When Does Life Begin?

At the crux of the abortion debate is the question over when does life begin. It’s a hugely controversial and difficult question and not one with an easy answer. It is far to say that even pro-choice people acknowledge that the day before birth, the foetus is a child and is alive. Likewise even (most) anti-abortion people would acknowledge that on the first day of fertilisation, the embryo bears little resemblance to a human. So the question becomes, at what point does the foetus become human? At what point do we stop talking of miscarriages and start describing still births?

A central problem is that we are dealing with a constantly changing and developing organism. A foetus is not like a switch that moves from on to off, but rather a dynamic process. Every day the foetus becomes more developed and more alive than the day before. Even conception is not a single moment but a long process that can take two to three days. Every day its organs become more pronounced. Hence if we are to measure life by development, we will have to necessarily draw an arbitrary line. With these qualifications and warnings in mind, lets tentatively approach this landmine.

It is often said that life begins at conception, and in a sense this is technically true. However, we must examine what we mean by alive. After all, bacteria is alive as are plants, trees, bugs, lizards, cows and dogs. So when it comes to the abortion debate is not just life, but rather human life or personhood. When is a person created? What essentially separates us from other animals (and I’m greatly simplifying) is rational thought. Humans are capable of thought and experience that other animals are not (which is why many are happy to eat animals). Hence brain activity is one possible measure that can be used.

There is also the problem that it is surprisingly rare for a conceived embryo to develop even into a foetus. After conception, it is necessary for the egg to attach itself to wall of the womb so that it can develop into an embryo. According to the Mayo Clinic “you’re not actually pregnant the first week or two of the time allocated to your pregnancy.” This is because the true start of the pregnancy is not conception, but implantation. However, most of the time the egg fails to implant and terminates (it is known as spontaneous abortion). This happens so early that the women rarely even know they are pregnant. It is therefore hard to measure how frequent this is, but it is estimated that a fertilised egg has a chance of only 20-50% of implanting. This presents serious problems for those who claim that life begins at conception. If this is the case, than failure to implant is responsible for far more deaths than abortion ever could. Measures to reduce the failure to implant (if such things exist) should be the focus of their campaigns and research.

It is also important to consider death. As it hardly needs to be elaborated on, death is the opposite of life and thus for anything to be alive it must be able to die. The accepted measure is the cessation of brain activity. Therefore it is logical to assume that the beginning of life occurs when the brain starts operating and emitting a recognisable Electroencephalography (EEG) pattern. This usually occurs between 24 and 27 weeks after conception. While it is not conclusive, I find this the most convincing date for the start of life.

It is also commonly claimed that a person’s genetics are formed at conception. However this is incorrect. Our genes continually develop throughout the pregnancy, not at one specific point. Likewise the idea that our genes determine our traits and characteristics is also outdated. It is also worth noting that it is only referred to as a foetus after 11 weeks. It is also worth considering the difference between stillbirth and miscarriage. In Ireland and the UK a stillbirth is when the foetus dies after 24 weeks, whereas a miscarriages is a termination before it reached a level of viable self-sufficiency around 20 weeks. Thus the medical consensus seems to be that it is around 20-24 weeks (depending on jurisdiction) that the foetus can be considered alive.

Now reading this you are probably still unclear as to when life begins. The reason is that so am I. In fact, I think this blog post was over ambitious (especially for someone who hasn’t studied science). It doesn’t seem to be possible to draw a line whereupon we can say for sure when life begins. Rather it is a continuous process. To say life begins at conception is a gross simplification of a very complicated issue (which is probably why so many people believe it). Any date chosen will necessarily be arbitrary. The earlier an abortion is performed the better. To me, it seems that the crucial period is around 20-28 weeks which is the limit imposed by most countries. Were we to allow abortion in Ireland, this would be the time limit I think best (though considering the political climate and opposition to abortion, I think 20 weeks would be the most practical limit). However, at the end of the day, it’s not my choice to make. It’s the woman’s. It is not my place to tell women what is best for them. Instead I trust that they know their situation best.


Filed under Politics

70 responses to “When Does Life Begin?

  1. I was going to try to write something thoughful here until I realized that you touched upon just about everything I wanted to mention. I agree with your conclusions, and the difficulty in pinning down an answer to the question. Most of the time I tend to avoid talking about it since it’s usually brought up by lawmakers who want to turn the issue away from a woman’s autonomy where it belongs. Whether life begins at conception or at birth, it should still remain the responsibility and the right of the woman in question to do what is best for her personal situation.

  2. “This usually occurs between 24 and 27 after conception.”
    Minutes, hours, days, weeks?

  3. “To say life begins at conception is a gross simplification of a very complicated issue (which is probably why so many people believe it). Any date chosen will necessarily be arbitrary.”

    You’re not a human until you’re in my phone book.
    – Bill Hicks

  4. How about we let the mother decide? What interest does the government of any country, as a representative of its people, have to say about a series of very individual personal decisions (to get pregnant, to carry to term, to have the baby, to keep the baby, etc.)? For those who say it is a moral decision, I say you can’t legislate morals.

    • Well its a moral issue that has deeply consequential ramifications for the unborn child. To say “let the mother decide” is on par with saying “let the gunman decide” sure what business is it of government if an individual decides to murder another individual? Now the likely response is that it is wrong to murder another human, but somehow the unborn child is not a human.

      And in essence you have not actually offered any evidence that there is a difference between the unborn child and the functioning human in the world, you have just tried to shift the right to end life of one individual (that you personally believe to be unworthy of protection) to another individual. Of course you have wrapped it up in liberal sounding language, but it clearly is a much deeper issue than that.

      The protection of life and the right to life, is arguably one of the few legitimate reasons for having government at all. And until actual evidence can be shown beyond the personal opinions of the pro-choice lobby, that the unborn child is not actually human, then it is important that it is afforded the same natural rights of all other individuals.

      • “until actual evidence can be shown beyond the personal opinions of the pro-choice lobby, that the unborn child is not actually human, then it is important that it is afforded the same natural rights of all other individuals.”

        What trollop. As it is the religious right actively trying to deny women’s rights it is up to them to prove a fetus before week 25 can be considered a living human. Can you?

        As it stand the definition is quite clear. Life begins at the moment its twin, death, also springs into existence. One cannot have a defined ‘life’ without that life being able to ‘die.’ Without death there is no life. The former begets the latter. The latter assigns meaning to the former. One delineates the other, and fortunately the definition of death is not in dispute. Death is when electroencephalography (EEG) activity ceases. That’s it. That’s death. It follows quite naturally therefore that the onset of life is when foetal brain activity begins to exhibit regular and sustained wave patterns, and that occurs consistently around week 25 of pregnancy. Only after something can die can it be considered alive, and to argue anything to the contrary is patently absurd.

        • What has religion got to do with it? I am not right wing either. This is a common tactic of the pro-choice lobby, especially those ironically enough on the far left. To try and deflect from the actual debate by labeling anyone who dares oppose abortion as religious nuts and right-wingers.

          And what “rights” exactly are afforded to women to end the existence of another individual. I mean there are natural rights of course, but where do these rights you speak of come from? If it was just a matter of property rights then that would be OK, but again this cannot be backed up with categorical evidence that the unborn child is not a person, and merely property.

          You are offering a specific view on the definition of life,according to brainwave activity. A specific view that helps your argument incidentally. There is a heartbeat very early on, between 4 and 7 weeks, are you arguing that an organism with a heartbeat is not alive?

          I could argue about the issue of potentiality, but its clear I would be wasting my time. No doubt, you would have the typical self-righteous argument that ridicules anyone who dares question selective scientific positions that the pro-choice lobby cling to so eagerly

      • cebreeze

        I don’t know if you live in the United States, and since I have only lived in the US, I will point my comments to the US. The Constitution expressly lays the purpose of government. In fact, the preamble to the Constitution provides for six express reasons for the purpose of government .
        The 6 reasons listed are :
        To form a more perfect union (to join together the colonies)
        To establish justice (define and protect the rule of law)
        To insure domestic tranquility (to prevent conflicts within or between the states)
        To provide for the common defense (a united power opposing any attacks)
        To promote the general welfare (human rights and a stable society)
        To secure the blessings of liberty (insure that the concept of freedom endures).

        The idea of government being necessary goes back to biblical times. Even Jesus acknowledge the Roman government by telling believers to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are the Lord’s.”

        Government to me is sort of like maintenance people. Nobody wants to be it, but I wouldn’t want to work in a building without it. I wouldn’t want to live in a country without good government. Try Mexico for starters…

        • I’m from Ireland. While I am not inclined to use biblical arguments in politics, there are also biblical arguments that Jesus supported anarchy, such as the sermon on the mount which seems strongly anti-statist. That’s the thing with the bible, anyone can find and interpret stuff to support their argument.

          I’m not necessarily opposed to government per se, especially in the provision of a safety net and protection of individual rights. However what I would argue is that governments on the whole far exceed the remit of providing these services and in doing so actually hinder the protection of individual rights.

          I agree with you about Mexico, except I would go further and say its a problem with governments in general. For example in the United States the “war on drugs” has led to the effective segregation both economically and socially of entire African American communities. Another example would be that during hurricane Katrina FEMA a government organisation actually prevented individuals from helping.

          I do think its important to distinguish between anarchy and chaos. Chaos happens with governments all the time such as in Mexico. Libertarian Anarchy is about creating a society with no “masters” where communities come together as voluntary cooperatives, where individuals can be masters of their own destiny (provided they dont hurt anyone else) without being told how to live by people who are no better than you or I but claim to be a above everyone.

          Yes there is a function for government, but it should always be strictly limited as outlined in the American Declaration of Independence.

          I would like to apologise to the moderator also, this seems to be off the topic of the thread but I just thought I would try answer the above commentator’s post.

          • cebreeze

            I think your brush is too broad on the war on drugs and American blacks. The Declaration is not the governing document. It is the Constitution.

            • I know the declaration is not the governing document, but it sets out what I would consider to be a good Lockean premise for government.

              The war on drugs has been a total disaster especially of African American communities it has institutionalized discrimination and in turn has isolated entire communities. but you’re right it has also been a disaster for poor communities regardless of color.

            • The war on drugs has been disastrous for African American communities. People getting felony length sentences for tiny amounts of crack. In fact only until recently the sentence for crack possession was 4-5 times higher than for cocaine possession. Despite this being the same drug one just happens to be favored by Blacks and the other by Whites. Drug related arrests have gone through the roof in major cities and other crime arrests (real crime with victims) because the drug war is taking up all the resources. And all it has achieved is the further isolation of African American communities. But your right it has had a disastrous effect on poor communities, regardless of race.

              I know the Declaration isn’t the governing document, I was just highlighting the fact it gives a good Lockean framework for how government should be.

              • cebreeze

                As a black American, I would say that the issue is more complicated than you put it. The drug war is so effective because of the decimation of blue collar work in America, because of racism (desegregation destroyed the black economy), and in my view because of the Vietnam War. The drug war would be less of a factor if unemployment in poor black neighborhoods went down by 10%.

                America sent the youngest soldiers (a disproportionate number of them drafted and black) to fight a war where it appeared that America was oppressing the Vietnamese. Then it brought them back drug addicted, angry, and jobless. It has created a scourge that has deeply scarred those communities. In my opinion, the war on drugs isn’t the biggest issue and it is kind of wrong to see it that way. Black communities have always been the canary in the mine. What you are really looking at in the black community is the effect of the end of the industrial age, and the privatization of public spaces. Businesses have been very aggressive and predatory about dismantling public services in poor communities and replacing them with for profit services, hastening the demise of those communities.

                Middle class black communities are not scourged like poor black communities because of these other factors. American prisons are filled mostly with poor people. And while they are disproportionately black, in raw numbers whites are by far the most people imprisoned in America.

                The United States tried what you suggested. Most people forget that there were four president’s under the Articles of Confederation. That just didn’t work. The declaration is more aspirational. The Constitution is the result of trying to run a government consistant with the Declaration.

                • There actually really important points you raise. I picked the drug war specifically because I know about it. It is clear you know far more than me on the broader issues. I was just trying to point out the negative effects of a statist operation.

                  I am no expert in American constitutional matters, but as a principle I believe the state to be an inefficient organ and actually deleterous to progress. For example I read how during the 70s individuals in the Bronx formed community police forces to patrol areas the state police were afraid to patrol. These groups were not vigilantes who wanted to throw their weight around their communities, but genuinely wanted to better their communities. Indeed they would have probably been far more effective than the NYPD especially in regards to having community support. Yet the state actively prevented these community police groups helping themselves, because on the face of it they didn’t want to look like failures, and I also believe for more systemic and sinister reasons.

                  Just to clarify I am not a Libertarian in the Rothbardian sense, I see many of Rothbard’s conclusions to be abhorrent and grossly inhuman. I suppose I just believe in “people power” in the sense that power should not be an overarching Leviathan that is concentrated in the hands of the few. Rather it should be a cooperative tool that can be used to create mutual benefits and a harmony between the individual and society.

                  • cebreeze

                    The 1970’s was the beginning of corporate dismantling of the protections put in place in the 1930’s after the the crash of 1929. The problem in America as I see it, is that American’s have been told that capitalism is perfect. But it is not.

                    Capitalism has excesses that need to be regulated. The most natural form of capitalism is a banana republic. It gets there faster when there are corporate interests, because the libertarian principles embedded in the Constitution don’t apply to corporations.

                    Corporations can’t and don’t accept personal responsibility. Person responsibility is crucial in a libertarian state. That is why the word corporation does not appear in the Constitution. That is why every Amendment dealing with Corporations was voted down at the Constitutional Convention.

                    The myth is that America revolted against the Crown. Not true, because it wasn’t the Crown that was oppressing them. They were being oppressed by the East India Company that had been ceded the powers of the sovereign. The tea dumped in the harbor belonged not to the crown but to the East India Company. (And that is why the tea party movement in the United States is so stupid. The tea party movement was thought up by and funded by corporate interests. They get uneducated Americans to give up their freedoms to the plutocracy and the corporations they control.)

                    Most decisions that people make are really binary. We can have government or we can have anarchy. I don’t know of a nation in this world that has chosen anarchy, because that is truly scary. So most people choose governments. And even though the Sermon on the Mount seemingly advocates anarchy, I don’t believe that is true. The Sermon on the Mount presumes an entirely and truly Christian nation where every member of the society serves Christian ideals. If that was true, you might not need a government. Since a truly Christian state is aspirational, you need government in the meantime. I think the Sermon on the Mount was essentially a parable of “heaven on earth”.

                    Then if you choose governments, to have a libertarian state you truly have to participate and be educated to participate. It doesn’t work well otherwise, especially when you have corporate interests exercises the rights and privileges of individuals. Corporations are creatures of the state and should be heavily regulated. Just like the state creates them, they should be able to revoke their charters, but that never happens.

                    I like a lot of libertarian ideas, and I think that the American Founders did as well. But they were practical men, and they know a government is better than no government. Our job is to try to get the best government that we can get. When we all figure out that the goal is to optimize government, rather than trying to kill it, we may then be on to something.

  5. parentsfriend

    Well, I took my courage in hand and posted this on Facebook. Will lose some friends, offend others. I have never understood how one could be against abortion, contraception, and sex education. God, nature, a higher power created the way human life is created and it seems to me he, she, it allowed abortion and if God be God he be love and judge’s souls less harshly than we humans. Thank you for this.

  6. Fantastic, well-thought-out post!

    The only thing I’d have an issue with is the idea that we need to set term limits on abortion. If you look at when people actually have abortions and why, the reasons that people have late abortions tend to be pretty damn compelling. Health issues on the part of the pregnant person, fatal fetal abnormalities, people in abusive situations. I worry that putting a time limit on abortion in all cases would mean that people who desperately need to not be pregnant anymore are forced to remain so.

    • David

      I think we do need to set term limits on abortion by choice. I personally am uncomfortable with abortions after brain function has started, and to not set limits could open the way to abortion right up until birth.

      Abortions on the grounds of health are a different matter, and in this, to me, the life of the mother outweighs that of the unborn.

    • I think there are certainly emergency cases that justify late term abortions, but these are emergencies, that rarely arise (though provision should be provided for them). I am speaking of more general cases. Hopefully in most cases women will be able to access abortions before the time limit, after all 24 weeks is six months which is quite a long time and should be enough for the vast majority of women who do not want their children.

      I understand where you are coming from David and I believe term limits are an acceptable compromise.

  7. Great piece. I have read many articles and listened to many debates regarding the abortion issue but none broached the topic of when does life begin, which to me, is the crux of the issue.

  8. Life began on earth 3.85 billion years ago and has not been interrupted since. The question then is when does life jump from the mother to the fetus. As I posted above the only possible answer to that question is when that “life” can actually die. Life, therefore, begins at the moment its twin, death, also springs into existence. One cannot have a defined ‘life’ without that life being able to ‘die.’ Without death there is no life. The former begets the latter. The latter assigns meaning to the former. One delineates the other, and fortunately the definition of death is not in dispute. Death is when electroencephalography (EEG) activity ceases. That’s it. That’s death. It follows quite naturally therefore that the onset of life is when foetal brain activity begins to exhibit regular and sustained wave patterns, and that occurs consistently around week 25 of pregnancy. Only after something can die can it be considered alive, and to argue anything to the contrary is patently absurd.

    • That is actually the most convincing argument I’ve heard yet. Thanks for giving me the idea in the last post and I hope you don’t mind that I borrowed it and made it into a paragraph.

      • Not at all. it’s not my idea and i’m glad you included it. I liked the honesty in your post…. it cut through the noise that always seems to accompany the subject.

  9. Thank you Robert for another well thoughtful and mind provoking of blog post.

    The notion that beginning of life ought to be understood in terms of appearance of brain function since death is contemporary understood in terms of absence of brain function was first, I believe, presented by Baruch Brody in “Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life: A Philosophical View.”(1975) published by Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    I think this notion is wrong on two accounts. The first is that atheist philosopher Don Marquis (1996) gave, viz., “because death is, strictly speaking, defined in terms of the irreversible loss of brain function, the mere absence of brain function is not a sufficient condition for the absence of life.” Example animals without brain , thus no brain function(Jellyfish, starfish etc) by this definition are dead animal swimming🙂 )

    Second, it is not simply the absence of brain function, that is in play in pronouncing P dead, but irreversible lost of brain function. If P was expected to resume or to come to have brain function, then it is absurd to pronounce P dead. It is because P is not expected to resume or to come to have brain function, in medical term, P is pronounce medically dead.

    But this cannot be said for foetus, because, if all left to its course, foetus is expected to come to have brain function.

    Thus from these two accounts, I think this position is ad hoc because it assumes that a being that is not living, in first place, can be pronounced dead.

    Let me know your thoughts Robert.

    • Hi Prayson, good to see you. Just two points:

      When a person is clinically brain dead it is machines keeping the body alive. Without brain function the body dies, hence the unfortunate decision their family have to make in ER rooms to “Throw the switch.”

      Second: using a jellyfish as your example is ludicrous, and i think you know that. A simple organism cannot be compared to a complex one. If i were to accept your example as somehow worthy of consideration then i’d have to consider the liver an independent organism.

      • Thank John for pointing out points that need more expounding to be understood.

        You missed my point on medical pronouncation of death. I agree that the machines are keeping a person alive, and the call to “throw the switch” is reasonable, given that there is no chance P is expected to resume or come to gain brain function again. If P is expected to resume or come to gain brain function again, then P cannot be pronounce dead.

        You also miss the point of brainless animal. If it takes brain function for a living organism to be considered alive, then animals without brain, thus no brain function, cannot be considered alive. Jellyfish for example is not a living animal, which is absurd.

        For this two reason, I find that position a failure as a criteria of when life begins. Let me know your thoughts.

        • I think using such a primitive creature (jellyfish), which is essentially a drifting plant, does not serve your argument. Their reproduction cycles (bulbs) cannot be compared to complex creatures. That said, I know where you’re going with it, and it’s a valid question: what is life?

          In the case of P, when the machines are turned off he’s dead. End of story. If it weren’t for the machines he’s already dead.

          No stable brain activity = no bodily life. Therefore, my definition of life/death stands as the only reasonable articulation we have.

          As I’ve asked you before, to debate anything else would require you to present evidence for the human soul… which is something you have not been forthcoming with. Without that we must take the physicality of life as the only measurement.

          • *here i’m talking about complex life, not something that simply exhibits an urge to reproduce.

          • Thank you again John. The issue I am presenting is the absurdity of primitive creature with no brain activity, are, on your definition, no bodily life.

            Your definition falls, as atheist philosopher Don Marquis pointed out, that no brain activity is not a sufficient condition for absence of life. Since you agree that primitive creature like jellyfish, starfish and the likes, are living creature, then your defintion must be false, since these creature have no brain function, yet are considered alive.

            Existence of soul is irrelevant, and will only invoke sacred vs secular emotion.

            • Again, Prayson, you’re talking about simple life and that simply does not aid your argument. I’m talking about complex (human) life…. and without brain activity complex life ceases. Do you doubt this?

              • Yes, simple life is still life John. Remember my point is to show that your definition false. If no stable brain function = no bodily life, then simple bodily life, as of starfish, is not bodily life which is absurdity.

                I do not doubt that when P is without brain function, is not expected to resume nor come to gain it, then P is medically dead. If Q is temporary without brain function, or is expected to resume or come to gain brain function, the Q is not medically dead. Do you doubt this?

                • Define complex human “life” for me Prayson.

                • John, we are to separate two different categories. Life vs none-life, and simplicity vs complexity. If brain function is only to complex human being, then why use it for beings that are not yet complex, e.g zygote?

                  • I think the problem Prayson is that you are looking at life in general rather than human life. Brain activity is not necessary for life, but it is for human life.

                    This is the crucial distinction because the question is not whether or not the foetus is as alive as a jellyfish (because nobody cares about them) but whether a foetus is a human life entitled to rights. In other words is it a person and therefore worthy of protection.

                    Therefore a foetus is a living organism, but it is not until (at least) it achieves the ability to think that it can be considered a person.

                    • After discovering how bad the criteria brain function fails, Robert and John, I wondered which pro-choice philosophers or medical doctors held such a view. I found only Julian Savulescu’s 2002 article “Abortion, Embryo Destruction and the Future of Value Argument.” in Journal of Medical Ethics, 25(3), 133–135, defending such a view.

                      This criteria faces, not only external problems, but internal. The works of Miller and Truog in 2009 and Shewmon’s works in 1998, 2001, 2004, and 2009 showed that the whole brain death is not adequate criteria for the death of a human being.

                      Atheist philosopher Peter Singer, who is a vocal defender of abortion(and infanticide), in Rethinking Life & Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional
                      published by New York: St. Martin’s Press, judged this criteria as a “convenient fiction that turns an evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting such fictions, we should recognize that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being’s life.(Singer 1994, 105)

                      It is for this reason Robert, that I was surprised that you, after reading literature in this issue of abortion, found this criteria, which Singer, tagged “convenient fiction”, powerful.

                      Robert, what made you think this was a powerful argument?

                  • You are correct that I look at life in general because of the way the definition was set forth, namely absence of brain function means absence of life, which is biologically false.

                    I agree that brain activity is not necessary for life, but it is for advance developed human life. This criteria is ad hoc, because brain activity is used to read the death of a complete developed human being not a developing human being. If you have read the literature you will discover that the testing of EEG has only being done to above one year individuals.

                    Robert, I am confused why you think brain function criteria is most convincing argument since brain function is used to show whether P is living or not living(dead) and you agree that human foetus is a living organism.

                    Do you doubt that this living organism is a member of homo sapiens? And if it not a member of homo sapiens, then what is it?

                    • As I discussed in the post, what is crucial is not whether or not a foetus is a living organism. What counts is whether it has rights, whether it has personhood. I believe the crucial requirement for rights is rational thought, therefore I use that as the criteria. Until a foetus develops the ability to think, I do not believe it is entitled to full rights of a human.

                    • That is another criteria which I think has number of problems. If crucial requirement for rights is rational thought, then a person in comatose has no right to life, thus killing her would not be morally wrong, which is absurd.

                      The problem is that if person P, at time T lacks rational thought, then following this criteria, P does not have right to life at T, and is not immoral to kill P at T. Example, think I am in a car accident, injured my head, blackout and went in coma from 3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. In this period I lack rational thoughts, thus, following this criteria, have no right to life. If Jane kill me, in this period, Jane has done nothing immoral.

                      If you think Jane, if she kills me in this period which I lack rational thoughts, is doing something immoral, then this criteria fails. Let me know your thoughts Robert.

                    • However, that is a temporary loss of thought. In fact you’re brain may still be active during that time (I don’t know enough about science to know for sure). However, if you suffered permanent loss of rational thought, then you would lose some rights proportionate to your thought. For example, people with severe mental trouble do not have the same rights as the rest of society (for example some do not have right to free movement)

                      If were in a permanent coma then there would be grounds for your rights to be transferred to a next of kin who would act on your behalf.

                    • If P still have right to life during P’s temporary loss of thought, then I find this criteria a failure because lack of rational thought(a person in comatose does medically lack rational thought) does not necessarily mean lack of right to live.

                      Yes I agree that if you were in a permanent coma then there would be grounds for your rights to be transferred, but zef are not in permanent lack of thought(as a person in permanent coma) but temporary lack of thoughts which they are reasonably believe to possess.

  10. Abortion is sadly an ethical issue clothed with strong emotion. Those who are reducing this issue to secular vs sacred or feminism issue, are doing no one a favor since that only stir more emotions and less critical thinking.

    I think abortion is prima facie wrong because it, borrowing philosopher Robert Young’s words, “irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of [a being’s] life-purposes or of such life-purposes as [a being] may reasonably have been expected to come to have.”(Young 1979, 519)

    If that is true, then it does not matter when zef’s(zygote, embryo or foetus) life begins, or its personhood. What matter is; Is zef a being that could have a realization of life-purposes that may reasonably have been expected to come to have? If yes, then it is prima facie, (granting abortion to save the life of the mother), wrong to prevent that realization.

    Sperm and egg, by themselves, left in their position, are not expected to come to have a life-purposes but a sperm united with an egg, left in its position(woman’s uterus), does. Thus masturbation or use of condoms, or the likes, is not wrong. The sperm in man’s testicles, or in woman’s uterus, that is not united with an egg, are not expected to come to have life-purposes, left in their position(testicles, woman’s uterus or ones bathroom).

    Let me know your thoughts Robert. Sorry for a lengthy comment.

    See Robert Young “What Is So Wrong with Killing People?” Philosophy, Vol. 54, No. 210 (Oct., 1979), pp. 515-528

    • I think this comment is best suited for my last post and your last comment on that post is best suited here. As I discuss there I do not accept denial of potentiality as a crime or something that is wrong because almost anything can prevent a life from being born. Potentiality is such a vague notion that you cannot rest an argument upon it.

    • Robert, now you are dealing with two different things, ethical and legality. Something can be immoral but lawful, not a crime. E.g. Cheating my wife.

      Vagueness of potentiality is absent, Robert, in my case because what I contended is that:

      1. If abortion is irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of zef life-purposes or of such life-purposes as zef may reasonably have been expected to come to have. then abortion is prima facie morally wrong.
      2. Abortion is irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of zef life-purposes or of such life-purposes as zef may reasonably have been expected to come to have.
      3. Therefore abortion is prima facie morally wrong.

      Natural prevention, example miscarriage and still birth, would not be unjust prevention, because when we talk about justice we talk about about actions done by moral beings.

      My case could be use to defend the ending of comatose patients, and infants lacking all attributes of personhood that pro-life philosopher tend to set forth.

      In order to rebut, you need to show which premise(s) is not true, because the argument is a valid Modus Ponens: p→q, p, ∴ q. If both premises are true, then we have a sound philosophical argument against abortion.

      Let me know your thoughts, Robert.

      • Those are incredibly loaded and self-defining premises. You more or less just say abortion is unjust and immoral and dress it up as a logical argument with some mathematical symbols thrown in. If you begin by assuming abortion is unjust, then thats where you will end too.

        Abortion is irrevocable prevention, but so is contraception. Prevention is a poor argument that fails to convince.

        • Robert, you cannot dismiss my premises as being incredibly loaded and self-defining, because even if true, is irrelevant. You need to show that eitther P1 or P2 or both P1&P2 is false, to dismiss my case.

          Robert, in logical thinking, you begin with assuming X and defend or reject it. Example in problem from evil, one assumed ‘if God exist, then evil does not” and show that God does not exist. That is how logical critical thinking works.

          You refuted very well, the argument that abortion is irrevocable prevention of X, which is poor indeed. Sadly that is not my case. You brilliantly and successfully attacked a strawman.

          I already answered why contraception does not fall on my case. For there to be irrevocable, maximally unjust realization future of value of a being that may be reasonably expected to either have, resume to have or come to have, there need to be a victimized “being”. I can not be unjust to a nonexistent being nor there are no nonexistent victims wronged by being unjust.

          Contraception, if successive, prevent the existence of being B. If B does not exist, then there is no being that would be irrevocable, maximally unjust to realize its future of value.

          For that reason you objection fails, Robert.😉 Let me know your thoughts.

      • @Prayson Daniel

        1. If abortion is irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of zef life-purposes or of such life-purposes as zef may reasonably have been expected to come to have.

        The arbiter of “reasonable expectations” for her preganacy is, and can only be, the Mother. Thus, if she decided to end the pregnancy, it is because of her own judgment of reasonable expectations and potentialities.

        In non-philoso-wank language –

        If the woman is willing part of the equation, then ZEF is fine. However, ZEF’s expectations and potentialities do not overrule the mother’s wishes ever; thus ZEF expectations are unreasonable if the mother is an unwilling participant.

        These sorts of arguments, that do their best to erase the agency of women, are repugnant. Where “pro-life” (de facto anti-choice) policies are in place women die because they are forced to give birth.

        There is no morality in that.

        • I think that is the best counter argument and I believe, if I were for abortion would have also chose to rebut the future of value argument against abortion, because even if zef have future of value, thus have right to life that, by itself, does not show if zef has a right to use the womans body.

          I would say that this is a weakness in future of value arguments against abortion, to which you awesomely and correctly pointed out. You have a beautiful mind.😉

          To make my case stronger, I would have to offer a separate case that will rebut the idea that woman’s right to her body, extend to another body in her.

          I gave a counterexample, my special case 1: Chopping the Fetus:

          Jane decided to chop off the legs of the fetus, at week 7 but still she wants to keep it. Since she has the right to choose what happen in and to her body, Dr. John, with help of modern technology, performed the operation and chop Jane’s fetus legs off. In week 10, Jane decided to chop the hands of the fetus off and John performed what is reasoned to be Jane’s personal choice and right. In her final trimester, Jane asked John to perform prostaglandin.

          If woman’s right to her body extend to another body inside, Jane’s action is not wrong, but our moral intuitions, if we are not morally blind, tells us that Jane’s action is immoral.

          So I think, if the rebuttal is correct, then I believe, together with future of value argument, abortion is prima facie immoral.

          Let me know your thought.😉

          • Leaving behind the reasonable and medical arguments against this special case let’s just focus on one aspect.

            If woman’s right to her body extend to another body inside,

            This part of the counter example depends on defining the fetus in the common parlance to inspire dread and fear in the audience, such as, “How could anyone do that to a baby?”. The image in mind is not a blastocyst, or a fetus or really anything like the what would be the reality of what is going on in a person’s uterus. This conflation is inaccurate, dishonest and smacks of the authoritarian moral structure designed to instill fear and compliance rather than moral understanding.

            My second objection would be along the lines in which John Zande has been patiently, and not so patiently explaining, when it comes to brain activity. Said fetus doesn’t have any, thus doesn’t qualify to have any standing with regards to personhood.

            We are dealing with human non-sentient tissue. Thus, the case of improbable fetus chopping, the Woman and the doctor are acting within the margins of acceptable moral behaviour, if we are to regard women as human being with full body autonomy.

            • Thanks Arb. I find difficult to accept that the woman and the doctor are acting within margin of acceptable moral behavior.

              Remember, I did not regard the personhood of the foetus, but simply a living being with hands and legs that were chop off. Imagine Jane decided to keep her legless and handless foetus, and lets add that she chose to remove the eyes too, thus eyeless foetus.

              Say Jane gave birth, to this eyeless, legless and handless, being. Is she still acting within margin of acceptable moral behavior?

              • Is she still acting within margin of acceptable moral behavior?

                When is it okay to take away a woman’s autonomy? When is it okay to make her will subordinate to another?

                The answer, is of course, never. It’s never okay to do that to women.

                Responding to absurd hypothetical situations,like the libertarian foolishness above is OT, and I apologize to Mr.Nielsen for continuing the derail and shall not comment further on this thread about that topic.

                • Arb, the point of hypothetical situations is to test the truthfulness of the idea that woman’s right to her body, extend to a body of a being inside her.

                  It is absurd because our moral intuition tells us that what Jane does is morally wrong. And if that is so, then it shows that woman’s right to her body, does not necessarily extend to a body of a being inside her.

                  Thanks for everything Arb.

                  • @Prayson
                    In one of the Aliens movie, Riplee was impregnated with an alien life form.
                    Are you suggesting that Riplee had no right to her body and the ‘company’ were justified in trying to force her to carry this foreign entity to term?

                    • Reply
                      I am fetched thanks John. I have no idea what she should or shouldn’t do when both aliens ethics and human ethics are involved. What rights are on play here, alien’s or human’s or both?

                      But if I were her, with what I little know (human ethics) I would have aborted the alien foetus for two reasons:

                      1. Because it does not have a future of value as such as an immature or mature member of Homo sapiens is reasonably expected to have, resume to have or come to have.

                      2. It is reasonably expected to kill me.

                      So if 1 or(and) 2 is correct, then I think it is reasonable to abort the alien foetus or good reasons for aliens to grant the right over my body.

  11. Working with abortion in UK

    Do fathers not have rights???? In the UK woman can have abortion even if father opposes . This occurs quite a bit. Yet if mother decides to have baby and father opposes he is liable for child support. Is this equality??? What about siblings? How does it feel if your mum aborts baby. Often this adversely impacts on family relationships-with child feeling it could have been me. Is there a chance people may come under pressure to abort their baby if there is an identified anomaly or genetic condition in family ??? This happens in UK. Are all families strong enough to resist such pressures from medical professionals if they don’t want to do this??? There is no evidence of women committing suicide in pregnancy, otherwise Ireland would be awash with such cases. Fundamentally some people want abortion on demand. But what about everyone else’s rights????

    • The mother is primarily responsible for the child and unlike the father she cannot abandon it. This is particularly relevent in the case of abortion where the mother may not have a reliable father to raise the child. The fathers view is not relevant unless he will definitely being raising the child which is not always the case.

      You also completely misunderstand what equality means.

      Why should children tell their mother whether or not she is allowed to have an abortion? The world would have to be insane to allow that.

      Who would put women under pressure to have an abortion? Why would doctors pressure women? Do you have any proof that such things happen or are you just fearmongering?

      No evidence for suicide during pregnancy? You pretty wrong there and your reasoning is even worse.

  12. Do fathers not have rights????

    Agency for men is hardly ever in question.

    In the UK woman can have abortion even if father opposes .

    The way it should be, next question.

    Yet if mother decides to have baby and father opposes he is liable for child support. Is this equality???

    Is pregnancy a possible expectation when engaging in sexual activity? To prevent the evil women from oppressing the menz the only answer is to abstain from said activity.

    Are you actually envious of the paucity of women’s rights and would voluntary accept membership in a less privileged class in society?

    Is there a chance people may come under pressure to abort their baby if there is an identified anomaly or genetic condition in family ???

    Is there a chance that you’ve had too much coffee and are just *argle-bargaling* your ranty thoughts for our pleasure?

    This happens in UK.

    Citation needed.

    There is no evidence of women committing suicide in pregnancy, otherwise Ireland would be awash with such cases.

    Was this cross-posted? The OP made no claims about women and suicide.

    Fundamentally some people want abortion on demand.

    That quaint notion of women possessing bodily autonomy is freaky eh?

    But what about everyone else’s rights????

    When more people are entered into the arena of possessing human rights, everyone benefits.

  13. Robert, I published an article criticism brain-life theory:


    I hope that it will contribute a little in our discussion.

  14. The case of Savita Halpannwar;an Indian-born Irish dentist in Ireland that gave momentum to the debate was that of a critical pregnancy in which abortion was must. It cost her life when doctors refused to operate citing Anti-obortion laws.Human life in existence was more precious than a life TO BE given birth.Life for a life does not stand human reasoning

    • DDLuva

      Thanks for bring Mrs. Savita up, chandanpandya. When I did a current event for an article dealing with her situation some years ago, it really boggled my mind. When is abortion right? What if it jeopardizes the mother’s life? Is it okay then? I asked my mum about it. She said that not only was abortion morally wrong but it was unbiblical. But, the question arises: What about the mother’s choice? Doesn’t she have any rights? My conclusion (and I have no scientific proof for this…just my simple logic) is: what about the baby? Doesn’t the baby have any rights? Now if y’all are assuming that the baby is only a fetus then, no, but I believe that life begins at conception (sorry, Robert, I couldn’t understand a single thing from your article).
      BTW, if anyone could explain all the gobbledygook in Robert’s article, that would be really beneficial. Thanks🙂

  15. Pingback: When Does Life Begin? | Famous Jury Nullificati...

  16. Good article!! What a lot of anti-choice people fail to recognize is that most abortions are strongly recommended to be performed by 12 weeks. After that, it is a more complex procedure to extract the fetus. Late term abortions are extremely rare and I don’t think any woman of good sanity would want to abort a baby that could survive if it were to be born. But late term abortions will obviously be performed if there is a great threat to the life or health of the mother. I know you know this, but I guess I needed to write it.

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