Fetal tissue

Reilly Jones (Reilly@compuserve.com)
Tue, 3 Mar 1998 16:48:26 -0500

Max More wrote 3/3/98: <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

I, too, should know better. These discussions invariably boil down to
taking an obstinate stand on definitions, and I've rarely seen anyone truly
rationally consider the issue at a deeper level than convenience on the
pro-death side and religious dogma on the anti-death side. I know we don't
diverge on the polycentric approach to the issue, the best argument will
come from tracing the evolutionary consequences within many different
jurisdictions, each approaching the question as seems best.

<I don't know any defender of the legality of abortion who views fetuses as
"the enemy".>

Open your eyes. I mean this sincerely, with no disrespect.

<Personally, I do regard abortions as nasty things, to be avoided as much

I know that. You are not like President Clinton who says the identical
thing just before he vetoes the partial birth abortion ban, a hideous form
of infanticide that morally soils the whole country.

<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

No, I'm reasonable, it's non-consensual for the woman and illicitly rewards
the rapist within the gene pool. I don't think that jurisdictions who
allow this will slip into the culture of death. A child forced on a woman
is tragic and so is that child's legalized murder. However, I see no good
reason why jurisdictions shouldn't be able to disallow this, if that is
what they think is best for their society.

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

Yes, boss. <g> As you know, I don't mind being painted with any brush, if
it's true I'm happy to have it stick, that's how I learn, if it's false it
will flake off with no harm done. I don't mind being painted with the
anti-woman-who-murders-her-unborn-child brush at all.

<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?>

The key is in the concept of development. Development of the self,
self-ownership, means others should stay hands off. But development of
other selves, that is, non-consensual development, is ownership of other
selves. Other selves have every right to question this activity and to
bring the activity into the political sphere. The concepts of guardianship
and power of attorney evolved in society to champion the rights of
developing selves that are incapable of acting as their own champions.

<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.>

And just who would be granting said moral standing to such entities? I
would grant future AIs with a majority of analog components, I just won't
grant that anything purely digital could ever be conscious, consciousness
must access the entire universe, not just 50% of it.

<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.>

As I said above, these discussions rapidly get to an obstinate stand on
definitions. "Preventing a person from coming into existence" is a
definitional stance unconnected with reality. The reality is the person in
question has been in existence since conception and that what you call
"prevention" is actually murder. This is the same difficulty that the
abolitionists had with defeating slavery, the Constitition said slaves were
only counted as 3/5 of a person, less than fully human. It was solely and
entirely a definitional tug-of-war, exactly as abortion is. We diverge
here definitionally, it's the same old problem of "whose rationality?"

<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 fetus.>

I know that deep down, we do not diverge in our reverence for life
ascending, nor do we diverge in seeing that the polycentric approach - the
liquid realm - is where ascension has the strongest chance of success.

<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?>

Different jurisdictions should be allowed to answer these considerations in
their own way. The proof of which way is best would then be found in the
pudding. My line of moral reasoning is permissible only when definitions
at the foundation of the issue are agreed on. Short of agreement on this,
we inhabit separate worlds and cannot grant legitimacy to each other, let
alone understand one another.

<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.>

Welcome to the slippery slope, you have made a case for infanticide here.
In fact, with this line of reasoning, you can't draw a line anywhere for
any inconvenient entity to be bumped off at any time. Why not the old and
decrepit, or the handicapped, or anti-government types or anyone? When you
speak of the "source of the rule" all I see is the very oldest rule of all,
"might makes right." Nature is red in tooth and claw. If it is legitimate
for the strong to prey upon the weak, sooner or later, we will end up, not
as a society, but as isolated systems of perfected self-defense staring at
each other across no-man's land.

<But a fetus is not yet a person.>

Purely by definition, and mostly, but not entirely, for convenience's sake.
A slave was not a full person at the time we kicked those tyrannical Brits
back across the Atlantic, either. Yet, solely by definition, they
eventually became a person. Do you see the parallel?

RJ: <A fertilized egg with a normal full set of chromosomes is the starting
point for human development, not earlier.>

MM: <True, but it's not the beginning of development of personhood, and
personhood to which rights should attach, not genetic humanity.>

Again, "personhood" is definitional, this may accord with convenience, but
not reality. Different definitions should be allowed to work out their
societal consequences in different jurisdictions.

<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.>

On definitional issues, it's not a question of being taken seriously, it's
a question of rectitude, of drawing lines. Those who define away human
life naturally cannot begin to understand those who do not. They are
literally incomprehensible to one another. Most individuals do not take
the incomprehensible seriously, and those who do make their axons sprout
like the green of springtime.

<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 fully agree that man does not live by bread alone. I think this accords
with my earlier point that developing your own self should be free from
interference. However, I cannot see where, in the course of an
individual's life, he becomes "developed." Developed is a static concept
that I have never observed in living entities. Life is always
"developing," from conception to death. Even with indefinite longevity, no
one will ever be "developed," they will indefinitely be "developing." If I
change your sentence to read, "A developing 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," the flavor of
the argument shifts to protections for the unborn child. If I tack on to
that sentence "and the responsibility to submit to legitimate political
authority in cases where that interference results from another developing
person," then I think we have arrived at something close to my position.

<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.>

I shy away from testimonials, but I was a surprise (she didn't call it a
"mistake," I think "surprise" is much more dynamically optimistic) when my
mother was 35. Rather than say "they didn't abort my precursor," the
reality is that "they didn't abort me." That reality cannot be wiped away
definitionally. *You* were not murdered, not "a small lump of biological
matter than didn't have a personality and didn't think and didn't have
goals and projects," but *you*. And for what it's worth, I too am glad
your mother didn't murder you. As far as I can tell, our divergence is
definitional in nature, but I can't see that we diverge substantially in
our sentiments on the issue nor in our preferred polycentric approach to
it. I am simply taking the abolitionist's side, and you are taking the
other side.

Reilly Jones | Philosophy of Technology:
Reilly@compuserve.com | The rational, moral and political relations
| between 'How we create' and 'Why we create'