Being a Person:
Why Personhood is Not Enough

General Bioethics — By on July 27, 2006 at 1:39 am

A person is not always a human being, but is a human being always a person?
Examples abound of non-human persons: Christians believe that the Godhead consists of “three Persons of one substance.” U.S. judges have ruled that corporations are “artificial persons.” The Spanish Parliament ruled that great apes are “legal persons.” And fans of Star Trek argue that androids like Data and aliens like Spock are all (fictional) persons.
Clearly, being a member of the human race is not necessary to be considered a person. But should all human beings be considered persons? Historically, the answer has been a resounding “no.” Slaves, women, infants, Jews, and foreigners are all groups that have at one time or another been denied either legal or moral standing as “persons.”
While they were typically considered to be human they were not afforded the rights that are imbued by personhood. The judgment of later generations, however, has without exception concluded that denying personhood to these members of the human family is a great moral evil. I have no doubt that future generations will judge our culture just as harshly.
Yet while recognition of personhood is necessary for a human to be granted certain positive rights, I contend that it is not required for a basic negative right — the right not to be deprived of life without due process of the law. In other words, people don’t have a right to kill you simply because they don?t want to concede that you are a person.
Rights–whether positive (those that impose an obligation on others) or negative (those that oblige others to refrain from certain activities)–should be assigned based on the ability to respond as moral beings. For example, a Belgian Sheepdog has no moral accountability and thus no moral obligations to me as a person. If he eats my hamster I can’t fault him for not respecting my right to private property. But since I am morally accountable I have an obligation not to cruelly torture and kill the dog for eating my pet rodent.
Likewise, human beings at the earliest stages of development have not developed the moral accountability to be assigned positive rights. For this reason some people, such as philosopher Daniel Dennett, believe that a class of human beings exists that are not yet persons. Let’s call this class of homo sapiens “non-person human beings.”


For the sake of argument, let us concede that certain humans are not persons, just as certain persons are not humans. This means that a human being can be a non-person but that a person (at least a human person) must also be a human being. No one argues that there are a classes of human persons that are not also human beings. Being a human being is, therefore, essential to being a human person. This leads to a peculiar insight.
We can kill non-person human beings (e.g., the embryo). We can also kill human persons that are also human beings. But we cannot kill the human person without killing the human being. In fact, you cannot kill any type of person unless it is already a living biological being. The Spanish may be able to kill Great Apes but lawyers cannot kill a corporation. What is being killed is not the person but the being.
This distinction is important because those who argue that it is acceptable to kill non-person humans base their rationale on the claim that what matters is not the being (the living biological organism) but the personhood (a set of functional criteria such as consciousness or rationality). This view has become the dominant view in bioethics.
Most reasonable people, though, would be horrified by following it to is logically consistent outcomes. Joseph Fletcher, for example, believed that humans with an IQ below 40 might not be persons and that below 20 they are definitely not persons. Bioethicist H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. says that “fetuses, infants, the profoundly mentally retarded, and the hopelessly comatose” all fall into the category of “nonpersons.” Peter Singer believes that since patients with Alzheimer?s and infants up to the age of 24 months are not persons, it is not wrong to kill them. Not surprisingly, when you allow intellectuals to define personhood, they will attempt to establish a criterion based on intellect, reason, and consciousness.
Although they intend to include themselves within the lines of demarcation, they are not wholly successful. For instance, if these philosophers were to fall into a deep sleep they would cease to meet the very criteria that they have established for personhood. Using their own arguments, we should be able to kill them before they wake up.
They may protest that they were persons before they fell asleep. But so were the “hopelessly comatose.” Yes, but the difference, they’ll contend, is that they’ll meet the criteria again once they wake up. True, but if they are killed in their sleep they won’t ever wake up, so it makes that a moot point. What does it matter that a human being was a person or will once again be a person? If it is morally acceptable to kill non-human persons then what matters is what they are right now.
(You might find my justification absurd. Indeed, I hope you do because this type of thinking is utterly idiotic. The blatant attempts at rationalizing clearly immoral behavior is why Frank Beckwith and other scholars have been able to demolish the ‘functionalism’ argument, that defends the killing of “non-person” humans.)
The reason why it is wrong to kill philosophy professors in their sleep is the same reason it is wrong to destroy embryos: moral people do not kill innocent human beings. Not all persons are human beings. And it may even be the case that not all human beings are persons. But all human beings?whether persons or non-persons–are human beings. This is a scientifically and ontologically verifiable fact.
Advocates for embryo and fetal destruction should stop playing semantic games and admit that what they believe is that it is acceptable to kill some human being because human beings do not have intrinsic worth.
They should also stop making the ridiculous claim that their opinions on personhood are based on “science” (when did metaphysics become an empirical science?) and should instead employ historical arguments to defend their position. History, after all, is filled with examples of people justifying the slaughter of other human beings. If you want to kill certain groups of human beings, you can find a sufficient rationalization. There’s no need to make it personal.



  • http://philosophicalmidwifery.blogspot.com/ Franklin Mason

    Joe,
    You say: “For instance, if these philosophers were to fall into a deep sleep they would cease to meet the very criteria that they have established for personhood. Using their own arguments, we should be able to kill them before they wake up. They may protest that they were persons before they fell asleep. But so were the

  • Brian Dijkema

    Franklin,
    I’m wondering if your emphasis on the ability to exercise certain functions doesn’t run into the same problems. For instance, if someone is a fetus, an infant, profoundly mentally retarded or hopelessly comatose, they would still lack the ability to perform most functions necessary to maintain a degree of autonomous functioning. An infant lacks the ability to feed itself, protect itself from the elements &c. and relies on its mother/father to provide these functions for it. Maybe another term would work better; perhaps ‘potential’ (at which point further arguments can be made about former potential, lost potential etc.) to function. It’s a slight distinction, but an important one. Though that might not be the direction in which you want to head. An interesting post, both by Joe C and Franklin.

  • Eric & Lisa

    Franklin wrote;
    Rather for me to matter as I do, I must simply have the ability to act in those ways constitutive of personhood.
    When you are sleeping you do not have the ability to act in those ways you deem constitutive of personhood, unless you are in disagreement with the philosophers Joe cites. You have the potential, upon waking up, but not the ability to act.
    I have this ability both when asleep and when awake – the brain structures responsible for them are quite fully functional in me when I sleep and when I awake.
    Now you are conflating two thoughts into one. When you are sleeping you do not have the ability to act. You do have the brain structure that provides potential to act assuming someone wakes you up first.
    But in the ways that are important to countering Joe’s point your assertion falls short. Either having the ability to act is what makes a person, or having the potential is what makes the person, either way, if you are asleep, you won’t meet that definition.

  • George

    I don’t have much time for philosophy, although I think it’s probably a wonderful way to pass the time if one has nothing better to do. I am particularly impressed by the dense prose that emanates from the fevered imagination swamps of the philosophical netherlands.
    I suppose I might have more sympathy for this particular argument if I ever read:
    “I might not be a person, and my friends might not be persons. Other people, the people who make useful things like shovels, air conditioners, and tires are probably persons. The people who carry my garbage away are probably persons. Incarcerated felons that we have locked away and romantically fantasize about are probably persons, too. Retarded people with beautiful smiles are likely persons. But I am probably not a person. Beyond arranging characters and words in patterns that make more or less sense to my small circle of friends, I have done nothing of note. If I had, some person, somewhere, would have noted it. The books on my shelf that I admire so greatly with my name on the spine, and the piles of reprints of my articles in the corners of my office are interesting to me – and some of my friends – but they are really nothing. They have never helped another person cross a river, call their parents on a holiday, or feed another inhabitant of this planet. My life has been largely worthless and parasitic, and my respiration and consumption does nothing but contribute to global warming. I am abjectly grateful for the kindness of persons that allow me to fritter away my days arranging symbols. I have enjoyed this pointless activity since I have been able to color within the lines with a crayon made by a person on a page made by a person. Thank you for this gift, as well as key rings, the barf bags in the pocket of airplane seats, and the nails that hold my bookshelves together.
    What I read, instead, is:
    Some people are persons, and others are not. I, of course, am an uber-person. I am qualified not only as a person, but also to define who is a person and who is not. I demand that my personhood be respected, and that my uber-personhood be obeyed. I demand that organizations of persons with weapons be employed to enforce the rules my uber-personhood gives me the right and duty to impose. Should I – yes, I – find that you are not a person, I have the power to decide whether you deserve to live or be deleted from the planet.

  • http://philosophicalmidwifery.blogspot.com/ Franklin Mason

    Brian,
    I have argued in the past that it is not ability but potential to develop an ability that makes the moral difference. Note that ability to act in those ways constitutive of personhood is present in virtue of certain brain structures; ability comes to exist at a certain stage of development but is not present all along. Potential to develop the abilities constitutive of personhood, on the other hand, is there all along. An embryo most certainly has that potential and, I would argue, that is what makes it matter from the moral point of view.
    Eric and Lisa,
    I suspect that you’ve misused the word ‘ability’. To have the ability to do a thing, I need not at the moment I have it actually exercise that ability. At the moment, I am quite able to run. (Not very fast. I’m a bit out of shape.) But I sit, and will continue to sit for a few hours. Thus though I do not run, I am able to run.
    Now, what is that in virtue of which I am able to run? What make’s it true that I am able to run? It’s that my legs work, that the nerves that hook them up to the motor centers of my brain work, and that the motor center itself works. Note that I do not say working. I only say work, and for a thing to work it need not be working.
    Here’s a second example. Does my drill work? Most certainly. Go and plug it in and you can drill holes all day. Is it drilling right now? It is not; it’s put away in my garage. My point is this. My drill is quite able to drill – it works. But at present it is not drilling holes. And what is that in virtue of which it is able to drill holes? Take it apart and examine it and you’ll find it various parts all in working order.
    Now, return to personhood. Let’s say for the moment that personhood requires only the ability to think. Note that this means that personhood does not require that thinking actually take place. It only requires an ability to think. What is that in virtue of which I am able to think? What makes it true that I am able to think? It’s that my brain is in working order; it’s wired up like it’s supposed to be. But of course, for my brain to be in working order, it need not be working at this very moment. In this way, brains are just like drills (and legs). Brains have the ability to think (and thus are persons) even when asleep, for when asleep they are in perfect working order even if they are not then thinking. Just so, drills have the ability to drill even when unplugged, for when unplugged they are in perfect working order even if they are not then drilling.
    I apologize if this seems tedious, but I think it important to get clear about the distinction.

  • Alexander Scott

    Joe –
    You might be interested to note how the “human being” argument is being circumvented. Since the ESCR bill was vetoed, I have noted at least 3 newspaper articles claiming that embryonic stem cells come from “leftover clumps of cells”. Voila, no more human being, just icky tissue. I’m sure you can google the news sites and see this phrase being picked up.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Franklin This misrepresents the views of those philosophers who take personhood as necessary to moral worth. They do not say that the actual exercise of those capacities constitutive of personhood is necessary for me to matter as I do from the moral point of view. Rather for me to matter as I do, I must simply have the ability to act in those ways constitutive of personhood.
    Let’s assume that you are right. If so, then this makes the rationalization seem even more arbitrary and flawed. Why should a brute biological fact about “ability” matter when it comes to establishing moral worth? That just reeks of a desperation for as others have already pointed out, you don’t truly have the ability when you are asleep. What you have is a physical structure. But so do fetuses, infants, and the comatose.
    I am dead serious when I say that the pro-ESCR camp can move forward if they will simply admit that they want to kill humans beings of no worth. It may be ugly but it will be effective. Just look at Peter Singer. His views are downright evil and yet he is considered one of the most influential philosophers in the world. Let’s stop pretending that you can kill a non-person without killing a human being.

  • tommythecat

    so killing is killing then, so what is collatoral damage? is killing by accident really killing?

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    Joe:
    I think the problem here is that you oversimplify the issue. Perhsonhood is indeed an important component, but it’s not always the only one. Humanity, for lack of a better term, is also an important component (albeit less so than personhood, in my estimation), but it’s also not the only one.
    Applied specifically to ESCR, and the reason I don’t think it ought to be controversial at all, is that these embryos or blastocysts or whatever you want to call them, are neither human beings nor moral persons.
    Ask somebody, unprompted, to describe a human, and they’re likely to tell you that they have two arms, two legs, two eyes, one nose, one mount, usually hair on top of the head, usually walk upright, have opposable thumbs, etc., etc. Ask them what makes them uniquely human, and people will likely describe their ability to create, or to imagine, or some sort of higher brain function, or they may mention opposable thumbs, or something like that. You’re extremely unlikely to get an answer like “a human being is any living creature with unique human DNA” (a definition which, while favored by many pro-lifers, excludes identical twins/triplets/etc. from the ranks of humans).
    Not only does your typical research embryo not have any of the aforementioned traits (except for the DNA); left alone, it will never develop any of those traits. Even if “potential to become human if left alone” is enough to count one as a “human being,” these embryos don’t count.
    All that aside, of course, one has to marvel at the disingenuousness of your entire line of argument here. Your entire line of reasoning is based on a straw man of your construction, built with the help of a couple of goofy court rulings which moral philosophers would almost universally dismiss as irrelevant if not outright reject. Court rulings aside, I don’t know of any prominent ethicist who has argued that a corporation is a “moral person.”
    Now if you take away that example, and restrict yourself to only those entities that bioethicists actually describe as “moral persons,” and reformulate your argument, maybe you’ll have something. As it is, all you’ve got is a lovely (albeit utterly unconvincing) example of combining the straw man with the slippery slope.

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    Whether dealing with ability or potential, we are in both cases changing the discussion from Essence to Functionality. Should the argument reamin with the principle of Being Human then the principle is sound.
    Discussions founded in Functionality, including the definitions of Personhood, define Human as only a biological mechanism. It is here that we remove that Essence with is the heart of Being Human. Those arguments are secular and materialistic, often utilitarian, and, as is evident in every debate I’ve seen and read, devoid of morality.
    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

  • ChrisB

    Good post and good point. We always discuss human rights for this very reason — person has always had a terribly fluid definition.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Rights

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Let’s assume that you are right. If so, then this makes the rationalization seem even more arbitrary and flawed. Why should a brute biological fact about “ability” matter when it comes to establishing moral worth? That just reeks of a desperation for as others have already pointed out, you don’t truly have the ability when you are asleep. What you have is a physical structure. But so do fetuses, infants, and the comatose.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Let’s assume that you are right. If so, then this makes the rationalization seem even more arbitrary and flawed. Why should a brute biological fact about “ability” matter when it comes to establishing moral worth? That just reeks of a desperation for as others have already pointed out, you don’t truly have the ability when you are asleep. What you have is a physical structure. But so do fetuses, infants, and the comatose.
    Joe, you do realize your beef with the ‘ability’ type of definition is that it would leave the sleeping, the comatose, and infants with no protection. Now you state with this clarrification about physical structure that these nice people will now be as protected as a moral philsopher or blogger?

  • Michael

    Joe as a fellow Christian I like to know what you think of the O.T stating it is just a fine for causing a miscarriage, keeping in mind how much harsher the penalties are in the O.T vs N.T I always felt that put a dent in the emboyo is a person agruement and never heard a proper response.

  • kwbr

    Michael:
    Re: Post #15
    It is not clear that the OT merely levies a fine for
    causing a miscarriage following a violent struggle. The
    Hebrew text actually reads something like, “if the child comes out.” Many interpreters do take that to mean an accidental miscarriage but it is not the only possible construction. It is hermeneutically permissible to read that passage as referring to the precipitating of a premature birth and the fine would therefore be assessed to assist the parents who might not yet have been financially prepared.
    Since either interpretation is plausible, and since the miscarriage/premature birth was the unintended result of a struggle and not a deliberate procedure,this passage cannot alone determine the Biblical perspective toward abortion.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    How much premature could you have caused a birth back in t hose days? How ‘finanically unprepared’ could a family have been for a birth that would only be a few weeks premature?

  • http://annavenger.blogspot.com Anna Venger

    If the miscarriage/premature birth were not the result of a direct assault on the woman or an attempt to make the baby die, then it is not murder.
    I see murder as a deliberate killing of another with malice. It doesn’t apply to accidental, self-defense or wartime killing.
    A question: if a human with a severe case of mental retardation is not a person entitled to life, is a person with a 200 IQ then a super-human entitled to lots of extra perks?
    Why can a baby in the womb at week 38 be aborted although it could survive outside the womb just because the mother decides to have a partial birth abortion but once the baby is out of the womb at 40 or so weeks, it can no longer be killed? How can we fight successfully to keep babies alive that are born even earlier in one case but abort them in another? Who is qualified to judge when life begins? If we cannot know then why don’t we err on the side of caution?

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    A question: if a human with a severe case of mental retardation is not a person entitled to life, is a person with a 200 IQ then a super-human entitled to lots of extra perks?
    Only if you didn’t consider the right to life discrete. If you do then it’s like the right to vote, if you’re over 18 you can vote once per election. If you’re really, really over 18 you still only get to vote once per election.

  • Roger

    This post proves the point. Without revealed religion from God himself, mankind is left with unanswerable questions, moral and otherwise. Even the highest intelligence cannot satisfy amyone on his opinion, even himself, he is lost. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, he is worth a listen.

  • Crystal Lake

    What I find most interesting about the counter-arguments here is that they have a tendancy of confusing living human beings with objects, as if we are all mere property – subject to the market forces of value. Those market forces as dictated by other human beings who have the ability to speak on their own behalf. Those market forces being – human preference, rather than human rights (whether the abortion supporters are willing to recognize that or not).

    Somebody wrote that if the brain structure is there, then it doesn’t matter whether they are actually exercising their ability to think and experience life. Their lives still have ‘moral worth’ (to use the term ‘moral worth’ is itself a big red flag for me in terms of treating individuals like objects instead of people) It is actually a very..I’d say..utilitarian way of viewing things.
    The value of human life is not in the experiencing of life but in having the right brain structure, they say, but the experiencing of life (what I mean by that – is the mainstream bioethical view on ‘personhood’) is still what they center everything around. It’s almost the same way as we view objects like computers or books.
    We ascribe value to computers because of what they can do for us, so therefore they always have the same value to us even when the computer is shut off.
    Well, that is truly an excellent point when applied to sleeping human beings – except for this one thing:
    we should never judge human beings or human lives on the basis of brain function because that is argument from preference rather than rights. You are centering the argument around the existence of *things* like chemicals and cells in the ‘correct’ organization rather than the biological status of the entity in question. You care more about *who* that individual is than *what* that individual is. Well, so did a lot of murderous dictators…*clears my throat*
    Sorry, their whole argument smacks of such consumerist thinking – as if human beings are mere objects that are worth protecting merely because other human beings value them or themselves on that basis.
    If we judge on the basis of whether the human brain can function *right now* the way we want it to, then that is not about the human rights of the person or individual anymore because the origin of those rights would still be centered around the act of experiencing life. If he can no longer experience life, then he no longer has any interests and he doesn’t lose anything if he is killed. Since this is true (assuming the argument that human souls don’t exist or are irrelevant), then we are no longer standing up for the best interests of the individual in question, because for all intents and purposes in that arguement – that individual is just an object – a mess of cells, chemicals, and synapses that are just shut off.
    It would be about the aggregate preferences of the community at large – whether we as a society value the life of that human being.
    No, instead of protecting all of the vulnerable among us, we instead decide which one of them is worth protecting and which one isn’t, because we decide that the killing of a person with the capacity of experiencing life is a waste. As if the very act of having experiences is in itself intrinsically worth something -> many people throughout history and even today would disagree with that assumption, btw.
    Who’s to say that years from now we won’t decide in favour of some other criterion?
    If ‘human rights’ aren’t inhered to the individual but acquired, who decides?
    Obviously, the community decides, but I don’t believe human rights should be based on majority rule. That is simply not just.
    Reality is, though, – it will be based on majority rule (or what the majority is willing to tolerate), but that’s not the way it should be. Majority rule has allowed all sorts of evils – including abortion, infanticide, genocide, amongst other ‘cides’.
    Forgive me if this lacks some coherency. I went over it again to see if I have explained it properly, but I don’t have a lot of time here.

  • http://www.sufficientscruples.com Kevin T. Keith

    I was tempted to respond to the basic argument, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I find this passage contains a lot of confusions; I have to say, Joe, that this is not one of your better efforts. All I can think to do is point out some problems as we go:
    While [slaves, women, etc.] were typically considered to be human they were not afforded the rights that are imbued by personhood. The judgment of later generations, however, has without exception concluded that denying personhood to these members of the human family is a great moral evil.
    It certainly is, but not because they are “members of the human family”. There’s a reason why it’s wrong to ignore their moral standing, but it requires explaining why they have moral standing. As you already noted, it’s not synonymous with being human.
    Yet while recognition of personhood is necessary for a human to be granted certain positive rights, I contend that it is not required for a basic negative right

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    Kevin,
    While the writing style here was certainly “thready”, Joe was clearly working to transcend the idea of “person” (as that can be and often is an arbitrary description) and enter the world of “being” and thus provide a more durable definition of Human.
    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    An excellent post Keith, although I would propose one more modification. Let’s make this really simple by using the following terms:
    human life – anything that is alive and of the human species.
    human soul – that quality (whether it be natural or supernatural or both) that makes life into a living human beign.
    In other words, instead of confusing outselves with philsophical terms let’s use an old fashioned one. When does a human body have a soul and when doesn’t it? As I talked about in previous posts, early Christians thought quickening (the moment a baby’s kicks could be felt) was the moment a soul either entered or was created inside the body of an unborn baby.
    What a strange world such an early Christian would find if they came here and read Joe’s posts about human persons versus human non-persons and so on. Yet their belief wouldn’t be foolish or simpleminded. Their belief can be summarized as thre is a difference between human life and being a human beign.
    In the previous threads, where only the determined Gordon remains to engage me, I proposed an alternative view. Suppose human personhood is the point at which a soul (whatever that is) can use a body.
    We do not when or if a soul is ever part of a body. We do know that brain function is related to whether a soul can use a body. A body lacking a functioning brain cannot do the things that would allow it to participate in human nature.
    As you point out we usually define the end of life as the point where the brain has become so damaged as to be permanently unusable. At the beginning of life it would lead to a ‘quickening’ type verdict on abortion, embryo research and so on. Early on in a pregnancy such things would be generally tolerated, not necessarily celebrated but as a pregnancy progresses their moral questionability increases.
    As I pointed out before this value is a discrete, binary property. It is either 1 or 0. That a newborn babies brain may be a tenth as complicated as an adult does not lead one to consider the adult to be ten times the human beign anymore than beign twice 18 gives you the right to vote two times in every election.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Collin,
    Did you or anyone else notice that by ditching the idea of it being wrong to kill a human person and just reduce the prohibition to killing human beigns Joe basically leaves the door open for killing ‘non-human persons’. One example of a non-human person is the Trinity yet I don’t think God needs protection from our bad philosophy. But another example Joe gave was Great Apes and even Mr. Spock from Star Trek!
    If Mr. Spock really did exist why would it be ok to ignore his obvious personhood and shrug off his murder as ‘not killing a human beign’?

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    kwbr:
    I’m pretty sure “miscarriage” is reasonably accurate in the case of Exodus 21.
    Anna:
    If the miscarriage/premature birth were not the result of a direct assault on the woman or an attempt to make the baby die, then it is not murder.
    Read the whole passage. It goes on to state that if the woman dies as a result of the fight, you should take life for life. The death of the woman is no less accidental than the death of the “baby,” yet the punishment is much more severe.
    Why can a baby in the womb at week 38 be aborted although it could survive outside the womb just because the mother decides to have a partial birth abortion but once the baby is out of the womb at 40 or so weeks, it can no longer be killed?
    I actually have no objection to prohibiting women from aborting a baby that late term, unless delivering the baby seriously risks the woman’s life, health, or future futility. However, in that rarest of rare cases (fewer than 1% of all abortions are performed after 20 weeks, never mind 38 weeks), where abortion is medically necessary (it does happen), the “partial birth” method of abortion is by far the safest way to do it.
    Roger:
    Your comment makes sense only to those who already believe what you assert. To anyone else, it’s nonsensical.
    Crystal Lake:
    I think you misinterpret and/or misrepresent the arguments there. But this sort of disagreement often stems from a fundamental disagreement about what ethics even are. If your foundation is deontological ethics, where the rules is the rules is the rules, as dictated down from On High, then we have nowhere to go. If, however, you ascribe to consequentialist ethics (where the consequences determine the morality of an action, rather than whether the action is simply against some arbitrary set of rules), then we can talk.
    All the talk of brain structure and experience, etc., isn’t to assign “value” at all, certainly not in the market sense. Instead, it’s there to answer a simple question: Who or what is harmed by this action? If there’s no “there” there, then there’s no harm.
    It’s wrong to kill a sleeping person because even though that person is asleep, s/he’s still a person, who has, has had, and will continue to have self-awareness, the ability to suffer, feel pain, etc. In the Terry Schiavo fiasco, she had possessed self-awareness and an ability to suffer, but the vast majority of those capacities were long gone and had no chance of returning. In the case of an embryo or early-term fetus, it may eventually gain those capacities, but it doesn’t have them right now, and has never had them. (This is even clearer in the case of research embryos, which even if left totally alone would never gain those capacities.)
    Thus, the ethical argument has nothing at all to do with “value,” but with self-awareness, identity, and the ability to suffer. If an entity has never had any of those things, then nobody/nothing is harmed in killing that entity. Embryos and early-term fetuses fit this description. If it had those things at one time, but no longer does, and has no chance of ever regaining them, nobody/nothing is harmed in killing the entity (and, one could argue, harm is done by keeping the entity alive). Terry Schiavo falls into this group. If, however, the entity has these traits, or if the entity is currently without them but has had them in the past and will likely have them again in the future, then there is someone harmed, and we are no longer morally allowed to kill such an entity without extreme circumastances (e.g., self defense).
    Please note that I talk about the “entity” not to try to pretend that I’m not talking about humans in most cases, but because the logic applies wider than just to humans / “moral persons.” In other words, I’m not necessarily talking only about humans.

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    I should add that KTK’s description was far less clumsy than mine. The capacity to experience moral actions is what’s important, not whether or not those capacities are actively being used. This is why it’s not okay to kill the sleeping or the comatose (unless, in the case of the latter, they’re comatose because those capacities have been lost).

  • Oliver I.

    Quote: “I was tempted to respond to the basic argument, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.”
    Didn’t care to read the title, eh Kev?
    Quote: “I find this passage contains a lot of confusions; I have to say, Joe, that this is not one of your better efforts.”
    It’s so easy to throw critism around. Frankly, I thought this was a logical, well-structured, and poignant writing.

  • http://www.evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    Boonton,
    Not really.
    What I saw was the inadequacy of the Person designation.
    http://www.evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

  • http://sunandshield.blogspot.com Martin LaBar

    Well, that post, and the comments, would be a splendid assigned reading for a bioethics class, it seems to me.
    Thanks.

  • nedbrek

    What always amazes me about the personhood/abortion argument is, the people of faith appeal to science, while the people of death appeal to miracles (the miracle of development, quickening, or birth).

  • Michael

    Thanks guys for the responses. The financial agruement holds little weight as any baby born truly premature would have died in such a society without modern medicince. Simply look at Africa or rural India. And if the baby was born a few weeks premature the family would already be financially ready therefore the law must cover an earlier period of pregancy. I’m really trying to understand the agruement of being human at conception. Does anyone beleive that here? As Joe pointed out in a diffferent article, what about IVF? Are those people and doctors all murderers, I doubt it. And what about natural miscarriage? If the egg is fertilized, but then does not implant, did a “child die”? Why would God send a soul down at conception just so it come go back to heaven in less then a week without the woman even knowing she was pregant. Is that the true picture of Christ? I make the same agruement for natural miscarriage if the woman is healthy, no drugs no alcohol. Once again what is the point? The biblical counteragruement I see for that is if the woman knows she is pregant, then God may be allowing the devil to test her a.k.a Job, to see if she will still follow God even with a loss of her baby. If anyone has or knows of a good agruement for human at conception, please let me know. Also don’t respond back with “I knew you before you were born” as this simply means to me that God has your soul in heaven waiting to be send down since He made you, but that he sends the soul into the body at a later time then conception. As I said I am a Christian so you need not appeal to science to convince me as having a soul, not a certain IQ, is what makes you human in my book.

  • Michael

    I meant to say that both are natural miscarriages, but in one the woman doesn’t know she is pregant so it makes no sense, my example was the fertilized egg not implanting. Sorry

  • nedbrek

    Michael,
    I believe you are human from the time of conception, because that is the “creation event”. Before that time, there was sex cells from your mother and father. Afterward, you are you. Then you grow.
    R.E. miscarriage and failed implantation: people die all the time. We live in a fallen world. Probably, in a perfect world, every fetilized egg would implant and be healthy. But that is not the world we live in. See the forum debate on God’s will versus God’s plan. God’s will would be for every person to grow to have a long, healthy life knowing Him. His plan allows for us to choose the world we live in.

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    nedbrek:
    What happens to the souls of all those failed implantations?

  • http://thinkingsand.blogspot.com/ thinker

    Your statement “Why Personhood is Not Enough” is a perfect reminder to Christians like me who tend to get too focused on this present life. Persons don’t live after this short life… thanks for the reminder! thinkingsand.blogspot.com

  • nedbrek

    “What happens to the souls of all those failed implantations?”
    We don’t know. Luke 18:16 “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Most people interpret this to mean all children are acceptable to God. It is a some later point when people turn from God.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    The reason why it is wrong to kill philosophy professors in their sleep is the same reason it is wrong to destroy embryos: moral people do not kill innocent human beings. Not all persons are human beings. And it may even be the case that not all human beings are persons. But all human beings

  • nedbrek

    Boonton, are you familiar with the Humanx novels by Alan Dean Foster? There is a species which is very human-like, but turns out to be murderously xenophobic. Eventually, they had to be exterminated.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Never read them but it sounds like an interesting idea. I’ve written before the discovery of non-human intelligent life would be a major, major challenge to Christianity. Not an impossible challenge but its leaders would have to decide what to make of such a thing. Would they decide that alien intelligences have souls and are therefore ‘just like us’ or would they decide that such things do not have souls or, worse, are really satanic figures? If they did have souls how would Christianity fit in with them?
    Before secularists here trained on plenty of Star Trek episodes where alien life form means a woman in a bikini painted with green skin jump to a conclusion what about an alien intelligence that is very different, very different from what we are?

  • Gordon Mullings

    All:
    This is thre third thread in a short while on this topic, so onlookers may wish to see [from my list of threads]:

    Truth on ESCs parkinsons IVF etc
    http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/003053.html
    ESCs again
    http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/003065.html

    Now, too, I do not have time to take up a long exchange in this thread, so I invite onlookers to see the balance on the merits in previous threads. [Guess why . . . ; -> )]
    I will note here:

    1] Truth is best understood as that which says of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not, as Aristotle noted a long time ago.
    2] That is, what is true is not a subject of rhetorical games, ill-informed and too often dishonestly manipulated opinion polls, or “might makes right.” [This last is the logical implication of evolutionary materialism for morality — “nature, red in tooth and claw.” We cannot live with that so it is no surprise to see that implication dodged and obfuscated, even as we are pushed ever closer to the edge of the crumbling cliff.]
    3] On the face of it, the zygote is human, is alive and is an individual, who in the very early stages as NB I think it was pointed out, can asexually reproduce so that we get so-called identical twins.
    4] That is, we are dealing with individual human life, a human BE-ing, as the language so properly instructs us. [Spanish is even better: El ser humano — the “be verb’ is that of enduring state and essential character.] Are we listening?
    5] It is plainly, in light of the foundation principle f civilisation and morality — do no harm as an expression of neighboutr loive [cf Rom 13:8 – 10], the case that those whose actions could do harm have the burden of proof beond readsonable dount that they are not doing just that, harm.
    6] Thus, in the cases we are examining, to see the ducking and dodging of this burden in the teeth of plain objective evidence, is telling. The attempt to shift the burden of proof to those who say that at minimum we should err on the side of protecting life is even more telling,as is the abusive rhetoric.
    7] Finally on ESCs and ASCs it is plain fromt he evidence recently displayed that ASCs are not subject to moral issues and are showing vast promise in medical treatment, so the suppression of that fact in the MSM media in favour of what is at best questionable is telling too.
    8] It seems thayt the Schaeffer-Koop dominoes are tumbling, tumbling in sequence as Western culture in general walks the road the German culture went down starting att he turn ogf the C20. let us heed the implications of the cascade: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia.

    Let us wake up before it is too late.
    Grace, open our eyes
    Gordon

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Or if you don’t like the idea of addressing the morality of killing Mr. Spock try this one http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/003596.html.
    In about two years the Neanderthal Genome will be sequenced. In a not to distant future it may be possible to fully clone a neanderthal just as some scientists today hope to clone the mammoth back into existence.
    Assuming such a thing is done (for the sake of the argument let’s assume a human woman is NOT needed to carry the neanderthal fetus), what are its ethical implications? Would it not be a human beign per Joe’s argument and therefore the morality of killing it or experimenting on it will not be an issue? What if it appears to have personhood? What if it is able to speak to us and learn to communicate with us, if imperfectly?
    Joe’s argument would seem to shut it out from moral consideration since being a human beign is the ultimate trigger here.

  • nedbrek

    Boonton:
    “I’ve written before the discovery of non-human intelligent life would be a major, major challenge to Christianity.”
    I’ve started a thread on this on the forum. I look forward to your thoughts.

  • Gordon Mullings

    NB:
    A bit off topic, so I apreciate the resort to the forum. On the topic, the issues are on where the burden of proof lies before we “depersonalise,” and potwntiallly harm.
    The challenge raised in the exchange with B would be rhetorical, as it would be headlined as a “major triumph” of spontaneous abiogenesis.
    We should not let such rhetoric shut our eyes to the issues faced by such a proposal. before allowing such trumpeting to go ahead again — recall the embarrassment of NASA in 1996, we need to ask some very hard questions ties tot he origins of ht ecomplex, functionally specific information at the core of biological life, and insist on cogent, coherent answers. [NB: Hugh Ross, for instance points out that there is a major possibility of contamination of Mars by esp unicellular earthly lifeforms.]
    There is within the JudaeoChristian worldview no commitment to the non-existence of life on any other entity in the physical cosmos. Indeed, there is on some readings, a testimony to highly intelligent life that is non-human and even non-physical!
    Grace
    GEM

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Needless to say Gordon neglected to address any of my arguments. Ned I’ll look at the forum!

  • Gordon Mullings

    All:
    Back from a week of ministry at a camp in a neighbouring island.
    B of course, sadly, as usual faile sot see the material point:

    The challenge raised in the exchange with B would be rhetorical [NB: i.e. rather than factual-logical, as it would be headlined as a “major triumph” of spontaneous abiogenesis.
    We should not let such rhetoric shut our eyes to the issues faced by such a proposal. before allowing such trumpeting to go ahead again — recall the embarrassment of NASA in 1996, we need to ask some very hard questions ties tot he origins of ht ecomplex, functionally specific information at the core of biological life, and insist on cogent, coherent answers . . . . There is within the JudaeoChristian worldview no commitment to the non-existence of life on any other entity in the physical cosmos. Indeed, there is on some readings, a testimony to highly intelligent life that is non-human and even non-physical

    In effect:
    1] The christian faith is specifically focussed on this planet and its challenges with sin and salvation in the face of the world the flesh and the devil [and his highlyn intelligent cohorts]
    2] Spontaneous abiogenesis leading to the emergence of biologicxal and then diverse ultimately intelligent life is fraught with serious unanswered — indeed, within science, currently unanswerable — challenges on the dynamics of chance-driven processies that it must rely on.
    3] Thus the issue is of such magnitude that should one of those saucers land att he US White House or Tianamen Square or the Kremlin, Rome, jerusalem ofd Mecca tomorrow and out pops a crew ofd vaguely reptilian and highly intelligent bug-eyed green or greyish creatures telling us stories that “confirm” what many want to hear — but nor answering the above challenges, I would immediately and for excellent reason, suspect a spiritual con game.
    GEM