Viability

A week or so ago, Jane Galt of Asymmetrical Information discussed some of her thoughts on abortion and fetal viability (i.e., the ability of a fetus to survive outside the womb):

What happens if viability goes back to at or near the point where a woman is likely to detect the pregnancy? I know that this may not happen, since right now we can't save a baby whose lungs have not sufficiently formed, but I think it's possible that in the future we'll develop some sort of artificial womb-like thing for even earlier preemies than those we now save. This poses a real problem for women, doesn't it? Because I don't think that many of us would endorse widespread abortion for viable fetuses, which is what common first trimester abortions would then amount to.

Now, Miss Galt took this in an interesting direction, and like most of her writings, it's worth reading if you haven't already, but I want to go somewhere else with this. What I see above is an illustration of the inviability of fetal viability as a criterion for the moral or legal legitimacy of abortion.

Since fetal viability is a function of both development and medical technology, it may be acceptable under this standard to abort a fetus of a particular age today, but not to abort a significantly younger fetus ten years from now. Does it make sense for a fetus's right to life to hinge upon the availability of certain medical technologies? Should we, as Miss Galt suggests, ban abortion entirely if it becomes possible, as it surely will one day, to incubate a zygote outside of the womb? That doesn't seem like a very good policy to me. If it will ever be wrong to kill a zygote, then it's wrong now.

To make things simpler, suppose we cut technology out of the picture. Let's say a fetus has a right to life starting at the point when it would have a chance of surviving without heroic interventions such as the use of a respirator---which I gather is near the end of the second trimester. This standard is still flawed. The problem is that viability is a function of physical development, not of mental development.

Physically, humans are not so different from other large mammals. We all have bones and muscles and blood and skin. We take in food and water and air through our mouths, and we convert them to energy through similar processes. We reproduce sexually and our females give birth to live young. In time, we age and die. We all have nervous systems which govern our actions.

Despite all these similarities, most of us recognize a right to life in other humans yet have no moral objection to killing any of the lesser animals. The distinction has little or nothing to do with the physical differences between humans and animals, and everything to do with the mental differences. I don't pretend to know exactly what it is that makes the human mind worthy of special rights and privileges. Maybe it's self-awareness. Maybe it's the ability to visualize and plan for the future. Whatever it is, it is this uniquely human quality---let's call it "personhood"---that must be the key to the abortion debate. Any approach to abortion policy that ignores the question of fetal personhood is fatally flawed.

I don't know when a fetus reaches personhood. It's possible that it may happen at the same time it reaches physical viability. But there's no logical connection between the two, and there's no obvious reason to assume that this is the case. Without confirmation of a relationship between fetal viability and personhood, the former is a completely arbitrary criterion for the moral legitimacy of abortion.

On a similiar note, the various other trivia regarding the time at which the fetus exhibits various features---like the formation of limbs, the presence of a heartbeat and brainwaves, and the ability to react to physical stimuli---are equally irrelevant. There's nothing uniquely human about these qualities. Animals have limbs, beating hearts, and brainwaves, and they respond to physical stimuli as well. Anyone who is pro-life but not a strict vegetarian will have to do better than this.

For Discussion: I'm interested in hearing others' ideas on what it is that constitutes personhood, and on how we might go about testing whether a fetus or infant meets these criteria. Just remember that, to be useful, the criteria must at a minimum allow us to kill lesser animals but not peaceful and intelligent visitors from another planet.

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I don’t know when a fetus

I don’t know when a fetus reaches personhood. It’s possible that it may happen at the same time it reaches physical viability. But there’s no logical connection between the two, and there’s no obvious reason to assume that this is the case.

How about rephrasing it so:

I don’t know when a fetus reaches personhood. It’s possible that it may happen at the same time it is born. But there’s no logical connection between the two, and there’s no obvious reason to assume that this is the case.

You are probably right that viability (absent heroic measures) by itself doesn't confer personhood, as you define it. But that might well be a function of your definition: Any measure of personhood which relies on mental states or self-awareness will exclude newborns and infants up to a few months old along with fetuses. Perhaps you are looking at it the wrong way around. The reason viability (absent heroic measures) is attractive as a determinant of personhood is that there is nothing to distinguish* a viable fetus from a prematurely delivered (viable) baby and it seems intuitively correct to confer personhood to a premature baby.

* If medical technology cannot by itself confer personhood then surely neither can the intentions of a third party (the fetus' mother). The principle distinction between a post-viability fetus and a premature baby is the intentions of the mothers

There’s nothing uniquely

There’s nothing uniquely human about these qualities. Animals have limbs, beating hearts, and brainwaves, and they respond to physical stimuli as well.

Of course the human babies get human brainwaves. :dunce:

Seriously however, one point I feel compelled to mention is that if you insist on a definition of personhood in terms of mental states then you're going to have to deal with the possibilty that newborn babies don't get rights, since other than the initial formation of brain wave activity in the womb I don't think much happens of cognitive significance in the baby for at least a couple of months after birth. This may be acceptable to you however, depending perhaps on how counterintuitive it seems.

I've been thinking about

I've been thinking about self-awareness as the criterion, but that does bring the counterintuitive conclusion that a baby is not a person until it is around 18 months old. That doesn't mean the standard is wrong in a rational sense, but it's hard to stomach it. I don't know the solution.

As for the application of the standard to extraterrestrials, I think we should also consider its application to intelligent machines. At some point I expect them to be sufficiently capable of thought that questions will be raised about the ethics of turning them off.

Frank, If medical technology

Frank,

If medical technology cannot by itself confer personhood then surely neither can the intentions of a third party (the fetus’ mother). The principle distinction between a post-viability fetus and a premature baby is the intentions of the mothers

If personhood is to be our standard and if something like self-awareness is what is required for personhood, then it would follow that, for newborns, the intentions of a third party would in fact be relevant. A fetus, a premature baby, and even an 11 month old would all have exactly the same moral status which would have to be something like the status that we confer on especially beloved pets. If they are not persons, then they would just be mammals like any other mammal.

To the extent that you think it's okay to kill mammals for trivial reasons (like eating them :razz:), then it'd be okay to kill baby human mammals if their 'owners' (I'm sure someone can think of a better term here) choose to do so. If the parents decide not to kill them, then no one else can either, not because doing so would somehow be intrinsically wrong, but because they don't belong to anyone else.

It's a pretty distasteful view, which is why Kantians, for instance, tend to stick with discussing viability or with the rights/agency of the mother. It's icky to talk about babies as animals. That, however, would seem to be the most natural implication of something like self-awareness as a standard for personhood. Note, too, that I intend this not as a criticism of Brandon's suggestion. I suspect that he's right. It's still icky, though, and thus unlikely to win many adherents. Though that should be a familiar position for anarcho-capitalists...

You could just assume that

You could just assume that the fetus has been a person all along, but never had the right to use the woman's body to survive.

Without delving into the

Without delving into the sticky argument, I'd recommend Richard Posner's Sex and Reason as an interesting investigation of the issue of abortion (along with many other sex-related issues).

What's interesting is how prevalent infanticide (as opposed to abortion) was among older societies. Roughly, children have seemed to become more prized, more sacred, as they became more likely to survive to adulthood. It's not hard to see why: when you had to have ten children or so to ensure that a few would survive, it didn't make much sense to get exceptionally attached to each one (downward sloping demand curve and all that jazz).

I mention this only to stress that the infanticide taboo is not fixed as firmly as some believe---in time, it may have to be jettisoned altogether. This is a remarkable statement coming from someone who is admittedly pro-life.

I'd also like to suggest that perhaps viability makes more sense as a legal standard than a moral standard.

[aside] I can't believe I'm

[aside] I can't believe I'm about to take part in an abortion discussion...

Since fetal viability is a function of both development and medical technology, it may be acceptable under this standard to abort a fetus of a particular age today, but not to abort a significantly younger fetus ten years from now. Does it make sense for a fetus’s right to life to hinge upon the availability of certain medical technologies?

Yes, it makes sense - if you assume that a) the fetus has a right to life, b) the mother has a right not to be forced to carry a pregnancy, c) these two rights are in conflict, and d) when possible to preserve both rights without conflict it is preferable to do so rather than violate either. Strictly speaking, in this construction, the fetus' right to life does not hinge on the technology - but the correct resolution of two potentially conflicting rights does.

Viewed this way, as WhiskeyJuvenile points out, the question is no longer at what point does the fetus acquire rights, but rather, at what point can both sets of rights be satisfied without conflict? Advancing technology moves that point forward.

Alternately, you could suppose that a day-old zygote has no right to life but a nine-month-old fetus does, and that during development at some point the fetus acquired that right. Now you're back to your questions about brainwaves and self-awareness and whatnot. But note: the correct outcome still depends not just on the point of personhood, but also on the point of viability. Prior to the point of personhood (if such exists) then there should be no bar to abortion, regardless of viability. Past the point of viability *and* personhood, then barring abortion in favor of ex-utero development seems like an acceptable way to preserve the rights of both parties (although now you have to consider costs... a whole new kettle of worms). The difficult part is where personhood has been reached but viability has not.

This is why I don't believe there is an inherently libertarian position on abortion: the question can be framed as one of conflicting individual rights, allowing a libertarian to be either pro-choice or pro-life and still justify their position with an individual rights argument.

Joe, If personhood is to be

Joe,

If personhood is to be our standard and if something like self-awareness is what is required for personhood, then it would follow that, for newborns, the intentions of a third party would in fact be relevant

That's a big "if" you got in there. The point I'm trying to make is that self-awareness is a pretty poor condition for personhood. At least you are consistent in following the conclusion (that many others shirk) that this would justify infanticide. Arguments based on intentions are really just post-hoc rationalisations, given an a priori commitment to abortion rights: whether the intentions of the mother are "relevant" or not, they can't by themselves confer personhood: Two infants lying side by side, let's say identical twins. Their mother decides she doesn't want twins, only wants one. So, she chooses one at random to dump in the river in a bag of stones. Now, you can argue that she has a right to do that by denying personhood to both twins or you can say that she is wrong and they are both persons, but I don't see how it is possible to confer personhood on one of them and not the other. What if she changes her mind before the infanticide? Does the personhood switch between the twins via the ether? What if she accidentally picks the "wrong" one, is she guilty of murder?

One way out of this would be to create a category of quasi-person, perhaps a "schmerson" - someone who is not (yet or any longer) self-aware and not (yet or any longer) capable of individual agency but deserves a similar sort of protection to that enjoyed by a person. But this isn't going to create a distinction between a post-viable fetus and a premature infant if that's what you're looking for.

I've added this to my blog

I've added this to my blog roundup for today, and will add this food for thought;

Magda Denes, a strong pro-abortion advocate, pointed out that viability makes little sense as a cut-off point. She points out that saying it's okay to abort a fetus prior to viability because it couldn't survive outside the womb makes as much sense as saying it's okay to drown a non-swimmer in the bathtub because he'd not be able to survive if dropped into the ocean. Just something to chew on.

Linking the "right" to abort

Linking the "right" to abort a fetus to the non-viability of the fetus strikes me as circular. Absent a natural miscarriage, a fetus is viable from the moment of conception, except when the mother decides to abort it. And why is the mother carrrying the fetus in the first place? Because (rape excepted) she willingly engaged in an act of sexual intercourse of which a known, possible consequence (even with the use of birth control) is pregnancy. In sum, non-viability is a phony argument for abortion, and abortion (except in the case of rape) is a way out of accepting personal responsibility for one's actions (hardly a position a libertarian should endorse).

Scott has got it right. The

Scott has got it right. The value of children is a function of context like anything else (but that's okay; in our modern context they're extremely valuable). I also don't understand Brandon's aversion to viability as a legal criterion. It's a moving target, but so what? Have ye never read Law's Order?

I will also suggest that we'd do better to sidestep the issue of "personhood" altogether because I'm frankly convinced that our classification of something as a person is fuzzy and instrumental, so trying to pluck out some special essence of personhood is a doomed venture. As others have already pointed out, the criterion of "self-awareness" gets you the absurd result that a newborn is probably not a person, and that we spend 1/3 of our lives as non-persons (i.e. unconscious). Likewise for just about any single quality of personhood you care to name. Try it, I think you'll see that I'm right.

If personhood is to be our

If personhood is to be our standard and if something like self-awareness is what is required for personhood, then it would follow that, for newborns, the intentions of a third party would in fact be relevant. A fetus, a premature baby, and even an 11 month old would all have exactly the same moral status which would have to be something like the status that we confer on especially beloved pets. If they are not persons, then they would just be mammals like any other mammal.

If personhood...

How can we apply something as a standard if we don't know what it is? We have speed limits on roads because it is possible to tell the difference between 25 mph and 50 mph. Until we can define "personhood" better then "self awareness", personhood can not be used (unless the prospect of infancide is better then abortion... which I suspect most people would disagree with).

The better way, (and this will make most inner pro-choice'ers happy) is to leave it up to the mother. It's her baby, it's her choice. If she was raised to the right, she'll keep it or put it up for adoption. If she was raised to the left, she'll have an abortion or put it up for adoption.

Choices, choices. Values, values.

I also don’t understand

I also don’t understand Brandon’s aversion to viability as a legal criterion. It’s a moving target, but so what?

My main objection is not that it's a moving target, but that it's completely irrelevant. So far as I can see, there's nothing about viability or the lack thereof that has any logical connection to the legality of abortion.

But its moving target nature does make it even sillier in light of the fact that (to the best of my knowledge) no one's actually proposing that we should allow a woman to have a fetus surgically removed from her body at the point of viability and further nurtured outside. This would be tremendously expensive and would probably have detrimental long-term effects on the child's health. So the effect of a viability-based policy would simply be to shrink the window of legality for abortion whenever someone invents new technology that won't be used anyway.

Have ye never read Law’s Order?

Uh...correct. One of these days.

I will also suggest that we’d do better to sidestep the issue of “personhood” altogether because I’m frankly convinced that our classification of something as a person is fuzzy and instrumental, so trying to pluck out some special essence of personhood is a doomed venture.

I'm not sure what you mean by "instrumental," but I don't see that the fuzziness is an insurmountable problem. We don't have to find one single point where everyone becomes a person. For legal purposes, we just have to draw a line in front of which we can be sure that no one is a person.

As others have already pointed out, the criterion of “self-awareness” gets you the absurd result that a newborn is probably not a person...

What's absurd about that? We might not like where it takes us, but you know as well as I that intuition sucks as a tool of cognition. Is there really any good reason to think that an infant might be a person?

...and that we spend 1/3 of our lives as non-persons (i.e. unconscious).

There's a difference between a sleeping person and something that's never been a person.

What’s absurd about that?

What’s absurd about that? We might not like where it takes us, but you know as well as I that intuition sucks as a tool of cognition. Is there really any good reason to think that an infant might be a person?

But it's only "taking you there" because you are starting from the arbitrary notions that a) only those who are "self aware" are worthy of the designation "person" and b) only the life of a "person" ought to be protected. I certainly don't argue that intuition overrides reason but this is a good example of how to use intuition as a check: If the logical consequence of your starting assumptions is to conclude that it is ok for a woman to drown her six month old infant in the river, you might want to have another look at those starting assumptions.

If you're interested in the

If you're interested in the philosophical basis for the morality of abortion, which is what this entry is all about, then there are a couple of things you really should read.

First, Donald Marquis wrote a piece called "An argument that abortion is wrong" (he wasn't afraid to take a position). He argues that a person has a right to life because she has a "future like ours", or a future that has value. This is pretty persuasive, since it allows for mercy killings in situations that seem reasonable, but not killing when it seems intuitively wrong. He then applies it to a fetus, which, even though it isn't yet a person (on his account), it still has a future like ours and thus a right to life.

Judith Jarvis Thompson wrote a piece (probably the most influential piece on abortion in philosophy) called "A defense of abortion", in which she argued that even if you assume that a fetus has a right to life, that it is not necessarily the case that abortion is wrong. The mother's right to have control over her body may trump that. On the face of it, that argument sounds implausible, but you should read the essay -- her analogies are very compelling, and also witty and amusing.

Most serious philosophers who work on abortion are pretty unimpressed with the viability metric, since, as you note, viability changes with technology, and the ethicality of abortion probably should not.

[...] viability changes with

[...] viability changes with technology, and the ethicality of abortion probably should not.

Why should it not?

Consider a world where limbs can be regenerated overnight. Suppose now I cut off your arms and legs. Rather than leaving you a helpless cripple for the rest of your life, I've merely inconvenienced you for a day. Wouldn't this change the ethicality of dismemberment?

Consider a world where limbs

Consider a world where limbs can be regenerated overnight. Suppose now I cut off your arms and legs. Rather than leaving you a helpless cripple for the rest of your life, I’ve merely inconvenienced you for a day. Wouldn’t this change the ethicality of dismemberment?

You're exactly right, and I misspoke. For instance, in a world were all pregnancies were external in some device, and where there were plenty of homes for unwanted children, it would be very hard to argue that abortion could possibly be moral excepting outlandish circumstances. As the facts change, so should the morality.

Note that both Marquis' and Thompson's accounts do handle that. Marquis' argument is only stronger if every fetus survives to term because of tech innovation, and Thompson would argue that if the mother is not inconvenienced, then any right to life the fetus has would win.

These attempts to find a

These attempts to find a bulletproof logical procedure to decide if and when abortion is proper are destined to fail. The logic may be great but the assumptions behind the arguments are anything but self-evident. That is because ultimately the decision is based upon complex value judgments that depend on feelings, and social influences. Viability, personhood and self awareness, have been discussed and successfully refuted here.
Is it wrong to abort a fetus because it “has a future like us?” So could an ovum and a sperm. I know that it would require some willful human interaction, but so what. Life finds a way, so to hell with reason. What a great pickup line. Honey, if we make love there is a possibility that we could be giving a new child a future like us. But that will be impossible if you say no. But if you decide to have an abortion is OK because it is wrong to inconvenience a woman. No wonder people are confused.
In fact, the real reasoning behind abortions is the convenience factor, hardly a deep philosophical problem. Mom just doesn’t feel like she can handle raising the little devil.
Later on feelings also come into play. It doesn’t bother society too much if the fetus gets vacuumed out of the womb when it just looks like a little dismembered stick figure baby mixed with grey mush. When it starts looking like a cute fat newborn, feelings of identity begin to overwhelm cold logic about viability, awareness etc. When it comes to infanticide we feel this is entirely repugnant and call it murder. Six months earlier it would have been a procedure. Where has the logic gone? Philosophers try to bring it back in with abstruse reasoning, but it doesn’t resolve the issue.
By the way, I am pro-choice, but my eyes are open about what is being done. Fetal homicide is OK by me, if mom wants it. Since I am not volunteering to raise the little bastards myself, I feel that it is simply none of my business.

It seems to me that the

It seems to me that the medical argument is vulnerable to a reductio ad absurdum.

We already have IVF technology. Suppose we add the uterine replicator (artificial womb). Suppose there exists a supply of frozen eggs. Isn't it now true that every sperm is "viable", in the sense that if you give it to a doctor, they can produce a viable full-term baby without any further work by mom?

In this world, is masturbation considered to be murdering hundreds of thousands? Is every female period that goes by an act of murder - after all, scientists could take that unimplanted egg and grow a baby.

The world is full of potential life. So what? Unless someone is willing to pay the medical or physical costs, I don't think the potential life has the right to demand them. If you believe that it does, then you have to ask why we do anything other than have as many babies as possible - after all, we are shutting out those potential lives.

I think the best argument against abortion is not viability, but the idea that by creating a fetus you are essentially contracting to look out for its welfare. And there the question is when the contract becomes valid - viability is irrelevant.

Like Julian Sanchez, I'll

Like Julian Sanchez, I'll bite the bullet put forth by several commenters and admit that I don't regard infanticide as intrinsically immoral; I know neither what exactly personhood is nor when exactly it begins, but it seems very clear that it doesn't happen until well after birth. There are of course evolutionary reasons why we regard it as very icky indeed, but as has been pointed out above, many cultures have overcome these before.

There remains, however, a sound moral and practical argument for drawing the line at birth. Namely, since personhood in and of itself is a somewhat fuzzy and debatable concept, a good line-drawing rule should

a) err on the side of caution, i.e. of protecting the lives of "maybe-persons" when there is serious doubt about their personhood,

b) be unambiguous, i.e. it should be easy to decide whether the line has been crossed in the case of any individual being.

The birth line satisfies both these criteria nicely. It may be that technology will one day enable the drawing of a more accurate line that satisfies these just as well; but it is improbable that it will happen soon.

In this world, is

In this world, is masturbation considered to be murdering hundreds of thousands? Is every female period that goes by an act of murder - after all, scientists could take that unimplanted egg and grow a baby

I think you're missing a subtle point that cropped up toward the start of the thread; the sperm and the zygote are considered to be different because the zygote has the full DNA "blueprint" and has self-generated activity based on that blueprint. So I guess the strengthened medical argument would say something like "All living things that will eventually develop into a human have rights", where sperm are not in the set of living things but zygotes are. I still think it fails however, because rights don't get bestowed on just anything that happens to be alive (unless maybe you're a Peter Singer wannabe).

I think the best argument against abortion is not viability, but the idea that by creating a fetus you are essentially contracting to look out for its welfare. And there the question is when the contract becomes valid - viability is irrelevant.

If this is the best argument against abortion then the pro-lifers should start packing now. The argument stretches the notion of contract far beyond it's intended purpose of designating a trade or agreement between two people. Most obviously, for example, at the supposed "entering" of the contract (intercourse) one of the parties doesn't even exist! If having sex somehow obligates you to support the child then you'll have to call it something other than "contract".

By the way, in the interest

By the way, in the interest of tasteless humor, I thought I would point out a possible end result of some of the ideas discussed on this thread so far:

http://eatbabies.com/

I know neither what exactly

I know neither what exactly personhood is nor when exactly it begins, but it seems very clear that it doesn’t happen until well after birth.

I'm open to argument, but that's by no means clear to me, much less "very clear."

There remains, however, a

There remains, however, a sound moral and practical argument for drawing the line at birth. Namely, since personhood in and of itself is a somewhat fuzzy and debatable concept, a good line-drawing rule should

a) err on the side of caution, i.e. of protecting the lives of “maybe-persons” when there is serious doubt about their personhood,

b) be unambiguous, i.e. it should be easy to decide whether the line has been crossed in the case of any individual being.

The birth line satisfies both these criteria nicely. It may be that technology will one day enable the drawing of a more accurate line that satisfies these just as well; but it is improbable that it will happen soon.

I love the way people just assume away the contentious points. The reason we're having this discussion at all is that the birth line is not anything like a satisfactory criteria and is, if anything, an even more fuzzy and ambiguous line than the "viability line".

Birth means nothing. Birth can happen "naturally" any time over a four week period centred around the due date and frequently does not happen "naturally" at all but is either induced or by way of a c-section. This bright line you cling to might mean nothing more than the most convenient time for the ob/gyn so that he can fulfil an appointment to play golf. There is no difference between an 8 and a half month fetus about to be delivered by c-section and an 8 and a half month fetus about to be aborted other than the intentions of the mother. I think it should be clear that the intentions of a third party, however "relevant", cannot confer or withdraw personhood (or "schmersonhood").

By contrast, viability does actually mean something. Prior to viability, a woman has a miscarriage, after viability, a premature baby. Prior to viability it is reasonable to see the fetus as a type of parasite which is only alive at all by consent of its host. Post-viability, withdrawal of that consent doesn't automatically entail termination. The viability line offers a way of reconciling a negative right for the fetus not to be destroyed (as opposed to a positive right to life) with a negative right for the woman not to gestate a fetus against her will (as opposed to a positive right to an abortion).

Your point about viability

Your point about viability is interesting, but it leads to paradoxical conclusions. You say that fetal homicide is OK up until the fetus can exist on its own, but that is just the moment that it no longer needs maternal help to live. Set aside the problem that this is blurry line that is difficult to determine and changes with technology. This seems that the opposite ought to be true. It would be more logical to say the mom should carry the fetus until it can exist independently, then in effect, say OK I’ve done my job now give me a C-section and put the kid up for adoption.
Or maybe I don’t understand. Just what is it about being a “nonviable” fetus that makes feticide all right? My guess is that this fetus is thought of as less human because it is made of a fewer cells or looks like a tadpole, etc. But that is an illusion. It is still a unique human being whether you feel that it looks like it or not. Does a tomato plant not become itself until it has tomatoes on it? By thinking of it as less than fully human and thus disposable it is easier to avert ones eyes from what you are advocating. That is OK because everyone engages in euphemistic behavior all the time. They just don’t know it. And that is all this is about. Finding an intellectually and morally respectable euphemism for homicide. Why not just call it justifiable homicide.

Scott: care to elaborate? If

Scott: care to elaborate? If you base your idea of personhood on mental function of some sort, why might you think that a newborn baby has enough of it to qualify? If your notion of personhood is not mental-functioning-based, why not?

Frank: note I didn't say anything about "naturally". The point about unambiguousness is just this: it is, at essentially any point, perfectly clear whether any given being is born or not. Whether the birth is "natural," or why it's induced at a particular time, has nothing to do with it. Born or not is a zero-one question. Viability on the other hand is an essentially probabilistic judgment.

Dave, This seems that the

Dave,

This seems that the opposite ought to be true. It would be more logical to say the mom should carry the fetus until it can exist independently, then in effect, say OK I’ve done my job now give me a C-section and put the kid up for adoption.

This is an interesting position. Perhaps we could generalize the moral principle you suggest. Dave's Principle (DP) would be something like:

DP: If person A requires assistance in order to reach the point where A can exist independently and person B is in a position to provide that assistance, then B is morally obligated to supply whatever it is that A needs to reach the point where A can exist independently.

That, at any rate, seems to be the principle that is driving your claim. Now suppose that person A is a young child who is starving in some famine-stricken nation and you are told that approximately $300 will feed and vaccinate that child throughout infancy and toddlerhood. Without that money, the child will die. Doesn't your principle then require that you provide the $300 for the child in question? And wouldn't your principle require the same thing for the child who lives next door to that one? And so on until you run out of disposable income.

This isn't to say that there is anything inherently wrong with DP. It is, however, a rather surprising position to see endorsed at Catallarchy. But maybe you're really a fellow-liberal lurking among the libertarians.

The more sinister interpretation would be that DP is meant to apply only to pregnancy in which case the beauty of Dave's Principle is that it never will actually apply to Dave. But I'm sure that you wouldn't be advancing a moral obligation that all women would have to bear (so to speak) without being willing to take on the same burden yourself.

Joe, Now now, I'm a liberal

Joe,

Now now, I'm a liberal and libertarian, and aside from the assaults on the word from semi-authoritarian socialists in the mid 20th century of America, the two words ought to be roughly coincident...

The point about

The point about unambiguousness is just this: it is, at essentially any point, perfectly clear whether any given being is born or not.

I would have thought it was clear that if a birth was induced (as opposed to occurring naturally), it is in the power of a third party to create the line you imagined to be unambiguous, turning it right back into an arbitrary and ambiguous line.

Joe! Me a leftist liberal?

Joe! Me a leftist liberal? Liberals are the ones who believe in disposable people.
I have read the interesting ideas that everyone has suggested to address abortion. I have heard no one say that abortions are desirable. The motive seems to find a way to deal with a necessary evil but all the arguments fail to address the fact that no matter what stage you do the abortion you yourself were at that stage once. Thus, unless you were at some stage not a human, abortion always kills a human. Would it have been moral to abort you when you were an eight cell blastocyst- an embryo - etc.
The specific question I asked, not yet answered, is what it is about a pre-viable human ( call him Joe or Dave) that makes him fair game? I do not dispute that abortion should be permitted. I do not support government coercion to force birth. I only question whether you can remain morally scrupulous in doing so. I say no.
As for the kids in Africa, I believe that giving away all my money to vaccinate all the children in the world would backfire due to secondary unintended consequences. Also, I put myself and my family first.(also morally indefensible according to some) I support studies to find evidence based methods of helping people. Liberals think good intentions count, but I don’t.

Dave, Brandon's entire point

Dave,

Brandon's entire point is to make the claim that 'human' and 'person' are not perfectly coextensive. Some human things might fail to be persons and some non-human things might fully count as persons. So to say that I used to be a blastocyst is to miss the point entirely. A blastocyst is clearly human, or at least it is composed of human DNA. But why think that something has rights just because it is a human? What is it about humans that makes us so special?

I am not (and I don't think that Brandon is either) saying that at some point I was not a human. What we are saying is that at some point, the human thing that I used to be was not a person. I don't really see it as problematic to think that some human things can fail to be persons. If I cut out your brain leaving only your brainstem and then put you on life support, it's not at all clear that you're any longer a person, though you would still be a human.

I'd be interested to hear what possible backfire there could be from _you_ giving away all of your money to vaccinate kids in Africa. You'd have to show that just your own action would fail to work. I suspect that that's going to be pretty hard to do. It would be tantamount to admitting that private charity doesn't work. Maybe that's your position. Maybe it's also true. If it is, then it makes libertarianism even less attractive.

So I take it from your dismissal of intentions that you think that _only_ consequences matter? Would you, for instance, think that I could sue you for breaking my ribs when you performed life-saving CPR on me? Could I sue you when I fall through your porch while trying to rob your house? That you had a good intention in the first case would be irrelevant. Similarly, that I had bad intentions in the second would be equally irrelevant.

I don’t know when a

I don’t know when a blastocyst becomes a person, but you wouldn’t have to worry about that if you weren’t planning to kill it. It is like the difference between passive and active euthanasia. When you act you cross a line, a line that at some point you should not cross. Where is that line? Who knows. If human isn’t important, what is all this talk of human rights? Maybe animals have rights too. How many vegans are pro choices?

The backfire from me and everyone else like me giving all their money to vaccinate African children, besides, you having to pay higher taxes to take care of me would be that the people who run the jewelry store and the mink coat store and the yacht dealerships would go out of business. Then you would have to pay even more taxes to take care of them. Maybe you think that that would be fine, since maybe you think African children are more valuable than us. Of course since they are so deserving, all the money confiscated from me and those like me would be wisely and honestly spent. Since the children were being fed and clothed they would become grateful, productive world citizens. Their fellow countrymen wouldn’t issue them AK-47s and they wouldn’t go around killing people.
But since both you and I would now be poor then you wouldn’t be able to afford all those philosophy books and I couldn’t afford to be on the internet.
Good intentions are the mother of good acts but just going though the motions when it isn’t working isn’t smart or good.