Wednesday, May 16, 2012

the beginning of life

It's sort of strange that abortion debates focus on defining when human life begins.

What if humans laid eggs, which could be incubated and hatched even without the mother involved? If the anatomical development of babies inside eggs progressed the same way as it does in the womb, would we still pick 6 months as the cutoff point at which destroying the eggs became murder? I seriously doubt it. Adoption would be the obvious choice for unwanted eggs.

The choice of an arbitrary dividing line is a choice of a point to switch prioritizing one living creature's desires over another's. If allowing the baby to live did not require a huge sacrifice on the part of the mother, there would not be a reason to allow for its destruction in early developmental stages.

Is it the legal definition of murder that led to the widespread preoccupation of when an egg or fetus becomes a human? If so, that really feeds my skepticism of the modern practice of law as a lot of verbal contortionist game-playing, too easily divorced from the real issues.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Suppose eggs had to be actively sat on by mothers, or else the fetus would freeze to death (see: penguins). Then "abortion" by abandonment would be the obvious choice for unwanted eggs, right?

I'm curious why you think the verbal contortionist game-playing is about legal complications rather than moral or philosophical complications.

Vera L. te Velde said...

Yeah. Exactly. The normal thing to do with unborn children depends on the circumstances. It doesn't make sense to define the beginning of life as when the heart starts beating on its own or when its brain waves resemble human brain waves or at conception, and then insist that this definition is the only relevant thing to determining when abortion is allowed.

I think it's a legal complication because the law is what forces us to draw a hard line in a gray continuum. There is no magical moment when life begins. Obviously. If the law defines that moment precisely, it's playing games in order to manipulate technicalities (i.e., to ensure that murder laws apply on one side of the line). Of course, the law requires us to draw hard lines where there are none, but better to go about admitting the spectrum and demarcating it in a reasonable way, such as what Roe v. Wade did at with the trimester boundaries. That at least doesn't assert something that is obviously untrue, and anyway irrelevant.