Kathy Petersen’s Blog

What is a “person”?

Posted in abortion by Kathy on May 11, 2008

This is probably not new, but it’s new to me — the latest tactic that abortion advocates are using to try to keep abortion legal in this country and moral in their minds, is to redefine what a “person” is.

There is no doubt that from the moment of conception, the zygote (as it’s called then) is living, human, and genetically unique. Thus I can say without a doubt that abortion takes the life of a human being. Abortion advocates cannot deny this, because science just will not allow it. So they have to reframe the debate. The big question is “When does a fetus become a ‘person’?”

I recently commented on a blog in which the owner said that an embryo “clearly” isn’t a person while a baby is. He said he didn’t know when an fetus became a person, but it was sometime between the “embryo” stage and probably the 8th month of pregnancy. Nice. I asked him what made a fetus into a person, and he said mental development. Oh, so the mentally disabled are not persons? Hmm, scary! Isn’t that the road Hitler took? Maybe he didn’t declare certain people to be not persons (I don’t know, maybe he did), but he certainly caused the deaths of Jews, blacks, and dwarves because they didn’t fit the criteria for life, in his understanding. (As a side note, do you remember the old “Willy Wonka” movie with Gene Wilder? It was filmed in Germany in the late 60s or early 70s. They had to get “little people” from other countries because there were none in Germany, due to their extermination during WWII.)

So, what is to keep the “criteria for life” from being changed? Hitler did it incrementally in Germany. If abortion advocates say that it is “mental development” (or “sentience” as one person put it), what determines when a fetus is “mentally developed enough” to be allowed to continue to live? Who determines that a newborn is mentally developed enough? After all, a lot of mental development takes place after birth! Why not set the standard for “mental development” at, say, age 5 — when kids enter kindergarten? Before then, they’re not mentally developed enough to really qualify for life. After all, they’re such a potential for burden then! They eat, make messes, break toys, and don’t really know what life is all about. Or what about at puberty? Pre-pubescent kids are pretty dumb in a lot of ways — they still have a long way to go in the mental development department! Maybe 18 is a good age — legally an adult (except for drinking), with most of the mental development behind you (some still probably takes place, but for the most part it’s set). You can vote, work, live on your own. Yeah, 18 is a good age to qualify for the right to life. Before that, how can we really tell that “adolescents” are really “persons,” anyway — it’s just a stage of development they have to go through. I mean, they’re so dependent! They can’t work, or at least can’t support themselves fully; they have to be fed, clothed, sheltered — they’re such a drain on a family! There are so many women who could make so much more money if they just didn’t have those snot-nosed kids to care for.

End of sarcasm.

Zygotes are amazing! (Fetal development from conception to birth is just mind-boggling. Yet some people say there is no God.) They may not have the mental acuity of an adult, but then neither does an infant. They are not as large as an adult, but neither is an infant. They are not as well-developed as an adult, but neither is an infant. (In fact, infants don’t even have the same number of bones as an adult — the skull bones are not yet fused, nor do they have kneecaps.) Zygotes are completely dependent on others for food and shelter; so are infants — and to a large extent, so are all children up through teenagers.

And what to do with people with some sort of physical or mental handicap? Take Christopher Reeve, for instance. For a time he was completely kept alive by machines. Eventually he learned to breathe on his own for long periods of time, but for the time when he was dependent on something to breathe, what was the difference between that machine and the placenta? He was willing to sacrifice embryos on the hope that eventually scientists would be able to use stem cells to make him walk again. But I don’t see much difference between him being completely dependent on machines to breathe for him and to feed him and a unborn baby that is completely dependent on his or her mother to breathe for him/her and feed him/her.

What happens to people who become mentally disabled? What about people with Alzheimer’s? Or those with head injuries? What about people in comas? — do they lose their “personhood” until they regain consciousness?

Okay, so today we draw the line that all born humans are “persons” that have a right to life; and for the unborn, “personhood” is to be determined by mental development. What if tomorrow we say that mental development trumps birth as the real determining factor in personhood? It would be open season on those of lower mental abilities. What if we make an IQ test score the determining factor? Would it be 50? 70? 150?

At what point is a “human organism” a person? Be careful what you answer.


One Response

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  1. Sheridan said, on May 11, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    Hmmm, this is interesting. I agree it doesn’t have to do with mental development. In fact one of the most disturbing movies I ever watched was this couple who wanted to adopt a baby, they went to the birth and the baby was “maybe” compromised with a long second stage situation. So they chose not to adopt. I just couldn’t understand that. What if you have a baby and when the baby is 5 there is an accident and they have a mental delay because of it. You would send the child away? Just so wrong to me.

    So my definition maybe doesn’t help in the abortion issue, but for me the “fetus” becomes a baby when it is loved. For me that is as soon as I think I am pregnant, or for my first two babies I loved them from when I was trying to conceive them. (#3 was a surprise)

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