IS THE FETUS A PERSON?

This issue has emerged again because the murder of a pregnant mother in Toronto resulted in the death of her unborn child. The husband has been charged with killing his wife but no charges were laid in the death of the seven-month fetus.

Under our Criminal Code a child is only considered a human being when it has emerged from the mother’s womb alive. Last year a Conservative member introduced a private bill that would make it a separate criminal offense to harm a fetus when the woman is assaulted or murdered but the bill was defeated in the House of Commons.

Other jursidictions do have laws governing the killing of the fetus. In 2002 in a high profile case in California, the husband was convicted of murdering his wife, eight months pregnant, and also convicted of murdering the unborn child.

The issue of when the developing child reaches viability – is able to survive outside the uterus – has taken on greater significance in recent years with advances in medical technology that have enabled fetuses to survive outside the womb long before 40 week’s gestation.

The distinguished ethicist, Dr. Margaret Somerville at McGill University, says she would change the law: “I’d change it because we’re being ostriches with our head in the sand, pretending that the baby does not exist…. Not to draw any lines, which is the case at the moment, or to draw the lines pretending we’re not dealing with a human life, warps our moral intuitions.”

Do you believe the developing child in the womb is a person?

Would you favour placing a law in the Canadian Criminal making it a separate offense to harm a fetus when the mother is assaulted or murdered?

I’m off to Ontario for the weekend. Back Sunday.  Have a great weekend.

22 Comments »

  1. 1
    SUZANNE Says:

    Yes.

    Next question.😀

    I believe that my children, when they are in the womb, are members of my family and I would like legal recognition for them. Should a drunk driver,God forbid, kill my unborn child, I would definitively want him prosecuted as if he had killed a born human being.

  2. 2
    Eric Says:

    Distinctions between “human being” and “person” have provided the basis in history for the worst kind of injustice and atrocity.

    African-American slavery, aboriginal status, Jewish holocaust–and now the war against the Unborn–have all been waged on the same front.

    Where it has suited the self interests of the powerful, those who are less advantaged or vulnerable have been de-person-alized [dehumanized]and then victimized.

    No group, scientific, medical, philosophical or religious has been able to successfully advance an argument that there is a valid distinction between a “person” and a “human being.” If you know of one I’d like to hear about it.

    So “is the developing child in the womb a person?” Of course. What else is “it” other than a human being and therefore other than a person?

    Do you know human beings who are not persons?

  3. 3
    Lukas B Says:

    I would definitely support a law that would allow for the prosecution of those who kill a pregnant woman for two counts of murder.

  4. 4

    Even if one cannot prove via reason that a fetus is a person, the mere possibility that it is obligates us to act as if it were.

  5. 5
    Barbara Says:

    I always find it curious that — Suzanne accepted😉 — that men jump in right away with their opinion on these issues related to unborn children when women usually have more to gain or lose…
    That said, I think they have made excellent points. As in the notorious California case, I believe that the murder of woman carrying a child is made more grievous by the two lives lost. That should be recognized in the law, I believe.
    Closing our eyes and claiming that the unborn child does not exist legally defies rationality. Accepting that child’s existence does have tremendous ramifications, however. That is what the legislators fear. Where do we draw the line?

  6. 6
    Robyn Says:

    A resounding YES to both questions.

    I also believe that men have every right to “jump in right away with their opinion on these issues related to unborn children.” After all, a child in the womb doesn’t get there without a man. Not to mention that men are certainly every bit as capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, life and death, person and non-person as a woman is.

    This is NOT a gender issue. My husband agrees.

  7. 7
    karen Says:

    As foolish as it is to pretend the fetus does not exist, it is also foolish to pretend that the development process does not exist. The destruction of, say, 16 undifferentiated cells, even though they have unique DNA and would eventually become a human infant, is not the same thing as killing an already (or mostly) developed person. Without the idea of a new soul already attached to those 16 cells, it’s hard to look at it and say “This is a person” when it does not have any of the characterstics I associate with humanity. The fetus does gradually obtain those characterstics, well before birth and even well before viability, IMO.

    That said, Suzanne is right that a pregnant woman and her family generally consider that fetus a member of their family… but then, I consider my dog a member of my family as well…

    With respect to the law, it seems to me that even stipulating the legality of abortion, we should assume the personhood of the fetus in these cases, because that is the default “choice”.

  8. 8
    Chimera Says:

    “Do you believe the developing child in the womb is a person?”

    No. Bombardier Inc. is a person.

    Neither is it a human being, which is another concept entirely. Would a pregnant woman be able to get away with driving in the HOV lane if there was no one sitting in any of the passenger seats?

    My criteria for this is that the fetus is not a separate entity from the woman who carries it within her body. Once it is born, and can be picked up and moved to a separate location, then it is a human being. Under law, though, it is not yet a person.

    Suzanne, you are free to believe anything you like so long as you don’t force it on anyone else who happens to believe different. Like Karen, I consider my animal companions to be members of my family. Can we get legal recognition for them? And don’t you dare start that circular non-logic crap again with me. I had more than my fill of it on your blog.

  9. 9
    jeremy Says:

    I have always been pro-choice. A fetus is a living being, what else could it be?

    In cases such as the Peterson case, the man who killed his wife and his unborn child should get two counts of murder. I have to be careful how I phrase this, it is hard to state a point of the death of an unborn when one is pro-choice, at least it is for me.

    This is a hard ethical discussion in Canada. Having lived most of my life in the U.S. laws were different than they are here regarding the lives of unborn children. This was one of those issues I struggled with in my ethics classes.

    Jeremy

  10. 10
    Oscar Says:

    Hi Neil,

    I just saw an abortion video on the internet and it was the most shocking, soul-search inspiring, and profoundly sad experience I have had in a long long time. I used to support pro-choice but now I don’t know. Isn’t there any other ways of aborting a fetus? I consider myself a strong male but scenes of little hands and feet being scraped out leaves me no alternative but to say I consider them human beings as well. I hope I never have to make that choice with my fiance. On a lighter note, Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

  11. 11
    John Says:

    I’m with Eric on this. The ongoing discussion of when human life actually begins has fostered the worse kind of verbal gymnastics.

    It seems to me the discussion of one human being’s power over the life of another human being (as situational and personal and legalistic as that is) is actually separate from the discussion of when human life actually begins. Although many in order to advance their own argument regarding the former will always tie the two together.

    Again, it seems to me when one human being tries to determine when another human being actually exists, one is ineveitably led to statements as ridiculous as this:
    “Once it is born, and can be picked up and moved to a separate location, then it is a human being.”

  12. 12
    SUZANNE Says:

    Like Karen, I consider my animal companions to be members of my family. Can we get legal recognition for them?

    Animal welfare laws are on the books. Can I get the same for unborn children?

    Without the idea of a new soul already attached to those 16 cells, it’s hard to look at it and say “This is a person” when it does not have any of the characterstics I associate with humanity.

    He’s not 16 cells, he’s a blastocyst who just happenst to have 16 cells– just like I’m not 3 trillion cells(or whatever the number is). We all passed through that level of development. If human beings are intriniscally valuable and all equal, they’re just as equal at the 16-cell stage as at birth. Equality isn’t about ability. It’s about the belief that all people are created equal, i.e. from the time of their creation.

  13. 13
    Chimera Says:

    John, would you care to say why you think my statement is ridiculous?

    It works for me. It works for most people. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s your problem.

  14. 14
    John Says:

    To be fair, the fact that it works for you is actually irrelevant to me and I don’t consider that to be a problem at all. In fact, silly me, I think I have as much right to consider it ridiculous as you do to consider it the truth

    For the life of me (pun intended), I can’t see what difference there would have been in regards to my being a human being a second before the doctor cut the umbilical cord as opposed to a second after (other than the fact that I became more portable).

  15. 15
    Chimera Says:

    John, disagreement is one thing. Denigration is too defensive. If you truly want to be fair, then play on the same level.

    Sure, you have a right to disagree (and now that you’ve said why, I understand why you disagree — something that was not previously apparent). You don’t win opinions over to your side of the discussion by running someone else’s opinion into the dirt as though it were of no consequence, and then refusing to give a full answer yourself. Dictators do that. Stephen Harper does that. But I repeat myself…

    As for the cutting of the umbilical cord being the defining moment of being-hood, well, why not? We have to define it somewhere. Being portable is a definite moment, a solid boundary of distinction. The boundary between a 16-cell blastocyte and a 32-cell blastocyte is not.

    There are those — you among them, it seems — who would prefer to think that being-hood begins at fertilization. And to that, I say whatever floats your boat. You may think what you like, and live your own life according to that.

    But there are those of us who have a different take on it, and we have as much right as you to our own opinions, and to live our lives as we see fit. We’re not forcing any of your women to have abortions. And you can’t force any of our women to remain unwillingly pregnant.

  16. 16

    I have just returned from a great weekend with family and friends in Ontario and have just read the comments on the fetus and personhood. I really want to congratulate all of you who have responded so far. It seems to me the discussion has been literate and civil, something to be proud of on so contentious an issue.
    Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  17. 17
    John Says:

    Chimera,
    Now that Neil’s back I have to be nice (just kidding).

    I did not mean to denigrate your opinion and probably should have used the word “arbitrary” rather than “ridiculous” in response to your statement.

    To use the cutting of the umbilical cord as the beginning of human life seems (to me) to defy logic and reason (other than “why not”) and is, I suspect, driven more by wanting to determine when human life can be ended as opposed to when it actually begins.

    As for respecting the opinion of another, I remind you that the following statement is yours not mine:

    “It works for me. It works for most people. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s your problem.”

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  18. 18
    Chimera Says:

    John, I should have said, “If it doesn’t work for you, then you need to find a defining line for yourself.” I wasn’t very clear in my original statement. My apologies.

    And yes, I think finding a defining moment is necessary. I choose the moment of birth because that makes the most sense to me. It is a superlative transition, never to be equalled. The final piece in the puzzle, the picture is now complete.

    Not logical to you? Not reasonable to you? Where would you place the defining moment?

    The defining moment at the end of life is another subject up for debate, I guess. I prefer to see it as the moment of brain death, which cannot be faked. The heart can be kept artificially beating forever, which opens up the possibility of virtual immortality, wherein no one would be allowed to die.

    Enjoy your Turkey Day. I’m doing my best to avoid it.

  19. 19
    karen Says:

    Suzanne,

    No, you are not merely 3 trillion cells. This is because you have systems that work together to make you more than the sum of your cells. If you were a lump of 3 trillion

    But a blastocyst IS just a group of 16 cells. It does not have senses and awareness. It does not have the remotest possibility of having senses and awareness. It is 16 cells.

    Saying that a 16-celled blastocyst does not have equal rights to an infant does not mean I don’t believe the infant that the blastocyst would become would not be created equally to any other infant.

    What I do not believe is that a 16-celled blastocyst is a fully created human being. It is in the process of being created, and it is dependent upon the hospitality of a woman. It has some rights – more and more as it develops – but to imagine that 16 cells is actually a human being is simply magical thinking.

  20. 20
    karen Says:

    oops, forgot to finish a thought up there. Time to go home anyway.

  21. 21
    S cameron Says:

    Of course there should be laws to protect the unborn. Had this child been one years old or fifteen, we would have all been apalled at this news.

  22. 22
    SUZANNE Says:

    No, you are not merely 3 trillion cells. This is because you have systems that work together to make you more than the sum of your cells. If you were a lump of 3 trillion

    Why should a system matter? If you’re a human being, you’re a human being. You look at the whole, not its parts.

    But a blastocyst IS just a group of 16 cells. It does not have senses and awareness. It does not have the remotest possibility of having senses and awareness. It is 16 cells.

    The idea is that human worth is intrinsic. Intrinsic means that from the time a human being exists, he has worth. At some point, we all only had 16 points, but we’re still the same whole.

    What I do not believe is that a 16-celled blastocyst is a fully created human being. It is in the process of being created, and it is dependent upon the hospitality of a woman. It has some rights – more and more as it develops – but to imagine that 16 cells is actually a human being is simply magical thinking.

    It’s not magical thinking. A blastocyst is an organism. It fulfills all the criteria of an organism. All organisms are the same species as their parents. Ergo, a blastocyst produced from two human parents is a human being. There’s no such thing as a “half human being” a “partial human being”, etc.

    When white supremacists looked at blacks once upon a time, they didn’t see a human being. Why? Because they didn’t look like him, didn’t act like him, etc. So he thought he had the right to treat the black person any way he wanted.

    In the same way, people think that because a blastocyst does not look like themselves or act like themselves, they’re not human beings. Science says otherwise.

    The fact that we have to categorize some organisms as partial human beings or “human beings in development” should raise suspicions. Because biology does not work that way. Every individual of a species possesses the morphology of all the life stages of his species. An individual of a species is a package deal. You are not a zebra one day and an antelope the next. You belong to one category of existence and you do not change.

    In the same way, you can’t have “partial rights”. Human beings possess rights from the time they exist due to their fixed human nature. Rights are what individuals need to fulfill their potential. And the right to life is the most fundamental one.


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