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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Our first open thread

As intimated in some earlier posts, in the hopes of trying to create some more community among our readers and writers, we're starting an open thread on an experimental basis.  We might do it for a few days, one day, or much longer.

Here are the ground rules.  The presumption is no anonymous posting.  We reserve the right to police that line arbitrarily.  Censorship is when the government shuts you down. This is not a public forum. So don't whine when we delete comments that pass our taste threshhold.  Please play nicely with us and the others.   

And enjoy.

Posted by Administrators on November 29, 2005 at 01:27 AM in Blogging | Permalink


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This is an expansion of the previous posting.
Chimerism involves two "blastocysts", clumps of cells descended from the two eggs. Each blastocyst is both an organism and a "clump of cells". When chimerism does not occur, a clump of cells just continues to become a clump of greater numbers of cells, per ordinary cell-division, using the food that was stored in the egg. At some point the "homeobox" or "hox" genes start getting activated, these are in charge of sending signals to different portions of the clump of cells, to tell them to start differentiating into various types of cells, like heart tissue, liver tissue, etc. Some minimal differentiation (to make placental cells) is required for the clump of cells to be able to implant in the womb. And the womb, of course, takes care of both food-supplies and waste-management, as further cell-division/differentiation/growth occurs.

Well, when chimerism occurs successfully (it does have degrees of success and failure), it probably is because one of the two merged organisms activates its hox genes first. The chemical signals then go throughout the combined clump of cells, to start ordinary cell differentiation. Here is a somewhat crude example:

(One blastocyst on this side of combined spherical clump; one blastocyst on this side.)
(Make toe cells!.................make head cells!)
In the above example the upper half of the final body would be "descended" from one of
the two original organisms, and the lower half of the final body would be descended from
the other of the two original organisms.

The example shows how both of the original organisms end up growing such excellently complementary physical characteristics, and how neither of the two organisms dies in the merging process. And it is easy to see how one organism's hox genes can be activated before the other's, simply because fertilization is a random event. Just because two eggs were available doesn't mean both got fertilized at exactly the same moment! So, when chimerism occurs, one of the two organisms is almost always older than the other, just enough more developed that it is "ready" to activate its hox genes first. And the "start differentiating" signals that go out simply prevent the other organism's hox genes from starting to get activated. Kind of like if two platoons of soldiers are merged, the commanding officer will be the one who is either the most experienced or has the higher rank (usually equivalent measures). You may now have a combined "organism", but every soldier in it carries evidence of events prior to the merging. Yes, chimerism doesn't always work out...and neither does combining platoons of soldiers.

The preceding is an insurmountable problem for extreme pro-lifers. They are the ones who want to insist that a human organism is always a person. And Science Says: "Chimerism is the ultimate version of two cooperating organisms!" Therefore it logically follows that every human chimera should be allowed two votes (and sometimes maybe more! --what about probably-rare-but-possible triplet-mergings?).

Yes, even extreme pro-lifers will blanch at that (probably excepting the ones who also happen to be chimeras, heh!), because general society will consider it to be an absurd conclusion. Per the rules of reductio-ad-absudum reasoning, if the conclusion is absurd then the initial assumption must be absurd. And in this case, the initial assumption is the thusly-proved-worthless claim that every human organism is a person. The correct assumption is that minds are persons, not organisms/bodies!

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Mar 28, 2006 10:45:45 AM

There is a significant abortion-related aspect to the "chimerism" phenomenon that was not discussed in the Nov 29, 2005 2:10:53 PM posting above. First note that it is known to happen at least two different ways. (1) A blastocyst (cluster of cells perhaps a few days after fertilization) splits, which normally yields identical twins, or even conjoined (Siamese) twins, but during chimerism the the two independent clusters merge back together to form a single cluster again. This sort of chimera can be difficult to detect, because the overall genetics is so similar (despite differences that inevitably start happening while the clusters are separate). (2) Two blastocysts from seperate egg-fertilizations (fraternal twins) merge together; they may be of the same sex or of opposite sexes (and can cause hermaphroditism). This sort of chimerism can give "type"-matching geneticists fits; the blood, for example, may have resulted from one of the merged cell-clusters, while the heart may have resulted from the other -- so trying to tissue-match the heart for a transplant, based on blood work, can be fatal. The "I Am My Own Twin" documentary, linked above, describes a case where one woman almost had her children taken away because the genes in her blood didn't match the genes in her reproductive system.

With that background information, consider that the extreme pro-life stand is that when there are two separate clusters of cells, they should be counted as two persons. But when chimerism happens, both clusters of cells continue to exist healthily. No aspect of their "independent" lives-as-organisms is lost when chimerism happens, except they have traded their independent existence for symbiosis. A chimera is the ultimate case of a conjoined twin.

Well, conjoined twins are usually counted as two persons, right? Therefore, shouldn't every chimeric human be counted as two persons, and be given two votes? That is the logical conclusion of insisting that two human organisms, both still fully alive, even if existing symbiotically instead of independently, equate to two persons, isn't it? If it is not logical, then that can only be because there is something fundamentally wrong with equating an organism-count to a person-count. That is, minds are persons, not organisms/bodies. This conclusion matches other data, such as the cases where one twin of a conjoined pair is incomplete (no head, so no second mind, so no second person). And it matches the data about brain-dead humans on life-support, regarding which various Courts have determined it is acceptable to "pull the plug", because the person, the mind is gone, even if the empty human animal body remains alive.

The relevance of the preceding logic about persons, to the abortion issue, should now be clear. Unborn humans are all "empty human animal organisms/bodies", and not persons. Even in late pregnancy, when various mind-associated characteristics begin to appear, these characteristics are all only animal-level (no fetus is smarter than an adult cow, due to having less brain than an adult cow). Humans do not grow enough brain to support person-level mentation until well after birth. In fact, some aspects of person-class mentation are known to require up to three years of brain growth; see http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&colID=1&articleID=000ACE3F-007E-12DC-807E83414B7F0000 . That is, the scientific data clearly tells us that there is a "gray area" where every young human animal grows into a human person, but this gray area is not entered until some time after birth occurs. And therefore even late-term abortions cannot possibly involve the killing of human persons; it always and only involves the killing of empty human animal bodies.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Mar 27, 2006 8:38:28 AM

Here is a simple test for the pro-lifers. The idea is nail down the basis of their opposition to abortion.

"What general statement can you make, that is provably Objectively True (e.g. "The Earth is spherical"), from which it can be logically deduced that abortions should be prohibited?"

If that simple Question cannot be answered by the pro-lifers, then why should anyone believe that their opposition to abortion is anything other than hysterical nonsense? Note that a statement such as "All humans are equally human" may be Objectively True, but this does not logically lead to prohibition of abortion. The reason is, abortion is something involving persons and non-persons, and as shown in other postings above, "human" and "person" are different concepts. Thus to focus on "human" is to digress from the actual issue. For proof, consider the brain-dead human on life-support: When sufficient tests have been made to determine that the brain-dead diagnosis is correct, then "pulling the plug" on that former human person is considered acceptable -- only the purely animal human body exists at that point. In this case the desires/Choices of one or more Persons (to pull the plug) conflict with the hardwired desires/Instincts of a mindless animal (to stay alive), but in the end Persons are allowed to exercise their traditional powers over animals. Well, the status of that human on life-support is very equivalent to an unborn human, because the latter has not yet to grown and so does not even remotely possess any of the mental qualifications/characteristics that distinguish Persons from animals. An early-term human fetus exhibits no brain activity at all, making the equivalence practically exact. To prohibit early-term abortions is to deny traditional powers of Persons over animals, and indeed it even makes Persons subservient to animals! Next, while a late-term fetus does indeed exhibit much more brain activity than a brain-dead human, the quality of that brain activity is no different from the quality of the brain activity of various fully-grown animals, such as a sea lion. http://staff.washington.edu/chudler/facts.html That is, while fairly smart, the sea lion and others are still only animals, non-persons. The late-term unborn human simply does not have the brainpower to qualify for more than animal status. And that Measurable Fact is ultimately more important than the human-ness of a fetus, when the desires of Persons conflict with the desires of animals.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Mar 20, 2006 6:17:28 PM

There are a number of States which have passed laws that essenctially grant "person" status to unborn humans. These laws tend to be used to allow a murderer to be charged with two murders if the victim is a pregnant woman. But they also are a precedent that counts as a chink in the the abortion-rights armor which is Roe vs Wade. It is my understanding that some of those states' laws have been tested for Constitutionality, and have passed the test. What I don't know is the nature of the challenge that was raised, when they were so tested. Here I'd like to point out that they might be overturn-able on Separation of Church and State grounds.
1. Despite dictionary definitions, the way that the word "person" is used in Modern English (and also in English even before there were any dictionaries) allows non-humans to be granted person status. As evidence, the phrase "little people" in Ireland was not always considered mythology. And Science Fiction has introduced many characters that have been treated just like ordinary human persons, no matter how fictional those characters may be.
2. The fact that non-humans can be persons therefore means that the words "human" and "person" represent different concepts.
3. Therefore one cannot automatically assume that a particular human also qualifies as a person. There might be characteristics associated with that human which preclude him/her from having the characteristics associated with persons.
4. It is not for me to Officially Specify the defining characteristics of persons, other than to point out that they must be characteristics that ordinary animals do not possess. Failure to recognize that there must be a distinction between persons and animals could lead to a murder charge for swatting a fly!
5. So far as I know, any definition of "person" that works to always successfully distingush persons from ordinary animals (on any planet, regardless of the types of life-forms present), that definition will also result in unborn humans failing to qualify as persons.
6. On what basis, therefore, does any Law proclaim that unborn humans qualify as persons? Should the law be retained if it denies Fact? Was the law inspired by Religious teachings? And does such a law favor one set of religious teachings over other sets of religious teachings? I submit that if these questions are truthfully answered, then those laws will be found to unacceptable under the Constitution.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Feb 9, 2006 2:36:38 AM

The phrase "human being" is often used by pro-lifers to describe an unborn human. Well, certainly the unborn is human, and certainly it exists (one of the definitions of "being"), but it happens that the word "being" also implies certain things that are not true of any unborn human. See, other phrases in relatively common use are "intelligent being" "sentient being" "sapient being", and sometimes even "alien being". More interestingly, here are some phrases you don't see very often: "insect being" "lizard being" "dog being" --well, you might find them in Science Fiction, where those entities are also, every time intelligent alien beings. Therefore, from the way that the word "being" is actually often used, we can conclude that it implies significant mental abilities. That's why when talking about horses we simply say "horses", and not "horse beings". That's also why you hardly ever encounter the phrase "fetus being". Nevertheless, pro-lifers continue to call unborn humans by the full phrase, "human beings", as if they are trying to convince others that unborn humans have more mental abilities than ordinary animals. Well, the Scientific Facts are plain, unborn humans do not have any more mental abilities than equivalently-brained ordinary animals. Therefore that blatantly Orwellian misuse of the English language must be pointed out at every opportunity. Lying about unborn humans, eveny by implication, is still lying.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Feb 9, 2006 2:02:38 AM

Besides the data posted on Jan 17, here is are some additional facts relevant to any debate in which "personhood" is associated with "species". The paleontological record shows that anatomically modern humans (meaning they had practically the same DNA we do) have existed for somewhat more than 100,000 years. Meanwhile, archeologists sifting human artifacts find that the use of symbols to represent things only goes back about 50,000 years. There are practically no artifacts older than 50,000 years having any symbolic purpose. Well, from the fact that modern humans have existed for twice that long, and from the fact that using symbols is one of the key traits of personhood, it becomes possible to conclude that for the first 50,000 years or so of humanity's existence, despite their having essentially the same DNA as we do today, none of them fully qualified as persons!!! --And there is a simple logical explanation, also. Just look at the preceding post here about "feral" children. Well, the very first modern humans obviously did not grow up in an environment much different than that of being raised by animals. Those humans would have been feral, therefore. Their offspring would also have been feral, having been raised by ferals. Only gradually would the total stimulus experienced by human children have increased, as the generations passed and humans learned more and interacted more. It logically follows that there is a "threshhold" of stimuli, experienced while growing up, that can trigger personhood in a feral human. The evidence is that this happened about 50,000 years ago, after roughly 50,000 years of human-tribes-accumulating-stimuli. Furthermore, one cannot claim that the archeologists might yet dig up symbol-laden artifacts that are 70,000 years old, because of another well-known fact about humans: They migrate. And it doesn't take 20,000 years of walking around to reach all the land in the Earth's Eastern Hemisphere. And, human persons armed with the ability to manipulate symbols would have had a huge advantage over all the feral humans in their way, as they migrated. We can be quite sure that as soon as symbol-manipulation appeared, its users spread and conquered the world in less than 1000 years. All of which happened about 50,000 years ago. Therefore all of this constitutes another break in any claim that personhood is a species-associated thing. On the contrary, it is a mental-development thing, totally independent of any species. (Which meshes with the notion that an Artficial Intelligence, having no species, can be a person if it is mentally developed enough.) The evidence is plain; any pro-life argument that tries to link "species" with "person" is fundamentally flawed.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Jan 26, 2006 3:24:19 PM

Because that previously-described notion, that personhood is an inherent property of the human species, is expounded by various pro-life supporters in spited of the previously-posted arguments, it seems appropriate to mention some actual data. So, consider the "nature versus nurture" debate, about which mental traits of humans are inherited and which are not. We know that many traits are a combination (a man with two Y chromosomes tends to be especially agressive, and tends to become a criminal more often than a man having the usual single Y-chromosome). But in this posting I ask you to consider "wolflings", human children raised by animals. There are a few known real cases of this. The facts of those cases, unlike the fictional Tarzan and Mowgli, is that those humans, if they grow more than seven or so years from infants in the absence of all the varied stimuli provided by other humans, don't/never develop much in the way of personhood traits. This real evidence means that the claim is fundamentally flawed, that personhood is a species/nature trait. Nurture wins that round!

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Jan 17, 2006 1:43:47 PM

In addition to the second paragraph posted on Jan 3, there is reductio ad absurdum argument against the initial part of that posting's first paragraph.

While it might be nice to say, "humans exhibit personhood because it is a species trait", it cannot be said that personhood is a species trait without supporting evidence. What is the evidence? The fact that some humans exhibit personhood! This logic may appear circular, but it really does matter what order statements are made. So:

1. Traits of personhood are defined.
2. Some humans are observed to exhibit those traits.
3. It is now claimed that personhood is a species-wide characteristic,
on the basis of that evidence. If NO humans exibited personhood,
then humans cannot be claimed to possess that characteristic.
4. All humans must now be declared persons, since that characteristic
has been claimed to exist species-wide.

Well, then.....

1. Traits of bad guys are defined.
2. Some humans are observed to exhibit those traits.
3. It is now claimed that bad-guy-ness is a species-wide characteristic,
on the basis of that evidence. If NO humans exibited bad-guy-ness,
then humans cannot be claimed to possess that characteristic.
4. All humans must now be declared bad guys, since that characteristic
has been claimed to exist species-wide.

In both cases, step 3 is illogical. And there is no other way to reach step 4 from step 2. The net result is that not all humans can automatically be called bad guys, and not all humans can automatically be called persons.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Jan 12, 2006 10:49:48 PM

This posting relates to another argument used by some pro-life people to try to convince others that a fetus deserves to be called a person. In that argument, the qualities of "personhood" are identified with the species instead of the individual. That is, if any member of a species qualifies as a person, then every member of that species should be granted personhood rights. The basis of this argument is that there are times when various members of a species may not be able to exhibit the traits that qualify an individual for personhood. For example, someone who has just been knocked out in a boxing-match fight is hardly in a position to demonstrate such things as Free Will or abstract reasoning, so why should that unconscious body still retain personhood rights? The answer is that we have good reason to think the unconscious body will re-awaken and at that time once more exhibit personhood traits. Well, what is the difference between acknowledging that in the future a knocked-unconscious person will awaken as a person, and acknowledging that in the future a fetus will awaken as a person?

This is the difference: "ability" is not the same thing as "functioning". The person who is knocked unconscious has the ability to exhibit the traits of personhood, even if the functioning of that ability has been temporarily interrupted. Meanwhile, the fetus totally lacks even the ability, much less the functioning. There are two analogies that should clarify this distinction. First, consider a baseball player or a pianist or a typist. These descriptions do not cease to apply if the baseball player is on vacation, or the pianist is in a bookstore where no piano is present, or the typist is at home with an illness. Why, therefore, should there even be a consideration of the notion that a person knocked unconscious might cease to qualify as a person? Second, consider that in the distant-enough future an average individual person will probably experience death. At that time, then, the person will exhibit the traits of a corpse. Well, if we can claim a fetus should be treated as a person now because in the future it will exhibit the traits of a person, then why shouldn't all the pro-life persons be treated as corpses right now, because in the far-enough future they will all exhibit the traits of corpses? Since there's too many of them to embalm, the simplest thing to do is just round them up and -- only because their own logic declares them to be equivalent of dead -- bury them in mass graves just as they are! Well, let us first kindly give them a chance to recant that idiotic logic, before any such burials occur... By the way, do not think for a moment I'm implying that aborting a living fetus is the same thing as treating it as if it is a corpse. The actual fact of the matter is that only after an abortion occurs, could a fetus be treated as a corpse. And therefore, to be consistent with the facts, only after a fetus is born and grows enough brainpower to exhibit the traits of a person, can it be treated as a person!

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Jan 3, 2006 12:15:31 PM

There are those who would claim, "If a woman knowing takes the risk of getting pregnant, then she must accept the consequences." Therefore, as an extension to what I posted on Dec. 8 (which was itself an addendum to an even earlier posting), I think it is necessary to show how that statement is invalid, also. Consider a bog with mosquitos. You know the bugs are there, but sometimes you may choose to walk nearby, anyway, because of a particular destination that you wish to reach. Well, a mosquito is just doing its natural/mindless/biological thing, over which you have no voluntary control, when it flies into your personal space for the purpose of implanting its proboscis to suck your blood. Are you required to let it? Absolutely not!!! The analogy should now be clear, that there is no requirement at all for anyone to submit to other involuntary natural/mindless/biological events, such as egg-fertilization and womb-implantation, just because the risk was taken, that it might happen.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Dec 23, 2005 1:17:34 PM

It appears that my Nov 29, 2005 4:18 posting wasn't quite thorough enough. There are those who equate voluntary sex with choice-to-conceive, due to the claim that the biological purpose of sex is procreation. The purpose of this posting is to show that claim to be erroneous.

We begin by noting that most animals have a "season" for reproduction. A female in estrus/ovulation actively seeks sex (and her pheromones attract males driven to willingness to fight for access to her) --and offspring are almost a sure thing, too-- but when not in estrus the female has zero interest in sex.

Humans broke out of that mold. For humans, sex is also a "pair-bonding" thing, not exclusively for procreation. (Study some of the literature on pair-bonding and see for yourself.) The female can seek sex whenever she wishes -- and most often she wishes to use it to build a pair-bond. Ovulation is often so hidden she has to use math if she wants to get pregnant from a single sex act. (Yes, some women can directly detect when ovulation occurs, but not all.) Finally, human pheromones play a role so subtle and non-driving that almost none of us especially notices; if they didn't exist for humans, we mostly wouldn't notice the difference.

The fact is, therefore, that for humans sex does not exist for the sole purpose of procreation, even when examined from the purely natural mindless biological standpoint. And so any claim that the choice to indulge in sex always equates to a choice-to-conceive is utterly flawed and false.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Dec 8, 2005 11:43:19 AM

To my prior post which attempted to analyze some "intended meaning" by the Founding Fathers, I'd like to add this:
The phrase "little people" was well known in that era. It was an alternate label for such kryptozoological life-forms as brownies and fairies and maybe even elves and leprechauns. The point is that the word "people" in that phrase "little people" is still a plural for "person". Thus, in spite of modern dictionary definitions that tend to restrictively link "persons" with humans, popular "knowledge" of the era of the Founding Fathers did informally include a more generic definition, which allows nonhumans to qualify as people, too.

Next, as an alternate ending to my previous post, it is possible that because of the religious attitudes of the era of the Founding Fathers, they may have considered a "person" to be any creature having a free-willed "soul". The nebulous nature of that concept, however, still unverified even today, along with their intention to separate Church and State, would have precluded defining "persons" in that way. Still, even with such a notion in the background thoughts of the Founding Fathers, where God is presumed to exist and souls are the essence of people, there were arguments even in those days among religions, regarding when souls become associated with human bodies. While I don't know what the Founding Fathers would have made of the argument presented in my Nov 29, 2:10 posting above, they could very well have left "person" undefined simply because of the arguments they already knew about.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Dec 6, 2005 1:53:08 PM

Missed closing an HTML tag again! And that time I tried hard to be careful about it!

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Dec 1, 2005 3:03:31 PM

There are those who would consider that the Founding Fathers, in using the word "person" throughout the Constitution, could only have meant by that the common definition of "human". However! It is accepted that they were uncommon and well-read men, is it not? Then it logically follows that they should have been aware of plenty of fantastical possibilities, few of which were routinely dismissed in their time. That is, while we all know that the word "person" is generic enough to be sexless, in the 1700s there were plenty of tales of angels and demons and ogres and trolls and oddball critters like the Sphinx (the entity associated with the anciently famous "Riddle of the Sphinx"), as well as other legendary Beings like elves and brownies and leprechauns.... How many of those might also qualify as persons?

The point is, the writers of the Constitution were almost certainly of the possibility that nonhumans might qualify as persons. It was very clever of them to avoid ridicule by simply using that generic word "person" all through the Constitution, and avoiding "human" entirely -- leaving us to wonder. That is, why we should think that just because a common definition of "person" is "human", that those uncommon and well-read men, the Founding Fathers, embraced that simple definition without reservation? Instead, consider that there were enough free-thinkers among them that someone could well have pointed out that, if personhood was restricted humans, then even God is excluded! That conclusion would not have gone over well, in the devout minds of those who might have specified such a restriction.

The net effect, should we try to imagine what "intended meaning" the Founding Fathers had, when employing the word "person" throughout the Constitution, we might have to think in terms of a list, such as "all humans and all elves and all angels and all ogres and ..." --and we run up against the fact that this List cannot be completed until every organism in the Universe has been studied. In merely employing the generic "person", without trying to define it, therefore, the Founding Fathers left room for the infant Sciences of the day to eventually grow to the point where the concept of "person" could be generalized and defined accurately.

Today we know enough to do a pretty good job of it. All the things that persons can do, which distinguishes them from the mere animals that cannot do those things, involve significant brainpower. If this means that unborn humans, lacking that brainpower, must be classed as animals in spite of the common definition of "person", then pursiut-of-consistency and avoidance-of-hypocrisy means that either we accept it, or we allow ordinary animals as mindless as unborn humans to be classed as persons too!

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Dec 1, 2005 3:00:46 PM

Can you provide a list of acceptable HTML tags near the start of this Web page? (Also, I made a mistake in closing some tags in my 11:06 message; I tryed to compensate for it in the 11:15 message, but it didn't work. I may have to beg that the error be fixed in the file on the server. Sorry.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 11:24:33 PM

I see HTML tags work. If I'd have known from the get-go, I'd have avoided using so many capital letters.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 11:15:45 PM

Here is a piece of reasoning that indicates the Supreme Court made the correct decision in denying person status to unborn humans: Amendment 13 forbids involuntary servitude outside of due process of law. If a woman does not want to be pregnant, and the unborn is not a person, then there is no conflict because an abortion merely kills an animal (which it certainly purely is in scientific fact). But if the unborn is declared to be a person, then the unwilling pregnant woman is now in involuntary servitude to that unborn human, outside of due process of law. She has committed no crime, much less been convicted of one, such that involuntary servitude to the unborn can be required of her. Better, therefore, that granting personhood to the unborn be avoided in the first place. So, to all who would Amend the Constitution to grant personhood to unborn humans, exactly how can you do this without violating Amendment 13?

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 11:06:51 PM

oops, Dan, I was writing that last one while you were posting your message about capital letters, and so didn't see it until too late. Please accept my apologies.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 4:20:36 PM

There are those who tie responsibility to indulging in sex. That connection is faulty, however, due to the biological fact that the process of conception is an INVOLUNTARY event. Think about all those couples who want to have offspring, and select sexual behavior intended to maximize the probability of conception, but they still fail (about 1/6 of all couples, IIRR). IF CONCEPTION WAS VOLUNTARY, THERE WOULD BE NO SUCH COUPLES. Well, since concepton is involuntary, it can happen when it is undesired. That is, the choice to indulge in sex is NOT the same as a choice to conceive. Should we pity the Virgin Mary, who likely experienced all the inconveniences of pregnancy, but experienced none of the fun that could have preceded it? And what of the biological hypocrisy granted to males, who can have their fun without the inconveniences, simply by running away? It is manifestly unfair to insist that women remain pregnant JUST because an INVOLUNTARY conception occurred.

To put it another way, a pregnancy is perfectly natural mindless biology in action. Do humans claim subservience to natural mindless biology, or do they claim superiority over natural mindless biology? If subservient, then why are medical procedures from immunizations to heart-bypass surgery tolerated? If superior, then why should ANY woman be required OR EVEN EXPECTED to carry a pregnancy to term? It is pure hypocrisy to think one should be able to take a pill or have an operation, to deal with some unwanted natural-mindless-biological aspect of the body, like cancer -- while also thinking that an unwanted/involuntary pregnancy is somehow different than natural-mindless-biological, and requires subservience.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 4:18:47 PM

Vernon, please, don't overshoot on the first day. And fewer capital letters too please. I'm taking requests for new rules.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Nov 29, 2005 4:07:53 PM

There are those who think that the abortion debate can be resolved by specifying a Constitutional Amendment that defines "person". This will require Voting, of course. Suppose we created a ballot exploring how the public perceives the concept of "person"? Then the Amendment could (hopefully would) be based on the Public Will. OKAY...

Here's a series of Yes/No questions; pretend they are on a ballot:
1. If Mr. Worf, a nonhuman of the fictional "Star Trek" universe,
existed for real, should he be considered a person?
2. If Chewbacca, a nonhuman of the fictional "Star Wars" universe,
existed for real, should he be considered a person?
4. If Sarek, Mr. Spock's father, a nonhuman of the fictional "Star
Trek" universe existed for real, should he be considered a person?
3. If Number Five, a robot in the fictional "Short Circuit" movie,
existed for real, should it be considered a person?
4. If C3PO, a robot in the fictional "Star Wars" universe,
existed for real, should it be considered a person?
5. If Draco, a fictional dragon in the movie "DragonHeart",
existed for real, should he be considered a person?
6. If the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, characters in the fictional
Land of Oz, existed for real, should they be considered persons?
7. If the Cowardly Lion, a character in the fictional Land of Oz,
existed for real, should he be considered a person?
8. Should ORDINARY lions be considered persons?
9. If Mr. Ed, a fictional talking horse in an old TV show,
existed for real, should he be considered a person?
10. Should ORDINARY horses be considered persons?
11. If Bugs Bunny and Roger Rabbit, fictional cartoon characters
appearing in the movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", existed
for real, should they be considered persons?
12. Should ORDINARY bunnies and rabbits be considered persons?
13. If Mickey Mouse, a fictional cartoon character, existed for real,
should he be considered a person?
14. Should an ORDINARY mouse be considered a person?
15. If Porky Pig, a fictional cartoon character, existed for real,
should he be considered a person?
16. Should ORDINARY pigs be considered persons?
17. If Snoopy the Dog, a fictional cartoon character,
existed for real, should he be considered a person?
18. Should ORDINARY dogs be considered persons?
19. If Felix the Cat, a fictional cartoon character,
existed for real, should he be considered a person?
20. Should ORDINARY cats be considered persons?
21. Should persons be distinguished from animals by
whether or not they are human?
22. God is described as a purely nonphysical entity,
nonhuman therefore, and is believed to exist by many
humans. If that is true, should God be considered a person?
23. Should persons be distinguished from animals by the
mental capabilities they exhibit?
24. Since it is a scientific fact that ordinary animals
like horses, pigs, cats and dogs exhibit more mental
capabilities than an unborn human (for most of a pregnancy,
even an ordinary mouse has more mental capabilities),
should an unborn human be considered a person?

P.S. I do not claim copyright on any of my postings here. Feel free to copy/paste them elsewhere!

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 3:04:13 PM

There is an argument that purports to show why it is not sensible to define "murder" as the killing of human life. It starts with the medical profession's goal of helping damaged humans to heal. The biological process of healing a wound (whether caused by accident or malice or surgery) involves regeneration, the production of new cells to replace lost cells. Certain parts of the body, like skin, naturally regenerate easily, while other parts, like the brain, regenerate poorly. Much research is being devoted to increase the abilities of body parts to regenerate and thereby become healed. There are plenty of animals in Nature with much better regenerative abilities than humans. For example, a starfish supposedly can be cut into pieces such that each piece can grow into a whole starfish. It is by studying/copying the biological processes responsible for that, that researchers EXPECT to one day give any human the ability to, for example, regrow a lost arm.

{{News Item: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1754008,00.html
YOU CAN BET HUMANS WILL BE WANTING THIS FOR THEMSELVES AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. I predict less than ten years, possibly less than five.}}

Now, what are the long-term consequences? Well, we could imagine a future day in which some accident decapitates someone, and proceed to two different scenarios. First, suppose the body is destroyed during the accident, but the head is rescued. Second, suppose the accident was such that the decapitated head died within minutes, before rescue arrived, but the BODY was saved. Now compare the two scenarios: In each, the surviving part of a human is very much alive, courtesy of advanced life-support equipment. And in both scenarios, regeneration science will allow the lost portion of an overall human body to be regrown. Next, the core of the argument involves considering these questions, "Will anyone object to the bodiless head being allowed to grow a new body?" and "Will anyone object to the headless body being allowed to grow a new head?" Human life is on the line in both scenarios, true, but the first scenario also features a surviving human MIND, while the second does not. That is, while in the second scenario a head might indeed be grown, a complete education will also be required, and the resulting overall human BEING will inevitably be somewhat different from the one whose head had died. In the first scenario there is no such discontinuity in a human's existence. Human LIFE would be saved in the second scenario, but a question remains as to whether or not there would be a moral obligation to do so.

This question is, in a way, already fueling a political storm today, concerning humans who have experienced brain death. Their bodies are kept on life-support in the hope they might recover. The available evidence is that the patients cannot recover, due to so much of their brain tissue being dead, and it is only remotely likely that even advanced regeneration technology would restore the original minds whose existence depended upon those brains. As a result, even though the political storm still rages, many humans have prepared a Living Will to, in essence, ensure that they are declared entirely legally dead when their brains have been declared clinically dead. The "human life" that may still reside in each of their bodies is irrelevant to them. And the judicial system, when involved in cases where no Living Will existed, has so far tended to say essentially the same thing, that human life is not the key; the human MIND is the key to defining a human being. This overall argument can fortify that conclusion by asking that a THIRD future scenario be considered, in which the accident was so horrible that only an arm could be saved. Should IT be given the chance to grow a new body and head? There is no technical difference between regrowing just a head, as in the second scenario, and regrowing most of a body along with the head, just as there would be little technical difference between the preceding and regenerating a dead brain only. Perhaps the core of the conflict is in "appearances". The brain-dead human on life-support LOOKS fully human; the headless human is still mostly all there, appearance-wise, but an arm is just an arm, however-much it is perfectly human and perfectly alive. Yet none of the three have a living human MIND, while in the first regeneration scenario the bodiless head is NOT just a piece of a mostly-incomplete human. Therefore the argument concludes that "murder" has to be defined in terms of killing a human-level mind. (It is also consistent with, for example, the killing of flies and other creatures never being called murder, while should we one day encounter equivalent mindful beings at/from other planets in the Universe, the definition is consistent with thinking any killing of them to be murder, too.) Therefore during most of a pregnancy, when a fetus has not developed the brainpower for a minimally human-level mind, however-muchly human its BODY is and APPEARS, abortion cannot be murder, and can be morally permissible. Opponents to this view point out that there exists no consensus, morally speaking, for what constitutes a "minimally human-level mind." Certain philosophers have argued that compared to an adult human mind, newborn infants can be classified as falling below the intuitive standard, as would persons with severe, but not physically debilitating, mental retardation -- but this merely means it might be difficult to decide how much brainpower must be present before killing a human life starts to qualify as murder. It does not by one whit imply that abortion of a mostly-brainless fetus can qualify as murder.

See? If you get yourself regeneration-enabled in the next few years, and sometime after that get a manicure, then those cuticle cells snipped away ARE EXACTLY AS MUCH "HUMAN LIFE" AS A DIVIDING ZYGOTE. But you will allow them to die, instead of grow into a complete human body, BECAUSE KILLING THEM IS NOT MURDER!!!!!

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 2:50:04 PM

While a "right to life" is an important POLITICAL principle, it needs to be tempered with Scientific Fact. I recognize that the political principle exists so that people can get along with each other better. But isn't it obvious that you have to be able to UNDERSTAND the "rignt to life" principle before you can act in accordance with it? And isn't it equally factual that unborn humans don't have the brainpower to understand any such thing? So, if they cannot apply it, why should it be applied to them?

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A "RIGHT TO LIFE" IN NATURE. Plants try to grow to shade each other to death; animals eat plants, killing them reasonably often; some animals eat other animals; bacteria consume anything with a defective immune system, and the single biggest thing that keeps bacteria from concentrating on defeating the immune systems of multicellular life is the viruses. Then there are earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, tsunamis, Ice Ages, giant meteors, nearby supernovae, and so on, for a long long long list of ways in which Nature doesn't care one whit whether or not ANY life survives, including human life. SO, why should humans go out of their way to respect life? Obviously it would be stupid to think we can go on destroying life in the manner currently being done all over the planet (the seas are becoming empty of fish; the forests are being slashed vastly faster than they can regrow, and so on). But why should we adopt a philosophy in which life is sacred? Nature doesn't care! USING THE STUFF OF LIFE IS CONVENIENT (like cutting trees to make your house). We do with life what we will, BECAUSE we have Free Will! I agree that we should respect it to the extent that we needn't stupidly waste/kill it off when later on (like when you sell a tool at a yard sale, and find you need it a month later), we might need it as a source of medicines. Not to mention that we need plants to make oxygen for us to breathe. Respecting life to the extent that we have a sustainable supply of it for our needs is fine. That does NOT mean abortions should be prohibited. This planet could use fewer humans on it, not more, who kill other life-forms to fulfill selfish human desires.

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 2:37:00 PM

Since I'm starting to present a group of arguments showing why the pro-choice stand makes more sense than the pro-life stand, here:

Consider the research being devoted to Artificial Intelligence (or "AI"). If it succeeds, then a human-level mind will come into existence as a result of technological hardware/software progress. Note that there is a distinct EQUIVALENCE between PIECES of such a technology, compared to the whole AI, and the body of a fetus, compared to an independent human being. That is, the manufacturing of pieces of an AI is essential for the AI to exist, just as the reproduction of cells in a fetus is essential for an independent human being to exist. Now remember that future manufacturing will be more and more automated. This leads us to an interesting absurdity, in that if opponents of abortion require every fetus to be allowed to automatically grow a mind, then logically they should ALSO require Artifical Intelligences to be automatically manufactured just as soon as technically possible! The two notions really are that equivalent, and so to declare the mandatory production of AIs to be absurd is also to declare the anti-abortion stand to likewise be absurd. More specifically: Minds cannot be required to come into existence just because some of their fundamental hardware happens to exist. SO NO MATTER WHAT THE AGE OF THE FETUS, as long as its brainpower is animal-level, there is NO requirement that it must continue to grow. (That would be like stating, "A Potential Must Be Fulfilled!" when the people making that statement have the potential to fall down a staircase and break their necks.)

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 2:28:45 PM

Ted, you are confusiong "human" with "person". The TV show "Alien Nation" was specifically mentioned to stress the fact that the Constitution doesn't care if a nonhuman qualifies as a person (since the word "human" doesn't exist in the Constitution). Yes, I know that in the old days, the two words were synonymous. But languages evolve, so consider this reasoning:

1. The English language allows for both specific and generic designations.
2. Any language tends to evolve, depending mostly on what percentage of its speaking population embraces a particular linguistic change.
3. The word "person" in English has traditionally been synonymous with the word "human", such that even dictionaries note it.
4. Recent widespread linguistic usage of "person" (in decades of science fiction) has carried the word to a widely accepted and more generic level, such that it can also be applied as a designator of non-human organisms which are equivalent in certain respects to humans.
5. The word "person" has NEVER acquired any meaning which allows it to be applied as a designator of ordinary animals.
6. Logically, we now need to know exactly how the word "person" can designate humans and human-equivalent non-human organisms, but never animals.
7. Once #6 has been accomplished, to specify a dividing line between persons and animals, and recognizing the biological fact that the human body is 100% an animal body, logic inexoribly concludes that the normal and complete process of human biological growth starts out on the pure-animal side of the dividing line, and ends up on the person-qualifying side of the dividing line.
8. In other words, #7 is saying that there will be no way humans below a certain developmental stage, depending on #6, can continue to be assigned the traditional designation of "person".
9. Therefore no one, in this era of the English language, can aribitrarily confer "personhood" upon all humans."

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 2:17:26 PM

Luke, I'd be happy enough just if the members of the Supreme Court, who are supposed to pay attention to the Constitution, saw that post regarding the Census. As a precedent preceding Roe vs. Wade, it means that the rationale of that Decision can be replaced or bolstered by something much stronger.

Nevertheless, since you asked, I'd like to see one of those religion-oriented people answer the question at the end of the next paragraph:

The preachers might CLAIM that souls come into existence when an ovum is fertilized, but there are logical problems. For example, fertilization is a purely physical process involving lots of molecular biochemstry -- and ANYTHING that can be created by purely physical means can also be destroyed by purely physical means. It is logically impossible for an immortal soul to be created by the fertilization process. Well, then, some preachers know this, and claim that God creates the souls when fertilization happens. Really??? What about the significant percentage of fertilized eggs that just happen not to implant in a womb? What about the eggs that divide for a time, and then split into separate cell-clusters that eventually become identical twins? What about separate clusters of cells (including fraternal twins!) that actually merge together, forming a "chimeric" human (a relatively recent discovery in human biology)? What about the ones that contain genetic flaws so severe that the fetus dies after a couple of months, and then gets miscarried? Is God so mechanical as to mindlessly create souls for ALL fertilized human eggs, just because fertilization happens to have occurred? Is human biology/biochemistry so unlike that of all those soulless insects out there that a zygote/embryo/fetus cannot live without a soul for a while, say until long after fertilization (and any twinning/subtwinning/chimerism)? And have you ever heard about "sensory deprivation chambers"? A full-fledged soul jammed into an embryo is going to spend months without a sense of touch, smell, hearing, taste, sight, or even proprioception. No nevous system will exist for months, that is! It is well documented that humans spending more than a week in a sensory deprivation chamber can go stark staring mad. What kind of God would do that to an innocent soul, anyway? Finally, does God love a mindless soulless fetus so much more than a mindful ensoulled adult pregnant Free-Willed woman that, even while omnisciently knowing the woman is likely to seek an abortion, God will create a soul for that fetus anyway, JUST so the woman can then be condemned if the abortion is done?

(regarding chimeric humans, see: http://www.boingboing.net/2005/05/19/discovery_channel_sh.html )

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 2:10:53 PM

If we want "persons" to be generic
enough for "Alien Nation", but restrictive enough to always
exclude the demonstrably animal, like cats and dogs, then
NO WAY can unborn humans EVER qualify as persons.

The problem with your reasoning is your unspoken premise that what makes a human human and worthy of treatment different than animals is merely its superior intelligence. I don't care to take a position on whether your premise is correct; it's enough to note that your argument will fail to persuade because your premise is not universally shared.

Posted by: Ted | Nov 29, 2005 2:00:41 PM

Wow, Vernon... well said! Though let me play a little devil's advocate:

Your arguement works well for those who actually pay attention to the Constitution, but does not, however, support the religious beliefs of the majority of our country, nor those of our Forefathers, whose beliefs are reflected within the Preamble and Constitution itself. I would ask that you address this issue, as I think it is very pertinent to today's political scene, which is dominated by PACs of all faiths and interests.

Posted by: Luke | Nov 29, 2005 1:31:15 PM

Great. Thanks, Vernon.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Nov 29, 2005 9:12:58 AM

The Roe vs. Wade decision referenced the 14th Amendment as
being able to invalidate the decision IF the word "person" was
defined to include unborn humans. It is interesting that
throughout the Constitution, the word "person" is used often,
but the word "human" is not used at all. (No wonder those
beings in that TV show, "Alien Nation", found the USA

Anyway, the 14th Amendment, Section 1, gives rights to
"all persons born", and says nothing about the unborn. But
Section 2 is what I want you to think about here. This
Section specifies counting persons, so that the States'
Representation in the House can be figured (it modifies
earlier wording of the Constitution). You may be aware
that the purpose of the once-per-decade Census is to do
COUNTED. If they were considered "persons", then they
should have been getting counted since 1790, when the
original wording for the Census (replaced by the 14th
Amendment) specified the States' "respective Numbers".

Thus the precedent, per ACTUAL IMPLEMENATION of the
Constitution, long long before Roe vs. Wade, is that
considered to be persons worth counting. (A rather high
rate of natural miscarriages may be one reason why; it
would be like counting chickens before they hatched, a
cliche` handed down to us by the generation that wrote
the Constitution.)

But that's OK! Per scientific measurements, unborn humans
are not mentally more capable than ordinary animals. Even
just-born humans are not mentally more capable than an
adult cat or small dog. If we want "persons" to be generic
enough for "Alien Nation", but restrictive enough to always
exclude the demonstrably animal, like cats and dogs, then
NO WAY can unborn humans EVER qualify as persons.

Pass it on!

Posted by: Vernon Nemitz | Nov 29, 2005 9:05:13 AM

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