Abortion - is it a Political, Religious, or Medical debate?

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  • #26
russ_watters
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Selfless care of an infant is most certainly a natural and healthy compulsion that ensures the survival of the human race.
Certainly true. Does that mean that what is ethical should be based primarily on our survival instincts?

I think vanesch does a pretty good job in framing the question (and you guys may have read more into it than he actually said), but I'd add that people should realize that a lot of the ethical part of the debate is very straightforward: murder is illegal and immoral by definition. And virtually everyone, pro choice or pro life, agrees with that (you kinda have to - it's a definition!). Where the problem lies is determining when or by what criteria we decide when rights are to be earned/conferred. The basis for answering that question can lie in logic, science, or religion, depending on the particular person's worldview. And there is no universal agreement on when or how rights are earned/conferred, but a lot is based on semi-arbitrary age of maturity criteria: Drinking at age 21 (in the US), smoking & gambling at 18, driving at ~16, etc.
 
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  • #27
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...a lot of the ethical part of the debate is very straightforward: murder is illegal and immoral by definition. And virtually everyone, pro choice or pro life, agrees with that (you kinda have to - it's a definition!).
I seem to miss something, why is murder illegal and immoral by definition? :confused:
Furthermore, not all murder is illegal. If that were the case many soldiers and their superiors would be on trial for (attempted) murder.
 
  • #28
Pythagorean
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MeJennifer to Russ said:
I seem to miss something, why is murder illegal and immoral by definition? :confused:
Furthermore, not all murder is illegal. If that were the case many soldiers and their superiors would be on trial for (attempted) murder.

Depending on the semantics of immoral...

I always thought of it as 'rules of engagement' for human society. I (perhaps arrogantly) look at humans as a species and they have rules for negotiations. If you want to exist in society than you have to follow those rules (or at least know which ones to follow at what time). Every culture (and sub culture) has different social rules; murder is not immoral to plenty of sub-cultures.

As for cultures, I don't think there's many (if any at all) left that wholly participate in murder. I'm considering Military (including any politics involved with them) a sub-culture.

The Yanomamo are the last culture I heard of that wholly participated in 'murder'
 
  • #29
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Are you sure about that? Go talk to the protesters outside of an abortion clinic. Specifically ask them what religion they are. I'll bet you $1,000 right now that none of them say Buddhist or Hindu or Atheist.

Actually there are quite a few pro-life Hindus out there. It may be that many of them don't actively protest, because protests are often organized by church groups (then again, maybe there are Hindus out there, I wouldn't know). As for atheists, there's apparently a website dedicated to http://www.godlessprolifers.org/home.html" [Broken].
 
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  • #30
devil-fire
the "right to life" is the same as any other right. if you are able to fight for that right or if someone is willing to fight on your behalf then it becomes a question of 'does your fighting for this right prevent the violation of this right from being socially viable'

i think the question of "what constitutes murder in regards to the age of a life form after sperm meets egg" totally evades the issue when someone who values the cuteness of an baby/infant/fetus/zygote is there to prevent the doctor from doing the procedure.

ps. it amounts to a political debate that becomes a legal one that becomes a practical one
 
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  • #31
Pythagorean
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Carrot Juice Constitutes Murder
 
  • #32
vanesch
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I have to say that I really don't know where you are coming from, vanesch. It sounds to me that you place very little if any value on the life of an infant. An infant is completely dependant upon us to exist and develop. To not accept that is not natural, nor is it healthy human behavior. This is the way of our "species".

I wrote my post to provoke the essential thought that should answer the OP: if we ask to what domain of intelligent activity belongs the question of abortion, then we should first ask ourselves where the very idea that killing another human is bad, comes from. It is far from trivial, apart of course from a dogmatic statement, as with religious doctrines, or an appeal to emotion.

When you look at nature, then "murder" of other beings, of the same species or of other species, happens all the time (predator/prey, rivalry,...). So something must then be different between all the other animals and human beings. We must then set apart exactly *what*, and *why*, and then try to find out if this reason is applicable to what specimens. Once we are clear on THAT, we might tackle the question of abortion.

The point is more involved than one might think.
If it is "vulnerability", then one shouldn't kill newborn kittens.
If it is "intelligence", then a mature dolphin is far more intelligent than a newborn baby.
If it is "because it is human genetic material" then chimps are 95% human.
...

It is not easy to establish a fundamental reason to avoid murder of humans, and allow the killing of other animals, except the convention that this is profitable for humans.

BTW, it is not because I talk about this, that I'm a blood-thirsty child murderer !
 
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  • #33
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vanesch, you blood-thirsty child murderer!!

I.........I.........I.........I agree with most of what you say :wink:
 
  • #34
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I've identified here in the past as mostly being on the "pro-life" side of this fence, and I'm not religious. I don't particularly feel like going back over my reasoning again, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with a religious conception of when human life does or does not begin.

We may not be as vocal or politically powerful as religious organizations, but there do exist people that oppose abortion for purely secular ethical reasons.
I had no idea loseyourname. Over the last year, mostly due to my increasing study of philosophy, I've bounced back and forth between the two, and have recently settled on an 'opinion pending' state of mind. :tongue2: I do think that for the time being, in our current social and political structure, legalized abortion is somewhere from important to necessary for our society to function.

Mind you, officially my position is that abortion should be legal... just like everything else.

Oh, and I'm not religious for those of you who don't know me.

Edit: While we're at it, can we talk about the horribleness of circumcision as well?
 
  • #35
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Regardless of what it is, I believe it should be a medical debate.
Obviously it should be. Unfortunately our medical knowledge is no where near what we need it to be at in order to determine 'life'. We still need to make a decision though, so it falls to lesser disciplines.
 
  • #36
vanesch
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Obviously it should be. Unfortunately our medical knowledge is no where near what we need it to be at in order to determine 'life'. We still need to make a decision though, so it falls to lesser disciplines.

It is not a medical debate, because medical sciences can only give us certain answers ONCE we've fixed the criteria of what specimens are entitled to "right to live". We first have to establish the criteria (if any!) on which to base our logic, and these criteria should be of general validity (and not beg the question), and justifiable for themselves, and not for the outcome.

An instance of a non-valid argument is:
- "human beings have the right to live" (why? - where does this come from ?)
- next, you can define "human being" the way you want, to include exactly those cases which you emotionally/religiously want to be included, and use *after the fact* some medical aspects to help you in your definition of "human being".

However, the real problem is: why does exactly that definition of "human being" for which you choose a medical definition, need to have a "right to live" and not other beings ? You can more or less arbitrarily define the words "human being", but then it is up to you to show why those specimen must have a "right to live". Or you can start with a general argument about what ought to have a "right to live", and then you have to show that whatever you define as "human being" satisfies exactly that argument. But in about all cases, you run into some troubles.

In other words, what we give "right to live" is essentially a purely social convention, with no deep philosophical or medical principle behind it. We only use philosophical or medical arguments *after the fact* to try to justify our purely social convention. The only exception to that is religious doctrine, where your favorite deity did the thinking for you, and just gave you the rule.

EDIT: for instance, you use the term "life". Although there are instances where science has some difficulties deciding whether certain processes should be included in the *definition of the word* "life" (like virusses), concerning human beings, there's no discussion. Even white blood cells are "life". So this criterion is useless, because bleeding is already "murder" in that case.
The same applies to "contains the entire human genome". Apart from the reason why this should be any criterion to "protect against murder" (after all, what's so special about human genome: an order of base pairs with a certain variability to it), white blood cells also contain the entire human genome. A chimp has about 95% of genome in agreement with a human being. So how does it work out for a chimp then ?

But maybe with "life" you actually mean "conscious life". Well, as I pointed out, a mature dolphin has more "self-awareness" than a new-born baby. But also certain birds and certain monkeys, and elephants. So why don't we include them then in our list ?

Maybe we should talk about suffering. Does that mean then that murder is ok, if we don't make the victim suffer ?

You see, it is far from easy to establish a universal criterium on which to base all deduction to the "right to live".
 
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  • #37
russ_watters
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I seem to miss something, why is murder illegal and immoral by definition? :confused:
I'm not sure what you are asking. A definition is a definition because it is defined. Murder is illegal because that's what the definition of the word says.
Furthermore, not all murder is illegal. If that were the case many soldiers and their superiors would be on trial for (attempted) murder.
Perhaps you are confusing the word "murder" with the word "kill"...?

Murder: Law. the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law. [in other words, murder is illegal killing]

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/murder

You may not have realized how pedantic I was being - this is related to what Moridin was saying on page 1 about the argument being circular. People who are pro-life ofen argue that abortion is murder and therefore should be illegal, because that's the definition of the word "murder". But whether abortion is murder or not is not something you can take as a premise - it is the entire crux of the debate.
 
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  • #38
BobG
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Selfless care of an infant is most certainly a natural and healthy compulsion that ensures the survival of the human race.

Not necessarily. It may be a "natural and healthy compulsion", but it isn't a compulsion that's particularly hard to overcome.

Quite a few cultures go beyond abortion to infanticide - especially female infants. Other cultures weed out the weak and ill infants through neglect. The rules can wind up seeming entirely arbitrary and complex, since you are right that "selfless care of an infant is most certainly a natural and healthy compulsion". That just means that over riding that compulsion to improve the group's overall chances of survival is painful and the rules are as much to separate the parents from the decision as anything else.

The Inuit used to engage in infanticide until interaction with Europeans reduced their reliance on hunting (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_n22_v146/ai_15952600)

In Alto de Cruzeiro, Brazil, women tended to just neglect the weak and ill, justifying it by the infant's lethargy (they have no will to live, so the mother won't force them to).

Infanticide is fairly common in India and China, as well. (http://www.gendercide.org/case_infanticide.html).

Early Christian taboos forbade killing newborn infants, but abandoning children was still fairly common - the myth of the newborn baby left on a doorstep - a myth because they usually weren't actually left on anyone's doorstep. (http://www.infanticide.org/history.htm [Broken])

Even falling short of infanticide, children's welfare didn't figure very highly even in the US. Discipline of children was a matter entirely left to parents and no one would have ever thought to intervene into abusive punishment. At least until the late 1800's. Henry Bergh found the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in 1866. Shortly after, there was an attempt to protect a child from abusive punishment as a subclass of prevention of cruelty to animals. The resulting court case and publicity led to the creation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

In one sense, abortion is just a more efficient method of eliminating an age old problem before it becomes more painful to deal with. That's not to say abortion is right or wrong; just that natural instinct isn't a particularly strong argument when that natural instinct is pretty weak.
 
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  • #39
BillJx
It's not a medical debate, and it's not a logical debate (or you'd have to agree with Vanesch). It's a debate of social values. That includes religion and morality, which are vastly different things.

Why do so many pro-life types favor capital punishment? Why do so many pro-choice types oppose it? Reverence for life isn't the issue, on either side.

The pro-choice argument that the woman has the right to control her body is irrational. If the fetus is considered a child, then it's not about the woman.
The pro-life argument that God created a child with a soul, at the moment of conception, is irrational to anyone who doesn't share that religious belief.

People have the opinions they do for social / cultural reasons. The arguments are just back-up, and are rarely the point.

My opinion, for what it's worth, is that a fertilized egg isn't a person, but a near-full term fetus is. To me, it's a gradual process. That's not an entirely rational view, because I consider a newborn infant or a mentally limited adult to be as human as anyone else. (i.e. once you're 'in the club' there are no gradations of human-ness.) But before birth I do see it in terms of gradations.
That's probably a common humanistic atheistic take on it, but it's still a cultural stand, not a logical one.
 
  • #40
BobG
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It's not a medical debate, and it's not a logical debate (or you'd have to agree with Vanesch). It's a debate of social values. That includes religion and morality, which are vastly different things.

Why do so many pro-life types favor capital punishment? Why do so many pro-choice types oppose it? Reverence for life isn't the issue, on either side.

The pro-choice argument that the woman has the right to control her body is irrational. If the fetus is considered a child, then it's not about the woman.
The pro-life argument that God created a child with a soul, at the moment of conception, is irrational to anyone who doesn't share that religious belief.

People have the opinions they do for social / cultural reasons. The arguments are just back-up, and are rarely the point.

My opinion, for what it's worth, is that a fertilized egg isn't a person, but a near-full term fetus is. To me, it's a gradual process. That's not an entirely rational view, because I consider a newborn infant or a mentally limited adult to be as human as anyone else. (i.e. once you're 'in the club' there are no gradations of human-ness.) But before birth I do see it in terms of gradations.
That's probably a common humanistic atheistic take on it, but it's still a cultural stand, not a logical one.

I agree. Even more illogical is the number of pro-choice women that support the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. You can't logically argue that an unborn child has no rights to protection against abortion by the mother while it does have rights to protection against someone else killing it.

At least not without rewording the Unborn Victims of Violence Act to make it a property crime against the mother. Of course, the same conflict existed between abusive punishment by parents vs. some stranger beating a child.

Logic has little to do with either argument.
 
  • #41
vanesch
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It's not a medical debate, and it's not a logical debate (or you'd have to agree with Vanesch). It's a debate of social values. That includes religion and morality, which are vastly different things.

Why do so many pro-life types favor capital punishment? Why do so many pro-choice types oppose it? Reverence for life isn't the issue, on either side.

The pro-choice argument that the woman has the right to control her body is irrational. If the fetus is considered a child, then it's not about the woman.
The pro-life argument that God created a child with a soul, at the moment of conception, is irrational to anyone who doesn't share that religious belief.

People have the opinions they do for social / cultural reasons. The arguments are just back-up, and are rarely the point.

My opinion, for what it's worth, is that a fertilized egg isn't a person, but a near-full term fetus is. To me, it's a gradual process. That's not an entirely rational view, because I consider a newborn infant or a mentally limited adult to be as human as anyone else. (i.e. once you're 'in the club' there are no gradations of human-ness.) But before birth I do see it in terms of gradations.
That's probably a common humanistic atheistic take on it, but it's still a cultural stand, not a logical one.

I mostly agree with what you write, except that I can see the "transition" also without problems many months after birth. The link with heavily mentally handicapped persons is also interesting: I got into an argument with someone in my family who passed his masters in social sciences exactly on the problem of motivating people who care (professionally) for mentally heavily retarded (mental age 1 or 2 years old), where there is a serious problem of mistreatment (the caring personnel doesn't always consider their patients as "human beings", sometimes more as live stock).
I pointed out to him that an important part of his writeup was missing, namely an argument on WHY in the first place these people should be "considered as humans" and if we wouldn't be better off without them - as this is exactly what some of those professional caring people end up thinking. You can say, "it's the law, son", but that's not a MOTIVATION. Of course the personnel is obliged, legally, to treat their patients nicely, but his subject was to motivate them through dialog. I got the same reaction as here, where he considered me as a late-born commander of a nazi extermination camp, but I only wanted to provoke the reflection that deep down, there is no strictly philosophical or logical argument. It's in the end, nothing else but a social convention. That doesn't mean it is meaningless, but it is not something that can be argued about, in the same way as one can't argue about one's favorite color.
 

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