Why “Fetal Personhood” is a Word Game

ET getting kissedWhat does it mean to be a person? For the anti-abortion group, Personhood USA, a “person” is present from the moment a sperm penetrates an egg, and members are fighting to have their definition encoded into law. Online coaching tools for abortion opponents use the term person interchangeably with human or human being. Are they interchangeable? Does it matter?

Personhood USA is driven by a mission that dates back to Roe v Wade, when, in the process of legalizing abortion, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun made this comment: “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s [Roe’s] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [Fourteenth] Amendment.”

In other words, if an embryo or fetus can be defined legally as a person, then abortion could potentially be classified as murder and a host of other legal rights could accrue to the developing fetus. The set of legal arguments that support abortion rights would not disappear but they would shrink. In recent years, Personhood USA and conservative Christian allies have been building case law and regulatory precedents with this goal in mind.

To win, they have to equate personhood with human life. But that’s no easy task.

Robots and Aliens. In the secular philosophical traditions that have long informed our laws, personhood means something more complicated and more interesting than mere human DNA. Philosopher Dan Fincke points to science fiction to illustrate the point:

Think about the movie E.T. If an extraterrestrial comes down to earth and asks to use the phone, we shouldn’t say, You’re not human, so instead of letting you use the phone, we’re just going to eat you. If we are talking to an alien who has self-awareness, makes choices, has complex emotional experiences, plans future projects, has enduring memories, etc.; we recognize we’re talking to another person. Those traits, or some cluster of them, are the decisive features in personhood and yet they’re not conceptually identical with “humanity.”

Science fiction stories like E.T., Star Wars, or Wall-e may evoke our personhood intuitions simply for the purpose of entertainment, but some books and films use science fiction to explore more serious moral conundrums. The movie District 9, for example, extrapolates South Africa’s apartheid policies and explores questions around dignity and compassion for an alien species stranded on earth. House of the Scorpion explores the identity and rights of a child who is the product of cloning. The now classic movie, Blade Runner, which is laden with religious allusions, explores themes of yearning for life and love in robots who are keenly aware of their own pre-programmed mortality.

Dogs and Honey Badgers. Back here in the real world, our relationship to other species also prompts conversation about the nature and boundaries of personhood. Last December, Yale University hosted a conference called Personhood Beyond the Human. Bioethicists and other scholars came together to discuss the self-conscious intelligence that can be present to varying degrees in nonhuman species.

Research on the mental life of nonhuman animals was pioneered by ethologist Konrad Lorenz during the years before World War II. As late as the 1960’s, children were taught that one hard line between humans and other species was that only humans use tools. Today counter examples, like the astounding escapades of Stoffel the honey badger, go viral on the internet.

We now know that species like dolphins and great apes have rich mental and emotional lives, with enduring social bonds. People who live closely with companion cats and dogs learn to read their moods and desires and to appreciate their very individual personalities.  Activists against vivisection and farm cruelty point out signs of preferences, problem solving, attachments, fear, delight, grief, and depression in animals that are cognitively much simpler than primates. Clearly, these rudiments fall short of the vast, intricate complexity that comprises personhood in humans. Even so, it only makes sense that as knowledge and moral awareness grows thoughtful compassionate people are asking: Given what we know about the conscious experience of other species, what are our ethical responsibilities, and what are their rights, and how should this affect biomedical research?

Do Unto Others. Formal research on the mental life of other species may be fairly new, but humanity’s moral and ethical traditions have long recognized that other conscious species merit moral consideration that maps to what they are able to experience and desire. Hence the Buddhist focus on compassion as the central virtue. In the Christian tradition, this concern is expressed by St. Francis of Assisi, “Not to hurt our humble brethren [the animals] is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough.  We have a higher mission: to be of service to them whenever they require it.”

Compassion can be described as empathy in action—the ability to feel with another being, and to use that resonance to guide our behavior. Most known wisdom traditions, whether secular or religious, give voice in some form to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  But in reality, the Golden Rule is a rough proxy for a more challenging imperative that has been called the Platinum Rule:  Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.  By asking, in this situation what would I want? we can make an educated guess what another person might want from us.

Can they suffer? One of the most basic and universal elements of consciousness is the ability to feel pain, and so questions of suffering are central to moral decision making. As 18th Century philosopher Jeremy Bentham said about moral treatment of animals, ‘The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?”  It should come as no surprise, then, that in the effort to gain person-rights for the human fetus, conservative activists have focused on the question of fetal pain.

But the leap from fetal pain to fetal personhood is a large one.  It is clear, for example, that an early embryo is incapable of experiencing pain, or anything else, for that matter. Conversely, we know that a full-term infant can—although the experience may be very different from that of a human with a more developed nervous system. Between embryo formation and birth lies a fascinating and complicated continuum of development. Conscious experience of pain is different than a withdrawal reflex, and when a fetus transitions from reflex to experience is still an open question.

For those who argue on behalf of fetal personhood, though, the even larger problem is that in most ethical systems an organism’s ability to feel pain creates only an obligation to minimize pain, not an obligation to extend other rights, even the right to life. Many moral systems that permit the eating of cattle, for example, find the torture of cattle or even indifferent cruelty to be reprehensible. The question of when a budding human begins to experience pain matters morally, but it does not answer the question of fetal personhood or whether/when it is moral to terminate a pregnancy.

Potential persons. One of the strongest secular cases against abortion is called the “future like ours” argument, put forward by Philosopher Don Marquis. This argument does not depend on the fetus having the qualities of personhood as a fetus but rather relies on those qualities being present at some future date. Marquis argues, essentially, that the fetus will one day have the capacity to feel joy and love and will then value his or her own existence, just like we do. Because the fetus will become a conscious person, the future wishes of that person-to-be must be part of our moral calculus. Indeed, many secular liberals who support abortion rights believe that we have a moral responsibility to future generations—for example, to leave them a healthy planet.

Even acknowledging that we have some responsibility to future generations doesn’t solve the problem faced by fetal personhood advocates. While we may be quite confident that some persons will exist in the future and they will want a bounty and beauty, just like we do, we have no way to know who those persons will be. The future is always in motion. This means that many potential persons-to-be, defined as unique combinations of human DNA plus environmental factors, will never come to exist. Consider, for example, the babies that will never be born because fertile 13-year-old Evangelical girls choose to abstain from sex until they are married. Or think of the many fertilized eggs (more than half!) that simply flush themselves out of the female body rather than attaching and starting to grow. Or think of all of the pregnancies that are averted by headaches.

Let me call again on an illustration by Fincke:

My parents wanted just one more child when they decided to conceive me. My mother miscarried before successfully having me. Then she got a tubal ligation. Had she not miscarried but had the other baby, I would never have existed. Would my mother have morally wronged me? Has she morally wronged a dozen more children she didn’t have? That seems absurd. What’s so morally different then about a woman who has two abortions, then two kids, and then ties her tubes and another who has two kids and then ties her tubes? The net result is the same. They both create two people and prevent a dozen or so.

In my own case, I contracted a disease called toxoplasmosis during the first trimester of a much wanted pregnancy. The toxoplasmosis parasite can cause sensory impairments and brain lesions in a developing fetus, so my husband and I aborted and then began a healthy pregnancy three months later. Our elder daughter could not exist in the alternate universe where that first pregnancy comes to term.

No ethical system—even a religious tradition as pro-birth as Catholicism or ultra-Orthodox Judaism—claims that we have a moral responsibility to maximize the number of potential persons that grow into actual persons. That leaves us all in a messy middle ground in which we choose to foster the emergence of some potential persons and decline others. The existence of a possible “future like ours,” offers little guidance about when to continue a pregnancy and when to terminate one. And so we fight.

Who decides? Our disagreements may well be insurmountable because they ultimately come down to deeply personal and spiritual individual judgments about when human life becomes uniquely valuable and whether childbearing should be a thoughtful, intentional process or an act of faith. Is it most moral to space childbearing to give kids the best possible shot in life? Or is it more moral to leave these questions in the hands of God? If power and responsibility are two sides of the same coin, what responsibilities accompany our power to begin a new life or to end one? For each of us, the answers to these questions are tangled up with much bigger questions about the nature of reality and the meaning of life–questions that every person is entitled to decide to the best of his or her ability.

The quest for fetal personhood is sleight of hand: theology draped with a thin silk scarf of logic and legalese. Those on stage hope the rest of us won’t notice that beneath the scarf they have substituted one concept for another. This sleight of hand is dangerous because the illusionists are willing to degrade and distort one of humanity’s most sacred and longstanding moral understandings—that the lived experience of other beings guides our moral consideration—and the generations of civil and human rights law that have grown out of this fundamental agreement.

Fetal personhood co-opts and paradoxically violates empathy, diverting compassion onto imaginary and potential persons and away from actual persons, women who are trying to take care of their health, their lives and their families. It also co-opts and violates American civil law—the right of citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, including the fundamental right to freedom from a church-state apparatus that imposes government-sanctioned theologies via the arm of the law.

Ultimately, the quest for female personhood is about the right of every woman to answer moral questions in keeping with her own conscience and spiritual priorities, her dreams, her responsibilities and her loves.

Thank you to Dan Fincke, who provided early input on this topic and responded to my questions with a thoughtful analysis from his vantage in the field of Philosophy.


Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Subscribe to her articles at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

The Difference Between a Dying Fetus and a Dying Woman

Abortion as a Blessing, Grace, or Gift–Changing the Conversation About Reproductive Rights and Moral Values
My Abortion Baby 

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
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16 Responses to Why “Fetal Personhood” is a Word Game

  1. mriana says:

    IMHO, other living animals meet the criteria for personhood faster than a fetus does. That said, IF these so-called “Right to Life” people ever win their case, then I do believe that other apes, whales, and dolphins, as well as cats, dogs, and other species deserve personhood too, due to the fact that they meet the criteria for personhood far better than a fetus does. Other species are far more self-aware and more sentient than a fetus, even suffer more so than any fetus. Not only that, let’s take this line of thought even farther- up until the time of birth chimps on ultrasounds look very much like a human fetus, so it may behove us not disqualify a species that is 98% genetically similar to us from personhood. This isn’t even talking about the genetic similarity humans and dolphins or whales have. Mind you, these mammals are the oceanic equivalent of humans.

    All of this may sound crazy, but not as crazy as these people who want fetuses to have personhood. I think these so-called “Right to Life” people need to better educate themselves or they may find that every species on earth has “personhood rights”, including other apes prior to birth. As an animal welfare person, I would be willing fight for “personhood rights” for other animals if these so-called “Right to Life” people get their way concerning human fetuses.

    Long story short, I agree with you that such a precedent is very dangerous. Where does it stop and what species are more entitled to “personhood rights” than a fetus? Doesn’t a species, such as other apes, whales, and dolphins et al, who is more self-aware and more sentient than a fetus deserve “personhood rights” also if a fetus is granted such a thing? Humm… maybe even a deer deserves such rights too, esp during deer season. After all, none of these animals are a bunch of developing cells in a uterus. They’ve been born already and even show more personality than a fetus does.

    I could go on forever on this train of thought, but as you can see, I can even greatly expand on the “Dogs and Honey Badgers” section (this is just the short version), but I highly agree with you, Valerie.


  2. Lorie Lucky says:

    Very interesting and powerful column, Valerie. Thank you for the many illuminating insights!


  3. As I see it, a nine month old fetus inside a woman about to go into labor has all the rights any person has, but if it is the size of the head of a pin, unable to sense anything, it has no rights. Somewhere between those extremes is the point I would grant personhood, but don’t see any way to precisely nail down when that is.

    In other words, honest people could disagree as to whether a fetus is a person or is property, simply because they see things differently, even when they both accept the same principle.

    This is academic to me, personally, because I had a vasectomy about forty years ago, but frequently think about the issue.

    I hate thinking when there’s no easy answer!


  4. P Yew says:

    This is a vexing and emotional issue for many. You cover many wonderful points, and explore the issue thoroughly. A lovely article. For me, it boils down to the two things that place me in the pro-choice camp; bodily autonomy and consent. Both are areas involving external political control, which is basically the issue at the heart of religious anti choicers. Their goals are to continue forced births to fuel the population inside the church, and to remove the ability of the woman to consent to contraception forcing the role of sex to be one primarily of reproduction within the narrow scope of religious approval.
    It is a horrendous intrusion into the rights of women and a relegation for them to second class citizenship.
    I also expect to see more cases in the future like the woman in Texas whose family was forced to resort to adjudication in the courts to stop her body from being illegally co-opted as an incubator after her death.


  5. Elaine says:

    For me the only criterion for abortion to be performed is that the woman has a foreign, parasitic growth in her body that she does not want to be there whatever her reasons.. It’s her body, and no matter what someone else believes, she is the only one with the right to decide whether or not she is willing to allow this attachment to continue to grow inside her, especially given the fact that at every stage of pregnancy, abortion is safer for the woman than is the pregnancy. No one has the right to force a woman to undergo the dangers of pregnancy – only she has the right to accept or reject those risks.

    The anti-choice philosophy is unethical and immoral, and we should never allow this obscenity to claim some special place in our law-making.


  6. hedonix says:

    All of this makes me wonder how the conflation of concepts 1 & 2 jibe with a recent decision that corporations enjoy personhood. They don’t even have mothers who may have wanted to abort them.


    • Actually, in some contexts corporate personhood makes sense. For example, if a corporation goes bankrupt, creditors cannot dun stockholders, because (for this purpose) the person owing the debt is the corporation, not the stockholders.

      Speaking as a libertarian, limited liability is legitimate in this context, but government also mandates it in areas where it is not legitimate. If, through malfeasance or negligence, a corporation poisons people and then goes bankrupt still owing damages, individual stockholders should be held liable in proportion to their ownership. If they don’t want to accept liability, it’s a simple matter to purchase insurance. Subtracting premiums from dividends then gives the true rate of return on their investment.


  7. Allan Avery says:

    First, regarding Corporate Personhood: In the Real World, numerous Corporate Entities freely steal from Human Persons many layers beyond “the Stockholders” and other investors. Another Poison, one that will pretty clearly be Fatal to our “Democracy,” is our Wealthy “Corporate Citizens’ “and their Owners’ Freedom to purchase the necessary votes to keep the wealth. From an electorate without the resources, time or interest to participate, other than via insufficiently examined personal Ideology and/or latest impulse gained from the media. The best of the Libertarian “Economists” I have yet read do not begin to address the complexity of the Real World.

    Concerning Varerie’s original post, all I can say is BRAVO as usual. There always must be room for debate. And you do leave the room for it. The breadth and depth of your spectrum of sources, and your ability to recover it and organize it, continue to amaze me. I also appreciate when readers do respond with additional “points of view, pro and con, that are well worth considering.


    • Allan Avery: What does “many layers beyond the stockholders” mean?

      If a “corporate entity” is stealing, owners of said entity should be forced to pay restitution to those victims. The reason stockholders are immune from this is government mandates it.

      If government has little influence, what motivates the wealthy class to buy that influence? The degree to which government power is decentralized is the degree to which the problem is solved.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. shatara46 says:

    By their politics, anyone can know for a fact that these “right to life” extremists do not in any way revere or value life – they are bigots who promote hate that leads to wars. They rejoice in the hope of the Revelation bit about their Christ returning and turning this planet into a sea of blood “up to the bridles of the horses” no less. The question is, since it is not reverence for life, what are they really after? Simple. If a fetus is granted full personhood at conception but obviously can’t speak for itself, it will require guardians. Who will be those guardians? And what happens to the woman’s/prospective mother’s rights over her own body now? She has none except those granted by the guardians. Do they require her to join their religion so the fetus person is brought up properly according to the desires of the guardians? Then she must. That line of thought is endless. The injustices equally endless. Just another form of Sharia law, Right-winged Christianity style.


  9. It’s good to know that there are those in our society who know that a person does not have to be a human and that there can indeed be a difference! I happen to be pro choice on the matter and before I came into the abortion debate, I found out that word is not a synonym for being a member of the human species! I have about 3 notebooks each going into ET and AI’s and it seems my movement is allowing pro lifers to keep focusing on species membership which is not what we are suppose to let them do. We are suppose to take this debate away from species membership and offer a non human centric definition of that word that excludes the unborn. After all, if they watched the movie Avatar in the movie theater and walked out of there still thinking person=human, my movement can challenge them on that.


  10. Ignorance_Is_Curable says:

    Here are some other things that pro-choicers might be able to use. Please consider this posting to be Public Domain, freely copyable to anywhere for any purpose.

    1. A “hydatidiform mole” is a life-form that has certain similarities to the embryo. It originates as a zygote, goes through the “morula” and “blastocyst” stages, can be 100% human in its DNA, and implants into the womb. (But its DNA is defective, so it fails to develop into an embryo.) There are a lot of abortion opponents who generally insist that “if it is human, it must be a person” –but even the most rabid of them will admit that a hydatidiform mole is an exception to that rule. Therefore the previous phrase in quotes becomes must be modified: “If it is human, it is NOT automatically always a person!” That means even abortion opponents must seek an alternate definition of “person” –because the two words actually represent different concepts.

    2. If a normal human adult experiences a serious accident and ends up on full medical life-support, with a diagnosis of “brain dead”, then the Law allows the life-support “plug” to be pulled. Think about that for a minute, in terms of “person”. There is a fully-adult living human body laying there in the Intensive Care Unit. Recall that original phrase in quotes: “if it is human, it must be a person” –and persons have legal rights, such as the right-to-life. Why can the “plug” be legally pulled? The answer is that the Law knows the difference between “human” and “person”, even if abortion opponents don’t. The person is dead in this situation, even though the perfectly-human body is still alive. That body is just an animal organism, not a person. (Similarly, unborn humans are also mere animal organisms, not yet persons.)

    3. As noted in the article at the top of this page, an unborn human has potential for things describable as “a future like ours”. It does not have the actuality of that future, right now. Pro-choicers must be aware of another word that abortion opponents are fond of, “capacity”. It is also about “potential”, but the way abortion opponents use it, they are trying to hide that fact. Capacity is actually about something that exists right now. An unborn human does not right-now have the capacity to exhibit any of the traits that humans ordinarily use to distinguish themselves from ordinary animals. It only has the potential to increase its current capacity, until that capacity becomes sufficient for person-class abilities.

    4. Another argument of abortion opponents focuses on the phrase “inherent nature” –they say a human is a person because of her/his inherent nature, not because of what s/he can do. The word “functionalism” is used to pose what they consider to be a “problem” with defining personhood in terms of capabilities –when you are asleep, you are not exhibiting any of those capabilities, and therefore you are not a person! But their argument is flawed in at least three major ways.

    The first flaw relates to certain facts about “feral children”. In arguments about Nature vs Nurture, it turns out that after birth, Nurture is extremely important. Without appropriate Nurture, a human always becomes “feral”, just a clever animal, and nothing more than that. The “inherent nature” argument assumes that humans inevitably become able to exhibit the Functionalism associated with personhood, but the actual facts disagree. The actual inherent nature of normal human biological growth leads only to the “clever animal” result, and nothing more than that.

    The second major flaw relates to the notion that Functionality must be constantly present. NOPE. The key factor is the difference between having an ability, and using that ability. The abortion opponents want you to think that if you aren’t using it, then you don’t have it. As proof of just how nonsensical that notion is, consider the “urethra” as an analogy. In any healthy human it does not get used all the time. Well, if you can have a urethra without using it, then why can’t you have personhood without using it? Functionalism is only needed to identify a person. Afterward, the person remains a person until something like brain-death happens (or, almost as bad, but very difficult to correctly diagnose, the “persistent vegetative state”). Unborn humans, of course, fail to qualify as persons in terms of Functionality. But they do have the potential to qualify at some future time, after birth. (This generally leads abortion opponents to blather about “infanticide”, but they can be ignored, mostly because infanticide has nothing whatsoever to do with abortion –and also because the Law grants legal personhood at birth, regardless of Functionalism.)

    The third major flaw relates to the origin of the concept of “person” –humans have noted for a very long time that we have capabilities that ordinary animals can’t match. It would be impossible to claim that personhood is something special if humans had no special-ness when compared to ordinary animals. Our DNA gives us certain unique physical features (which inherently causes us to be humans instead of something else), but other animals have unique physical features, too. Why should we consider our unique physical features to be more special than theirs? We couldn’t even consider such a notion if we didn’t have special mental features! And we acquire those features through Nurture, not Nature. Basically, to claim that we are persons because of “inherent nature” is to ignore the fact that we originally declared ourselves to be persons because of certain Functionality (mental not physical). Therefore the argument fundamentally depends on the very thing it denies, and makes itself worthless.

    5. The article at the top of the page touches on something that deserves to be more-thoroughly discussed. Consider primitive cultures studied by anthropologists –in those cultures, a “person” was a member of their group, and nothing else qualified (not even the anthropologists, unless they formally joined the group). It can be noted that such an attitude is basically at the foundation of every genocide in History. Today we could very easily describe that cultural attitude as “Prejudiced and Parochial”. Under the banner of “human rights”, great strides have been taken to reduce or eliminate prejudice between various groups of humans, seeking a global standard for ethical human interactions. However, it is a big Universe out there! To focus on “human rights” is STILL to be Prejudiced and Parochial with respect to that Universe, automatically ignoring the possibility that non-human intelligent alien beings might also be deserving of equivalent rights. We need the concept of “person rights” much more than we need the concept of “human rights” –especially when human life-forms such as hydatidiform moles, and the brain-dead-on-full-life-support, can’t possibly qualify for “human rights”!

    6. Medical research is on-going with respect to studying “regeneration”. Various animals can completely re-grow certain lost body-parts. Progress is being made; already we have lab mice that can re-grow lost legs. When perfected, regeneration technology will allow any human to re-grow anything necessary. Quadriplegics can re-grow new arms and legs. Smokers can grow new lungs. A diabetic can grow a new pancreas. And more! Well, when that future arrives, with perfected regeneration technology, let’s consider an abortion opponent who experiences a horrible “decapitation” accident, literally suffering from the head being cut off from the body. Suppose rescuers miraculously arrive in two minutes flat after the accident, ready to save that unfortunate person. Since we are talking about an abortion opponent, who believes that “person”=”human”, the rescuers can look at the scene of the accident, and see the head in one place and the body in another. Both are “human”, but the body out-masses the head by perhaps 30 times. It can grow a new head much quicker than the head can grow a new body. As an analogy, remember that an unborn human, for much of a pregnancy, is ONLY a body; it has no mind worth mentioning. Even when mental activities begin, those activities are only animal-level, nothing special compared to the Functionality of personhood. Abortion opponents want such bodies to be saved! So, logically, in the future-decapitation-accident scenario, the rescuers should save the body –simply because the abortion opponent believes the human body is the person— and throw the minor/unimportant head away! Right??? (In a different situation, for a decapitation-accident-victim who believes “person”=”mind“, the rescuers would save the head, of course.)

    7. Another aspect of perfected regeneration technology will be an even bigger headache for abortion opponents. It starts with thinking about the word “potential”, which is totally independent of another concept, “magnitude”. Just before “labor” begins, an as-yet-unborn human has the potential to eventually acquire the Functionality associated with personhood. Moments after sperm joins ovum, the zygote has that same potential. In neither case can that potential be fulfilled without help. The zygote requires the help of “ciliated epithelia” inside the Fallopian tube, to approach the uterus (and a blastocyst needs the uterus as a source of nutrients), while the full-term fetus requires the muscular help of a woman’s body to become born. We could imagine a woman refusing to help. For example, we have tools that can physically remove the zygote from the Fallopian tube, after which it is sometimes frozen, but could be destroyed instead. The drug RU-486 is known to prevent blastocyst-implantation into the uterus. And muscle-relaxant drugs exist, such that “labor” could be prevented –eventually the placenta will detach from the uterus and the unborn human organism will die a few minutes later, from lack of oxygen. It is obvious that abortion opponents are in the situation of needing to insist that help must be supplied, for the potential of an unborn human organism to become fulfilled. Well, now, think about perfected regeneration technology again. If you lose a leg, you could grow a new one –but the leg could also grow a new body. All it needs is help. That leg is most certainly 100% human, and probably out-masses a full-term fetus by several times —why shouldn’t it receive help, if the fetus MUST receive help? And if help must be given to the leg, why not give help to a lost arm? Or even to a lost finger? Basically, perfected regeneration technology will make utter hash of the notion that “human”=”person”.

    8. Besides trying to associate the word “person” with an unborn human, there is another word that abortion opponents like to use, “child”. That word has a couple of significantly different definitions. One is age-specific, generally referring to humans in the age-range of, roughly, 4 to 9 years old. Some other age-specific words are “infant”, “rug-rat”, “toddler”, “pre-teen”, and “adolescent” or “teenager”. The other definition of “child” is not age-specific, and is synonymous with “offspring”. A human of any age is the child of her/his parents. Abortion opponents see Propaganda Value in calling an unborn human a “child”. They can do it because of the generic definition, even while the word evokes the age-specific definition. This type of Propaganda is “definition conflation”, and it can be used this way: “An unborn human is a child. A child is a person. Therefore an unborn human is a person.” The logic actually fails because the first and second statements are associated with the two different definitions of “child”. Well, it happens that same definition-conflation can be used against abortion opponents. Whenever you encounter one of them calling an unborn human a child, remember to from-then-on call the abortion opponent a child! ANY age of human qualifies, remember! And if the abortion opponent can’t accept being on the receiving end of definition-conflation, it logically follows that the abortion opponent should stop dishing it out (stop calling an unborn human a child). And by the way, in a closely-related note, the word “baby”, as a “term of endearment”, also applies to any age….


    • Allan Avery says:

      WOW! Lots’ of valid “points” and science in the immediately preceeding long comment, and some perhaps unnnecessary speculative furure possibilities. Here, tho, I wish to respond to the short comment a month+ ago by Mark Read Pikins. (1) by “multiple corporate layers beyond the shareholders,” I simply meant that preponderance of the equities market in which the “original” shareholder ownership has been sliced, died, resold (long, short or otherwise and hedged into a vastly different population of “shareholders.” (Point was that identiy of all the shareholders and opportunities for monkey business among them is frequently nearly unfathomable and thus nearly impossible for the “honest guy- be he/she be either shareholders or Regulator- to presecute.

      (2) If as, as you assert, -the cure for Big Bucks buying the government of its preference-now almost unhindered- is More Decentralization, I say “Good Luck.” Simply requires the Big Money to alter the strategy a bit. Plus, a further precaution here: If we go on decentralizing, (as some “Libertarians” have actually advocated to me), down past State, Municipal and all Civil Public entity- say, all the way down to “neighborhoods” fragmented into pods of like-thinking people- I offer a money-back guarantee we’ll destroy ourselves in violence and chaos , early on. But I suspect you’re not that sort. Still, our Human spieces real assignment, (on our own, individually and collectively, planet-wide), is so come up with concensus Human Values and Standards that permit us to get along in mutual harmony in our diversity. About unfathomable too, yeah. But suppose it turns out there’s not to a God watching, to come back and blow it up, and start over? (And whether or not there is, would He, She or It logically prefer that we stop messing around and do it ourselves?) :-)


      • No matter how much stock ownership is “sliced, diced, and resold,” at the end of the day somebody owns it and whomever that is ought to be held accountable. Their identity is clearly not “unfathomable!” Somebody gets the dividends and somebody votes the stock. Those are the owners. Accounting tricks shouldn’t allow them to take profits for themselves and stick losses on someone else.

        If the corporation goes bankrupt, still owing money for damages, stockholders should be held personally liable in proportion to how much stock they hold. For those who don’t want to take that responsibility, either don’t buy the stock, or purchase liability insurance. Subtracting premiums from dividends gives the true rate of return on the investment and keeps burden off those who didn’t agree to accept that risk.

        :”Decentralizing down to the ‘neighborhood’ level” misses the point. For libertarians (at least those who actually understand implications of their own purported ideology), the issue is coercion. The degree to which governments (national, state, local, or “neighborhood,” — same principle) use coercion to protect individual rights is the degree to which libertarians support them. The degree to which governments violate individual rights is the degree to which we oppose them.

        The point I was laboriously trying to make is if you give government power to regulate businesses, particular businesses will use that power to suppress competition. That can’t happen if government doesn’t have that power in the first place. Why would the wealthy class corrupt a government lacking power to grant them favors?

        The only “consensus on standards” we need is support for an effective system to force thieves to make restitution to their victims. The degree to which that is done is the degree to which people satisfy greed by offering value for value (benefiting the rest of us) rather than by stealing (hurting us).

        This doesn’t cause violence; this discourages violence.


      • Allan Avery says:

        Ohhh My. Mark, I assure you we are on the same side of the “Communal Sandard” concerning stealing and restitution. As you appear to prefer that “Government” be empowered only ? to prohibit stealing and enforce restitution, how would you propose to go about that? Perhaps enact a simple, short Law stating: “No Person nor Business (of Any size), public or private stall steal Property from another such Person or Business. Any such Property stolen from its rightful Owner shall be Ordered returned without delay to said rightful Owner, by the Judge or Magistrate of any Court of Legal Jurisdiction.” No? Well, actually the Real World is somewhat more complex than that. I won’t further explain that; it becomes pretty obvious to one of any political or practical persuasion, when thought through. Yes we already have that “Concensus Standard” in it’s simplistic form. Deciding what it means, to whom, and how to interpret and apply it in any modern and diverse Community is another matter. Libertarians of all stripes- I have healthy helping of it myself- will go nowhere in any reasonably diverse, democratic, egalitarian Community without understanding and accomodating that reality. That’s why “Government’ necessarily is complex.


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