A Dialogue on Personhood and the Defense of Life
In the last twenty years, there have been many misleading statements during the debate on abortion and even personhood in general when it comes to life. The hope is that the following dialogue will push back the curtains of rhetoric and slogans to such a fundamental and important issue towards a meaningful understanding on life, human rights and personhood. I have heard many discussions and debate surrounding those issues and see nothing but sophist fallacies that lead to nothing more than political blabbering. I wish to have a much more meaningful discussion of those issues in a way that will educate all people on the fundamental issues and implications of personhood and life. Thus I have created a dialogue with three characters who will act out the different points being made on those issues. These three characters will quite plainly make their views known and interact with each other in a dialogue which brings a reasoned approach to the discussion of these issues. In order to create this dialogue, I have spent the past 7 years at least entering as many conversations on this subject as possible trying to hear every single argument and viewpoint on both sides. What I have compiled is the result of a series of conversations with many different people.
I chose the character Obstinance to be the stubbornest of the characters regardless of the argument made. This character does represent many people in their attitudes when I have this sort of conversation. No matter what is said to disprove their argument, they will keep on coming back with the same arguments and be very passionate in opposing the other viewpoint. Next I chose the name Contemplatio for the more reasoned voice that agrees with the viewpoint of Obstinance. Contemplatio does disagree with Obstinance on matters of science but still has other views which still back up a premise in which the pre-born child does not have personhood. His approach is much more well thought out, reasoned and contemplating of the two. Arguing for personhood is Virtuitus who is also well reasoned and does not give in to emotional responses but instead employs a reasoned and philosophical approach. Lastly, we have Neutralitus, who attempts to bridge the gap between Virtuitus and Obstinance through a relativistic argument of freedom over conforming to universal standards of morality and ethics.
Virtuitus: I cannot see how any person could fail to see each human life as worthy of protection. Science has quite clearly shown that a biological human being is created at conception and if this is true, it can logically follow that each human being at conception has personhood; meaning that those lives should be protected as any other human life.
Obstinance: But you are denying a woman’s right to choose. It is not for a man to tell us what to do with our bodies.
Virtuiitus: Why can I not talk about it? What difference does being a man have to do with abortion, personhood and protection of life? I am not a rapist nor have I ever been raped. Does that mean that I cannot talk about that subject?
Obstinance: You are pushing your morality onto me and forcing your religion on me!
Virtuitus: In what way have I done so? I have not made any religious argument as my proof. And even so……would it be unfair to say that other laws are based on our morality as a country? Do we not have laws against prostitution, rape, stealing or murder?
Neutralitus: But maybe your morality Virtuitus is not the same as the morality of Obstinance. In that way you are forcing a different morality on another person in a free country.
Virtuitus: Would you agree that pedophilia is bad?
Neutralitus: Yes, I would.
Virtuitus: Then you are admitting that morals are universal and not just a subjective opinion.
Neutralitus: Not exactly. The Supreme Court agrees with Obstinance’s point of view and that court decides the legality of law under the constitution. It is settled law.
Virtuitus: Then you must also have to admit that slavery and segregation is not immoral or bad?
Contemplatio: Slavery is not the same as abortion. That is a bad analogy.
Virtuitus: Is it though?
Slavery rejects the humanity of slaves, while abortion rejections the humanity of children in the womb.
Slavery denies the personhood of slaves; abortion denies the personhood of children in utero.
Slavery was based upon the lie that slavery was best for the slaves; likewise, abortion is based upon the lie that abortion is best for unwanted children.
Defenders of slavery argued that the government had no right to tell slave-owners what to do with their bodies (the bodies of slaves they owned), and defenders of elective abortion argue that government has no right to tell women carrying unborn children what to do with their bodies (and the bodies of those children).
Southerners argued that they had the right to choose whether or not to own slaves; pro-choice abortionists argue that women have the right to choose whether or not to have abortions.
The South argued that slavery was protected by the Constitution; pro-abortionists likewise argue that elective abortion is protected by the Constitution.
Defenders of slavery argued that abolition would lead to chaos in the country, and opponents of abortion restrictions argue that abortion restrictions will lead to chaos.
Opponents of slavery argued that it was unfair to impose the burden of abolition upon one class (white slave-owners), while opponents of abortion restrictions argue that it is unfair to impose the burden of abortion restriction upon one class (women who want abortions).
Opponents of abolition argued that slaves were not real “persons,” and advocates of elective abortion (like Justice Blackmun in his 1973 opinion for the Court in Roe v. Wade) argue that unborn children are not “persons” in the whole sense, either.
Opponents of abolition argued that if lawmakers would leave slavery alone, it would gradually disappear; and opponents of abortion restrictions argue now that if lawmakers will leave abortion alone, it will recede and fade away.
Slavery was based upon a hierarchical view of race; abortion is based upon a hierarchical view of human life.
Defenders of slavery engaged in the vigorous suppression of abolitionist speech. Likewise, defenders of elective abortion impose draconian limits upon pro-life free speech.
Southerners considered abolitionists to be religious fanatics. Today, supporters of elective abortion consider advocates of reasonable abortions restrictions to be religious fanatics.
Lincoln asked “Is a man not a man because he is Black?” Pro-lifers today ask: “Is a child not a child because she is living in the womb?”
Abortion is the moral litmus test of our generation’s commitment to equality – the equal worth of all human beings. It has tremendous implications for how our nation treats and will treat other classes of inconvenient, unwanted human lives
Every single one of these examples differs drastically, but there is one common denominator. In each case, dehumanization led to victimization. In each case, “human rights” became a meaningless term, as the right to life inherent to our humanity was instead deemed a privilege to be given by the strong to the weak, with the hated or the inconvenient often excluded. Those who commit abortions may not be dehumanizing pre-born children in the womb purposefully with evil intention, but the end result—victimization—is still the same nonetheless. Human beings have human rights. Human rights must begin when the human being begins. This would mean as you admit that personhood should begin at conception since you already said that biological humanness starts at conception.
The Supreme court which you said decides what is legal and moral law, also ruled once that slavery and segregation were both constitutional as a free choice of slave owners so by your own standards of applying Supreme court decisions, you would either have to admit that the Supreme Court was wrong, or you are arguing that slavery and segregation are acceptable. Law does not equal morality or correctness because there are still unjust laws and unjust rulings. Therefore, there must be a set of standards and morals that we all live by despite bad laws and bad government leaders. Without there being a uniformed set of moral guidelines when it came to actions, there would be nothing but chaos and anarchy. If every person had the choice to do anything, it would mean that nothing could be illegal.
Obstinant: But what about the health of the mother?
Virtuitus: What about the health of the mother?
Obstinant: If a mother will die if she does not abort or if she has health risks, you are sentencing a woman to death by trapping her.
Virtuitus: Is that really true? I would say that it is not. An abortion especially if it is late term would take 3 days in preparation just to dilate the cervix enough for the procedure. If a woman did have complications during a pregnancy that caused her to fall ill or have an impending health risk that could or is turning deadly, would a woman really wait 3 days to have an abortion in an abortion “clinic” or would she go to the emergency room of a hospital?
Obstinant: She would most likely go to the hospital
Virtuitus: Of course she would. Except for ectopic pregnancies, most medical problems for the mother during her pregnancy happen in the third trimester and are usually after the baby is able to be taken out of the womb by C-section and in many cases survive. And even in the case of ectopic pregnancies, you would never go to an abortion clinic to resolve that. An abortion would not change the ectopic pregnancy. For such a problem, you would have to go to a hospital where they would remove the entire fallopian tube.
Also, in those medical cases where there was an issue that threatened the health of the mother, having a D&E abortion would be equally as dangerous because it would not remove the true threat to the mother and the true cause of her symptoms. Quite the contrary, having an abortion would worsen symptoms because it would exacerbate the true cause of her symptoms (which is NOT the baby in the womb but rather another issue for which pregnancy triggers the symptoms).
Obstinant: I guess so.
Virtuitus: Now how many babies do you think are able to survive outside the womb in the known cases where a health risk happened in a pregnancy? The success rate of the hospital to save both the baby and the mother is extremely high. Most of all, complications in pregnancies are rare and many of them arise later in pregnancy. PLUS, the percentage where there is a medical complication in a pregnancy is so low in the United States that it would not even reach 1 percent. Thus by using this example as a case for not making abortion illegal is bad logic. You are using a VERY obscure exemption that does not affect the main topic because the example is so rare.
Obstinant: We are getting away from the point. You are denying a woman’s right to choose. It is her body and her choice!
Virtuitus: Are you saying that a fetus is a part of the female’s body and not a distinct body?
Obstinance: Yes. Perhaps the child in the womb is a human being, but it’s not a person.
Contemplatio: To say that would be to deny biology. A test taken of the DNA from a fetus would show that the DNA of the fetus is different from the DNA (and possibly the blood type) of the mother. The result would show that the DNA was close to the DNA of the mother and most likely a relative or offspring of the mother but not the exact same DNA. If you say that the fetus is a part of the woman’s body, it would be the first time in the history that a body part had different DNA than the rest of the body.
Obstinance: What about a transplanted organ. That would have different DNA even similar DNA if it is a relative.
Contemplatio: If that was so, then from where did the fetus come? A donated organ would match the DNA of the donor……but in this case, the only match it could have was to the mother and father. If that was true you would be able to tell me that the father had removed, it from his own body. The problem is that you cannot make such a claim because there is no scientific evidence of a fetus coming from a father.
Obstinance: Yes, through the sperm.
Contemplatio: But the sperm was pre-conception and Virtuitus in his thesis said that life began at conception. In fact, in mentioning the sperm you have actually contradicted yourself. In pointing that out, you have admitted that the fetus in its origins have partially come from outside the mother making it impossible to claim that the fetus is a female body part.
Virtuitus: And in any case, if the fetus is a male, it would be impossible to say that a male body part was in a male.
Obstinance: Then the fetus is nothing more than a parasite which lives inside the mother.
Contemplatio: The problem with such a claim is the fact that a parasite by definition comes from outside the “host” and we have already established that a fetus does not come from outside the mother. Also, it would contradict the biological life cycle for all mammals. If you were correct, then how could we define other mammals who reproduce?
Contemplatio: I agree with Virtuitus in saying that Obstinance cannot deny the biological humanness of a human starting at conception.
Virtuitus: Thus there is no way that you can say that a fetus is not a human being.
Contemplatio: Even so, the fetus in the womb cannot last outside the womb until birth. What difference does that make? Are born babies still dependent on the mother in order to be fed, clothed, changed, and in any other way cared for until the child is old enough to live on his/her own? Could I not make the same argument that an infant or a small child is still at the will and whim of the mother’s “choice” because infants and small children also cannot live and fend for themselves on their own?
Contemplatio: I am not denying the biological humanness of a fetus. I stated before that conception is the start of a biological human. Any claim to the contrary is a contradiction and denial of basic science devoid of a real argument.
Virtuitus: Then what are you saying?
Contemplatio: What I am saying is that biological humanness is not the same as personhood. Biologically human does not equal personhood. A brain dead biological person for example is not cognitively aware anymore in the same way that a fetus is not cognitively conscious. Consciousness is the criteria for personhood.
Virtuitus: Whether you know it or not, you using discriminatory and exclusionary language. Name one time in human history when the phrase ‘legal personhood’ was used to include or protect a group of people?
Contemplatio: I cannot think of any.
Virtuitus: That is correct. There is not one solitary example. So therefore I ask you… When has the concept of ‘legal personhood’ been used as a device to deprive human beings of their human rights based on some arbitrary criteria? I will save you the trouble and list the top examples; Hitler during the Holocaust, Stalin under the Soviet Union, the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the Muslim genocide against the Armenian Christians, the genocide against the Kurds in Iraq by Sunni Muslims and slavery in our very own United States.
If we do not do this, we are only granting rights based on arbitrary criteria that will lead to the victimization of some. In a society where different religious groups and different cultures believe different things about the pre-born child in the womb, we must ensure that the rights of the youngest human beings are protected based on who they are, not how certain groups of people might feel about them. Perhaps different groups disagree about ‘legal personhood,’ or when the pre-born human gets a soul, or whether consciousness translates into value. But in order to protect all human beings in a multicultural society, we have to fall back on a scientific fact we are all forced to recognize: The human being begins his or her life at fertilization. That is the only rational point at which we must recognize their human rights
Contemplatio: Then what do you suggest?
Virtuitus: Every pro-abortion or pro-euthenesia person I have talked to today has had a different opinion about when the pre-born child becomes valuable. Some say twelve weeks, some say eighteen weeks, some say twenty-four. They all have different reasons for their opinion, and different reasons for feeling about pre-born humans the way they do. But should pre-born humans be protected based on a scientifically knowable fact—that they are unique, unrepeatable human beings—or based on how different groups of people in our society feel about them?
Contemplatio: I would have to admit the first
Virtuitus: Exactly correct. If you look at human life, there are many different points where you could say life begins, but only one makes logical and scientific sense and that is conception. I get this concept from the philosophical idea of metaphysics. In metaphysics there two definitions of defining how things come into existence and explaining changes in what we see. We get the concepts of accidental change and substantial change. An accidental change is a change that does not change the nature of what it is. For example; a person’s hair turns grey and then white as that person gets older, but it does not change the fact that it is hair. It does not change the hairness of the hair. The opposite is substantial change. This means that the change has created something completely different than what it was before. The same is true with human development. Birth…. or the process of being born is an accidental change of his/her humanness.
Contemplatio: In what way?
Virtuitus: Well let me ask you this…. Can you tell me what is fundamentally different between a baby in the womb just before birth and the baby just after birth other than being inside and outside of the mother?
Contemplatio: I must confess I cannot.
Virtuitus: Therefore, you would agree that there is no real difference that would make that biological human less capable or worthy of personhood. The same applies to end of life issues. Creating legal definitions for when someone has legal personhood protection leads to some humans being excluded…. For example; those who are brain dead. By excluding the brain dead as having personhood might we also be able to exclude other humans with less mental faculties such as those who are mentally handicapped. The only logical answer is to accept that life begins at conception and ends at natural death (medically defined as when the heart ceases to beat.)
Contemplatio: It makes logical sense.
Virtuitus: Which is the more rational, humane, and moral way of dealing with this question? In which human rights doctrine—our consistent one or their arbitrary one—is every human being, regardless of age, vulnerability, race, or creed—kept safe?
Contemplatio: Then I would agree that all biological humans must have rights in order to not contradict myself.
Obstinance: None of that matters. It is still about the woman and her right to choose:
Virtuitus: What if another woman wanted to make it her choice to kill me? Should that make it acceptable and right?
Obstinance: That is different. That is not a fair analogy.
Virtuitus: In what way?
Obstinance: You are an adult human
Virtuitus: Why does that matter? I thought this was about a woman’s choice?
Obstinance: you just can’t understand.
Virtuitus: And you Obstinance cannot understand the argument beyond an emotional and quite subjective argument regardless of the science and reasoned thought as discussed by myself, Neutralitus and Contemplatio. If that argument is as far as the discussion will go, I can never convince you that the world is round or that one and one equals two.
You say that A is big and B is small. It is size then: The larger having the right to kill the smaller. Take care. By this rule you are to be victim to the first person you meet with a larger body than your own.
You do not mean size exactly? -You mean that born human persons are developmentally the superiors of the pre-born and therefore have the right to kill the pre-born? Take care again. By this rule you are to be victim to the first person you meet who is more developed in his mind and body than your own.
You do not mean development exactly? -You mean that born human persons have an intellect and a consciousness that is higher than the pre-born and therefor you have the right to kill the pre-born? Take care yet again. By this rule you are to be victim to the first person who has an intellect and a consciousness that is higher than your own.
You do not mean intellect or consciousness exactly? -You mean that the pre-born are not as viable because they are still dependent on the mother and the womb and therefore have the right to kill the pre-born? Take care even still. By this rule you are to be victim to the first person whose independence is higher than your own.
But you say, it is a question of a woman’s choice: and if she makes it her choice, she has the right to kill her pre-born child? Very well…. And if another woman can make it her choice, she has every right to kill you.