or not there are sufficient reasons for considering abortion to be murder, not what people used to think. I can point to the seventeenth century law which made Catholicism a capital offence, but this does not imply that it ought to be.
Magdalena said…
A final rant:

I must note that, drawing on the work of comprehensive medical ethicist and Anglican theologian G R Dunstan, (yes, he was ‘one of them’, but suspend your incredulity for a second, he was a highly intelligent man) that neither Judaeo-Christian tradition, nor English law, does in fact accord an ‘absolute’ value to human life under any conditions, let alone to embryonic life. As such, appealing to either legal tradition, or Catholic legacy, is not only to miss the real ethical question about personhood, but also to wade into some gross factual errors about the evidence for your claims. Thus, Dunstan notes, the ‘creation’ of the idea that embryos enjoy some sort of privileged Christian/Catholic protection is actually of relatively recent coinage, beginning only in the nineteenth century. You may call this progress, I call it fuzzy relativism and changing your story every century or so (yet the Truth is somehow said to be eternal….).

I will offer several of his examples for the dictionary of medical ethics: these are not intended as a slight on the Catholic tradition, but merely a demonstration that ‘tradition’ is something one constructs after the fact and you appear to have fallen hook line and sinker for a selective construction. Starting with the bible itself, I am aware that lots of prolifers point to the Hebrew Law of Exodus (which is of course a Jewish law explicitly limited to the Jews), which contains some ambivalence about whether the gestating child be considered a human or not (inferred from the punishment for causing a miscarriage). According to biblical scholars, the ‘ambiguity’ relates to the fact that there are two versions of this text: the Hebrew original which, in common with the Levant laws, the Assyrian Code, and the Hammurabi Code, specifies that a gestating child is NOT fully human, and the Septuagint Greek translation, which ‘corrects’ certain passages in the Hebrew to reflect Greek ideas about generation. Even after St. Jerome’s translation of the former text in the 4th century, the Septuagint remained the preferred choice. This indicates nothing about what the bible actually says, but rather what the Greeks, working from a pre-Christian pagan ‘biological’ tradition, actually preferred. Ironically, this pagan stance is closer to your preferred view than is the Hebrew law itself. None the less, jumping forwards a few years….
Magdalena said…
We come to the locus classicus of Catholic diatribes, Tertullian, and St. Basil. Tertullian wrote: “it is not lawful to destroy what is conceived in the womb”, clear indication of his anti-abortion stance. Yet certain facts of context must be noted. Firstly, Tertullian’s Apologia, in which these remarks are to be found, is written as a defence of Catholicism. Tertullian, a lawyer practicing in North Africa, was trying to refute the argument dominant in his society that Christians were committed to the notion of human sacrifice (i.e. Christ) and that they did not respect life, as did the locals. He was thus forced to unite Christianity with the then dominant Greek (Hippocratic) medical tradition. Again, the simple irony is that he had recourse to a pagan tradition to defend Christianity from the accusations, made by pagans, of barbarism! Furthermore, Tertullian was an advocate of ‘transducianism’ – the “belief that the soul (anima) derived from the parental seed” – hence he did not say life begins at conception, but that it begins in the (male) seed, hence, for want of a better word, wanking was murder. The sins of Onan and all that.

St. Basil is a more common stock character, saying “A woman who deliberately destroys a foetus is answerable for murder” (Ad Amphilochium). But it is strange that this is often taken by 21st century Catholics to be a proof of the Church’s invariant stance on the issue of abortion. His own brother, Gregory of Hyssa, criticised this stance, arguing that “it would not be possible to style the unformed embryo a human being, but only a potential one”, and that the embryo and foetus were “something other than a human being.” (Adversus Macedonianos) Indeed, he argued that to question this would be to invoke reasons “other than Christian ones.” Which of these two brothers entered into Church tradition? Well, shortly after, Augustine, the great saint, followed Gregory in calling the foetus “some sort of living, shapeless thing” to which “the law of homicide would not apply.” Indeed, “it could not be said that there was a living soul in that body, for it lacks all sense, if it be such as is not yet formed and therefore not yet endowed with sense.” (Quaestionum….)
Magdalena said…
This great historical tradition, it seems, is beginning to crumble under the weight of actual historical evidence. Maybe this was just North Africa though, surely Christian Europe agreed with you. It seems not. Moving on to the 7th century, the Canones Hibernenses (Celtic Penitentials) follow the Levant practice of punishing murder of “living flesh” with 14 and a half years living on bread and water as penance but only three and a half for destruction of “the infant in the womb.” Did this Catholic tradition regard abortion as murder? It seems not. Furthermore, the punishment is explicitly tied to sex – i.e. the penance is not even for killing the foetus, but for not taking responsibility for having sex. Again, my point that this is about sex, not murder, is supported by historical tradition which yours is not.

Surely the Popes were above all of this moral relativism? After all, the Pope is NEVER wrong. Oh oh, what’s this!? Pope Innocent III slaughtering the innocent? Yep, your man Innocent III issued a canon in 1211 stating that a priest must be punished when he has assisted in procuring an abortion, but that “if the conceptus has not yet quickened he may [continue to] minister; otherwise he must abstain from service at the altar.” What???? A priest is able to carry on serving as the link between Heaven and Earth even if he has helped a woman procure an abortion? Yes, you see, the Catholic tradition did NOT think that a foetus was a life, or that termination was murder. In England, the Catholic scholar Henry of Bracton, writing on The Laws and Customs of England, noted two things. Firstly, that a woman who is caused to miscarry, by assault or by her own hand, will only be deemed a crime of murder “if the foetus is already formed and animated”; a position rooted in the Galenic tradition which specified this would take place at quickening (when the movements were felt) . However, even more troublingly, he specifies that, if a baby is born “a monster” (i.e. deformed), it is not of human form, and not of human soul. It is therefore not accorded legal personhood and may be slain. What’s that?!? A Nazi style policy of killing disabled infants supported by the Catholic tradition??? Boooooo, shame on your evil ethical assumptions.
Magdalena said…
Finally, coming into the eighteenth century, the famous legal writer William Blackstone writes in his Commentaries on the Law of England that “Life begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in its mother’s womb.” Again, though this is no longer a Catholic stance, it shows that English law DID NOT support your views traditionally. All the above make it quite clear that, far from making up some lunatic moral philosophy that defends ‘modern’ or ‘decadent’ values, I am, in fact, able to give you with my ethical system an account of the human person which has been intuitively accepted down the ages. You, however, have given me a very wishy-washy recently invented moral flimsy to defend your own psychopathic delusion that, while you suffer and deny your body pleasure, the decadent West commits endless acts of wanton sexual indulgence. It is not really a moral system founded in tradition, but a psychological system founded in your own sex-mad brain. You are the one projecting sex and sin onto everything

I don't think it really matters what I say, on the unborn child, on any of these matters.

In your eyes I am suffering 'psychopathic delusion' and therefore, I could, like you, write reams and reams on why but I fear we will both go round in circles.

Dear lady, it is not just me who suffers this affliction of vocalising my horror at the slaughter of the unborn children both in the UK and beyond, but a great many Catholics and other mainstream Christians as well as a minority of people from other faiths and indeed none.

I leave you to the grace, peace and mercy of God, Who I expect alone can convince you of the Truth concerning the unborn child.

Who knows? Over time you may change your mind. People do, you know. I did. I know quite a few converts as well. Brighton seems to attract them.

By the way, just out of interest, how did you stumble across my blog?
Ronan said…
God almighty, I've been beaten into submission just by the sheer amount of text this woman produces. That she needs to produce such rambling essays indicates, I think, just how inconsistent and full of qualifications her position is. It's a textbook example of how the pro-choice argument works, introducing a putative distinction between actual human beings and human 'persons', not cos it's true but because abortion must be excused by any means necessary. The transformation from mere tissue to human person happens according to some magical process only pro-choicers understand and which us prolifers (who are meant to be the ignorant and superstitious ones in this argument!) just can't see. It's got a fully human genome, it's got a body (even if that body is only a clump of cells, or a single cell), therefore it is my brother or sister or son or daughter. It's so simple even a six year old can understand it, and only an over educated idiot could doubt it.
Magdalena said…
Brilliant. The last refuge. So now abortion=murder is not really a recognised part of Catholic tradition, but simply something the masses happen to believe. I believe we have just switched positions, with me defending moral absolutes based on reason, evidence, and ethical thinking, and you defending a position based on the fact that a lot of other people happen to also be mistaken.

I already lost my faith, I don't anticipate getting it back. I also know a lot of 'converts' to the Truth, i.e., agnosticism.

Your blog was mentioned in a post about the Pope's visit, which linked to a discussion about sex education in the Times. I was initially attracted to the fact that you voiced some very controversial opinions. I don't mean this as a slight, but I got the sense that you sort of revelled in the ability to be controversial rather than really wanted to defend those opinions. I mean to say, you came across a bit like a (very well educated and eloquent) 'Talk Sport' DJ, saying all the things you like to think people think you should not, but which in fact are the things the great majority of people think; popular fashions of opinion, subtly disguised as 'unfashionable' and 'running contrary tot he stream of public opinion. Hence, as you say, there are probably around 2 billion people who share your exact views on abortion. Yet I wonder how many of these people are acquainted with the theological traditions I have outlined? Or have seriously engaged in thinking about these issues. I am not claiming they are all suckers, I know of at least 6 people (those who attacked abortion on this blog) who are very intelligent and thoughtful. But I suspect the great many simply 'go with the flow', or are swayed by a picture of a little baby [hence animal activists resort to the exact same tactics; showing pictures of cats that look a bit like they are crying to tug at the hearts of the unreflecting]
Magdalena said…
Roan: I am sorry you find reasoned exposition less appealing than glib Jesuitical statements. I was arguing with another poster, so you had no need to read my text. Please don't refer to me as 'this woman', as I take it to be a clear attempt to induce me to snap at it so you can make some tedious point about feminism. I know you remember the good old days when skirts were long and you didn't have to wank yourself to sleep every night cursing all that beautiful young flesh you will never make love to, but your gripe should not be with women themselves. I imagine you as a barrel chested ruddy faced 50 something boring people down his local about decadent values (while trying to sneak a crafty look at the barmaid's tits in the forlorn hope that he will one day make love to her)

You accuse my "textbook example" "the pro-choice argument" as one where "abortion must be excused by any means necessary."

1) I never used the term pro-choice. It is a bad term, you cannot choose to murder. I simply denied a foetus was a human to be murdered. I have shown you that Innocent III agreed with me, as did most of the Catholic tradition (including the Bible). Which leads me to suspect you have some other axe to grind

2) Oh, there we go, the axe. I am trying to excuse abortion by any means necessary. Because it must be central to my depraved morality. Nope, just that a foetus is not a human person. If your 6 year old son who understands your definition goes to school and learns basic biology, he will return home and tell him that the definition you gave applies to a sperm as well, which has a fully human genome with its chromosomal matter arranged into a unique combination
Ronan said…
your writing is far more interesting when you're being a bitch. You have me spot on apart from my age. Since you're getting personal, I may condescend to respond properly later, but for now I'm due at the pub to eye up that barmaid's tits.
I commend you to the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in whose holy and Immaculate womb was conceived the Son of God. And your holy patroness, St Mary Magdalen, of course, assuming Magdalen is your true name.
Magdalena said…
My true name is MagdalenA, hence I wrote that every time I posted. Why would I choose such a pointlessly banal nom de plume?! All I can say is it's a good job God was breathing the spirit of Christ into that womb or it would have had a 1 in 6 chance of being passed out as waste. Perhaps that's why it had to be immaculate, the old boy knew the mechanism he had designed was criminally inefficient.
You sound like you are considering pressing charges.

Good luck with that one. You'll need it!
PaulineG said…
Regarding the historical position of the Catholic Church on abortion, this may be of interest:

Magdalena said…
Pauline G: Thank you very much for the link, I enjoyed reading the commentary greatly. I must say though, this does not challenge what I have already said. While I acknowledged one could point to certain documents saying life began at conception, naming Tertullian and Basil, I made it quite clear that one needs to understand these views in historical context. Firstly, they were not universal, and the Church 'tradition' (i.e. main stream thinking, including that of certain Popes) was not sympathetic to their views. Secondly, their views were supported by mini-heresies and unorthodox stances (transducianism). Thirdly, the views of these eccentric Greek and North African writers drew not upon Judaic Law (the source of Biblical authority), or upon Christ's words (the source of Christian authority) but pagan Greco-Roman medicine (the recognised source of 'civilisation' in the region which writers appealed to to sell their views)

The document is right to acknowledge that the great anti-abortion 'tradition' is based on a selective reading of sources, but it still organises the material to try and cover the extent of the dispute. e.g.:

"However, all these theologians - Jerome, Ambrose, Gregory, Augustine and the rest - were agreed that abortion, at any stage, was a grave sin against emergent human life. Early Church law (as shown, for example, by Hippolytus, Basil and the councils of Elvira and Ancyra) was severe and gave the same penalties for abortion as for homicide."

It is not true that the above recognised abortion before animation, or quickening to be a 'grave sin', since they explicitly said it was not the crime of murder but the crime of covering up for sexual license. Unmarried women who fell pregnant were subject to the same penalties. Secondly, the edicts it goes on to cite come from different authors. Did you notice that shift? It is a subtle way of lying, without explicitly lying. They say yes, four prominent authors say a foetus did not have a soul, but then 'early Church law' regarded abortion as murder such.

As I made clear in my post, the authorities who regarded the foetus as lacking a soul (the dominant 5th century position), did NOT regard abortion as murder. Those who did (the minority) did regard it as such. I am afraid that this website is lying, or at the very least distorting the truth, in order to make the tradition look more consistent than it is.

"While some medieval canonists argued that early abortion was not homicide, strictly speaking, the same canonists also argued that early abortion was very close to homicide: a sin against God and against nature."

It is my understanding that MOST, if not ALL, canonists regarded abortion as not being equivalent to murder, since to assert otherwise would be a heresy. It may have remained a sin carrying a penance (as I indicated), but this was true for any sexual offence. Put simply, abortion was not clearly and unambiguously the unqualified crime of murder within the Catholic church until the mid nineteenth century. The earlier sources (i.e. pre-5th century) which state that it is do not draw upon Judeo-Christian tradition but upon Greco-Roman ideas of generation.

"In 1588 Pope Sixtus V enacted legislation against abortion, and against contraception and sterilization, restoring severe penalties of a sort common in the early Middle Ages."

Note again how abortion is on the litany of sex-crimes, not the litany of murderous acts. Abortion was a sin, of course, but the sin was not murder, but the attempt to cheat the reproductive trap God had set, which would ensure that the body could not be used for pleasure. That is why the Christian mystics, saints, and pious did not only condemn sex, but denied themselves food, comfort, wore hair-shirts, and drank bowls of pus (St. Catherine of Sienna). Do you do this? Or do you just arbitrarily select sex out of this list of historically prohibited acts?
'That is why the Christian mystics, saints, and pious did not only condemn sex, but denied themselves food, comfort, wore hair-shirts, and drank bowls of pus (St. Catherine of Sienna). Do you do this? Or do you just arbitrarily select sex out of this list of historically prohibited acts?'

Yep, bowl of pus in the morning for breakfast, before going out to work in a hair shirt, come home for a midday snack of sick and some self-flaggelation, before going out to work again. Phew. After a hard day's work there's nothing more I like than to come home and to sit at the dinner table while denying myself any dinner whatsoever before condemning in public all sexual acts, even the union of man and women in marriage.

Good grief.
Magdalena said…
My point is, if you are going to bring up the tradition of 5th century commentators to support your views, you must place them in their proper context. This generally requires reading beyond the gobbet pasted onto an anti-abortion website. If you wish for society to follow the ethical and theological teachings of these people, then please cite their teachings in full, not only the little section that is convenient to your argument.

I am simply observing that an awful lot of what we do is sinful to the early Church fathers. Marriage was not a recognised part of the Catholic understandings of life until the council of Trent in the 16th century. Appealing to sources before this time is therefore highly spurious.

The case you are making against 'decadent' values could be made against a variety of issues we now see as trivial, and equally well supported by Church traditions. I am merely concerned that you bend the truth to try and scare people into doing what you think they should. As such I have a right, nay a duty, to protest
Your comments were totally out of context.

Sorry but you've misquoted quite a few Saints there, or at least put their words out of context.

Catholics do, or at least should (you know full well just how sinful we Catholics can be) act out of love, not fear.

This misunderstanding of Grace and the love of God runs through your whole argument.

Yes the Saints practised acts of self-mortification - but only because they loved God.

Secondly the Saints were'nt heretics who saw the body as simply bad and sex as evil. The Church Herself states that sexual union in Marriage is a good, holy and wonderful thing.

She teaches that all sexual acts outside of the marital bond are morally lacking in goodness and the love to which humans are called.
Magdalena said…

Tertullian wrote: “it is not lawful to destroy what is conceived in the womb”. He continued by noting:

"If faith on earth were as great as the reward expected in heaven, my well beloved sisters, not one of you from the moment when you came to know the living God and recognized your own state, that is, the condition of all women, would have desired too gay, not to say too ostentatious, an apparel. Rather, you would have gone about in humble dress, even preferring to affect squalor, that you might, by donning every sort of penitential garb and acting the part of mourning and repentant Eve,
expiate more fully that which woman derives from Eve, the ignominy, I mean, of the first sin, and the odium of human perdition. "In sorrow and anxiety you will bring forth, O woman, and you shall incline toward your husband, and he will be your master." Are you not aware that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives on in our own time; the guilt must then, of necessity, live on also. You are the devil's gateway. You first plucked the forbidden fruit and first deserted the divine law. You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not brave
enough to attack.It was you who so readily destroyed the image of God,
man. By virtue of your just desert, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die. And you still think of putting adornments over the animal skins that cover you!"

Yet presumably you do not mention this authority when your sister or wife puts on her jewellery, only when the matter of abortion is raised. Hence, my point, the few sources which support your position also support it on the basis of a general interpersonal ethic which, I think, you would not wish to defend. The early church fathers were not against abortion per se, but against female sexuality, visibility, and adornment. Because life was a big battle to control urges which they could not control through will alone. As far as I can see, this position comes closer tot eh Taliban than to the bible itself, in which you will find scant support for your claims. Hence, you are reliant upon 5th century Algerian scribes to push your ideals
I don't see an 'St' before his name. Do you? Here are the Doctors of the Church.

There are 33 of them, I believe...

Good quote though: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

St. Gregory the Great* 540 (ca.) March 12, 604 1298 Italian Pope
St. Ambrose* 340 (ca.) April 4, 397 1298 Italian Bishop of Milan
St. Augustine, Doctor Gratiae* 354 August 28, 430 1298 Berber from Numidia Bishop of Hippo
St. Jerome* 347 (ca.) September 30, 420 1298 Dalmatian Priest, monk
St. John Chrysostom* 347 407 1568 Syrian (Ethnic Greek) Archbishop of Constantinople
St. Basil* 330 January 1, 379 1568 Cappadocian (Ethnic Greek) Bishop of Caesarea
St. Gregory Nazianzus* 329 January 25, 389 1568 Cappadocian (Ethnic Greek) Archbishop of Constantinople
St. Athanasius* 298 May 2, 373 1568 Egyptian (Ethnic Greek) Patriarch of Alexandria
St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis 1225 March 7, 1274 1568 Italian Priest, Theologian, O.P.
St. Bonaventure, Doctor Seraphicus 1221 July 15, 1274 1588 Italian Cardinal Bishop of Albano, Theologian, Minister General, O.F.M.
St. Anselm, Doctor Magnificus 1033 or 1034 April 21, 1109 1720 Italian Archbishop of Canterbury, O.S.B.
St. Isidore* 560 April 4, 636 1722 Spanish Bishop of Seville
St. Peter Chrysologus* 406 450 1729 Italian Bishop of Ravenna
St. Leo the Great* 400 November 10, 461 1754 Italian Pope
St. Peter Damian 1007 February 21/22,1072 1828 Italian Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, monk, O.S.B.
St. Bernard, Doctor Mellifluus 1090 August 21, 1153 1830 French Priest, O.Cist.
St. Hilary of Poitiers* 300 367 1851 French Bishop of Poitiers
St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor Zelantissimus 1696 August 1, 1787 1871 Italian Bishop of Sant'Agata de' Goti, C.Ss.R. (Founder)
St. Francis de Sales 1567 December 28, 1622 1877 French Bishop of Geneva
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Doctor Incarnationis* 376 June 27, 444 1883 Egyptian Patriarch of Alexandria
St. Cyril of Jerusalem* 315 386 1883 Jerusalem Bishop of Jerusalem
St. John Damascene* 676 December 5, 749 1883 Arab Priest, monk
St. Bede the Venerable* 672 May 27, 735 1899 Northumbrian Priest, monk
St. Ephrem* 306 373 1920 Syrian Deacon
St. Peter Canisius 1521 December 21, 1597 1925 Dutch Priest, S.J.
St. John of the Cross, Doctor Mysticus 1542 December 14, 1591 1926 Spanish Priest, mystic, O.C.D. (Founder)
St. Robert Bellarmine 1542 September 17, 1621 1931 Italian Archbishop of Capua, Theologian, S.J.
St. Albertus Magnus, Doctor Universalis 1193 November 15, 1280 1931 German Bishop, Theologian, O.P.
St. Anthony of Padua and Lisbon, Doctor Evangelicus 1195 June 13, 1231 1946 Portuguese Priest, O.F.M.
St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor Apostolicus 1559 July 22, 1619 1959 Italian Priest, Diplomat, O.F.M. Cap.
St. Teresa of Ávila 1515 October 4, 1582 1970 Spanish Mystic, O.C.D. (Founder)
St. Catherine of Siena 1347 April 29, 1380 1970 Italian Mystic, O.P. (Consecrated virgin)
St. Thérèse de Lisieux, Doctor Amoris 1873 September 30, 1897 1997 French O.C.D. (Nun)

The early Church fathers were ALL against abortion. What's up with you?

You're not a Catholic - why do you want to change the teaching of the Catholic Church, or ascribe the condemnation of abortion to the modern Church?
Magdalena said…
I used to be (a bit of a 'mental' one too), hence I did read a lot of this stuff, and I am well aware that before my miraculous escape from the cult, I found ways of smoothing over the sizable creases in the writings. These contradictions did not trouble me, and I do not expect them to trouble you.

The church fathers were not all against abortion, at least not pre-quickening (see my examples above, check them if need be, they hold water). The ones who were were not generally of the opinion that it was murder (though I have cited some who did think this), but that it was an escape from the wages of (sexual) sin; i.e. God has devised pregnancy to stop people having wanton sex, so by withdrawing, procuring an abortion, or indulging in unmentionable vices, you are acting contrary to the course of nature He intended. I have no doubt you also think this, which is up to you. But to say that abortion is murder, and that the Church has never deviated from this line, is a gross distortion of the truth. Or, as you seem to prefer, Truth

Salut, Do zobaczenia, Ciao
PaulineG said…

I have neither the time nor the stamina to read this thread, although I have dipped in from time to time, interested and, initially at least, appreciative that you and your protagonists had all been so generous with your time and efforts in engaging in this debate.

I am interested in this issue and will endeavour when time permits to read it all and to give your arguments consideration, out of respect for everyone's hard work.

Meanwhile, and bear in mind I have not read the thread, it strikes me that you have failed to acknowledge a key element in this, namely that it was only relatively recently that we all became aware, through scientific research, of the nature of conception. It was long thought that the male sperm contained all that was required for the child (the 'seed')and that the woman's role was solely that of incubator. That being the case, there was no clearly identifiable point at which the new life began and this became a matter of speculation, based in part on this forgivable misunderstanding.

When, and only when, the true nature of conception was understood, on the basis of clear scientific evidence, was it possible to understand that human life begins at conception. The Church responded properly to that information. She became very clear, for example, that there was no moral difference between abortion before and after 'quickening'.

The Church has always opposed any interference with the development from the point of intercourse onwards. The question you need to address, by examination of the writings and reasonings of the Church fathers, is how these would have been modified by a true understanding of the nature of conception.

It's a no-brainer.
Ronan said…
PaulineG, you make the very good point that "It was long thought that the male sperm contained all that was required for the child (the 'seed')and that the woman's role was solely that of incubator."

It seems our friend Magdalena hasn't been appraised of these scientific discoveries, she still thinks a sperm cell contains a complete genome, viz.

"If your 6 year old son who understands your definition goes to school and learns basic biology, he will return home and tell him that the definition you gave applies to a sperm as well, which has a fully human genome with its chromosomal matter arranged into a unique combination"

I'd be f'cking livid if a biology teacher did such a shoddy job of my son's education.

Of course, she could have referred to all the other non-embryonic cells which *do* have a complete genome which we don't worry about, such as toenail and hair clippings. That's the usual stupid pro-abortionist's argument (think of all the money IVF practitioners could save by implanting toenail clippings instead of fertilised eggs!)
PaulineG said…
Absolutely, Ronan: All lives begin as a single cell - but not all single cells are lives!
Magdalena said…
If your position is only true in light of post 1950s scientific research, what of this great continuity to the Catholic tradition? Are you seriously claiming that it was not until the 1950s that scientists and doctors would be in a position to argue that life begins at conception? If so, the papal bull upon which abortion was deemed to be an excommunicatable sin, issued in the mid nineteenth century, and which marks the real origins of Catholic thinking on the issue, must be regarded as one based on fancy. I assure you that Darwin worked on the hypothesis that life began at conception, since he made the same assumptions you did. This however is not supported by appealing to the genome, since genomics is a far more precise body of research, which does not support the broad strokes you paint in

I am not a geneticist, nor have I attended the same elderly nun’s speech condemning abortion at the Catholic shelter you got your information from. But since you insist on the significance of the term genome, I think we need to clarify what we mean by this. The common definitions one finds in popular science writings give a broad definition of the genome, which captures most of the features the writer wants to explain. This is done with the open acknowledgement that any definition of such a messy area as genetics will be subject to modification (i.e. a ‘genome’ is not a ‘thing’ like, say, a cell, but a collection of facts a researcher wishes to explain). However, there are expert researchers who question the salience of the entire model. For example, in the recent (2008) ‘Genomes and what to make of them’ the authors, who were based at the Genome Campus in Hinxton, Cambridge, note that there is no universally accepted label. I can’t go into the full details here but you may wish to look at this book, as it really explains that the ‘simple universally acknowledged truth’ you are basing your argument on is not quite accurate. I quote: “the different ways of defining ‘genome’ could be used to what profound effects researchers’ methods have on their understanding of the objects they investigate.” Some define a genome as the entire genetic material of an organism (as in the ‘human’ genome), while others define “a genome as all the DNA in a single set of the chromosomes of an organism.” The idea of specific individual persons is not a characteristic of these definitions and personhood has absolutely nothing what so ever to do with the scientific understanding of what defines a species. The famous Human Genome Project makes it quite clear that the HUMAN genome has nothing to do with the individuality of any particular being. So when you argue that we have a detailed scientific understanding as to when personhood begins, you are simply pointing to a body of research that has nothing to do with the points you wish to defend.
Magdalena said…
Furthermore, even if we abandon personhood (the subject of the debate) and move over to life (the thing you seem to be arguing for) the definition you give is only simple if you already accept its truth (i.e. that life begins at conception). You still have to attribute significance to the thing (conceptus) you are trying to define as a new life; i.e. by saying it could, if it successfully implants and is left to gestate, become a human life. But these extra conditions are not part of the conceptus. Why not add them to a sperm and egg unfused by adding the extra condition ‘if they fused’? Yes, you will end up with 3 extra conditions (fusion, implantation, and gestation) rather than 2 (implantation and gestation), but this hardly shows your own definition to be absolutely clear.

What is this talk of ‘new scientific discoveries’ supposed to accomplish anyway?? We all know that you don’t simply follow the definitions and suggestions of the scientific community, as your final bitter remark about embryonic research shows. It seems you will select a piece of de-contextualised information when it is convenient, and then accuse those who do not follow you of factual incompetence. In the above book, when the authors come to detail their engagement with the ‘Mycoplasma laboratorium’, a project to synthesise a bacteria from biomatter created in a lab, they note that the ultimate aim is to synthesise aspects of human ‘life’ so that they can create organs for persons. They acknowledge “many people are likely to attach a profound significance tot his project, and that many ethical perspectives, especially religious ones, identify the project of creating life as a sacrilegious one.” However, synthetic biologists, they go on to note, are not really interested in pushing this as a mere philosophical assumption “reflection on where the precise boundaries may lie between what is alive and what is not.” I think the problem you have is with reconciling your own interests (defending a reductive and simplistic notion of life) with those of the researchers who understand the banality of your assumptions.
Magdalena said…
And I repeat: if you are asked why human life is significant, you do not say 'because it has a unique genetic structure'. Only Richard Dawkins might say that (though even he appeals to social facts of the person). Your definition of ignores all aspects of the significance of the human person; in attempting to condemn sexual practices you can only dream of, and imagine others to be engaged in, you are pushed into the most farcically reductive definition of humanity I have ever heard - that some bits of sugar on a string of protein in a ball of cells are unique
Ronan said…
Crikey, Maggie, if I wanted to read a book I'd go to the library. You need to learn that 90% of the art of winding people up on the net is brevity. There's no way I'm reading all that.
Magdalena said…
I am not trying to wind you up, and you're not winding me up. I took at face value that you thought what you were saying was true. I was simply indicating that, if you do think these things are true, you are mistaken and a little reflection will show you the errors of your position. I do take this issue seriously, since I hate to label people murderers without good cause. I had a similar debate with a friend of mine who is an animal activist, claiming, with similar spurious arguments, that anyone who eats meat is a murderer. She, perhaps like you, stands in the street with a placard displaying upsetting images of animal carcasses (or perhaps a foetus in your case) screaming MURDERERS at the top of her voice. I won't go into why she is still my friend, blood runs deep though.

I am not 'wound up' by her, or by you. You are simply both wrong in your understanding of the meaning of the term 'murder'
PaulineG said…

I have read just the first two sentences. That's quite enough:

Who said anything about the 1950s???

I don't feel you are arguing cogently or courteously so will leave it there.
Magdalena said…
"Who said anything about the 1950s???"

Roan raised the issue of the genome: DNA was shown to be the basis of genetics in 1952 (with its structure determined in 1953). At most one could push the chronology back to the 1860s and the work of Mendel, though this was unknown to the scientific community within his own life time. It was not until the 1920s that scientists began to make recognisable 'genetic' assumptions about transmission, and these were not supported by the basic research invoked in any and every genetics textbook until the 1950s.

I am sorry if this is offensive to you, but you made the argument hinge upon the science of genetics, which would discredit the truth of the pre-genetic papal bull stating that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder. As such, there is no scientific support for your claims
Ronan said…
Please, please don't feed the troll any more.
Magdalena said…
Ok fine, I will not answer again. I have tried to be polite, to engage in a debate over a very important issue which I imagined you would be interested to discuss. If this makes me a 'troll' trying to inflame people then perhaps that says more about your own approach to reason and debate than mine. The Church, which once prided itself on reason, its universities, on providing an education to the masses, and in providing people with a rational and informed framework, is now, it seems, a haven for angry old men who simply won't entertain the idea that they may be wrong. Troll fed
Patricius said…
1."‘Moral personhood’, as I put it, indicates that someone, rather than something, exists in a relationship with other persons."- Tough on hermits then!
2."The wrongfulness of murder is therefore based on one of two facts: 1) A conscious human being... is prevented from realising them by another person's wilful act.
2) A human being who is engaged in relations with other human beings is destroyed by a person's wilful act."
So it's not murder if an unconscious person is killed?
A child in the womb is not "engaged" in a relationship with another human being?
Magdalena said…
Patricius: Ta for the response, I feel I should respond.

You said: 1. "Tough on hermits then!"

I said: "The wrongfulness of murder is therefore based on one of two facts: 1) A conscious human being with desires and ambitions is prevented from realising them by another person's wilful act.
2) A human being who is engaged in relations with other human beings is destroyed by a person's wilful act."

Since hermits are conscious and have the capacity to enter into relations your objection does not work

2. You said (see above)

I said: "the couple whom it [miscarriage, but you could change this for the existence of the foetus] affects are expecting a child. As such, that unborn being is a person; it has entered into relations with other persons, shaping their expectations and desires.

So yes, I do say the unborn child may enter into relations with others. Explicitly. Several times. But I said it does not necessarily do so, and the parents who do not wish to have a child do not generate those relations.

Our survey says: Eh-uh
Magdalena said…
Also, it depends what we mean by 'an unconscious person' - are we talking about a person who WAS conscious but now is not, or a person who is never, has never been, and will never be conscious?

If the latter is the case then I am not sure which position to favour - perhaps you can elucidate this thorny issue. Suppose a mad scientist wants a new body to put his brain in when his own body becomes old and feeble (don't worry about the obvious immorality of that for the moment, let's just suppose he is doing it in a hidden dungeon). OK, so he fuses sperm and egg, messes about with the developing embryo, using chemicals, cheese-wire and what not. He can work out the details of how to do this himself. Well anyway, after 3 months of gestation in his womb-machine, he has succeeded in producing a brainless body, and brings it to birth, keeps it in a jar, feeds it via tubes, trying to ripen the body for his old age. After 18 years, a Catholic police squad, who were rummaging through bins containing medical waste outside, stumble upon his lab and arrest the scientist. He gets his comeuppance, and the ancephalous body is taken to a theological council to examine. What do they do? Do they keep the body sustained forever, or do they remove the tubes? And if they sustain the body do they do so because they think it is a fully human person like everyone else protected by the laws of murder?
janeinthemindfield said…
hi magdelena,

making moral judgements involves the synthesis of elements of humanity, including, but not limited to reason.

one purpose of spiritual teaching is to awaken parts of the human being which are not accessed through reason, important though reason is. just as the capacity to reason is something that has to be taught, refined and practised over a lifetime, so also are these other qualities of humanity...

modern society does not generally focus on developing these latent capacities within the human being, so some people within society can deny their existence, but if time and energy are spent on trying to refine one's innate capacity for love, awareness, perception of truth, faith, etc, these moral issues take on dimensions beyond the rational... but no less real.

there is clearly a reality to love that is beyond the realm of rationality.

of equal value to rationality.

approaching a moral issue from the perspective of love, sensitivity and awareness elicits a very different perspective than approaching it from the standpoint of rationality. as human beings, we have to work with the totality of our being when trying to engage with a moral issue.

i do not think we should judge each other for the perspectives we take on moral issues, but i do think it is worth trying to enable each other to see from different perspectives. and for us all to try and understand each others perspectives as clearly as we can.

i think it is worth asking questions about why people experience things as they do...

a rational perspective is very important, but so are other perspectives.

i wonder if there are any women who experience abortion without some emotion... and if they do experience emotion, why do they experience it? what is that latent part of them trying to communicate?

i also think that some sensitive women are aware of unimplanted embryos and will grieve for them. that not everyone does does not mean that not everyone could if they developed that part of themselves... big issue!!

i would take this even further and say that there are profound ramifications/energies generated by any act of sexual engagement... and that we can often suppress alot of the awareness of it. sexuality, conception and abortion are (obviously) deeply related.

deep love and openness in sex can lead to profound awareness where it can be felt when a life is created.

abortion can be a violation on many levels of being, some of which we may not understand, some of which we may not even have conceptualised...

love and mystery are at the heart of life.

my personal belief is that sacredness and mystery and God are woven deeply into all expressions of love, including sexuality, including newly conceived beings...

maybe not every mother feels this and i respect her perception utterly, but i would also ask her to look deeply at her feelings and not to suppress or deny them.

i also think in today's society, there is a huge amount of pressure on people to deny their feelings, and to deny the sacredness and humanity of their unborn,newly conceived children.

there are other ways of perception. spiritual reality exists for anyone who takes the trouble to develop that faculty, with the grace of God.

it is truly incredible what can be perceived there...

but i think we all stumble around in the dark most of the time, not realising the full extent of what we are doing... i know i do. and with the collusion and pressure from society. someone needs to give newly pregnant women the sense of their sacredness back, no matter what their circumstances and give them permission to keep their babies and value them and their unborn children as beautiful manifestations of love.