Re: Fetal tissue

Max More (
Tue, 03 Mar 1998 00:30:17 -0800

Reilly: I should know better than to get involved in an abortion
discussion. However, I find you and I are usually in agreement
philosophically, so I'm curious to discover why we diverge so clearly here.

At 09:01 PM 3/2/98 -0500, Reilly wrote:
>Arjen Kamphius wrote 3/2/98 responding to my point that "fetal tissue" is a
>dehumanizing definition... propaganda developed against the enemy:
><What enemy? I'm sorry, but this sounds like you're picketing in front of a
>clinic or something (or maybe it's just my reli-fanatic-alarm going off?).>
>Enemy? Why, the mother's unborn child and how it's viewed,

I don't know any defender of the legality of abortion who views fetuses as
"the enemy". I think this is a straw man. Yes, an unwanted pregnancy can
interfere with life plans, but that doesn't one views the embryo as an
enemy. One might have the abortion with regret that it happened.

Personally, I do regard abortions as nasty things, to be avoided as much as
possible. Abortions should not be the choice of birth control. But other
forms of birth control can fail, despite responsible use. And, even more
certainly, women who have been raped should not have to see through a
pregnancy. I assume you disagree, even in such a case. Is that correct?

>to this, in fact, I think I heard the pilot light on the camp ovens turn

Let's keep this on a less emotive level. Otherwise the other side will
start painting you with the anti-woman brush.

><Since the fetus at this stage is nearly indistinguisable from most other
>mammals and many other vertebrates that would mean that a pig fetus has the
>same value & rights as a human, after birth the fetus somehow loses that
>value/those right and it's ok to use it as a source of protein.>
>This may be true for very primitive humanity, but for many moons now,
>enlightened humanity can tell quite easily which is pig and which is human.

Of course. A fetus is fully human in a genetic sense from fertilization.
But why is this relevant? What does genetic humanity have to do with moral
standing or the granting of rights? Beings of at least human personality
who are not genetically human (possible ETs, genetically altered
descendants of humanity, and -- you may not grant this -- future AIs) could
have as strong a moral standing as you or I. Conversely, someone who is
utterly brain dead, in the sense that their brain has been physically
destroyed beyond all possibility of preservation and repair, may still be
human but is not morally much more than a piece of meat. (A bit more simply
because the physically resemblence to the former person may provide
emotional reasons for according a different status to the body).

>Interestingly, the same groups that want animal rights typically support
>mothers murdering their unborn children.

Interesting, yes, but that's not necessarily inconsistent. That depends on
the grounds for bestowing rights, and the legitimacy of overriding those
rights. Personally I don't accord rights to animals (at least not in the
same sense or to the same degree). The reasons for this are the same as
those for not according rights to (early) fetuses.

> Likewise, the same groups that
>lobbied to have alcohol and tobacco warnings for pregnancy typically
>support the right to murder what the warnings are meant to protect.

I don't see the slightest inconsistency here. If the embryo has no right to
life, or that right is overriden by the self-ownership rights of the
mother, abortion should be allowed. But if the intent is to keep the child
and let it develop, looking to its future it may be seen as an offence to
the person who it is to become to negligently cause damage. In this case,
you are doing damage to the person who will exist. In the case of abortion,
you are preventing a person from coming into existence.

>If the unborn child is just fetal
>tissue, why not genetically engineer it in vitro or in utero to become a
>slave or worker drone?

That's a different issue. Even if the fetus has no right against this, we
may have other reasons not to allow such a process. I would choose a
polycentric system in which genetic engineering of slaves was not allowed.
But that's not because I believe such alterations violate the right of the

><The parallel-server that I'm working on has no intelligence and thus no
>value&rights as a consious being.>
>I can't make sense out of this. Are you saying that the possession of
>intelligence is the source of rights? How much intelligence is enough to
>get on the rights wagon? Who defines intelligence and why is it the same
>as consciousness?

Are *you* saying that the mere possession of DNA in the form of something
that could develop into a human person is the source of rights? I find that
very puzzling. Why should we grant rights on that basis? While I wouldn't
equate intelligence and consciousness, I do think they are closely related
(since I believe consciousness is a matter of degree). And yes, I suggest
that rights are most sensibly according according to degree of
intelligence, above some minimum. In general it isn't wise to give some
adult humans rights that others don't have, though there are exceptions --
deeply mentally retarded humans will not have all the usual rights, such as
agreeing to contracts.

I don't believe that rights are entities that exist in themselves. They are
simply principles that we agree on that regulate the use of force. We
*could* grant fetuses full rights, but why should we? Why should we grant
them full rights any more than we should grant such rights to birds, bees,
or beetles?

BTW, I find it implausible grant full rights even to a newborn baby. They
are no more a person than is a seven-month old fetus (though either of
these are much closer to being a person than is a month-old fetus).
Nevertheless, I grant the view that it should be illegal to kill such
babies now that they are biologically separate -- but the source of that
rule does not have to be a right of the baby.

><Maybe all it takes is a processor-upgrade and smarter software? That would
>mean that this 'lump of metal' is a potential consious being. O dear. What
>right do I have feeding it all these problems that I want to have solved.>
>This is strange reasoning. Where do you think rights come from? If we are
>unconscious, say when we're sleeping or in a coma, do our rights go away?

That's a strange question. :-) Do you cease to a person when you sleep?
No. But a fetus is not yet a person. When you're asleep you still have your
abilities and capacities, and you are still in the middle of your projects
and activities.

><If everything that has the potential of becoming a human has the rights of
>a human then we're comitting mass-murder every time we have sex.>
>I don't know who you are arguing against here, but it's certainly not me.
>A fertilized egg with a normal full set of chromosomes is the starting
>point for human development, not earlier.

True, but it's not the beginning of development of personhood, and it's
personhood to which rights should attach, not genetic humanity. The early
fetus is not only not a person yet, it's not even a human being, since it
doesn't have all the parts of a human, especially the brain. I still don't
see that you have given any reason why we should accord rights to this
clump of tissue. You can call this language "dehumanizing" if you like, but
I would say your use of "murdering children" is inappropriating humanizing.
So there!

>My alternative is polycentrism, or particularism, many jurisdictions trying
>out many different treatments of the issue. The judiciary cannot usurp the
>legislative role. Individuals should have the choice to move to
>jurisdictions that honor life, or that worship death.

Reilly, it's not a fair tactic to call advocates of abortion rights death
worshippers. That's just obviously false, and will only mean those who
disagree won't take your views seriously.

>disincentive for movement, but I know from moral reasoning from first
>principles that families trying to raise children will be drawn towards
>jurisdictions with an ethic of protecting and enhancing life.

But protecting and enhancing life includes the lives of the parents. These
are not well protected or enhanced by making abortion illegal. That would
be true even if abortions would not carry on anyway, with nasty
consequences. Life is not only about survival. A developed person's right
to life must include the right to remove interferences with that life when
that interference results from something that is not a person.

I want to make clear here that I dislike abortion. I would like to see
solutions that ensure ALL pregnancies are wanted. I would also counsel
anyone considering an abortion to think long and hard about it. For many
people I think the best choice is to have the baby and give it for
adoption, if the parents do not want to raise it. I would certainly (if in
possession of the facts) criticize morally some couples who opt for
abortion instead of adoption, especially if pregnancy resulted from
irresponsibility. But even in such cases I would not use the force of the
law to prevent abortion.

BTW, according to my mother, I was a mistake my parents made when she was
35 (quite old for a pregnancy in the '60s). They didn't abort my precursor,
and I'm glad. But I'd hate to think that, if they had, someone would come
and drag my mother to jail for protecting her own life and purposes by
removed a small lump of biological matter than didn't have a personality
and didn't think and didn't have goals and projects.


Max More, Ph.D.
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